Tuesday, October 31, 2017

When you can't tell the POTUS from a Russian bot....

NPR tells me a new "dashboard" program tracking Russian troll/bot/cyborg activity on web was showing stories about Tony Podesta trending because of of classic Russian intelligence tactic called "what about-ism."  The tactic is meant to sow discord and mistrust by bringing up "what about" stories to show "both sides do it," and there is no justice, all is relative, etc.

Frankly, didn't sound like something I haven't heard in American politics since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, but I was surprised they didn't bother to check the President's Twitter feed for examples of how this works, or perhaps just how effective the Russian effort is.

Of course, those are just the tweets about Tony Podesta particularly.

Morning has broken

And there are pieces of it all over the floor.  Watch your step.

First, does anybody still think Trump is why John Kelly is not the shining example of a military leader and "adult" we all assumed him to be?

The biggest headline out of the two-segment pre-taped encounter with Kelly, in which Ingraham sat across from the chief of staff in his flag-festooned West Wing office, was the general’s steadfast refusal to offer an apology to Rep. Frederica Wilson—who criticized Trump for his insensitive attempt at a condolence call to the widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger, Sgt. La David Johnson—for completely mischaracterizing her remarks at an FBI ceremony in 2015.
“Oh, no. Never,” the general vowed. “Well, I’ll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments.”

Oops!  Not the "biggest headline" of the interview after all, but telling.  He sticks with his lies. no matter what the truth is.  Still, we're all so over that controversy, because Kelly goes to a new controversy:  slavery!

“I think we make a mistake, though, and as a society and certainly as, as individuals, when we take what is today accepted as right and wrong and go back 100, 200, 300 years or more and say: ‘What Christopher Columbus did was wrong,’” Kelly said. “You know, 500 years later, it’s inconceivable to me that you would take what we think now and apply it back then.”

He went on to describe Lee, a Confederate general who fought for Southern states’ rights to own slaves, as honorable.

“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man.

“He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which, 150 years ago, was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War. And men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had to make their stand.”
I would refer the General to the work of Bartolome de las Casas, The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies.  I think the title says it all.  De las Casas was a contemporary of Columbus, and he was horrified by the slavery imposed on the natives of the New World.  Even Columbus came to regret it, late in his life.  Wrong is wrong, despite the vagaries of history.  Surprise!

As for the Civil War, I yield the floor to Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates:
Did Kelly do this to distract us from talking about Russia?  Probably.  Sorry, that's not gonna work, because Trump woke up and went all "CLINTON DID IT!"

Again, Papodopolous is the "coffee boy" who sat at the table with Jeff Sessions and Trump to discuss national security.  This is the guy Trump didn't know? And when Papodopolous said he could get "dirt" from Russia on Clinton, the Trump campaign was interested.  And the "low level volunteer" met with these Russians one week after the inauguration.  Maybe what Manafort was indicted for was done much earlier, but that doesn't mean it won't make him decide to save his skin by selling out Trump, a point Trump seems determined to overlook.  For Trump, this is all about Trump.  He's reportedly upset that Manafort is being portrayed as important to the campaign (rather than Trump succeeding all on his own).  He can't seem to grasp that this isn't about Trump, but about what his campaign did to win, and that loyalty doesn't extend to going to jail for your capo.*

As for the Dems, we checked 'em.  Despite the best efforts of Sean Hannity, Hillary still isn't Madame President.  And the pertinent questions are still:  what have the Russians done (or tried to do) to our democracy?  And what are we going to do about it?

*And please to note the absolute silence about Rick Gates, also indicted along with Manafort.  Why is that important?

Away from the podium, Trump staffers fretted privately over whether Manafort or Gates might share with Mueller’s team damaging information about other colleagues. They expressed concern in particular about Gates because he has a young family, may be more stretched financially than Manafort, and continued to be involved in Trump’s political operation and had access to the White House, including attending West Wing meetings after Trump was sworn in.

Maybe the reveal of the guilty plea was aimed at Gates, eh?  How many persons similarly situated are there in Trump's orbit?

President Trump, in the bedroom, with the TV remote....

So yesterday Trump got his tweets about Manafort's indictment from his buddies on Fox & Friends:

“It makes you wonder about the credibility of the whole thing,” host Brian Kilmeade said of news of an impending indictment, after noting that federal investigators have leaked grand-jury information to the press on multiple occasions.

If the charges are related to Manafort, Kilmeade added, then maybe it’s “something that happened before he even joined the Trump administration.” (It was, though Manafort never actually joined the administration.)

Further seeking to comfort their key demographic of U.S. presidents aged 71 and watching from D.C., co-host Steve Doocy added: “[Republican Senator] Susan Collins said there’s no evidence of collusion. That’s important, but there are a couple of stories out there that Paul Manafort apparently back in 2012 apparently he had some money infusions from overseas to the tune of $3 million.” (Collins actually said she has “not yet seen any definitive evidence of collusion.”)

That same day Sarah Huckabee Sanders opened the press conference with:  well, it was weird:

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders decided to open the press briefing not with an acknowledgement of the FBI indictments of two former Trump campaign members, but with an analogy about beer.

The strange story, which meant to illustrate why the wealthy get higher tax breaks than the rest of the country, centered around 10 reporters who regularly go out for beers, and then split the tab roughly according to the American tax code. When the bar owner decides to give them $20 off their $100 nightly tab, things go awry.

Charlie Pierce has the transcript,  and points us to the source:  a crackpot economist who thinks the rich should just go Galt and teach us all a lesson.  And somehow it involves beer.  Meanwhile WaPo tells us Trump spent the morning:

...playing fuming media critic, legal analyst and crisis communications strategist, according to several people close to him.

The president digested the news of the first indictments in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe with exasperation and disgust, these people said. He called his lawyers repeatedly. He listened intently to cable news commentary. And, with rising irritation, he watched live footage of his onetime campaign adviser and confidant, Paul Manafort, turning himself in to the FBI.

Initially, Trump felt vindicated. Though frustrated that the media were linking him to the indictment and tarnishing his presidency, he cheered that the ­charges against Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, were focused primarily on activities that began before his campaign. Trump tweeted at 10:28 a.m., “there is NO COLLUSION!”

Which, as I say, he got from Fox & Friends.  The truly sad part is that the issue is not what Manafort did to get indicted,  but what Mueller wants to do with it.  That Trump doesn't understand that does not bode well for Trump's future in the courtroom.

Steve Bannon is reportedly worried about Trump's legal defense against Manafort.  He should be more worried about the reference materials the White House is relying on.  Although the saddest part is, the White House obviously thinks this strategy is going to work for them.

Hallowe'en 2017

Trick or Treat!

Just in time for Hallowe'en, Vox reminds us of the Salem Witch Trials.  But Vox is more interested in "The Crucible" and "Bewitched" than in the history of the trials.  The article can't be bothered with more than reading the trials through the lens of Miller's play and one episode of the '60's TV series.  No historian I, but I can read, and fortunately Project Gutenberg has Cotton Mather's The Wonders of the Invisible World available, in which we learn something delightfully appropriate to this gateway to the holiday seasons:

 It has been a frequent thing for the Bewitched People to be entertained with Apparitions of Ghosts of Murdered People, at the same time that the Spectres of the Witches trouble them. These Ghosts do always affright the Beholders more than all the other spectral Representations; and when they exhibit themselves, they cry out, of being Murthered by the Witch-crafts or other Violences of the Persons who are then in Spectre present. It is further considered, that once or twice, these Apparitions have been seen by others, at the very same time they have shewn themselves to the Bewitched; and seldom have there been these Apparitions, but when something unusual or suspected, have attended the Death of the Party thus Appearing. Some that have been accused by these Apparitions accosting of the Bewitched People, who had never heard a word of any such Persons ever being in the World, have upon a fair Examination, freely and fully confessed the Murthers of those very Persons, altho' these also did not know how the Apparitions had complained of them. Accordingly several of the Bewitched, had given in their Testimony, that they had been troubled with the Apparitions of two Women, who said, that they were G. B's two Wives, and that he had been the Death of them; and that the Magistrates must be told of it, before whom if B. upon his Tryal denied it, they did not know but that they should appear again in Court. Now, G. B. had been Infamous for the Barbarous usage of his two late Wives, all the Country over. Moreover, it was testified, the Spectre of G. B. threatning of the Sufferers, told them, he had Killed (besides others) Mrs. Lawson and her Daughter Ann. And it was noted, that these were the Vertuous Wife and Daughter of one at whom this G. B. might have a prejudice for his being serviceable at Salem Village, from whence himself had in ill Terms removed some Years before: And that when they dy'd, which was long since, there were some odd Circumstances about them, which made some of the Attendents there suspect something of Witch-craft, tho none Imagined from what Quarter it should come.

The accepted excuses for the trials are hysteria, or ergot poisoning.  Or was it just gossip run amok?

II. The Court accounted themselves, alarum'd by these Things, to enquire further into the Conversation of the Prisoner; and see what there might occur, to render these Accusations further credible. Whereupon, John Allen of Salisbury, testify'd, That he refusing, because of the weakness of his Oxen, to Cart some Staves at the request of this Martin, she was displeased at it; and said, It had been as good that he had; for his Oxen should never do him much more Service. Whereupon, this Deponent said, Dost thou threaten me, thou old Witch? I'l throw thee into the Brook: Which to avoid, she flew over the Bridge, and escaped. But, as he was going home, one of his Oxen tired, so that he was forced to Unyoke him, that he might get him home. He then put his Oxen, with many more, upon Salisbury Beach, where Cattle did use to get Flesh. In a few days, all the Oxen upon the Beach were found by their Tracks, to have run unto the Mouth of Merrimack-River, and not returned; but the next day they were found come ashore upon Plum-Island. They that sought them, used all imaginable gentleness, but they would still run away with a violence, that seemed wholly Diabolical, till they came near the mouth of Merrimack-River; when they ran right into the Sea, swimming as far as they could be seen. One of them then swam back again, with a swiftness, amazing to the Beholders, who stood ready to receive him, and help up his tired Carcass: But the Beast ran furiously up into the Island, and from thence, thorough the Marshes, up into Newbury Town, and so up into the Woods; and there after a while found near Amesbury. So that, of fourteen good Oxen, there was only this saved: The rest were all cast up, some in one place, and some in another, Drowned.

IV. John Atkinson testifi'd, That he exchanged a Cow with a Son of Susanna Martin's, whereat she muttered, and was unwilling he should have it. Going to receive this Cow, tho he Hamstring'd her, and Halter'd her, she, of a Tame Creature, grew so mad, that they could scarce get her along. She broke all the Ropes that were fastned unto her, and though she were ty'd fast unto a Tree, yet she made her escape, and gave them such further trouble, as they could ascribe to no cause but Witchcraft.

V. Bernard Peache testifi'd, That being in Bed, on the Lord's-day Night, he heard a scrabbling at the Window, whereat he then saw Susanna Martin come in, and jump down upon the Floor. She took hold of this Deponent's Feet, and drawing his Body up into an Heap, she lay upon him near Two Hours; in all which time he could neither speak nor stir. At length, when he could begin to move, he laid hold on her Hand, and pulling it up to his Mouth, he bit three of her Fingers, as he judged, unto the Bone. Whereupon she went from the Chamber, down the Stairs, out at the Door. This Deponent thereupon called unto the People of the House, to advise them of what passed; and he himself did follow her. The People saw her not; but there being a Bucket at the Left-hand of the Door, there was a drop of Blood found upon it; and several more drops of Blood upon the Snow newly fallen abroad: There was likewise the print of her 2 Feet just without the Threshold; but no more sign of any Footing further off.

Much of the testimony against Susanna Martin is of this type, to the point one recognizes a woman who asserts her independence and finds that's not such a good idea.  The account of her trial includes her testimony, and modern audiences can't help but be impressed with her:

Magistrate. Pray, what ails these People?

Martin. I don't know.

Magistrate. But what do you think ails them?

Martin. I don't desire to spend my Judgment upon it.

Magistrate. Don't you think they are bewitch'd?

Martin. No, I do not think they are.

Magistrate. Tell us your Thoughts about them then.

Martin. No, my thoughts are my own, when they are in, but when they are out they are anothers. Their Master.——

Magistrate. Their Master? who do you think is their Master?

Martin. If they be dealing in the Black Art, you may know as well as I.

Magistrate. Well, what have you done towards this?

Martin. Nothing at all.

Magistrate. Why, 'tis you or your Appearance.

Martin. I cannot help it.

Magistrate. Is it not your Master? How comes your Appearance to hurt these?

Martin. How do I know? He that appeared in the Shape of Samuel, a glorified Saint, may appear in any ones Shape.

The evidence against her, however, is less than impressive:

VI. Robert Downer testified, That this Prisoner being some Years ago prosecuted at Court for a Witch, he then said unto her, He believed she was a Witch. Whereat she being dissatisfied, said, That some She-Devil would shortly fetch him away! Which words were heard by others, as well as himself. The Night following, as he lay in his Bed, there came in at the Window, the likeness of a Cat, which flew upon him, took fast hold of his Throat, lay on him a considerable while, and almost killed him. At length he remembred what Susanna Martin had threatned the Day before; and with much striving he cried out, Avoid, thou She-Devil! In the Name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Avoid! Whereupon it left him, leap'd on the Floor, and flew out at the Window.

And there also came in several Testimonies, that before ever Downer spoke a word of this Accident, Susanna Martin and her Family had related, How this Downer had been handled!

VII. John Kembal testified, that Susanna Martin, upon a Causeless Disgust, had threatned him, about a certain Cow of his, That she should never do him any more Good: and it came to pass accordingly. For soon after the Cow was found stark dead on the dry Ground, without any Distemper to be discerned upon her. Upon which he was followed with a strange Death upon more of his Cattle, whereof he lost in one Spring to the Value of Thirty Pounds. But the said John Kembal had a further Testimony to give in against the Prisoner which was truly admirable.

Being desirous to furnish himself with a Dog, he applied himself to buy one of this Martin, who had a Bitch with Whelps in her House. But she not letting him have his choice, he said, he would supply himself then at one Blezdels. Having mark'd a Puppy, which he lik'd at Blezdels, he met George Martin, the Husband of the Prisoner, going by, who asked him, Whether he would not have one of his Wife's Puppies? and he answered, No. The same Day, one Edmond Eliot, being at Martin's House, heard George Martin relate, where this Kembal had been, and what he had said. Whereupon Susanna Martin replied, If I live, I'll give him Puppies enough! Within a few days after, this Kembal, coming out of the Woods, there arose a little Black Cloud in the N. W. and Kembal immediately felt a force upon him, which made him not able to avoid running upon the stumps of Trees, that were before him, albeit he had a broad, plain Cart-way, before him; but tho' he had his Ax also on his Shoulder to endanger him in his Falls, he could not forbear going out of his way to tumble over them. When he came below the Meeting House, there appeared unto him, a little thing like a Puppy, of a Darkish Colour; and it shot backwards and forwards between his Legs. He had the Courage to use all possible Endeavours of Cutting it with his Ax; but he could not Hit it: the Puppy gave a jump from him, and went, as to him it seem'd into the Ground. Going a little further, there appeared unto him a Black Puppy, somewhat bigger than the first, but as Black as a Cole. Its Motions were quicker than those of his Ax; it flew at his Belly, and away; then at his Throat; so, over his Shoulder one way, and then over his Shoulder another way. His Heart now began to fail him, and he thought the Dog would have tore his Throat out. But he recovered himself, and called upon God in his Distress; and naming the Name of Jesus Christ, it vanished away at once. The Deponent spoke not one Word of these Accidents, for fear of affrighting his Wife. But the next Morning, Edmond Eliot, going into Martin's House, this Woman asked him where Kembal was? He replied, At home, a Bed, for ought he knew. She returned, They say, he was frighted last Night. Eliot asked, With what? She answered, With Puppies. Eliot asked, Where she heard of it, for he had heard nothing of it? She rejoined, About the Town. Altho' Kembal had mentioned the Matter to no Creature living.

Not exactly the kind of evidence you find in modern criminal court proceedings, but taken and presented as "more than that which is called Spectre Evidence for the Conviction of the Persons condemned."

The Vox article notes that, for centuries, the Salem witch trials were an embarrassment to the environs of Salem, and the less said of them the better.  Reading these accounts it seems the embarrassment far less to do with hysteria than it does with credulousness; less to do with witchcraft than with getting one's pound of flesh and using a rather fast and loose "legal system" (to read these accounts is to decide the term has limited application) to do it. The embarrassment, in other words, seems to stem from some lingering guilt about what was done by the community, and in the community's name.   Most of the testimony against Susanna Martin sounds very much like finding someone to blame for your problems:

It was further testify'd by this Deponent, That after he had given in some Evidence against Susanna Martin, many years ago, she gave him foul words about it; and said, He should never prosper more; particularly, That he should never have more than two Cows; that tho' he was never so likely to have more, yet he should never have them. And that from that very day to this, namely for twenty years together, he could never exceed that number; but some strange thing or other still prevented his having any more.

That's not hysteria; but neither should it be evidence in a capital trial.   But these were kangaroo courts, not trials, and it seems fairly clear the courts were as legitimate and well run as any set up to get convictions and provide the people with panem et circenses.  Much of the accusations, indeed, had to do with securing the authority of the church, i.e., the community, against individuals.  Susanna Martin dies asserting she'd led a virtuous and holy life.  Elizabeth How, another convicted witch:

This How had made some Attempts of joyning to the Church at Ipswich, several years ago; but she was denyed an admission into that Holy Society, partly through a suspicion of Witchcraft, then urged against her. And there now came in Testimony, of preternatural Mischiefs, presently befalling some that had been Instrumental to debar her from the Communion whereupon she was intruding.
Pretty much the definition of "damned if you do and damned if you don't."  The church, the community, is protecting itself from those it doesn't like; and finding reasons to condemn them, even execute them, so it can maintain it's purity.  But here purity doesn't mean holiness; it means keeping out people we don't want in.  Any one familiar with a small church would recognize the behavior immediately, and be grateful such churches today don't have the power of summary execution available to them.

Some of the evidence sounds like Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

V. Allin Toothaker testify'd, That Richard, the son of Martha Carrier, having some difference with him, pull'd him down by the Hair of the Head. When he Rose again, he was going to strike at Richard Carrier; but fell down flat on his Back to the ground, and had not power to stir hand or foot, until he told Carrier he yielded; and then he saw the shape of Martha Carrier, go off his breast.

This Toothaker, had Received a wound in the Wars; and he now testify'd, that Martha Carrier told him, He should never be Cured. Just afore the Apprehending of Carrier, he could thrust a knitting Needle into his wound, four inches deep; but presently after her being siezed, he was throughly healed. 

Well, he got better!  Why, you can't even see the scar!

Nineteen Witches have been Executed at New-England, one of them was a Minister, and two Ministers more are Accus'd.

And why doesn't that surprise me?

And frankly, this doesn't sound like the work of hysteria, or spoiled rye:

In December 1692, the Court sate again at Salem in New-England, and cleared about 40 persons suspected for Witches, and Condemned three. The Evidence against these three was the same as formerly, so the Warrant for their Execution was sent, and the Graves digged for the said three, and for about five more that had been Condemned at Salem formerly, but were Repreived by the Governour.
I've been through a "church trial," back when I was a lawyer, before seminary.  It went much like this:  what was said against the pastor was taken as irrefutable.  Whatever was said by him, or in his favor, was taken as....well, not testimony from Satan, but near as dammit.  I was even presented with a set of rules as accepted by the Church (so the lawyer representing the Church represented to me) which, it turned out, were only drafts of rules which were explicitly rejected by the General Assembly (the body of that church judicatory which decided such matters).  The draft rules put me, and my client, in a box from which there was no escape; but they were "Spectre Evidence for the Conviction of the Person[] condemned," or as good as.  It was a kangaroo court from start to finish, and though it didn't end in my client's execution, it practically ended in his damnation.  A similar set of circumstances to today's hue and cry about sexual abuse and sexual assault, too, as he was accused of improper attentions to a young lady in his church.  Come to think of it, I don't think he ever even faced his accuser.

So I don't know; I haven't made an extensive study of Salem, but "hysteria"?  Ergot poisoning?  Or just people being people?  Frost speculated between fire and ice, and favored fire because of what he knew of desire.  I've had enough experience with people to know it really doesn't take much to set them off, and against "the other."  I think there's a reason Salem disavowed its connection to the trials for so long, and why interest in them revived centuries later only through fictionalizing the accounts, which I suspect we continue to do.

We do love our stories, especially when they allow us to make "others" of people, and convince ourselves we'd never do such things; or that no one would do them, without more elaborate reasons or causes than the simple desire to be in charge, and to do unto others before they do unto you.

Now, about that Hallowe'en candy.....

Monday, October 30, 2017

That Defense is No Longer Operational

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged that a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser reached out to a Kremlin-linked professor, after unsealed court documents revealed Monday that George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those conversations.

But “nothing happened beyond that,” Sanders said of the “volunteer” adviser who she said attended just one campaign meeting.

I'm guessing that was this meeting; the one Trump captioned as a "National Security Meeting."  Papadopolous is seated at that table, second from Session's left.

Then again, she also said:

“Which I think that shows, one, his level of importance in the campaign and two, what little role he had within coordinating anything officially for the campaign,” she said, repeating her attempts to minimize Papadopoulos’ role in the President’s campaign, which she said was “extremely limited.”

“They are really downplaying the foreign policy advisor,” Smith told his guest, the Wall Street Journal’s John Bussey. “Unpaid and all of that.”

“It was March of 2016 that President Trump mentioned him himself, said ‘an oil guy, great guy.’ It was April of 2016 that these conversations with the professor regarding Russia began. So one happened in March, the next happened in April. It’s going to be hard for them to downplay him,” Shep said.

Bussey agreed.

“There were e-mails back and forth between him and campaign officials,” Bussey noted, “talking about what you just described, which were his meetings with this Russian who was saying, ‘look, we can get you information on Hillary Clinton, we want to understand a little bit more about where Donald Trump is growing to be on Russia, let’s organize some meetings.'”

Important enough to sit in a "National Security Meeting," important enough to be in an e-mail conversation about meeting with Russians for dirt on Clinton; but otherwise a real nobody who, after all, wasn't paid, so how important could he be?  (Does anyone else remember Manafort, the campaign manager, wasn't paid either?).

But good luck with your Ron Ziegler Hallowe'en costume this year.....

"I am not a crook!"

Remember when Kellyanne Conway said:

“We would be glad to stop talking about Hillary Clinton and the campaign, we dispensed with her a year ago. But she just won’t go away.”

Well, of course; why would anyone think otherwise?

And all caps is an expression of confidence!
And this was all years ago, except for this:

One Kremlin-connected Russian professor reached out to Papadopoulos shortly after he took on a role with the Trump campaign in March 2016 and informed him that Russian intelligence services possessed “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

During the infamous Trump Tower meeting between Russian officials and key members of the Trump campaign in June 2016 — including Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort — the Russians similarly promised to reveal “dirt” on Clinton, while hinting that it had copies of her missing emails.

And this:

The footnote describes two top campaign officials’ reactions to Papadopoulos’s message that he was coordinating a “high-level” meeting between Trump and members of the Russian government. In fact, the former campaign aide even sent an email to someone described as a “high-ranking campaign official” with the subject line, “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.”

The footnote states that this campaign official forwarded Papadopoulos’s email to another campaign official, where he said that they needed to make it clear that they would not send Trump himself to Russia.

“Let[‘]s discuss,” the official wrote. “We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

And anything else Papadopolous has to say about the Trump campaign.   And, of course, whatever Paul Manafort might want to give up, to avoid a lengthy and expensive criminal trial.

What's that?  The response to this guilty plea from the White House is silence?

I can't wait to find out how Hillary inserts herself into this.

Got to admit it's getting better....

Well, this is just kind of stupid: 
The Bible and its stories about the first man and the creation of the world are not true because there is no physical evidence to back it up, according to a new lengthy investigation from one of Israel's top newspapers. Spanning roughly 5,000 words the article from left leaning Haaretz compares accounts in the Bible, from ancients Jews fleeing Egypt to descriptions of King David, and dismisses them all as fables. 
So all that time in seminary I spent learning this was wasted? Practically the first thing we learned in Old Testament the first year was that there is no "Red Sea" in Egypt, and there never was.  We studied the differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 (basically JDEP), but nobody had to be told it wasn't history.   Instead I could have  just waited for the Haaretz article (and believe me (!), I read more than 5000 words on this topic)?  No, that's not the stupid part, this is:

The mounting evidence against the Bible means fewer Americans than ever before are trusting scripture as gospel. Only 35 percent of Americans read the holy book at least once a week, while 45 percent seldom or never do, a Pew Research Center report in April found. About 36 percent of Christians said the Bible should not be taken literally, while 40 percent say it is the word of God. In all, only 24 percent of Americans said the holy book was "the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word," a Gallup poll conducted in May concluded. 

I'm surprised 36% of Christians still think the Bible should be taken literally at all.  And that's definitely an American statistic, not a world-wide one (and what does it say that this article has to hide behind Haaretz to make this claim, and point out Haaretz is "left leaning"?).  Of course, what's really going on is the decline in Biblical literalism, which peaked in the latter part of the last century:

Meanwhile, about half of Americans -- a proportion largely unchanged over the years -- fall in the middle, saying the Bible is the inspired word of God but that not all of it should be taken literally," the poll said. "From the mid-1970s through 1984, close to 40% of Americans considered the Bible the literal word of God, but this has been declining ever since, along with a shrinking percentage of self-identified Christians in the U.S. Meanwhile, the percentage defining the Bible as mere stories has doubled, with much of that change occurring in the past three years."

40 years out of a 200+ year national history ain't that huge a slice of time, to begin with.  I mean, considering the concept has only been with us since the early 1900's.  And the decline doesn't surprise me, either.  Note the first sentence of that last quote, too, which directly contradicts the first sentence of the prior quote.  So once again, nothing to see here; except that an Israeli newspaper has finally caught up with 19th century scholarship.  Oh, and way too many people in America still cling to Biblical literalism as some kind of lifeline; but it's getting better.


This, per the White House (in the person of Kellyanne Conway) is a hoax:

The former campaign chairman was indicted on 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, being an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

You can read the full indictment at the link.

These, also per Conway,  are not related to Russia at all:

And all of this is Hillary Clinton's fault.  No, really:

“We would be glad to stop talking about Hillary Clinton and the campaign, we dispensed with her a year ago. But she just won’t go away.”

Reid: Who got the money when the Canadian company was sold to the Russian company? The Uranium One? Who received the money?

Kerns: I presume the company.

Reid: Yes. Okay, second question. Who approved the sale?

Kerns: Yes. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Reid: How many people sit on the committee?

Kerns: Nine members.

Reid: How many have to approve a deal like this?

Kerns: All nine of them.

Reid: All nine.

Kerns: Absolutely.

Reid: How many approved this deal?

Kerns: All nine of them.

Reid then went on to ask whether Clinton actually sat “personally on that deal.” Kerns recognized she didn’t but said “she pushed for it.” Reid then questioned those supposed Clinton ties to the deal:

Reid: Who is the person who donated to Hillary Clinton who is related to and had an investment in uranium one? What is that person's name? Do you remember their name?

Kerns: They are board members of Uranium One donated up to $143 million I think to the Clinton Foundation.

Reid: Did he own any assets in Uranium One at the time Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State?

Kerns: You know, I don't know that, but here's what I would...

Reid: He did not. Sold them.

Kerns: Here's what i would like to know…

Reid: He sold them years before. So what you're talking about is a deal that nine members of CFIUS approved unanimously. None of them was Hillary Clinton. You have a donor who separately gave Hillary Clinton donations at a time when she was not Secretary of State. The two things cross in the night, they have no relation to each other. The members of CFIUS have been very clear Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with that approving that deal. She would have had to strong-arm eight people in order to get them to unanimously approve the deal and also the President of the United States would intervene if they saw any problems.

The CFIUS people say now that if that deal came before them today they would still approve it unanimously. There's actually nothing about the deal that's controversial. The only reason we're talking about it is because per your admission, which I think is very honest, the RNC would like us to be talking about this now.
The wheel's on the bus are coming, off, coming off, coming off....

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Too True to be Good

But it's good anyway.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

More Irony

Meanwhile, back at the White House:

Borger later said that according to her sources, Trump couldn’t understand why it was taking so long to release the emails. The State Department explained that there is currently a backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests. Borger’s sources said that Trump instructed the department to “get it done.”

Trump has said he doesn't need the staff in the White House that other presidents have had, and it is well known the State Department is understaffed at the highest levels.  Trump has said he sees no need for so many people on the government payroll, but if there aren't enough lower staff members in the State Department to do the clerical work of locating and copying and releasing FOIA requests, there aren't enough staff people to search out Hillary Clinton's e-mails in what Trump would consider a timely matter.  So Trump can instruct them to "Get it done" all he wants; the number of man-hours required doesn't diminish, and the number available from the staff on-hand doesn't increase.

Not the best way to argue why staff is needed, but one of the clearest object lessons.


DOM: Yes, Jesus’ challenge really was about the transformation of this world and this is not some secularism or humanism that I’m trying to push on people. This is based on the theology that this world belongs to God and it is good and can be transformed. That’s right out of the Bible. I don’t think the world ever will work by endlessly fighting wars in the hope that one more war somehow will bring peace. The problem is that, after each victory, the world gets more violent. In the Roman Empire, everyone thought Rome had brought a terrible new level of violence into the world. But, now, we have far more capacity for violence than Rome ever imagined.

And for further reading:

That opening [of 1 Thessalonians] "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church (ekklēsia) of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace," was much more subversive than we imagine. The standard Pauline term for a Christian community is ekklēsia, a Greek word today usually translated "church." But the word originally meant citizens of a free Greek city officially assembled for self-governmental decisions. Maybe that was perfectly innocent, but also maybe not. And anyone familiar with Judaism would have heard in his "peace" the content of the Jewish shalom of justice and not that of the Latin pax of victory.

Next, Paul belives absolutely that "Jesus" or the "Messiah/Christ" or the "Lord" all refer to the same person. Paul can spaek of the Lord Jesus Christ or of the Lord Jesus or, most simply, of the Lord. On the one hand, "lord" was a polite term usable by slave to master or disciple to teacher. On the other, "the Lord" meant the emperor himself. What we see here is what Gustav Adolf Deissmann described, almost a hundred years ago, as "the early establishment of a polemical parallelism between the cult of Christ and the cult of Caesar in the application of the term kyrios, 'lord.'" Or, if you prefer, polemical parallelism as high treason. (In Search of Paul, John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, (New York: HarperCollins 2004, p. 166.)

The Roman Empire was based on the common principle of peace through victory, or, more fully, on a faith in the sequence of piety, war, victory, and peace.

Paul was a Jewish visionary following in Jesus' footsteps, and they both claimed that the Kingdom of God was already present and operative in this world. He opposed the mantras of Roman normalcy with a vision of peace through justice, or, more fully, with a faith in the sequence of covenant, nonviolence, justice, and peace. (In Search of Paul, John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, (New York: HarperCollins 2004, p. xi).
"Piety, war, victory, and peace."  What Mike Pence said, without explicitly saying it.

Friday, October 27, 2017

So much depends

on a red wheelbarrow.  Or on what the meaning of "is" is.  Or what "rape culture" means, for that matter.

Here is an article about mothers of college students trying to organize against the trend to see all college males as rapists who just haven't been caught yet.  Yes, I mean to be that inflammatory, because let's face it, what mother is going to think her child is guilty of rape in any form, especially if she joins a group to protest the treatment of men on college campuses and the accusation, the basis of "rape culture," that all men are potential racists.  Do I exaggerate?  Exhibit A:

Another mother, Alison, talks about receiving the first call from her son about the accusation against him. “How many times have I told you, you need to keep it zippered,” she told him—another incendiary quote, which could easily read as the reaction of an indulgent enabler who is well-acquainted with her son’s bad behavior. Alison says her son was in fact propositioned by his eventual accuser, and that they had consensual sex; his case was cleared, but in the meantime he became a campus pariah and dropped out of school. The outlines of his story certainly sound sympathetic, so what are we supposed to make of that icky first reaction?

Icky first reaction?  Incendiary quote? My daughter tells me she warned her boyfriend's younger brother (whom she considers a brother) when he left home for college: "Don't stick your dick in stupid."  Is my daughter a dupe of rape culture?  Is she an enabler?  Is the advice to keep your zipper up really terrible advice, given the drive to have sex most boys have (for decades, if Donald Trump and Hugh Hefner are any example)?  Is that 'icky,' or practical?  You can make an argument for both sides; but the Slate article doesn't, because there is only one way to consider this complicated situation, and that is this:  rape culture is real.  Any contradiction of that assertion just proves you are part of the problem, another enabler in a rape culture world.

Exhibit B is this, concerning another mother of a son accused of rape:

“In my generation, what these girls are going through was never considered assault,” she told the paper. “It was considered, ‘I was stupid and I got embarrassed.’” Is this an unwittingly devastating articulation of rape culture, or just a middle-aged woman who hasn't memorized the third rails of online feminism? 

The case in point is that the girl got drunk, and later used her condition to argue she couldn't consent. The son was expelled.  Frankly, it takes me back to my daughter's sage advice, but we do face this question of consent again.  Was she incapable of consent?  Did she withdraw consent the "morning after," regretting her decision to get drunk in the first place?  Is it wrong to say she consented then, and later decided she hadn't?  Am I a proponent of rape culture to raise these questions?

Nice work if you can get it, insisting only statements that support your claim are to be allowed into the discussion.

That same mother makes a comment the Slate author finds puzzling:  "We don't really need to teach our sons not to rape."  Well, no one taught me not to rape a woman.  Then again, implicit in that mother's defense of her son is the idea that "rape" is violent and vicious and an exertion of power; which is pretty much what I was taught.  Taking advantage of a drunk woman was unseemly, but it wasn't categorized as rape.  It should have been; but to me that would just be "icky."  No one had to teach me not to do it, not explicitly.  Maybe that woman's son should have been taught to show more respect for women, to not take them as objects of sexual desire or vessels for your sexual release; I'm not defending his actions.  But I am rather curious about the power structure here:  if the woman says she didn't consent then, or doesn't consent now, all that matters is consent was withdrawn; and we're back to the central question of rape:  when is it too late to decide you don't want to?

I'm also thinking the author of this article is not a parent, nor not the parent of a boy.  Much easier to declare, as the Slate writer implicitly does, that no son of hers would be raised to have the wrong ideas about women and sexual relations.  She'll never say anything so icky to her child, or wouldn't, if she had a child to say it to.  It's always easier to judge when you have absolutely no responsibility for the subject yourself.

"Don't stick your dick in stupid."  It sounds like sage advice.  Maybe better advice is:  quit screwing people just because they are available.  But that woulid apply to both sexes, and might be "icky," too.

The Challenge of Christianity

Sometimes Religion Dispatches publishes something truly worthwhile.  This is one of those times:

As for revolutionary impact: embedded within Messianic-Christian Judaism is a significant level of disruptive social, political, and economic content. You can see some of that in the baptismal details given in Galatians 3:26-29. Claims of full equality between female and male or between master and slave (a Christian master could not have a Christian slave) were socially explosive. Thus it is not surprising, if also very saddening, to see how soon such visions of equality were de-radicalized back to Roman normalcy. In Colossians and Ephesians this de-radicalization is already fully evident.

In regard to the anti-sexual dimension, I view Paul himself as a programmatic celibate. I suspect that he was already one as a Pharisaic Jew (like other Jewish celibates in Egypt and Qumran) before he ever became a Messianic/Christian Jew. Bad theology can interpret celibacy to mean that sex is evil (but, of course, if it is evil or depraved, what virtue is there in abstaining from it?).

Paul intended his celibacy to offer personal witness that what civilization treats as “normal” (sex, marriage, children) is not an inevitability of human nature. In other words, if it is possible to abstain from sex, might it not also be possible to abstain from violence? Celibacy (or monastic silence, poverty, obedience) is a witness that the world that God so loved is not necessarily to be equated with the world that we so love.

The speaker is John Dominic Crossan.  And this is where he gets more interesting:

At this point we have to take with equal seriousness both human evolution and the core of the biblical tradition—or either one separately, as I take the same message away from each.

For Jesus and Paul, it is never just about being against Rome. As you can see from Daniel 7, the alternative to imperialism—to the dreary succession of empires—is something the biblical writers call the Reign of God. What is mainly at issue is violence.

If you look at human evolution since our species surged out of Africa 70,000 years ago and announced its distinctiveness with the Neolithic/agricultural revolution, we have never created a weapon we did not use nor one less violent than the one it replaced. Looking at that trajectory, its mantra of “peace through victory” and its vain hope to control violence by more extreme violence, what future do we imagine for such a species?

I want to begin with that question because, without it, the biblical mantra of “peace through justice”—the claim that all should get a fair share of what belongs to us all—comes across as romantic at best and delusional at worst. What I am interested in is the point at which the biblical claim and human evolution intersect: the point where we might break through to a different way.

I do not know how many awakened people are needed to change this trajectory of escalatory violence (the default “normalcy” of civilization) or what we may have to go through if we are ever to attain it at all. I will simply say this, and I think Paul might agree with it: if you are not interested in biblical religion, then at least get interested in human evolution (Paul would call it “creation”).

Put simply, the effective counter to all imperialisms with their wars and violence will come not just from what you call the “counter-imperial valence” of good religion but from the force of human evolution itself. It is not just the moral arc but also the evolutionary arc of the universe that is long but bends towards justice.
Any interpretation of what Crossan means by "the force of human evolution itself" would have to be explained by him.  Sounds a bit too much like Pinker's "angels of our better nature" to me (yes, I know Lincoln coined the phrase, but Pinker tried to make it a part of our evolutionary make-up).  On the one hand, I'm inclined to reject such a reading of history and humanity as bunk.  However, before you decide Crossan is out over his skis there, he also says this in a separate interview:

DOM: Yes, Jesus’ challenge really was about the transformation of this world and this is not some secularism or humanism that I’m trying to push on people. This is based on the theology that this world belongs to God and it is good and can be transformed. That’s right out of the Bible. I don’t think the world ever will work by endlessly fighting wars in the hope that one more war somehow will bring peace. The problem is that, after each victory, the world gets more violent. In the Roman Empire, everyone thought Rome had brought a terrible new level of violence into the world. But, now, we have far more capacity for violence than Rome ever imagined.

Not exactly a vision of humanity moving inexorably toward perfection, there.  I'm not looking to hang Crossan on his words in one interview or another; I'm looking to have a conversation with him, albeit a one-sided conversation.  And yet I understand what he means because he says Paul would consider such talk to be about "creation."  And that's a very loaded term.  Not to mention the metaphor of the arc of the universe comes to us through the Rev. Dr. King, who got him from another pastor.  So the metaphor itself is rich in theological and religious meaning.  So we're not really inviting godless Darwinism into our Christian discussions.  Crossan is offering a radical interpretation of evolution that fits within his Christianity.  Especially since his Christianity is very much about this world, and not some sweet hereafter:

DOM: Yes, that’s right. When Caesar Augustus was called Savior of the World, everyone knew what that meant. It meant that 20 years of savage, devastating Roman Civil War was over. Augustus had ended that. He brought peace, finally. When people began applying that same title to Jesus, they weren’t talking about Jesus simply taking everybody away into some other world. They were saying that Jesus was the Savior of this world. They were talking about Jesus bringing a time of peace here in this world.

If you believe in God’s creation, it’s blasphemous to say that God blew it and that this world is evil and that, in fact, this world is such a bad mistake that it should be called back to the factory. No, Jesus was talking about the transformation of this world. Pilate would not have had Jesus crucified if Jesus was talking about some other world. Pilate would have said: “Oh, you’re only talking about some other world. Well, no problem, then. We Romans are only interested in ruling this world, thank you.” That’s why it was so radical when the same titles used in Roman Imperial Theology got shifted to Jesus. Pilate understood that Jesus really was a threat to the Roman world view.

DAVID: The Romans were saying that the only way to peace was through war and victory. Jesus taught that through God’s plan of justice and compassion, peace could be achieved in a dramatically different way. That’s still a deeply stirring message of hope 2,000 years later.

DOM: Yes, Jesus’ challenge really was about the transformation of this world and this is not some secularism or humanism that I’m trying to push on people. This is based on the theology that this world belongs to God and it is good and can be transformed. That’s right out of the Bible. I don’t think the world ever will work by endlessly fighting wars in the hope that one more war somehow will bring peace. The problem is that, after each victory, the world gets more violent. In the Roman Empire, everyone thought Rome had brought a terrible new level of violence into the world. But, now, we have far more capacity for violence than Rome ever imagined.
I repeated that last answer to put it back into the context of the source.   I also want to directly rebut those who think Christianity is for children afraid of death and seeking assurance about something after death.  Kind of hard to be concerned with transforming this world if you're afraid of death and hoping somebody will meet you "on the other side."  The latter attitude has been the excuse to ignore this world and even leave it to its damnation; but as Crossan says, that's blasphemy, not Biblicism.

The problem here is talking to people like Crossan is not unlike talking to the children of Tama.  Yeah, I know, fictional references are the worst, but the premise of the ST:NG show was an alien species that speaks English (don't they all?), but uses language to speak in metaphors and references to their stories (how they ever tell their stories to each other is another matter).  The references function as a kind of shorthand, like "Romeo and Juliet" or "Jonah and the whale" would in our culture (neither of which means a thing in Asian cultures, for example).  And here's where the comparison works:  We are used to bumper-sticker Christianity, one focussed on the metaphysical in simple phrases like "Jesus Saves!"  Which doesn't mean Jesus is a soccer goalie or the holder of a savings account; but why doesn't it?  Because we know the "story" behind it, whether we believe it or not.  To talk about "savior" as Crossan does, in that context, is nearly to engage in blasphemy.  It can at least seem like obfuscation, because the only way we understand that phrase is metaphysically:  what is "saved" is the "soul," and nothing else.  When Crossan contrasts the Roman pax with the Peace of God, he is keeping them in the same space:  the space of the living.  That can already make us think his ideas are contradictory, or at least contrary, and certainly over-complicated.  However, Crossan is a Roman Catholic (a former candidate for the priesthood, IIRC), and it has never been RC theology that the world is irredeemably evil and the only hope for it is destruction and replacement; again, a metaphysical goal.  And again, a conceptual barrier, especially to those of us steeped in Calvinist Protestantism.

I got into a minor argument with a commenter at RD on the Crossan article, on a similar point.  My "opponent" insisted Christianity made factual claims it could not back up, and accused it's central claim, that Jesus is God and Messiah, to be based on "circular reasoning."  I countered that the claims are confessional, like a claim that you love someone.  You can't prove the "fact" that you are in love, but neither do you have to.  Of course, my "opponent" considered all claims of faith by all Christians to be claims of fact (like the literalists and fundamentalists insist), and therefore the only claims Christians make at all.  Bumper-sticker theology, in other words, is the only "real" theology; except, of course, it isn't.  I can no more prove Jesus is God and Messiah than I can prove I love my wife.  Even if my actions betray my claims, I confess to both.  A confessional claim is not a claim to facticity; but if you don't understand that, you don't understand what Crossan is getting at, either.

And I think part of what he's getting at might be Bonhoeffer's Christianity without religion.  Crossan admits to a complicated relationship with the Church of Rome, but he doesn't seem inclined to abandon religion in his arguments.  On the other hand, the emphasis on the wisdom tradition (it is the state of the world which is paramount) v. an emphasis on a more traditionally Christian metaphysical tradition (it is the state of your eternal soul which is paramount), raises Bonhoeffer's issue.  Essentially, Crossan doesn't want to set aside Biblical claims of peace through justice, "which come across as romantic at best and delusional at worst," so like the project of Bultmann and others in the middle of the last century, he wants to find a contemporary vocabulary in which to speak his truth, which is why he brings "evolution" to the discussion (and threatens to sound more than a little like Tielhard de Chardin).  We don't have to agree with Crossan, or reject Crossan, to consider Crossan's effort and evaluate it.

First, you can't push that too far, or you step away from the confessional claim ("Jesus is Lord," for Christians) and find yourself defending indefensible, and unasserted, factual claims ("Jesus is God" is not a claim subject to empirical proof).  The question is not how you say it, the question is what does it mean to you?  The claim that I love my wife is ultimately mine alone; but it involves people other than my wife, such as our family (her siblings and mine), our child, our friends; it may even involve society, if my behavior radically contradicts my claims (through violence, say).  But it is never a claim subject to empirical proof, and no one expects it to be.  Indeed, the insistence that claims of God's existence or Jesus' divinity is an insistence on empiricism that we don't really live by in most of our lives.  Who are your friends?  How do you empirically establish that "fact"?  Does it bother anyone that you can't?  It would probably bother them more if you tried.  And if friendship does not qaulify as your "ultimate concern," certainly whatever meaning for life you have, does:  even if that meaning is simply to vanquish your rhetorical foes, or to cause them grief as an internet troll.

How do you prove anything truly meaningful to your life, except by proclaiming that it is?  "Believe me," the President insists, time and again; and that insistence is a pitiful cry to be taken as a meaningful person.  We all, to some degree, engage in the same practice, and looking too closely at Trump can make you feel like you are starting to look at yourself.  But most of us aren't quite so empty that we need to be filled by the attention of others to the degree Trump does (or at least acts like he does).  Ultimately we find meaning in others:  in a loving relationship, or in close friendships; success in business, or in family.  None of these relationships rests on an empirical proof, and those who do seem to base their lives on empirically established facts are generally the most pitiful of all.  So it isn't that religion opposes empiricism; it is that religion has almost nothing to do with empiricism.

Which brings us back to Crossan's attempt to use the concept of evolution as equivalent to the Judeao-Christian concept of creation.  Part of the problem there is that the popular conception of creation is what he's invoking; but that conception is ultimately groundless.  Evolution does not describe a process of improvement and perfection; it does not describe a goal, except the goal of survival.  Survival,  in evolutionary terms, is a blind process.  Why are we here and the dinosaurs aren't?  Happenstance, and nothing more.  That, at least, is the answer of evolution.  We are not an "improvement" on the dinosaurs, we just came after the cataclysm that wiped them out (although it took many years to happen; it wasn't brief enough to be the end of "Rite of Spring" in Fantasia.),  It may well be sound theology to say creation is following the arc that bends toward justice, but it is terrible science to assert that.  Trying to sound more than religious, we end up muddled.  It's an unavoidable effort, however; after all, Paul was a Pharisee writing in Greek to Gentiles.  There's a lot of cultural cross-contamination going on there, along with Paul trying not to make any claims that will get him in trouble with the powers that be like Jesus did.*  But the alternative gets us perilously close to the Protestant emphasis on sin, and what's needed to first overcome that (because creation is good but human sin corrupts it, as well as human society).  Lots of needles to still thread here.

And part of the problem is speaking in the language of the world, rather than in the language of theology.  That was the problem with the attempt of Bultmann, et al., to "demythologize" Christianity.  Focussing on the mythology so much, they made Christianity all about the mythology, or what I would call the metaphysics.  Crossan's antidote for that is sound, but threatens itself to go too far, and that's where we run into the "Christianity without religion" aspect again; although I'm less and less sure that's a bad thing, especially if we take the point of Christianity to be "how should we then live" rather than "how should we then be saved?".    Paul was writing in the language (and ideas) of his day, to people who were not born Christians (i.e, did not live in a Christian culture).  More and more the church faces a post-Christian culture, which puts us back almost to the world Paul knew.  Paul adopted the language of his time; can we adopt the language of ours, without adopting also the ideas (like evolution) that don't really fit our concepts ( like creation).

If we do, it could have a revolutionary impact.

*which neither marks Paul as a coward, nor condemns his approach as "impure;"  it's simply a reality we have to take account of.

The Leader of the Free World

"I certainly respect La David—he, who, by the way, I called La David from the beginning. Just so you understand, they put a chart, in front—La David. Says La David Johnson. So I called—right from the beginning, there was no hesitation."

"I have one of the great memories of all time," he said, while pointing to his brain.

Which is why they put the chart in front of him; because his memory is so good.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Tweets are the least of it

The take-away from the Loud Obbs interview is not that Trump invented the term "fake news," it's this:

TRUMP:  I know a good story from a bad story.  But when you have a really good story and they make it bad, I’ll say to my wife, “Oh, tonight, I’m going to enjoy watching television because I did great, and wait until you see this.”   And then, they put it on and it’s like ― oh, that’s not so good.  They are fake news.

The President of the United States, the Leader of the Free World, the Commander-in-Chief of the largest military in the world, spends his time worrying about how he is portrayed on television.  He sits down with his wife as if he had nothing else to do, and waits for TV to praise him and for his wife to see it, so he can bathe in as much adulation as possible.   He "did great," and he wants that to be acknowledged.  He can't enjoy watching television because the news is not Loud Obbs telling him how great he is:

“You are everything as advertised when you ran for president and I appreciate everything you are doing,” Dobbs told Trump.
"Everything" including this:

“He’s been given powers that nobody’s ever seen,” the president continued. “He’s a powerful man, I happen to think he’s a very good person. Now with that being said, he represents China, I represent the U.S.A. So, you know, there’s always going to be conflict.”

Trump added: “We have a very good relationship. People say we have the best relationship of any president-president, because he’s called president also. Now, some people might call him the king of China. But he’s called president.”

We have elected the world's smallest man to the world's most important public office.  And frankly, it's terrifying.

It's not easy being Trump

Remember when?  (Trump being civil)

Sad News of the Day: 
“I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am,” Trump said. “You know people don’t understand. I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student, I did very well.”

“I’m a very intelligent person,” he continued. “I really believe, I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person.”

Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar.  I don't remember him reminding people of that while he was in office; or ever, for that matter.

Barack Obama was on Harvard Law Review.  He never brought that up while he was President.  He still doesn't.

Jimmy Carter negotiated a peace arrangement between Israel and Egypt that holds to this day.  I've never heard him bring that up unprompted.

This is a sad, small man we've put in charge of so much, and given so much responsibility.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Shoot the messenger!

This is just the newest iteration:

“They fear that at least parts of this dossier contain truth,” Stephens later added. “Christopher Steele was a well-regarded British spy, they idea that it’s all fake is classic Trump disassembly,”[sic]

“Who paid for this is ultimately irrelevant,” the Times columnist opined.

Of a very old Trumpian practice.  Why, just yesterday:

A reporter confronted Sanders on Tuesday about the Trump administration’s contention that Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is responsible for the Iran nuclear deal, which is verifiably false, earning a “4 Pinocchios” rating from the Post‘s fact checking team.

“As I’ve said many times before,” Sanders said, “I wouldn’t use The Washington Post as my source, Jeff. You should know better than that.”

That story hit the internet as an example of White House hypocrisy, because of this tweet:

But the issue in the statement to the reporter is the issue that lines up with the attacks on the dossier:  unable to argue the facts, the White House is pounding on the table.

Or, in this case, shooting the messenger.  Bret Stephens is right:  who paid for the dossier is irrelevant to the question:  is the dossier factually correct?  Is it a surprise the Clinton campaign paid for dirt on Trump?  How can it be?  Does that mean they only paid for dirt, and no factual research need apply?  Not necessarily.

Sanders dismisses the truth, that Corker is not responsible for the Iran nuclear agreement, because it is an inconvenient truth.  She dismisses it, not by addressing the truth, but by attacking the messenger of that truth.  Likewise, now the White House (and others) are attacking the funding of the dossier, because they don't want to draw attention to the inconvenient truth that most of the assertions in the dossier have been confirmed (and one version of the most infamous story there, of the tape of Trump in a Russian hotel, explained the story was that Trump paid prostitutes to urinate on the bed where, he was told, Obama slept when he visited Moscow.  Given Trump's penchant for undoing all things Obama, right down to the renaming of Mt. Denali, that version seems highly plausible.).

In the same way, today, the President refuses to address an issue that touches on his behavior, instead insisting the story is (a) all about him, not a grieving widow, and (b) he's a great person (so how could he do wrong?):

While speaking with reporters, Trump was asked if he’d apologize to [Myeshia] Johnson, who broke her silence on Monday and backed up Rep. Frederica Wilson’s (D-FL) account of what happened during the call. Specifically, she said that Trump left her feeling “very upset,” and claimed that Trump couldn’t remember her late husband’s name.

Trump, however, completely dodged the question, and quickly pivoted to how nice he had been to her during their call.

“She sounds like a lovely lady, I’ve never seen her, I’ve never met her,” the president explained. “I was extremely nice to her, I was extremely courteous as I was to everyone else.”

When pressed by a reporter about Johnson’s account of the exchange — which differed completely from Trump’s — the president boasted about the high quality of his memory.

“[I have] one of the great memories of all time,” Trump insisted.

Believe me!  If you can't shoot the messenger (and even Trump understand he can't attack the widow), praise yourself.  Same intent, different target.

We've got another 3+ years of this; we might as well get good at understanding it.

So much to blog, so little time

I hadn't meant to start something continuous about NYT reporting standards, but Josh Marshall's observations (edited here for brevity) drag me back in:

* The fact that it has been publicly known for more than a year that the Fusion GPS investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia began with funding from Republicans and was later funded by Democrats. This has been known since David Corn’s report in October 2016 and reported in numerous other reports since. This is never mentioned in the Times article.

* The fact that the Fusion GPS’s investigation into Russia began as a project funded by Republicans. This is never mentioned in the Times report, although it’s alluded to in the letter from Perkins Coie Managing Partner Matthew J. Gehringer.....

* The Times report can be read to suggest that the Clinton campaign and the DNC paid $12.4 million for the Fusion GPS research. But as the Post notes, these tabulations date back to June and November 2015, fully a year before Elias signed up Fusion GPS. So by definition, it can’t all be for that research.

* Leaving out the first two points makes the Times piece seem quite misleading to me. In a different category is another detail left out. As the Post notes, the Democrats stopped funding the Fusion GPS the day before the election. But Steele had already shared his findings with the FBI because he was so alarmed by what he had found. The FBI was sufficiently disturbed and confident in Steele’s work that they agreed to continue funding his work. (They eventually stopped once Steele’s name became public.) This is highly relevant information for determining the quality and credibility of Steele’s findings. But it doesn’t appear in the Times report even though the lede of the Times report focuses squarely on Republican accusations about Steele and Fusion GPS.

Let me quote the third and fourth paragraphs of the Times piece …

"The revelation, which emerged from a letter filed in court on Tuesday, is likely to fuel new partisan attacks over federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates assisted in the effort.

"The president and his allies have argued for months that the investigations are politically motivated. They have challenged the information contained in the dossier, which was compiled by a former British spy who had been contracted by the Washington research firm Fusion GPS."

The FBI’s confidence in Steele’s work and going so far as to agree to keep funding it seems highly relevant information in evaluating those attacks. At the end of the day, what seems relevant to me is that the funding behind the Steele/Fusion GPS effort has been known since last year. It had details about at least the outlines of the Russian subversion campaign long before they were publicly known. How there’s anything bad about money from the campaign and the DNC helping to fund it is a complete mystery. The only problem is why they didn’t do more with it since this was critical information for the public to know. But the public was left in the dark.

So Jeff Gerth and Judith Miller weren't flukes, huh?  Not aberrations in the grand history of the Grey Lady, but absolutely foundational?  Here it is less what was said:

Ms. Wilson’s decision to go public with her criticism of the president, even as Ms. Johnson was at her husband’s coffin to receive his body, was a reflection of the unbridled anger and frustration among many Democrats, black Americans and others as Mr. Trump tries to dismantle Barack Obama’s legacy.
The congresswoman’s actions were consistent with those of a member of the “resistance” to Mr. Trump, primed to react harshly to whatever he says. 

than what was left out.  Marshall details what we've known for a year about this dossier and who paid for it, and NYT reporters Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel challenge that we've known Marc Elias, the DNC's top election lawyer, paid for this research.   Well, maybe; but why the silence on so many salient points?  Who does the Times write for?  Posterity:  "All the truth that's fit to print"?  Or the powers-that-be:  "All the truth that's fitting"?

On a separate note:  the stupidity of the assaults on this "news" are highlighted by the perpetually clueless Ari Fleischer:

It's funny because the bulk of the dossier is about Russian interference in the 2016 election, especially by using the e-mails stolen from John Podesta's account.  Well, that and meetings between Russians and Trump campaign officials.  I'm not sure how that proves the DNC colluded with Russia to interfere against their candidate, but I'm sure Mr. Fleischer can explain (and no, he's not alone; that argument is trending among conservatives on Twitter, apparently).

But maybe not so separate a note, since this is precisely what the NYT is feeding with its incomplete reporting.