Thursday, February 28, 2019

Not something I ever learned in law school

Or have ever heard of, period.

Truth is a fungible good

Proof Michael Cohen is a liar!  And he told Hannity he made the payments his own self, which must be true!  And he said Trump didn't collude with Russia, also true!  What a stone liar Michael Cohen is!  Everything else he told Congress must be disregarded!

The truth will set Trump free!

Or they just can't keep their lies straight:

(and there's always a tape)

The Takeaway

Jim Jordan accused Chairman Elijah Cummings of being in a conspiracy with Michael Cohen and others to smear Donald Trump.

Mark Meadows took offense at being called a racist, despite being a "birther" back in the day.

And Donald Trump thinks Michael Cohen exonerated him on the charge of coordinating with Russia to win the election in 2012.

What the media are repeating, even today, are the words from Michael Cohen's opening statement:  that Trump is a liar, a cheat, and a racist.  Richard Nixon famously tried to deflect responsibility for Watergate with the non-sequitur "I am not a crook."  It was a non-sequitur because Nixon wasn't accused of being a crook, but of being corrupt and abusing the power of his office in ways meant to benefit Nixon, not the nation.  Trump, apparently, doesn't mind being called a racist, a conman, and a liar, or the multiple charges in Cohen's testimony that Trump is using his office to enrich Trump, not in service of the nation.

Just don't say he used Russian help to win the election.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Let's end the crazy day with this

And remember with a sigh (and a shiver) this is what we have to look forward to until at least 2021:
So much winning!
Say goodnight, Gracie....

Follow Up

I know, an absolute (but not perfect!) storm of tweets and posts today.  This connects to Chris Wallace's question about whether or not the White House has anything to say in Trump's defense.  It seems the best they've got is a muddled denial that isn't meant to be a denial, really, except where it is meant to be so.

They assert, you decide.

Guilty Dog Barks Loudest

The man who said this:

Now doth protest too much:
And, of course, Meadows can't be a racist because he has black people in his family.
But I'm using it simply as a way to direct you to this excellent analysis of "racism" at Vox.  All this sturm und drang should be worth something, right?


(somebody stop me!)

And, in the Be Careful What You Wish For, Dept.


Can You Die from Excess Schadenfreude?

What Was Your First Clue?, Dept.

“This is not a good day for the president, clearly, to have his lawyer and intimate disclose so many things about him that don’t belong in the public domain,” Dershowitz told the veteran ABC anchor in a phone interview during the hearing’s recess.

Dershowitz went on to say that he’s worried Cohen’s testimony may have “weakened” attorney-client privilege.

“Whether [Cohen] wants to get a reduction in sentence or he wants to do the right thing, people can judge that for themselves,” the law professor mused.

Or what?  Michael Cohen will be disbarred for this?  He'll go to jail?

“I will be away from my wife and family for years,” Cohen said. “I pled guilty.”

Besides, attorney-client privilege doesn't cover protection of criminal acts, and Cohen plead guilty to committing criminal acts on behalf of Trump.  Attorney-client privilege went "bye-bye" a long time ago, and this situation doesn't weaken the privilege for other lawyers one jot.

Dershowitz is a putz; but even a putz can realize how bad this day was for Trump, right, FoxNews?

“They haven’t refuted his basic allegations against the president. And you say they’re doing the best they can. It may be that they don’t have any evidence to refute,” [Chris] Wallace said. “To some degree, they can’t sit there and refute the checks to the degree that Cohen has said things, and it’s just basically his word. All they have is the president has denied that.”

He added, “They haven’t done anything to really say, basic allegations about the president, they’ve done a lot to shake his credibility. In terms of the allegations, they haven’t defended it. Is there anything out there that the White House could have given them to defend against the claims that Michael Cohen is making?”

Apparently they're all in Hanoi......

White People Race-splaining Trump to Other White People

Still More Crunchy Goodness

Future's so bright....

Exhibit A:


Around Trump.....

"Liar, Racist, and...."

This guy's a bobblehead, but Cohen once again manages to get even Trump supporters to repeat the mantra that Trump is a liar, a racist, and a conman.

This is genius level messaging, and puts to shame the stunts Trump pulled that won him the GOP nomination (in a field of clowns) and the election (in a country of apathy where, without the odd mechanism of the electoral college, we wouldn't even be having this discussion).  Trump is not clever, and he's not devious; he's not even very good at this.

Michael Cohen is literally running rings around him in the public discussion simply by keeping his narrative simple and honest (it is the deepest honesty to admit what a liar you have been).

Well, obviously.....

I suppose a timeline

of when Trump denied, and how long he denied, the payments to Daniels would be appropriate here,  Frankly, I take it as read.  But this helps:

That's the way they do it in mob movies, right?

And again, the defense of Trump is no defense at all.  Isn't there some phrase about defending the indefensible?

Back to Chris Christie's point

And so it went on long into the day.....

Frank's Brother From Italy

“I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years,” he continued, “and the fact that you pull up a news article that has no value to it, and you want to use that as the premise for discrediting me, that I’m not the person that people called at 3 o’clock in the morning, would make you inaccurate. In actuality it would make you a liar, which puts you in the same position that I am in.”


I can only warn people, the more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did, blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering,” Cohen said.

Cohen said he’d lost everything he had worked for his entire life because he had chosen to serve Trump.

“I had a wonderful life,” he said. “I have a beautiful wife, I have two amazing children and I achieved financial success by the age of 39. I didn’t go to work for Mr. Trump because I had to, I went to work for him because I wanted to, and I’ve lost it all.”

“So if that in and of itself isn’t enough to dissuade somebody from acting in the callous manner that I did,” he added. I’m not sure that that person has any chance, very much like I’m in right now.”


“When Mr. Trump turned around early in the campaign and said, ‘I can shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and get away with it,’ I want to be very clear, he’s not joking,” Cohen said. “He’s telling you the truth — you don’t know him, I do. I’ve sat next to that man for 10 years, and I watched his back.”

“This destruction of our civility to one another is just — it’s out of control, and when he goes on Twitter and he starts bringing in my in-laws, my parents, my wife, what does he think is going to happen?” Cohen said. “He’s sending out the same message that he can do whatever he wants — this is his country. He’s becoming an autocrat.”

“Everybody’s job at the Trump Organization was to protect Mr. Trump,” he said. “Every day, most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something, and that became the norm, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now in this country. It’s exactly what’s happening here in government.”

Close your eyes, it's the narrative voice-over of "Goodfellas," right down to the accent.

Loyalty Among Thieves

Gee, I wonder why that is.....?

Scenes from the Circus

"It's a representative government" is the saddest phrase in America.

Respect mah authoritah!

[Rep. Paul] Gosar accused Cohen of violating attorney-client privilege with his testimony, and said he had no credibility.

“You’re a pathological liar,” he said. “You don’t know truth from falsehood.”

“Sir, I’m sorry. Are you referring to me or the president?” Cohen asked, laughing. Gosar went ballistic.

“Hey, this is my time,” Gosar shouted as Cohen continued to laugh. “When I ask for a question, I’ll ask for an answer.”

“Sure,” said a grinning Cohen, as Gosar, like many of his Republican colleagues before him during the hearing, began rambling on about conspiracy theories.
Everybody loves the guy who's laughing, right?

Two Rules of the Courthouse

Never ask a question you don't know the answer to:

“You called Donald Trump a cheat in your opening testimony,” Green told Cohen. “What would you call yourself?”

“A fool,” Cohen replied.

Never testify for the witness in the way you ask the question, or appeal to the jury by telling them what they just heard is not what they just heard:

Green then yielded his time to [Rep. Jim] Jordan, who returned to the charges against Cohen.

“We just had a five-minute debate where Mr. Cohen disputes what the Southern District of New York found,” Jordan exclaimed. “The judge found that he was actually guilty of committing bank fraud.”

“His remorse is nonexistent!” Jordan continued. “He just debated a member of Congress, saying, I really didn’t do anything wrong with the false bank things that I’m guilty of and going to prison for.”

“Mr. Jordan!” Cohen interrupted. “That’s not what I said. And you know that’s not what I said. What I said, I pled guilty and I take responsibility for my actions.”

“Shame on you, Mr. Jordan,” the witness added. “That’s not what I said. What I said is I took responsibility and I take responsibility.”

“I will be away from my wife and family for years,” Cohen said. “I pled guilty.”

It takes a special level of skill to make Michael Cohen into a sympathetic character.

There's Always a Tweet!

(Trump re-tweeted this tweet to move it to the top of his Twitter feed.)

This may be too much fun

...not to be posting on it all day.

Michael Cohen is Such a Sleazy Lying Liar!

Cohen shared with the House Oversight Committee copies of a letter he sent at Trump’s direction threatening civil and criminal actions against those schools if his grades or SAT scores were ever disclosed without permission.

As a personal aside, I've been told by my school that I can't even discuss a student's grades with that student via e-mail, because the recipient of my e-mail is not restricted to the student only (anybody can open their in-box, is the privacy presumption).  So the letter from Cohen was completely superfluous; Trump was/is protected by federal law on that issue, and Fordham is not going to mess with it.

But, you know, the takeaway is Michael Cohen is a lie-ie lying liar!  Just ask Jim Jordan:

 Jordan later accused the ex-attorney of testifying because he didn’t get to work in the Trump White House.

“Here’s what I see,” the congressman said. “I see a guy who worked for ten years and trashing the guy he worked for for ten years. Didn’t get a job in the White House.”

Cohen, Jordan said, is “behaving just like everyone else who got fired or didn’t get the job they wanted — like Andy McCabe, like  James Comey, same kind of selfish motivation after you don’t get the thing you want.”

Trump’s former “fixer” hit back, saying that “all I wanted is what I got.”

“To be personal attorney to the president,” Cohen said. “To enjoy the senior year of my son in high school and waiting for my daughter who is graduating from college to come back to New York. I got exactly what I want.”

You see!  Cohen lied about crimes Trump committed or directed Cohen to commit so that Cohen could lie about those crimes later because Cohen is pissed he didn't get a sweet White House appointment to a White House that has had more turnovers than a pastry shop!  It's all so clear!

Never heard of the guy who was my lawyer for 20 years

That would be the convictions for lying to cover up the crimes he says he helped you commit, right?  So first he lied to stay out of jail, and now he's lying to....?  And his lies are about what he did on your behalf to cover crimes you committed, so....?

Is this really the counter-offensive you want to offer?

BTW:  Cohen has every English-speaking reporter in the world repeating the words "Trump is a racist.  Trump is a conman.  Trump is a cheat."  Mostly because Cohen said them first.  You gotta admire a guy who knows how to tell his story.

I'll take "Pictures, Words" for $1000, Alex

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Can We At Least Have a Lively Discussion....

About what constitutes "stenographic coverage"?  Because I think that's part of the problem:

Because, as Eliot said great poets steal...

That, And I'm too lazy to write anything....

Not Necessarily Connected Thoughts

Apropos of the post just below:
Will journalists take any responsibility for this? Or will they just blame "the people"?
No wonder Trump loves summits.
That's because no one else has ever been BFF's like Trump and Kim.
Questions that answer themselves.
Why We Can't Have Nice Things, Dept. Did it really take Amtrak 48 hours to figure out the train had "reverse"? Can we be assured Amtrak is NEVER in charge of high-speed rail?

And, of course:  Pay No Attention to That Liar talking to Congress!  Pay Attention to Our Liar In The White House!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Is the earth flat? Opinions differ.

I was listening to BBC World Service this afternoon, when the reader announced the next story by referencing the return of infectious diseases b because of the"false" (his word) idea that vaccines are dangerous. "That is not true, he insisted, and mentioned one other anti-vaxx idea, again stating flatly it was a lie.

And I marvelled that I'd never heard a U.S. reporter speak so plainly or clearly about something so blatantly false. And I wondered if the American experiment would fail, if they started doing so.

Doesn't seem to have hurt the Brits.

Responsibility; or nothing at all

When does this cross over from imagination to historical reality?

The "Middle Ages" are the time, in popular imagination, when the Church dominated European life.  Part of the bad rap on "the Church" stems directly from the Reformation, more directly from the Reformed movement than from the Lutheran side of the Reformation.  But a great deal of the image of the "Dark Ages" comes from the Enlightenment, and yet stems from the same root as the disparagement of the Roman church by the reformers.  Both disparagements continue to this day, but that's the way history works, isn't it?

I've told the story before, about the lawyer who came to the car wreck I was a party to, and told me I couldn't have the tow truck driver move my car until the police arrived.  She (the lawyer) was much younger than me, so I'm confident in saying I left the practice of law before she entered law school (or probably high school, for that matter).  I was also old enough to remember when car insurance went from adjudging liability to "no fault," and when police officers went from detailed analysis and records of an accident as if it were a CSI crime scene, to simply getting names and proof of insurance and giving everyone an accident report number to give to their respective insurance agents.  I knew the police wanted the cars out of the traffic.  They weren't going to be drawing diagrams of the collision, much less dusting the scene for air bag powder residue.  She, however, working in an area of law far outside her skill set (who keeps a personal injury lawyer on speed dial?), knew not what she'd learned in law school, but what "everybody knows."  She knew history, but not very well.

That is an example of how we all "know" history; especially when we don't.  Let's apply that to medieval torture devices, which we are all sure are both historically accurate, and reflective of an absolutely historical indifference to human suffering once upon a time (yes, I'm looking at you, Stephen Pinker!):

And what strikes us most in considering the mediaeval tortures, is not so much their diabolical barbarity, which it is indeed impossible to exaggerate, as the extraordinary variety, and what may have be termed the artistic skill, they displayed. They represent a condition of thought in which men had pondered long and carefully on all the forms of suffering, had compared and combined different kinds of torture, till they had become the most consummate masters of their art, had expended on the subject all the resources of the utmost ingenuity, and had pursued it with the ardour of a passion.
Only one problem with that assessment, and it's a doozy:

However, when one takes a close look at books like these, it soon becomes obvious that very little of the tortures they describe took place in the Middle Ages. Instead, they recount various events from the 17th to 19th centuries, with perhaps a few anecdotes from previous eras (and in some recent books, noting the use of modern tactics like waterboarding). The authors will mention various torture devices, and usually add in some statement that while we first hear about it in the 17th century, it was ‘undoubtedly’ or ‘would have been’ also seen in medieval times.

The "Pear of Anguish, for example, doesn't appear until the 17th century, and seems actually to have been an early form of a speculum.  It was too weak in design or construction to inflict unendurable pain, but instead designed as a medical aid.  The infamous "Iron Maiden" doesn't appear in Europe until the 18th century, where the mention of it is what we could reliably call today "fake news."  It was invented out of whole cloth, in other words, during the "Enlightenment," with pretty much the purpose of proving how superior to "them" "we" are today.  Or they were, since we are a different set of people 3 centuries later; or maybe not so different, after all.   As Eric Weiskott sensibly puts it:

Take it from a professor of medieval literature: calling things you don’t like ‘medieval’ is inaccurate and unhelpful. It’s inaccurate, because we don’t live in the Middle Ages. The things that most anger, disgust, or offend us are relatively new in the grand scheme of history. And it’s unhelpful, because the ‘medieval’ label reinforces our overconfidence in ourselves and our modernity. That attitude goes all the way back to the Enlightenment in the 18th century. Not coincidentally, the Enlightenment is the movement that cemented the idea of the Middle Ages as a distinctive—and distinctly regrettable—period of European history, spanning roughly the 5th to the 15th centuries.
I'm not trying to denigrate the Enlightenment (pace, Pinker!) to say it dabbled in mythology as great as any urged against medieval Europe, but to point out humans are humans, and one of our strongest and most misguided efforts is to denigrate some group, in history or ethnicity, in order to make ourselves feel better, if not superior.  And this presents me with a thesis for another day, but one I've been mulling over for some time, just looking for the right context to present it in.  That context could be this:

If things seem especially precarious lately in Europe and the Anglosphere, it’s because our high opinion of ourselves, which we inherit from the Enlightenment, has been bumping up against reality, in ever more painfully obvious ways. No wonder. Perfect confidence in the legacy of Enlightenment achievements is impossible to reconcile with their worst consequences: colonialism, racism, economic domination, climate catastrophe. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a return to the Middle Ages. But an ideology of inevitable progress is always going to make enemies for itself wherever ‘progress’ is experienced, instead, as violence.

Or where "progress" doesn't seem to be solving all our problems for us.  The modern spiritual dilemma seems to be the "problem of suffering," a "problem" itself that comes from 18th century Europe (and suffuses 19th century Europe, in Romantic anguish that moves to post-modern angst).  It was Leibniz, after all, who gave us the concept of "theodicy," the question of God's justice, the issue upon which Voltaire broke after the earthquake in Lisbon (but oddly enough, humanity's predilections to be violent and, well, overall "human," did not cause Swift to renounce his priestly vocation.  Gulliver's Travels, by the end, makes Candide look like a children's fable.  Interesting, that.)  Today we despair because God will not save us from ourselves, and nothing else, not politics or ideology or elected officials or Academy Awards, will either.  (Spike Lee is entitled to his opinions and reactions to an industry he works in, but honestly the brouhaha over the awards for the last several years, culminating in the show last night and who won and who lost, is downright comical.  First world problems, indeed.)  I'm intrigued by this modern idea that avoiding suffering is the raison d'etre of human existence and the summa of the "good life."  It's always "my" suffering that is most important, for one thing; and then how we define suffering (chronic pain; childhood trauma; inconvenience?), that are not subject to much examination.  The suffering is the thing!  And we will not have it!  O, why must we suffer so?

For the same reason MPAAS voters won't vote the way we want them to?

I'm making light of a serious topic now, and at some point I'll reflect more seriously on this question of suffering.  But for now, I'd wish that we looked a little more plainly at ourselves, and consider that the mirror we need to be looking into, is the one that reflects us back at ourselves:

In the end, it is both more accurate and more rhetorically effective to admit that the bad things around us belong to the same history as the good things. Mass incarceration, the scientific method, terrorism, the automobile, fascism: these are irreducibly modern responses to modern conditions. No person, event, or movement can take us back to the Middle Ages, because history only points in one direction. We can learn much from the violence of the past, but not by wishing away the violence of the present.
We have met the enemy, and he is us.  No wonder we want to run away.

Name Three

Adding:  apparently Trump had a lot of fun talking to the governors.

And I have no idea what this was about, except may he imagined he was talking to children:

Duly Noted

The word today is “irony.” The date, the 24th. The month, February, which also happens to be the shortest month of the year, which also happens to be Black History Month. The year, 2019. The year, 1619. History. Her story. 1619. 2019. 400 years.

Four hundred years, our ancestors were stolen from Mother Africa and bought to Jamestown, Virginia, enslaved. Our ancestors worked the land from can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night.

My grandmother … who lived to be 100 years young, who was a Spelman College graduate even though her mother was a slave. My grandmother, who saved 50 years of social security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me Spikie-poo — she put me through Morehouse College and NYU grad film. NYU!

Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of its native people. We all connect with our ancestors. We will have love and wisdom regained, we will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment. The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there.

The closest he got to even mentioning Trump was to mention the 2020 election.  He asked that we "Make the moral choice between love versus hate."

No wonder Trump was upset.  The word that day really was "irony."

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Trees Falling in Forests

Interesting to consider that most of America will have no idea this went on today. And if they did...?

(I especially like the conceit that the last Stalinist government on earth, whose only proclaimed goal is to subdue the entire Korean peninsula, has just been waiting for a summit with Trump to instead challenge China for economic hegemony.)

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Animal House

"Double secret probation." Remember that? Everybody does. What you don't remember is that Dean Wormer invokes it based on "a little known codicil" in the constitution of Faber College, a codicil allowing the Dean to restore order in times of emergency.

Too bad he didn't think to just build a wall around Delta house, huh?

(By the way, teaching is a way of paying the rent until I finish my novel.  Too.)

Mostly For My Russian Visitors

I've no idea if this is truly Russian, but my stats tell me I get a lot of visits from Mother Russia. (Followed closely by France, but I've got nothing for them.) (I'll have to depend on NTodd to translate the Russian; if it isn't gibberish.)

I might as well add this, as Trump is clearly their man on our side.
Is this a great country or what?

Friday, February 22, 2019

I Guess Those Pleas of Innocence

don't mean that much now?

I don't think this excuses what he did (if he did it; we're still in the land of allegations, though this sounds like the prelude to a confession), but I never condemned him. Mostly, I felt sorry for him. Throwing the first stone, and all that. But I'm not keen on prisons or punishment. Neither seems all that much aligned with justice. IMHO, anyway.

And Speaking of the Rule of Law

Sometimes the system saves us from ourselves because the people trying to screw it over are THAT incompetent.

Small comfort; but you take it where you can get it.

Sympathy For The Devil?

This story has kind of slipped beneath the headlines, and yet I find it profoundly disturbing, especially coming under an Administration headed by a man who spent years challenging the birthright citizenship of the 44th President of the United States.  Apparently the State Department was convinced that Hoda Muthana was a U.S. citizen at least twice; but now they have decided she is not worthy to re-enter the U.S., despite being a citizen.

It has probably slipped away because "Muslim" and "ISIS" and even "radical Islam."  I have no sympathy for Muthana, and if she faces criminal charges she should be returned to the U.S. to face them (what, she's more dangerous than "El Chapo"?  He's the former head of one of the largest, most violent drug rings in the world.  She married a mensch in ISIS.).  Is her punishment to be denied her birthright?  That's a very slippery slope, especially coming from a President who wonders aloud why he can't prosecute a comedy show and declares the press the "enemy of the people."  Is the problem for the rest of us simply that Muthana is unsympathetic?

I know this will play out in the courts, but I'm growing tired of expecting the courts to save us from men who have no respect for the rule of law.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Everything New is Old Again

Officials have touted the new wall as harder to get over, under and through. When finished, it will cover 20 miles, replacing old post and rail barriers that were meant to stop vehicles but have been useless against people trying to cross on foot.

Everything old is new again. Now, about that "fake news" and "false reporting"......

Yay us....

I understand Slate is not Lawfare or Scotusblog, but:  really?

What Trump did not predict—and probably could not, given his tenuous grasp on the legal limitations of executive authority—is that Monday’s lawsuit is, at bottom, extremely conservative. The suit does not appeal to the justices’ empathy for vulnerable immigrants or question whether Trump’s racist motives might undermine the declaration’s legality. Instead, it relies upon ancient principles of separation of powers to make a very strong case that Trump has short-circuited the Constitution. It is not a lawsuit about equality, or dignity, but about the nuts and bolts that undergird the constitutional lawmaking process. It is wonky, and formal, terse, and unromantic. And if the Supreme Court’s conservatives have any consistency, Monday’s lawsuit should persuade them to block Trump’s wall.

Legal pleadings are not internet postings.  There are rules of procedure they must follow, and a concept called "cause of action" which they must fit their facts into.  You can't sue the government because Trump said something outrageous or stupid, any more than you can "Lock her up!" because a candidate inspired that chant at a rally.  If Trump's declaration of a national emergency can be overturned in a court of law, it won't be because 5 our of 9 Justices on the Supreme Court share the outrage of 9 out of 10 political commentators on the subject.  The law simply doesn't work that way.

So what clever thing did the 16 states do?  They actually relied on the Constitution, rather than Twitter.  Huh.

The 16 plaintiff states center their 57-page complaint around a basic argument: that the president has violated the cardinal principle of separation of powers by trammeling Congress’ will to achieve his policy preferences. Trump, the lawsuit alleges, “has used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction, military construction, and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border.” There is “no objective basis” for this declaration, as Trump himself has essentially admitted. Further, “[t]he federal government’s own data prove there is no national emergency at the southern border that warrants construction of a wall,” and unauthorized entries are “near 45-year lows.”


 But the states aren’t simply upset because they would have preferred that the money be used for military construction and law enforcement. They are upset because, they allege, the money has been taken from these projects and from their citizens to be used illegally. (emphasis in original)
The point is, you see, that litigants (!) have gotten smart after two years of Trump:

 Litigants have learned well, after two long years of arguing over the travel ban, that the five conservatives have little to no interest in probing what lies in the president’s heart. They simply don’t care about what might or might not be a pretext, or whether tweets should count. They want clinical analysis of formal constitutional authority and presidential power. 

I know Dahlia Lithwick is a lawyer; I assume Mark Joseph Stern is, too.  But lordy, this is a sad excuse for analysis even by non-lawyers.  Litigants (not lawyers?  are litigants writing their own pleadings now?) have learned to argue the law, not make political arguments?  Who knew that would work in a court of law?  Yes, I know judges used Trump's tweets as the factual basis of their legal reasoning in ruling against this Administration, and the Supreme Court pointedly refused to do that in upholding the final version of the Muslim travel ban.  But the Supreme Court is ALWAYS going to prefer law over incident; that's what they do!  How they do it may be a subject of controversy (I still despise the reasoning and the outcome of the Hobby Lobby decision; I know how critics of Roe v. Wade feel on that subject.), but that, as the GEICO ads say, is what they do.  I'm glad Lithwick and Stern are optimistic about this suit; but do they have to dumb down the legal arguments to the point they are barely arguments anymore?

Besides, I think this is a much better analysis of the legal issues:

Here is a broader lesson. It is important to distinguish between two questions. The first is whether a president has undertaken an action that is, in some technical sense, unlawful. The second is whether a president has undertaken an action that is, in some fundamental sense, illegitimate in a democratic society.

The answer to the first question is probably yes -- but it’s a mistake to be sure about that. The answer to the second question is certainly yes -- and it’s a mistake to be unsure about that. 

Now:  is that illegitimacy something the courts will decide voids the President's declaration of an emergency, and all actions taken pursuant to that declaration?  Quite honestly:  it would be a mistake to be sure about that.  Of course, the decision that an action is unlawful is always a technical issue; but my fundamental issue is always your technical issue; so that argument, even that use of the term, doesn't advance our understanding very much.  Better to just say we live in hope that the courts will save us from ourselves; because as a government, that's pretty much the only hope we have left.

Yay, us.

Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be?

“The Trump administration continues its attempts to wrongfully strip citizens of their citizenship,” Shibly told “Hoda Muthana had a valid US passport and is a citizen. She was born in Hackensack, NJ in October 1994, months after her father stopped being a diplomat.”
Most people born in the United States are accorded so-called birthright citizenship but there are exceptions:

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a person born in the U.S. to a foreign diplomatic officer is not subject to U.S. law and is not automatically considered a U.S. citizen at birth.

It gets more complicated because:

Britain, however, pointedly refused to follow Trump's tweet (and when did those become official government directives?  Or even official government statements?), and denied another ISIS follower re-entry to Britain; except they have a law allowing them to revoke or deny citizenship.  So don't do as we do, but please do as we want.  

It's supposed to be hard, if not impossible, to revoke American citizenship; and this denial ties in all too conveniently with Trump's harangues against birthright citizenship.  Whether or not Muthana should be allowed into the U.S. is one question; the basis for denying her permission is another.

Hard cases make bad law, but this is a bad decision based on what might well be simply the whims of a racist xenophobic President.  It's the 21st century, we're supposed to be better than this.

"42", or, Am I Taking This Seriously Enough?

I know it's a metaphor, but if you listen carefully, you hear Wittgenstein being invoked:

It happens again and again that, when there are many possible descriptions of a physical situation—all making equivalent predictions, yet all wildly different in premise—one will turn out to be preferable, because it extends to an underlying reality, seeming to account for more of the universe at once. And yet this new description might, in turn, have multiple formulations—and one of those alternatives may apply even more broadly. It’s as though physicists are playing a modified telephone game in which, with each whisper, the message is translated into a different language. The languages describe different scales or domains of the same reality but aren’t always related etymologically. In this modified game, the objective isn’t—or isn’t only—to seek a bedrock equation governing reality’s smallest bits. The existence of this branching, interconnected web of mathematical languages, each with its own associated picture of the world, is what needs to be understood.

Now, is that because Wittgenstein helps us understand reality as it is?  Or is that because we understand reality as it is through the ideas, now, of Wittgenstein?  Did he, in other words, discover something true about reality?  Or do we interpret reality because of the influence of his ideas on our discourse?  And even if one answer "extends to a deeper or more general description of reality," does that mean that answer is right?  When I studied the New Testament under a member of the Jesus Seminar (ask your grandpa, punk!), he taught us the probabilities (not mathematical!) of statements in the Gospels being the authentic words of Jesus of Nazareth, and how the Seminar decided which words were invented, which were distorted, and which were closest to the original speaker.  And it was all, of course, a matter of interpretation and argument.  Where is the hard reality?  Somewhere in between, just as the nature of God and God's revelation is known, not in the words of Scripture, but in the interpretations of Scripture, and the interpretations of those interpretations, and the interpretations of the interpretations of the interpretations.  It's turtles all the way down!, although in this case the description applies to the Midrash of the Hebrew Scriptures, not to the failure of "religion" to be a "hard science."

 It’s for this reason that Paul Dirac, a British pioneer of quantum theory, stressed the importance of reformulating existing theories: it’s by finding new ways of describing known phenomena that you can escape the trap of provisional or limited belief. This was the trick that led Dirac to predict antimatter, in 1928. “It is not always so that theories which are equivalent are equally good,” he said, five decades later, “because one of them may be more suitable than the other for future developments.”

Or, as the E&R church put it long ago:

Grant that thy Church may be delivered from traditions which have lost their life, from usage which has lost its spirit, from institutions which no longer give life and power to their generation; that the Church may ever shine as a light in the world and be as a city set on a hill.


Which sentiment is the illegitimate rewriting of rules to suit changed circumstances, and which is the legitimate alteration of understanding to fit new insights and discoveries?  This, for example, is something I've always understood about philosophy and theology; that is, that you can't discard the ideas you don't like and simply replace them with those that you do, or ignore new ideas because they challenge your preferred notions:

Take general relativity. Physicists know that Einstein’s theory is incomplete. Yet it is a spectacular artifice, with a spare, taut mathematical structure. Fiddle with the equations even a little and you lose all of its beauty and simplicity. It turns out that, if you want to discover a deeper way of explaining the universe, you can’t take the equations of the existing description and subtly deform them. Instead, you must make a jump to a totally different, equally perfect mathematical structure. What’s the point, theorists wonder, of the perfection found at every level, if it’s bound to be superseded?
That last, of course, is the question of philosophers and theologians for millennia.  In theology it's the source of humility (one; theology itself should be founded on the humility of the servant, but that's a theological issue, too).  And this is where it really seems religious (although this thinking may simply be founded in Aristotle's conviction that all things have a telos; but then were does that telos come from?):

It seems inconceivable that this intricate web of perfect mathematical descriptions is random or happenstance. This mystery must have an explanation. But what might such an explanation look like? One common conception of physics is that its laws are like a machine that humans are building in order to predict what will happen in the future. The “theory of everything” is like the ultimate prediction machine—a single equation from which everything follows. But this outlook ignores the existence of the many different machines, built in all manner of ingenious ways, that give us equivalent predictions.
Oddly, this language sounds extremely religious to me, too; but maybe that's because I know the work of the Christian mystics, and am inclined to hear echoes of the Cloud of Unknowing (which I understand not as beyond knowledge, but as actually shedding knowledge in order to...well, know):

Arkani-Hamed now sees the ultimate goal of physics as figuring out the mathematical question from which all the answers flow. “The ascension to the tenth level of intellectual heaven,” he told me, “would be if we find the question to which the universe is the answer, and the nature of that question in and of itself explains why it was possible to describe it in so many different ways.” It’s as though physics has been turned inside out. It now appears that the answers already surround us. It’s the question we don’t know.
So is the question "God"?  Or "42"?  The question to which the universe is the answer is not really a religious question, since religion is not really concerned with "why" on that scale, or more accurately, in that language game.  And which language game is physics going to play now?  Because this is all getting very Godelian, too.....

More Fun With Twitter

Or maybe it's a strategy, since no one even gets to the issue of his complete ignorance of how international trade is not a simple zero sum game.

Am I....?

I think the very nature of belief in God that is common to the monotheistic religions lends itself to that kind of serious consideration in a way that atheism doesn't naturally hold.  But first there is the choice to believe that reality is real and consequential. 
This identifies quite nicely a critical turn in my own thinking.  For anything to be of any consequence, one must first believe that reality is real and consequential.  If human life is a mere ephemera, a flash of light in the eternal darkness, a speck of dust in the endless void of space, a tick of the watch in measureless eternity, then reality itself is neither real nor consequential, but merely    and false perception.  If, however, reality is real and consequential, then the question holds true for all of us: "How should we then live?"

That can be a philosophical question, or it can be a religious one; it can be an ethical inquiry, or a moral one.  The point is it can be asked, and even if the answer is a Buddhist claim of illusion (I won't distort Buddhism or demean it by assuming to know its tenets when I don't), even that claim assumes reality is real and consequential.  We start there, or we cannot move on.

So we set aside Descartes cogito.  No real effort; but no small feat, either.  That cogito is considered the foundation of modern philosophy, which is to say "modern" (v. ancient) thinking, but it is a principle that extends back to Plato.  Descartes really only sheared away (or allowed the shearing away) of the religious trappings Plato had acquired since the 4th century; he didn't really plant a flag on a fundamentally new firmament.  To abandon the cogito is not to move against, or even away from, Plato fundamentally; but it is to move away from that subjective insistence that human thought is all we know, and all we can know.

Or at least we now have grounds for doing so.  Hans Kung is not exploring a new continent, either.  He is largely bringing Catholic teachings into the 21st (late 20th, actually) century.  But everything old is new again, and to understand reality is real and consequential is to understand that the answer to the question "How should we then live?" can have real importance.

Do we pursue fame?  Money?  Absolute authority on the internet? ("SOMEBODY ON THE INTERNET IS WRONG!")  The obliteration of all that outrages us about sharing this planet with other people (the apparent raison d'etre of most internet discussions)?  Do we chase God and pursue salvation and live our lives as strictly within bounds of "morality" as we possibly can, hoping to find favor in the hereafter?

Or are we our brother's keeper?  Should we be first of all?  Or last and least of all?  How should we then live?

To quote myself from another time and place:

 Our hope is not in the victory, but in the defeat; our hope is not in the one so powerful he will save us all, but in the one so powerless he is willing to die for us all. Our hope is not in overcoming, our hope is in being found worthy because of our willingness to place service above everything else we know, to make service the reason for everything we do. Our hope is in the reversal of what we expect. If our hope was only in our gain, we would reach a point where all we could expect was to hold tenaciously to what we had, to keep it "ours" for as long as we could, to protect it against all other claimants and cry "no fair!" to the driver when someone else claimed to right to ride shotgun. We have to restore our claim to priority over and over and over again, and it takes all our energy, and we can never be certain we’ll prevail again. That condition is permanent.

But also permanent is the condition of others; also permanent is that we can always be of service to others. And there is no competition there, no risk of loss, no concern that we will lose our place of privilege. There is no privilege in service, except that we get to model Christ, and we get to serve the Christ, and by service we become more like Christ. We, too, will drink the cup and undergo the baptism of our Lord and Savior. But that is because we will not be in charge of others, but in service to others. There is no privilege in service, except that in service, we do as God did. In service, we model the Creator of the Universe. And our energy is used in help, not holding on; in giving, not gain. It is the paradox of the powerless, that, letting go of power, we have all the power we will ever need.

This is the word of God the letter to the Hebrews is talking about; the word of God that is alive and active, that cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword, that separates soul and spirit, joint and marrow, that discriminates among the purposes and the thoughts of the heart. It is the bottom line, we say, that matters; it is the outcome, not the intent, sometimes not even the action. Because at the bottom, is where everything happens to everybody. At the bottom, among the servants, is where we find God. Because at the bottom, God serves everyone, and at the bottom, is where we serve and honor God. It is the reverse of what the world teaches, of those who supposedly rule over foreigners.

Our hope is in reversal. Our hope is in the fact that everything we know is wrong. Our hope is in the power of powerlessness. Our hope is not in power. God is all powerful because God is powerless. No, not powerless, but acts without power. God reverses everything we know. God tells us to race, not for the top, but for the bottom. The top is ephemeral, it is false; it is a place only in legend and song. The bottom is where we all are, and where we never rise from. When you are #1, the only way to go is down. Go down, then, because #1 is not the first, but the last; not the ruler, but the servant. Amen.