Adventus

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

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

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

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Still as worthless as...

...well, you know.

The shooter is dead, the crime is over. Like El Paso, you will make appropriate noises and then hear from the NRA and forget all about it again.

Five people are dead, and all you can say is the FBI will look into it. Look into what? That he was clearly "insane" so he shouldn't have had a gun, but we only know that because he went on a random shooting spree? How about you fly to Odessa and tell every victim, or the families of the dead, that the gun didn't pull the trigger? Or save the taxpayers the cost, and just say how much everyone in the hospital WOULD have loved you.

The youngest victim was 17-months old. Only a sociopath could hold your office and not feel some responsibility, some remorse, over that.

You are worthless. Better you should follow up with silence than you should speak on this ever again.

(Oh, I get it! "More to follow" means still more shootings will happen. Or more of the same to come. I didn't expect you to be that honest. But you only were accidentally. Just like your an accidental President. Well, that makes sense, at least.)

Useless as teats on a boar hog

So he's finished playing golf?

I have no idea how bad Dorian will be, and don't wish it in anyone, but Trump seems to think the size and strength are to his credit.

Does he think Houston should have thanked him for Harvey?

What, Me Worry?*

So of course:
*Ask your Grandpa! Or Pete Buttigieg.

Friday, August 30, 2019

My Commenters Save Me Again; another Continuing Series


Rustypickup, here, reminded me of the photographs of Sally Mann which I wrote about here.  Ms. Mann's work is not exclusively about old backwoods Southern churches, but she photographed a fair amount of them.  Yes, they do come and go; are sanctified and (hopefully) desacralized, or just become so by neglect and decay and abandonment.

It all sets me in mind of my grandparent's church(es).  They were Primitive Baptist, as were most of their children.  Their church building is wherever they find it.  Sometimes a building built for the purpose, but usually a different one every time I attended with them, which was infrequent.  I remember many over the years.  How they chose them or came to use them, I never knew.  One of their sons, the youngest and my uncle, had a birthday gathering a few years back to which we call came (he has Alzheimer's, it was a chance to see him still lucid).  It was in the Primitive Baptist church he now attends.  A small building, hardly church-like, but clearly a church nonetheless.  Enough so for them; it was one large room, suited to church dinners and parties for members, and worship on Sunday morning.

They taught me an important lesson:  that, in the end, it's just a building.  I have deep love for the churches of my childhood, and I have a hard time remembering that lesson.  But the few people left who knew my father when I returned him to the town he'd lived in for 50+ years, to bury him, were from the church I grew up in.  They are, were, the church, even if they were represented by their adult children, older than me even so.

People come and go, and form the clouds of witness that stand around us, and are evergreen in memory, and dear to our hearts, and a consolation in our loneliness.  No building can do that.

The First Question Is;

Who was the idiot who gave him a linkable copy of this classified photo?

So he follows it with four tweets from FoxNews about how what Comey did, per the IG report, was tantamount to treason (you can't make this stuff up) and then he goes out on the lawn to fly to Camp David:

Followed up by:
Because the real crime is the one Comey didn't commit and wasn't charged with.

I'm really beginning to wonder how much longer we have to put up with this fuckwit.

"Bullets won't stop it! Rockets won't stop it!"

We may have to use nuclear force!"

Or have we considered that already?

Doing Right is Not the Same as Doing Nothing Wrong


This is just how bureaucracies function:

Indeed, beyond Horowitz himself, the report is emblematic of how even seemingly apolitical appointees (Horowitz was appointed under Barack Obama) and members of the bureaucracy routinely bend their duties toward those in power.

If they didn't function this way, they would be eliminated with every change of government, and the institutions of government we rely on would grind to a halt and never restart.  Indeed, it's indicative of how unimportant the White House is to daily life, in and out of government, that we can change the entire population of that building every 4 or 8 years, and hardly notice the difference.  We can even endure 4 years of a President who has nothing on his public schedule from day to day, and barely notice the problem (it's more what he does that is the problem).

But change the rules about how the citizenship status of some people overseas on behalf of the federal government, and everyone notices.  That decision may come down from the White House, but it took almost 3 years to get to the stage of execution by a bureaucracy which must routinely bend its duties toward those in power.  Some plans, like dropping nukes into hurricanes, never get past the asking stage, again thanks to bureaucracy knowing when not to bend.

And if that bureaucracy was openly hostile to every occupant of the White House, every President in the Oval Office and her staff, what benefit would that be?  An Inspector General can just as easily tilt an investigation against a President as in her favor.  Would we then praise that bureaucrat?  Well, whose ox is being gored?

I think Comey did the right thing, if not entirely for the right reasons.  But an IG is not really the person to be excusing such behavior because the one violating rules he agreed to be bound by is describable as a "whistle-blower."  That would be rather like Robert Mueller deciding in his public testimony before Congress:  "Fuck the rule of law!  There are no chains on me anymore!  Donald Trump is guilty!  That's guilty, guilty, guilty!"  Might be satisfying to some, but it wouldn't really advance the rule of law; and isn't that what Trump is doing?  Not advancing the rule of law?

Comey won't be prosecuted.  That doesn't mean he's innocent.  At most, it means he's not guilty of violating a law.  That's all the system provides.  It's that system that members of the bureaucracy routinely bend their duties toward.  It isn't meant to serve those in power no matter what; but neither is it meant to undermine them, no matter what.

Justice is mighty demanding, when you get down to it.

And We Think We Got Troubles


Will the Good Friday accords, then, be respected on November 1 (ironically, All Saint's Day, another religious holiday)?  Will Scotland continue to respect the union?  Or will they prefer the European Union?  Will trade through the tunnel under the Channel be respected?  Or trade in Britain's ports?

At least Donald Trump is just imposing tariffs on China in time for Xmas.....

 
In order to save democracy, we have to destroy the country?

Wasn't that a lesson learned in Vietnam?

Sure, but first


...we have to talk about reparations for the descendants of slaves.  And then full reparations for all those wrongfully convicted of crimes and imprisoned falsely.  And then people who suffered sexual abuse and harassment and assault; then, maybe, we can get to you.

Oh, wait; Constitution says "NO" to your complaint.  Sorry.  Oddly, it doesn't say "NO" to the others. How 'bout that?

Same As It Ever Was, Redux

Now it's a museum.  Is Islam on the decline?

Raw Story loves a provocative headline, there's no doubt about that ('sokay, so do I).


Well, the first part is true; the reason for it, less so.  As Neil Young is singing on my stereo just now, "In the fields of opportunity it's plowing time again!"

Hagia Sophia is the lesson from history, here.  Originally a Greek Orthodox church, it was refashioned into an Islamic mosque.

The same sort of conversions have been taking place in Buffalo’s East Side. Many former Catholic churches have, over the years, been converted into other denominations – Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal and Evangelical – to accommodate the area’s African American community.

But several former Christian churches in Buffalo’s East Side also now serve as sites of worship for other religions. Two mosques, Bait Ul Mamur Inc. Masjid and Masjid Zakariya, used to be Saint Joachim’s Roman Catholic Church and Holy Mother of Rosary Polish National Catholic Church, respectively.
Besides, I thought the big religious news in America was the rise of the "nones," not the replacement of Christianity for other world religions.  And, of course, this isn't news in any sense of the word.  There's an office building in Austin, Texas, near the neighborhood where I used to live, that was once a Catholic convent.  Houston has a public library that was once a church.  Lakewood Church has a church in what was once a basketball arena.  I think it's interesting, but "as Christianity declines"?

Or is it as people move away from old neighborhoods, and new groups move in?  Was the conversion to an Islamic mosque and a new name, Hagia Sophia, in 1453 a sign of the decline of Christianity?  When I entered seminary, incoming students went on a retreat to a former Catholic seminary, in a building built to house priests in training (no sex jokes, please).  The building was old, built when St. Louis was a major center for the Roman church.  At the time I had an MG Midget, and if I could have gotten it into the building, I could have literally driven it down the halls of the dormitory, even turned around in those halls.  The space was built to house several hundred people very comfortably, much more comfortably than the college dorm I spent two years in.  That seminary had long ago closed, and the diocese leased the building for retreats like ours.  Was that a sign of the decline of Christianity?

Churches close, or get repurposed, all the time.  "Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang," Shakespeare wrote, and the reference to "choirs" was to ecclesiastical architecture, some of which fell into ruin in England when Henry VIII seized it from the Church in Rome.  And what of the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.?  It wasn't the decline of Judaism, but it's birth (I mean the non-Temple centered religion that came to known as Judaism).

Really, this idea that the world was a harmonious unit that only began to fracture into complexity (and so "decline") is a silly and ignorant adolescent one.  The real problem of decline is in the Great Barrier Reef and other problems; not in turning an abandoned building into something useful, like a brewery.  Change happens; and sometimes, that's not a bad thing.

Seems To Me The Guy Most Responsible


...is making all the excuses.

On the other hand, he really does sound like his supporters.

Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma!


I remember this Fantastic Four cartoon from my youth, where in the end our heroes once again defeated Doctor Doom and sent him fleeing back to Latveria, the fictional eastern European country he ran as a dictator.  As Doom fled one of the Four (Ben Grimm?  Johnny Storm?) asked the leader, Reed Richards, why they let him escape to pester them another day.  Richards responded that "trying to take over the world" was not a crime, so Doom couldn't be held on any criminal charges.

It was a comic book explanation, but the basic idea was sound:  go big or go home.  Besides, Doom was the head of a foreign government.  That was often the other excuse for his many crimes; he couldn't be extradited.  He couldn't even be tried like an ordinary criminal.

And now we have a comic book villain in the White House.  And where is the "great security" that will fix this for us?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be?


Why Gillibrand crashed and burned


Here, I'll save you the trouble:  outside of New York state (and probably D.C.), nobody had heard of her until she chased Al Franken out of the Senate.  Did she do that because of righteous wrath, or because she wanted to make national headlines and it was peak "#MeToo" so she was guaranteed those?  Both and a little bit of neither?  Probably.  either way, she wasn't because "the Franken ordeal had a 'huge, outsized impact on her.' ”  It's because it was her impact.

She was known for one thing:  the Senator who forced Al Franken out of the Senate.  Yes, Franken was responsible for buckling and leaving as quickly as he did.  Yes, other Senators pressured him to leave.  Yes, it was a complicated issue and, yes, I still think Jane Mayer got it more right than wrong.

And yes, everyone in the crowded field "had a moment," and nobody ever broke the "top five," even Buttigieg, who did get some attention for awhile, but is really on life support at this point.  And yes, the "top five" were all known quantities before they entered the race (farewell, Julian Castro; being HUD Secretary is not a stepping stone to the Oval Office; farewell, Beto O'Rourke, almost beating Ted Cruz is not a stepping stone to higher office; farewell Corey Booker, being a popular black man from New Jersey only made you the next Chris Christie); but that was Gillibrand's problem.  What was she known for?

Al Franken being forced to resign.

Lots of thumb sucking on the internet now about how this shows how hard it is for a woman to run, but nobody mentions that Tulsi Gabbard hasn't given up yet, nor Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren is still (at last report) a woman, and Hillary won 2 million votes (or more) than Trump (but ran a poor national campaign anyway).  So it isn't that extra "X" chromosome that doomed the senator from New York.

It was the only thing she was famous for.  Turned out nobody thought much of her, and knew even less; but what they knew, didn't inspire them to support her.

Maybe they would have voted for her; but now we'll never know.  Hell, we don't know who will vote for anybody at this point.  Joe Biden?  Yeah, I'm still waiting for people to stop reading the internet and realize they have to caucus or cast a ballot:
 
That's only gonna get worse.  Two old men running for the hardest job in the country, muttering stories about things they didn't do, is not a recipe for "electability."  Sooner or later that's going to become clear.

In the meantime, what is clear is that, if you get on the national stage as the person who put a well-aimed boot up a popular politician's career backside, don't expect to be showered with gratitude for it.

My [Voters], 'tis of thee....


And by "country" he means the people who vote for him.

Trump responded by suddenly berating his favorite target, CNN, which he claimed had “begged” him to do an interview.

The President said he refused to do so because it would be “disloyal” to his supporters.

“I think it would be very disloyal to people that are Trump fans, people who voted for me, people that are going to vote again,” Trump said.

The rest of us can pound sand.

Justice or "Just-Us"?


The local NPR station local call-in program has three judges on the air, discussing "justice."  And all the answers have to do with systems and procedures and outcomes of conflicts.

And I want to call and tell them "the opposite of poverty is justice."  Because "The opposite of poverty is not wealth, the opposite of poverty is justice."

But I know they wouldn't understand me; especially lawyers.  Especially the lawyer who just lost her bench in Harris County (in the last election) and has just been elevated to the Texas Supreme Court by Gov. Abbott.  Her stated ideal of justice is that everybody gets punished equally in a court of law; rather than everybody gets treated equally in a just society (and equal treatment in a just society is not the same thing as equal treatment in a legal system.)  Because her stated ideal is the one lampooned by Anatole France:  “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.”

That ain't nobody's idea of "justice."

Tempest in a Teapot

So Aaron Rupar retweeted that, apparently approvingly. Webster never explained what questions Omar refused to answer, but responses to the tweet indicated they had to do with an alleged affair, the subject of very spurious news reports from less than reputable outlets. But it supports my general contention that news is mostly about gossip.

I even followed the thread of the "original" tweet; but no one can say just what the offending questions were.  Webster implies they had something to do with $250,000 in campaign contributions, but he never says that outright.  Seems rather incumbent on journalists to be transparent, especially when they are whinging about "mean ol' politicians."

The whole idea of journalism as a sacred duty sanctified by the charism of holy 1st Amendment oil is a crock.  What's protected in the Constitution is a free press; that doesn't protect anyone who claims to be a "journalist" (and what are the standards?  Rupar's bete noir, Glenn Greenwald, claims to be a journalist, too) from any criticism at all.  I heard Joshua Goldberg on NPR just now, describing an interview with Jim Mattis, who refused to answer certain questions about his time as Secretary of Defense, especially his opinions and observations on Donald Trump as POTUS.  Was that a "powerful [person] in America" refusing to answer a "journalist's" questions?

Why not?

The Dog That Didn't Bark

Interesting. Trump finally responds; but look at what he responds to.

And he never denies the story.  There's a reason for that:




Does he think FEMA diverted the storm?


And does he think "big" hurricanes are a credit to him?
Or does he just like crying "wolf!"?  What happens when a category 4 or 5 hurricane threatens?

And does he expect Puerto Rico to thank him because Dorian went north of them?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Citizenship is not a (birth) right!


But you have to join; just being born into a military family is not enough! Not anymore, anyway.


Children born to U.S. service members and government employees overseas will no longer be automatically considered citizens of the United States, according to policy alert issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Wednesday.

Previously, children born to U.S. citizen parents were considered to be "residing in the United States," and therefore would be automatically given citizenship under Immigration and Nationality Act 320. Now, children born to U.S. service members and government employees, such as those born in U.S. military hospitals or diplomatic facilities, will not be considered as residing in the U.S., changing the way that they potentially receive citizenship.

So, embassy workers, military wives, anybody overseas on government business, better hie your ass home in time to give birth (no later than 36 weeks into pregnancy, generally), or your kid has to be naturalized.  Because:  foreigners!  Birthright citizenship sucks!  SOMETHING?  I dunno; I just agree with this guy.

Well, yeah, but:  the movie!


Of course it is.


Maybe the Republic will last long enough to learn from this


 
 
Three tweets within 24 hours denouncing the Axios story, and a part of Axios' response:

“Before publishing, we gave the White House full visibility on the key details of our story, and more than nine hours to deny or push back against our reporting.”

Just noting that's standard journalistic procedure. That story only detailed a rather silly suggestion by the President, one raised more than once, and one more than once ignored.   Now comes the Washington Post and reports on something far more lawless and dangerous:

President Trump is so eager to complete hundreds of miles of border fence ahead of the 2020 presidential election that he has directed aides to fast-track billions of dollars’ worth of construction contracts, aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules, according to current and former officials involved with the project.

He also has told worried subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing should they have to break laws to get the barriers built quickly, those officials said.

The strongest push-back to the article from the White House is in the article itself:

When aides have suggested that some orders are illegal or unworkable, Trump has suggested he would pardon the officials if they would just go ahead, aides said. He has waved off worries about contracting procedures and the use of eminent domain, saying “take the land,” according to officials who attended the meetings.

“Don’t worry, I’ll pardon you,” he has told officials in meetings about the wall.

“He said people expected him to build a wall, and it had to be done by the election,” one former official said.

Asked for comment, a White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Trump is joking when he makes such statements about pardons.

Was he smiling?  Meanwhile, on the record the White House says:

Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said Tuesday that the president is protecting the country with the addition of new border barriers.
Although the White House twitter feed did re-tweet Trump about the Axios story, there's been no response, affirming or denying, this WaPo story.  The demands for violations of the Constitution (5th Amendment guarantees "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”) violate his oath of office.  Reappropriating funds first appropriated by Congress likewise violates Article I of the Constitution.  And frankly, directing people to violate the law under protection of a promised pardon is a violation of the guarantees of due process and equal protection.  Although this also raises the problem of a system, any system, acting on behalf of the governed instead of at their direction:


It's an interesting Constitutional argument, that the House can "suspend" a President (without the 25th Amendment, although that Amendment undoubtedly changes the Constitutional analysis of Madison's argument).  That assertion alone would prompt a "Constitutional crisis" and throw the matter into the Supreme Court, which would probably apply the 25th Amendment as the now-Constitutional remedy for suspension of a President without a trial in the Senate.  So much, then, for Madison's assertion that "This is a great security."

The great security is never letting a lawless clown into the White House to begin with.  Short of that, there is no security, as the current situation illustrates. 

A continuing series


Res ipsa loquitur.



“I don’t think they’re lies,” [White House Press Secretary Stephanie] Grisham said when asked about the president’s 12,000-plus falsehoods. “I think the president communicates in a way that some people, especially the media, aren’t necessarily comfortable with. A lot of times they take him so literally. I know people will roll their eyes if I say he was just kidding or was speaking in hypotheticals, but sometimes he is. What I’ve learned about him is that he loves this country and he’s not going to lie to this country.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Guilty Dog Barks Loudest



Don't look over there!

The Trump administration plans to shift at least $155 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund to support its policy of returning some migrants to Mexico.

The Department of Homeland Security has informed Congress it will reprogram and transfer $271 million in total to its immigration enforcement agency from elsewhere in the department, including the FEMA money, according to documents obtained by CNN.

The moves comes as Tropical Storm Dorian nears hurricane strength as it approaches Puerto Rico.

Last week, the administration announced its intention to hold migrant families indefinitely, aimed at scrapping a settlement that put a 20-day limit on family detention.

DHS notified Congress of its plan to reprogram and transfer funds from agencies over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS' enforcement arm, on July 26, according to a DHS official. The department plans to transfer around $116 million for ICE detention beds, as well as transportation and deportation, the official said.
Does this mean Trump feels guilty?  Or is he pre-emptively blaming Puerto Rico for what he did?

Yeah, I don't think it's the former.....

Is it Wednesday Yet?


It's not the tariffs, it's the Fed!

When the week has been insanely chaotic (and it's only Tuesday), you need someone to put it all in context:

It’s one thing, and fairly risky, to go all-out “maximum pressure” on China and Iran, but at least that’s a strategy. It’s another thing, and simply bumbling, to do so, then to admit having “second thoughts” about escalating tariffs against China (then to have a spokesman backpedal on that) and to welcome a dialogue with Tehran (only to have President Hassan Rouhani blow him off).

Similarly, it’s one thing, though unconstitutional (and, therefore, a mindless bluff), to order U.S. companies to stop doing business with China, as Trump did just before the summit. But another then to say, at the press conference afterward, that President Xi Jinping is a “great leader” who will make a deal soon, and once he does, the companies should stay put and “do a great job.”

That came complete with links to back all the factual statements in it.  You can go to the original to find them. The point is that, as early as this morning, news on NPR was still catching up to what Trump said last Friday, and not quite getting around to the fact he blew it all up by the press conference in France on  (checks news):  Monday.

But it's okay!

“It’s the way I negotiate. It’s done very well for me over the years, and it’s doing even better for the country.”

Sure!  That's true!  In Alternative Trump World, where he didn't buy an airline and drive it into bankruptcy, and run a casino (!) into bankruptcy, and buy a football team and watch it completely collapse!  But here's where I disagree with all similarly situated analyses that assume Trump has a goal, a telos, an end, a purpose, in mind.

The fundamental problem with Trump’s meanderings, I suspect, is that he doesn’t know what he wants. If Xi wanted to end the trade war now, it’s not clear what he would need to do to coax Trump to an armistice. Nor is it clear what Rouhani would need to do in order to get the sanctions on his country lifted. In both cases, Trump smashed up the works—imposing enormous tariffs on China, withdrawing from a multinational nuclear deal with Iran—believing the other side would simply fold in the face of America’s power and his own deal-making prowess.

No, he doesn't.  He just wants to smash and grab and if he can't grab, he can at least smash.  This is a man who ran a casino into the ground.  He has no idea what it means to "win" a negotiation.  he thinks he wins at everything, and when he doesn't, it's always someone else's fault and he walks away clean.  He is literally a legend in his own mind.  He doesn't expect anyone to fold; he thinks they have already.  Else why this?

China steals intellectual property and engages in unfair trade practices; this is unconscionable, and too many past presidents have done too little about it. But slapping 25 percent tariffs on all Chinese goods doesn’t address the problem and, in fact, distracts from a search for solutions. Iran funds terrorists and builds ballistic missiles with the range to attack U.S. allies, but pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal—which had led to the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program—does nothing to address those problems either. (It would have been better to use the deal as the starting point for moving on to other issues, just as, during the Cold War, successive arms control treaties with the Soviet Union dealt with an ever-expanding set of disputes.)
What Trump knows is "Obama did it, so the opposite is good!"  He knows that, and he knows he's a powerful negotiator.  Neither statement can be said to be a fact, but Trump doesn't care:  they are facts to him.  He knows what he wants:  he wants people to tell him how important he is.  And if they won't oblige, he'll do it himself.

Trump is doing much more damage than he knows. At least some of those around him know this, but no one has the backbone to tell him. 
True, but even if you told him, he wouldn't listen.  After all, a hurricane is headed toward Puerto Rico again.  When will it stop?  And after all the money Congress appropriated for recovery from the last hurricane!  When is Puerto Rico gonna take responsibility for this?

You gotta admit, somebody who thinks like that is not secretly believing his brilliant skills are going to bear fruit.  He thinks they already have and, if they don't, it's somebody else's fault.  Like Puerto Rico's, for being an island in the path of a hurricane.

12th Dimensional Chess from a Sooper-Jeanyus!



Of course "clearly illegal" only means when the Supreme Court turns thumbs down, so the best hope is for the bedbug story to get legs again.

Or for GOP Senators to start telling the White House the G-7 at Doral is not on.  Don't hold your breath on that one, but stranger things have happened.

Bombs Away!


I saw this on another twitter feed and had to check that it was authentic.

It is.  Lies about appropriations for Puerto Rico relief and all.  I suppose it's Puerto Rico's fault it doesn't nuke the hurricanes, huh?

The Question of Salvation



 A too-familiar refrain:

My concern has always been the gradual normalization of Trump’s unforgivably destructive behavior. The longer Trump remains president the more Trumpism will become metastasized in our collective political culture. In my darkest moments, I believe it’s too late — it’s already in our bones.

The very presence of Trump occupying the Oval Office has permanently broadened the state of play for the presidency — broadened the degree of latitude the president now possesses to paint outside the previous lines. Presidents and presidential candidates are now at greater liberty to exhibit behavior that would heretofore have been punished with rejection and exile from the ranks of seriousness and normalcy. Whether we like it or not, Trump has written new rules for the presidency by exploiting loopholes in our system, a system that’s built on the rule of law, traditional norms and constitutional strictures.

Trump has hurled his ponderous bulk through wall after wall, Kool-Aid Man style, and once he leaves office, it’ll be up to the rest of us to repair those Trump-shaped holes. In order to do that, we need to fight to throw off the normalization of Trumpism now, even as it calcifies, while creating presidential reforms that prevent Trump-copycats or the next iteration of calamitous dumbness on a continuum that includes proto-Trumps such as George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, among many others.

I get it. It’s nearly impossible for us to fully absorb each travesty as it whizzes past our faces at ludicrous speed. Prioritizing and focusing upon what Trump does over what he merely says is always a smart idea, just as long as we never regard his tweets and obnoxious blurts as being irrelevant or normal. The president’s words matter, too. Yet at this point, regulating how the president talks is more a societal adjustment than a legislative one.

While the next Congress will hopefully launch hearings to introduce measures to pull back the reins on Article II executive powers based on the loopholes Trump has exposed — not unlike during the years after Watergate — Americans must also once again reject demagogues and populist political tourists like Trump. We have to stop mistaking “This guy has ideas!” or “This guy is just like me!” for “This guy should be president!”

It isn't that Trump has exploited loopholes.  It's that Trump has no business being in the Oval Office at all.  A toddler with a loaded shotgun is not exploiting loopholes in gun control laws; it's something that simply shouldn't happen, and when it does, you get the gun away from the toddler as quickly as possible, then hold the adults in the room responsible for what just happened.  Unfortunately, our Constitutional system doesn't work that way, because trying to design it so it does is trying to design it to save us from ourselves.  If you are determined to let a toddler have free access to loaded firearms, you are going to suffer the consequences; but society can act to prevent you from doing that, and make sure you suffer all the consequences of your actions that may be visited on others.  However, if the electorate is determined to elect a perfect idiot to the President, there is no institutional nor Constitutional system that can prevent it.

Like laws that supposedly control our behavior and keep us from all robbing and raping and terrorizing each other.  The lack of police on my block (they've been here once in the nearly 20 years I've lived here.  I never remember them once on the block where my parents lived for 50 years.) doesn't give us all free reign to blight each other's lives.  We don't need the policeman at our elbow to be civilized beings; but obviously some percentage of the population does.  That percentage is a numerical minority of the population.  That percentage should never supply a candidate for public office, especially when that office is the highest in the land.  When it does, the failure is not in the system, not in a "loophole" that government can fill with a statute or even a Constitutional amendment.  That failure is in the electorate.

Systems do not save us.  Consider the "system" that lead to Brexit.  A sitting PM decided to silence his critics once and for all, and called for a referendum on Britain's membership in the EU.  A bigger mistake England probably hasn't made since the 19th century potato famines in Ireland.  By the end of this year Boris Johnson, who is slightly more capable than Donald Trump (at least capable enough to subtly mock Trump at the G-7 in Paris, something Trump couldn't do if he wanted to), will probably oversee the collapse of the British economy, the return of the "troubles" to northern Ireland as the border shuts down between the Republic and the British nation on the same island; the beginning of the dissolution of the Union as Scotland probably moves to remove itself from that Union so it can return to the EU; and even the shut down of traffic in the Chunnel, since most of that is goods moved in trade, and trade with the EU will come abruptly to a halt (and any promises by Trump to trade with England will be meaningless, as such trade will have to be established by private companies, and that can take years).

Complete and utter disaster for Great Britain, in other words, and all because the Brits are determined to turn their democracy into a mutual suicide pact, something democracies sometimes do but which Britain has managed to avoid for several centuries.   Time's up, apparently.

And it would be for us, if we were ever offered a similar referendum.  And being the result of a referendum, the system that allowed such a vote wouldn't protect us from our collective stupidity, it would actually create the conditions for the crisis Great Britain now finds itself in.  And yet their system doesn't show them a way out.  Mostly they seem to blithely think it's never happened before, so it can't happen now.  Let the election of Donald Trump be a warning to them.

Let the situation of Brexit be a warning to us.  It can always be worse; and we can always deny reality, and responsibility, mostly by blaming the system for not saving us from ourselves.

This is, unfortunately, the question of salvation, the subject of soteriology.  We usually think of that as  an esoteric and at least quasi-metaphysical pursuit of theologians and Bible-thumpers.  But it is a very real issue in our lives.  "Savior" was a Roman claim before it was a Christian one, and it meant Caesar who saved the furthest reaches of the Empire and those who lived within it from the deprivations of the barbarian, the non-civilized.  Barbarians is a term from the Greek, where you can see it in use in Euripides' "Medea."    Jason marries her for love (she thinks), or is it just to escape her father, whom she helps Jason murder.  When Jason returns to Greece (i.e., civilization) he has to take care of himself and his children and eventually Medea, so he marries the princess (literally), but he does so because Media is a barbarian, and to the Greeks she counts as no more than a horse or a family pet.  The Greeks didn't have a concept of a savior, only of the tragic hero; but the Romans used it as a pillar of the Pax Romana.  Today we don't look to Caesar but to the system to save us from....well, mostly from collective responsibility.  It's not our fault Trump is a bull in the international china shop, a toddler with a pump 12 gauge; it's because of "loopholes" in the system.  But to draw the rules so tightly even Trump couldn't ignore them is still to expect the system to do what people will not:  hold Trump responsible.  Rick Santorum finally decided Trump's ideas of a G-7 at Trump's resort is a bridge too far; but Rick Santorum is not a GOP Senator anymore.  From the rest of the GOP in Congress, we hear:  *crickets*

What system can we design that corrects that "loophole"?  What system can we design that will save us from ourselves?

Squaring the Circle


It's important he tweet that (and the White House twitter feed re-tweet it), because:
 
How, exactly, you square that circle is beyond me.

Notably

Rpick Santorum is not a sitting GOP member of Congress.

Monday, August 26, 2019

You Can Build A Case



It’s Trump Doral, the President’s Florida golf course and resort, and from President Trump’s public comments today, it will host next year’s G7 Summit.

But President Trump hosting the G7 at one of his highest-grossing properties raises a host of issues that range from the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause – which prohibits the president from receiving things of value from foreign governments – to potential procurement regulations to a basic sense of propriety in government, attorneys and government ethics experts told TPM.

No shit, Sherlock:

“Whether or not it violates a specific law or diagnosis of law, it’s completely unethical for the president to use the G7 to profit his hotels and himself,” Larry Noble, a former FEC general counsel, told TPM. “The idea of leveraging your office to make money goes against the very concept of public service,” he said, adding that such acts are “normally a criminal violation.”

Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who focuses on government ethics, told TPM that there are two separate issues in play with the Doral G7: Trump “using the government’s power to line his pockets” by holding the summit at one of his properties, and a separate question around whether the foreign money that would flow to him would qualify as a foreign emolument.

Legal experts described the potential event – to be held at one of President Trump’s highest grossing properties – as a “monumental” emoluments issue, and one that is more acute than previous allegations in part because the President is using the influence of his office to stage an event from which he will profit.

“The president is essentially requiring [foreign officials] to enrich him through his Doral property,” Clark said.

And maybe it's sound and fury, signifying nothing more than contempt for, through ignorance of, what government service is supposed to mean:

Noble, the former FEC general counsel, told TPM that the government would “presumably have to go through a procurement process to find a resort.”

“It may violate contracting laws, or any sense of propriety,” Noble said. “He basically used the announcement to tout the benefit of the resort.”

But will Trump's staff find a way around that, as Mnuchin and Kudlow already think they've done?

These laws—like so many laws—are imperfect. But the primary fault here lies not with the law books but with Trump. Our laws of course could be better, but Trump’s breaking the ones we already have. What’s more, those laws were designed not to expand presidents’ emergency authority but to restrain it. So blaming them for Trump’s excesses fails to recognize that fewer checks on executive power would exist in their absence. There’s plenty of work ahead to reform federal statutes in light of lessons learned from the Trump era. Yet that task ahead shouldn’t distract us from the fierce urgency of now: calling out Trump’s actions as unlawful and, moreover, reining them in.

This analysis fits rather neatly into the "opposing view" TPM was able to dredge up from a Constitutional expert in Ireland (!):

Seth Tillman, a lecturer at Maynooth University in Ireland who has studied the issue, offered TPM an opposing view which aligned with that of Trump’s, arguing that the framers intended “emoluments” to be limited to “a benefit that extends to holding office” in a foreign state.

“It could be a conniving attempt to extract an unfair benefit, akin to a bribe – and I don’t believe that’s what the foreign emoluments clause is about,” Tillman said.

In his view, “the more general concern of self-dealing and bribery” is suited for the basis of an impeachment inquiry.

Which is really an elaborate way of saying nothing, but everything a President does that violates the law or the Constitution, or even the oath of office, is "suited for the basis of an impeachment inquiry."  The narrow reading of the emoluments clause might be a legal defense in such an inquiry, but it's hardly dispositive of the issue.  And the issue is this:

Whatever one thinks of the laws currently on the books, Trump is breaking them. Recall the proclamation that Trump issued in February to declare “a national emergency concerning the southern border of the United States.” It recounted a handful of long-standing facts concerning the southern border, then identified only a single recent change at the border: “Recent years have seen sharp increases in the number of family units entering and seeking entry to the United States.” It then proceeded to “declare that a national emergency exists at the southern border of the United States.” An increase in families entering the United States simply isn’t a “national emergency” of the type contemplated by the National Emergencies Act. It may present a hard policy challenge, but many things do. For Trump to insist that it’s a “national emergency” represents not statutory ambiguity but presidential lawlessness. And, indeed, we all know why Trump really invoked the NEA: because he failed to convince Congress to approve his wall funding.

And this entire conversation needs to conducted in this context and with this understanding:

A House report on the NEA emphasized that the proposed law was intended to restrain presidents’ invocation of national emergencies, not aggrandize it. The report noted that “there has been an emergency in one form or another for the last 43 years,” adding: “The history of continued and almost routine utilization of such emergency authorities for years after the original crisis has passed … serves only to emphasize the fact that there is an urgent need to provide adequate laws to meet our present day needs.” And a Senate report made clear the NEA’s purpose: “Enactment of this legislation would … insure that the extraordinary powers which now reside in the hands of the Chief Executive … could be utilized only when emergencies actually exist.” The genealogy of the IEEPA is similar, with its enactment intended, as one commentator has rightly summarized, “to restrict the president’s powers to declare an indefinite emergency during peacetime.”

So it’s critical to remember the baseline against which emergency laws like the NEA and the IEEPA were enacted: essentially uninhibited presidential invocation of national emergencies and executive branch actions in response. That’s what made these laws’ introduction of new requirements—such as the specification of particular emergencies, the expiration of old ones, the demand that new ones be recertified periodically or expire, and the reporting to Congress of each new emergency declared—collectively a step forward in reining in the exercise of presidential emergency authority.

The laws only work when they are enforced.  Oddly, I hear this argument a lot when it comes to "gun control."  One argument against further laws is that we don't enforce the ones we have.  It's a fair argument, but it underscores the problem with Trump.  Yes, we elected him, but we didn't suspend the rule of law and the strictures of the Constitution when we did so.  If there is a Constitutional crisis in the land, it's in the refusal of our elected officials to enforce the rule of law and uphold the concepts of the Constitution we've all agreed to (including but not limited to questioning basic concepts like birthright citizenship.)  When we've come to the point where law professors are defending the critique of that concept as one that is not inherently racist (yes, it is), is it any wonder 70% of Americans report they are angry with the established order of things?  Maybe that anger is aimed at the sense of betrayal of our collective inheritance more than it is the rages of white supremacists like Stephen Miller.

It isn't that the laws are weak; it's that they aren't being enforced.  Miller, through Trump, has even challenged Plyler v. Doe, the 1981 case that established a baseline definition of "equal protection of laws" which has been a powerful sleeper case ever since, but now because of racism and xenophobia in the highest office in the land, it is, like the 14th amendment on which it rests, now called into question.  You don't pull up the roots of the democratic republic like that without causing a great deal of upheaval, even if you can't chop those roots free and throw them on the fire as you wish to do.

"A government of laws, not of men."  Most people in America understand that concept; and even if they can't name their pain, they don't like seeing that concept trampled on.  It's what brought Nixon down; it's going to more decisively end Trump.  But not soon enough; and not without the expression, the insistence, of the governed that their government follow the law, not the man.



There's Always More To The Story



"Of the Middle East" was apparently too obvious to note again, like Reagan's Alzheimer's:

“It was annexed during President Obama — I know you like President Obama — but it was annexed during President Obama’s term,” Trump said.

“If it was during my term, I’d say, ‘Sorry, folks. I made a mistake. President Obama was pure and simply outsmarted,’ he added. “They took Crimea during his term. That was not a good thing. It could have been stopped — could have been stopped with the right, whatever. It could have been stopped. But President Obama was unable to stop it, and it’s too bad.”

On MSNBC Monday, host Andrea Mitchell and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius struggled to make sense of Trump’s meltdown over Obama.

“It’s strange, part of Trump’s Obama obsession,” said Ignatius. “The idea of blaming Obama for the invasion of another country by Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, as if that’s Obama’s fault is no good explanation, as you and Evelyn have made clear, this was a collective decision,” Ignatius added.

“Europe was reacting to a violation of European borders. Europeans these days feel more strongly about it than the United States does under President Trump. But the Obama twist here is so strange,” he said. He noted that Trump floated holding the conference at one of his Miami properties next year.

“It just seems clear that Trump would like, you know, his G7 next year to be even bigger and better. It’s a G8! You know, he just wants to do something that’s his.”
Or he's dangerously obsessed with Obama.  Actually, the strange part is Trump asserting that he'd apologize for anything, or ever admit error.


At this point, embarassment is about the only option left.

"Time Must Have A Stop"


"Politics stops at the water's edge."

"Don't speak ill of former Presidents."

Do not bear false witness.

Trump statements all fall into one of three categories: 

1)  blatant falsehoods

“I’ll tell you what,” Trump began. “I’ve spent, and I think I will in a combination of loss and opportunity, probably it’ll cost me anywhere from $3 billion to $5 billion to be president, and the only thing I care about is this country. Couldn’t care less — otherwise I wouldn’t have done it.”

2)  sheer fantasy

 

3)  Bashing Obama.

All such statements are lies, but for the sake of accuracy, they can at least be simply reported as Category 1, Category 2, Category 3 or, most often, a combination of two or even all three categories.

Fact checking, refutation, argument, are then rendered moot.  Because, really, it's not like he's ever NOT lying.

Trump didn't say it, but it's a great idea anyway!



“Does President Trump want to nuke hurricanes? The news going viral this weekend and he just spoke out about it,” host Katie Pavlich announced.

“I am for that,” Kilmeade said before taking a commercial break.

Following the break, Fox News reported that Trump had denied making the remarks.

“You’re going to say this is crazy,” Kilmeade said. “But I always thought, is there anything we can do stop a hurricane?”


During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms. Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems. Needless to say, this is not a good idea.

Now for a more rigorous scientific explanation of why this would not be an effective hurricane modification technique. The main difficulty with using explosives to modify hurricanes is the amount of energy required. A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20x1013 watts and converts less than 10% of the heat into the mechanical energy of the wind. The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. According to the 1993 World Almanac, the entire human race used energy at a rate of 1013 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20% of the power of a hurricane.

If we think about mechanical energy, the energy at humanity's disposal is closer to the storm's, but the task of focusing even half of the energy on a spot in the middle of a remote ocean would still be formidable. Brute force interference with hurricanes doesn't seem promising.

In addition, an explosive, even a nuclear explosive, produces a shock wave, or pulse of high pressure, that propagates away from the site of the explosion somewhat faster than the speed of sound. Such an event doesn't raise the barometric pressure after the shock has passed because barometric pressure in the atmosphere reflects the weight of the air above the ground. For normal atmospheric pressure, there are about ten metric tons (1000 kilograms per ton) of air bearing down on each square meter of surface. In the strongest hurricanes there are nine. To change a Category 5 hurricane into a Category 2 hurricane you would have to add about a half ton of air for each square meter inside the eye, or a total of a bit more than half a billion (500,000,000) tons for a 20 km radius eye. It's difficult to envision a practical way of moving that much air around.

Attacking weak tropical waves or depressions before they have a chance to grow into hurricanes isn't promising either. About 80 of these disturbances form every year in the Atlantic basin, but only about 5 become hurricanes in a typical year. There is no way to tell in advance which ones will develop. If the energy released in a tropical disturbance were only 10% of that released in a hurricane, it's still a lot of power, so that the hurricane police would need to dim the whole world's lights many times a year. 

Aside from the fact hurricanes are the atmosphere's way of redistributing heat from the equator northward.  Whenever the Texas coast has a hurricane, especially a large one (like Harvey), it's followed immediately by a cold (well, for the coast) winter.  Texas stays warm in winter mostly because the heat build up in summer doesn't dissipate.  Hurricanes are one way of moving some of that heat build up around.  Take those away, things get real bad, real fast; climate change would have nothing on that effect.

Not to mention we can't begin to generate the amount of energy a hurricane does.  Oh, and the fallout; can't forget the fallout.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sure, Cupcake

That's what they're laughing at.

The Voices In His Head are Getting Louder


2 years ago the world leaders were all worried about American leaders we've already forgotten, over a scandal that never was:

Or maybe Trump was thinking about this:

With the Washington Post reporting, ““Zarif’s arrival in Biarritz appeared to be a covert initiative by French President Emmanuel Macron, a senior European official said, and other leaders were not informed ahead of time,” MSNBC political analyst John Harwood called the visit when all eyes are focused on Trump at the G7, a provocation.

Speaking with host Alex Witt, Harwood stated, “I think Emmanuel Macron was hitting Trump where it hurts by having the Iranians come for this surprise visit.”

“What that was was a statement that U.S. leadership has been sidelined,” he continued. “France, on behalf of partners in the G7 and taking charge of this situation, inviting someone who is not going to talk to the United States, it was a demonstration that U.S. leadership is not central to this issue and therefore President Trump is not central to this issue.”
It's not that Trump is being casually sidelined by Macron, because it isn't personal no matter what Trump thinks, and Macron isn't petty (Trump is).  It's that the United States has become a stooge on the world stage and is no longer important, that matters most.