Are We “Shining In The Space Of Appearances” Yet?

Hannah Arendt said (at a 1972 Toronto conference, published in Thinking Without a Banister, p. 451) that “glory” in the political realm is “shining in the space of appearances.”  W.H. Auden asked (and then answered) “does God ever judge us by appearances? I suspect that he does” (epigraph to chapter 1 of Arendt’s posthumous book, The Life of the Mind).  We in the US have a potentate named Donald Trump who is so consumed by how he appears and is perceived and judged that he seems to have weakened our country by misjudging, or not taking the trouble to study, or not being capable of judging, his counterparts on the world stage–and not only Kim Jong Un or Xi Jinping.  The root of this misjudgment, I suppose, is that Trump is, perhaps seemingly paradoxically, not Machiavellian enough.  As Arendt remarked in Toronto, Machiavelli said, “‘I love my country, Florence, more than I love my eternal salvation.’  That doesn’t mean that he didn’t believe in an afterlife.  But it means that the world as such was of greater interest to him than himself.”  She elaborated: “The moment I act politically I’m not concerned with me, but with the world….whether the criterion is glory–shining in the space of appearances–or whether the criterion is justice…the decisive thing is whether your own motivation is clear: for the world or for yourself.”  Donald Trump actually understands this quite well, in that he pays lip service to the noble motivation of acting on behalf of the world instead of just himself.  But there is quite a lot of reason to doubt that his stated aspirations are stronger than his lifelong habits of venality, cupidity, mendacity, and thuggishness.  He did acknowledge in the campaign that becoming president was his only shot at getting into heaven.  Sadly he seems to forget about that–or else he is even more of a miserable tyrant than I have so far imagined.

P.S. In other breaking news from the works of Hannah Arendt:

“normal men do not know that everything is possible” (quoting David Rousset)

“nothing is more characteristic of the totalitarian movements in general and of the quality of fame of their leaders in particular than the startling swiftness with which they are forgotten and the startling ease with which they can be replaced” (Origins, p. 305)

“only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself; the masses have to be won by propaganda” (Origins, 341)

“the delusion of an already existing Jewish world domination formed the basis for the illusion of future German world domination” (Origins, p. 360)

“it is in the moment of defeat that the inherent weakness of totalitarian propaganda becomes visible….the moment the movement, that is, the fictitious world which sheltered them, is destroyed, the masses revert to their old status as isolated individuals who either happily accept a new function in a changed world or sink back into their old desperate superfluousness…[the former members] will quietly give up the movement as a bad bet and look around for another promising fiction or wait until the former fiction regains enough strength to establish another mass movement” (Origins, 363)

“a mixture of gullibility and cynicism had been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true….mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.  The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness” (Origins, p. 382)

“we are not in the nursery! Real political action arises as a group act…whatever you do on your own, you do not as an actor but as an anarchist” (Banister, p. 450)

 

 

 

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Justice Gorsuch Spikes Football By Adding Middle English Footnote Upholding 1351 Statute Of Laborers Act

As if it wasn’t enough for ruling-class warrior Neil Gorsuch to gut the National Labor Relations Act by placing the supposed intent of the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act over and above the New Deal legislation that addressed obvious asymmetries of bargaining power, Justice Gorsuch spiked the football on workers today in his 5-4 opinion by including a footnote, in Middle English no less, upholding the 1351 Statute of Laborers Act.  Let me explain.  After the Black Death (part one of it, at any rate) the ruling classes had far less bargaining power over the surviving peasants.  All pretense of “voluntary mutual agreements” was abandoned by the ruling class when Parliament passed the 1351 law stipulating that workers were not allowed to leave their employers (the landowners or business owners) to seek better wages.  Neil Gorsuch follows up in his pre-Chaucer footnote when he states (I hereby translate his words into 21st-century idiom) that “all that free market stuff was just a smokescreen, suckers.  Serfs gonna stay serfs, cuz you can’t possibly afford to go to court one by one.  Ain’t gonna happen.  Sit yourselves down or we’ll put you in the private prison and you’ll dream of the good times when you could eat generic hamburger helper.  Same as it was in 1351, same as it’s gonna be from here on out.  Get Congress to change it, bwahahaha.”

Catching Up On “Collusion With The Rest Of The World” Reading

Did Donald Trump just admit that he was ready and willing to conspire in the 2016 election campaign not just with Russians but with “the rest of the world”?  He did not confirm but neither did he deny that his son and others associated with the Trump campaign (such as Erik Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) plotted and took bribes from Gulf Arab countries as well as Israel–during the presidential campaign, quite aside from the reported violations of the Emoluments Clause after Trump became president.

To prepare for Trump’s next political and legal moves, I am thinking about what might be relevant background reading:

Zephyr Teachout, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuffbox to Citizens United, especially chapter 5, “Is Bribery Without a Remedy?”

Maria Konnikova, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time

Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America

Ramsay MacMullen, Corruption And The Decline Of Rome

Seth Hettena, Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

Hannah Arendt, Thinking Without A Banister: Essays in Understanding 1953-1975

Albert O. Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy (also pertinent to the gun debate)

Cass R. Sunstein, Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict, especially chapter 4, “Understanding (and Misunderstanding) the Rule of Law

Peter Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire

Philip Kurland, ed., The Founders’ Constitution

Peter Gay, The Cultivation of Hatred (The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, vol. 3)

Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution

John T. Noonan Jr., Bribes: the intellectual history of a moral idea

 

Provocative? Moi?

Just who does North Korea think they are?  They think that they can accuse the US of “provocation”?  Just because of some military drills?  Kim the Excellent is going to find himself becoming Little Rocket Man again in no time flat.  Doesn’t he know that only people like Jared Kushner have the right to define who is “provocative”?  That only Donald J. Trump has the extraterritorial privilege to say who can laugh, and when, and how loudly?  Trump is not going to apologize to Senator John McCain just because a staffer called McCain a dead man walking, but is he going to kowtow to Mr. Kim?  Trump seems to be powerfully attracted to the notion that he too could get a Nobel Peace Prize, so I wouldn’t want to predict the future at all, except to say Kim is definitely not crazy and his PR team is not leaking.

P.S. NY Times headline: “North Korea Postpones Talks With South Korea; Decision Is Surprise.”  Not really, unless the Times thought that everything was going to go smoothly between Trump and Kim.  They are maneuvering to see who can define the other as unstable and themselves as stable and serious and not “provocative” or “defiant.”

Glad I Didn’t Sell Big Pharma Stocks Short Thinking Trump Was Actually Going To Help Lower Drug Prices (Regulatory Capture Is Alive And Well In DC)

President Trump promised in 2016 that he would do great things to lower drug prices for senior citizens and all Americans.  He promised “on day one,” yadda yadda, my welfare state (for my cult followers, anyway, wink wink) is going to be the greatest welfare state.  Cheaper stuff for everybody wearing a MAGA hat and making the secret handshake.  Sorry, suckers, and in fact everybody on Medicare, whether we supported Trump or not.  Drug company stocks, including Novartis, went down briefly today before the Rose Garden drug price speech, and then, ta-da, up they went during and after the speech. And why wouldn’t drug stocks go up, because Trump did not do the one thing that would most likely push drug prices down, which is to let CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) negotiate prices with drug companies.  CMS isn’t the only buyer of drugs, but they are so huge that they could be the market leader, the quasi-monopsony buyer with power to get prices down across the board.  The current law, signed by George W. Bush, provided a benefit to senior citizens, but at an unnecessarily high cost. I would like to be surprised, but I do not see much yet in what HHS Secretary Azar or Trump said that would actually push drug prices down.  Regulatory capture–aka the Swamp–is alive and well in Trump’s Washington.

Is The Real Dick Cheney Being Displayed In A Human Zoo? If Not, Why Not?

Some version of “Dick Cheney” has popped up and endorsed re-upping on “enhanced interrogation,” AKA torture.  But is this real news?  “Dick Cheney” coming out in favor of torturing suspected terrorists and “enemy combatants” does have the ring of verisimilitude, but in these changing times, I have my suspicions.  Could the real Dick Cheney already be on display–preferably with Mike Pence–in an ethnographic exhibit, AKA a human zoo?  And if not, isn’t it about time?  Human zoos were quite popular in my grandparents’ day, even in my parents’ lifetime, and even continued into my own time, e.g. the Brussels world’s fair of 1958.  It is true that political correctness is sometimes simply courtesy, and yet is it too much to hope that Cheney and others of his ilk, could be properly displayed in a habitat clearly native to them?  Issues of the validity of extraterrritorial jurisdiction, frankly, should not even come into play if the exhibition were done sensitively.  For example, it would be very misguided if Rachel Maddow were allowed to fulfill her longstanding dream by interviewing Mr. Cheney in a zoo.

Not Negative, Not Fake, No Way! Yes Collusion, Yes Puppet, Yes Smoking Gun With Blood Everywhere

OK, maybe just a teeny tiny little bit of collusion might have happened, mistakes were made, and it looks like an open crime scene with so much evidence and blood and hair everywhere that I do not know where to start.  I was worried that Mueller was the whole ball game–but now the SDNY has so much to sort through that I feel there’s more than enough guilt to go around in multiple jurisdictions.  Not to mention the next Attorney General of the great state of New York, the Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton!  Well, maybe that wouldn’t be the best idea.  How about Sally Yates?  Or Zephyr Teachout?  Can Preet Bharara handle the truth?  Probably he could.  And the acting AG, Barbara Underwood, looks just fine, and if NY state can close up the loophole regarding federal/state overlap and pardons, I feel much more confident than I did a week ago that the justice system has a fighting chance to bring the evildoers and crooks to account, whoever they may be.  And glad to read that Robert Mueller was onto the Vekselberg-Michael Cohen payments months ago.

So Long Schneiderman, Hello Sally Yates…Or Zephyr Teachout…Or Hi There Hillary NY Attorney General!

There are some awesomely qualified candidates to serve as the next New York Attorney General.  She or he, especially if New York state law is tightened up to prevent federal evildoers and criminals to escape state-level justice in NY, will have the opportunity and in fact the obligation to enforce state laws against money laundering, financial fraud, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and all the other crimes mob bosses commit.  If those laws happen to apply to public servants, or former public servants, so be it.

The NY State Assembly, from what I read, has the authority to appoint the next AG, and might well choose one of their own.  But if they choose to go with someone who has a higher profile than an assemblyperson, may I suggest Sally Yates, former (ever so briefly) Acting Attorney General; or Zephyr Teachout, former candidate for governor and author of the fine book, Corruption in AmericaFrom Benjamin Franklin’s Snuffbox to Citizens United.

But of course the awesomest choice, a choice that might well send the president even more over the edge than he is already, is staring the Assembly in the face: Hillary.

P.S. Have read mixed reviews on Preet Bharara as a choice for NY AG.  He certainly got lots of good press for going after insider trading, but did he persecute purveyors of financial fraudulence actively and assertively?  I don’t know.  Why not let Chief Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern District NY appoint him as US Attorney when the Trump administration lets a deadline for appointing their own candidate slide through negligence?  Yes it could happen.

“Nobody Wants To Speak More Than Me”–Was That a) Vincent ‘The Chin’ Gigante or b) Trump?

Answer: it will not be long before President Donald J. Trump adopts the Gigante defense.  That is, although we may really really want to be able to look at a president as a trustworthy noble heroic leader, we wake up every day with the president we actually have.  Donald Trump will do anything and everything to avoid being blamed or taking the fall under any circumstances.  He is trying to make the web of lies and contradictions re obstruction of justice and collusion and conspiracy with Russians become too complicated for mere mortals to deal with.  He would love for all of us to throw up our hands and say “they all do it” and “we better stay out of this” if not “he is our god-emperor and I love all the trolling of snobby snowflakes.”  But if that doesn’t work, and Trump finds himself becoming a figure of ridicule as the lies become too obvious to ignore, I figure his next move will be to emulate Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, who pretended to be insane and/or infirm–and got away with it for decades.  One can hope that this president does not have decades of that kind of maskirovka left in him–and that we the people will be able to resist the gaslighting better than–fancy that–New York prosecutor Rudy Giuliani (see story and court case below!).

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/rudy-giuliani-and-the-desperate-campaign-to-protect-the-president

https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/996/194/1625500/

Update: The President, many people say, is expected to announce “in a very short period of time” that Rudy Giuliani is an “enemy of the people” and as such will be removed from the White House legal team and reassigned to a labor camp on Long Island.  The “struggle session” will be available on pay-per-view.

NYT: “Trump Assails Justice Dept., Siding With Conservatives”–No, That’s Way Off The Mark

The top story on the NY Times webpage right now is by Eileen Sullivan and Nicholas Fandos, who probably did not write the headline, “Trump Assails Justice Dept., Siding With Conservatives.”  I wish that the Times would stop letting unprincipled, power-mad radicals get the benefit of the respectable label “conservative.”  The point of the “indivisible” resistance to Trumpism is that we can and should have debates on the proper size and shape of government, but we should be united and indivisible when it comes to preserving, protecting, and defending the rule of law as codified in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the habits and practices of free speech and citizenship.  Mr. Trump could give a fig for freedom or the rule of law.

Sullivan and Fandos also have it backwards when they write that Mr. Trump plunged today into a “simmering dispute” between Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and the “small group of House Republicans who are loyal to Mr. Trump” (whatever is meant by that, by the way? are Paul Ryan and most of the Republican House members disloyal to Trump? I wish, but I haven’t seen much but subservience and see-no-evil so far).  I believe the truly important conflict right now is between the president and the regular, drab, workaday state–not the so-called Deep State–that is working diligently in the person of Robert Mueller to ensure that this president is not immune from gross violations of the loyalty oath Trump took on inauguration day to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.  The self-styled “Freedom Caucus,” led by Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, are simply trying to set up Mr. Trump with a spinnable excuse to remove Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Mueller.  Trump is not–contra the NYT–“giving voice to the complaints” of Jordan and Meadows.  Rather, they are in the same club as Fox & Friends and Hannity and the Schlapps–instruments of the president’s will to power.  The NYT story today tells a story that could be true, in some other universe, but I believe their framing gets causes and effects backwards, and in a pernicious way that gives cover to the authoritarian purposes of this president.

If Kanye Really Hates Monolithic Thought, He Will Run For President As A Whig. Or If He Is Having A Bad Day, As A Know-Nothing.

As a former high school teacher (US History, World History, Afro-American History–as we called it then) on the South Side of Chicago during the 1990s, I deny having any responsibility for Kanye West’s lack of perspective on the political party system.  In brief, the political parties have changed their platforms quite a few times in the last 200 or so years.  The Democratic Party of the 21st century is not the same as the party of Andrew Jackson, whom President Trump seems to adore.  The Republican Party of 1854 did not begin by fetishizing lower corporate tax rates.  The anti-immigrant party of the day wasn’t the Republicans, it was the Know-Nothings.  The “bad” immigrants of the 1850s were Catholics, just as they are now, but they were Irish, not Mexican.  I wonder if John Kelly (since he is not, unlike his boss, an “idiot”) knows that?

Anyway, Kanye West went to a high school in southwest suburban Oak Lawn, Illinois, whereas I taught in southeast Chicago, so I never taught his history class.  I wonder if he is aware that, on his good days, he has Whiggish tendencies.  With his social media reach he could probably reanimate the Whig Party in no time.  An alternative scenario: we do not yet have a 21st-century political party bold and honest enough to come out publicly as the Know-Nothing Party.  But if anyone could rebrand Know-Nothingism, it is Kanye–excuse me, the Honorable Mr. President Kanye.

 

Could We See Some “Dragon Energy” That Actually Improves Lives?

Even if Kanye West has a point in calling Trump his “dragon energy” brother, is it too much to ask that the people with dragon energy to spare use it to improve our world?  I suppose Michelle Wolf brought plenty of dragon energy to her White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech, and probably boosted her career, but her profanity distracted from her sometimes accurate jabs, did nothing to help principled resistance to the president, and only served to make Trump’s pose of solidarity with regular folks a little more plausible.  Oh well—if I wait another few hours the conversation will move on.

Trump’s Revenge On Macron: He’s Going To Fix The French Language Once And For All

The Times (of London, not the times-come-lately in NYC) says today in a headline that “Trump will visit the UK in July.” The second sentence of the story hedges a bit: “the Us president is thought to be planning” to go to London after meetings in Brussels on July 11-12.

I hate to tell the British that they are kidding themselves, but let me put it this way: President Trump does not plan, at least not in such a way that lesser beings can fathom his actions in advance.  That being said, I have some inside information.  Trump will in fact travel from Brussels to Paris for his second Bastille Day military parade.  After that he will, without doubt, make a special appearance at the Academie Francaise to lecture the 40 Immortals on “My Clear And Very Distinct Ideas.”  He will finally fulfill, in fact, after almost 499 years, the original mission of the Academie, which was founded by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635.  In the United States, President Trump has accomplished so very many things that no president before him even attempted.  And in Paris, at the French Academy, Trump will finally “fix the French language, giving it rules, making it pure and comprehensible for all.”  Warm-up act for Mr. Trump will be noted philosopher and linguist Kanye West, speaking on “Proper Terminology and Neology.”

Regulation Is Good For Me But Maybe Not For Thee: Excrementitious Matter (Finally) Gone From Parrish, Alabama

The contents of the poop train in Parrish, Alabama have finally been moved to a nearby landfill, after more than two months.  Erin Shaw Street of the Washington Post reports the good news for Parrish today, adding that “little Parrish is left with the sting of feeling as if no one cared that all of this excrement was left on its doorstep.  The town had become purgatory in a little-known pipeline that imports materials no one wants, for profit–big-city waste from the North that heads to landfills in the rural South.  ‘It sounds like a joke, like the poop emoji,’ said Michelle Buford…’It felt like the Northerners were trying to pile up messes on the Southerners.'”

Sorry to say, but that kind of framing may just perpetuate the problem.  The mayor, Heather Hall, is quoted saying that “as soon as I found out, I was on the phone to Montgomery [the state capital], to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, even to the president…they all said it was out of their hands.”  And they were probably right: as the article reports, the trains “remained in Parrish until the city council voted to deny a business license to Big Sky.”  Heaven help towns like Parrish if business interests (whether “up north” or in Birmingham) get the Alabama state legislature to do what North Carolina and other Republican-dominated legislatures have done and outlaw local ordinances that regulate nuisances like the poop train.

The lesson I take from this is that some evil people are telling us that regulation is great if it protects me and my gated swamp, but very bad if it limits my profiteering and protects you from any and all excrementitious matter.  If the people of Parrish, and towns like it, breathe their (temporarily) free air and decide they really like breathing freely, I hope they can identify their plight as an effect of the Republican mania for deregulation.  Scott Pruitt is not draining any swamps.  He and his enablers do not seem to worry that they are ever going to be sentenced to a life sentence of prison time at hard labor on a poop train.  I hope they are wrong, and I also really hope the people of small towns inundated with poop start voting for politicians who might care a little about regulations that protect our environment, because there’s no gated community that’s going to protect most of us from the degradation Scott Pruitt and his cronies are imposing on us.  Big-city elite liberals from New York may be convenient bogeymen, and they probably don’t care as much about Parrish, Alabama as they could, but it might be worth a try to kick out the current crew of deregulators.  They are not on our side, and they don’t give a fig for “freedom” if it means freedom not to breathe poop all day.

When It Comes To Trump, “Report Is [Always] Changeable. ‘Tis [Always] Time To Look About”

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, act 4, scene 7, a Gentleman informs the Earl of Kent that “they say Edgar, [Lear’s] banished son, is with the Earl of Kent in Germany.”  The Earl of Kent (incognito) replies drily: “Report is changeable. ‘Tis time to look about.”  Those of us trying to parse the news, especially the news reports that “the White House plans” to do such and such, ought by now to have learned the basic lesson that “report is changeable.”  Yet headlines in papers from yesterday stated as fact that the United States was poised to announce further economic sanctions on Russia today.  These reports cited what Nikki Haley said on a Sunday morning TV show.  We ought to know by know that Nikki Haley is not the decider.  Maybe we have reached the point where Cabinet members are just putting things out there and hoping Trump never hears about them, or cares so little that he does nothing to veto them.  But please, media, a few more words in practically every article would be much more accurate, like so: “[chief of staff; or VP; or Secretary of Defense; or …] said this and that today, but who the hell knows what the president will do if he ever hears about it.”  While Trump is king, whirl is king.

I Never Asked Trump For Personal Loyalty. I Hardly Know The Guy–But I Did Sorta Hope He Would Preserve, Protect, And Defend The Constitution

I have never asked Trump for Personal Loyalty.  I hardly know the guy.  But was it too much to hope that he would at least make a stab at fulfilling his oath of office, to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”  Yes it was.

Do James Comey’s imperfections and manifold blind spots do anything to negate or even mitigate his characterization of the president as a mob boss.  No they don’t.

Comey’s favorite theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote that “the only empirically verifiable doctrine of Christian faith is original sin.”  Does it matter that Comey may or may not realize that Niebuhr’s dictum applies to Comey himself?  Not much.

Is Karen Tumulty, former reporter and now opinion writer for the Washington Post, right in her view that “Donald Trump is contagious… He turns everyone he touches into Donald Trump”?  Maybe, and maybe Rick Wilson is onto something with his slogan that “everything Trump touches dies.”  But I would say that the self-selection process works both ways, and that Trump and his agents latch onto one another, wittingly or unwittingly.

As I said, I hardly know the guy, but I am concerned that he hasn’t bottomed out yet.  His problem isn’t the Deep State, as Trump himself is probably quite aware.  It’s the regular old drab ponderous state that is getting ready to spit him back out.  It’s a classic emic vs. etic situation, though that understates Trump’s extreme deviance.  Here’s hoping the system “works,” though in the best case it’s going to be very messy.

 

Trump Assails Comey’s “Very Superficial Understanding Of Reinhold Niebuhr”

Gotta give it up to the president today for his extremely accurate takedown of James Comey on the core issue at stake.  I refer of course to Comey’s “very superficial” and “hermeneutically naive,” as the president put it, interpretation of Moral Man and Immoral Society.  The 45th president correctly noted on social media that Reinhold Niebuhr himself said his book ought to have been titled “Immoral Man and Even More Immoral Society,” a fact that Comey had inexplicably overlooked–especially given Comey’s purportedly 24/7 access to the most up-to-speed Deep State algorithms.  Moreover, Comey utterly failed to consider the role in Niebuhr’s spiritual development of his journal of pastoral work in Detroit, published under the rubric of Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic.  Trump knows tamed cynic like nobody’s business, and Comey clearly does not.  “Untruthful slimeball” is really far better than Comey deserved to be labelled in these circumstances.  And as of Friday morning April 13th Comey has so far failed utterly to defend his reputation as either a reliable witness or a thoughtful moral theologian.

“Don’t Say We Already Do What GDPR Requires”–Mr. Zuckerberg’s Last Talking Point

The last of Mark Zuckerberg’s written talking points for his Senate testimony today–which I know about not because of my power to scrape any data, but because Zuckerberg left his notes open on the table during a break and I looked at a photo–refers to the European General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect next month.  So far, he needn’t have worried about having to defend Facebook against calls from Congress to copy and paste the European plan into the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.  Why not?  (Other than the sheer cluelessness of the well-aged Senators)

We as a country might do well to adopt laws, like the new EU plan, that actually take data protection and privacy rights seriously.  But if we copied and pasted their rules we would have a tougher time crowing about our great, special, exceptional Americanness, wouldn’t we?  Tant pis for us, as the French might say.

https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/law-topic/data-protection/data-protection-eu_en

What Exactly Is “Defiant Trump” Defying?

Noted media critic Donald Trump complained this morning that a Washington Post headline framed his defiance in a misleadling way.  Today’s top right headline of the Post‘s print edition reads “Trump Defiant as China adds trade penalties.”  I should probably be grateful that the president is supporting Jeff Bezos by subscribing to the print edition, but I digress.  He, Trump, like him or not, knows exactly how headlines about “defiance” ought to be presented.  Trump possesses agency, others are mere instruments of his will.  Trump is the subject, everybody else is the object.  In his world, it’s “Trump Defiant as U.S. Adds Trade Penalties, Will End Barriers And Massive I.P. Theft.”  I could quibble that his rewritten headline is a terribly run-on sentence; also why capitalize every single word except “as,” or I could be more charitable and say that as a president, the president is a pretty terrific copy editor.

Does it even make any sense, moreover, to speak of a U.S. president as “defiant”?  Not if we are the world’s only superpower and the president is really in charge of the executive branch.  That Trump did not dispute the framing that he could be “defiant” at all is telling.  Trump wants to cash in on what he gains from being seen as a “defiant” outsider toiling heroically to drain the swamp.  A lot of us are not convinced, to say the least, but Trump is determined to hold onto the loyalty of his camp followers, so “defiant” is still very useful, as if Hillary is somehow calling shots and taking away jobs and failing to prevent mayhem–and Donald Trump is still the “defiant” swamp-draining champion of the forgotten man.

What are the odds, by the way, that Xi Jinping will be gaslit by Trump?  Or that Trump’s manly addition of yet more “trade penalties” will result in ending trade barriers?  Some people say that President-for-Life Xi is not likely to bow down to the mighty Trump.  Who is in a better position to impose real pain on their citizens?  Probably the country where the people are not really citizens–that would be, for the time being, China.  To whip up his political base, Trump is turning to not-easily-won trade wars and not-easily-funded-by-Mexico border walls.  He probably won’t have great success unless he is willing to risk big failure by actually fabricating an emergency, the shape of which we can imagine in outline if not in detail.  Carl Schmitt wrote almost a hundred years ago that he who can create “the exception” is sovereign.  Trump’s feelings seem in sync with Schmitt’s theories of politics, but our president has so far taken only half-measures.  If he feels truly “unchained” and “unleashed” and goes all in on the “exception” and emergency, who or what will stop him?  I wouldn’t want to bet much on the courage of Republican majorities in Congress or on the Roberts-Alito-Thomas-Kennedy-Gorsuch majority on the Supreme Court.  I do hope that Trump’s own strong aversion to being blamed for anything will restrain him.  If he felt he could gaslight enough of us to evade blame, though, he might do almost anything.

 

Why Is Mark Zuckerberg Hating On Tim Cook’s “Extreme Glibness”?

In an interview with Ezra Klein of Vox, Mark Zuckerberg rattled global markets with the prima facie laughable assertion that Tim Cook is “extremely glib.”  If Tim Cook is extremely glib, what was Steve Jobs?  Now that was “glib” personified.  Tim Cook and “reality distortion field,” do they really go together?  Don’t think so.  Technically, Zuckerberg didn’t call Cook himself extremely glib, just what he said about Facebook–that Cook wouldn’t have gotten himself into Facebook’s pickle in the first place, because Apple builds great products and sell them to customers and that that’s a sounder business model than Facebook’s flim-flam.

Zuckerberg denied that the business model of “monetizing user attention” is an intractable problem.  His response to Klein was deflective, though: “you know, I find that argument, that if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib and not at all aligned with the truth.”  Zuckerberg then tried to align himself with truth, with mixed success at best.  His snippish remark that “it’s important that we don’t all get Stockholm syndrome and let the companies that work hard to charge you more convince you that they actually care more about you.”  I found this a little bit plausible, until I read Josh Barro’s retort on Twitter that “Apple is a company that works hard to charge you more.  Amazon is a company that works hard to charge you less.  Facebook is a company that works hard to charge someone else more for access to you.”  That seems a much fairer summary of where we are than Zuckerberg’s self-serving doublespeak.

I don’t imagine that Zuckerberg is enjoying his tour of media outlets, or the downward trajectory of Facebook stock, even less his impending Congressional testimony (or the backlash if he continues to refuse to testify in the UK about Cambridge Analytica).  Zuckerberg’s goal in speaking publicly, I assume, is to shape any future government regulations in the US and Europe and, perhaps just as importantly, across other hemispheres.

I do hope the 99%, of whom I am one, can afford to enjoy the oligarch vs. oligarch trashtalking that may be coming  Not sure that they will achieve the heights of Little Rocket Man vs. The Dotard, but one can hope.  I would like to savor an Apple vs. Facebook vs. Google circular firing squad, kayfabe or real, while waiting for the autumn elections to provide us with the possibility of real oversight of both political authoritarianism and corruption and tech oligarch abuses.  Of course neither political party is immune to capture by the tech giants, but the president’s recent attacks on Amazon are transparently abusive and ominous.  Disclosure: I have never joined Facebook, and only completed one under-$20 Amazon purchase about ten years ago and never again, I hope.  It is inconvenient, though, for many of us to even try to disentangle from our new tech overlords–and I do use Google and Apple daily.

P.S. Have duly noted that Facebook’s motto/mission statement was once “move fast and break things” and is now “bring the world closer together.”

 

What If Our Slacker Totalitarian Starts Eating Kale And Exercising?

Theorists of tyranny have compiled taxonomies: aristocracy (and its shadow side, oligarchy), democracy (and ochlocracy, or mob rule), and monarchy (and tyranny).  Plato’s interlocutors in Republic book 8 discuss the various types of regime but Book 9 dives deep into the most dangerous form of government, tyranny.  Aristotle was seemingly more sanguine in his Politics, giving more equal time to each type.  Madison and Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers, defended the possibility of energetic yet non-monarchical and non-tyrannical government via separated powers and checks and balances (see #47 and #51).  Twentieth-century totalitarianism (see Hannah Arendt’s Origins) appeared to be a new type of regime, in its erasure of any boundary between private and public life; also in that, unlike the pairs democracy/mob rule, aristocracy/oligarchy, and monarchy/tyranny, totalitarian rule has no “neutral” or non-abusive twin.

If American voters manage to check Trump’s power while there is still time to limit the damage, it may be because they sense that with his relentless tweeting and headline-grabbing, he is just not going to leave us alone and let us ignore him for awhile while we pursue our own happiness.  If the Republicans, in spite of all their gerrymandering and efforts to suppress voter turnout, do lose control of one or both houses of Congress, it may be because enough of us have gotten irritated and embarrassed enough to bother to vote in a midterm for a change, and limit the damage from the presidential bull-with-his-very-own-china-shop-all-the-time.

So far I believe we have been fairly lucky that our slacker totalitarian president apparently spends a great deal of his time sitting around eating unhealthy food and tweeting at his TV, though he and his minions have made plenty of messes by  sabotaging healthcare, environmental regulation, etc.  But what if he (trigger alert, plug ears, la la la la la) has a learning curve?  What if he actually reads article II of the Constitution and realizes just how much more he can do, and takes Admiral Ronny Jackson’s advice to adopt healthier lifestyle choices?  Where will we be able to hide then?

 

It’s Time For Sumptuary Laws To Regulate Facebook And Make Us Truly Happy And Free

I am old enough to remember the utopian hopes for the internet.  Sadly, the era of friendly little chat rooms (I exaggerate a bit) has given way to the era of dystopian fears: of Big Social Media, of the Deep State, and of our semi-voluntary servitude to the cookies and trackers.

I have a fine solution to all of our problems!  Bring back the sumptuary laws that served for many centuries and on multiple continents to enforce norms and hierarchies and proper social behavior.  If we had held onto rigorous sumptuary laws, Facebook’s motto, “move fast and break things,” would have put Zuckerberg in the stocks years ago.  Would that have been a bad thing?

Do not be fooled by whatever damage control statements Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg put out today and in the coming days.  They can raise the trifling objection that what happened with Cambridge Analytica was not technically a data breach.  They can promise to work closely with regulatory agencies.  They can abase themselves all they like.  Actually, their self-abasement is a sort of voluntary admission that some kind of sumptuary law to control their behavior is needed.

The hard part of this is that we need to regulate not only the destructively transgressive behaviors of Silicon Valley elites.  It’s not just that the people who are indulging themselves by consuming “cartons of multi-colored eggs pooped out of rare, expensive chickens who have been raised on diets of organic watermelon and steak” (according to Willamette Week and Washington Post) need to be shamed and then imprisoned.  The really hard part is that we, the people–we the relatively privileged people–need to accept that we cannot control ourselves.  We must impose binding regulations on ourselves.  This may be particularly difficult with a President who desperately needs and even more desperately resists sumptuary restrictions on his very own self.  Not to mention a Congress in thrall to the fantasy that deregulation always and everywhere means true freedom.  The way forward is clear.  As distasteful as it may be to many, we need a new leader right away.  A leader who understands the true value of sumptuary regulations.  A man who feels deeply the evils of bad habits and the danger of ruffles and silks and extravagance and deviance.  I refer of course to our next president, Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions.  Or Mike Pence, if you like.

Sarah Sanders: “Russia Will Have To Decide Whether To Be A Good Actor Or A Bad Actor”; Russia Clings To Maskirovka, Defying Sanders’ False Binary

Sarah Sanders said yesterday that the US “stands in solidarity with its closest ally, the United Kingdom.”  Today she put on her most resolute voice and stated that Russia will have to decide whether it wants to be a good actor or a bad actor.  Meanwhile, the president has said little to nothing publicly about the Salisbury poisoning, which sickened dozens of British citizens, not just the former Russian spy and his daughter.  (Of course some say you can never quit being a Chekist, just as there are no true ex-Catholics.)

I expect Russians will laugh and think: heck no we are not about to choose between being bad or good; the whole point of maskirovska is to sow FUD.  Meanwhile, Trump boasts of making up trade deficits with Canada.  Justin Trudeau knew Trump was wrong, Trump knew he had no idea whether he was speaking the truth, and Trudeau and every other foreign leader already knew Trump is talking smack 99% of the time.

American presidents have not always told the truth in public or private, but Trump is not the master of maskirovka that Putin is, even though he can still befuddle the mainstream media some of the time.  Most of us here in the US have become embarrassed by our transparently lying leader, discount every word he says as dubious, and I expect it’ll show in the elections coming up soon.

Is Secretary Mattis About To Get His Shot To Protect The Constitution And Our Way Of Life?

Secretary of Defense James Mattis (I don’t say “General” because he has retired from active duty and is a civilian employee of the U.S. government) has done a better job of maintaining his dignity than most other Cabinet officers this past year.  Mattis has said more than once that his job is to “protect the Constitution and our way of life.”  Well, he is likely to get a chance to prove himself soon, if reports that the president is about to get rid of Attorney General Sessions are true.  Trump is apparently starting to realize that he actually can ignore the so-called adults in the room and do all kinds of not-normal and very likely illegal and unconstitutional things that he has been itching to do.  The Constitution, as Trump may be realizing, is a dead letter if it isn’t enforced by Congress or the courts.  And if pushback from free assembly and free speech aren’t enough to convince those other branches to restrain the president, the Constitution won’t save us.

If the president removes Sessions, installs (for example) Scott Pruitt, and Pruitt removes Mueller, then we are on the edge of constitutional crisis (I say “edge” advisedly because I don’t believe a president can succeed in trashing our freedoms unless we acquiesce).  Congress could intervene by passing, with veto-proof majorities, a new independent counsel statute; alternatively, Congressional committees could actually get serious about enforcing subpoenas against Trump and his minions; or, of course, the House could impeach.  What does Mattis have to do with any of this?  If Trump does move to shut down Mueller’s investigation, Mattis’s only honorable move, in my opinion, will be to resign and furthermore tell us why he will not be a party to subversion of our Constitution and our traditions of freedom.  If Mattis can’t move the needle of public opinion among Trump supporters and on-the-fence Americans, we are in trouble.  But he will have done what he can to preserve what he says he cares about most.

Will Kim Jong Un Succeed In Legitimizing The President?

“Why would the US president ever want to legitimize a brutal dictator” is, in all seriousness, no longer the question on the table.  Maybe W was a bonehead to say he had “looked into Putin’s eyes” and gotten a sense of his soul.  Maybe Obama should have been less eager to press “reset” with Russia, and more willing to walk away from the Iran deal.  And Trump is unlikely to know as much as he thinks he does about Kim Jong Un and North Korea.  Do we even have an ambassador to South Korea in place?  Has Trump learned anything at all about Korea that he wasn’t spoonfed by Xi Jinping when they met in Beijing last year?

Trump’s rush to announce a meeting with Kim may yet be countermanded or undermined or sabotaged by the “Deep State.”  And I don’t blame the Deep Staters.  They are concerned, perhaps beside themselves, for good reason.  At this point, sad and almost unthinkable to say, Trump looks more desperate to meet with Kim than Kim is to meet with Trump.  Is it too much to ask an American president to stop trying to prove that he is bigger and better than all other presidents?

Of Course The President Doesn’t Believe In Free Trade–He Doesn’t Believe In Freedom, Period.

Wake up, Paul Ryan!  Of course Trump doesn’t believe in free trade.  Can you imagine?  In fact he doesn’t believe in freedom at all.  Except for himself, to be president-for-life like Mr. Xi.

Ever since grade-school-Trump was reportedly caught throwing rocks into the crib of a toddler next door in Queens, he has been, shall we see, less than fully committed to freedom in any sense normal people can recognize.  Paul Ryan, meanwhile, has not troubled himself to condemn Trump’s many other assaults on American freedom and rule of law, but is suddenly horrified that the president shows no respect for free trade.  Really?  Will Paul Ryan sit Trump down and read aloud to him from David Ricardo’s writings on “comparative advantage”?  Will Paul Ryan persuade our president that global trade is a win-win proposition in which voluntary mutually beneficial transactions shine the light of freedom into every corner of America (and the rest of the world)?

No, he won’t, because Donald J. Trump understands better than Paul Ryan that what America great in the first place was not the fantasy spontaneous-order world of Hayek and Mises.  Nope, it was the zero-sum world of baksheesh and Ndrangheta and omerta and Maskirovka and grease.  The whole point of the art of the deal is to fool and screw somebody else, not to find mutually beneficial transactions.  (The complex truth is other than either of these simple options; another post another day).

And if Trump appointed a “religious freedom” ambassador, that was for the “evangelical” suckers.  If he speaks of “God,” it is a God of wrath and vengeance, not the God who promises and brings good news of Christian freedom.  If he ever butters up members of the press in private, it’s only so as to catch them off guard when he calls them “enemies of the people” in public and tweets violent anti-CNN images to rile up his loyalists.

Paul, admit it: your president and ours doesn’t give a fig for “freedom.”  You at least make a big show out of promoting “freedom,” even if it is, IMO, a dystopian kind of freedom disconnected from the actual experiences of millions of hard-working and economically and otherwise not-completely-secure Americans–Americans who might want to look into FDR’s Second Bill of Rights to discover a version of freedom that might make a positive difference. If you want to know what the president really thinks of freedom, just look at his envious praise of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte and Erdogan and–you get the idea, Paul.

Imputable Me? No, Imputable You!

Why am I not surprised that “due process” was never a priority for this president?  I am a little sad for the sad trombone snowflakes commenting on Breitbart.com that their Trump votes are now hanging by a thread!  A thread having nothing whatsoever to do with due process, of course, but everything to do with happiness always being a warm gun.

Under no circumstances, in his own mind, will the president ever be blamed for anything.  He is not a puppet of the NRA–but you are, even if you are a Republican Senator who stuck your neck out to challenge the NRA.  He does not have conflicts of interest.  He cannot be bought.  Correction: he won’t stay bought.  Further update: we’re not quite sure if he can stay bought, stay tuned.

But by all means he will never be the subject of imputation.  There may or may not be collusion.  In fact collusion might turn out to be awesome.  But imputability, that’s never ever gonna happen.

Will The Supreme Court Get Tough On Unions And Reinstate The 1351 “Statute Of Laborers”?

The Supreme Court looks ready to crush public-sector unions with their upcoming decision in Janus v. AFSCME.  Anthony Kennedy, to his credit, decided in Obergefell that “animus” against same-sex relationships was unconstitutional (though he did not, in my judgment, get to the heart of the matter by declaring that bans on gay marriage violate the 14th Amendment due process guarantee) but in the oral argument Monday in Janus he showed open animus against collective bargaining as such.  Kennedy asked whether unions would have less political influence if they lose the case.  Hearing “yes,” he said, “isn’t that the end of the case?”  Yes, it probably is the end of this case.  I hadn’t expected Justice Kennedy to go so feudalistic on us in public, but it’s a new day in Washington.

But Tony–and Neil, Clarence, John, and Sam–why not set your sights higher?  The 1351 Statute of Laborers beckons.  Don’t be so low energy, just trying to demolish the New Deal and return to the days of William McKinley.  After the “Black Death” of 1347-1351, the workers who survived realized they had unaccustomed bargaining power.  As the 1351 Statute of Laborers acknowledged, this caused “grave inconveniences” for the lords and ladies and ruling classes of the time.  And so King Edward declared that “cherishing” laborers “in their sloth” was unacceptable.  His Statute declared that workers could no longer move to other towns in search of better conditions, but had to stay put and keep working for pre-plague wages.  (More anti-worker-freedom, anti-voluntary-transactions laws were passed in subsequent years, as the 1351 statute was hard to enforce–supply and demand, you know).

Consider yourself on notice now, Justice Kennedy.  When your hometown of Sacramento, and the rest of the Central Valley, floods and then sinks and then burns and the nation’s food supply dries up and anarchy really breaks out–are you ready to set things right by bringing us back to the glory days of 1351?  You won’t go squishy and start cherishing sloth, will you?  But you do know, don’t you, that all your empty talk about “voluntary transactions” and “freedom” is headed for the dumpster.

Should Our Least Racist President Have Admitted That The Second Amendment Had A Lot To Do With Slave Patrols?

If our president were really the biggest, best supporter of the 2nd Amendment, would he really have mentioned at the CPAC convention in National Harbor, Maryland today that, even for Give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death-Patrick-Henry, the militias referenced in the 2nd Amendment were often engaged in slave patrols?  Could it be that the president did not actually get into such nitty-gritty historical details because he is utterly innocent of any knowledge of American history?  He might not know the details, but he and his good buddy Wayne LaPierre know full well that Philando Castile did not have full 2nd Amendment privileges.

 

https://lawreview.law.ucdavis.edu/issues/31/2/Articles/DavisVol31No2_Bogus.pdf

 

 

 

“I Like Students Who Don’t Get Shot…Just Like I Like Soldiers Who Don’t Get Captured”

The President did not “order [a] ban on bump stocks” today (Washington Examiner).  He did not “move to ban ‘bump stocks'” (CNN Politics).  Nor did he “take executive action to ban bump stocks” (USA Today).  He did not “say he signed [a] memo to ban bump stocks” (Bloomberg).  In fact he directed Attorney General Sessions to propose regulations on bump stocks, in other words he ordered up a commission to study the issue, with no deadline for action.  Maybe it will come to something, but very likely not.  For some reason, headline writers from CNN to Bloomberg to USA Today–as mainstream as it gets–are still giving President Trump more than the benefit of the doubt.  They are jumping far beyond what he actually announced, which is not helpful to anyone hoping for actual changes in laws.  The misleading headlines might even be unfair to NRA executives hoping for a good night’s sleep, because the president, as far as I can tell, gave them no real reason to toss and turn.

 

Update: Shame on the NY Times, which now has this as their top website headline: “Trump Calls For Ban on Bump Stocks.”  The news story itself makes clear that he did not do that.

An Update On Opacity And Inauthenticity At Facebook

Rob Goldman, VP for ads @ Facebook, has weighed in on the Mueller indictments, media coverage thereof, and Facebook’s glorious “No Collusion! No Puppet!” role before, during, and after our 2016 election.  Rob, you protest too much.  Facebook is not the only bad actor and guilty party, no doubt.  I am sure you are right that plenty of media coverage of Facebook’s role in the last election was less than 100% accurate.  But did Facebook really share proprietary information on Russian ads with Mueller’s investigators out of a pure-hearted desire to “help the public understand how the Russians abused our system”?  Your company is in large part the social media system.  Mark Zuckerberg said after the election that the accusations against Facebook were all “crazy talk.”  Are you old enough to remember that?  You can say all you want that “swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal” of Russia, but sorry to say your words are far from “definitive.”  Your point is apparently that disrupting and weakening our democracy was their main goal, thus the election was just a little detail.  That’s a truly silly argument.  Of course the cultivation of Trump, and Jill Stein, were means to an end, not ends in themselves.  But if you think that excuses Facebook’s inattention and laxity, you are way off the mark.

P.S. Mr. Goldman does have a point that Finland, Sweden et al work hard at promoting a well-informed citizenry to keep Russian disinformation at bay.  In the US we reacted to the breakup of the USSR by exhaling and fooling ourselves that Russia was a far-off problem we didn’t have to worry about anymore.  Unless we lived in Alaska, we couldn’t see Russia from our window.  Facebook or no Facebook, maybe we have learned better now.  But critical thinking might still not be one of our national strong points, alas.  Mr. Goldman writes “there are easy ways to fight [Russian trolls and bots].  Disinformation is ineffective against a well educated citizenry.”  Education is “easy”?  Really?  Facebook and other Silicon Valley titans do promote better education in some ways, but are Facebook and Apple and Google willing to pay more taxes to support better education for all young people?  Mr. Goldman links to an article referencing Finland’s “strong public education system.”  Does Facebook support strong public education in the USA?

Sessions Praises “Anglo-American Heritage” Of Policing, Trump Fires Back

President Trump immediately fired back today at Attorney General Sessions, who praised sheriffs this morning for upholding the “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”  The president, walking toward his Official Presidential Limousine en route to give a lecture at the failing Newseum on “Macht, Herrschaft, and the Greatness of The Rule of Trump,”  demanded that General Sessions apologize for his comments and acknowledge the greatness of his favorite traditions of sheriffing and policing, namely the Germanic and Prussian.  At first blush the president’s rebuke of Sessions seemed to contradict his tweet over the weekend in support of “due process.”  Trump derided that objection as picayune and also treasonous, saying “I don’t need no stinking Magna Carta.”  At last check CNN, the AP, and the failing NY Times and fake-Amazon-Washington Post were all seeking writs of habeas corpus for their imprisoned reporters.

Remind Us Again How The Irish Became White, John Kelly

John Kelly, like all of us, is descended from some people who were “too afraid” and others who were “too lazy to get off their asses” to get their paperwork in order.  And I am sure he and we are also descended from some kings and queens and lords and ladies.

But tell us again, Kelly, in light of your insulting remarks about DACA people now wondering what’s next: how exactly did the Irish become white?  Did some Irish-Americans “become white” by adopting the anti-black racism of white American Protestants?  Noel Ignatiev’s book, How The Irish Became White, quotes Frederick Douglass, who said in 1853, “The Irish, who, at home, readily sympathize with the oppressed everywhere, are instantly taught when they step upon our soil to hate and despise the Negro….the Irish-American will one day find out his mistake.”  The becoming-white of the Irish in the United States of America is a long, complex story, which John Kelly and Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly and all of us would do well to study today,  with a more empathetic eye than I can detect from them so far.  If Democrats don’t want to take the deal that John Kelly says is so incredibly generous, so be it, maybe they are fools–but it sure seems like Kelly’s trash talk and Trump’s trash talk is designed more to avoid blame than to find a deal that can get through Congress.  Is that leadership?  We have a president who says he would “love a [government] shutdown” over the Dreamer/immigration issue: is that leadership, or passing the buck and trying to shift the blame?  It is probably going to be up to McConnell and Ryan and Democratic leadership to work out some kind of deal, probably temporary, and hope for better days down the road.  Dreamers will be left in more or less the same uncertainty they’re in now.  Kelly is truly out of line to question the motivations or reasoning or actions of people in a situation he can’t seem to imagine himself facing.  I do not want to become the victim of anybody, legal resident or illegal immigrant, and I expect my government to make some effort to preserve public order and keep me safe from evildoers, but none of that means I have any right to heap gratuitous insults on young people whose only real home is the US but who are still in legal limbo.

John Kelly and Donald Trump are just “joking” and “negotiating” toward a deal, some say.  Negotiating is great, and a sense of humor is a worth a lot (as Joe Biden said today, the president sure is a joke, all right).  And I say a president whose mother and father got here by way of chain migration, whose mother did not speak English as her first language and who arrived in the US with no skills, whose grandfather got here by evading the German draft and who got five draft deferments himself–a guy like that who talks the way he does about immigrants is a vicious little man who has no memory of where he came from or who he really is.  His chief of staff, John Kelly, ought to know better too, but it seems he’s too lazy to study it.  (Speaking of lazy, Kelly was asked if Trump had read the Schiff memo, which is about 10 pages: “no, no, it’s quite lengthy.”)  And when Kelly talks smack about Dreamers because maybe they don’t trust Donald Trump is dealing with them in good faith, he’s really lost it.

P.S. Meanwhile the annual trade deficit with China: $370 billion–is that still a problem now that Trump is our president?  And the annual US government budget deficit is headed toward a trillion dollars–problem or no problem?

Why Does Our President Hate Freedom So Much?

Today in Cincinnati the president accused Democrats who wouldn’t clap for his applause lines at the State of the Union address “treasonous.”  He throws out a lot of un-American garbage, day in and day out.  This was one of the more ignorant and trifling accusations he’s made.  Did it have anything to do with the Dow Jones down over 1000 points?  Did it have anything to do with the Nunes memo being exposed as a dud (at least if you think about it for more than 5 seconds, which the president hopes you won’t do)?  Did he toss out “treasonous” because he is feeling the walls of the Mueller investigation closing in?  It’s not good at all to have such an infantile person heading up the executive branch of our government.  He has no feeling at all for the freedoms that make our country as great as it is.

There’s no getting around the pickle we’re in, though many people protect themselves by tuning out most of the time and saying things like “politics has gotten all topsy turvy.”  True enough–but why?   One lazy, comfortable approach is to take the many cues from mainstream media that both sides are at fault.  I agree that both political parties are full of pompous and irritating people, but just a few moments reflection will tell you we are way beyond honest disagreements over the size and shape of government.  We have rolled the dice, bless our hearts, and elected a 71-year-old who acts like a 4-year-old, and not just any 4-year-old but an evil and malicious one.  Just because the only verifiable Christian doctrine is (as Reinhold Niebuhr said) original sin does not mean that “both sides” are equally to blame in American politics today.  We have chosen, heaven help us, a guy who demands that everyone clap for him and love him and bow down before him.  Democrats have some very real shortcomings, but if they are the only available vehicle in 2018 to check and control an out-of-control president, so be it.  Grown-ups, whatever their party affiliation, are obliged to face our dangerous political situation, hold their noses if necessary, and try to make it better as soon as possible, to keep our freedoms safe from the threat of our rogue president.

RIP Gene Sharp, Author Who Analyzed Strategy And Tactics Of Nonviolent Action

Gene Sharp, who died a few days ago, wrote the books on nonviolent political struggle.  In Waging Nonviolent Struggle (Boston: Extending Horizons Books, 2005) and his three-volume work onThe Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Extending Horizons Books, 1973), Sharp dealt with nonviolent action as a potentially effective means of political struggle.  He did not presuppose that nonviolent action is a second-best method for those too weak to employ violence.  Nor did he assume that the high ground of nonviolence is an end in itself.  Nonviolence is a strategy, a means to an end, in Gene Sharp’s writings, and as Nobel-Prize-winning theorist of nuclear strategy Thomas Schelling noted in his introduction to volume one of The Politics of Nonviolent Action, “violent actions and the nonviolent are different methods of trying to make it unrewarding for people to do certain things, and safe or rewarding to do other things….Discipline, command and control; intelligence about the adversary; careful choice of weapons, targets, terrain and time of day; and, especially, avoiding impetuous recourse to provoked or purposeless violence, are critical to success in violent as in nonviolent action.  Most of what are usually called the ‘principles of war’ are…about as appropriate to the study of nonviolent action as to the violent….What Gene Sharp’s book does at every step is to relate the methods of nonviolent action, and the organizational requirements, the logistics and the leadership and the discipline, the recruitment of members and the choice of targets, to political purpose.”

 

https://www.aeinstein.org/nonviolentaction/198-methods-of-nonviolent-action/

http://www.wbur.org/news/2018/01/30/gene-sharp-obit

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/30/gene-sharp-dead-arab-spring-political-scientist

If Paul Ryan And Mitch McConnell Really Cared About Civil Liberties And Didn’t Want To Become The Franz von Papens Of The USA…

Re what Paul Ryan had to say in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia today: if the GOP really wants to seize the high ground on civil liberties, how about defending “one person, one vote” by defending America against partisan gerrymandering?  How about defending America against vote suppression?  How about defending America against the carnage happening every day by appropriating some real money to reduce opioid addiction and deaths–and pass some laws that regulate the ability of drug companies to push crazy amounts of opiates into little towns all over Appalachia and California and Florida and New Hampshire?  How about defending the respect for rule of law that was a big part of what actually made the United States of America as great as it is?

Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell: have you read the memoirs of Franz von Papen lately?  Do you care at all about defending our liberal democracy (small “l” and small “d”) from illiberal would-be tyrants?  Yes you do know exactly what I am talking about.  Franz von Papen and his fellow “conservative” aristocrats enabled extreme radicalism in Germany by convincing themselves that they could easily manipulate the vulgar and clownish Hitler.  Yes, Nazi analogies are alarmist and hazardous, but you, Ryan and McConnell, know very well what you’re up to, you know you’re enabling Trump when you tolerate and tacitly encourage people like Devin Nunes.  You know that when Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, is not allowed to look at the Nunes memo, something rotten is going on.  You don’t want to be lumped in with Breitbart and Alex Jones, but that’s where you are now.

The State Of Our Unreliable Narrator Is Ugly And Malicious

The phrase “unreliable narrator” was coined by Wayne Booth, University of Chicago English professor, in his 1961 book The Rhetoric of Fiction.  James Phelan of Ohio State University, in a 2007 journal article, parsed two types of unreliable narration: “Estranging Unreliability, Bonding Unreliability, and the Ethics of ‘Lolita.'”

I fervently hope that the instant TV analysts of tonight’s State of the Union Address focus not on the laughable question,  “did he become presidential yet?” but rather on the far more fascinating issue, “what kind of unreliable narration are we dealing with tonight?”  For example, can the president do “estranging unreliability” and “bonding unreliability” at the same time?  Will he thus succeed in disorienting enough people, including media influencers and elites, to get away with the obstructions that he himself foretold would amount to an openly visible crime scene (sub 1600 Penn Ave for Fifth Avenue).   I assume (based on experience at this point, not prejudgment; yes, I gave him a chance, time’s up) malicious unreliability from this president, and am happy that many if not most Americans are quite aware of the maliciousness and the unreliability and are already tired enough of it to overcome GOP gerrymandering this November and place an Article One check on presidential abuse of power.  But it is a dangerous harrowing time for America’s constitutional democratic republic.

 

James Phelan article:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/30219252?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

From Distention To Intention (2018)

If there was ever a year when people all over need to move from “distentio animi” (the soul stretched out of shape and distracted) to “intentio animi” (roughly, concentration) and from discordance to concordance, it’s now, 2018.  Of course Americans are not united, but I expect even those who figured what the heck let’s roll the dice in 2016, not necessarily from evil intent but in many cases out of real frustration, many if not most such people are worried and troubled by what they saw in 2017.  Every president has the capacity to initiate events, for better or worse.  But there is now an election in view, and it is now possible for those Americans who want to check and balance this president to focus on doing so.  Yes he can try to get us to pay attention to shiny objects and yes we may get fooled into diving down one or two rabbit holes, but there is hope for “intention” this year, intention for the sake of protecting our constitutional rights and our way of life (imperfect though it is).  We need to insist on sane and responsible representation this November.  We voted (via the electoral college, bless its quasi-democratic heart) to take a risky path a year and a half ago, but we have a chance to repair, I hope, much of the damage this fall.  Any politician, in spite of possibly honorable past service, who is subservient to our current president is not serving freedom and democracy well at this point.  If that sounds oblivious to the many flaws of the Democratic Party or “the left,” so be it.  Differences over the proper size and shape of the federal government are one thing.  Protecting freedom and the Constitution is a higher imperative at this moment.

P.S. For a seemingly abstract (though in Augustine, book 11, strikingly concrete) take on “distention” and intention, see the following sources (Augustine’s Confessions as translated recently by Sarah Ruden; Peter Brown’s review of Ruden’s version; and Paul Ricoeur’s interpretation of Augustine):

https://books.google.com/books?id=GyDODgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=augustine++confessions+sarah+ruden++distended&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjDuPbP38HYAhVnrlQKHQCZANkQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=stretched%20out%20of%20shape&f=false

 

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/10/26/sarah-ruden-augustine-dialogue-god/

 

https://books.google.com/books?id=5h9lJLdjoBwC&pg=PA231&dq=augustine+confessions+distentio+intentio&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiy8pmP38HYAhXqqlQKHQZ2AdwQ6AEIQjAE#v=onepage&q=%20distentio%20intentio&f=false

57 Gorilla Channels And Nothing On

I admit that I found the “gorilla channel” parody of Michael Wolff’s Fire And Fury book plausible for a brief shining moment.  Seventeen hours a day seemed a bit much, but who am I to judge a man with the single-minded focus of our president?

Does the Wolff book tell us anything we didn’t already know or suspect? Not really.  Do we need any more incriminating stories from the Washington Post or New York Times or Buzzfeed or (credit where due, despite their editorial stance, which is pure flying-monkey style agitprop) Wall Street Journal?  I imagine Robert Mueller’s team, if not removed by agents of the Trump regime, will disclose a lot more detail, but we have been able to read enough already about meetings with Russians and alleged money laundering, not to mention the obvious Emoluments Clause violations, to judge for ourselves that the current executive in Washington is utterly corrupt and unfit.  Josh Marshall is right to call what we are seeing an “active crime scene.”  There is plenty of evidence of turpitude, for those with ears to hear and eyes to read.

We the people–preferably in the person of our elected representatives, but also in the form of First Amendment-authorized peaceable assembly–just need to move from the “distention” of 2017 (I felt stretched out of shape, anyway) to the “intention” of 2018.  The next election is now in sight.  Even though this president, like any president, has plenty of power to initiate events and cause unnecessary trouble, we Americans have the capacity now to focus our energy on checking his power in just a few months’ time.

A Bodyguard Of Lies, All The Way Down

As the new movie “Darkest Hour” ends, Lord Halifax acknowledges that Winston Churchill has taken the English language and sent it into battle.  We are not yet in our darkest hour in the U.S., but we too have a political leader who sends the English language into battle.  Too bad he does not do it in service of any cause nobler than enriching himself and his Mar-a-Lago customers, whom he told Friday night that they are about to “get a whole lot richer.”

Churchill said that “in war-time, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”  He had a very noble purpose, turning back Nazi domination of Europe (sullied by his simultaneously vicious and oblivious imperialism).  In 2017, the president protects himself, or tries to, with nearly incessant razzle-dazzle, aka lies–but not, as far as I can tell, in service of any noble cause at all.  It’s just a bodyguard of lies all the way down, with no bottom in sight yet.

Paul Ryan Says “My Minute Will Last As Long As I Want It To Last”–True, Until Next November, Then He’s On Borrowed Time

Paul Ryan said a minute or two ago on the House floor in DC that his “minute” can last as long as he wants it to.  Ryan, as Speaker, can, indeed, make his “minute” last as long as he likes in today’s House debate on the corporate tax cut bill.  But he is on borrowed time–and he probably knows it, as his hints at retirement show.  People who oppose Ryan’s agenda, and McConnell’s agenda (as for Trump…”agenda” is too dignified a word for it, I think) have a goal in view now–toss them out next November.

Not To Worry About A ‘Coup’ In America–After All, Case Officer Putin Has Trump Under Control

If there is a “coup” going on in America, from what direction is it coming?  Is Robert Mueller, long-time Republican and Marine veteran, leading a leftist coup to oust Trump?  Or is Fox News colluding with Vladimir Putin to destabilize our American democracy?  Much closer to door #2, I would say.  I am not sure exactly who is calling the tune, but Trump, Fox News, and most Republicans (or, as some say, Republirussians) are sure singing from the same nasty hymnbook.  The rightwing noise machine is a feedback loop of attacks on Robert Mueller these days.

If Trump’s lawyers really think emails from the transition period between November 9, 2016 and January 20, 2017 were seized illegally by Mueller’s team, they have a remedy: file a motion with a Federal judge in DC.  If they had any kind of valid legal case, they would have done that already.

If Robert Mueller were really trying to engineer a coup by relying on a team of corrupt pro-Hillary partisans, why did he get rid of the FBI agent who wrote those 2 am texts?  Mueller got rid of the indiscreet and dubious agent.  So what exactly is the problem?  Senator Cornyn of Texas had no good answer when asked that question yesterday, though he did clear his throat and harrumph a while.

Republicans tried and pretty much succeeded in delegitimizing Lawrence Walsh’s investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal in the late nineteen-eighties (hat tip Charlie Pierce).  Will Trump succeed in delegitimizing Mueller?  Trump has something Reagan didn’t: Fox.  He also has majorities in both houses of Congress, for now.  Will Mueller turn out to have more conclusive evidence (and time to present it) than Walsh did?  I think yes and who knows.  Three days from now, if the tax bill passes, as seems likely, and Congress and the country get ready for Christmas and New Year’s, the situation becomes more volatile between Mueller and Trump.  I would be very surprised if Trump went away quietly, but I also think Republicans in Congress would much rather have Pence as president.

When Putin calls Trump, does he give direct marching orders?  Or is it more subtle and refined?  What are the safe words?  The safe words that may have been worked out in their hourlong meeting with no US translator or official present, in Europe, a few months ago, that was not disclosed by any US official but by Buzzfeed?  And do they talk every few days?  We have heard more about their phone calls from the Kremlin than from the State Department.  Is Fox News looking into this?  Putin is mighty white, which appeals to some people, but do the patriots who voted for Trump believe that our constitutional republic is in good hands with Putin as Trump’s case officer (as James Clapper said recently, and I don’t trust Clapper a whole lot, but he seems to have assessed Putin-Trump accurately)?  Trump’s “national security strategy,” which he just presented on TV, does call out Russia and China to some extent, but Trump read those sections of the strategy report like a zombie, skipped some parts critical of Russia altogether, and only became animated when he spoke of collaboration with Putin.  Collaboration is not necessarily collusion or criminal conspiracy, but sometimes smelling a whole lot of smoke ought to be enough evidence to flee the crime scene, eh?

Alabama, A Light Unto The Gentiles (Just Not The Way Roy Thought)

The jaded and cynical Nathaniel asked (Gospel of John 1:46) “can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  Jaded and cynical people in 2017 America wondered, can any good thing come out of Alabama?  Sure can!  I was surely apprehensive that Alabama might send Roy Moore to the Senate, but it sent Doug Jones instead, and great credit goes to him for running an excellent campaign.  Last year in Massachusetts, 91 out of the 351 towns and cities in Massachusetts gave more votes to Trump than Clinton.  So maybe Malcolm X was not so off-base when said that if you are south of the Canadian border, you’re South–but thank goodness the elections of 2017 have shown surprising signs of Democratic and progressive renewal all over the United States.  Not in the way that Roy Moore figured, Alabama today has become, so to speak, a light and a witness to the nations (see Isaiah 49:6).  I expect Alabama’s election of Doug Jones will inspire hundreds and maybe thousands of Democrats and progressives to get over the wailing and gnashing of teeth and prepare for political battle in 2018 in all 50 states.  (Or sooner, if Trump manages to fire Mueller and/or the GOP passes their tax cut for corporations and pass-throughs/healthcare sabotage bill.)  The GOP and Trump still have the power, if unified, to initiate giveaways to the robber barons of the 21st century, install horridly unqualified judges, and maybe worse.  But the wind is not at their back right now, and Democrats can and should press their advantages, looking toward next November’s elections.  Trump may tweet “I was right” (but of course) and blame everybody else about what happened last night, but he has suffered multiple political bubble punctures now, and everybody knows it.  Doug Jones said today that Alabama’s issues are the same as the issues across the country, jobs, education, health care–and he is really right.

Breaking News Via Revelation Chapter 9: The Oval Office Is A Bottomless Pit

If you were thinking that the president bottomed out today with his sexual innuendo about Democratic US Senator Gillibrand, think again.  As First Lady Michelle Obama said last year, the presidency does not change who you are, it reveals who you are.  For this president, there is not likely to be any soundable bottom.  We could look more closely at the paradoxical geometry of bottomless pits in a finite universe.  We could ask whether a rock dropped in the Oval Office would ever bounce off the bottom, but why not look instead to the Scriptures.  As the book of Revelation predicted, the president is the “king of the bottomless pit.”  That’s from Revelation chapter 9, “then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit….from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened….then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth….they have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails.  They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit.  His name in Hebrew is Abaddon.”  Or, in Old High German, “Trump.”  At least many people say so.  Also, I regret to report, and even though it may hurt the feelings of those who believe Scripture is without error, the scorpions have been stinging us for more than five months.

Update December 13: USA Today’s editorial today, “Will Trump’s Lows Ever Hit Rock Bottom?” says, shockingly but fairly, that Trump is unfit to clean the toilets of Obama’s presidential library or to shine George W. Bush’s shoes!

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/12/12/trump-lows-ever-hit-rock-bottom-editorials-debates/945947001/

How To Maximize Your ROI: Eat A Meadow Gold Dairy Sign For Breakfast And Spend Your Savings On Booze, Women, And Movies

I hear from inside sources that Senator Charles Grassley is on C-Span 4 right now telling American investors how to maximize their Return On Investment vis-a-vis Booze, Women, and Movies.  And on C-Span 5, Senator Orrin Hatch is introducing a bill to require children over 8 years old to go to work in the coal mines and textile mills before they qualify for CHIP coverage.  Hatch said that he grew up so poor that he lived “in a shack with a Meadow Gold Dairy sign for a wall.”  So what, Senator Orrin?  I was so poor that we had to eat part of the Meadow Gold Dairy sign every morning for breakfast.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/12/04/why-arent-you-paying-the-estate-tax-maybe-because-you-bought-311000-bottles-of-whisky/?utm_term=.c4af24093ace

Trump Fixin’ Up His Hair Real Pretty So He Can Meet Forgotten Men And Women Tonight In Atlantic City

Honey last night I met this guy named Trump and I’m gonna do a little favor for him, OK?  He is doing a victory dance with the donor class today in New York City, but I know he cares a whole lot about us forgotten men and women here in Atlantic City.  I know my Trump will come down to Atlantic City tonight, after he fixes up his hair real pretty.  I know they lie when they say he has debts no honest man can pay.  I know the gamblin’ commission (head man in charge Mitch McConnell down in the Swampland) is holdin’ on by the skin of its teeth, but I know Trump will never leave us on the wrong side of the line (he’s so fine, do-lang, do-lang…).

The 2019 “Medicare For All Act” Can Be Written In Crayon On A Napkin As Far As I Care–Don’t Fixate On Problems With “Process”

If the “enemies list” of people who will be hurt by the Republican tax bill gets mad and “woke” enough to overcome GOP gerrymandering and vote suppression next November, and Democrats regain the majority in Congress, I am fine with Bernie or Jon Tester or Heidi Heitkamp or Claire McCaskill writing “Medicare for all” on a cocktail napkin and having that become the law of the land.  Mitch McConnell’s flouting of “regular order” and the sight of a Senate bill with X-ed out pages and jotted corrections in the margin is abusive and undignified and regrettable and infuriating–but mainly because the substance of the bill is an attack on the social contract between generations.  Fixating on process “violations” won’t win over very many “forgotten men and women” who voted for Obama as well as Trump.  Democrats can and should focus on the bad effects, the bad substance, the uncertainty and insecurity and unwelcome changes the bill imposes on many millions of voters.  Jon Tester’s video was great, but the big story is the heavier burdens being laid on middle-income American voters.  I believe that is the winning message.  Substantive injustice is the big issue, procedural issues are an irritant but a side issue.

How Did Trump Become The Radical Extremist Who Says “I Alone Can Stir Every Pot”?

Not sure it matters when or how the leader of the radical extremist US regime came to be radicalized, the fact is he did.  Maybe since age 4 or 5, maybe by Roy Cohn, but it happened.  Many TV talking heads are still not speaking as if Trump is a radical extremist troll.  They cast about for other explanations: he’s “not normal,” he’s “disconnected from reality,” and so son.  Some in the media say they are “news” people rather than “opinion” people, so they couldn’t possibly impute malignant motives to a person holding the “office of the presidency.”  They are no more fair or objective than I am when I call the US government a radical extremist “regime.”  They speak with forked tongues, that is their hesitation is surely caused by motivated reasoning–or else they are more gullible than I think (why do I think their tax bracket and that of their bosses has anything to do with anything?).  Their reluctance is unscientific and not objective at all: a true empiricist approach would be to sift through interpretations for Trump’s behavior and then broadcast the most plausible, whatever they are.  Reporters of all people ought to mistrust and verify always and everywhere–if your mother says x, check it out!  It is long past time to pretend that we should give Trump the benefit of the doubt because surely he’s going to “pivot.”

Trump’s radical extremist trolling has now flapped the hard to flap British by retweeting far-right fake news from Britain First, and then had the nerve to tell Theresa May to mind her own business!  “I alone can stir any and all pots.”  And Sarah Sanders’ stated position is pure big lie: who cares if the videos are real, what matters is ein volk, ein reich, ein Trump.  How we got here, whether it was was race or class or economic anxiety or Comey or Vlad or YOLO attitude, now how do we dig out?  At least I hope there’s a way to dig out.

Swamp Thing Mitch Busted Again On Dinner With Obama/You Don’t Like Snowflakes, Then Don’t Be One!

Why do I ever assume that Mitch McConnell speaks truth about anything?  It’s a long learning process for some of us good gullible folks, but when Mitch said today that those awful Democrats should have dined with the president who had just insulted them, and that He, Mitch, would never ever have disrespected the president that way, even when it was Obama, I wondered, could he be fudging, just a little?  Well…

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/18/mcconnell-obama-dinner-federalist-society_n_785717.html

Both sides are maneuvering, to be sure, to be able to blame somebody else if the US defaults and the government shuts down–but Mitch seems to be the leading lying Congressperson today.  Not that he is likely to challenge the lying president in the biggest liar department.

Advice to Democrats: smile and emphasize that you are ready to negotiate without any preconditions.  Do not assume that your viewers are paying any attention at all.  Inform us anew every time.  Trump has not yet tired of repeating his talking points, and to be a good communicator be willing to learn–in this way only–from the president.  Remind us that the Republicans hold the majority and they own the outcomes on North Korea, taxes, health care, shifting of burdens, robots taking our jobs, China, identity theft scams, Wall Street abuses, everything.

Hello Republicans–in your minds you may be beleaguered suffering servants, and perhaps sometimes you are.  But your political party is in charge, and will be judged as such.  You don’t like snowflakes?  Then don’t be one.  Bless your hearts.

Translation Of The President’s Remarks On Roy Moore And 40 Years Has Been A Long Time And Women Are Very Special

We don’t need people who are soft on crime in Washington, unless it was supposedly child abuse or rape, which I deny happened, also Roy Moore total denial 40 years ago and they were my voters anyway, I could grab them right now and they would still vote for me so women you totally have my permission to vote for Roy because women are very special but get real not as special as a big fat tax cut which the fake news says is for me total lie, plus Judge Moore not soft on borders either, unless you’re talking about the border between total moral depravity and decency, that’s a tough one, there are many pitfalls in life, it was 40 years ago and so I hereby grant official pardons to all my Trump voters especially those who trust me so much they forget all about their purity vows when they were 15 and vote for abusive Godly men who shoot people and grab people and totally deny everything, I just spoke with Mr. Putin, very strongly, not soft, no puppet no puppet, I totally deny, great Thanksgiving everybody.

Editor’s Note: President Trump said before last November’s election that his only chance to get into heaven was to get elected president.  How’s that going for you?  Also, “soft on crime” has nothing to do with “soft on KKK members who kill little black girls in church in Birmingham,” totally different rules there.  And speaking of different rules, wake up MSM who say “we really didn’t see this coming today” (Trump’s permission structure for Roy Moore voters, that is)–who could possibly predict that our president would ever look leniently and permissively on a guy who wanted segregation legally enshrined in the Alabama state constitution in the 21st century and whose extreme patriarchal Dominionist Christianism outflanks Trump on the crazy–actually, I am shocked that our Trump didn’t slap Roy down by making clear that he alone gets dibs on all the 14-year-olds.

I Can Live Without Seeing Al Franken (And Charlie Rose) On PBS, And Without Ever Seeing Trump On Any Channel Ever Again

In the spirit of fairness, bipartisanship, and anti-moral-relativism, I am very ready to give up watching Al Franken in the upcoming PBS TV tribute to David Letterman.  By the way, PBS, have you googled “David Letterman women” lately?  I am also willing to do without Charlie Rose.  And I can live without seeing Bill Clinton on TV again.

But what about the president?  I feel I ought to be fair to both sides here and adopt a posture of bipartisan civility.  And so I can reveal that I am absolutely willing to never see any trace of our 45th president on television ever again.  Is that too much winning to ask?  I admit that if Trump doesn’t kill us all, it might even be best for the long-term health of our democratic republic, and would probably serve us right, for all of us to have to get ourselves together to vote his enablers out next year and then vote him out in 2020.  That is the least we can do.  But if the president decides that we are unworthy of all the winning he is bringing, and wants to spare us his showers of blessings deliverance shtick, I’ll go along to get along.

Should We Leave The President In His (Mental) Jail? Should We Pardon Him? Has He Ever Asked For Forgiveness?

The father of one of the three UCLA basketball players arrested for shoplifting in China did something dumb.  He questioned whether Trump did anything to get his son out of a Chinese jail.  LaVar Ball is a nitwit, and has been for quite a while.  All three of the players thanked the president when they apologized on TV the other day.

Meanwhile, the president of our whole country, Donald J. Trump, responded to LaVar Ball today by saying “I should have left them in jail.”  No, you shouldn’t have done that.  And you shouldn’t stoop to the level you did, but you apparently can’t help yourself.

The bigger issue is that we have a president who can be played by foreign adversaries.  Maybe that is not completely new.  Maybe previous presidents were also taken advantage of.  But this one is so transparently hungering for flattery all day every day that he makes China’s job and Russia’s job and Iran’s job and pretty much every foreign leader’s job much too easy.  They ought to at least have to work a little in order to manipulate the United States government.  Well, actually Russia seems to have done just that, over years if not decades, with Trump.  And if and when Donald Trump and/or his family members are incarcerated, should we leave them in jail?  Should we forgive and pardon them?  Will they ever ask for our forgiveness?

 

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/trump-says-he-should-have-left-ucla-players-in-jail

 

 

 

 

G-d Updates Odds On Trump Getting Into Heaven

As you know, Donald Trump acknowledged on August 11, 2016, that getting into the White House was “probably the only way I’m going to get into heaven.”  So he thinks he has a shot.  But according to sources close to G-d, his odds have fallen to 7,000,000,000 to 1.  From 6,999,997,000 to 1, informed sources tell us.  Not a big change, you may think, but eternal salvation and election and (so-called) predestination may be less immutable than heathens like Trump believe.  He ought to think twice and three times before tweeting things that make his index finger fall off and his mouth fill up with lice and his nose with flies.  It is unfortunate that we elected a president so morally (and probably financially) compromised) that he has absolutely no moral authority to say anything about anything.  I suppose he tweeted an attack on Al Franken because if he couldn’t he would be implicitly admitting that stuff he’s done leaves him “jammed.”  Trump does not like to feel jammed.  Doesn’t mind jamming others, but just isn’t able to control himself when his own unsavory past really ought to make him stay quiet for a change.

I sure hope Trump’s past, and the many ways he is indebted and compromised, and the way he feels jammed, and his lack of impulse control, and his need to attack, won’t have any bad consequences for the United States and the world.  Oops.

 

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-winning-white-house-probably-only-way-ill-get-into-heaven/

Orrin Hatch, Fake Champion Of The Downtrodden And Forsaken

Senators Orrin Hatch and Sherrod Brown had some differences last night toward the end of the Senate Finance Committee’s approval of legislation to ease up on the tax code’s heavy burden on the 1% of the 1%.  Senator Hatch did his very best imitation of Eugene Debs, socialist and presidential-candidate-from-prison-cell (he didn’t win 100 years ago, but you never know about 2020!).  Debs said in federal court in 1918, “while there is a lower class, I am in it.”  Hatch may well have come up from poverty.  But he went off the rails somewhere.  Orrin, I am not attacking your motives, but the damage you are doing right now is what matters.  I don’t care how much integrity you think you have, it’s the nasty details of the bill that matter.  It’s the favoritism you show toward your rich donors right now that matters.  There is a reason more hands didn’t shoot up for Gary Cohn at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council: those CEO’s didn’t want themselves on video promising to hire more people when they know they are really just going to do stock buybacks and more automation.  Your past struggles, Orrin, whatever they were, do not give you a free pass to shift more burdens onto struggling working people.  Go home to Utah now if you don’t get that.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2017/11/17/this-remarkable-angry-exchange-between-senators-unmasks-the-gops-tax-cut-lies/?utm_term=.7270a3eebcb9

Trump Hits The Mute Button, Why Oh Why Could That Be?

Why has our president suddenly gone silent?  What topic could possibly have gotten him to be discreet and quiet for a change?  OK, I give up, I just hope he goes quiet all the time on every topic and doesn’t sign any bills or issue any more threats or executive orders or anything troublesome at all.  Remember, Mr. Trump, Matthew 15:11–it ain’t what goeth into the mouth that defileth thee, it’s the stuff that comes out of the mouth that does the damage.

McConnell: While We’re At It Let’s Investigate Trump and Clarence Thomas, Too

Wow.  Leader McConnell is really leading this time.  The Senate Ethics Committee should investigate Al Franken, absolutely.  But McConnell is not so partisan after all, since he has also demanded (in a parallel universe) immediate ethics investigations into the allegations of sexual misconduct made against President Trump, not to mention those against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  At least I think that’s what I read in my feed.  I can’t imagine something I read could be unreliable. So, three cheers for Mitch McConnell, who was bipartisan-curious enough to say he’d trade one retroactive Bill Clinton resignation for one prospective (2021, let’s say) Thomas resignation.  Seems fair swap to me, and I know Mitch is all about fairness.

In related news a Japanese rail company has apologized after its Tsukuba express train departed 20 seconds early.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42009839

Loving The Tiny Postcard Tax Form, And I Know Paul Ryan Will Let All Of Us Send In Teeny Tiny Checks To The IRS

That postcard tax form that President Trump kissed the other day is so cute.  I am so confident that all the haters and fools will be proven wrong when the glorious freedom-loving Republicans pass their Tax Cuts And Jobs Act and I get to send the IRS a teeny tiny check next spring.  I know Paul will be happy to take cute emojis on the endorsement line in lieu of more money because he loves my freedom even more than I love it myself.  And Speaker Ryan doesn’t care about anybody except regular forgotten hard-working men and women, like the ones driving those autonomous vehicles into the new Foxconn factory in southeast Wisconsin where Speaker Ryan lives.  Oh?  There aren’t any truck drivers driving those autonomous vehicles?  And Foxconn isn’t paying taxes?  But who is going to pay for my Medicare and my cousin’s VA bills and my uncle’s disability?  Well, I am sure a smart young fellow like Paul Ryan will figure it out, those charts sure looked very convincing and his eyes are very blue.

“A Form Of Chaos Every Day From Day One”: We Knew That, JeffBo, Just Tell Us When It Ends!

Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions spoke some truth yesterday in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.  He remarked that while the Trump campaign was sometimes “brilliant,” it was also “a form of chaos every day from day one.”  He did not say and hardly needed to say that the chaos has not yet stopped and is unlikely to stop so long as Trump is president.  The chaos has taken a particularly ominous form: judicial integrity and independence are clearly unacceptable to our president.  Corollary to that: Trump seems unable to either imagine or accept that we Americans are citizens, not his vassals or supplicants.  The Fourteenth Amendment spoke of the “privileges and immunities” that everyone born in the United States possesses, but Trump has apparently either not heard of this part of the US Constitution or not accepted that it is more than “flotsam” (as Scalia flippantly and disgracefully claimed).  Will the “system” work, that is, will legitimate moral and political authority be able to reestablish itself?  That depends on hard choices being made by members of the legislative and judicial branches to check Trump’s abuses, and also on the capacity of principal players within the executive branch (Rod Rosenstein comes to mind) to act with integrity and compel Trump to acquiesce to their integrity or else fire them.  And then the survival of our republic will depend on Congress and the people, very likely in public protests, to denounce and oppose Trump with enough force to restore just order from chaos.

One reality of chaos in 2017 America is that we all risk whiplash from Trump’s daily assertion that his personal will and whim must be obeyed.  Our duty as citizens is to do our part to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitutional democracy and our republican, little r, form of government.  Trump’s agenda is personal arbitrary rule.  He claimed that he would put his business expertise and dealmaking excellence to work on behalf of the “forgotten men and women.”  Well, the stock market is certainly up, so some have benefited (so far) but Trump’s focus and happiness and glee seems mostly about being head of a crime family, as far as I can tell.  If I get arrested for shoplifting in China and he personally intervenes on my behalf (see the UCLA team members who returned to California today) I would owe him a personal thank you.  Otherwise, I owe him no special loyalty and no thanks until he actually does his job as a public servant.  My debt, like his, is to the principles and ideals of our “lively experiment,” as historian Sidney Mead put it.  And as M.L. King wrote in his last book, “where do we go from here: chaos or community?”  We are capable of better, capable of moving toward community, and there are some reasons for hope, but I expect our president (and his enablers, including foreign bots) will exploit every last opportunity to increase grievances and rub salt in wounds.  It will be up to us to keep our sense of proportion and good will towards one another, and resist the false choices and poison chalices Trump will surely place before us.

We Laughed It Off…They Weren’t Blonde Enough…Actually, A Couple Of Them Were Massively Blonde Enough…He Only Grabbed Three Of Them

President Trump’s former personal aide and bodyguard, Keith Schiller, is reported to have acknowledged that Trump was offered five Russian women in his Moscow hotel suite in 2013.  But no collusion!  Not today, anyway.  Tomorrow, who knows where the story will go.  Could Putin’s agents have failed to send blondes?  Seems quite unlikely.  Could Trump have been smart enough to tell Schiller, “they probably have cameras, I better take a hard pass?”  Perhaps not in those exact words, but…

Did Mitch McConnell Really Just Call For Donald Trump To “Step Aside”?

Oops, it’s actually Roy Moore who’s being asked to “step aside” if allegations in the Washington Post that he had a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl are “found to be true.”  OK, then.  Just wondering though if President Trump still presumed innocent of the allegations of twenty women?  Trump: can’t live with him but hard to live without him, it seems.

Update: Trump’s former (long-time) bodyguard Keith Schiller has apparently testified that Russians offered to send women to Trump’s Moscow hotel in 2013, but that the offer was refused.  Pardon me, could we replay the pussy-grabber video again.  How different could 2013 Trump have been from 2005 Trump, really?

Are “Consumers” Really “Defying” President By Signing Up For ACA Coverage? Think Again, NYT

Today’s NY Times includes a story by Robert Pear, “Pace of Sign-Ups Under Affordable Care Act Blows Past Prior Years.”  So far so good.  But the first paragraph imputes motives that may not exist: “More than 600,000 people signed up last week for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, significantly beating the pace of prior years as consumers defied President Trump’s assertion that the marketplace was collapsing.”

Begging your pardon, but I did not sign up for ACA coverage this year (or ever) in order to defy the president.  I am simply hoping to get the best healthcare coverage I can afford.  I can’t speak for the other six hundred thousand plus people, but I suspect that many if not most are just doing what needs to be done.

I am happy to disagree with Trump, protest against Trump, maybe even agree with something he says or does, but “defy”?  Does this mean that Trump is the royal and we “consumers” are the subjects?  The last king my people defied was King George III.  Does the NY Times have any better idea than President Trump that the national executive is a public servant and that our national greatness, such as it is, does not depend on royal prerogative?  And furthermore, that dissent and disagreement are prerogatives of citizens in a constitutional democratic republic?  And by the way, do we speak of giant corporations and billionaires as “defying” the president when they clamor for more loopholes, lower tax rates, more squiggly wriggly “pass-throughs”?

Prayer, Secondary Causes, And Mass Slaughter

I do not agree with all of what John Calvin (1509-1564) had to say about God and predestination.  But for anyone who accepts pretty much any version of Christian theism, it’s hard to find fault with Calvin’s clear and sensible affirmation (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.17.9) that we ought not to interpret providence in such a way that we despise the “secondary causes” through which God acts in the world.  (And it’s not only a Protestant-Puritan thing, Thomas Aquinas would have agreed with Calvin here.)

Should I be surprised that the Republican response to the latest mass slaughter closes the door against anything other than prayer.  Prayer may indeed offer consolation in times of trial.  Thoughts may send good karma in the direction of those suffering horribly in Texas.  But for Speaker Paul Ryan to use “prayer works” as an excuse to do nothing is adding insult to injury.  When Ryan turns aside any possibility of using legislation to reduce mass killings he is speaking as a fatalistic pagan, not a Christian.  I want at least enough of a line of separation between church and state that neither Paul Ryan nor any other politician tries to excuse their lack of action by saying that prayer works.  His job, and the president’s job, is to restrain evildoers, and pave roads.  Mitch McConnell insulted our intelligence when he said that there is no “foolproof” legislative remedy.  Of course, Senator.  I am not expecting infallibility.  How about a little honest and well-informed effort.  Our murder rate is 50 times higher than the United Kingdom–and our president says it is not “a guns situation.”  How about getting real about the secondary causes staring us in the face?

Why Are Republicans Trying To Overrule The Magna Carta–Do They Hate Freedom That Much?

Magna Carta Article 40 states: “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”  That affirmation continues to be part of English law almost 800 years later.  One might expect true “conservatives” in the U.S. Congress to respect this ancient shout-out on behalf of liberty, but no.  Congressman Chris Collins, Republican, uttered the GOP’s bottom line today when he said, “my donors are basically saying, “Get it done or don’t ever call me again.”  So much for Paul Ryan’s slick subterfuges.  Anyone who can read the plain meaning of words knows where the Republicans are coming from now.

No Foolproof Solution Expected

Senator McConnell, as always, is correct when he says there is no “foolproof” solution for massacres like the one in Texas yesterday.  But he is old enough to know that legislation is not an exact science.  His commentary is true as far as it goes, but that’s not far at all.  Fox News is emphasizing the message that “there are no answers, only lots of questions.”  Is that really the kind of attitude that made our country as great as it is?  Such a no-can-do-spirit.

President Trump says this was a mental health issue, “not a gun situation.”  Could have fooled me.  Sure the shooter was very disturbed and troubled.  But are Americans really ten times or fifty times crazier that citizens of other countries?  No, though some days it might seem that way.  We are making choices.  None foolproof, but some choices are more self-destructive than others.

Did Trump Violate His Non-Disparagement Oath? The One To Preserve And Protect The Constitution?

Donald “L’Etat C’est Moi” Trump has now let us know just how frustrated he is by the separation of powers.  He doesn’t seem to be bothered by unfaithfulness to any promise he has ever made, so why would the oath of office be any different?  He would really like to be executioner as well as executive.  That’s his idea of strong leadership.  He has no feel at all for the checks and balances that have helped keep the United States of America a functioning republic.  He has a sickeningly sensitive feeling for the best ways to rub salt in social and cultural and economic wounds, but no visible desire at all to promote social unity or healing.

Donald Trump is reported to have required non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements from his employees.  At his inauguration as president, he uttered an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.  He promised to become a public servant, that is.  Now he tells us, openly, that he chafes at the restrictions.  Non-disparagement clauses are apparently only for the little people, not for Trump.  Since he has admitted that he really, really, wants to seize illegitimate and unconstitutional powers,  we are face-to-face with the reality that protecting and defending the separation of powers is everybody’s business in this era of Trump.  Most of us used to be reasonably confident that on a given day, we didn’t need to worry about our country sliding into banana republic status.  But here we are.

Republican cowardice and petty feuding by Democrats are part of the landscape, sadly.  Arguments over the size and shape and priorities of government will and must continue.  But defending our Constitution against Trump’s assaults has to be the nonnegotiable top priority for all citizens, the priority from which all distractions are a clear and present danger.  If Trump manages to fire Mueller, some say there would be a constitutional crisis.  I would say it’s only a crisis if Congress and the courts fail to check Trump by reinstating Mueller in a truly independent position.  We can still rely on the Constitution to defend against Trump, but the Constitution is no longer, if it ever was, a machine that runs by itself–it’s going to take people acting firmly, fairly, and consistently to restrain evildoers like him.  There’s no need for and no use in panic, instead we need firm, fair, and consistently principled pushback.

Do “Conservatives” Care About Separation Of Powers Anymore?

Anyone who deserves to call themselves conservative cannot happy hearing a president stomp all over the separation of powers.  If a president grasps at judicial power as well as executive power, and “conservatives” are silent, we are in trouble.  We are in trouble.

There is nothing conservative about an American president calling for the death penalty against someone not yet convicted of a crime.  If the legislative branch, out of a mix of cowardice, an overwhelming desire to please donors, and felt need to kowtow to a rabid base, does nothing to safeguard the “least dangerous” judicial branch, our constitutional republic will be badly wounded.  If the president is allowed to derail Mueller’s investigation we do not have separation of powers anymore (of course I know Mueller is operating under Justice Department regulations, but there is no real separation, no check, no balance left, if he is removed and Congress doesn’t immediately restore him as independent counsel or equivalent).  If we don’t have three branches of government we have lost the constitutional republic that “conservatives” claim to defend.  If we do not preserve, protect, and defend our constitutional republic, it’s gone and not easily restored.  There won’t be a gated community with gates strong enough to keep anybody safe.

What If Our Justice System Wasn’t A Joke? And Our Constitution Wasn’t Treated Like A Suicide Pact?

Maybe Mr. Trump has a point–maybe our justice system is a travesty.  If our justice system worked, maybe Donald J. Trump would not be walking free around the White House grounds and his golf courses.  Maybe he would have been confined in a narrower space many years ago.  Same goes for Paul Manafort and perhaps Tony Podesta too.  Quite a few “society offenders,” as Gilbert & Sullivan put it, could well deserve to be confined or sent underground, but are not.  (Also, the news out of Guantanamo is not funny, but is operatic.)

Does President Trump believe that our Constitution is a suicide pact?  After September 11, 2001, “the Constitution is not a suicide pact” became a way of stressing that we wish to be an open society but not a defenseless one, and thus that some restrictions on our liberties are justified–exactly which ones was and is a subject of debate. Now Trump says we must be much tougher–but on what? on whom?  He may be right that vetting should become more extreme, and refugee admission quotas reconsidered, but he failed to put Uzbekistan on any of his own travel ban lists.  What’s up with that?  When will he ever begin to accept accountability for any of the continuing American carnage?  (Hannity and Lewandowski’s slips referring to President Hillary Clinton are revealing, no?)  A month after 50 people dead and 500 shot in Las Vegas, is it too soon to draw conclusions and become “much tougher” on bump stocks at a minimum?  Was that mass killing “terrorism”?  Are we without any remedies against continued carnage like Las Vegas?  Was the 2008 DC v. Heller Supreme Court ruling (which for the very first time individualized the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms and crossed out the “well-regulated militia” part) a joke, Mr. President?  Was it soft on gun crime?  Must the Constitution and the Bill of Rights be read as a suicide pact, Mr. Trump?  The issues are complicated, for sure.  And the consequences of sloppy word choices and ill-thought-out laws are far more deadly than in the day when “bear arms” meant muskets.

John Kelly: Lack Of Compromise Caused Irish Potato Famine. Or The Civil War. History’s What I Say It Is.

Greg Sargent is right that the whole point of what Trump and now John Kelly say about Mueller and the Confederate statues and black Congresswomen is the power to define truth aside from or over against any and all verifiable fact or reality.  

https://mobile.twitter.com/ThePlumLineGS/status/925341656785801216

Trump says he cannot be tied down to “political correctness” because he is on a mission to MAGA.  But sometimes, just sometimes, there’s no daylight between political correctness and simple politeness and decency.

If I said lack of compromise is what caused the Irish potato famine, John Kelly might (rightly take) offense.  He might feel I was disrespecting his ancestors and making apologies for the genocidal actions of powerful English overlords.  He would probably be right.  But Kelly shows little understanding of or care for how or why his assaults on historical reality vis-a-vis the Civil War might outrage anybody who matters. (BTW Mr. Kelly there were more than “two sides,” there were also freed slaves–did you forget about them?)  Kelly did not display much conservative virtue on Fox TV last night.  Neither is he the adult in the Oval Office, unfortunately.  Conservatism in the USA, real conservatism worthy of the name, is about protecting liberty and keeping government within limits, not about enabling authoritarianism.  Real conservatives are suspicious of sweeping change, but not addicted to sentimentalizing past injustices.  (Kelly made apologies last night for Chinese authoritarian rule, too.)  John Kelly is not a conservative in my book, he is just an abusive reactionary.

Just A Teeny Tiny Collusion, Believe Me, And It Feels Like It Was Years Ago (But Wasn’t)

Really, sir, no collusion?  I believe you don’t recall much at all about it, last year was busy busy for all of us, but did you read the charging document for flippin’ Papadopoulos?  And how about “the Professor?” (Nice touch of classiness there, bet he might have gone to an Ivy League college too, even if Russian).

It’s all very complicated, of course.  Am hoping Putin will make bail for Manafort and Gates, and then explain everything to us with a press conference right quick.  Or if he would just tell us what his Twitter bot number really is, I would be satisfied with that.  Teeny tiny collusion, believe me.

We Might Or Might Not Need More Special Counsels, We Certainly Don’t Need Fewer

The mighty rightwing Wurlitzer is cranked up on high.  Presidential twitter is even more snowflake/hysterical than usual.   Hillary needs to be locked up; the only debate on Fox is how punishment should be administered.

I do not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Hillary Clinton is innocent of every crime in the U.S. Code.  I do know that Donald Trump and his associates are panicking.  I do know that when a president tweets “DO SOMETHING!” on a weekend morning he is trying to incite civil unrest.  Whether or not we the people elected a president who combines the worst traits of crime family head and mean girl–OK, it’s not “not,” that is what we did–now what?

We might need more investigations.  Some Democrats, maybe some Hollywood wrongdoers too, may need to suffer some consequences.  But Hillary’s not our real problem because she doesn’t have the nuclear codes.  She has no power to pardon people to cover her tracks and obstruct justice.  That is, she’s not president, in spite of Corey Lewandowski’s critique of the “Clinton administration.”

We do not need fewer investigators.  Of course Trump and his goodfellas would love to see Robert Mueller out of the picture.  It’s probably going to be up to the Republican Congress and maybe the federal courts to restrain Trump.  If they don’t, it will be up to the people to repel threats to our constitutional republic.

P.S. Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1792: “the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their prejudices and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion.”  In 2017 the enablers of the president are in danger of becoming what Hamilton called “Artificers of monarchy.” (H/T to Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare)

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-12-02-0184-0002

Here’s Hoping Upcoming Protests Are Pro-things-worth-supporting: Freedom And Constitution, For Starters

A president, even a very unpopular one like #45, always possesses a great deal of power to initiate events.  He is already trying hard to distract us from the indictments coming his way.  Trump is not cool, calm, and collected; nor does he have any respect for our constitutional republic, or for liberty, or for limited government, or for checks and balances.  He may have the complicity of Republican politicians and big-money donors, and I am not counting on Trump to show any restraint this week as he reacts to Mueller.  But his power of initiative should not and won’t go unanswered.  I do expect protests in the streets of Washington if he starts firing people in the Justice Department to get at Mueller.  Protests need to remain pro-, not just anti-, and that can happen if we all remember what is worth defending: the freedoms promised by the Bill of Rights.  They need defending again.  That’s pro-liberty.  Liberty has been a big talking point of the political and religious right wing, but it needs to be the focus of those who cannot abide what this government is doing now.  Facts and science matter; freedom is the precondition that matters even more.  The fight against what many now see as Trump’s thuggish agitprop is a fight for liberty and freedom.  There are many non-liberal, non-progressive people who are offended by Trump and who may be willing to protest for freedom and liberty.  This is not the time for progressive, liberal-minded people to pick fights with them unless there is a compelling reason.  I am not expecting to see Jeff Sessions or Mitt Romney or Chris Christie marching against the president, but let’s keep the door open for people like them, take a positive approach, and persuade people with positive arguments.

Very Smart Man Trump Delaying Release Of JFK Files…Did Trump Collude With #&@$%?

Julian Assange blames US deep state for delay.  Of course he would say that.  Ted Cruz’s father is no longer with us, unfortunately.  Trump is the master of distraction.  Some people say King Xi of China pulling strings.  Putin called Xi “odin boyets,” i.e. “lone warrior.”  Is Trump really going to Asia next week?  Many people say he is going to settle up with whoever is holding his markers–who could that possibly be?  Is Russia in Asia?  Meanwhile don’t sign any mandatory arbitration clauses for anything no matter how much the sales people bamboozle you.  Obamacare is not dead yet, it’s just pining for the fjords.

Shame On Me For Not Realizing That Donald Trump Cannot Possibly Be A Flaming Ass Because He Went To An Ivy League School

I feel so very ignorant and trifling.  Little did I realize that people who went to Ivy League schools (even U. of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Finance? Is that Ivy League really and truly?) are automatically not-flaming-jackasses.  I must have misunderstood and misunderestimated the many such flaming individuals I encountered in eastern and western Massachusetts over the last forty-some years.  Silly me.

I Did Not “Specifically Authorize” Donald Trump To Be My Commander-In-Chief, And Yet…

So Trump says he did not “specifically authorize” the mission in Niger in which four U.S. soldiers were recently killed.

That’s swell.  Our dear leader will not be questioned, or blamed, for anything.  He will receive a standing ovation, and a perfect 10 out of 10.  In case something goes wrong, in case of SNAFU, the buck stops somewhere else.  Our new situation normal not normal at all.

And as a civilian U.S. citizen, I do not have a commander-in-chief.  I do not have a commanding general.  I retain the right–so far–and have the duty to question and evaluate and criticize or praise what they say and do.

Republicans’ Bad Faith Vote To Mandate Arbitration Clauses “Smothers The Ability To Challenge Inequality”

Sherrilyn Ifill nailed what Senate Republicans voted for yesterday: “blocking class actions disaggregates the demands of the marginalized & smothers the ability to challenge inequality.”  By a vote of 51-50, including yes votes from McCain, Flake, Corker, Collins, and Murkowski, they voted to overturn a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that would have prevented Wells Fargo and Equifax, among other corporations who are not my friends, from imposing mandatory arbitration clauses on us.  We, the actual people, have been forgotten by the parliament of whores who just made it almost impossible to get justice when we are scammed and screwed by banks, credit card issuers, credit report companies, among other evildoers.  Some companies are willing to provide good service, reliable value, and negotiate in good faith with customers who have legitimate complaints.  Others are not.  But in the real world, how many of us, acting one by one, are going to spend the time, energy, and money to go after corporate wrongdoers?  We are going to make do and try to move on.  Senator Flake and Senator Corker may have uttered noble sentiments recently, but what have they done lately to help the forgotten men and women deal with Equifax and Wells Fargo?  Worse than nothing.  As Charlie Pierce says about Flake and Corker, faith without works is dead faith.

GOP Says, “How Dare Democrats Pay Anybody To Investigate Our Stars, Putin And Trump?”

The “pee tape” is back in the news.  I’m being asked to believe that opposition research against Trump is a scandal?  Opposition research first paid for by Republicans?  Not sure why CNN and MSNBC and the NYT think it’s big news that Democrats would pay for opposition research targeting Donald Trump last year.  Trump and Breitbart and Fox are counting on their audience’s confirmation bias to gin up outrage once again.  But David Corn of Mother Jones reported the basic facts of the Steele dossier-Fusion GPS story twelve months ago, around Halloween 2016, and the FBI found Christopher Steele believable enough to follow up on his leads (if Trump has evidence that the FBI paid Steele, a) bring it forth–Trump is head of the executive branch of the U.S. government; he oversees and is responsible for the FBI, and b) so what? Steele was not acting as the agent of a foreign government, let alone a hostile or adversarial foreign government).  Fusion GPS has apparently worked for both political parties, and may have Kremlin connections too.  I wonder which wealthy GOP donor or candidate first employed Fusion to do opposition research on Trump.

If Trump really wants us to look into the “fake dossier,” I’m with him.  It’s available online.    https://themoscowproject.org/

Meanwhile, what’s this about Trump’s data people trying to collude with Julian Assange?   That’s one more piece of evidence, along with Manafort’s ties to Russian oligarchs and the eagerness of Trump Jr. to meet with Russians, that Donald Trump’s campaign was more than willing to accept any help it could get from Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Trump himself, on live TV in the summer of 2016, begged Putin to release stolen emails.

I don’t know how much of the Steele dossier is real news, and how much is fake.  I hope Robert Mueller and the Congress are willing and able to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, because our constitutional republic seems to me to be  hanging in the balance.

 

Fake Spartacus John Kelly Ends Up In Same Empty Barrel As Trump

John Kelly called Congresswoman Frederica Wilson an “empty barrel” and I was almost willing to believe that his memory of 2015 was accurate even as I rejected much of what he said as bitter nostalgia for a golden age of “sacredness” that excluded women and black and brown people from equal opportunity in pursuit of America’s bounty.  We now have video of Congresswoman Wilson at the ribbon-cutting event in 2015.  And who is the emptiest barrel now?  The Congresswoman may wear flashy flamboyant hats, but her memory looks more truthful than Kelly’s.  I am waiting for Kelly himself to come forward, man up, and apologize for his mistaken accusation.  (I am not expecting Sarah Sanders to apologize for envisioning the United States as a banana republic in which public questioning of the generals is verboten.)  I am not saying Kelly lied intentionally, but he is a grown man, responsible for his misstatements.  This is a separate issue from whether Trump was respectful or disrespectful toward La David Johnson’s widow and family.  That I don’t know for sure one way or the other and don’t need to know.  This is about John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, retired general, and his pseudo-Spartan attitude.  He served, his son died, and now he is a civilian and a political appointee of a civilian president.  All of us have a right and a duty to ask questions of Kelly and of Trump, and if we ask them sincerely we deserve respectful answers.  No member of the press–whose job is represent citizens by asking questions that hold government accountable–should accept Kelly’s dangerous limit on who can question him.  The press cannot control Kelly’s behavior much less Trump’s, but they might skip the “semper fi”  shout-out when Kelly refuses to take questions from anyone not personally connected with Gold Star families.  Kelly did nothing to bridge the very real gap between the military’s world and the civilian’s world.  He served, honorably so far as I know, but the last thing our country needs is any White House employee playing fake Spartacus in order to avoid answering questions.  A real Spartacus would not play such a dishonest game.

Kelly Said “I Appeal To America”; I Appeal To Chief Of Staff John Kelly

Mr. Kelly, if you want to keep the sacrifices of American soldiers “sacred,” you could reflect on who first made a public spectacle out of your own son’s death.  It wasn’t a Democratic Congresswoman listening to a speakerphone, it was our president and your boss.  He wasn’t counterpunching, he made this into a contentious issue all by himself.  Others, including media and politicians, may have all kinds of motives, and maybe some people are “empty barrels,” but if you think Trump was not gratuitously trashing President Obama to deflect blame from himself, you are deluding yourself.  If you think Trump ever allows the buck to stop with him, you are not paying close attention, and the country needs you to pay closer attention if you are going to stay in your job.  If the mother of Sgt. Johnson backed up Congresswoman Wilson’s account, which she did, what exactly stunned you?  She was traveling with the Johnson family when the call came; that’s between them, none of your concern.  If it is the violation of sacred sacrifices that stuns or offends you (and you do have a real point there, sadly) that ship sailed when Trump chose of his own free will to make an issue of Presidents Obama and Bush and how they responded to soldiers’ deaths.  Not to forget Trump’s unpardonable attack on John McCain for getting himself captured in Vietnam.

Soldiers on active duty may or may not the finest 1% of our country, but you are no longer among them.  You are a retired general, and you are now serving your country in a political role.  I cannot as a citizen let myself be swayed by deference to your past military service, because everything you do affects politics and policy.  Precisely because you are a civilian, it is vulgar and vicious of you to pull rank on the rest of us by claiming that non-military just don’t get what soldiers go through.  There are all kinds of ways to suffer, and you ought to know that at your age (which is about the same as mine).  You said today “there’s no reason to enlist.”  I’m not sure what you meant, unless it’s that there’s no draft and military service is entirely voluntary.  If you have such bitterness about the way our society is organized, and believe that there should be a military draft or some compulsory service, go on and say so.  Don’t be brittle, be constructive.  You lament the loss of sacredness: women aren’t held sacred anymore, you say, nor is religion.   Is that so?  The Constitution does not mention the word “God.”  That was not an accident or oversight by the Founders, and I do not need to hear you, a civil servant, tell me and my fellow citizens how or what or how much we should believe or practice our faith or not.  As for women, they know better than I the cost in lost opportunity of being held “sacred,” and have you watched any tapes of your boss talking about Megyn Kelly, or beauty pageants, or–really, sir, you might give the critiques of our culture’s coarseness a rest so long as you serve Trump.

I appeal to you as “Mr. Kelly” because you in 2017 are a political appointee of a (relentlessly political) president.  That president is not my commander-in-chief, not because of his own shirking of service, but because I am a civilian.  I have a president, I have representatives in Congress, I live in the midst of police officers and firefighters, but I do not live under the authority of any military commanders.  Your military identity is clearly central to you, and you showed today how grieved you are that the sacrifices of soldiers are not, in your eyes, held sacred.  You are on to something very real.  I would feel you were keeping perspective if you also acknowledged the dangerous ways that we have also become a society in which (as Rosa Brooks writes) “everything is war and the military is everything.”  You showed so much grievance and bitterness today that I wonder if you can even remember that you are serving in a political role in the White House–and it is not cool, not kosher at all for you in your current job to pull rank on and disparage civilian American life.  You are a civilian too now, and along with every other American, I have the right and in fact duty to exercise my best political judgment about you and your boss without being obstructed by the bad faith of your Spartanism.  I mean a bad faith that draws sharp lines between civilian and military when it suits one purpose but blurs the lines when that suits another purpose.   When you said today you would take questions only from those who are personally connected to a Gold Star family you lost touch with the greatness of our free press tradition.  Does your personal suffering insulate you from questioning from those you deem unworthy?  It takes all kinds to ask and to answer questions in a democratic nation, Mr. Kelly, and you head down a dangerous path when you forget that.

Finally, you chose to not answer the question, “what are doing in Niger anyway?”  You are not the only one to evade that question lately, but if our public officials can’t or won’t explain what our “warfighters” are fighting for, what kind of democratic constitutional republic do we have left?  I am sad to hear of American military deaths anywhere, but I also wonder, what the heck is going on?

Obamacare Is Not Dead–It’s Just “Resting” And “Pining For The Fjords”

Trump and the Republicans, bless their hearts, have not passed a single law repealing or replacing or even modifying Obamacare, that is the Affordable Care Act (for anyone who still has been tricked into believing there’s daylight between the two).  And yet President Trump today said: Obamacare is dead; It’s an ex-health care law;  I stomped all over it, I may have even peed on it, you’ll know the details in a very short period of time, believe me.

I am counting on the law still applying two weeks from now when the signup period starts.  It’s much shorter than last year, unless you live in one of twelve or so states that run their own state exchanges.  Even so, I do not believe the Affordable Care Act is dead.  I do not even believe I will need to go to court, even small claims court, to ensure that I get covered.

But I do not expect President Trump to tell me any of that.  I would like to respect the “office of the Presidency,” but I cannot afford to fool around with my health care insurance, so I am just going to have to reconcile myself to the huge credibility gap between what my president says and what the law says.  Hat tip to Monty Python, they could have and kinda sorta did predict it all.  Pining for the fjords, indeed.

“Memory Abusively Summoned” Once Again By President

Our president falsely claimed today that his predecessor Barack Obama “and other presidents” failed to call the families of U.S. soldiers killed in action.  Trump has apparently not yet called family members of the Green Berets killed in Niger.  Perhaps that is why he deflected and lied.  By the way, I don’t believe he has a record of military service that I could thank him for, does he?  So maybe he ought to lay low when it comes to who might or might not have shown disrespect for the military.  It takes some kind of nerve for him to claim that football players are disrespecting the flag when they protest against patterns of police violence against blacks by kneeling peacefully–and then make jokes about the flag and about prayer (according to reports about the so-called Values Voters Summit this past weekend, and a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer about Pence).  I’m not quite sure what it means when Jerry Jones takes a knee, or what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s message is, or what exactly the motives of Colin Kaepernick or other football players really are, but I do know that Trump is up to no good and is mainly rubbing salt on wounds to get people spun up and distracted from the damage he is doing to our whole health care system, not just the folks on Obamacare (which I believe is not dead, nor is it just “resting,” nor is it “pining for the fjords,” but I digress).

Trump has an acute feel for wounds and sore points in American memory.  He says that he wants nothing so much as American unity, but the catch is that the unity must involve subservience to and glorification of Trump.  He summons Americans to remember the past in a way that he says will make America great again, but he says little about “freedom” or “liberty,” and that’s no accident.  He has a sharp feeling for what divides us, and an acute sense for when and how to stir up feelings of grievance and victimhood.  But he has little feel for how to bind up wounds, how to encourage pluralism and a healthy diversity of opinion, and how to promote real social and political and economic reconciliation.

Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005), World War II POW, philosopher in France and at the University of Chicago, wrote in Memory, History, Forgetting how memories can be manipulated, blocked, and abused, as well as how commemoration is used by political elites to impose a particular version of collective memory so as to consolidate their power.  Trump’s version of “memory abusively summoned” (p. 57 in Ricoeur, MHF) is not new (and certainly not new for him!), but it is too insidious and pernicious to let pass.  Trump has low approval ratings and very low trust ratings right now, but even so it seems to take much effort of will for many in the media to report what is right in front of them: Trump is lying about Obama when he accuses Obama of disrespectful amnesia about dead soldiers.  Trump is summoning a First Amendment-free zone of anti-consitutional patriotism when he attacks football players and others who question police shootings.  Trump is summoning a false unity based on his authoritarian claim that “I alone,” (Trump the “charismatic chief sent from above,” in Max Weber’s terms) can solve America’s problems.  We as a country have a chance to put Trump in the rear-view mirror, so long as we don’t let him suppress our memories of what really made America as good and great as it is.  Every day with Trump is a day that will live in infamy, the infamy of memory manipulated and abused in service of one man’s narrowly bounded desires, not our country’s needs.

 

From Paul Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, Chicago, 2004: “the abuses of natural memory….will be divided into three levels: on the pathological, therapeutic level, the disturbances of blocked memory will emerge; on the properly practical level, those of manipulated memory; and on the ethico-political level, those of a memory abusively summoned, where commemoration rhymes with rememoration.  These multiple forms of abuse expose the fundamental vulnerability of memory (57)….What we celebrate under the title of founding events are, essentially, acts of violence legitimated after the fact by a precarious state of right.  What was glory for some was humiliation for others….In this way, symbolic wounds calling for healing are stored in the archives of the collective memory (79)….It is…the selective function of the narrative that opens to manipulation the opportunity and the means of a clever strategy, consisting from the outset in a strategy of forgetting as much as in a strategy of remembering….where ideology operates as a discourse justifying power [and] domination…the resources of manipulation provided by narrative are mobilized….Even the tyrant needs a rhetorician, a sophist, to broadcast his enterprise of seduction and intimidation in the form of words….stories of founding events, of glory and humiliation, feed the discourse of flattery or of fear….imposed memory is armed with a history that is itself ‘authorized,’ the official history, the history publicly learned and celebrated….The circumscription of the narrative is thus placed in the service of the circumscription of the identity defining the community….To this forced memorization are added the customary commemorations.  A formidable pact is concluded in this way between remembrance, memorization, and commemoration (85)….It is useful, as it was in the time of the Greeks and the Romans, to reaffirm national unity by a liturgy of language, extended by the ceremonies of hymns and public celebrations.  But is it not a defect in this imaginary unity that it erases from the official memory the examples of crimes likely to protect the future from the errors of the past and, by depriving public opinion of the benefits of dissensus, of condemning competing memories to an unhealthy underground existence? (455).”

 

http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/M/bo3613761.html

 

Americans To Thug President Trump: Drop Dead, We Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists Like You

Even if we are in pretty good health and have some money saved up, Trump acts as if he can take our friends, cousins, and our children hostage to his whims, and then we’ll give him what he wants.  What he wants is always the same: we bow down to his royal self and praise his wisdom and benevolence.

We really can’t afford to do what he wants, or treat him as if he is a serious person, let alone an honorable and authoritative figure.  I don’t expect him to be an expert on health care policy, but is it too much to ask that a president not act first and foremost out of obvious malice?  I don’t expect him to know that there is no president of the Virgin Islands other than him, but it would be great if he didn’t treat American citizens as disposable losers less than a month after they got flattened by two hurricanes.  But it looks like anything that gets in the way of Trump indulging himself in the pleasures of the thug life is going to fall by the wayside.

I Can Handle A Moron President, It’s The Psychopathic Vengeance Part That Gets Me “Concerned”

“Moron” isn’t the first word I would use to describe Trump.  It’s the vindictive, destructive, sociopathic, me-first, divide-to-conquer, scorched-earth narcissism that gets me.  I read that Trump is capable of listening to and in fact encourages diverse viewpoints and opinions.  (In other words, maybe Trump would win an IQ face-off with Tillerson; Corker’s critique of Trump are closer to the mark.)  He has acute sensitivity to the sore spots in our culture.  It’s what he does with his acuity that really worries me.

Could We Agree That Senator Corker Is “Simul Justus Et Peccator”: Justified And Sinner At The Same Time

Senator Bob Corker spoke obvious but taboo (for most Republican politicians) truths yesterday about President Trump.  If Trump is not a clear and present danger to our country and the world, I don’t know who or what would be.  This is not the time for progressives or liberals or “leftists” to dwell on Corker’s past sins, which I believe are multiple.  But all of us are, as Martin Luther said almost five hundred years ago, simultaneously sinners and justified.  I am not a Lutheran, but I have to agree that Luther’s formula captures a reality about people, even if I don’t want to accept the Smalcald Articles, or the Synod of Dort, or other confessions and creeds.  Corker did the United States a service by saying what he did, and it is up to the Republican majority in Congress, and the Cabinet secretaries, and the rest of us, to do what we can to preserve and protect our constitutional republic and make our country as great as it can possibly be.  Corker, for the moment, has done his part.

Is Fox Sports President Eric Shanks An Ungrateful Unpatriotic Ingrate?

According to reports today, Eric Shanks says “the standard procedure is not to show [the national anthem being sung] because of the way the commercial format works and the timing of the anthem to get to the kickoff.”  Translation: who cares about the national anthem, it’s all about the football and the thrill of the bone-cracking and the brain trauma and the amazing athleticism etc.  Shanks said the Fox Sports Network planned to revert to the usual practice of selling the anthem time to advertisers, except for the Thursday night game and the Super Bowl.

So is Eric Shanks being ungrateful-while-white and unpatriotic to boot?  Maybe, but if we want to look at the real enemy, we should just look in the mirror.  We the American sports-watching public have been disrespecting the flag.  If we really respected the flag and the anthem as much as the President keeps tweeting that we should, Fox would televise the anthem all the time.  We prefer ads, or we put up with them.  Have we been protesting against Fox for depriving us of televised anthems?  I don’t think so.  So let’s ease up on blaming the colored people for being uppity and ungrateful.

 

Stop Saying People “Defy” President Trump, He Has No Moral Authority Left To Defy

I am still hearing and reading that so-and-so has “defied” President Donald Trump, and I am tired of it.  Wake up media people: it doesn’t make much sense anymore to speak of “defiance” unless you are convinced that Trump has moral authority to defy.  Do you really believe that?  Even if there are many fine arguments of both sides of the issue (i.e. whether Trump possesses any moral authority), the principles of objective journalism demand that a less biased formula be found.  Or that there be a disclaimer, such as “some people say that our president still has some moral authority left to defy, while others maintain that he lacks all moral authority.”  I don’t want to hear any ungrateful uppity defiant backtalk from anybody about this.

Sad Snowflake Sessions Stifles Student Free Speech At Georgetown Law–Why Is He Disrespecting Our Flag?

Really, Mr. Attorney General?  You give a speech about free speech, in Georgetown, D.C., and you shut out students who signed up to see you speak?  That is disrespectful of the republic, and very disrespectful of the principles for which the flag stands.

 

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/georgetown-law-students-blocked-sessions-event?utm_content=bufferacdf5&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Uppity Trump Needs A Lane Watch Safety Upgrade

When I call Donald J. Trump uppity, it hasn’t got anything at all to do with race.  Did I say Trump is a disgrace to the Scottish people, or the German people, or the people of Queens, New York?  Did I call him ungrateful for the sacrifices others made instead of him when he got his bone spur deferments fifty years ago?  Did I say he disgraced our best heritage way back when he insulted all military veterans by saying McCain wasn’t a hero because he got captured?  If I did, it wouldn’t have a single thing to do with his race.

Is “ungrateful” the new “uppity”?  Of course it is (h/t Jelani Cobb).

I Defend The President’s First Amendment Right To Speak In Favor Of The False And Vicious Binary Choices He Loves So Much

The President has every right to say what he likes, even and maybe especially when he defaults to the false and nasty binary choices he loves to use so he can pretend to be a uniter instead of what and who he really is.

And of course it’s not at all about race and the president, of course, has said nothing about race.  And I have such a bad case of historical amnesia that I can barely tell that he’s BSing us when he isn’t flat-out lying.  I can barely tell that it’s really all about the dog whistles.

New Lane Change Departure Warning Systems Not Yet Good Enough To Control President Trump

First, I defend President Trump’s First Amendment right to say whatever sick, twisted, ugly ideas pop into his head.  Maybe our country will ultimately turn out better off for having to deal with his wretched, heathen, malicious words and actions.  I also support the right of Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, LeBron James, and all other athletes and non-athletes to express their political and social opinions, in any setting they choose.  I also reserve the right to turn off the TV, unplug the device, block (or try to) the targeted ads, and go out for a walk while the sun shines.

Maybe pro athletes would be better off “staying in their own lane,” but that is a trivial debate compared with the problem of Trump staying in his own proper sphere.  Of course he isn’t really up to it, which explains the unending sideshows.  He is doing very few of us any good by refusing to pay attention to actually improving people’s lives.   If President Trump would stay in his own governance lane (which should not be “playing the fool” but here we are) and focus on improving the opportunities open to the American people, he might achieve some actual success.  He could focus on the help people in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands need.  He could focus on rebuilding our worn-out infrastructure.  He could admit that his cabinet secretaries have abused their position to rip off taxpayers by taking private jets for no good reason, and fire them.

All that might be harder work than deflecting and distracting us, and I am not at all sure he is up to studying the actual details of, say, a health care proposal for more than 30 seconds.  He promised all kinds of great improvements to the supposedly abominable Affordable Care Act, yet he has harmed millions of his own supporters by sabotaging the law that is still “on the books,” while denying that any bad outcomes could ever be his fault–as if the glory of being president brings no corresponding accountability.  If he would pay any attention at all to specifics he would know that the latest Graham-Cassidy plan falls way short of his promises.  His fellow Republicans have given up pretending that they have a plan that will cover everybody, or even the same number of people now covered.  Paul Ryan and other Republicans have attacked the idea that healthy people should have to pay for sick people getting care–that’s the way most insurance works, guys.  We all hope we stay well and our cars don’t get rear-ended and our homes don’t get hit by an asteroid.  In the meantime, we pay for insurance.  We will be better off the sooner we get to a universal risk pool.  Attention definitely needs to be paid to free-rider problems and to setting incentives and nudges and limits, but we can do all that and move much nearer to universal coverage.

Apple Set To Announce Terms And Conditions For Visitors To New “Town Centers”

 

For immediate release: Apple Inc., despite apparent failure of Face ID in iPhone X demo, announces its intention to go full 1984.  Visitors to Town Centers will be subject to compliance with all OS Human Interface Guidelines, 2017 Edition, according to which any negative thoughts regarding the new introductory price points and inadequacies of RAM storage will be punished subliminally via deep-techstate thought control.  Don’t even think about having any suboptimally negative cognitive episodes inside a Town Center.  Suboptimal thinkers will be assigned to retraining at sub-genius bars staffed by former Apple employees now serving as volunteer reeducation camp interns.  If Highland Clearances don’t get rid of bad thoughts, Lowland Clearances will ensue.

Any and all references to dystopian fiction or horror movies strictly coincidental.  But the 1984 Super Bowl commercial will be shown to negative-thinking visitors on endless infinite loop until they repent by preordering at least $477 of Apple Inc. profit-margin in goods and services.

 

Steve Bannon Denies Trump “Literally” Belongs In Ninth Circle Of Dante’s Hell (Hint: 8th)

Steve Bannon, in his interview with Charlie Rose of CBS, claimed that the Access Hollywood (“grab them”) tape had no lasting impact on last year’s campaign “yet, if you see the mainstream media that day, it was, literally, he was falling into Dante’s inferno.”  Let’s fact-check that statement.

The first circle of hell isn’t really hell proper but limbo, for virtuous pagans, and Trump does not qualify because he is a baptized Christian, sorry bad luck Mr. President, better luck in some other universe.  The second circle of Dante’s hell is reserved for the lustful.  Enough said.  Circle #3 is for gluttons, little doubt there (two scoops!).  Circle four is for the greedy, whom Trump literally tried to shove out of his way in a futile effort to get back to circle 2, but he fell back downward instead and encountered a few more of his fellow hoarders and spendthrifts (did I mention that Trump Dubai is using a Chinese-government-owned contractor, contrary to one of Trump’s campaign promises?) before descending to the lowest circle of upper hell, the one occupied by the wrathful (“lock her up”; “I’m the fucking president”).

And now unbar the gates of Dis and welcome to Nether Hell.  The River Styx will soon be the happiest memory you have left, Donald, as we cross from passive sin to active sin, starting with heresy and idolatry.  Trump might at first seem innocent of heretical ideas, but if we scratch just a little we remember his denial that ever needs to repent for anything.  If that is not heresy and idolatry, what is?  Trump is guilty of obdurate refusal to ever acknowledge humbleness.  And this is not yet the worst of the active sins.  Next is the seventh circle of Dante’s inferno, home to the violent: the war-makers, tyrants, plunderers, blasphemers, sodomites, the violent against art, and usurers.  Perhaps Mr. Trump has not yet committed all of these horrible sins, but we haven’t seen all the tapes yet either, have we?

Over the waterfall we go, over the great cliff, down to the eighth circle, where we are met by Geryon, the Monster of Fraud.  A truly Trumpian circle, containing the malicious, the panderers, the seducers, the flatterers, the falsifiers, the sowers of discord, the grafters, the barrators (think “emoluments clause”!), and the simoniacs (not sure about this, but Mueller ought to look into it too IMHO).  And finally, the ninth circle of hell, in which the traitors dwell.  Not that I feel any great sympathy for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but do you think in their hearts they harbor any doubt at all that Donald J. Trump belongs right here?  Anyone think they would lend him a hand or a rope?  Let’s leave Mr. Trump here where he belongs, bearing in mind of course that Dante wrote two more books.  And that Trump himself admitted that becoming president was probably his last best shot at getting into heaven–yes, he did really say that!

 

An Update On Disinformation Operations On Facebook

To the best of my knowledge I have never promised Facebook anything or accepted any of Facebook’s Terms of Service or acknowledged Facebook’s “Rights and Responsibilities.”  But just because I have been uninterested in belonging to Facebook doesn’t mean Facebook has been uninterested in subsuming me (and all other humans on our planet) in its grand social project.  (See Pericles of Athens: “just because you are not interested in politics does not mean politics is not interested in you.”)

Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, posted an “update on information operations on Facebook” yesterday.  Stamos acknowledges that Russian interference in last year’s election included about $100,000 worth of Facebook ads (which I assume is the tip of the iceberg).  He also acknowledges that “we know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform,” but he does not yield the high ground, asserting that “we believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse, and require advertisers on our platform to follow both our policies and all applicable laws.”  OK, Mr. Stamos, let’s back it up a bit.  You “require”?  I think you didn’t.  I think you and Mark Zuckerberg did not make that “requirement” a high enough priority.  I am glad to hear that Facebook is “exploring several new improvement to [y]our systems for keeping inauthentic accounts and activity off” Facebook.  If you are serious about spending some real money to keep Russian troll farms away from our next election, that’s great.  I suspect that you and Mr. Zuckerberg did not do enough to protect our election last year because of a particular blind spot: you feel overregulated.  You are mistaken.  We can and should debate how to implement net neutrality and how to keep the internet and social media from becoming even more dystopian than current trends portend.  But the bias of Silicon Valley that “we are a whole lot smarter than government, let alone the masses, and the world is best off when we pay minimal taxes because we will choose philanthropic projects that are far better than what government would come up with.”  Maybe that’s partly true, but Silicon Valley’s success in evading regulations (and Congressional paralysis and tech illiteracy, to be fair) led to a disastrous outcome last year.  I am not referring to the victory of Trump so much as the grossly suboptimal investment in real time in technologies and human-engineer-power that could have kept trolls, bots, and other “inauthentic” activity at bay.  Does your “suboptimalness” bother you yet, Mr. Zuckerberg?  Do you have the “bandwidth” to deal with the serious problem on your hands?  Are you willing, despite continuing underregulation of your remarkably profitable enterprise, to look at a picture that is possibly even bigger than the glorious philanthropic initiatives you have doubtless planned?  Do you actually have enough social imagination to lead Facebook where it needs to go?

 

An Update On Information Operations On Facebook

“Lot Of Good Reasons” To Get Rid Of Debt Ceiling–Now He Tells Us!

I would love to associate myself with Donald Trump’s totally true remark today that “there are a lot of good reasons” to eliminate the debt ceiling.  Convenient?  Of course.  Hypocritical?  Hmm, let’s take a look: 2011 Trump said “the debt limit cannot be raised until Obama spending is contained.”  “TIME TO CUT, CAP, AND BALANCE.”  “There is no revenue problem.”  2012 Trump: “the Republicans once again hold all the cards with the debt ceiling.  They can get everything they want.  Focus!”

Donald Trump has zero reason to regret or retract anything, ever.  Chuck and Nancy will confirm that if you ask them.

Even The Demons Believe They Know What Doctrine Is And Isn’t (Steve Bannon Edition)

In his recent Charlie Rose interview, Steve Bannon criticized Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York and other U.S. Catholic bishops for their opposition to President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA protections for “Dreamers.”  Bannon said that “as much as I respect Cardinal Dolan and the bishops on doctrine, this is not doctrine.  This is not doctrine at all.  I totally respect the pope and I totally respect the Catholic bishops and cardinals on doctrine.  This is not about doctrine.  This is about the sovereignty of a nation.  And in that regard, they’re just another guy with an opinion.”

Bannon does not want American Catholics to follow the bishops and cardinals on the immigration issue.  He wants Catholic voters, as well as evangelical Protestants and others, to follow his own nativist opinions.  But he is misleading or mendacious or untutored (or a combination) about what is and isn’t doctrine.  Christian doctrine is Christian teaching.  Whether it is sound or unsound doctrine depends first on how faithful it is to the Christian scriptures.  Sound Christian teaching also needs to be congruent (especially for Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, but also, in sometimes complicated and conflictual ways, for Protestant Christians) with church traditions, as expressed, for example, in creeds, confessions, encyclicals, and other teaching statements.  If Bannon had said “dogma” instead of doctrine he might have been somewhat less wrong, but even putatively infallible Catholic dogmas [which are few] are statements of Christian teaching to build up faith and practice, not primarily metaphysical speculations.  Of course there is a distinction between “doctrine” and “life,” but a separation would be unscriptural, untraditional, and unfaithful.

Sound doctrine rooted in Scripture can certainly rely on the many Biblical injunctions to “welcome the stranger” going back to the book of Exodus.  If Steve Bannon believes that Christian doctrine has no pertinence to governmental restrictions on immigration and no claim on his attention when it is employed to criticize his nativist anti-immigrant viewpoint, he is really saying that Christian doctrine has nothing to do with any actual issue.  Bannon has plenty of company if that’s what he believes, but not good company, and he has effectively renounced his claim to grasp Catholic Christian tradition.  Bannon is not wrong to associate the immigration issue with “the sovereignty of a nation”  (but leaves Catholicity behind when he separates nation-sovereignty completely from sovereignty of God).  And the U.S. Catholic bishops are certainly capable of misconstruing Scripture and Catholic tradition in this or that way.  But when Bannon calls the cardinals and bishops “just another guy with an opinion” regarding welcoming or deporting immigrants, he has defined “doctrine” as conveniently irrelevant to all real-life controversies and left Catholic and Christian tradition in the dust.

P.S. Don’t trust me?  Let me quote from a guy with an opinion, St. Augustine, Book One, section 30 of his De Doctrina Christiana: after quoting Matthew 22:37-40 on love of God and neighbor, Augustine tells us that “it is clear that we should understand by our neighbor the person to whom an act of compassion is due if he needs it or would be due if he needed it.  It follows from this that a person from whom an act of compassion is due to us in our turn is also our neighbor.  For the word ‘neighbor’ implies a relationship…who can fail to see that there is no exception to this, nobody to whom compassion is not due?”  Is Augustine Catholic enough?  Does Augustine know what doctrine is about?  Does not even Thomas Aquinas say (Summa Theologica, first part, first question, articles 1, 4, and 5) that sacred doctrine is not just philosophical and speculative but also practical–and thus nobler than other “sciences”?  And if Mr. Bannon wishes to delve into doctrine in a serious way, I suggest he study the First Part of the Second Part of the Summa T., treatise on the virtues, q. 56, article 4: “Whether the irascible and concupiscible powers are the subject of virtue,” or not.