Friday, November 30, 2018

Michael Cohen Is A Big, Fat Liar

Not that busy:
But Michael Cohen is a big, fat liar. Isn't he?
Still doesn't explain why everybody involved lied about it, including you. Or are you lying still?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Crossing The Red Line

Yeah, no crimes whatsoever. Do these guys think the bubble of FoxNews is reality?
It was so legal everybody involved lied about it. And despite the legal advice of Professor Dershowitz, those lies are crimes. Or did Michael Cohen get the worst legal advice possible, and the judge who accepted the plea is part of the vast conspiracy?

 Seriously, these people...


Methinks he doth protest too much. 

Hail To The Thief

Why is this man smiling?

Once more with feeling:

The fear in Trumpworld is that Mueller may have laid a perjury trap for the president, the former staffer said. Mueller waited until after Trump submitted written answers under oath to the special counsel’s office—some of which reportedly included responses to questions about Trump Tower Moscow—before revealing the evidence prosecutors had gathered to secure Cohen’s plea. “Trump was totally caught off guard by the Cohen plea,” the source said.

Indeed, Trump’s erratic responses suggest he was surprised by the news. At first, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani released a blistering statement saying Cohen is “a proven liar who is doing everything he can to get out of a long-term prison sentence for serious crimes of bank and tax fraud.” In comments he made to reporters before departing for the G20 summit in Argentina, Trump called Cohen “weak” and accused him of “making up a story.” But hours later, Giuliani changed tacks, telling The New York Times that Trump’s sworn answers to Mueller matched Cohen’s version of events. “Why would the president come out and say Cohen lied?” the former staffer said.

There is no such thing as a "perjury trap."  The idea may sound clever on FoxNews, but in the real world (where Trump's aides obviously don't live, either), it's a chimera, as real as Santa Claus or "Fake News!" (well, that's a real thing, too, but not the way Trump means it).  You can't get caught in a perjury trap if you don't lie, and even if Trump's written statements don't line up perfectly with Cohen's 70 hours of testimony, it doesn't mean Trump committed perjury.

Although for a guy who lies where most people would hold a simple conversation, he probably did commit perjury.

What's most telling here is the incoherence of Team Trump.  Trump was "caught totally off guard by the Cohen plea"?  Why? Is he that blisteringly stupid?  I'm not even paying that much attention to this (my family and my career don't hang in the balance, not to mention my liberty from prison), and I wasn't surprised by today's news (besides, it's Cohen's second guilty plea.  Did Trump think there was only one per customer?).  And then Giuliani berates Cohen as a liar (never a good defense, as I said, when your client is Liar-in-Chief), and then they realize:  "Why would the president come out and say Cohen lied?"  Except that horse left the barn 10 hours ago (as I write).  Now they decide that's not a good look for them.

As Rick Perry once said:  "Oops."

Apparently Manafort's back-channel and Whitaker's undoubted daily reports were not as clarifying as the President thought he deserved (it is his DOJ, after all, amirite?):

In the days leading up to Cohen’s plea, Trump’s legal team had grown increasingly annoyed with the special counsel’s office for stonewalling. Giuliani vented to a friend that Mueller’s office stopped communicating with him after he delivered Trump’s answers. “They’ve gone dark,” the friend who spoke with Giuliani said. “Rudy is extremely frustrated. He thinks Mueller is acting like some junior U.S. attorney who’s got his panties in a wad and doesn’t want to talk to you.” Giuliani also complained that Mueller is delaying submitting his report to the Justice Department until the Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives in January. (Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment.)
Somebody tell Rudy that elections have consequences, as do attempts to take over the DOJ by firing the AG and replacing him, in violation of all legal standards and probably the Constitution, with a glorified aluminum siding salesman who is so in over his head he's the one who's "gone dark" (anybody heard from Whitaker lately?).   I've seen lawyers do things like this in civil lawsuits where the only consequence was money.  I'm not at all surprised to see it in the highest of high stakes criminal investigation.

And now, of course, we're supposed to believe Cohen was Trump's Avenatti, taking on authority to initiate transactions with no direct authority from Trump, and no communication with Trump about what he was doing (see below, if you haven't heard).  Jeffrey Toobin is right:  the responses to Cohen's evidence from the White House and supporters is "preposterous."  I also agree with Toobin on this:

“Today is the first day I thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office,” Toobin said in response to the shocking news dropped earlier in the day regarding the guilty plea of his former attorney Michael Cohen.

And then this, just for lagniappe and as Trump makes his way to Argentina:

President Donald Trump’s company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign, according to four people, one of them the originator of the plan.

Two US law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed News that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, discussed the idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary.

Christmas is coming early this year.

By the way

Lots of discussion again about Manafort being pardoned because Trump hasn't "taken it off the table."  No, he hasn't, but Mueller has:

“The guilty plea is 175 pages long. In my career, I have never seen one like this. It was so carefully crafted by Bob Mueller and signed by Paul Manafort, that at the time he pleaded guilty to the charges he was indicted for — which was basically bank fraud, money laundering, and some form of commercial bribery of foreign officials in federal court. He also pleaded guilty to uncharged state crimes in New Jersey, in Virginia and in California.”

He added, “Why did they do that? To make it pardon proof so if President Trump, which he can do, does pardon him for the federal crimes the state prosecutors in those states already have his guilty plea.”

“Mueller has played by the book, no leaks no lies that we know of,” he concluded.
Checkmate.  And, of course, Mueller could still be prosecuted for obstruction of justice or for lying to investigators, which Trump could pardon, over and over and over.  The fact Trump hasn't pardoned Manafort yet sort of mitigates against that pardon/armageddon scenario.

Smaller and smaller and smaller....

So here's where we are:

He went on to say that special counsel Robert Mueller is making his decisions off of false information and the president is the only one telling the truth.

“You know, it is interesting. In other parts of the world, you can’t even prosecute people for that,” Dershowitz continued.

It isn’t just Cohen’s statements, however. Cohen submitted documents proving the negotiations continued. He had emails and records of conversations that verify his statements.

At the point that Cohen gave this information, the president already submitted his written answers to Mueller and it’s possible he perjured himself already given the documents Cohen turned over.

“Before the president gave those answers, they are going to comb through every one of his answers and see if they can come up with anybody who can contradict anything the president said,” Dershowitz said. “And that is why it is called a perjury trap. Because even if the president believes what he said was true, if somebody will contradict it, then the president can be charged with lying to government officials, which is the equivalent of perjury. So, that’s why it is so dangerous for anybody who is the subject of an investigation to answer questions by the prosecution, because the prosecution then comes through evidence, tries to get evidence that they can then use to show contradictions.”
There is, of course, no such thing as a "perjury trap."  At most, you can impeach a witness with the testimony of another witness, and the trier of fact.  Dershowitz in the video (at the link) defines perjury as "willful" and "knowing," conveniently leaving out the most important element:  "material."  There's a reason perjury is seldom charged in real life, and that's because it is so hard to prove all the elements.  The interviewer suggests perjury is committed if you get the date wrong when trying to remember an e-mail you read; that would never be perjury, it might at best be misrepresentation.  The trier of fact could take it into account in assessing the credibility of the witness, but no one is going to jail because they mis-stated a date on an e-mail under oath.  If the President answers questions in ways other witnesses contradict, it may indicate obstruction of justice, it may indicate a wish to avoid liability, it may indicate the President is a liar.  It does not mean the President is guilty of perjury, not unless the misrepresentation is knowing and material.  Even then, you probably get the President on the crime, not the bad testimony.

But the idea that everyone around this President is a liar, or that the President is being caught in a web of lies manufactured by Robert Mueller, is absolutely laughable.  Mueller couldn't get a guilty plea out of Cohen, and 70 hours of testimony from him, without facts upon which to base a criminal charge.  Indeed, a defense against Cohen's testimony would be that he's already lied once, why isn't he lying now?  (Giuliani has already trotted that one out; not much of a defense with a President whose lies are documented in the press.)  The only response to that prosecutors can raise is to present the evidence that impeached Cohen, that exposed his lies.  The web being woven was woven by Trump; if there are lies that entrap him, he is the father of those lies.  It's ludicrous in the extreme to argue that Mueller is manufacturing lies and using them to support criminal charges and force people to lie further in order to support Mueller's pursuit of Trump.  That's a conspiracy theory on the order of the birds being replaced by drones who are spying on us, or Hillary Clinton being part of a pedophile ring run out of the basement of a pizza parlor that doesn't have a basement.

Dershowitz argues that Cohen's crimes (he lumps them in with the other indictments, never addressing one of them specifically) are crimes only because Mueller is investigating Trump.  In other words, the only criminal action is people lying to government agents.  However, the crimes alleged against Cohen all concern his testimony to Congress, to both the relevant House and Senate committees he was called to testify before.  Dershowitz has to misrepresent the facts in order to make his legally fallacious argument, which makes his argument untenable on both ends (facts and law).  According to the Criminal Information filed with the Plea Agreement, much of information impeaching Cohen is documentary, not the statements of others (which Dershowitz implies are false).  In other words, like Trump, Dershowitz is inventing facts and declaring them more true than the facts themselves.

Nice work, if you can get it.

Paul Ryan understands what happened here:

“I just heard that now,” Ryan said during a “Washington Post Live” event. “He should be prosecuted to the extent of the law.”

“It’s why we put people under oath,” Ryan added. “Just back it up for a second. Lying to Congress: That means he came and testified. That means we swore him under oath. That means we put him on the record. That means we did our job. That means we did our oversight.”

Well, except Cohen has already pled guilty, so he has been "prosecuted to the extent of the law."  Otherwise, yeah:  Cohen lied to Congress, not to Mueller.

The "perjury trap" is committing perjury.  There is no trap if you tell the truth, unless, of course, the truth could incriminate you.  That's what the 5th Amendment is for.  Trump can always rely on that.  Funny Dershowitz never mentions that, though.

Measured against reality, he's shrinking rapidly

ADITI ROY, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: This spring, Richard Fontenot planted 1,700 acres of soybeans on his farm. But come harvest
time, rain pounded his crops for days on end, damaging much of his crop. Nearby grain elevators already filled up to near capacity because of the Chinese tariffs on U.S. soybeans wouldn`t accept his soybeans because they were too damaged.

RICHARD FONTENOT, LOUISIANA SOYBEAN FARMER: It`s almost emotional. It`s an emotional roller coaster.

ROY: In the end, the fourth generation farmer was forced to let 60 percent of his crop rot in the field.

FONTENOT: If the commercial elevators up river had no room to store it, we could harvest it but no place to dump the trucks. So we had to leave it out in the field.

ROY: But bad weather is only one problem facing farmers across the U.S.

U.S. soybean farmers usually export a quarter of the crop to China. That market has virtually disappeared. The glut has pushed prices down from about $9.84 a bushel during planting season, to $8.60 at harvest.

FONTENOT: For in this operation itself, we probably have about $8.50, $8.25 a bushel tied into making the crop. After discount this year, we`re going to be selling it for about $6.50, $6.25 a bushel.

ROY: As a result, Fontenot will lose about $300,000 this year and can`t store the crop because the grain elevators are full and the crop too damaged.

To make matters even worse, many farmers can`t even access the Trump administration`s aid to ease the tariff impact because they are not eligible for the dollars if their crops are still in the ground.

FONTENOT: We had no exports because of the effects of some negotiations. Those effects carried all the way back into the field.

ROY: To ease the loss, Louisiana Representative Ralph Abraham just introduced a bill which would allow farmers with unharvested crop to access trade aid. Fontenot says that`s a good idea, but argues for longstanding relief farmers need enduring trade relationships.

FONTENOT: We have to do things as a country and as a nation to protect and things — and maintain us being sustainable for years to come. And trade agreements are one of those things.

ROY: It`s not just farmers here in the south who were hurting. A new Fed report shows that farm bankruptcies are also on the rise in the Upper Midwest.

For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Aditi Roy, Ville Platte, Louisiana.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Yeah, except....

Yeah, except:

Construction isn't expected to begin until 2020, and the full $1.7 billion or $1.8 billion won't be spent before operations commence "in the second half of 2021." However, investors aren't waiting around to punish Steel Dynamics for investing in a steel market subject to apparently arbitrary price and demand swings at the whim of a president's trade war.

As much as I hate to say it, I can't really blame investors for their reaction. 2020-21 is right around the time the next U.S. presidential election could upend the system of steel tariffs that's currently making it a bit more attractive to make domestic steel investments such as the one Steel Dynamics just announced. What's more, there's a risk those tariffs could vanish even sooner, re-flooding U.S. metals markets with a torrent of cheap Chinese steel, should President Trump strike the right trade deal with China before his term expires.

It's sad to say, but in times of uncertainty like these, it doesn't always pay to invest in the future.

Trump was referring to President Lyndon B. Johnson's decision in 1964 to impose a 25% tariff on light trucks coming into the US. That was a response to a 50% German tariff on some chicken coming from the US. The tariff became known as the "chicken tax" on trucks.

While tariffs Johnson introduced on other goods (potato starch, brandy, and dextrin) were dropped, the restriction on trucks has persisted over the past half-century and helped US automakers hold a dominant market share on truck sales.
If Trump does go through such a move, it would most likely cause a huge amount of damage to the US economy.

A study from the Peterson Institute of International Economics found that a 25% auto tariff would cause auto production in the US to fall by 1.5% over three years and result in a net loss of 195,000 jobs in that same time frame.

Similarly, a study by the Center for Automotive Research found an auto tariff would boost the average cost of a car by $4,400 for American consumers. The study found that auto sales would fall by 2 million a year and shave nearly $60 billion off gross domestic product.
Not being a fan of GM, I want to say "Good on ya!" for Trump not being a fan, either.  But I can't.  Not least because Trump's tariffs are already going to drive up prices, and that doesn't help manufacturers or consumers:

GM said last month that it expects to spend $1 billion more next year on commodities such as steel and aluminum. While those tariffs are already in effect, GM has long-term supply contracts that locked in lower prices. But by next year the higher market prices will start to raise its costs, even from domestically-produced steel and aluminum, since those US mills no longer have to compete with lower-priced imports.
Yeah, except that story is about Canadian government assistance, not the U.S. government.  As head of the government, we kind of expect our President to know this, although these days we pretty much don't.

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

Not sure how you get there from here, even in the wildest flights of fancy.  Again, you kind of expect the head of the government to understand things like this, but then again, these days you don't.

(What?  It's not Advent yet!)

*no, it's not a proven lie, either; but when the President tweets about treason, you pretty much have an obligation to pay attention to that.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Heat Is On

“The people closest to Trump in the past believe that Trump is acting as if he is cornered in a way that he’s never been in his life,” [Carl] Bernstein said. “In the past, Donald Trump has always managed to buy his way out, sue his way out, go on television get his way out, but this is different.”

“This is different according to these people. If you do the reporting, I think what you’re starting to see is a belief that he is not only cornered, but that national security is in real danger because of the way he is acting,” he said.

No sh*t, Sherlock.

Clinton Foundation?  I wonder why he's bring that up?
A New York judge has ruled that a lawsuit brought by the state's attorney general against President Trump and the Trump Foundation can proceed, a decision that could expose the president and his charity to millions in potential penalties.

Smaller and smaller he goes....


Trump and his Congressional allies seem to be getting a pass from the media on his refusal to cooperate with the Mueller investigation by sitting for an interview and/or testifying to the grand jury. It is easy to chalk this up to yet another outrage that, over time, fades in our memories and seems to become the new normal for the pundit class. Instead, the “will he or won’t he” question has become the classic Trumpian reality show cliffhanger that has set the media narrative around this issue. But let’s be really clear about one thing: it is still an outrage and must be described as such. The man is President of the United States, not a mob boss. This should not be a “will he or won’t he” question. The real question should be “why the hell won’t the President of the United States agree to an interview with federal law enforcement”?

The Justice Department, through the Office of Special Counsel, is conducting a serious criminal and counter-intelligence investigation into whether or not the President’s campaign conspired with the Russian government’s illegal efforts to support the his campaign. The investigation includes whether or not the President himself has corruptly sought to obstruct, influence, or impede the investigation by, among other things, firing the FBI Director who was pursuing the investigation. To exhaust all potential sources of information and to hear from a critical subject/witness, the Special Counsel has taken the routine step of asking to interview the President. He has even bent over backwards to let the President answer some questions in written form. This is no different than prosecutors requesting an interview with a CEO when investigating a major financial institution or defense contractor (trust me, they never agree to written questions). While such interviews are voluntary, for a public company CEO to decline such a request would likely result in his or her firing by the company’s board of directors. Not so here. Instead, we have the President’s party doing nothing to call out the President’s unwillingness to speak to prosecutors and some actively seeking to discredit and derail the investigation. Chuck Todd et al. need to ask every Republican member of Congress, “yes or no, will you call upon the President to sit down for an interview with the Special Counsel or testify to the grand jury? What should Congress do if the President refuses?” We need to get them on the record on this.

One related issue here has been lost, which is the question of whether the President is effectively asserting his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. If the risk of prosecution and self-incrimination are too high, of course, it might make sense for a high-ranking corporate executive to decline a voluntary interview with prosecutors and take the risk of being fired. In such situations, prosecutors can then send the person a grand jury subpoena (or threaten one). If the subject’s lawyers tell prosecutors that their client is going to take the 5th if called before the grand jury, it is customary for prosecutors NOT to seek to enforce the subpoena and compel the witness to assert the 5th in front of the grand jury. Is that what has happened here? We don’t know, but it seems necessary and appropriate for journalists and members of Congress to be pressing the White House and the President’s legal team for answers: “Has the President’s lawyers ever indicated to the Special Counsel that the President would take the 5th if he were subpoenaed to testify?” Again, the White House should be on the defensive about this.

See it yet?  

Maybe Trump wants to stop complaining about this subject of interviews....

The Chaos is Coming From Inside the (White) House!

 A child in the clutches of a "grabber"

“The tear gas is a very minor form of the tear gas itself. It’s very safe,” he said during a roundtable in Mississippi on Monday. “The ones that were suffering to a certain extent were the people that were putting it out there. But it’s very safe.”

“But you really say, why is a parent running up into an area where they know the tear gas is forming…and they’re running up with a child. In some cases they’re not the parents,” he continued. “These are people. They call them grabbers. They grab a child because they think they’re going to have a certain status by having a child. You have certain advantages in terms of our crazy laws that, frankly, Congress should be changing.”

When reporters pushed back on the claim, asking for evidence that the adults are “grabbers,” Trump was unable to offer any.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Prepare Ye The Way of the Advent

“Now people say, ‘Well Frank, but how can you defend him, when he’s lived such a sordid life?'” Graham told Axios on HBO. “I never said he was the best example of the Christian faith. He defends the faith. And I appreciate that very much.”

Which raises a perfectly legitimate question:  which faith is Trump defending?

This faith?

At Culberson’s post-election gathering, according to video from Houston television station KHOU, [Dr. Ed] Young [pastor of Second Baptist Church, Houston] claimed a Pittsburgh-area Democratic Party chairman had been forced out over a Facebook repost about how Americans should “kneel at the cross.”

The post actually criticized NFL players’ anthem protests, one of several that seemed more like racial insults.

But Young took it out of context, telling the Republican gathering the Democratic Party is “no longer a party. It’s some kind of religion that is basically godless, and as long as America — and this is represented by every Democrat I know — does not believe in the sacredness of the life in the mother’s womb, God will not bless America or make us a great nation.”

I noted, when I first published that:

Come to think of it, people like Ed Young don't think too much of the sacraments either, consider attendance at revivals a greater sign of personal holiness than attendance on Sunday morning, think "God helps those who help themselves" is from the book of Proverbs, and don't really care about confession or even moral responsibility, since once you're saved you've got it made, And church attendance is mostly to see who's NOT there or what condition they're in before noon on Sunday morning.  So yeah, I guess Donald Trump is religious by those standards, since his politics are to the right of Atilla the Hun, and that's what really matters..

Time to expand on that a bit, because there is an argument to be had about theologies and religious practices, apart from the argument that I am right and you are wrong (not too far from it, of course, so I speak already knowing I'm violating that text about "don't judge, and you won't be judged."  We'll see how well I do.)

Ed Young's theology, much as I can describe it from the outside and from decades of exposure to it in the Southern Baptist culture of my youth (in it but not of it, literally, as I grew up Presbyterian in a Southern Baptist town), is that salvation is a once and for all act that saves you from any further obligation, except to prove that you are truly "saved" and not just saying so for the social (and presumably eternal) benefits.  So Baptists don't speak to each other in the liquor store, and you take two Baptists fishing with you because if you take one, they'll drink all your beer.  Humor from my youth, living in a "dry" county where the Baptists sobered up for the occasions when the county's liquor sales status was up for a vote.  This soteriological focus pretty much determines how everything else is done:  the liturgical calendar is non-existent, except for Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday, when communion must be offered (and only a handful of times the rest of the year, 5 being the usual number.).  Sunday worship is to praise God and get life lessons from the pastor, nothing too challenging because the message is either about the damned (which group you have safely avoided staying with) and the blessed (that's you, especially since you are well off and white and admired as a church member).  The church calendar mostly revolves around "revivals," where fervor is increased and altar calls bring new people to salvation (like baptism, a once in a lifetime experience, although like the medieval days of the epiclesis, some would attend revivals in different places for the pleasure of answering the altar call more than once).  Soteriology is the be all and end all of Christianity for people like Ed Young, and once you have achieved that, the rest is gravy and good eatin', with a backstop against back-sliding because you really don't want people to know you're call to the altar was a wrong number.

As you can see from Dr. Young's remarks, "faith" has a great deal more to do with the right politics than it does with right living.  It wasn't always thus, but it seems to be more and more that way today, at least among conservative Christians with a public soapbox.  But don't take my word for it, or the example of Young and Graham, alone.

In the BGC survey, when white evangelicals were asked to name all the factors that influenced their votes in 2016, fewer than half mentioned abortion or the Supreme Court. Their top issues were the economy, health care, national security, and immigration. The biggest gap between pro-Trump evangelicals and other evangelicals, when they were pressed to name the most important voting issue, was on immigration. That issue was more important to Trump supporters in the BGC survey, and it’s a big winner for Trump among WEPs [White Evangelical Protestants] in other polls. “White evangelicals overwhelmingly back more hardline positions on immigration, with three-fourths wanting a reduction in legal immigration,” Stetzer reports.

The enthusiasm for Trump’s hard line on immigration isn’t just about terrorism or enforcing laws. It’s about fear of immigrants per se. In the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, non-evangelical Republicans and Republican leaners said, by a margin of 35 percentage points, that “a growing population of immigrants” was “a change for the worse,” not for the better. Among Republicans who identified themselves as evangelical or born-again, the margin rose to 48 points. In a survey taken after the 2016 election, 50 percent of white evangelicals, compared with 33 percent of white non-evangelicals, agreed that “immigrants hurt the economy.” The 2018 PRRI survey asked whether “the growing number of newcomers from other countries … strengthens American society” or “threatens traditional American customs and values.” Only one religious group said the newcomers were a threat. You guessed it: WEPs.
There is, William Saletan discerns from the statistics, a deep racism at work here:

 Initially, when Stetzer diagnosed race and ethnicity as sources of the white evangelical backlash against immigration, he was talking about gaps between white and nonwhite evangelicals on poll questions that were open to interpretation. But PRRI, in its 2018 survey, proved that race and ethnicity were factors. The survey informed respondents that “by 2045, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other mixed racial and ethnic groups will together be a majority of the population.” Then came the query: “Do you think the likely impact of this coming demographic change will be mostly positive or mostly negative?” After listening to this question, most white Catholics and most white mainline Protestants said the change would be positive. Most WEPs said it would be negative. A PRRI/Atlantic poll taken in June found the same result.

In his warning on Election Day, Stetzer faced the bitter truth: “It is hard not to conclude that far too many white evangelicals are motivated by racial anxiety and xenophobia.”
Not that there's anything new about this.  11:00 on Sunday morning has long been the most segregated hour in America..  That may be changing as white evangelicals "age out" and younger evangelicals embrace a multi-racial, multi-cultural world,  Or maybe not, who knows?  Young white people seem to be the most prominent racists around just now, proving racism is still being taught and those teachers are still finding willing students, and the idea that racism in America faces demographic demise is surely more a matter of narrative than reality.  10% of American shopping is done on-line, yet the narrative about Black Friday is now about how much shopping wasn't done in stores (probably more than last years, but as an absolute percentage?).  Still, the issue remains:  the rabid supporters of Donald Trump who also claim a religious identity, are not easily reconciled with the core messages of Christianity.  And we return to the question asked of Franklin Graham:  what faith is Trump defending?  And what defense does faith need, anyway?

Christian apologetics has devolved into a FoxNews level battle between Christians and atheists, with neither side being especially well versed in their subjects.  It was once the province of thinkers who reshaped Western thought and culture, people like Anselm and Augustine.  No one is ever going to confuse Richard Dawkins or the late Christoper Hitchens with Duns Scotus or Aquinas (who built his Summa Theologica on Aristotle's works).  The original "defense of the faith" was an effort to explain it to a Hellenistic world in terms that would be understood by the greatest minds of the day.  Today it is discussed like this:

Christianity says you should love the stranger, respect families, honor your wife, and treat all people as children of God. WEPs, more than any other constituency, are choosing to ignore those values at the ballot box.
 That's not wrong; and it's convenient to the argument, which is far more political than it is even ecclesiological (much less theological), but it's not exactly a deep understanding of the subject, either.

The racial divide in American Christianity is as old as the racial divide in this country.

The simple fact is, the media loves conflict.  What the Catholic Bishops get up to on a daily basis is of no interest to journalists at all.  When the Bishops issue a statement sure to prompt a response, to create, in other words, a secular conflict, then that is reported.  Otherwise, what the Bishops do to protect their flock or serve their God, is not reported.  What ordinary Christians do, as individuals and as church members, is almost never reported.  What some pastor says, especially when it is about politics and promotes conflict ("they are wrong, we are right!"), gets reported.  Otherwise?  Crickets.

So what do we learn from stories about statistics and what public figures say about matters of the day?  We learn that conflict drives narrative, and journalists love to tell stories.  Franklin Graham knows if he says Trump is defending the faith it will get him some more media attention, and it will stir people like me to respond.  He knows it will feed conflict, and conflict is what he thrives on.  Ed Young wants conflict when he says things have not gone his way in November.  I want to stir conflict because I take to my keyboard and write things like this.  And what, in the name of Christ, are we doing?

Not acting in the name of Christ; that much is clear.

I have no patience and want no association with the theology of Ed Young or Franklin Graham.  Their raison d'être is personal salvation; once the individual is saved, all obligations to others are off, except to live as an exemplar of the faith (faithful to your spouse, no drinking, no swearing in public, basically the Boy Scout pledge to be clean, reverent, brave, and socially upright).  Your only obligation after that, possibly, is to evangelize others so they, too, are saved; but the emphasis on that varies and wanes as one becomes more prominent and important in the church (and, not coincidentally, society).  Obligations to the poor show up at Christmas time, when some token gesture is made by the church as a whole, and you play a minor part, and nothing disturbs the slumber of your moral righteousness.    Mostly it's about personal salvation and personal satisfaction, and "Jesus loves me, but he can't stand you."  It's theology as soteriology, first and last, alpha and omega, and very little more involved.  God is not transcendent, God is immanent, and that immanence is shown in the comfort in which you live, and your community lives, and your nation lives; and anything that disturbs your comfort is a sign God is not immanent enough in all the right places, and that's the fault of the people in those places; not the result of your failure to understand God's transcendence, or your responsibility to others.  "Lord, when did we see you?" is answered by "Didn't we see you in our friends and our church members and our comfort?"

I think the answer to that response is already stated in Matthew 25.  Then again, none of the sheep in Matthew 25 were saying "I told you so" to the goats, so I do myself no benefit to say that now.

I'm more interested in news reports about churches:  when churches act like Christian institutions, when they care for the immigrant and the stranger and the poor, when they see Jesus in prison, needing food, needing clothing, needing shelter, nobody reports on that.  Acts of charity and spirituality don't promote conflict, except a conflict with the narrative of the world, where giving a man a fish is weakening him, and teaching a man to fish is the highest and best good (except then why do so many college graduates today have debts that can't pay, and jobs that don't pay them?  Haven't they been taught to fish?).  But that's not enough of a conflict to create a story, so journalism ignores that, too.  Christmas is coming, and the story will be about conflict again:  the turnout for shopping v. previous years; the amount of money spent on-line v. at physical stores; the clashes in stores to get the sales items before they run out of supply (funny, no stories like that gained national attention this Black Friday).  The conflict between Christmas as a season for charity and mercy, v. the mercantile vision of Scrooge keeping as many coins in the till as he can gather ("A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every 25th of December!").   I don't want to fight that old, old war on Christmas anymore; I've made my peace with it.

What I need to do now is make my peace with the people constantly presented to me as Christians and Christian leaders, when I don't recognize them as either.  I struggled with this post, trying to get it to this point without knowing clearly what point I wanted to reach, and without being able to make a start at getting there.  I finally settled on a rough draft, with this portion attached to that portion.  If it changes theme or thesis or direction abruptly to end here, that's not an accident or a mistake.  I don't think these two things fit together, in the end, except as a sort of confession, a laying out of data which finally forces the reasoning to break through.  Much as he tries not to, Saletan lumps too many people together in groups too small to be more than rhetorically convenient; it is a reductio argument far too common in this age of reliance on polls based on what Walt Kelly wisely described as "the buckshot use of the curved question."  That problem infects most of our public discussions.  I keep trying to find a way to clean that up and find a new position, a different narrative, another way of thinking about it all.  I keep failing, mostly because I keep relying on the same internet sources for my springboard.

Maybe this time I can finally treat Advent as the "little Lent" it was meant to be, and truly clear away the undergrowth and prepare the way of the Lord; in my soul, if nowhere else.  Or I can just be grandiose while preaching my own humility.

I think I'll do something within reach, and try to drop politics for a month in favor of preparing the way for the Christchild.  That's what Advent should be about, anyway; and it could be a fruitful spiritual practice to try it as fiercely as I can.

I wake, and take my waking slow

Slow because this is the news this morning:

When border agents fired canisters of tear gas into a crowd of unarmed migrants in Tijuana over the weekend, officials in the Department of Homeland Security and White House quietly cheered.

It was exactly the fodder they needed in the waning days of Republican-controlled Washington to pressure Congress for billions to fund the border wall.

Ah, yes!  Genius!  Chaos = control, and control = victory!  If this sounds like a Stephen Miller fever dream, you've been paying attention.  But does this chaos play right into the hands of the black hats in the White House?

Well, the President didn't get the memo:

At a roundtable in Mississippi later Monday, Trump seemed to acknowledge that children were affected, asking, "Why is a parent running up into an area where they know the tear gas is forming and it's going to be formed and they were running up with a child?"

He said it was "a very minor form of the tear gas itself" that he assured was "very safe."
(there is, in fact, only one form of tear gas ).

Nor did the President's supporters (or Border Patrol supporters), who variously argued the immigrants in Mexico were tear gassed only with hot peppers you find on nachos; that they were using children as human shields; or that the whole thing was a "false flag."  They understand how this looks, in other words, and they don't like it.

Turns out that's a good idea, not liking it:

As Slate put it:

But even if one agreed that rock throwing warranted an aggressive response from border agents, the fact remains: The toddlers who were tear-gassed at the border could not be called anything other than innocent victims.

Don't expect that argument to carry much weight with Stephen Miller; but then, nothing Stephen Miller has done has carried much weight with the American public, or with Congress, for that matter. Mostly this resolves to a point made by the Daily Beast:  Kirstjen Nielsen really wants to keep her job, and she's playing this to an audience of one to do so.

Mexico’s foreign ministry presented a diplomatic note to the U.S. government on Monday calling for “a full investigation” into what it described as non-lethal weapons directed toward Mexican territory on Sunday, a statement from the ministry said.
The House may ignore that in December; it will pay very close attention to it in January.

Smaller and smaller he shrinks; but lower and lower the nation goes.

Monday, November 26, 2018

FauxNews v. MSNBC

And fuck you, too, Mr. President


“The convention, the [1997] chemical weapons convention, doesn’t cover domestic use of tear gas,” Velshi observed before breaking down the different types of chemical agents.

“There’s OC gas which shares the main ingredients of pepper pray and CS gas known as tear gas,” the MSNBC host said. “The name is a misnomer. It’s not gas at all. It’s an aerosol with droplets in the area. CS, coming into contact with the wet surfaces of a person’s eyes, their mouth, the ideas of their nose, skin if it’s breathing passages, the defenses kick into high gear to flush out the material and then that’s why it’s worse in a panic and breathing in heavily.”

He added: “The result is heavy streams of tears, mucous and saliva work to clear the body of the droplets and as the person coughs or chokes on the spray, they wretch up fluids. Temporary blindness can occur.”

But Velshi noted that the symptoms could become much more serious in infants and children.

“A 1989 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that if an infant were present at the same place they would suffer inflammation of breathing passages requiring a month of hospitalization,” he remarked. “It’s uniquely different when children are involved. I understand that there are people who understand that there’s a reason to use it for crowd control.”

“But this is why it’s difficult when there are children involved,” Velshi concluded.


“The type of deterrent being used is OC pepper spray,” he said. “It’s literally water, pepper, with a small amount of alcohol for evaporation purposes.”

He then went on to explain that the gas being used on children is so harmless that it’s edible.

“It’s natural,” he insisted. “You could actually put it on your nachos and eat it! So it’s a good way of deterring people without long-term harm.”

Nachos, get it?  Kinda stuff he imagines they eat in Mexico.

Fuck you, asshole.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

That's a tweet-sized summary of the "60 Minutes" story tonight.  I didn't watch it, I haven't seen that show in decades; just not on my radar anymore.  I should have, though.  Now notice the Presidential response, and what he responds to:

“If you’re going to separate families in the pursuit of an immigration policy, it was irresponsible to push that on top of a system that wasn’t prepared on the backend to allow the families to be reconciled later,” Shuchart told Scott Pelley.

Shuchart is no longer at DHS but he said it wasn’t like his expertise was of concern anyway.

“If they had come to you, what would your office have said?” Pelley wondered.

“We would’ve had advice on the way that needed to be done, on the recordkeeping that needed to be done. And our advice on that wasn’t sought out. And when we tried to provide it, it was ignored,” Shuchart explained.

By record-keeping, Shuchart explained he meant merely “making sure that we knew where everybody was at all times so that they could be put into contact and reunited later.”

He noted that there were parents removed from the United States and taken to other countries without records about where their child was. The Trump administration claimed 2600 children were taken from their parents, but records show that number was closer to 5,000.
Trump's facts, of course, are wrong, too:

The number of "inadmissables" under Obama is the blue line; the number under Trump is the orange line.  One President tried to enforce our immigrations laws and get Congress to reform them; one President is a xenophobic racist.

And tonight, on our border, people are being teargassed in Mexico by our government.  None of this is "fake news," in other words, except what the President says.  And what he says is lies; all lies.  And children and their families are in separate countries tonight, perhaps never to be reunited, because our President is so incompetent he can't understand what a good job as President would be.


...cries she
With silent lips, "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless tempest-tost to me
And I'll teargas 'em. Right at the border; soak 'em down. Men, women, children, I'll gas 'em all. Damn furriners.

I'm proud to be an American...

...where at least I know we teargas women and babies in foreign countries.

Who Knew?

Even FoxNews wants to know what the President is talking about:

“Any idea what a shutting down the border actually means?” [Leland] Vittert asked [Rep. Ralph] Norman [R-NC] in an interview on Sunday.

“I mean, stopping the points of access so that you can have those go through the points and have them do it legally and go through the court system to seek asylum,” the congressman replied.

Vittert, however, failed to understand how Norman’s explanation applied to Trump’s words.

“Congressman, we have the Border Patrol and they’re still zillions of illegal immigrants coming across the border every day,” Vittert said. “Does that mean you’re closing it to trade as well, to every semi/tractor trailer that’s going back and forth, to every U.S. citizen who wants to come back through the border? I’m confused.”

But Norman insisted that the Trump administration would “figure those out.”

“This is for caravans of people who have been publicly on this 2,000 [mile] journey,” the lawmaker said.

“I’m still confused,” Vittert interrupted. “What does shutting down the border mean? The law says now you can only come into the United States legally… I’m just confused at what shutting it down means if it’s not already shut down to illegal immigration.”

“If it was shut down now, you still wouldn’t have the 500,000 coming across from illegal immigration,” Norman answered.

“Exactly,” Vittert agreed. “I’m just confused — if we have 500,000 coming across now illegally, are you saying the border patrol and military aren’t doing enough? Does shutting it down mean that it’s going to be shoot on sight? What does shutting down the border mean?”

Norman insisted that there would continue to be a “legal process of people getting through.”

“But isn’t that what the border patrol and military is already supposed to be doing?” Vittert pressed. “How does the president saying ‘shut it down’ make them any more able to do it today than they were able to do it 10 days ago?”

“It’s impossible without a wall to control it completely,” Norman stated.

“The president is saying if Mexico won’t allow the asylum-seekers to stay there, he’s going to shut down the border,” the Fox News host explained. “He’s already said he’s going to build a wall so conceivably shutting down the border means something different. But I’m not hearing from you an explanation of actually what it means.”

“It means that the barbed-wire fences that’s being put up now to stop the caravans,” Norman remarked.

“I’m still confused,” Vittert admitted. “What is the president going to do different tomorrow when he — quote, unquote — shuts down the border than is done now? Are the orders going to change to the military? Is there are going to be more barbed wire? Are you going to deploy extra Border Patrol agents and how do you shut something down that we’ve been unable to shut down by your own admission for decades?”

“So what does ‘shut down the border’ actually mean?” he demanded to know.

“It’s a combination of all of the above,” Norman said. “Barbed-wire fences, National Guard, more troops to stop what’s going on. Is he going to shut it down 100 percent? Probably not.”

Vittert concluded the interview by thanking Norman for answering the question.

“More National Guard troops, more barbed wire,” Vittert stated.

Interestingly, neither of them seems to be aware of the hundreds of people trapped on bridges between Mexico and Texas, but then it's Texas and the Border, two of the most ignored regions in the U.S. (even in Texas), so I guess that's no surprise (no mention of it in headlines around the major websites, either).  So even if Trump "shuts down the border," what's going to happen?  More barbed wire?  More military and National Guard, who can't really do anything to physically stop immigrants?  Do we have 2000 miles of concertina wire in stock?  Do we have the personnel to deploy it?

Smaller and smaller and smaller.....

Yesterday All The Past

That was just yesterday.  In Trump World, all is chaos.  Yesterday the Mexican government had an agreement with the White House:

Quoting senior members of President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s team, the Washington Post reports that while a formal agreement has yet to be signed, the “Remain in Mexico” plan will prevent those seeking asylum from stepping onto U.S. soil until their applications are approved.

The deal marks a dramatic change in government policy, which currently allows those seeking asylum to remain in the U.S. while awaiting the decisions on their applications.

Today, not so much:

“There is no agreement of any sort between the incoming Mexican government and the U.S. government,” future Interior Minister Olga Sanchez told Reuters on Saturday, contradicting Trump and an earlier Washington Post report that said a deal ― albeit an informal one ― had been struck between the two governments.

Seems the problem is in the reporting, as Sanchez says incoming ministers can't make deals for the government, until they are the government.  The real problem is, the President only knows what gets reported in the "fake news."  His response to the news was, as ever, diplomatic:

He blames the Democrats.  Which is of a piece with his notice of the riots in the streets of Paris, over a proposed gas tax:

Yeah, I don't know how that's all about us, either; but "l'etat, c'est moi," so it's really all about Trump.

As for closing the border with Mexico, of the state trade with Mexico, Texas is the #1 exporter, and #2 importer.   Ties to Mexico are economic as much as they are cultural.  Closing the border will go over real big in the second most populous state in the Union with the strongest reason to keep trade flowing across that border. Shut down the border and the impact will be more immediate and damaging than shutting down the government for 6 months.  Even Ted Cruz would turn on Trump over that.

The same President who insists his border wall is under construction (and then demands Congress fund it) told reporters last week he had shut the border down, or he was going to, or no, he already had, all in the space of 5 minutes.

“Actually two days ago we closed the border,” Trump said at Mar-a-Lago during a meeting with journalists. “We actually just closed it. We said nobody’s coming in because it was out of control.” (See the video above at 16:10)

Then he walked back what he had just insisted, saying he would shut the border in the future if it’s necessary, “if we find that it gets to a level where we are going to lose control.”

But minutes later he returned to his insistence that he had already closed the border.

“I’ve already shut it down, I’ve already shut it down — for short periods,” he said in response to a question to clarify the shutdown.

“I’ve already shut down parts of the border because it was out of control with the rioting on the other side in Mexico. And I just said, ‘Shut it down.’ You see it. I mean, it took place two days ago.” (19:00)

When someone asked if he had to sign an order to shut it down, Trump responded: “Yeah, they call me up, and I sign an order.”

Asked if the media could get a copy, Trump responded: “You don’t need it. Don’t worry. It’s not that big a deal. Maybe to some people it is.”

The people of Texas would have more than a passing concern with it, were it to happen.  As usual, the President speaks, and no one really listens.

Meanwhile, the courtiers heard the King's cry about the troublesome priest, and the situation on the border is very bad. 

The recent interim rule to deny asylum to anyone who crosses the border “illegally” won’t have its intended deterrent effect. It’s just an added punitive measure. As a journalist for the Marshall Project has reported, U.S. officials are making “clear they’re in no hurry to place extra border or asylum officers at ports of entry,” and that the strategy is “to create even bigger asylum bottlenecks, back-ups at entry stations.” Migrants marooned in Texas report waits upward of two weeks due to CBP caprice or antipathy; the wait is upward of three weeks in Tijuana. As Texas Monthly noted, up to 450 asylum-seekers were recently camped out on three bridges between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. That’s only going to get worse.

Many asylum-seekers waiting at ports of entry—destitute, without resources, and with young children in tow—are forced to live at makeshift encampments. Many fall prey to cartels and are regularly assaulted and even killed. By callously stranding individuals outside of ports of entry in horrid, perilous conditions, the U.S. is treating migrants as flotsam. On a recent trip to the border, I met with a group of Central American LGBTQ youth who told me that on each day, for five consecutive days, CBP refused to let them apply for asylum. When I told them it was lawful to present at a port of entry to ask for asylum, they replied, “That’s what we told CBP!” Each day they were rejected, they say CBP told them the same thing: “Guatemalans make us sick.” Turned away by CBP again and again, these asylum-seekers were ultimately forced to enter outside of a port of entry and thus saw their asylum claims criminalized.

When his words do stumble into actions, people suffer.  One more reason Trump's legal position is unsustainable. So his next act will be to close the border.  After he's through taking credit for supply and demand and fracking technology:

When the price goes back up, he'll blame Democrats.  Took me a minute to realize "President T" was Trump.  How long before he starts talking about himself in the third person regularly?

The President who shrinks as you watch.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Incredible Shrinking President

Fake news came from: Fox news; but not FoxNews.

True, the story ran on November 13, Trump learned about it 6 days later. So it could be the wire went up after that. But it's not fake news, and the footage isn't that old. And he had to re-tweet his own tweet to move it to the top of his feed.

Maybe just a further example of Trump getting smaller.

The Interregnum*

*the period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when a great variety of morbid symptoms appear, as Gramsci predicted.

So here we go again:

The fact of the matter is that the purposes religion serves in America are shrinking in number. Our cultural identity is increasingly shaped by pop culture, not faith or ethnic identity. Our holidays are more about shopping and having a chance to catch up with far-flung family these days, not showing devotion to a deity. Spiritual needs are often addressed through modern means like psychotherapy and self-help. People build communities through hobbies and interests more than through faith communities bound by geography, ethnicity and family.

Increasingly, the only thing religion has left to justify itself is that it provides cover for people who want to have bigoted, selfish beliefs but want to believe they are good people anyway. As these social trends continue, we can expect the alignment between public piety and grotesquely selfish political beliefs to get worse, not better.
I would say "ethnic identity" is not fading, except it really is subsumed by popular culture, which frankly provides as much "cover for people who want to have bigoted, selfish beliefs but want to believe they are good people anyway."  What's the old adage:  one finger pointing at me is three more pointing back at you?  Works pretty well on most such occasions.  Which is not to say the first paragraph is more right than wrong; but neither is that an improvement, or even a satisfactory replacement; although yes, religion has long been used to justify what any local culture prefers to find valid.  Gott mit uns, and all that.

Sorry; near violation of Godwin's Law there, and I've only just started.  Once again we're faced with the idea that religion is whatever evangelicals proclaim, with lonely Pope Francis standing in for any divergence from that singularity:

The prosperity gospel teaches, to be blunt, that you can tell how much God favors you by how rich you are. While some on the Christian right reject this idea as a tad crude, it’s still wildly popular and its adherents, like Oral Roberts, are some of the major architects and organizers for the Christian right. It’s a perfect example of how conservative ideology leads to pious Christianity. People want to believe that the rich are better than everyone else and the poor don’t deserve squat, so they find a way to blame God for it rather than own their own greed and selfishness.

Pope Francis may be entirely sincere when he says he wants Catholic clergy to deemphasize the right-wing political pandering in favor of highlighting values that are more in line with liberalism, such as compassion and generosity to the poor, but the odds are slim of this message making inroads with church leaders in the United States. The church needs conservatives who need to believe they’re good and holy people despite their selfish beliefs. Without them, who will show up and tithe? Liberals? Most of them are sleeping in on Sundays, secure that their commitment to social justice makes them good people regardless of how visibly pious they are.

I would not call what Joel Osteen preaches either "prosperity" or "gospel" ("good news"), but that's an inter-familial argument and not really at issue here (and the idea that God blesses the good is as old as Jesus, who was asked by his disciples "Who sinned, that this man was born blind?", and as American as Ben Franklin's aphorism "God helps those who help themselves."  I always took that as counsel to bad table manners rather than serious life advice.).  Interestingly the only counterweight to Osteen & Co. in the analysis is the current Pope; as if the UCC and the UMC and the Episcopal Church, and many others, simply don't exist in America.  Yes, the numerical majority may be with the evangelicals and fundamentalists (depending on how you categorize them, especially the non-denominational ones), but that's a rather Trumpian view (he only represents the ones who elected him; the only real Christians are the ones on TeeVee and in the headlines).  That's an old complaint with me, and a tiresome one.  (Oral Roberts, by the way, has been dead for 9 years.  His hospital turned to the city for help when he couldn't finance it; that was years ago, no idea what happened to it, but it pissed off a lot of people in Tulsa.  Prosperity, in other words, proved slippery.  It was a graduate of his eponymous university who was killed trying to get to that isolated island off the coast of India, probably the first time that University has been noticed in 10 years.  Just saying, the reference to Roberts is a bit dated.  Note, too, the assumption that the only true Christians are conservative ones; some of them criticize the "prosperity gospel," we are told.  The rest of us do, too, but we don't count, I guess.). Still, if we're going have an intelligent discussion, let's get the facts right.

But this isn't about intelligent discussion; the article in question, I mean, not my post here.  The purpose is that second paragraph in the first quote above:  that religion sux, is useless, and the sooner popular culture replaces it, the better.  Except I've seen what popular culture has to offer (slavery, racism, complete indifference to the poor and gleeful exploitation of them, consumption of the earth's resources without let or hindrance (God told Adam and Eve to take care of it, not to use it up and wear it out ASAP).  If that's all we have to look forward too, I pity my young adult daughter and would with to shuffle off this mortal coil soonest, the better to prove myself a "good man" (Donne, if you're wondering.  Blessings don't always come in material benefits among Christians.).  We have all Advent to discuss that; as well as the fact that Christmas ("our holidays" in the first quote; there's only one other with a vaguely Christian connection on the American calendar; the rest are distinctly sectarian) is honored more in sales than in service.

But I've discussed that before, too.  Maybe I need a new hobby.....