Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sunday Reading

Slow Learner — Robin Wright in The New Yorker on Trump’s dangerous cluelessness.

Max Boot, a lifelong conservative who advised three Republican Presidential candidates on foreign policy, keeps a folder labelled “Trump Stupidity File” on his computer. It’s next to his “Trump Lies” file. “Not sure which is larger at this point,” he told me this week. “It’s neck-and-neck.”

Six months into the Trump era, foreign-policy officials from eight past Administrations told me they are aghast that the President is still so witless about the world. “He seems as clueless today as he was on January 20th,” Boot, who is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said. Trump’s painful public gaffes, they warn, indicate that he’s not reading, retaining, or listening to his Presidential briefings. And the newbie excuse no longer flies.

“Trump has an appalling ignorance of the current world, of history, of previous American engagement, of what former Presidents thought and did,” Geoffrey Kemp, who worked at the Pentagon during the Ford Administration and at the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration, reflected. “He has an almost studious rejection of the type of in-depth knowledge that virtually all of his predecessors eventually gained or had views on.”

Criticism of Donald Trump among Democrats who served in senior national-security positions is predictable and rife. But Republicans—who are historically ambitious on foreign policy—are particularly pained by the President’s missteps and misstatements. So are former senior intelligence officials who have avoided publicly criticizing Presidents until now.

“The President has little understanding of the context”—of what’s happening in the world—“and even less interest in hearing the people who want to deliver it,” Michael Hayden, a retired four-star general and former director of both the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency, told me. “He’s impatient, decision-oriented, and prone to action. It’s all about the present tense. When he asks, ‘What the hell’s going on in Iraq?’ people around him have learned not to say, ‘Well, in 632 . . . ’ ” (That was the year when the Prophet Muhammad died, prompting the beginning of the Sunni-Shiite split.*)

“He just doesn’t have an interest in the world,” Hayden said.

I asked top Republican and intelligence officials from eight Administrations what they thought was the one thing the President needs to grasp to succeed on the world stage. Their various replies: embrace the fact that the Russians are not America’s friends. Don’t further alienate the Europeans, who are our friends. Encourage human rights—a founding principle of American identity—and don’t make priority visits to governments that curtail them, such as Poland and Saudi Arabia. Understand that North Korea’s nuclear program can’t be outsourced to China, which can’t or won’t singlehandedly fix the problem anyway, and realize that military options are limited. Pulling out of innovative trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will boost China’s economy and secure its global influence—to America’s disadvantage. Stop bullying his counterparts. And put the Russia case behind him by coöperating with the investigation rather than trying to discredit it.

Trump’s latest blunder was made during an appearance in the Rose Garden with Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, on July 25th. “Lebanon is on the front lines in the fight against ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah,” Trump pronounced. He got the basics really wrong. Hezbollah is actually part of the Lebanese government—and has been for a quarter century—with seats in parliament and Cabinet posts. Lebanon’s Christian President, Michel Aoun, has been allied with Hezbollah for a decade. As Trump spoke, Hezbollah’s militia and the Lebanese Army were fighting ISIS and an Al Qaeda affiliate occupying a chunk of eastern Lebanon along its border with Syria. They won.

The list of other Trump blunders is long. In March, he charged that Germany owed “vast sums” to the United States for NATO. It doesn’t. No NATO member pays the United States—and never has—so none is in arrears. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, in April, Trump claimed that Korea “actually used to be part of China.” Not true. After he arrived in Israel from Saudi Arabia, in May, Trump said that he had just come from the Middle East. (Did he even look at a map?) During his trip to France, in July, the President confused Napoleon Bonaparte, the diminutive emperor who invaded Russia and Egypt, with Napoleon III, who was France’s first popularly elected President, oversaw the design of modern Paris, and is still the longest-serving head of state since the French Revolution (albeit partly as an emperor, too). And that’s before delving into his demeaning tweets about other world leaders and flashpoints.

“The sheer scale of his lack of knowledge is what has astounded me—and I had low expectations to begin with,” David Gordon, the director of the State Department’s policy-planning staff under Condoleezza Rice, during the Bush Administration, told me.

Trump’s White House has also flubbed basics. It misspelled the name of Britain’s Prime Minister three times in its official schedule of her January visit. After it dropped the “H” in Theresa May, several British papers noted that Teresa May is a soft-porn actress best known for her films “Leather Lust” and “Whitehouse: The Sex Video.” In a statement last month, the White House called Xi Jinping the President of the “Republic of China”—which is the island of Taiwan—rather than the leader of the People’s Republic, the Communist mainland. The two nations have been epic rivals in Asia for more than half a century. The White House also misidentified Shinzo Abe as the President of Japan—he’s the Prime Minister—and called the Prime Minister of Canada “Joe” instead of Justin Trudeau.

Trump’s policy mistakes, large and small, are taking a toll. “American leadership in the world—how do I phrase this, it’s so obvious, but apparently not to him—is critical to our success, and it depends eighty per cent on the credibility of the President’s word,” John McLaughlin, who worked at the C.I.A. under seven Presidents, from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, and ended up as the intelligence agency’s acting director, told me. “Trump thinks having a piece of chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago bought him a relationship with Xi Jinping. He came in as the least prepared President we’ve had on foreign policy,” McLaughlin added. “Our leadership in the world is slipping away. It’s slipping through our hands.”

And a world in dramatic flux compounds the stakes. Hayden cited the meltdown in the world order that has prevailed since the Second World War; the changing nature of the state and its power; China’s growing military and economic power; and rogue nations seeking nuclear weapons, among others. “Yet the most disruptive force in the world today is the United States of America,” the former C.I.A. director said.

The closest similarity to the Trump era was the brief Warren G. Harding Administration, in the nineteen-twenties, Philip Zelikow, who worked for the Reagan and two Bush Administrations, and who was the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, told me. Harding, who died, of a heart attack, after twenty-eight months in office, was praised because he stood aside and let his Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes, lead the way. Hughes had already been governor of New York, a Supreme Court Justice, and the Republican Presidential nominee in 1916, losing narrowly to Woodrow Wilson, who preceded Harding.

Under Trump, the White House has seized control of key foreign-policy issues. The President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a real-estate developer, has been charged with brokering Middle East peace, navigating U.S.-China relations, and the Mexico portfolio. In April, Kushner travelled to Iraq to help chart policy against ISIS. Washington scuttlebutt is consumed with tales of how Trump has stymied his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the former C.E.O. of ExxonMobil.

“The national-security system of the United States has been tested over a period of seventy years,” John Negroponte, the first director of national security and a former U.N. Ambassador, told me. “President Trump disregards the system at his peril.”

Trump’s contempt for the U.S. intelligence community has also sparked alarm. “I wish the President would rely more on, and trust more, the intelligence agencies and the work that is produced, sometimes at great risk to individuals around the world, to inform the Commander-in-Chief,” Mitchell Reiss, who was chief of the State Department’s policy-planning team under Secretary of State Colin Powell, told me.

Republican critics are divided on whether Trump can grow into the job. “Trump is completely irredeemable,” Eliot A. Cohen, who was counselor to Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, told me. “He has a feral instinct for self-survival, but he’s unteachable. The ban on Muslims coming into the country and building a wall, and having the Mexicans pay for it, that was all you needed to know about this guy on foreign affairs. This is a man who is idiotic and bigoted and ignorant of the law.” Cohen was a ringleader of an open letter warning, during the campaign, that Trump’s foreign policy was “wildly inconsistent and unmoored.”

But other Republicans from earlier Administrations still hold out hope. “Whenever Trump begins to learn about an issue—the Middle East conflict or North Korea—he expresses such surprise that it could be so complicated, after saying it wasn’t that difficult,” Gordon, from the Bush Administration, said. “The good news, when he says that, is it means he has a little bit of knowledge.” So far, however, the learning curve has been pitifully—and dangerously—slow.

*This post has been updated to clarify the contextual significance of the year 632.

Pope Francis vs. The Religious Right — Charles P. Pierce on the smackdown from the Vatican.

I was intrigued by the story in The New York Times the other day concerning the warning shot fired by Papa Francesco and his allies in the press across the bow of politicized conservative Catholics who have spent the last decades or so making common ground with politicized Protestant Bible-bangers who no longer referred to any pope as The Whore of Babylon.

Once, long ago, on the night before Ronald Reagan became president, I sat in a Capitol Hill bar with a representative of the Irish embassy who was drinking heavily because some backwater Southern congressman had invited the Reverend Ian Paisley as one of his official inauguration guests. (At the time, Paisley was still the world’s most virulent anti-Catholic and had not yet signed aboard the peace process with Martin McGuinness.) Paisleys were heavily involved in, among other Religious Right institutions, Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. My friend spent a lot of time that night with his head in his hands.

However, as the years went by, a certain strain of American Catholicism looked over at the success the Religious Right was having in American politics and asked the profound theological question, “Me Some Too, Yes?” They’d been restive for decades about the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and now conservatism was on the march and they didn’t want to get left behind. They were encouraged in this by the theological reactionaries in the Vatican, including Pope John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger, who later would become pope himself. At a previous gig, I wrote about this political counter-reformation at the moment it was being wrong-footed by the massive international conspiracy to obstruct justice undertaken by the institutional Church over the crimes of the hierarchical clergy. This was a bad time for the K Street Catholics in Washington.

Now, it seems as though Papa Francesco is taking a long pastoral look at what these people, and their allies in the hierarchy, have been up to. From the Times:

The authors, writing in a Vatican-vetted journal, singled out Stephen K.Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, as a “supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics” that has stymied action against climate change and exploited fears of migrants and Muslims with calls for “walls and purifying deportations.” The article warns that conservative American Catholics have strayed dangerously into the deepening political polarization in the United States. The writers even declare that the worldview of American evangelical and hard-line Catholics, which is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, is “not too far apart” from jihadists.

A mark, that will surely leave.

American Catholicism, he argued, echoing the article’s thesis, “has become different than mainstream European Catholicism and mainstream Latin American Catholicism,” and has fallen “into the hands of the religious right.” The authors of the article argue that American evangelical and ultraconservative Catholics risk corrupting the Roman Catholic faith with an ideology intended to inject “religious influence in the political sphere.” They suggest that so-called values voters are using the banners of religious liberty and opposition to abortion to try to supplant secularism with a “theocratic type of state.”

All of this puts Callista Gingrich, our new ambassador to the Vatican, and the third wife of N. Leroy Gingrich, Definer of civilization’s rules and Leader (perhaps) of the civilizing forces, in something of a nutcracker. N. Leroy converted to Catholicism after marrying Callista. You can puzzle out the timeline of Gingrich’s personal history at your leisure. As someone told NPR:

But his conversion doesn’t erase his past. After all, Gingrich has a history of marital infidelity. He cheated on his first wife, and his relationship with Callista, his third wife, began six years before the end of his second marriage. She was a staffer 23 years his junior; he was a Republican congressman who had yet to become speaker of the House. “Without a doubt,” says Rozell, “many people will find it rather strange, ironic, whatever, that his religious journey that led him to convert to Catholicism began with an affair he had with a young woman while he was still married to his second wife.”

The Gingrichs are K Street Catholics all the way, devotees of the late Pope John Paul II and of his successor, the former Cardinal Ratzinger. From The New York Times:

Mr. Gingrich is a culture wars Catholic for whom the church seems a logical home for conservative Republicans. Generations removed from the Kennedy years when Catholics predictably voted Democratic, this is a new era in which conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants have joined forces in what they see as a defining struggle against abortion, same-sex marriage and secularism.

This would appear to be the era out of which Papa Francesco is trying to muscle the Church. (This week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops slammed the Trump Administration for its proposed new policy on legal immigrants.) This will make Papa Francesco and our new ambassador and her husband a fascinating interface. God works in mysterious ways, but N. Leroy Gingrich is a doozy. Of course, the Vatican has needed new gargoyles for a while now.

Way Off Broadway — John Leland on Sam Shepard in New York.

Sam Shepard, who died last week at 73, used to say that he was lucky to have landed in New York at just the right time. Rents were cheap, rock ’n’ roll was blooming, sex and drugs were easy, and adventurous no-budget theaters were opening in makeshift spaces downtown. For a 19-year-old arriving from California in 1963, handsome and unpolished, the city was a charmed playground.

His first great theatrical creation was himself, an image that still resonates with the people who knew him then.

“He knew how to invent himself as a character,” said Jean-Claude van Itallie, who was playwright in residence at the Open Theater, which formed in a warehouse earlier that year. “That whole persona of Sam as a cowboy — he was as middle-class as all of us. We were all tremendously ambitious, but we didn’t easily admit it.”

Mr. Shepard reached New York after a cross-country tour with a Christian theater group. Acting had been an escape from his father, a World War II bomber pilot who had brought the scars of war home.

In New York he looked up a high school friend, Charles Mingus Jr., son of the jazz great, who got him a job at the Village Gate nightclub, “cleaning up dishes and bringing Nina Simone ice,” as Mr. Shepard once described it. The two friends shared a cold-water apartment on Avenue C and Ninth Street, paying $60 a month in rent.

Mr. Mingus knew him first as Sam Rogers or Steve Rogers, the family surname. Even then, Mr. Mingus said in an interview this week, “He could walk into a room with a typewriter and not leave until he finished a play. No revisions, just typing.”

When Ralph Cook, a waiter at the Village Gate, started the Theater Genesis at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in 1964, he gave Mr. Shepard his first break — a pair of experimental one-acts that used disjointed dialogue to “change the audience’s cognition,” Mr. Mingus said.

The Village Voice loved it, and Mr. Shepard was off. In the next six years, he had 18 plays produced — including six that won Obie awards. And then he left the city, only sporadically to return.

“He was blessed with good fortune, always in the right place at the right time,” said Peter Stampfel, who met Mr. Shepard in a pawnshop in the East Village where Mr. Stampfel was retrieving a violin he had pawned to buy amphetamines.

Off Off Broadway in the mid-1960s was wide open. An actor in one theater might be designing costumes in a second, then rushing to see a new play in a third. Audiences typically did not pay, and sometimes did not show up.

“It was an incredibly exciting time,” said Tony Barsha, a playwright and director who worked with Mr. Shepard at Theater Genesis. “Creativity was just flowing all over the place.’’

“We thumbed our noses at Broadway and Off Broadway because they were so slick and commercial, and what we were doing was just off the wall stuff,’’ he added. “Nobody was thinking of art for the ages. Sam was just dashing this stuff off. His early work was just what came out of his head. It had nothing to do with dramatic construction or form or history. I think he was using a lot of drugs at the time, speed mainly. I did the same thing.”

The budget to stage a play at the Judson Poets Theater on Washington Square was $37.50, said Albert Poland, who produced some of Mr. Shepard’s early plays. The budget at Theater Genesis, where Mr. Shepard became a regular, was possibly lower.

“That was the dangerous place,” Mr. Poland said, longingly.

Theater Genesis, said the playwright Murray Mednick, was the most macho of the Off Off Broadway spots, “very interested in street language. There was a lot of turmoil, and out of that came this hard-bitten kind of writing, and Sam was a part of that. But he had a sense of America, of being an American, that translated on the stage.”

When Mr. Shepard took one of his plays to Ellen Stewart, a former clothing designer who started La MaMa Experimental Theater Club in 1962, she didn’t even look at the script: “‘We’re gonna do it, baby,’’’ he recalled her saying.

Mr. Stampfel invited him to play drums in his band, the Holy Modal Rounders, a psychedelic folk group that went on to open for the Velvet Underground, Ike and Tina Turner, Pink Floyd and others. The two shared a taste for drugs and a preference for energy over musical finesse, Mr. Stampfel said this week.

“When we started, he never mentioned writing plays or that he got a grant,’’ Mr. Stampfel said. “We’d mention his name to other people and they’d say, you mean the guy who writes plays?”

With the war raging in Vietnam, and F.B.I. agents storming the apartment on Avenue C looking for subversives, Mr. Shepard avoided the draft by feigning a heroin habit.

When Mr. Shepard married O-Lan Johnson, an actress who appeared in some of his plays, in 1969, Mr. Stampfel and the other Rounders performed and handed purple hits of LSD to guests as they entered.

A year later, shortly after the couple had their first child, Mr. Shepard was playing drums with the band on Bleecker Street, when a journalist came backstage to interview them. The journalist was Patti Smith. “She went straight to Sam, and they went straight to the Chelsea,” Mr. Stampfel said.

“Some people are one-woman men,” Mr. Mingus said. “And some people never figure out which one woman to be with.”

Their public affair, loosely echoed in a play they wrote together, “Cowboy Mouth,” lasted until Mr. Shepard and his wife reconciled and before long left New York for London and Nova Scotia.

By then, the East Village was changing, and Off Off Broadway with it. Mr. van Itallie, Mr. Shepard, Lanford Wilson, John Guare and other downtown writers who started at La MaMa or Caffe Cino found bigger audiences further uptown.

But downtown still had a last bit of theater for Mr. Shepard. In the spring of 1970, he had plays opening at Lincoln Center and in the Village, at the Astor Place Theater. It was a major accomplishment, and most of the downtown crowd celebrated Mr. Shepard’s rise, Mr. van Itallie said.

Joey Skaggs, a street artist and prankster, thought Mr. Shepard needed to be saved. “He was making it,” Mr. Skaggs said.

So for an opening-night prank, he planned to “kidnap” Mr. Shepard and put him on a bus out of town. It was a conceptual joke between friends, Mr. Skaggs said. But when six characters in gangster suits rushed toward Mr. Shepard, he started punching. The joke fell apart. The reviews for both shows were bad.

Mr. Shepard, of course, went on to movie stardom and success as a major American dramatist. His plays became more formal and polished. Caffe Cino, the Open Theater and Theater Genesis folded; La MaMa lives on as a cultural institution. None of the four theaters’ founders survives.

Last October, Mr. Stampfel said, Mr. Shepard called him out of the blue to wish him a happy birthday. The two had largely fallen out of contact.

“I knew he was saying goodbye,” Mr. Stampfel said.

Doonesbury — Insurance junkies.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Reading

Legacy of Lies — Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker on Sean Spicer’s record at the White House podium.

Sean Spicer’s resignation, on Friday morning, after six months of routinely lying from the White House lectern and then ending on-camera briefings altogether, once again raises one of the most important questions of the Trump era: What is the red line that Trump must cross for his aides to quit on principle? For Spicer, the answer was a new boss he didn’t like. Trump, over the objections of Spicer and Spicer’s closest White House ally, Reince Priebus, the President’s chief of staff, hired Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier and frequent Trump surrogate on TV, as his new White House communications director.

The hire is unusual for several reasons. The role of communications director, a job that has been vacant since May, when Michael Dubke, a low-key Republican strategist, resigned from the position, is traditionally reserved for campaign operatives. Scaramucci is a Wall Street guy—he started at Goldman Sachs and later founded his own investment firms—and a former host on the Fox Business channel. Before the Trump campaign, his experience in politics was more on the fund-raising side than on the strategy side. In the Trump campaign, which was small, he took on a broader role as an adviser to the candidate and appeared frequently on TV, where he stood out because he was less ideological than the usual pro-Trump pundits.

More unusual is the way Scaramucci was hired. In a normal White House, the chief of staff is in charge of hiring. For the President to overrule his chief of staff on such an important position is an enormous embarrassment for Priebus. During a briefing on Friday afternoon, Scaramucci tried to downplay the friction between him and Priebus, but for months he has been telling people of his frustrations with the chief of staff. Scaramucci was originally asked to run the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, but Priebus blocked Scaramucci from taking the job, even after Scaramucci sold his investment firm to take it.

Scaramucci then appealed directly to Trump to find him another position. He had three meetings scheduled with the President, and they were all cancelled. Scaramucci believed that Priebus, who is in charge of Trump’s schedule, worked to keep him away from Trump. Scaramucci “had to go over the top and directly to the President,” a source familiar with the episode said. “The problem is that Trump is in such a bubble now, he doesn’t know what the hell is going on.” Scaramucci was offered the ambassadorship to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in Europe.

If Priebus thought he had rid the White House of Scaramucci, he was wrong. In recent weeks, Scaramucci was a familiar figure at the Trump Hotel in Washington, meeting with reporters and Trump advisers. Ostensibly, he was there because he was working as an official at the D.C.-based Export-Import Bank. But, clearly, something else was in the works.

For Spicer, Trump’s decision to install Scaramucci above him—the press secretary reports to the communications director—was too much to take. Given the highs and lows of Spicer’s time at the White House, this was an unusual choice of hills to die on. Spicer began his tenure as press secretary with a bizarre rant about how Trump’s Inauguration audience “was the largest audience to ever witness an Inauguration, period.” (It wasn’t.) For someone who was never fully inside the Trump circle of trust, the performance had the ring of an eager gang initiate committing a crime to please the boss. Trump, who regularly watched the briefings, which were broadcast live on cable news, reportedly complained about Spicer’s pale suits and later seemed to become aggravated that Spicer was becoming famous, or at least infamous. Spicer’s temper tantrums, ill-fitting suits, and mispronunciations turned him into a pop-culture sensation.

But it was Spicer’s lies and defense of lies that he will be remembered for. Spicer defended Trump’s lie about how there were three million fraudulent votes in the 2016 election. He spent weeks using shifting stories to defend Trump’s lie about President Barack Obama wiretapping Trump Tower. In trying to explain the urgency of the attack on Syria, Spicer explained, “You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

Last week, he lied about the nature of the meeting at Trump Tower in June, 2016, between senior Trump-campaign officials and several people claiming to have information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. “There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for discussion about adoption,” Spicer claimed, bizarrely, because Donald Trump, Jr., had already admitted that the meeting was about Russian dirt on Clinton. On March 10th, Spicer came to the lectern wearing an upside-down American flag, which is a signal of dire distress.

Despite the repeated humiliations of standing before reporters and saying things he had to know were untrue, what finally made working at the White House intolerable for Spicer was a minor staffing issue. Scaramucci comes to his new job with a good reputation. He is not a conservative ideologue—he is pro-choice, a moderate on gun control, and anti-death penalty—and he is well-liked by reporters. But working for Trump can have a corrosive effect on good people. Scaramucci’s task is to, without sacrificing his own reputation, communicate on behalf of a President who routinely lies. Scaramucci has his work cut out for him.

Saving Planned Parenthood — Becca Andrews in Mother Jones on how an obscure Senate rule may have saved Planned Parenthood.

Planed Parenthood received good news late Friday afternoon: Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough released a determination that says certain provisions in the Republican’s latest Obamacare replacement bill, the “Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA),” violate the 1985 Byrd Rule. That means some of the bill’s provisions—including the one to defund Planned Parenthood for one year—cannot pass without a full 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans currently only hold 52 of the Senate’s seats.

The Byrd Rule, named after Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, states that any legislation that directly affects the federal budget by decreasing spending or increasing revenue can be passed through reconciliation, the process that Republicans are using to try and pass their latest health care law. But some of the bill’s provisions don’t appear to qualify: As my colleague Kevin Drum points out, the provision that would prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds probably “doesn’t pass muster because it doesn’t affect total spending, only where money can be spent.” “This means that, should the Senate proceed to the bill, these provisions may be struck from the legislation absent 60 votes,” the parliamentarian’s decision explains.

“Targeting Planned Parenthood because we provide abortion is an obvious violation of the Byrd Rule because the provision’s primary intent is clearly political, and the budgetary impact is ‘merely incidental’ to that purpose,” said Dana Singiser, vice president of public policy and government affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Other casualties of the bill include the replacement to Obamacare’s individual mandate, which under the BCRA would have meant that anyone who had a lapse in coverage for more than a month and then signed up on the exchange would have had to wait six months for full coverage to take effect. The parliamentarian also stated that the measure in the BCRA to restrict federal tax credits from being used for abortion violates the Byrd Rule.

It’s possible that Republicans will try to overturn the parliamentarian’s decision, but doing so would violate decades of precedent in the Senate.

Sky Faerie — Clay Routledge in the New York Times on defining religion.

Are Americans becoming less religious? It depends on what you mean by “religious.”

Polls certainly indicate a decline in religious affiliation, practice and belief. Just a couple of decades ago, about 95 percent of Americans reported belonging to a religious group. This number is now around 75 percent. And far fewer are actively religious: The percentage of regular churchgoers may be as low as 15 to 20 percent. As for religious belief, the Pew Research Center found that from 2007 to 2014 the percentage of Americans who reported being absolutely confident God exists dropped from 71 percent to 63 percent.

Nonetheless, there is reason to doubt the death of religion, or at least the death of what you might call the “religious mind” — our concern with existential questions and our search for meaning. A growing body of research suggests that the evidence for a decline in traditional religious belief, identity and practice does not reflect a decline in this underlying spiritual inclination.

Ask yourself: Why are people religious to begin with? One view is that religion is an ancient way of understanding and organizing the world that persists largely because societies pass it down from generation to generation. This view is related to the idea that the rise of science entails the fall of religion. It also assumes that the strength of religion is best measured by how much doctrine people accept and how observant they are.

This view, however, does not capture the fundamental nature of the religious mind — our awareness of, and need to reckon with, the transience and fragility of our existence, and how small and unimportant we seem to be in the grand scheme of things. In short: our quest for significance.

Dozens of studies show a strong link between religiosity and existential concerns about death and meaning. For example, when research participants are presented with stimuli that bring death to mind or challenge a sense of meaning in life, they exhibit increased religiosity and interest in religious or spiritual ideas. Another body of research shows that religious beliefs provide and protect meaning.

Furthermore, evidence suggests that the religious mind persists even when we lose faith in traditional religious beliefs and institutions. Consider that roughly 30 percent of Americans report they have felt in contact with someone who has died. Nearly 20 percent believe they have been in the presence of a ghost. About one-third of Americans believe that ghosts exist and can interact with and harm humans; around two-thirds hold supernatural or paranormal beliefs of some kind, including beliefs in reincarnation, spiritual energy and psychic powers.

These numbers are much higher than they were in previous decades, when more people reported being highly religious. People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.

An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion. For instance, my colleagues and I recently published a series of studies in the journal Motivation and Emotion demonstrating that the link between low religiosity and belief in advanced alien visitors is at least partly explained by the pursuit of meaning. The less religious participants were, we found, the less they perceived their lives as meaningful. This lack of meaning was associated with a desire to find meaning, which in turn was associated with belief in U.F.O.s and alien visitors.

When people are searching for meaning, their minds seem to gravitate toward thoughts of things like aliens that do not fall within our current scientific inventory of the world. Why? I suspect part of the answer is that such ideas imply that humans are not alone in the universe, that we might be part of a larger cosmic drama. As with traditional religious beliefs, many of these paranormal beliefs involve powerful beings watching over humans and the hope that they will rescue us from death and extinction.

A great many atheists and agnostics, of course, do not think U.F.O.s exist. I’m not suggesting that if you reject traditional religious belief, you will necessarily find yourself believing in alien visitors. But because beliefs about U.F.O.s and aliens do not explicitly invoke the supernatural and are couched in scientific and technological jargon, they may be more palatable to those who reject the metaphysics of more traditional religious systems.

It is important to note that thus far, research indicates only that the need for meaning inspires these types of paranormal beliefs, not that such beliefs actually do a good job of providing meaning. There are reasons to suspect they are poor substitutes for religion: They are not part of a well-established social and institutional support system and they lack a deeper and historically rich philosophy of meaning. Seeking meaning does not always equal finding meaning.

The Western world is, in theory, becoming increasingly secular — but the religious mind remains active. The question now is, how can society satisfactorily meet people’s religious and spiritual needs?

 Doonesbury — House hunt.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Reading

Trump Family Values — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

In the September 11, 1989, issue of The New Yorker, a twenty-eight-year-old writer named Bill McKibben published a lengthy article titled “The End of Nature.” The previous year had been especially hot––the country suffered one of the worst droughts since the Dust Bowl, Yellowstone was ablaze for weeks––and some Americans, including McKibben, had taken note of the ominous testimony that James Hansen, a NASA climatologist, gave before a Senate committee, warning that, owing to greenhouse gases, the planet was heating up inexorably. McKibben responded with a deeply researched jeremiad, in which he set out to popularize the alarming and still largely unfamiliar facts about climate change and to sharpen awareness of what they implied for the future of the planet and humankind:

Changes in our world which can affect us can happen in our lifetime—not just changes like wars but bigger and more sweeping events. Without recognizing it, we have already stepped over the threshold of such a change. I believe that we are at the end of nature.

By this I do not mean the end of the world. The rain will still fall, and the sun will still shine. When I say “nature,” I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it. But the death of these ideas begins with concrete changes in the reality around us, changes that scientists can measure. More and more frequently these changes will clash with our perceptions, until our sense of nature as eternal and separate is finally washed away and we see all too clearly what we have done.

Last week, a hunk of Antarctica the size of Delaware, weighing a trillion metric tons, hived off from the Larsen C ice shelf and into the warming seas. Such events now seem almost ordinary—and harbingers of far worse. It is quite possible, the environmental writer Fen Montaigne wrote recently, in the Times, that, should the much larger West Antarctic Ice Sheet thaw and slip into the ocean, sea levels across the globe could rise as much as seventeen feet. This would have devastating implications for hundreds of millions of people, disrupting food chains, swamping coastal cities, spawning illnesses, sparking mass migrations, and undermining national economies in ways that are impossible to anticipate fully.

Around the time that this event was taking place, Donald Trump, who has lately detached the United States from the Paris climate accord and gone about neutering the Environmental Protection Agency, was prowling the West Wing of the White House, raging Lear-like not about the fate of the Earth, or about the fate of the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was dying in captivity, but about the fate of the Trump family enterprise. In particular, he decried the awful injustice visited upon him and his son Donald, Jr., who had, in a series of e-mails last June, giddily advertised his willingness to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected lawyer, to receive kompromat intended to undermine the reputation and the campaign of Hillary Clinton. He did not mention another participant in the meeting: Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist, who admitted to the A.P. that he had served in the Soviet Army, but denied reports that he was ever a trained spy.

The President argued that his son, “a high-quality person,” had been “open, transparent, and innocent.” This was a statement as true as many, if not most, of the President’s statements. It was false. Donald, Jr., had concealed the meeting until he could do so no longer. Social-media wags delighted in reviving the Trump-as-Corleone family meme and compared Donald, Jr., to Fredo, the most hapless of the Corleone progeny. This was unfair to Fredo. On Twitter, Donald, Jr., had spoken in support of cockeyed conspiracy theories and once posted a photograph of a bowl of Skittles, writing, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem. . . . Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first.”

Still, the President, loyal to nothing and no one but his family, argued that “a lot of people” would have taken that meeting. Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community did not whistle their agreement. They were quick to say that such a meeting was, at best, phenomenally stupid and, at worst, showed a willingness to collude with Moscow to tilt the election. Michael Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., told the Cipher Brief, a Web site that covers national-security issues, that Trump, Jr.,’s e-mails are “huge” and indicate that the President’s inner circle knew as early as last June that “the Russians were working on behalf of Trump.” In the same article, James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, said that the e-mails were probably “only one anecdote in a much larger story,” adding, “I can’t believe that this one exchange represents all there is, either involving the President’s son or others associated with the campaign.” Intelligence officials speculated that the tradecraft employed in setting up such a meeting was possibly a way to gauge how receptive the Trump campaign was to even deeper forms of coöperation. In any case, the proper thing to have done would have been to call the F.B.I. Now the country is headed toward a “constitutional crisis,” Clapper said, and the question has to be asked: “When will the Republicans collectively say ‘enough’?”

Good question. Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, business leaders such as Stephen Schwarzman and Carl Icahn, and a raft of White House advisers, including the bulk of the National Security Council, cannot fail to see the chaos, the incompetence, and the potential illegality in their midst, and yet they go on supporting, excusing, and deflecting attention from the President’s behavior in order to protect their own ambitions and fortunes. They realize that Trump’s base is still the core of the G.O.P. electorate, and they dare not antagonize it. The Republicans, the self-proclaimed party of family values, remain squarely behind a family and a Presidency whose most salient features are amorality, greed, demagoguery, deception, vulgarity, race-baiting, misogyny, and, potentially—only time and further investigation will tell—a murky relationship with a hostile foreign government.

In the near term, if any wrongdoing is found, the Trump family member who stands to lose the most is the son-in-law and consigliere, Jared Kushner, who accompanied Donald, Jr., to the meeting with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin. Kushner seems to see himself and his wife, Ivanka, as lonely voices of probity and moderation in an otherwise unhinged West Wing. Why they would believe this when their conflicts of interest are on an epic scale is a mystery. But such is their self-regard. It is said by those close to Kushner that, if he fears anything, it is to repeat the experience of his father, Charles, who, in 2005, pleaded guilty to charges of making illegal campaign contributions and hiring a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law, and spent fourteen months in an Alabama penitentiary.

Preserving Religious Freedom — John Nichols in The Nation on how Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) turned the “religious liberty” argument on its head.

Can Democrats defend the most basic premises of the Bill of Rights in a Republican-controlled House that is run by hyper-partisan Speaker Paul Ryan and that, at Ryan’s direction, so frequently dances to the authoritarian tune of a Trump administration that disrespects and disregards the Constitution?

Yes, they can. Congressman Keith Ellison just prevailed in a high-stakes struggle to defend freedom of religion as it is outlined in the First Amendment, and as it has been understood since Thomas Jefferson explained it in his final letter to the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptists: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

One of the most right-wing members of the House, Arizona Republican Trent Franks, proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would, in fact, have made a law respecting an establishment of religion. Franks, a staunch defender of President Trump’s executive orders restricting travel by Muslims, sought to require Secretary of Defense James Mattis to “conduct two concurrent strategic assessments of the use of violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging and justification.”

The amendment targeted only Islam and was so vague in its referencing of “unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine” that it invited abuse. The amendment also mandated that one of the two reviews be conducted by “non-governmental experts from academia, industry, or other entities not currently a part of the United States Government”—opening up the process to further abuse.

Ellison responded with a stinging rebuke. “This amendment stigmatizes people simply because they practice a specific religion,” the Minnesota Democrat told his colleagues. “The idea that Congress is seriously considering an amendment that legislates stigmatization and hate in direct contradiction of the Constitution is outrageous.”

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House, recalled historic instances of racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination. and warned that “when we single out a group of people and treat them differently, shameful and regrettable abuses and mistreatment follow.”

“If we haven’t already learned from our tattered past, when will we?” asked the congressman.

Ellison also raised concerns about the message that adoption of the amendment would could send at a time when American Muslims already face violence and discrimination:

Rep. Franks’ NDAA amendment ordering a ‘strategic assessment’ on Islam goes against everything we strive to be. By ordering the Department of Defense to scrutinize a single religion, identify leaders for some unknown purpose, and determine an acceptable way to practice, Congress is “abridging the free exercise of religion,” which is constitutionally impermissible.

The FBI reported a 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2015—the same year Asma Jama’s face was slashed with a beer mug while she was eating dinner at an Applebee’s in Minnesota. Her attacker admitted in court that she attacked Asma simply because she was Muslim and not speaking English.

This rise in hate crimes isn’t a surprise. Our president began his campaign spouting hate, said Islam hates America, and promised to ban Muslims. His rhetoric has contributed to the growing movement of hate in our country, and I have no doubt that some of the most notorious racist, anti-Muslim voices will be a part of the non-government assessment demanded by this amendment.

With support from Muslim groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, and his congressional Progressive Caucus colleagues, Ellison struck a chord in the House, convincing 27 Republicans to join 190 Democrats in opposing the amendment.

That meant that 217 House members embraced their oaths to defend the Constitution, while 208 Republicans rejected the dictates of First Amendment. It is, of course, unsettling that so many members of the House cast votes that were in conflict with the Bill of Rights. It is equally unsettling that victories of this sort come in the context of continued assaults on individual rights and civil society. But it is encouraging, in these times, that bipartisan support for freedom of religion prevailed.

“We should study what drives people to terrorism. But this amendment didn’t do that. Not equally,” Ellison tweeted after Friday morning’s vote. “Glad so many of my colleagues agree.”

Florida Mythology — Adam Weinstein in the Washington Post dispels the tall tales about the Sunshine State.

Ordinarily at this point in the slow, hot summer, American journalists would be out of stories and looking to Florida — my allegedly strange longtime home — for “weird news” inspiration. We don’t have that problem this year, because America elected a part-time Florida Man as president. But Floridians still have to deal with an unearned reputation as a nexus of the bizarre and the tragic. “Sometimes I think I’ve figured out some order in the universe,” Susan Orlean famously wrote, “but then I find myself in Florida, swamped by incongruity and paradox, and I have to start all over again.” Here are five common myths about America’s sun-soaked southerly proboscis.

Myth No. 1
Florida is a cultural wasteland.

Per Gawker, “The middle of the state is a cultureless void from which crystal meth (or, like, moving away) is the only escape.” One can find defenses of individual cities (for example, Jacksonville) or particular coastal hot spots, but one of the most-Googled questions related to Florida is nonetheless “Why is Florida so trashy?,” and that seems to reflect the nation’s general sentiment.

Sure, we’re the land of Disney World and Universal Studios and stucco and strip malls. We have that weird double existence that characterizes a lot of frontier or colonial destinations: We’ve been stereotyped as the exotic “other,” then we capitalized on the stereotype’s allure to drive the local economy, then we lost track of what was real and what was just a reductive stereotype. Now, it all blends together. As they said in our old tourism ad from the “Miami Vice” days, “The rules are different here.”

But Florida’s proud, contrived role as a lazy, breezy, escapist state of nature yields something nobody could have predicted: lots of cultural heroes, large and small. Consider these icons: Southern-rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd, Doors frontman Jim Morrison, Flo Rida, Johnny Depp, Tom Petty, Norman Reedus, Zora Neale Hurston, Tao Lin and Kate DiCamillo. Don’t say we never did anything for you.

Myth No. 2
Florida is separate from the Deep South.

According to the Sun Sentinel, “Florida is not the South.” If you wanted graphic evidence, the Miami New Times supplied 19 maps in 2015 “That Prove South Florida Is Not Really the South.”

It’s possible that we have more Mets fans than Queens, and it’s certain that we have more Mets fans than Marlins fans. But if you’ve ever traveled down the Panhandle’s Redneck Riviera to eat oysters in Apalachicola or made a pilgrimage to watch college football in Doak and the Swamp, you know there’s a lot of twang to go with the Tang. There really is a place called the Flora-Bama, situated exactly where you’d expect, and it really does host an annual mullet toss (the fish, not the hairdo, but you always see some of both).

The cliche about the differences between northern Florida (red-state rednecks) and South Florida (pasty invaders and “Latins”) aren’t right, either. Drive a few miles west of Fort Lauderdale, and your car will have to yield for horses. Remember Bob Graham , the soft-lilted cowpoke who served for decades as a left-center governor and senator? He’s a Miami native. Yes, you can grow up sounding like that in Miami. Even South Florida’s deep-blue urbanites can see social and cultural remnants of the South — for instance, the state park that used to be a blacks-only beach , and neighborhood divisions that persist years after Jim Crow.

That’s all of Florida, in its beauty, ugliness and guilt. We are completely Southern. We are also completely Yankee, completely Latin American and completely committed to believing in mathematical impossibilities.

Myth No. 3
Florida is ready for the next big hurricane.

Cutler Bay Florida is hurricane ready!” declares one municipal ad; last year, Florida’s “top finance and insurance regulators” confirmed to the Miami Herald that the state was indeed prepared for another hurricane season. Oops.

Named storms are a seasonal fixture, but until Hurricane Matthew gave us all a serious scare last year, Floridians hadn’t had a real blow since 2004 and 2005, when they got blitzed by six hurricanes. Since then, the state’s population has grown by 15 percent — meaning at least 2.5 million new residents have probably never lived through a storm of significant size, much less a Wilma or an Andrew. And complacency abounds, even among old-timers. “That is a very scary thought from an emergency manager’s perspective,” Orlando’s emergency manager said, back in the middle of our mostly storm-free decade.

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is light on real storm experience, too. Scott appointed an out-of-state Walmart executive as his emergency preparedness director in 2011 amid a push to privatize some of the state’s disaster response programs. (Little of that privatization has materialized.) Scott’s administration is also accused of barring state-employed scientists from discussing climate change or sea-level rise. It’s not easy preparing 20 million people for one disaster when you’re busy pretending another disaster doesn’t exist.

Myth No. 4
Floridians are impossibly divided along political lines.

In 2015, southern Floridians threatened to secede from the rest of the state, citing political differences with northern Floridians. And prior to last year’s presidential election, pundits observed that the contest could be decided by Florida, “the Divided Sunshine State.” It has been conventional wisdom since the 2000 recount that Florida is hopelessly split along political lines. Apparently, we’re a purplish state with a reddish government and bluish social tendencies.

But both sides are united by a love of the market. Indeed, the pro-business tendency is no less powerful among liberals, from South Florida — where many a real estate developer, D or R, has had a historically easy path to a mayorship — to Tallahassee, where even deep-blue Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls are known to boast about the size of their business tax repeals . One party wants pro-business decisions made by bureaucrats, and the other party wants pro-business decisions made by transnational consortiums owned by shell corporations. Accordingly, Florida has been rapidly rising on lists of business-friendly states in recent years, even making the top 10 in a recent CNBC ranking.

We got there through a long, two-party effort.

Myth No. 5
The Florida housing market has learned its lesson.

That the Orlando Business Journal wants to let you in on “4 lessons learned” from Central Florida’s real estate bubble, and Florida Today is already advising caution for home buyers based on the last big real estate bust, might make you think Florida has learned its lesson when it comes to inflated markets. But it doesn’t look that way.

Between 2003 and 2007 was a hell of a time to be a Floridian: It seemed like everyone was a mortgage originator or a house-flipper. Obviously, that all ended, and a lot of people lost their butts on a “correction” in property values. Problem solved: Many Floridians don’t even have enough money to place another bad bet.

But once again, the Florida real estate market is doing great. There’s a boom in sales and prices, and buyers have a lot of options — if they have half a million bucks or more to spend. In South Florida, even modest, fixer-upper apartments in sad neighborhoods are getting plucked up by cash buyers looking for rental income. Big-money and foreign investors are bidding up prices, perhaps precipitously so, on luxury and high-rise properties. (Zdravstvuyte, Russian friends!)

What happens when the dollar strengthens, the Trump real estate name fizzles and those investors look to dump their stock? Oh, probably another implosion, and three and even four generations of working family members living under one roof.

Doonesbury — Talk of the town.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Short Takes

Italy may stop ship unloading migrants.

Forty arrested for protesting healthcare bill on Capitol Hill.

U.S. to hold off on further airline laptop bans.

Miami-Dade public schools achieve no “F” schools status.

Arkansas Ten Commandments monument run over.

Monday, April 17, 2017

If You Can Fake Sincerity…

Ross Douthat tells liberals is time to go back to church even if they don’t believe in God.

Do it for your political philosophy: More religion would make liberalism more intellectually coherent (the “created” in “created equal” is there for a reason), more politically effective, more rooted in its own history, less of a congerie of suspicious “allies” and more of an actual fraternity.

Do it for your friends and neighbors, town and cities: Thriving congregations have spillover effects that even anti-Trump marches can’t match.

Do it for your family: Church is good for health and happiness, it’s a better place to meet a mate than Tinder, and even its most modernized form is still an ark of memory, a link between the living and the dead.

I understand that there’s the minor problem of actual belief. But honestly, dear liberals, many of you do believe in the kind of open Gospel that a lot of mainline churches preach.

If pressed, most of you aren’t hard-core atheists: You pursue religious experiences, you have affinities for Unitarianism or Quakerism, you can even appreciate Christian orthodoxy when it’s woven into Marilynne Robinson novels or the “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

You say you’re spiritual but not religious because you associate “religion” with hierarchies and dogmas and strict rules about sex. But the Protestant mainline has gone well out of its way to accommodate you on all these points.

[…]

Finally, a brief word to the really hardened atheists: Oh, come on. Sure, all that beauty and ecstasy and astonishing mathematical order is because we’re part of a multiverse or a simulation or something; that’s the ticket. Sure, consciousness and free will are illusions, but human rights and gender identities are totally real. Sure, your flying spaghetti monster joke makes you a lot smarter than Aquinas, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King. Sure.

Just go to church, guys. The mainline churches’ doors are open. They need you; America still needs them.

In other words, be like a lot of right-wingers and become a complete and certified hypocrite just for the sake of appearances.  This is after assuming that a lot of liberals don’t go to church or participate in a faith community because they don’t wear it on their sleeves or their trucker hats.

As for his snarky swipe at atheism, please explain to me why the Flying Spaghetti Monster story is any less plausible than the one about two naked people and the talking snake.

It sounds like Mr. Douthat is less interested in saving liberal souls than he is in keeping the mainline churches out of the hands of the hard-core evangelicals (they’re so tacky) and the politicians who know a flock of pigeons when they see them.  He might have better luck if his fellow conservatives hadn’t fed them in the first place.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Be Careful What You Wish For

At the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday Trump called for the repeal of the Johnson amendment, the law that prohibits churches from supporting individual political candidates and still be exempt from paying taxes.

The logic behind the amendment is clear: If a church wishes to be a tax-exempt entity which can receive tax-exempt contributions, then it also must steer clear of participation in partisan politics. Not that it doesn’t already. It clearly does, as can be easily seen just by the list of church-backed organizations supporting the Gorsuch nomination. But by and large, it separates the political activity by carved-out nonprofit organizations which are separate from the church entity itself.

Churches should be careful about what they wish for, because gutting this amendment would put their tax-exempt status at risk. The Catholic Church would be ponying up a lot of money if this amendment was gutted, and that would be the beginning.

I am totally in favor of churches paying taxes.  And that means all of them, from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to that little brown church in the vale.  At the very least pay property taxes on the land they own that isn’t used specifically for worship services or non-partisan church business.

If they want to go around telling people about mythical history and warning of retribution from some mean magical sky faerie if we don’t vote for their favorites, they should have to pony up for the privilege.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hat Honor

I find it ironic that some of the people who have gotten their tails all puffed up about those who stand, sit, kneel, or cross their legs during the playing of the national anthem are some of the same people who stood by that county clerk in Kentucky who refused to sign marriage certificates for same-sex couples or started GoFundMe campaigns for bakers who refused to make wedding cakes for same-sex weddings. Requiring a patriotic display because FREEDOM is an oxymoron, and civil disobedience is how we got this country started in the first place.

It also could be a matter of religious liberty. Just as baking a cake for Adam and Steve may, in the minds of some, make Jesus cry, so may making a person perform a ritual for a song violate their beliefs. There are numerous faith communities including the Quakers that do not recognize such actions, including removing their hats for “worldly” icons. (In the same vein, would anyone think of asking a Jewish man to remove his yarmulke or a Muslim woman her head scarf?) And who is to say that their action — or lack of it — isn’t their own way of showing respect?

So before you condemn someone for their private actions at a public ceremony, examine what it means to them… and what it means to you.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It’s A Drugstore, Not A Church

A divided Supreme Court turns down a case of religious discrimination.

Ralph’s Thriftway is a grocery store and pharmacy in Washington run by a religious family. It is not a church, or a church-affiliated nonprofit; it is a for-profit business, created and designed to make money for the Stormans. But the Stormans family are devout Christians who believe that Plan B is “tantamount to abortion” and thus refuse to stock it. For years, when customers came to the pharmacy seeking emergency contraception, the Stormans turned them away.

But in 2007, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy issued new regulations declaring that a pharmacy may not “refuse to deliver a drug or device to a patient because its owner objects to delivery on religious, moral, or other personal grounds.” Quite reasonably, the board felt Washington pharmacies should not be permitted to deny patients safe, legal drugs—which was a growing problem within the state: In addition to Plan B, religious pharmacists had refused to give patients diabetic syringes, insulin, HIV-related medications, and Valium. That, the board decided, was unacceptable. Pharmacists have every right to believe whatever they wish, but when those beliefs are manifested in the form of brazen discrimination against customers, they cannot be sanctioned by the law. In 2015, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the constitutionality of Washington’s regulation.

Alito, along with Thomas and Roberts, sees Stormans differently. “There are strong reasons to doubt,” Alito writes, “whether the regulations … actually serve … any legitimate purpose.” What? Clear as day, the Washington regulations ensure that patients can receive timely access to necessary medications without facing discrimination. In what world are safeguards against discrimination in goods and services not even a legitimate interest? Alito’s world, it turns out. Neither he, Roberts, nor Thomas thinks refusal of service is a big deal when patients can hop back in their cars (presuming they have them) and drive to the nearest pharmacy that will deign to provide them with the proper medication. (Live in rural Washington? Hope you can find another pharmacy before the Plan B window closes!)

The simple lesson is that if you want to run a business that is free to discriminate against other people based on your religious beliefs, open a megachurch.  It’s a real money-maker and you won’t even have to pay taxes.

Religious Freedom Ends 05-10-16

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Right To Think Is On Trial Here

Continuing the theme of imaginative fiction (see below), there’s a new movie out that turns “Inherit the Wind” on its head and comes up with a teacher being sued by the evil ACLU for having the temerity to think that Jesus was a real person.

In a pivotal scene from the famous 1960 film “Inherit the Wind,” a biblical scholar, prosecuting a defendant on trial for teaching evolution in a town whose laws forbid it, is called to the stand as an expert witness. Slowly but surely, he begins to unravel on the stand. The defense attorney, Henry Drummond (rendered vividly by Spencer Tracy), pulls apart his literal reading of the Bible. If Joshua had really made the Sun stand still, wouldn’t the Earth have been destroyed? Where did Cain’s wife come from if “in the beginning” there were only Cain, Abel, Adam and Eve? How can we be sure the Earth was created in 4004 B.C. if the Sun, the metric by which we measure time, was not created until the fourth day?

“God’s Not Dead 2,” the sequel to the commercially successful movie of the same name, is an inversion of this theme. In the film, Grace, a history teacher played by Melissa Joan Hart, is asked whether the nonviolent philosophy preached by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. has parallels to that preached by Jesus in the Bible. In response, she quotes scripture, and endorses the analogy. A scoffing student ridicules her by sneering, I kid you not, that Jesus could not have been great because he died. Grace responds that Jesus, like King, died out of dedication to causes larger than himself, and that this does not detract from the greatness of either man. Teachers, administrators, and the ACLU alike are outraged by this lesson, and Grace winds up in court, where her lawyer finds himself proving, as one of the satanic ACLU attorneys puts it, “the existence of Jesus Christ.”

It’s impossible to stress how deeply unrealistic the film’s premise is, and important to stress that this case was not “based on a true story,” itself a loose specification. Nor was it a dramatized version of real events as “Inherit the Wind,” based on the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, was. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who saw the film with a vaguely critical eye, but should be surprising to anyone who took its message to heart. The movie suggests the persecution of Christians in our society is readily apparent in the real world, and not just as artistic license. (“Join the movement,” the closing credits implore). Then why on earth would its writers and producers have to invent such a case out of thin air, rather than portraying one of the multitudes of victimless crimes for which Christians throughout the country are presumably being prosecuted? Perhaps because employees demanding contraceptive coverage or gay couples service might be more sympathetic than fiendish ACLU lawyers?

If this is an attempt to shame the play and the film of “Inherit the Wind,” it misses the point entirely.  Playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee went to great pains to avoid taking sides in the debate over evolution — the end of the play shows Drummond weighing the bible and Darwin’s book equally — and comes out instead clearly on the side of allowing people to think for themselves.

This notion that Christians are somehow being persecuted for their beliefs and that they are at risk of losing their lives or property because of it is just bizarre.  They have this idea that if they are criticized for being bullies or actually denying other people their lawful rights, somehow they’re the victim and they’re the martyrs.  So they feel the only way to allow Christianity to prevail is to pass laws that legalize hatred, paranoia, and bigotry.  And, for good measure, make movies.

If they want to really know what it’s like to be persecuted and at risk for their religious beliefs, try being a Muslim in America.  Or even, in some places, Jewish.  Then get back to us.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Guess Who Said This

I quote:

…I also think that those in politics have an obligation not to wear their faith on their sleeve. There have been far too many politicians that run around behaving like they’re holier than though [sic]. And I’ll tell you, my attitude as a voter if some politician stands up and says “I’m running because God told me to run,” my reaction is as a voter is “Great. When God tells me to vote for you we’ll be on the same page.”

Oh, good; finally a presidential candidate who isn’t going all Jeebus on us.  What a relief, right?

Um, no, guess again.  It was the same candidate who said this:

Nothing is more important in the next 18 months than that the body of Christ rise up and that Christians stand up, that pastors stand up and lead. In this last election, 54 million evangelical Christians stayed home … If we can simply bring Christians to the polls — is it any wonder we have the government we have, we have the leaders we have if believers stay home and leave electing our leaders to unbelievers. We get exactly what we deserve and nothing is more important than having people of faith stand up and just vote our values, vote biblical values and that’s how we turn the country around.

And the same candidate who said “any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief of this nation.”  (For those of you with dirty minds, he means in prayer.)

Yes, Americans, Ted Cruz, who campaigns like Jerry Falwell and declares that no atheist is fit to be president, wants you to know that he doesn’t believe a candidate should wear their faith upon their sleeve.  Instead, he should use it like a bludgeon.

I have long said that Ted Cruz would be a far more dangerous candidate for the Republicans to nominate than anyone out there, including Donald Trump, because he actually has run for office and won elections, and he has actual policies to put forth, as opposed to the word salad that Mr. Trump considers to be his plans for running the country.

So if somehow the Stop Trump movement actually catches on and we’re left with the GOP version of Teddy the Wonder Lizard, we’d be in very deep shit.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Proving His Point

President Obama made his first visit to a mosque in the U.S. the other day and talked about religious tolerance and how bigotry against Islam is anti-American.

Your fellow Americans stand with you …. That’s not unusual. Because just as so often we only hear about Muslims after a terrorist attack, so often we only hear about Americans’ response to Muslims after a hate crime has happened, we don’t always hear about the extraordinary respect and love and community that so many Americans feel.

Marco Rubio accused the president of being “divisive.”

He gave a speech at a mosque, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there’s discrimination in America, of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam. This constant pitting people against each other, I can’t stand that. It’s hurting our country badly.

Actually, what’s hurting our country are knee-jerk twerps who don’t even listen to what the president said before they come out with gross generalizations and accusations.  There’s plenty of evidence that President Obama is correct in saying there are those who discriminate against Muslims: firebombing mosques, physical assaults on people who look like they’re from the Middle East, and elected officials or presidential candidates who want to ban Muslims entirely.  The latest example is the New Hampshire Republican state representative who wants to pass a bill in the state house saying giving public assistance to Muslims is treason.

So thank you, Marco, for proving the president’s point about anti-Muslim bigotry.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Friday, January 15, 2016

Short Takes

ISIS claims credit for the attack in Jakarta that killed seven.

President Obama took his SOTU tour to Louisiana.

Anglicans suspend entire U.S. Episcopal church over marriage equality.

Goldman Sachs to pay $5 billion in mortgage settlement.

The Oscar nominations were announced.

Tropical Update: A hurricane in January?  I blame Al Gore.

Monday, January 4, 2016

No Neutrality

Justice Antonin Scalia goes way out there when it comes to religious liberty.

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday the idea of religious neutrality is not grounded in the country’s constitutional traditions and that God has been good to the U.S. exactly because Americans honor him.

Scalia was speaking at a Catholic high school in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Louisiana. Scalia, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 is the court’s longest serving justice. He has consistently been one of the court’s more conservative members.

He told the audience at Archbishop Rummel High School that there is “no place” in the country’s constitutional traditions for the idea that the state must be neutral between religion and its absence.

“To tell you the truth there is no place for that in our constitutional tradition. Where did that come from?” he said. “To be sure, you can’t favor one denomination over another but can’t favor religion over non-religion?”

He also said there is “nothing wrong” with the idea of presidents and others invoking God in speeches. He said God has been good to America because Americans have honored him.

So in his view, it’s perfectly all right to discriminate against those who do not worship some sort of magical sky faerie.  (Just curious; is he in favor of all the magical sky faeries, not just the one he likes?)

Justice Scalia: Torquemada without the charm.

HT to CLW.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sunday Reading

Dangerous Words — Patrick Healy and Maggie Haberman at the New York Times examine the speeches of Donald Trump and find disturbing comparisons.

“Something bad is happening,” Donald J. Trump warned New Hampshire voters Tuesday night, casting suspicions on Muslims and mosques. “Something really dangerous is going on.”

On Thursday evening, his message was equally ominous, as he suggested a link between the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and President Obama’s failure to say “radical Islamic terrorism.”

“There is something going on with him that we don’t know about,” Mr. Trump said of the president, drawing applause from the crowd in Washington.

The dark power of words has become the defining feature of Mr. Trump’s bid for the White House to a degree rarely seen in modern politics, as he forgoes the usual campaign trappings — policy, endorsements, commercials, donations — and instead relies on potent language to connect with, and often stoke, the fears and grievances of Americans.

The New York Times analyzed every public utterance by Mr. Trump over the past week from rallies, speeches, interviews and news conferences to explore the leading candidate’s hold on the Republican electorate for the past five months. The transcriptions yielded 95,000 words and several powerful patterns, demonstrating how Mr. Trump has built one of the most surprising political movements in decades and, historians say, echoing the appeals of some demagogues of the past century.

Mr. Trump’s breezy stage presence makes him all the more effective because he is not as off-putting as those raging men of the past, these experts say.

The most striking hallmark was Mr. Trump’s constant repetition of divisive phrases, harsh words and violent imagery that American presidents rarely use, based on a quantitative comparison of his remarks and the news conferences of recent presidents, Democratic and Republican. He has a particular habit of saying “you” and “we” as he inveighs against a dangerous “them” or unnamed other — usually outsiders like illegal immigrants (“they’re pouring in”), Syrian migrants (“young, strong men”) and Mexicans, but also leaders of both political parties.

At an event in Raleigh, N.C., on Friday evening, his voice scratchy and hoarse, Mr. Trump was asked by a 12-year-old girl from Virginia, “I’m scared — what are you going to do to protect this country?”

“You know what, darling? You’re not going to be scared anymore. They’re going to be scared. You’re not going to be scared,” Mr. Trump said, before describing the Sept. 11 terrorists as “animals” who sent their families back to the Middle East. “We never went after them. We never did anything. We have to attack much stronger. We have to be more vigilant. We have to be much tougher. We have to be much smarter, or it’s never, ever going to end.”

While many candidates appeal to the passions and patriotism of their crowds, Mr. Trump appears unrivaled in his ability to forge bonds with a sizable segment of Americans over anxieties about a changing nation, economic insecurities, ferocious enemies and emboldened minorities (like the first black president, whose heritage and intelligence he has all but encouraged supporters to malign).

“ ‘We vs. them’ creates a threatening dynamic, where ‘they’ are evil or crazy or ignorant and ‘we’ need a candidate who sees the threat and can alleviate it,” said Matt Motyl, a political psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who is studying how the 2016 presidential candidates speak. “He appeals to the masses and makes them feel powerful again: ‘We’ need to build a wall on the Mexican border — not ‘I,’ but ‘we.’ ”

In another pattern, Mr. Trump tends to attack a person rather than an idea or a situation, like calling political opponents “stupid” (at least 30 times), “horrible” (14 times), “weak” (13 times) and other names, and criticizing foreign leaders, journalists and so-called anchor babies. He bragged on Thursday about psyching out Jeb Bush by repeatedly calling him “low-energy,” but he spends far less time contrasting Mr. Bush’s policies with his own proposals, which are scant.

And on Friday night in Raleigh, he mocked people who reportedly did not contact the authorities with concerns about the California shooting suspects for fear of racial profiling.

“Can anybody be that dumb?” Mr. Trump said. “We have become so politically correct that we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. We don’t know what we’re doing.”

The specter of violence looms over much of his speech, which is infused with words like kill, destroy and fight. For a man who speaks off the cuff, he always remembers to bring up the Islamic State’s “chopping off heads.” And he has expressed enthusiasm for torturing enemies beyond waterboarding. Last month, after several men hit a Black Lives Matter protester at one of his rallies, Mr. Trump said, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”

“Such statements and accusations make him seem like a guy who can and will cut through all the b.s. and do what in your heart you know is right — and necessary,” said Michael Kazin, a historian at Georgetown University, echoing the slogan that Barry Goldwater used in his 1964 presidential campaign.

And Mr. Trump uses rhetoric to erode people’s trust in facts, numbers, nuance, government and the news media, according to specialists in political rhetoric. “Nobody knows,” he likes to declare, where illegal immigrants are coming from or the rate of increase of health care premiums under the Affordable Care Act, even though government agencies collect and publish this information. He insists that Mr. Obama wants to accept 250,000 Syrian migrants, even though no such plan exists, and repeats discredited rumors that thousands of Muslims were cheering in New Jersey during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He promises to “bomb the hell” out of enemies — invoking Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and he says he would attack his political opponents “10 times as hard” as they criticize him.

(Mr. Trump, who also pledges to build up the military to show American toughness, will hold a rally on Monday on the aircraft carrier Yorktown in South Carolina to commemorate the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.)

And as much as he likes the word “attack,” the Times analysis shows, he often uses it to portray himself as the victim of cable news channels and newspapers that, he says, do not show the size of his crowds.

Mr. Trump declined a request to be interviewed for this article.

This pattern of elevating emotional appeals over rational ones is a rhetorical style that historians, psychologists and political scientists placed in the tradition of political figures like Goldwater, George Wallace, Joseph McCarthy, Huey Long and Pat Buchanan, who used fiery language to try to win favor with struggling or scared Americans. Several historians watched Mr. Trump’s speeches last week, at the request of The Times, and observed techniques — like vilifying groups of people and stoking the insecurities of his audiences — that they associate with Wallace and McCarthy.

“His entire campaign is run like a demagogue’s — his language of division, his cult of personality, his manner of categorizing and maligning people with a broad brush,” said Jennifer Mercieca, an expert in American political discourse at Texas A&M University. “If you’re an illegal immigrant, you’re a loser. If you’re captured in war, like John McCain, you’re a loser. If you have a disability, you’re a loser. It’s rhetoric like Wallace’s — it’s not a kind or generous rhetoric.”

“And then there are the winners, most especially himself, with his repeated references to his wealth and success and intelligence,” said Ms. Mercieca, noting a particular remark of Mr. Trump’s on Monday in Macon, Ga. (“When you’re really smart, when you’re really, really smart like I am — it’s true, it’s true, it’s always been true, it’s always been true.”)

“Part of his argument is that if you believe in American exceptionalism, you should vote for me,” Ms. Mercieca said.

Historically, demagogues have flourished when they tapped into the grievances of citizens and then identified and maligned outside foes, as McCarthy did with attacking Communists, Wallace with pro-integration northerners and Mr. Buchanan with cultural liberals. These politicians used emotional language — be it “segregation forever” or accusatory questions over the Communist Party — to persuade Americans to pin their anxieties about national security, jobs, racial diversity and social trends on enemy forces.

A significant difference between Mr. Trump and 20th-century American demagogues is that many of them, especially McCarthy and Wallace, were charmless public speakers. Mr. Trump, by contrast, is an energetic and charismatic speaker who can be entertaining and ingratiating with his audiences. There is a looseness to his language that sounds almost like water-cooler talk or neighborly banter, regardless of what it is about.

For some historians, this only makes him more effective, because demagogy is more palatable when it is leavened with a smile and joke. Highlighting that informality, one of his most frequently used words is “guy” — which he said 91 times last week and has used to describe President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a stranger cheering him on at a rally and a celebrity friend.

“His relaxed, jokey tone makes statements about his resolve to solve every problem because he knows what’s right and has the energy to do it more persuasive,” said Mr. Kazin of Georgetown, who described Mr. Trump’s idea for a database of Muslims in the United States as insidious but also said he found Mr. Trump amusing at points.

Over many decades, Mr. Trump’s career as both a real estate developer and a celebrity has been infused with language described as divisive, even racially charged. In the 1980s, it was with advertisements condemning the young men, four of them black and one Latino, accused of marauding through Central Park and raping a jogger. Just over a decade ago, it was the controversy during the first season of his reality show “The Apprentice,” in which he played a boardroom billionaire who fired people. He and other cast members clashed with Omarosa Manigault, a black woman who claimed someone had called her a racial slur and suggested that Mr. Trump had been insensitive.

Mr. Trump has said he will tear into anyone who tries to take him on, and he presents himself as someone who is always right in his opinions — even prophetic, a visionary. He repeatedly insists that he alone predicted the rise of Osama bin Laden in 2001 (despite the fact that the Bin Laden network had attacked two United States embassies and the U.S.S. Cole in the three years before). “I said, ‘We better be careful, that’s gonna happen, it’s gonna be a big thing,’ and it certainly is a big thing,” Mr. Trump has said of what he wrote about the Al Qaeda leader in 2000.

It is the sort of trust-me-and-only-me rhetoric that, according to historians, demagogues have used to insist that they have unique qualities that can lead the country through turmoil. Mr. Trump often makes that point when he criticizes his Republican rivals, though he also pretends that he is not criticizing them.

“All of ’em are weak, they’re just weak,” Mr. Trump said in New Hampshire on Tuesday of his fellow candidates. “I think they’re weak, generally, you want to know the truth. But I won’t say that, because I don’t want to get myself, I don’t want to have any controversies. So I refuse to say that they’re weak generally, O.K.? Some of them are fine people. But they are weak.”

A Few Words on Prayer-Shaming — Charlie Pierce goes after the god-botherers who insist that “thoughts” and “prayers” will somehow prevent massacres.

Have you noticed? There’s a new thing that progressives should not do, because it will scare the horses and frighten the children, and harsh the holy mellows of the various tent-show evangelicals currently at work in Republican politics. It is called “prayer-shaming.”  It became a thing in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre, when Republican candidates immediately leaped onto Twitter to send “thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families.” This time, however, a  great number of people, most notably Senator Chris Murphy and the editors of the New York Daily News, decided that up with this pious swill was something that they no longer would put.

Oh, the whining that has ensued. The Malkin Monkeyhouse is in high earth orbit and probably won’t splash down until June. Even some nominal liberals are clutching the pearls. But nobody’s dudgeon has gone higher than that of Our Lady of the Magic Dolphins. The cartoon canaries circling her ears are screaming like scalded vultures. Why are the canaries screaming, Clarice?

[…]

It’s long past the time to break the power and influence held over our politics by a splinter faction of one form of American Christianity. It’s long past time to make refashioning the Gospel into talking-points—​and, worse, a vehicle for ratfcking—​a political liability rather than a political asset. It’s long past time to ignore the bleating of self-professed Christians who specialize in marinating in their victimology, who build their own Golgothas, and who drive the nails into their own palms. If so-called “prayer-shaming” is the first step in that direction, then Chris Murphy’s entire career in politics has been worthwhile.

I am heartily fed up with this nonsense. I am heartily fed up with people whose personal relationships with their personal Lords And Saviors lead them to knuckle the poor, subjugate women, brag about their gunmanship, and topple inconvenient regimes that happen to be sitting on an ocean of oil. I am heartily fed up with people whose support for Israel is based on a couple of misunderstood passages from the craziest book in the Bible in which Jesus comes back to Earth as an X Man and gets into some enthusiastic disemboweling. And I am heartily fed up with alleged Christians who contribute to some very curious damn poll numbers.

Let us be honest. Donald Trump is perhaps the single most irreligious candidate for president that we’ve ever seen. His entire personal theology seems to consist of, “Here’s A Gold-Embossed TRUMP Bible From One Of My TRUMP Hotels. Now Let’s Talk About Killing Foreigners.” The idea that he’s even competitive on this ground with Ted Cruz, the god-sodden son of a god-maddened preacher, a guy so fluent in religious-right conjuring words that he practically speaks in tongues, leads me to believe that, Christianity be damned, most of these voters would vote for the Pooka MacPhillimey if he held the right views on guns and fetuses.

So, no, I decline to be outraged that this tinpot piety is becoming something of a drag for these people. It’s about damn time.

Doonesbury — One-sided.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Reading

Muslims in America — John Nichols in The Nation on the history of the faith in the United States.

Followers of Islam have lived in what is now the United States since before the American Revolution. Like Christians and Jews, Muslims worshiped initially in their homes. But as communities grew, they began to construct mosques. Because so many Muslim immigrants came as farmers, some of the earliest mosques were built in rural communities like Ross, North Dakota.

Historians record that the first structure purposely built as a mosque in the United States was located in Ross, a crossroads town in the northwest corner of the state. In the late 1930s, when a Works Progress Administration field worker arrived in remote Mountrail County, he interviewed Mike Abdullah, a native of Syria, who recalled, “I belonged to the Moslem church in the Old Country the same as I do in this country.”

The original mosque in Ross fell into disrepair and was torn down in the 1970s. A new mosque—built a decade ago at the urging of Sarah Allie Omar Shupe, a member of the community—stands next to the Muslim cemetery, where generations of Syrian-American farmers are buried.

As a young journalist, I wrote a good deal about the rural Muslim and Jewish farm communities of the Midwest. I met the children and grandchildren of those Muslim farmers from the Dakotas, and from eastern Iowa, where the Mother Mosque of America was constructed in 1934 in Cedar Rapids. As a reporter for the Toledo Blade, I came to know Yehia “John” Shousher and other Muslims who built a pioneering mosque in the city’s “Little Syria” neighborhood more than six decades ago. Later, they constructed one of the great mosques in North America, the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, at which people from dozens of countries proudly celebrate their community’s “equal and vibrant representation of women and the democratic and constitutional processes that the Center diligently follows.”

It is because I have spent so much time in these mosques, because I have for so long known them as part of the fabric of the communities where I have lived, of the regions I love, of an American experiment I have treasured, that I was shaken by Donald Trump’s crude claim that “there’s absolutely no choice” but to monitor mosques, to consider closing some of them, to begin tracking Muslims using “surveillance, including a watch list.”

What Trump is talking about is not public safety or responsible policing. It is broad-sweep stereotyping rooted in ignorance and cruelty. And he is not alone in abandoning basic premises of the commitment to religious freedom that underpins the American experiment. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz propose to admit Christian refugees but reject Muslims. Ben Carson objects to the notion of a Muslim president and compares Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.

Trump says he wants to make America great again. But he knows nothing of greatness. The measures of what is great and good about America are not found in the crude comments of politicians. They are found in the mosques of Ross and Cedar Rapids and Toledo, and in the stories of the Muslim immigrants who built and cherish them.

Fearful Students — Todd Gitlin in The New York Times on why student protests have made them sound vulnerable.

THE message coming out of recent student protests on college campuses, from Princeton and Yale to the University of Missouri, couldn’t be clearer: Students are rightly pained by the racist and sexual abuse still shockingly common into the 21st century, and for good reason they are indignant that institutions they trust — or wish to trust — fail to stop the culprits, or even to acknowledge publicly the harm they do.

But rumbling under the surface of some recent protests is something besides indignation: an assumption of grave vulnerability. The victims too often present themselves as weak, in need of protection. Administrators are held, like helicopter parents, wholly responsible. To a veteran of movements of the ’60s like myself, this is strikingly strange.

Surely there are reasons to feel vulnerable to abuses of power. There is a rape culture. Black people are killed by the police in grotesque proportions. Hatred of immigrants has reached a high pitch of hysteria and looms large in the thinking of one of our major political parties.

It is also true that many administrators are caught flat-footed; just consider how long it took the University of Missouri to acknowledge longstanding concerns by minority students about campus racism.

And yet, when that recognition came and the president and chancellor resigned, instead of celebrating an extraordinary victory — with football players as their crucial allies — demonstrators blocked photographers from taking pictures of their assembly. They apparently believed that public assemblies ought to be “safe spaces,” meaning, safe from photography, which might have been thought to be useful for bringing the news to a larger public. Their starting assumption was that the press had it in for them.

At Yale, meanwhile, administrators cautioned students about how to dress properly for Halloween, and when another administrator publicly questioned whether this was an issue the administration needed to take a position on, protesters demanded her resignation.

Why such a widespread and bristling feeling of acute vulnerability followed by attacks on those who disagree? Why the lust for “safe spaces”? Why the clamor for “trigger warnings”? (At my own university, Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” came off the syllabus for a required core course after some students objected to Ovid’s accounts of rape.) Why do so many students see themselves as so vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous texts, arguments, comments? Why so fearful?

A pattern is clear: Too many students doubt that their community is, or can be, strong enough to stand up for itself, entertain arguments and strive to persuade opponents. The extremity of their reaction suggests that they lack confidence that reason and values are on their side. They may well resent the fact that, after decades of civil rights reform and feminism, they still have to argue against people who “don’t get it.”

One can only speculate about the forces that drive this crisis, but odds are that we are witnessing a cultural mood that cannot be reduced to political-economic considerations. There’s a generalized anxiety when one has always been supervised, as this generation has. Moreover, students suffer under mountainous debt loads. Professional work is being destabilized. Careers dissolve into serial jobs, or the insecure “gig economy.”

The prospect of gargantuan, destructive climate change must also have young people rattled. It ought to. There are actual apocalypses in the making.

But movements that change the world are the creations of confident people — confident despite their hurt, confident despite their fear. If they don’t start out confident, they learn how to create strong communities and become more so. As leaders test themselves in action, the better ones rise and the lesser ones fade. The militants suffer, yes, but they find ways to learn a broader repertoire of feelings and skills. They can imagine putting an end to their suffering, at least much of it.

The Exhaustion of Explaining — Andy Borowitz.

MINNEAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report)—Many Americans are tired of explaining things to idiots, particularly when the things in question are so painfully obvious, a new poll indicates.

According to the poll, conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Opinion Research Institute, while millions have been vexed for some time by their failure to explain incredibly basic information to dolts, that frustration has now reached a breaking point.

Of the many obvious things that people are sick and tired of trying to get through the skulls of stupid people, the fact that climate change will cause catastrophic habitat destruction and devastating extinctions tops the list, with a majority saying that they will no longer bother trying to explain this to cretins.

Coming in a close second, statistical proof that gun control has reduced gun deaths in countries around the world is something that a significant number of those polled have given up attempting to break down for morons.

Finally, a majority said that trying to make idiots understand why a flag that symbolizes bigotry and hatred has no business flying over a state capitol only makes the person attempting to explain this want to put his or her fist through a wall.

In a result that suggests a dismal future for the practice of explaining things to idiots, an overwhelming number of those polled said that they were considering abandoning such attempts altogether, with a broad majority agreeing with the statement, “This country is exhausting.”

Doonesbury — Sucking up.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Prove It How?

Jeb Bush doubles down on his refugee position.

Jeb Bush on Tuesday dug in further on his position that the United States should prioritize bringing in Christians from among the refugees of the Syrian civil war — and he insisted that people can even prove that they’re Christians.

“Well you’re a Christian,” Bush started off saying to reporters. “You can prove you’re a Christian. It’s—”

“How?” a reporter asked.

Bush gave a shrug: “I think you can prove it — if you can’t prove it then, you know, you err on the side of caution.”

As digby — and a bunch of other people — have noted, history is filled with examples of both Christians as terrorists and attempts to make people into Christians or suffer the consequences; think Torquemada.

I see this as further proof that Jeb really doesn’t want to be president and is doing his best to undermine his chances… as if he needed any help in the first place.