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

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

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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

All Hail the Knowledge Revolution!

Without which we would all be ignorant!  The argument Tribe is referencing is not the argument at Slate, but it might as well be.  The basic argument there is that Trump didn't say "Mother, May I?" and Pelosi didn't say "No, you certainly may not!"

By voting on Thursday to approve a budget deal without any explicit language barring the president’s end-run maneuver, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of her caucus decided not to exercise their check. Now, they can’t count on the courts to do it for them.

Yeah; that's not how it works.  Then again, this is not an argument strong on legal reasoning.  For example:

The first is the doctrine of standing. The Supreme Court held in a 2015 case that “legislators whose votes would have been sufficient to defeat … a specific legislative Act have standing to sue if that legislative action goes into effect … on the ground that their votes have been completely nullified.” The Democratic-led House would argue that the president’s decision to fund the border wall is essentially a “legislative act” beyond his authority, and thereby “completely nullified” House members’ votes. But not all of the justices are on board with this “legislative standing” doctrine. In one of his last opinions, Justice Antonin Scalia said that “[d]isputes between governmental branches … regarding the allocation of political power” are not “cases” or “controversies” that the courts can resolve. Justice Clarence Thomas agreed. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who joined the court after 2015, might well adopt the same view. If so, then the House Democrats would start out with three votes at the high court against them.

The Scalia quote is from Morrison v. Olson, a case about the independent counsel statute under the Bush 1 Administration.  It has bugger all to do with the issue of standing.  On that issue, Professor Tribe is more pertinent:

 Don't worry, I won't bore you with the distinguishing details between Morrison v Olson and USHR v. Burwell.  Justice Scalia can do that:

That is what this suit is about. Power. The allocation of power among Congress, the President, and the courts in such fashion as to preserve the equilibrium the Constitution sought to establish -- so that "a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department," Federalist No. 51, p. 321 (J. Madison), can effectively be resisted. Frequently an issue of this sort will come before the Court clad, so to speak, in sheep's clothing: the potential of the asserted principle to effect important change in the equilibrium of power is not immediately evident, and must be discerned by a careful and perceptive analysis. But this wolf comes as a wolf.


The present case began when the Legislative and Executive Branches became "embroiled in a dispute concerning the scope of the congressional investigatory power," United States v. House of Representatives of United States, 556 F.Supp. 150, 152 (DC 1983), which -- as is often the case with such interbranch conflicts -- became quite acrimonious. 

That's Scalia's dissent, which has no precedential value*; and obviously the facts of the case have nothing to do with usurping the Art. 1 authority of Congress to allocate governmental funds from the Treasury.  It has, as I say, nothing whatsoever to do with the question of standing.  That Slate's article doesn't understand that, just points out what poor legal reasoning the argument of that article is built on.  The suit that will make its way to the Supreme Court (several are expected to be filed, which wins the race nobody knows) will be precisely about "the allocation of power among Congress, the President, and the courts in such fashion as to preserve the equilibrium the Constitution sought to establish."  Many parties are bringing many lawsuits, and the likelihood is all of them will have standing.  As for what Scalia says in that quote from the opening of his dissent, it doesn't seem like much a leap to me to start there, and find against the President's claims of his "emergency powers."

So, should Pelosi have inserted language into the bill funding the rest of government operations saying "NO YOU MAY NOT SPEND MONEY ON A WALL!," preferably in all caps so the President couldn't miss it?  Professor Tribe has the correct legal answer to that, in the tweet at the top of this post.  Will the Court ignore precedent and standards of statutory construction and Constitutional law on the separation of powers and the plain language of Art. 1?  Maybe; but not likely.  John Roberts simply doesn't want to preside over that court, and he would likely be the 5th vote against Trump.  Or, referring again to Professor Tribe:
No, it doesn't make me feel any better that we're forced to rely on the Courts to pull our fat out of the fire.  But what I wouldn't give for a world in which opinions on the law were given only by people with knowledge of the law, and not even Tom, Dick and Harry with internet access.

*Yes, it is beloved among dissenting opinions, but mostly because it skewers a statute that died in 1999 and, following the Clinton Administration and the country's experience with it, that no one wants to resurrect.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina

Lindsay Graham is Senator for what state, again?  Not Kentucky, is it?
So he doesn't really have to care about their schoolchildren (and is Kentucky a border state?  Because school children in Texas aren't being threatened by immigrants crossing the Rio Grande, at least not last I heard).  Does he care about jobs at the BMW factory, though?  Or are the only jobs at risk those Amazon won't bring to NYC because it threw a hissy fit that nobody loved the idea of a state-provided helipad for Jeff Bezos?  (Which, for some reason, isn't socialism.  Giving Amazon a sad, however, is.  Just ask Rick Santorum.)

Yes, the Courts Must Save Us Now

Even Fox News gets it:

The White House has no leg to stand on, and it knows it.  But if the courts refuse to play parent to Congress and the President?

Helluva way to run a railroad.

Enough about you, let's talk about me for a minute

That was tweeted from Florida.  The next tweet was video from his appearance in the Rose Garden (in February, as SNL noted.  What global warming, right?).  Then he tweeted this:
Then some tweets about ISIS, and he pulled this from his twitter feed:
Then, after bragging about his approval rating in the latest Rasmussen poll (the only one that counts, apparently), he posts this:
And goes full Stalin:
Bodies are still being counted in Illinois, not even buried yet, and yet the news from the POTUS is all about:  the POTUS.  And we're so used to it nobody notices anymore.

History Lessons from Recorded History

Interesting how simple musical recordings capture the history we so easily let go of.  Civility in our politics, for example.  Or the immorality of walls:

Or the fact that coal mines have been shutting down for over 50 years now.  I knew a man in southern Illinois laid off when a coal mine closed; fortunately, he found other work, and he taught me not to be so narrow-minded in my dislike for Wal-Mart, which gave his wife a good job and saved their family when they needed money.  You have to appreciate things from the level of individuals, sometimes.

Funny how art can teach us things, if we pay attention.

In which Lawrence Tribe says I was right

Yeah, I'm that insecure.

And I still think, even if the Supremes don't agree with Professor Tribe, Trump will be out of office before all the suits against this "emergency" are tried and appealed. And he doesn't really care, anyway.

“We always anticipated that this would create a lot of attention and since moneys potentially could be redirected, you can imagine the concern this generates,” [U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick] Shanahan told reporters traveling back with him from his trip to Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe.

“Very deliberately we have not made any decisions, we have identified the steps we would take to make those decisions,” Shanahan said. He added that he would start reviewing the initial military planning on Sunday.

No hurry. It's not like there's an emergency or anything.

(And all the armchair lawyer arguments about how the Supremes will 'show deference' to the White House; yeah, that's not the issue here.  Simple statutory interpretation is.  Tribe has other tweets looking at statutory language Trump has to rely on, and it doesn't support his claims, either.  As Youngstown held, the President doesn't have unlimited authority to do whatever pleases him at the moment.)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Not to be elitist....

What this guy said:
If it weren't for the overturned ketchup bottles (and what are they doing at an "omelette bar"?), I'd swear this was a picture from the small town country club my father played (and occasionally ate at), circa 1970.

And I thought the places cheesy even then.

Meanwhile, in Munich, Ivanka is hard at work, listening:

Friday, February 15, 2019

Honestly, there's entertainment value here

And the day's not even over yet.....
Well, no entertainment value there, except to underline the point:  Trump doesn't care.  Headlines matter; governing doesn't.

More popcorn, please!

I heard an announcement of a program to be broadcast on local NPR tonight, with the guest noting that, instead of headlines "Trump Caves" and "Trump Loses Fight," the President now gets headlines "Trump Declares National Emergency."  So much better, for Trump:

Legal observers expect the courts to impose an injunction on this national-emergency declaration as soon as it is made. Indeed, the president made the judiciary’s work easier on Friday when he admitted that he “didn’t need to do this,” a confession that there is, in fact, no ongoing national emergency. A judicial quagmire is the GOP’s fondest hope. That way, Trump can say he’s fighting for his wall in every possible way, and Republicans in Congress can cede their authority to check the executive branch by insisting that the whole matter is out of their hands. And all without ever having to expropriate private property along the border or prove the dubious efficacy of a physical wall. Everybody wins!

And how bad is it?

Let’s not mince words: Backing Trump in this moment is not the prerogative of an institutionalist, which the majority leader claims to be. It is the prerogative of a partisan operator motivated, above all, by deference to a fleeting political imperative: avoiding another government shutdown.

This is a moment of extreme national cowardice. America’s governing institutions are abdicating their authority in pursuit of expedience and amid a craven scramble to save face. A precedent has been established that all Americans, but conservative Americans in particular, will long regret.

I wish that were true, but I doubt it. (I mean honestly, why do we have government shutdowns in the first place?  What "institutionalist" justifies that idiocy?)   No sane politicians is going to declare a "national emergency" and impose universal healthcare or strict gun controls or sweeping mandates to correct climate change (what, ground all airplanes?  Stop the sale of gasoline?  End all ranching and livestock production?).  Not only would it not work, it would be a political disaster.  Trump isn't really doing anything by declaring a national emergency; he's getting himself out of a box he put himself in.  Prime evidence of that?

McConnell knows that's bullshit, but he doesn't care!  Abdicating authority in pursuit of expedience has been the function of politicians in Washington since Congress began.  Forget all that high minded rhetoric about "Profiles in Courage" who stepped up to save the Republic from enemies within and without, it's horse shit.  This is the way the Republic works:  lurching from crisis to crisis, near-chaos to near-chaos, with the press occasionally announcing a "constitutional crisis" on the horizon (on that issue today?  Crickets; although this is as close to the real thing as we've been since it was revealed Nixon had an "enemies list.").  I expect that end the GOP anticipates (courts tie it up, nothing happens, everybody wins a perception award) is true.  I also expect it will do the GOP no good at all (I heard a political commentator this morning say this is bad for Democrats, who will have to fight 2020 on immigration, which they don't want to do.  I wondered where he was last November.  Commentary is commentary, but it is not all created equally.).

Me, I can't stop it, so I'm just gonna enjoy the shitshow.

Taking a small step backwards

No, it doesn't:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Section 4, 25th Amendment, U.S. Constitution

As I said, there is no case law on this language;  the limitations Dershowitz insists on don't exist, as a matter of law.

Harvard Law really needs to seek in injunction to prevent him from claiming any association to them at all.  This is just embarassing.

Is that 25th Amendment still available?

Asking for a friend, because:

Stop Making Sense

So, is what Trump said in announcing his "national emergency" going to be used as the factual support for his claim of such extraordinary powers?
That, of course, is his defense against impeachment.
That doesn't really qualify as evidence in a court of law.
Nor does that.
Nor that; nor that.  For the sake of sound governance, tell me they've got more than that.
No, apparently not.  Meanwhile, the POTUS doesn't get any closer to making sense:

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Take a Ride on the Reading

This is not a popular opinion, to say the least.  But McConnell has a weak hand: the 35 day shutdown followed a 100-0 vote in the Senate to fund government right before Christmas.  Yet there weren't enough votes to override Trumps' veto, in the Senate.  And now?  Apparently McConnell knows where the votes are to override another veto, so he told Trump he would support a declaration of an emergency, then went to the Senate floor to interrupt Sen. Grassley and be sure he got that support on the public record (i.e, cable news).

Shortly after that, as NPR noted this afternoon, the White House announced Trump would, indeed, announce such an emergency, and the President is now slated to speak in the Rose Garden mid-morning tomorrow.  McConnell made sure Trump couldn't change his mind again (the first shutdown was unanticipated; if memory serves, many Senators had already gone home after the 100-0 vote).  It wasn't much, but it kept the government open.  Helluva way to run a railroad....

McConnell did this because McConnell has no cards to play.  Yes, an emergency declaration won't go down well with all GOP Senators; but will there be enough to override a veto of the resolution sure to come from the House?  The courts will save the country (because the courts will have no choice.  They can't let the President rewrite Art. 1 of the Constitution at will, or run roughshod over the 5th Amendment.), but mostly the courts will take the issue out of everybody's hands until, as some have noted, Trump's term expires and the next POTUS decides there is no emergency.  It will take that long to get to the Supremes, one supposes.  I don't think they'll be anxious to reach down and grab it, anyway; but who knows?

Either way, this is the hill the GOP dies on.  The hard-core GOP base is turning on Trump for signing this spending bill (if he does; stay tuned!).   Even Limbaugh and Coulter and Hannity will ultimately go where their supporters go, racing in front of the parade to pretend they are leading it.  Trump already sees abortion as the new shiny object to dangle in front of his base.  Declaring a national emergency means nothing to him except a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.  He's always conducted business as if he were spending Monopoly money; now he's treating government like it was merely a board game.

What he's going to do sets a very bad precedent if the courts don't slap it down hard.  So once again we must look to lawyers to save us from ourselves.

And if they don't:

When Konstitooshinal Skollars Meet

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Section 4, 25th Amendment, U.S. Constitution

McCabe also said in interview clips aired on Thursday that Justice Department officials discussed which Cabinet officials might be sympathetic to removing the president, using the authority of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. (That amendment, ratified in 1967, deals with presidential succession and the prospect of presidential incapacity, creating a means for the vice president and others to step in if the president were deemed unfit to serve.)
There is no case law on sec. 4 of the 25th Amendment because it's never been implemented against a sitting President.  There is no case, in other words, interpreting the plain language of the amendment to mean other than what it appears to mean.  Dershowitz is literally arguing the Constitution is unconstitutional.  There's no other way to understand it.

When News Breaks, It Breaks On Twitter

Or maybe Trump just wants to knock McCabe's book out of the news:

Because As Long As You're Daring The GOP remove you from office, why not go all the way?

Happy VD, GOP!

Apparently the GOP has lost control of its President.

Now what?*

(I'm old enough to remember when the Democrats were the institutional party of disarray.)

More Crunchy Goodness

This time it's not all about the Benjamins, but the "base"; and the primaries.

I stand by my prediction:  this is the hill Trump's presidency dies on, and with him will go the GOP.

And:  sure, why not?

As I was saying:


And just like that...

Every other political issue, large or small, goes away.

Sheer political genius, no?

Last I heard, Trump is more popular in Kentucky than McConnell.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Is Your Offense Offensive?

So this is an interesting take on Ilhan Omar:

The day that began with a media furor around Rep. Ilhan Omar’s recent tweets did not end the way many on the left feared it would. While centrist Democrats and the party’s leadership predictably criticized the first-year congresswoman from Minnesota for her tweets about the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), most of the party’s progressive base rallied behind her. Omar’s tweet about “the Benjamins” may have been ill-advised—many thought it traded, whether intentionally or not, on the anti-Semitic idea that Jewish money controls the government—but by the news cycle’s end it had performed a kind of public service, focusing attention on, and in a way demonstrating, the power the pro-Israel lobby wields in American politics. Articles detailing the way AIPAC marshals its significant resources and extensive influence to shut down criticism of Israel and bolster support for Israeli policies appeared not only in reliably left-wing publications like the Intercept, but also among the gatekeepers of acceptable liberal opinion like Vox. If Omar’s intention was to shift public debate about AIPAC’s role in U.S. politics, she seems to have succeeded.

Not least because it appears in Slate, which ran an article by another author decrying Omar's comments as clearly anti-Semitic, although not denouncing her as an anti-semite.  Maybe that's a distinction as sound as decrying the racist statements of Donald Trump without saying Donald Trump is a racist (well, most of the news media does that.  Even Steve King is not tarred as a racist.  At worst, he's a "white nationalist.")  But Omar's statement that "it's all about the Benjamins" still strikes me as almost racist; but then again, almost not.  This article in Slate is the first time I've seen that ambiguity acknowledged: "Omar’s tweet about “the Benjamins” may have been ill-advised—many thought it traded, whether intentionally or not, on the anti-Semitic idea that Jewish money controls the government—"  It still seems to me the tweet was about the influence of lobbyists like AIPAC (whose influence is through money, the whole complaint about lobbyists in the first place), and not about money and Jews.  But I see the connection to anti-semitism and foul Jewish stereotypes, too.  Just like I see the connection between denouncing George Soros' politics (or how he spends his money), and the fact that George Soros is Jewish.  But does that mean I can't disagree with George Soros' political opinions (I don't, but arguendo) without being an anti-semite?  If I disagree with the politics of Ben Carson (and I do), am I a closet racist?

Is that really what racism is about?  Is it really what anti-semitism is about?  If so, then I can't denounce Woody Allen as a child-molester (I don't; again, arguendo) without also engaging in racist attitudes.  Or maybe that's okay because there's no historical connection between pederasty and Jews (actually there probably is, as I have no doubt Jews have been accused of every crime imaginable.  But if so, it's long forgotten).  On the other hand, a number of people mischaracterize the God of the Hebrew Scriptures as a blood-thirsty tyrant demanding fealty and blind loyalty, without ever once considering they are speaking of the God of the Jews, or that such a mischaracterization is distinctly and profoundly anti-semitic, in fact is probably the root of European antisemitism (the distinction between "our" loving God, and "their" vicious one)

So can we have discussions about Israel and the political influence of Israel in American politics without resorting to cries of anti-semitism?  That's an old question by now, and maybe the answer is that a new generation is coming with new ideas:

Among young people, support for Israel is low—just one-quarter of respondents ages 18–29 in a 2018 Economist/YouGov poll said they considered Israel an ally. 

My daughter doesn't remember the 1972 Munich Olympics; or Yassir Arafat, or the Six Day War or even the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt brokered by Jimmy Carter.  Her frame of reference, in other words, is not mine (and mine has shifted as I've learned more about the history of modern Israel and the Palestinians).  Her generation does not tend to understand Israel as good, and all around it evil.  I understand Israel as being founded by terrorists (one man's freedom fighter is another man's....), not because Israel has no "right to exist" (what country does?) but because "those to whom violence is done/do violence in return," and Israel did a lot of violence to to others to create itself.  Someone will tell me I am an anti-semite to say this, but I don't think I am.  And there are a number of people in the international community who would agree with me.  Perhaps news events since my formative years, combined with a greater international understanding due to technology (however slightly that door is opening), may be causative factors.  I do know my daughter appreciates aspects of other cultures which weren't even open to me at her age; she has friends from around the world simply because that's the nature of our world today, she appreciates ideas and cultural matters I had to struggle to even find a reference to.  That Ilhan Omar is in Congress means there are more people like Rep, Omar in this country, now; and that's a good thing (there are still too many people like Steve King, but as others have pointed out, the President didn't demand Rep. King resign from Congress).

If we use this as an opportunity to talk and listen, rather than to decry and blame, that would be a good thing, too.

(Besides, and wholly apart from this controversy, she's asking the questions that need to be asked.  I'm old enough to be her father, but there's no "generation gap" here for me!).

Adding: a bit of information on AIPAC:

The Wall Is Coming?

On foot? Horseback? Strapped to turtles?

Who's With Me?

So, the argument from numbers about the El Paso rally is, in the final analysis, only partially about who actually showed up.  Trump claimed as many as 69,000 people wanted to be there, and 10,000 were allowed into the arena where he spoke:
There were "thousands" of people outside, but there is no official estimate as to how many.  Nobody seems think that number is somewhere between 59,000 and 61,000.

How many were at the Beto rally?  Frankly, this gets a bit dicey.  The El Paso Police Department said it made no official estimate.  "An O'Rourke spokesman said about 8,000 attended the counter-rally."  Or maybe it was 7000.  Or maybe it was 10,000 to 15,000.  The numbers on the high end are very dubious, so let's leave at at 7000 to 80000.  What does it matter?

Only in this:  first, Amanda Marcotte is right.  Beto proves that, when they go low, we go high.  Trump told lies about the wall, crime in El Paso, and encouraged violence against journalists.  Beto appealed to the angels of our better nature:

"We are making a stand for truth against lies and hate and ignorance and intolerance," the potential 2020 Democratic candidate said. "We are going to show the country who we are. We're going to make a stand to ensure that we live up to our promise, to our potential, to our purpose as a country."

"We will not take advantage of them," O'Rourke added about immigrants. "We will not send them back to certain death. We will not believe that walls can or should keep them out. Instead, we welcome them with open arms."

And he did it outside in shirtsleeves after leading a march through El Paso.

How cold was it again?  How devoted were those Trump followers outside the coliseum?

We hear a great deal about Trump's base and their loyalty to Trump and even their indifference to any ideas or facts that don't come from Trump.  It wouldn't hurt to point out they are a minority of the population and even of the electorate.  Donald Trump won in a very low turnout election, in states where the turnout was especially low.  If not for the electoral college, his "base" would have been irrelevant.  Beto O'Rourke, without the power of the Presidential seal (reports from El Paso found many residents attended because the President was in town, not out of sympathy for his beliefs), drew at least as big a crowd as the President did.  Trump's followers may be blindly devoted to whatever he claims; but there are at least an equal number of people who are not so blind.

And probably many, many more besides.

No Comment

This was just too good not to pass along.

(I have to add, in the spirit of disclosure, that the problem of Batman's modus operandi had never really struck me until "The Dark Knight,"  Watching Batman punch his way, slowly and repeatedly, through crowds of bad guys, I began to realize this was a labor intensive method without much real return.  Back in the real world, 4 Houston police officers were shot in a raid that made national news.  What may not have been national news was the fact the raid was supposedly on a virtual warehouse of black heroin, but all that was found was some marijuana.  The "bad guys" in that raid were shot to death, not just punched out, but four police officers were wounded, some seriously, and the results didn't exactly change the crime scene in Houston.  No more than, as I heard this morning, did the capture (and now conviction) of El Chapo diminish the effects of his cartel, which is still going strong and is now considered the largest and most powerful such cartel in Mexico.  Maybe simple solutions don't solve complex problems after all.  Oh, well.....)

To Whom Do We Apologize?

So this popped up in my statistics as a post of sudden interest to the few who come here, although it's almost 14 (!) years old now.  It caused me to re-read it and to consider the statements in it and think "Huh.  That's interesting.  Sounds like seminary-speak.  Don't speak seminary-speak anymore."  My first reaction, in other words, is to reject it because it is far too narrow and rigid.  And I think that; this is largely the language either of opposition for fundamentalist literalism, or a submission to scientific naturalism.

These days I reject either extreme, and find myself less interested in apologetics for Christian metaphysics (a product of its age, and something of a tradition which has lost its life; we need not take down Christianity with it, or replace it with something more acceptable or "common sense.") than I am in Tolstoy's question "How should we then live?".  Which is to say much of what that post dwells on:  the nature of miracles as recorded in the gospels, the nature of Christ (God?  Man?  both and a little bit of neither?), church dogma, even the Resurrection itself, are more in the nature of what Wittgenstein called things talked about in one "language game" that make no sense in another.  Let me illustrate with a simple illustration.  I say I love my wife.  You say, "Prove it."  How would I do so?  What does the statement even mean to you?  It means everything to me, it seems to be an expression of my very being.  To you it may be immaterial, sentimental, even embarrassing, an expression of emotion (or merely a statement, merely words?).  My love for my wife is completely subjective and personal; does she even understand what I mean?  Do I?  I love my daughter, too, but how do I explain that statement?  I didn't love my wife at first sight, but I've loved my daughter from the moment of her birth.  Does that make sense?  Can I explain it, defend it, justify it?  How?  Could my statements be considered legendary?  After all, it is not "objectively and neutrally ascertainable historical fact" (and the gospels contain four different stories of the Resurrection; it certainly fits those terms, even in the records we have).

Does this mean my claims of love are not "true"?

Let's return to the miracles.  Even the gospels contend about them.  Mark has fewer than Matthew or Luke; John has radically different ones, and fewer (the wedding at Cana, the resurrection of Lazarus).  The synoptics call them "acts of power" (dunamis, transliterated from the Greek), John calls them "signs" (semeia, again from the Greek).  Scholarship tells us the literature of that age is full of claims of miracles, usually portrayed as dunamis.  John is radical in his re-description, and emphasizes that it is better to believe without seeing, than to believe because you see, or think these "signs" are proof, or even measures of truth.  It is in John's gospel that Pilate asks his famous question; it doesn't appear in the other three.  Perhaps Pilate is being cynically philosophical; or perhaps he sincerely doesn't know how to adjudicate the case before him, because he has no access to the truth Jesus presents.  Are those truths, then, not true?  And which matters more:  what Jesus said, or who Jesus was?

This split goes back to Paul, who didn't have the gospels to preach from or to write about.  He taught who Jesus was; but is that still our primary concern?  (And I don't mean to reduce Paul's letters to such a simplistic dichotomy, except arguendo for the moment,)  Questions of "truth" and "verification" and "Evidence" are of no interest to me, because they are not, as Tillich described them (cribbing Kierkegaard), matters of  "ultimate concern."  Do I need an apologetic for the miracles or the Resurrection in order to discuss Christianity?  Or should the focus be more in accord with the teachings of the prophets, and the line from them to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth?

Isaiah's vision of the holy mountain is a place which, in the fullness of time, will be a draw to all nations (read:  people, not nation-states) because it will offer a better way of life, a guide to living that everyone will want to share (but not be required to).  Micah's reduction of the requirements of the God of Abraham to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, comes after God (as God frequently does in the words of the prophets) has rejected the empty gestures and hollow rituals which are not bad in themselves, but are hollow because the children of Abraham have reduced them to shams, as bargaining chips whereby they think they purchase God's favor while doing whatever it is they want to do.  God does not punish Israel because it is immoral or even unfaithful; God just leaves them to their own devices because they have turned their backs on God, because they have chosen to ignore God's wisdom, God's sophia, God's guidance on "how should we then live?".  When Peter refuses to eat with those who don't keep the dietary laws of Moses, God's vision to Peter tells him not to put form in front of substance.  God never demands adherence to rules when such adherence is meant simply to maintain God's favor.  As Jesus succinctly puts it to his critics:  were people made for the Sabbath, or the Sabbath made for people?  Every time we reduce God's teachings to rules and regulations, or doctrines or dogma which must be established first before we can settle the question of how life should be conducted, we are trying to remake people for the Sabbath, rather than recognizing what the Sabbath does for people.

That, too, can be a reductio argument which condemns those who keep the Sabbath very carefully, mindful of what effort is, or is not, labor.  Jesus' point was not to condemn methods of observing the Sabbath; he was pointing out the error of judgment.  In Micah's terms you can't do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God if you're stopping to point out how somebody else is doing it wrong.  In Isaiah's visionary terms, who wants to come to a holy mountain full of scolds, or, in our terms, full of arguments over what the meaning or reality of a miracle is?  Which matters more:  treating each other as the Christ, in terms of the Matthean parable?  Or arguing over who is right about the nature of the stories of miracles in the gospels?

(Which is not to say I'd object to planting some trees in concrete.  One answer never fits all.)

You Can't Fix Stupid

I knew someone who had lost hearing in one ear due to having measles as a child (long before the vaccine was available).  She died of cancer as an adult. 

It's not a refutation per se, but this is such a dumb comment it hardly deserves one.  I suppose we should bring back polio, too.  I knew adults crippled by polio, but it's a childhood disease, right?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

I Honestly Don't Think Jeebus Loves Me This Much

Because the result will be a spanking in the courts (even Scalia relied on Youngstown in slapping down an executive order over reach by Obama; that precedent is alive and well, IMHLegalO) and Trump bringing his entire Presidency to an undeniable and crashing halt.  Nancy Pelosi will bring up a resolution in the House which the Senate will have to vote on (no choice, Mitch!).  It will be the point when every one in DC will have to admit the Emperor is buck nekkid.  (And let us not ignore the Democrats are winning bigly on this issue, especially if Trump signs off on the spending plan and then tries to wreck the government by declaring himself the Sovereign Lord and Master.  For one thing, all the nonsense getting started about the Green New Deal suddenly disappears from the radar, and who's gonna care what Ilhan Omar said?)

This is the hill his Presidency dies on.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Better Late Than Never?

The interesting thing about the report on the Southern Baptist Convention is that the SBC is, structurally and intentionally, the very opposite of the Roman Catholic Church.  The denomination is strictly  "congregational," meaning every congregation associates with every other congregation through the Southern Baptist Convention, but the SBC has absolutely no authority over those congregations.  So there can't be the active concealing of clergy abuse that the RC engaged in, but there can be the willful blindness to that abuse that the entire culture engaged in.  According to the first report (of three), the SBC didn't keep good records on employees and clergy, even sending employees on to other churches with letters of recommendation.  Well, to be fair, the SBC didn't do that, the churches did; the SBC just never so much as told the churches that might be a bad idea, even as it discarded churches which called gay or lesbian pastors to their pulpits.  Some things the SBC can do something about, you see.

I'm familiar with this phenomenon, not in terms of knowing victims of clergy or church employee abuse, but in terms of shunning, as many victims of abuse who reported it to their congregations were shunned.  I've mentioned before the last funeral I conducted, for a childhood friend who had "come out" in her adult life as a lesbian.  A life-long member of an SBC congregation, the church that knew her from childhood shunned her for being who she was.  That's not a peculiarity of the SBC; congregations are good at turning their backs on church members.  As we will see, sexual orientation is a much more serious issue for the SBC than sexual abuse (which is wrong in so many ways it defies argument).  Such treatment doesn't usually make the newspapers, though.

The other interesting fact here is that the reporter for the Houston Chronicle told NPR this morning they decided to look into allegations of sexual abuse among clergy and employees of SBC churches 10 years after activists pushed the SBC to respond to the allegations of abuse.  That's also acknowledged in the article itself:

In June 2008, [Debbie Vasquez, a victim of abuse 35 years earlier] paid her way to Indianapolis, where she and others asked leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and its 47,000 churches to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers. Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to consider prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.

"Listen to what God has to say," she said, according to audio of the meeting, which she recorded. "... All that evil needs is for good to do nothing. ... Please help me and others that will be hurt."

Days later, Southern Baptist leaders rejected nearly every proposed reform.

The abusers haven't stopped. They've hurt hundreds more.

Most of the stories found by the Chronicle are public records of lawsuits and criminal convictions, not hidden stories tucked away behind SBC authorities (there really aren't any SBC authorities; nothing remotely comparable to any episcopalian form of church hierarchy).  So the question is:  why did the SBC ignore this for so long?  And the other question is:  why did Texas news media ignore this for so long?   It's a terrible thing, but 10 years ago activists confronted the Southern Baptist Convention with the problem and their complicity.  And 10 years later, the press in Texas has finally decided to investigate those allegations.  It only took six months to do the investigation; it only took 10 years to decide to undertake it, even with all the evidence hiding in plain sight.

I mean, the narrative that a free press is a shining light in the darkness and a tower of public moral responsibility is just undercut by a story that took 10 years to finally spark six months of investigation into "thousands of pages of court, prison and police records and,' finally, "conducting hundreds of interviews."  And no, I don't have a lot of sympathy for the SBC's position that it can't do anything because of it's non-episcopal structure:

Other leaders have acknowledged that Baptist churches are troubled by predators but that they could not interfere in local church affairs. Even so, the SBC has ended its affiliation with at least four churches in the past 10 years for affirming or endorsing homosexual behavior. The SBC governing documents ban gay or female pastors, but they do not outlaw convicted sex offenders from working in churches.

In one email to Debbie Vasquez, Augie Boto assured her that "no Baptist I know of is pretending that 'the problem does not exist.'"

"There is no question that some Southern Baptist ministers have done criminal things, including sexual abuse of children," he wrote in a May 2007 email. "It is a sad and tragic truth. Hopefully, the harm emanating from such occurrences will cause the local churches to be more aggressively vigilant."

Gays and lesbians are bad, especially in the pulpit; but child molesters in the pulpit?  Well, waddareyagonna do, except to "preach it round and square?"

The SBC Executive Committee also wrote in 2008 that it "would certainly be justified" to end affiliations with churches that "intentionally employed a known sexual offender or knowingly placed one in a position of leadership over children or other vulnerable participants in its ministries."

Current SBC President J.D. Greear reaffirmed that stance in an email to the Chronicle, writing that any church that "proves a pattern of sinful neglect — regarding abuse or any other matter — should absolutely be removed from fellowship from the broader denomination."
You see the exit there:  "knowingly."  As long as the congregation doesn't know, it's not responsible.  And if no system exists to tell them, then they don't have to know, and they can't be responsible.  It depends, you see, on what the meaning of "is," is (oh, ask your grandfather!).  Or it just depends on not really wanting to cut off churches from the convention who don't hate gays and lesbians (because that's what's really wrong!):

 But the newspapers found at least 10 SBC churches that welcomed pastors, ministers and volunteers since 1998 who had previously faced charges of sexual misconduct. In some cases, they were registered sex offenders.

"Knowingly" is a rather generously defined term, apparently.  And that applies to the newspapers as well:

In 2007, victims of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist pastors requested creation of a registry containing the names of current and former leaders of Southern Baptist churches who had been convicted of sex crimes or who had been credibly accused. That didn't happen; the last time any such list was made public was by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It contained the names of eight sex criminals.

In 2018, as advocates again pressed SBC officials for such a registry, Houston Chronicle reporters began to search news archives, websites and databases nationwide to compile an archive of allegations of sexual abuse, sexual assault and other serious misconduct involving Southern Baptist pastors and other church officials. We found complaints made against hundreds of pastors, church officials and volunteers at Southern Baptist churches nationwide.
I don't defend the SBC here; as the article makes clear, the Convention itself, and its individual leaders over the years (including many from Houston), did all they could to distance themselves from allegations made in their congregations, or in congregations associated with the SBC.  The Rev. Ed Young's statement in an affidavit seeking to quash a deposition request states it plainly:

I have no educational training in the area of sexual abuse or the investigation of sexual abuse claims.  I have had no personal experience relative to any claim of sexual abuse among church members of any church of which I have been Pastor since my ordination as a Baptist minister over thirty four years ago.
Since 1979, as Pastor of Second Baptist Church of Houston, my sermons have been broadcast locally on a regular basis.  I have appeared on local television and national television regarding religious issues since my arrival in Houston, Texas.  My deposition testimony could unfavorably affect that television ministry, which is now seen on a daily basis in the greater Houston area.

In other words, Pastor Young is just the President (at the time) of the SBC, but that doesn't make him responsible for anything going on in the congregations of the SBC, and imputing any responsibility to him (like making him give a deposition in a lawsuit against the SBC, and other parties) would be damaging to his career.   Real towers of moral probity and authority these guys are.  When there was an allegation against a church employee in 1994, the mother of the victim says Young spoke to her once on the phone, hung up when she said she'd already called the police, and never spoke to her or her family again.  It was several months after that before the employee finally left his position with the church. Was the church concerned with interfering in a police investigation?  Or were they just concerned with appearances?

There's plenty of finger-pointing to go around, here; and certainly issues of sexual impropriety and institutional responses to it seem to depend on one's cultural, even political, persuasion.  Before my daughter was born (so, what, almost 30 years ago now?) my pastor was involved in a local church investigation into his behavior, including his behavior before his marriage (there was no allegation of impropriety in his marriage).  It was very low-level stuff, the major allegation being that he had dated, briefly, a member of the congregation.  No allegations of abuse; just some questions of propriety.  I later knew of another investigation of a UCC pastor, this about 10 years on from the investigation of my pastor, involving again questions of judgment about who he dated; nothing about any allegations of abuse, physical or otherwise.  Such matters nearly lead to loss of standing (i.e., ability to be a minister in the UCC) in both cases.  The UCC took any allegation of impropriety (not even rising to the level of alleged assault, I again emphasize) seriously; too seriously, I thought at the time (and still think).  Then again, the UCC has allowed the ordination and placement of gays and lesbians in its pulpit since the '90's, if memory serves (it may have been a bit later than that, I'm not going to look it up now).  Does this make the UCC 'better' than the SBC?  Hardly; it's just interesting how the culture of institutions shapes the behavior of those institutions.  The UCC is notoriously "liberal," the SBC is notoriously "conservative."  Ed Young is notoriously Republican and conservative in his politics, a position I'm sure that aligns with the majority of his congregation.  There are many reasons Ed Young has a congregation and I don't, and I'm also sure that's one of them.  But churches do have to hold themselves to higher, or perhaps better, standards.  The UCC was purging supposed Al Frankens from its midst 30 years ago, long before the U.S. Senate Democrats caught up.  More concerned with appearances isn't necessarily better than more concerned with gays and lesbians than sexual abuse allegations.  But the SBC has a lot to answer for, even if they can deny any legal liability for the actions of employees of their affiliated congregations.

I just don't want the indifference of the press to be overlooked here, either.  I'm not impressed with Texas news organizations and how they handle local Texas news.  As I've mentioned before, Texas education funding has been a mess for almost 40 years, yet few people in Texas even recognize there is a problem.  Most don't understand their school taxes go, not primarily to their local schools, but to the state's general fund; and a lot of that ignorance is the refusal of the Texas media to cover the story.  Is that because no one is trying to make a public issue of Texas school finance and in general how Texas funds state government?  If so, who finally got the Houston Chronicle to get interested in this story?  Round 2 of the activists trying to engage the SBC, ten years after the first attempt?  So twice in 10 years makes the press think "Hey, is there a story here?"  That's pretty pathetic for a "free press" supposedly so integral to the functioning of government and society it needs special Constitutional protections available to any individual or business entity that calls itself "media".  With great power comes great responsibility, but frankly the responsibility of the press to notice what's going on in the SBC is as great as the responsibility of the SBC to take action.

Is it any wonder our dominant cultural paradigm seems to be pointing fingers at other people while never taking any responsibility ourselves?