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

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

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

Monday, July 24, 2017


It's a series of tubes....

I originally started this rant this way:

Elon Musk is a snake oil salesman.

Just sayin'.....

As we learned in Contracts in first year law school, a verbal agreement is worth the paper it's printed on.  So this isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Then there's the cost:

Funding — likely public — and permitting for an underground evacuated tube system would presumably be the biggest barrier to constructing such a system, which has never been produced on such a scale. The least expensive underground transit systems average $100 million per kilometer. The New York City subway, for example, runs between $1 billion and $4 billion per kilometer to build. Even at that lower estimate of $100 million per kilometer, the 226 mile trip from New York to D.C. would cost around $36 billion. For context, the 2015 expenditures for the entire Federal Transit Agency were $11.54 billion.
Part of what fueled it were the comments at Salon (4, at the time), all in defense of Musk, He Who Cannot Do Wrong.  Then I found this Wired article:

Bad news, Elon, my friend: The White House doesn’t have much power when it comes to rubber stamping gigantic, multi-state infrastructure projects.

“It means effectively nothing,” says Adie Tomer, who studies metropolitan infrastructure at the Brookings Institution. “The federal government owns some land, but they don’t own the Northeast corridor land, and they don’t own the right-of-way.” Sure, having presidential backing isn’t bad—but it is far, far from the ballgame.

Even Musk's four- to six-month timeline seriously stretches it. Because here's what it actually takes to get approval to build gigantic, multi-billion dollar, multi-state infrastructure projects in the United States of America:

(Spoiler: Something nearing an act of God.)
Aside from getting all parties concerned on-board (a task which can take decades.  Let me put it this way:  Interestate 69 has been announced to run through Texas and Houston for about as long as I've been living in Houston, and that's going on it's 3rd decade.  The highway is still in the "announcement" phase.), getting through the regulations and impact statements, and gathering up all the money, there's still the issue of the technology.  This is where the snake oil comes in:

Then there’s the little trouble of perfecting a technology that doesn’t exist yet. Hyperloop One, one of the many companies competing to build the first hyperloop, ran a successful test out in the Nevada desert last week. Just a few small problems: The track was 315 feet, the "train" a sled, and that sled reached just 70 miles per hour. (A completed hyperloop should hit 700.)

"The hyperloop is something absolutely novel—it’s worth being excited about," says Tomer. "But that excitement should be tempered with the realities that this is not tangible technology at this point." Perhaps the country should see one of these things at work before someone starts writing checks—or breaks out a shovel.

There was some speculation Musk was making this announcement to entice investors.  Well, there's one born every minute, isn't there?

NPR reported the Hyperloop company that tested on said it hit 70 mph at 2 Gs acceleration.  Increase that by a factor of 10 (no telling how much the Gs go up, I'm sure it's not linear), and then sustain it for 30 minutes.  Yeah, that'll be fun.

And the latest example of Musk standing on the shoulders of giants and proclaiming himself tall is his failure (what else do you call it?) of Falcon Heavy:

When the 230-foot-tall (70 meters) Falcon Heavy is up and running, it will be capable of lofting up to 60 tons (54 metric tons) to low-Earth orbit and 24 tons (22 metric tons) to geostationary transfer orbit, making it the most powerful rocket since NASA's famous Apollo-era Saturn V launcher, SpaceX representatives have said.
"When" is the crucial word, there:
SpaceX has been developing the Falcon Heavy for years. The work has proven to be "way, way more difficult" than SpaceX originally expected, Musk said.

"At first, it sounds really easy: Just stick two first stages on as strap-on boosters. How hard can that be?" he said. "But then everything changes. All the loads change, aerodynamics totally change, you've tripled the vibration and acoustics."

The loads imparted on the center core during Falcon Heavy launches will be "crazy," Musk said, "so we had to redesign the whole center-core airframe. It's not like the Falcon 9, because it's got to take so much load."

In addition, it's impossible to fully test many aspects of the vehicle on the ground, he said. 
Really?  And how you doin' on that?
"I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage. I would consider even that a win, to be honest," Musk told NASA ISS program manager Kirk Shireman, who interviewed the SpaceX CEO onstage at the meeting. "Major pucker factor, really; that's, like, the only way to describe it." 
 And that mission to Mars?  Oh, sorry:

Seems SpaceX is skipping the Red Dragon capsule that was supposed to land on Mars on legs, in favor of a "vastly bigger ship."  Which I guess they'll launch with the Falcon Heavy?  Or maybe from the Moon, because building a colony there will be so much more reasonable.  Except, clearly, not by 2020.

I grew up on '60's science fiction about rugged and daring individuals "conquering" space the way the rugged and daring pioneers supposedly did (except space would be full of Donner parties freezing to death on moments, not weeks).  There's a reason NASA did it instead.  That reason still exists.

And by the way, the "hyper loop" is neither.  The tubes have to be ruler straight.  Passengers wouldn't be able to stand the forces on them if they hit a curve at 700 mph.  So the system has to overcome every physical object in its path.  "City center to city center"?  Yeah, sure.

Sealed in a tube like a piece of paper shot through a pneumatic system for 30 minutes?  I'm not sure that's visionary; seems more hallucinatory, to me.

Just so we're clear who's in charge

And who, exactly, is Sessions "beleaguered" by? 
Somebody said to me the other day — I don’t want to say who — if the Russian actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would have never seen it. You would have never had any evidence of them. Meaning that they’re super confident in their deception skills and hacking,” Scaramucci said, adding, “How about it’s the president? He called me from Air Force One and basically said to me, ‘This is — maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t do it.'”

In a report later on Sunday, The New York Times explained the origin of the Russian hacker theory.

"But when Mr. Trump met Mr. Putin in Hamburg, Germany, two weeks ago, he did not utter similar suspicions, at least in public. In fact, he emerged to tell his aides that the Russian president had offered a compelling rejoinder: Moscow’s cyberoperators are so good at covert computer-network operations that if they had dipped into the Democratic National Committee’s systems, they would not have been caught."
A report from an intelligence analyst over the weekend averred that we are much better than the Russians and, besides, computers are designed to leave a record of what's done on them.  You are more likely to track down cyber-crimes than to track down a nurse who kills her patients and leaves no obvious clues.   All that stuff you see on TV about "bouncing" the "signal" around the internet so you can't find who is hacking you, is bafflegab, about as realistic as discussing the "angular confinement beam" on a "Star Trek" transporter.  Besides, who doubts we are as good as the Russians at this?

Donald Trump, for one; and he gets his information from an unimpeachable source; which just happens not to be a U.S. government source, but a Russian government one.  Yeah; somehow my suspicions about Putin's motives don't sound so much like a "Red Scare" to me (a child of the Cold War, I remember "Red Scares" back when it meant even wanting to read Das Kapital made you suspect).  Remember when Trump said it could have been some guy in Jersey in his pajamas?  Our Fearless Leader has that level of sophisticated understanding of this subject.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Can we please stop worshipping the "Founding Fathers"?

I don't give a shit what the Founding Fathers would think about anything in our politics or our legal system today.  Because, for one thing, the Founding Fathers didn't think people like this would be voting for our President:

But there does seem to remain a portion of Americans whose support for the president is unwavering despite the near-constant chaos from the White House. A poll this week found a plurality of both Trump voters and Republicans overall would approve if the president walked onto Fifth Avenue in New York City and shot a person.

There are documents left by Hamilton which clearly indicate even the sweeping pardon power of the President is restrained by "corrupt" usage; but we'd have to depend on the courts to decide what that was, because a plurality of Trump voters and Republicans don't think the President shooting someone on Fifth Avenue is a sign of corruption.  The Founding Fathers would respond: well, we didn't tell you to give the franchise to just anybody, or to make the Electoral College a rubber stamp for the popular vote.

But we did, so fuck the Founding Fathers.   We already have, actually, but we still venerate them and use them to excuse whatever we want to do now.  No matter, because they're dead and their ideas are dead and we have the Constitution we have today, and by the way, fuck Antonin Scalia.  He's dead, too, and his "originalism" should have died with him.  We shouldn't still be asking what the Founding Fathers meant by some choice of words in the Constitution.  I studied Constitutional Law in law school, and what the "Founding Fathers meant" is not a principle of Constitutional analysis. Scalia tried to make it one, and the idea only took hold in the popular discourse where people have no idea what "Constitutional analysis" means anyway!   Screw that!  Get rid of it!  Banish it from your thinking and from public discourse!  I don't care what the "Founding Fathers" thought.  They weren't a many-headed beast with one body, they weren't gods, and they didn't leave us a system of government that had to constantly reflect on what they wanted.  They lived in the 18th century, we live in the 21st.  They approved of slavery and the denial of the vote to women and non-white non-property owning males, and wouldn't recognize the world we live in any more than we would theirs (as I tell my students, why do you see women in floor-length dresses in "Colonial times," and mean in knee breeches and silk stockings?  Because men are showing off their legs, not the women.  Start with that and the acceptance of slavery, and consider how different we are from them.).

I have nothing against them, but this constant "what did the Founding Fathers mean by the pardon clause" is bullshit.  It's not a recognized method of analysis in legal or textual circles, and yet it seems to be the only one we are allowed in popular discourse.  Enough!  The pardon power is broad, but it's not broad enough for a President to pardon himself.  That way lies anarchy and monarchy and the destruction of the rule of law.  As the Supreme Court has recognized, the Constitution is not a suicide pact.  No provision of it is so absolute as to require it be followed to the destruction of the whole.  If Trump is stupid enough to pardon himself, the courts are not required to recognize it because he's got the Presidential seal and the Presidential podium and his momma loves him like a rock!  If he tries to get Mueller removed on flimsy and laughable (or even semi-serious) grounds of conflict of interest, that's obstruction of justice!  If he pardons himself and everyone else, a la George H. W. Bush (who at least did it on his way out the door), that's obstruction of justice, too! The Presidential Pardon power cannot be used to thwart the rule of law, or else we have abandoned the rule of law and elected a monarch.

Could that be any clearer?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Sadly, yes

Thursday, July 20, 2017

25th Amendment remedies

Mostly because I couldn't jam this bit from the Trump interview into the previous post on that interview:

TRUMP: And nothing was changed other than Richard Nixon came along. And when Nixon came along [inaudible] was pretty brutal, and out of courtesy, the F.B.I. started reporting to the Department of Justice. But there was nothing official, there was nothing from Congress. There was nothing — anything. But the F.B.I. person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting. You know, which is interesting. And I think we’re going to have a great new F.B.I. director.

HABERMAN: Chris Wray.

TRUMP: He’s highly thought of by everybody. I think I did the country a great service with respect to Comey.

The "F.B.I. person" doesn't report directly to the President; not according to the F.B.I.

The FBI Director has answered directly to the attorney general since the 1920s.‬ ‪Under the Omnibus Crime Control Act and Safe Streets Act of 1968, Public Law 90-3351, the Director is appointed by the U.S. President and confirmed by the Senate. On October 15, 1976, in reaction to the extraordinary 48-year term of J. Edgar Hoover, Congress passed Public Law 94-503, limiting the FBI Director to a single term of no longer than 10 years. ‪ 

The man really is just a black hole of knowledge.

"Who's been repeating all that hard stuff to you?"

I actually want to use that tweet as a link.  Click on it, and then read the tweets responding to it.  It soon becomes a hall of mirrors, through no fault of those tweeting, as they try to explain what Trump is saying here.  It really doesn't make sense on any level, and the more you try to figure it out, the less sense it makes.  I mean, Humpty Dumpty's explanation of "Jabberwocky" sounds reasonable alongside those tweets, and there's no doubt in my mind most of the people responding to Ms. Cox mean, like Humpty Dumpty to Alice, to be helpful.

Even Vox wants to focus on Trump's cost estimates for insurance (which it gets wrong; Vox translates his comment into a premium of $12 a month; Trump clearly says he thinks it starts at $12 a year).  His ignorance of cost is not the issue; his ignorance about insurance, which is as complete as that of a 7 year old, is the issue.

The people responding to Ms. Cox tweet aren't Humpty Dumpty, and they are dealing with nonsense.  And there's no way to make nonsense make sense; that's the whole point of nonsense.  But the source of this nonsense is not an eccentric 19th century English poet and mathematician.

Which is kind of the point of the concern.....

The Thin Red Line

What's your point? (asking for a Trump supporter)

“In my opinion, he shared [the British spy dossier] so that I would think he had it out there,” Mr. Trump told The Times.

“As leverage?” reporters Peter Baker, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman asked.

“Yeah, I think so,” Mr. Trump said. “In retrospect.”

The extended excerpts of the interview contain more allegations against Comey.

Trump also denied Comey’s sworn testimony about the one-on-one meeting when Comey claimed the President cleared the room.

“Look, you look at his testimony,” Trump suggested. “His testimony is loaded up with lies, O.K.?”

Who you gonna believe?  The fired head of the FBI, or the guy who lies about the size of his inaugural crowds?

“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump said, the New York Times reports.

Sessions elected to remove himself from all things Russia after it was revealed he failed to disclose multiple meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump said, according to the Times. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself?”

“If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair—and that’s a mild word—to the president,” he added.
Fuckin' ethics rules!  Ethics are so unfair to the President!

Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia,” the report reads, “Mr. Trump said, ‘I would say yes.’ He would not say what he would do about it. ‘I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.'”

“I don’t think we’re under investigation,” Trump told the Times. “I’m not under investigation. For what? I didn’t do anything wrong.”

And I'll fire anybody who says I did!   Meanwhile, in a classic example of "log in your eye/splinter in your brother's":

Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia. Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office.

And, of course, conflict means people who don't side with Trump:

I said to Jeff Sessions, "Who's your deputy?"  So his deputy he hardly knew, and that's Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore.  There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.
There is some puzzlement  over that this morning, but Trump's meaning couldn't be more clear:  A) Sessions didn't "know" Rosenstein, so Rosenstein couldn't be loyal to Trump.  B) only Republicans should investigate Trump, because only Republicans would be loyal to Trump and not have a "conflict of interest."  Which is clearly being defined by Trump as a lack of loyalty to him.

Trump may have to make good on that threat he didn't quite make:

According to the New York Times, investigators are looking into President Donald Trump’s relationship to Germany’s Deutsche Bank over huge loans the bank gave to Trump throughout their two decade-long relationship.

The bank has been in contact with both financial industry regulators and federal investigators regarding “hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump’s businesses through Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management unit.”

According to the Times, sources close to the bank also say they intend to cooperate with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller in his Russian collusion investigation as well.

I guess he'll have to fire Deutsche Bank, too.

Can we impeach this guy now, before he fires Mueller and pardons himself (I still don't think a self-pardon would stand up in court, but I don't want a Court with Gorsuch on it deciding that issue.)?  Please?  If not for all of the above, then for this?

“Napoleon finished a little bit bad,” the president began. “His one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather?”

Trump then reflected that Hitler made the same mistake in his decision to wage war in Russia during the winter.

“Same thing happened to Hitler,” he said. “Not for that reason, though. Hitler wanted to consolidate. He was all set to walk in. But he wanted to consolidate, and it went and dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and that was the end of that army.”

“But the Russians have great fighters in the cold,” he said. “They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they’ve won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death. It’s pretty amazing. So, we’re having a good time. The economy is doing great.”
It's not the ignorance of history that bothers me, it's the shift from Russia to the economy, as if one logically leads to the other.  Or, rather, as if whatever crosses the empty plain of his mind is deserving of expression.

Can this man even walk and chew gum at the same time?

Erase the "Thin Blue Line" before it kills more of us

"We're looking for the person who called '911'."

It appears the bullshit of the "Thin Blue Line" is what killed Justine Diamond.

I had two uncles who were in law enforcement.  If they ever drew their weapons (both retired long ago; one has since passed on) in the line of duty, I never heard about it.  If they ever considered themselves part of the "thin blue line," or the guards atop the wall keeping the barbarians from us civilized Romans, I never heard about that, either.  Knowing both men as I did, I can't believe they ever thought that way.  Nobody did, back in the day.

Now we all know how "dangerous" a cop's job is, and how much we must excuse them when they shoot someone in the back, or a child with a toy, or a woman who approaches a police car she summoned with a phone call.

No, we haven't reached the point of excusing the officer yet, but why do I feel we will?  I mean, why should it be safe to approach a police car in the dark of night in your pajamas?  Police work is dangerous.  They have to shoot first and take risks later.  Isn't that what everybody says now?  So who are the police on this "thin blue line" protecting, exactly.   Seems to me they are standing on the wall and shooting in, at us.  And all of us are guilty of being scary to the cops.

Somehow, much as I despise what Trump's appointees like Jeff Sessions are doing, I'm a little less worried about that Trump is doing to the country.  He'll be gone in four years.  This bullshit about police shooting first and justifying it later has been with us far too long, and yet I see no sign of it going away anytime soon.  It is a matter of Black Lives Matter; but it's also a matter of letting any damned fool with a gun use it with impunity.

This has got to stop.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Poker, anyone?

According to Corey Lewandowski, this is how you close the "deal" on health care in America:

At Wednesday’s lunch, Trump implored senators to pass a bill, talking for several minutes about the “failing Obamacare.”

He told senators that they should not leave for their August recess until they pass a bill, saying that “we’re close,” even though several iterations of the bill in the last week have essentially been dead on arrival.

“Frankly, I don’t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we can give our people great health care,” Trump said.

Wasn't his most recent proposal to repeal now, replace later?

But that was before he said:

And now it's:  stay in session through August?

Yup, that's a master dealer at work!  He's real good at keeping the deck shuffled!

Because lack of evidence of a conspiracy

How To Spot an Illegal Voter:  #15 in a series

is probably just evidence there really IS a conspiracy.  See?

While introducing the first public meeting in his “voter fraud” commission on Wednesday, the president said that it was likely that the 44 states were reluctant to hand over all requested information on voters — including the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers — because they were trying to conceal wrongdoing.

“If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about?” the president asked rhetorically. “What are they worried about? There’s something, there always is.”

So is the commission supposed to investigate voter fraud?  Not according to its leader, even though he's quite sure you can never prove voter fraud DIDN'T happen, and at the worst possible time!

“Do you believe Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 to 5 million votes because of voter fraud?” MSNBC’s Katy Tur asked Kobach in an interview after the commission’s first meeting. Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.

“We will probably never know the answer to that question, because even if you could prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example, you wouldn’t know how they voted,” he said.

Kobach said the commission was not created to substantiate Trump’s claims.

Tur asked again later: “You think that maybe Hillary Clinton did not win the popular vote?”

“We may never know the answer to that question,” Kobach said.

No secretary of state or board of elections in the country has reported massive voter fraud of illegal voting.

Tur tried a different question later: “So are the votes for Donald Trump that lead him to win the election in doubt as well?”

“Absolutely,” Kobach said. “If there are ineligible voters in an election — people who are non-citizens, people who are felons who shouldn’t be voting according to the laws of that state — you don’t know.”

And if you don't know, it's reasonable to presume it's probably so!  Conspiracies are fun that way!

Now I have to go check for Commies under my bed....

At least dying is not something you have to live with....

So, this is interesting.  Texas, the second most populous state in the union, leads the country in construction related deaths.  Austin, probably the most liberal city in Texas (not really, but it likes to think so), has an ordinance that fast-tracks the permitting process in the city for builders who agree to pay workers "at least $13.50 an hour, follow certain safety standards and offer training and worker’s compensation insurance."  No, that's not what is interesting.

Abbott put on the special session agenda the topic of streamlining the building permitting process in cities (hello, Austin!).  One bill being proposed would block cities like Austin form having ordinances that "burden" contractors with these requirements and impose "wage control" by requiring a higher minimum wage for such jobs.

No, that's not interesting, either.  What's interesting is that the special session is still, nationally and in the state, all about the "bathroom bill." (The Washington Post says that's the "highlight" of the session.  Who will it invite to the post-session ball?)  This bill, which would affect only construction workers, is of no interest to anyone.  Because the safety and livelihood of construction workers is boring.  A bathroom bill that will affect a handful of Texas schoolchildren, however (and it is a HEINOUS bill, and idea) is too titillating to ignore.

Because, you know, who cares about the life and death of construction workers, amirite?

"You are the light of the world!

This sounds like an interesting book, but a very limited one.  I'll accept it as a work of sociology; but it needs the context of church history to really be useful:

Yet Jones raises the possibility that Christianity can only function effectively as a religion in the absence of its dominance in culture, which is to say, as the underdog. Just as Southern evangelicals came to dominance as a response to the perceived diminishing of Christianity in the public sphere among the pluralistic tendencies of the 1950s, so too, Jones suggests, must any effective Christianity of today — one capable of firing up its members — respond against the dominant culture.

He cites several recent examples of thinkers who have advocated just that, from Rod Dreher’s “Benedict option” of focused seclusion to Baptist firebrand Russell Moore’s embrace of Christianity as counter-“cultural.” He writes, "As Christianity seems increasingly strange, and even subversive, to our culture, we have the opportunity to reclaim the freakishness of the gospel, which is what gives it its power in the first place.”

It is that paradox that lies at the heart of The End of White Christian America, and in discussions of Christianity and public life more generally. How can a religion often defined as a religion of outsiders — one whose sacred texts embrace the overturning of the money changers in the Jerusalem temple and celebrate those who leave their families behind to follow a wandering preacher — ever function in a dominant paradigm without losing its distinctive character?

It is that question that Jones’s book leaves us wondering: whether the death of White Christian America, as a cultural construct, is a good thing for Christianity, the religion. For a religion that was once subversive, Jones hints, being countercultural may just be the ideal way to be.

Modern-day ecclesiology has been focussed on that "paradox" for decades, now.  The paradox is not at the heart of a sociological study; it's at the heart of church history.  And the analysis discussed in the Vox article is limited to white Protestantism.  If you want a critique of race and the white Protestant American church you can start with Dr. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," because that was the thesis of that open letter to white Protestant churches.  That the most segregated hour in America was Sunday morning starting at 11:00 a.m. (the Protestant worship hour) was true long before Tara Isabella Burton noticed white churches didn't really do that much in the civil rights movement of 50 years ago.

Christianity will have to become countercultural, even subversive, in order to remain one of the world's great religions.  I really think that is beyond argument.  The Catholic church was once the church of empire.  In the New World, it was an arm of the Spanish king.  The missions in Texas which are now national parks (and deservedly so) were not missionary efforts by Catholic orders; they were explicitly an effort of Spain to control land and people for the benefit of the crown.  The Church may have been interested in souls, but it was the velvet glove around the iron fist of the King.  And that's just an example from recent history, since all our knowledge of the Roman church and European politics tends to default to medieval times.

Never forget it was Lord Acton in the 19th century who warned the Pope, the leaders of Acton's church, that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.  That the church should be in the world but not of the world, is hardly a new idea.

Nor do Protestants get off lightly in this.  Calvin had his Zurich, and Luther his anti-semitism and his love of beer.  They created churches around the cultures they knew, not from whole cloth and based on radical restructuring of human relationships.  Many of the latter kind of experiments occurred in America after Protestantism had pretty well made America safe for Christianity (but not necessarily Roman Catholicism), but all those experiments soon fizzled.  The Christian church has always been a creature of its culture, not a creator of culture.  It is ideally a light in the world, but more commonly just another way for the world to justify itself.  William Bradford wanted to create a Christian community when Europeans here were still colonists.  When enough people had arrived to make Plymouth an outlier rather than the norm, his dream fell to reality.  He had a chance to create a new culture; it didn't work.  It never has.

Many would say Christianity did lose its "distinctive character," and is only now in a position to regain it.  But that way lies arrogance and boundary drawing, leaving me "in" and you "out."  That is not The Way, either.  The great secret of Protestantism was that difference was allowed, and tolerated.  There is not that much difference, in the end, between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, which is why the ecumenical movement flourished for as long as it did (Burton passes lightly over that, as if ecumenism were a weakness, not a strength.  That may be her own view, or that of the book under review; I can't say.  Whatever the source, it's wrong, if only because it presumes that evangelicals who have, as is noted in the review, seen their day (and a short day it was, too) were somehow more "successful".  We have to wonder at a "success" that comes at the end of 500 years of Protestantism and is still only a minor portion of international Christianity, and already showing the limits of its power and appeal after a mere 30 years or so.).  The way forward is not to start declaring a new "true church."  The way forward is to do what Christians have done for millennia:  Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; fear God and obey God's commandments; do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God; clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the sick; entertain angels unaware.

The world will not count this as success.  But the light will be in the world, even if the world knows it not.

The Wind Cries "Mary"

It's even more fun when you match this up to it:

Appearing on “Fox and Friends” Wednesday, Corey Lewandowski was asked about news that the President will have lunch with Republican Senators Wednesday to get the GOP on board with a health care repeal vote next week. He said Senate Republicans are “very, very close” to getting the support they need and said there are just a few “tweaks” that need to happen in order to bring opposing Senators on board.

“Look, it’s been publicly reported that there are probably two Republican U.S. Senators who are going to support the bill, Rand Paul from Kentucky and Sue Collins from Maine. You don’t necessarily need them if you get everybody else and you put (Vice President) Mike Pence in the chair and he breaks the tie,” he said. “I think this bill is going to get done. The President is probably going to close the deal today.”


“I know he is a great dealmaker, I know he is going to do whatever it takes to get this done. I know Mike Lee is someone who wants to support the President on this piece of legislation. I know that other members of the Republican Senate caucus want to support the President on this,” he said. “Look, this is something that the American people have been fighting for and the U.S. Senate has talked about for seven years. It’s now time for action. The President is going to get this bill done. He has campaigned on it, it’s time to move forward.”
This bill no one has been allowed to discuss in public, the details of which have scared off enough Republicans to kill it, which has never been presented to Democrats for scrutiny (and so Democrats are 'blocking' it), is going to "get even better at lunchtime"?  How?  Aging in an oak cask?  Marinating in a secret sauce?  Buried in a mayonnaise jar until noon?

And the wind cries "Mary."  Which is how Trump will close the deal?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Who's up for a land war in Asia?

I mean, why shouldn't the Democrats bail out the GOP?  It only stands to reason!  Meanwhile, back at the ranch:

“Sometime in the near future we will have a vote on repealing Obamacare essentially the same vote we had in 2015,” McConnell told reporters after a private lunch with the Senate GOP caucus.
And after that, the ground war.....

Oh, you know I have to add this:

What a difference 5 years makes....

And there's three....

Well, that didn't take long:

“To repeal there has to be a replacement. There’s enough chaos already, and this would just contribute to it,” Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told reporters, saying she would vote no on any effort to take up legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act enacted in 2010 under former President Barack Obama.
Over to you, Mitch!  Meanwhile, Trump has a plan!

“It will be a lot easier and I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail. We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you Republicans are not going to own it,” Trump said. “We’ll let Obamacare fail and then Democrats will come to us and say ‘How do we fix it?’”


“The way I look at it is, in ’18 we’re going to have to get more people elected. We have to go out and we have to get more people elected that are Republican. And we have to probably pull in those people, those few people that voted against it. I don’t know. They’re going to have to explain why they did and I’m sure they have very fine reasons, but we have to get more Republicans elected because we have to get it done,” he said.
And the way to get more Republicans elected is to screw 1/6th of the economy right into the ground and then disavow any responsibility for controlling all three branches of government!  Because they only did it because they don't have enough control!  It's genius, I tells ya!  And obviously, as all the pundits will no doubt say, Mitch McConnell has a cunning plan to make this all happen!

It's the end of the world as we know it, and Trump feels fine!  No, really, he does!

“We had no Democrat support,” he said. “[T]he vote would have been, if you look at it, 48-4. That’s a pretty impressive vote by any standard.”

I'm guessing that's the New Math I learned in elementary school.  Never did understand it, really.....(and, because I'm all about the schadenfreude, more responses to Trump here.)

And they're back!

You are going to be treated to articles like this about the upcoming Texas special session.  Here's the problem with those articles:  they don't understand the Texas Constitution at all.

Everyone remembers 4 years ago, when Wendy Davis tied up the Texas Senate with a filibuster that ran out the clock on the legislative session.  Well, that was a "special session," one that can only last 30 days (the regular session is only 180 days, every two years).  Ms. Davis literally ran out the clock, so the Senate vote she blocked occurred after midnight on the final day, and was null and void.

In the next special session, they got right on that bill and it was passed in plenty of time.  If I recall correctly, that special session ended quickly.  It was a very public defeat for the GOP, and the Governor at the time (Rick Perry) was having none of that.  But it was possible because special sessions take time to gin up and time to get around to things, and Wendy Davis made use of that feature and the GOP's confidence they could do whatever they wanted, to gum up the works.

In the last regular session this year Joe Strauss, the Speaker of the Texas House, played the Wendy Davis role by simply never letting Dan Patrick's "Bathroom bill" get to the floor of the House for a vote.  Now a Texas Senator has already filed that bill for consideration in the special session which begin tomorrow (and two bills have been filed in the House).  Problem is, the Lege can only consider what's on the agenda set by the Governor, and first on his list is a provision under Texas law that requires all Texas agencies to be re-approved periodically, or automatically go out of business.  It's called a "sunset provision," and in the last session it shut down the Texas Board of Medical Examiners (I think they have to close in September, but no matter).

Abbott called the session first and foremost to keep the TBME in business.  Rather embarrassing to lose an agency like that, even in Texas.  Getting that done is a no-brainer; but getting it done won't occur on the first day of the session.  The Lege has to start over in a special session, and that means bills have to be filed anew, and business conducted as if it hadn't been finished just 6 weeks ago.  This is why, even in the second special session after Wendy Davis' victory, the abortion bill she opposed was passed in the middle of that session, not on the first day.

Abbott has put 19 items on the agenda, with the bill authorizing the TBME as #1.  His second priority (he doesn't really get a choice, but he's made impotent threatening noises about it) is property tax reform.  You'll notice we aren't getting close to the "bathroom bill."  And Democrats are making noises about what they want the session to handle (and may yet leave Austin to deny a quorum if they have to, to block the bathroom bill).  Oh, and Joe Strauss is still against it, and has no reason to let it get to the House floor in July, any more than he did in the regular session.

Would Abbott call another session just to get Patrick's baby passed?  Very unlikely.  He stuck it in a laundry list of things to appease Patrick's supporters, but Abbott doesn't really seem interested in getting it on his desk.  (The governor sets the agenda for special sessions; nothing not on the agenda can be considered by either chamber.)

So, sure, it could happen; but it isn't really likely to.  Once the first item on the agenda is done, there won't be a lot of time left to do too many other items, and there will be a scramble in the last weeks (as there is during the regular session) to get a lot of bills passed.  Both sides want to play the "tweak the agenda" game, for one thing, but if they can't get the governor to smile on their preferred bill, they may not be in a mood to compromise on another bill.

I expect acrimony, not cooperation.   I base that on news reports like this:

Lawmakers are back in Austin in large part because of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who forced the special session by holding hostage the continuation of a handful of state agencies after legislation he deemed a priority — including bathroom restrictions based on "biological sex" — failed to pass during the regular session that wrapped up in May. Those proposals all died in the Texas House where Speaker Joe Straus was steadfast in his opposition to such legislation.

It was clear ahead of Tuesday that the fault lines between legislative leaders were not only still in place but had become more prominent.

Straus has, in fact, upped the ante in the debate, adding to his economic concerns (and IBM has weighed in against the bill now) worries that it could lead even one transgender child (because the only bathrooms the State can really control this way are in public schools) to commit suicide.  This is Straus drawing a line in the sand:

“The House takes every issue on the governor's agenda seriously and will focus on doing what's best for the people of Texas,” he said in the statement. “We will look at each issue closely and carefully consider how these ideas would affect our economy and the lives of the people we represent.”
That's Straus' way of telling Patrick to get stuffed.

And, looking in "live" as I write, there are already concerns the Dems could screw this session:

The "sunset legislation" is saving the TBME, the first item on the agenda.  But already the GOP is afraid the Dems might kill a quorum and end the session prematurely, forcing Abbott to call another one, or just back down and give up  The GOP, in other words, is worried.

I expect the TBME will be saved, and after that not much else will get done.  If it does, the bathroom bill will not be at the top of the list, not ahead of something like property tax reform.  Besides, the Democrats could still decamp, recalling the halcyon days of the "killer bees."

And this time there's no one in the U.S. House to get federal law enforcement to hunt 'em down.....

Does he think the Capitol building is in the Philippines?

And oh, by the way:

Republican Senators Susan Collins and Shelley Moore Capito said on Tuesday they will not vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement healthcare plan.

“My position on this issue is driven by its impact on West Virginians. With that in mind, I cannot vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians,” Capito said in a statement. Collins made her comments to reporters at the Capitol. 
One more Senator announcing something similar, and Mitch McConnell can kiss even partial repeal goodbye, too.

Morning after hangover

Indeed!  Why should Democrats get a vote at all!  Parliamentary system, bitchez!

All the wise heads are muttering into their prematurely gray beards on the intertoobs that Mitch McConnell can still pull it off, can still repeal and replace Obamacare, because Mitch McConnell!  What they cannot explain is how he will pull off this legislative miracle:

The idea has a certain logic. Republicans can quickly make good on their promise to repeal Obamacare and then get to the hard work of actually figuring out what should come next.

And it has precedent. Congress passed a clean Obamacare repeal bill in 2015, which President Obama quickly vetoed. Senators could presumably return to that bill and pass it a second time — although this time, they’d expect Trump to turn the bill into law.

But here’s the problem: In practice, the act of repealing Obamacare, even with a two-year delay for a replacement, would set off a catastrophic reaction across the health care system. A successful repeal vote would drive insurers out of Obamacare’s exchanges, leading to collapsing marketplaces across the country, and Republicans would bear all the blame.
The idea has "a certain logic" if you ignore the fact that such an idea has to go through the legislative process.  It was considered and rejected by the GOP Senate earlier this year (January, to be precise), and it holds no incentive for those concerned about Medicaid cuts (part of Sen. Moran's reason to jump ship and scuttle McConnell's bill).  It's also useless to McConnell, because it would create chaos in the insurance markets, and as I said before, leave the explosion until after the 2018 elections.  That's supposed to help McConnell, but in the "what have you done for me lately?" world of U.S. politics, it's far too little far too late.  And did I mention the chaos in the insurance markets repeal would unleash?  Even Ted Cruz wouldn't vote for that.

Matt Yglesias tells us that:

The real fate of American health care lies with five Republicans — Dean Heller (R-NV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Rob Portman (R-OH), John Hoeven (R-ND), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) — whose behavior since McConnell rolled out BCRA 2.0 has been strange.
Well, sure; except the bill died on the announcements of the guy from Kansas and the guy from Utah.  Moderates had nothing to do with it.  Dylan Scott at least gets that much right:

Conservatives wanted to unwind as much of Obamacare as they could, whatever the consequences. Moderates were skittish about passing a plan that would lead to millions of people losing health coverage they gained under Obamacare, openly advocating to keep some of the most popular provisions of the 2010 health care law. The two ends of the ideological spectrum also struggled to agree on how deeply to cut Medicaid, both by ending Obamacare’s expansion and by putting a hard spending cap on the whole program. 

Josh Marshall last night was still hedging his bets, going with the "if frogs had wings" defense beloved of political commentators who hate being proven solidly wrong:

In most respects, this is no different from what Democrats hoped would be a truism about major new programs. Once people get access to new benefits they’re really hard to take away, especially when tens of millions of people have them. Of course, none of this was foreordained and it’s far from guaranteed even now. It is quite possible that McConnell will still be able to pass a Trumpcare bill. 

Of course, it's impossible now that McConnell will be able to pass a Trumpcare bill, because he's giving up on that.  Even McConnell knows when he's licked, even if pundits refuse to accept what's in front of their eyes.  And what's in front of their eyes is a legislative process nobody wants to pay attention to.

The vote that has now preemptively failed was a vote to take up the House bill and debate it.  Without 50 votes to do that, McConnell can't move anything through the Senate.  McConnell has already announced (though nobody but Jim Newell noticed it) a vote on what Newell labels a "test run" bill:

The "first amendment" McConnell is referring to is the "test run" bill that the House and Senate each passed in 2015 to see how much of Obamacare they could eliminate under reconciliation. (Coincidentally, while the test run bill eliminates as much of Obamacare's taxes and spending as possible, it does not touch any of the market regulations that so arouse conservatives' ire.)
My understanding of reconciliation is that it can't be used to affect the market regulations Newell mentions there, so all it can do is eliminate taxes and spending (which affects the budget, and so can be handled with only 50 votes in the Senate).  As Newell points out:

That bill, though, was passed when House and Senate Republicans knew that President Obama would veto it, and they wouldn't have to live with its consequences. When the Congressional Budget Office, at Democrats' request, rescored the 2015 legislation earlier this year, they found that it would increase the uninsured ranks by 32 million and double premiums over 10 years. It will be... quite difficult to pass that. McConnell may just be offering a sacrifice to conservatives (and the president). 
Yes, the hard-core crazies (like the Sen. from Oklahoma who was dining with Trump last night when news came the bill was dead in the Senate) want to just repeal Obamacare.  As I say, did Ted Cruz offer an amendment to the Senate bill in order to kill it, or to save it?  Is he going to stand fast for straight up repeal and chaos in the marketplace? Is he that sure he'll win in 2018?  Probably not.

And if the GOP Senate can't repeal all of Obamacare through reconciliation, it won't really be "repeal," will it?  The pundits and pooh-bahs may not know that, but the Senators do.  McConnell is no more likely to repeal Obamacare with just 50 votes, than he is to get his bill passed.   Does this sound like a Senator who's going to decide to just burn it all down, sow dragon's teeth, and reap the whirlwind?

“There are serious problems with Obamacare, and my goal remains what it has been for a long time: to repeal and replace it. This closed-door process has yielded the BCRA, which fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs. For the same reasons I could not support the previous version of this bill, I cannot support this one.

“We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy. Furthermore, if we leave the federal government in control of everyday healthcare decisions, it is more likely that our healthcare system will devolve into a single-payer system, which would require a massive federal spending increase. We must now start fresh with an open legislative process to develop innovative solutions that provide greater personal choice, protections for pre-existing conditions, increased access and lower overall costs for Kansans.”

McConnell's bill was an act of severe moderation compared to simple repeal now, replace whenever.  How he is going to make that palatable to 50 Senators, when it will only be partial repeal at best, anyway, is simply beyond me.

Adding:  there is a very interesting analysis here, in tweets, about McConnell's rise to power and his failure on this bill.  This final tweet sums it up (the rest are worth reading for details supporting the argument):

As I said:  sow dragon's teeth, reap the whirlwind.  The pursuit of power for its own sake inevitably ends with finding out you haven't grasped power; it has grasped you.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Has Anybody Told the President?

The GOP is working under reconciliation rules, so they can replace Obamacare with only 50 votes.  Repeal isn't available under those rules:

Pretty clearly, Trump doesn't understand that.  Then again, McConnell can't even get 50 votes to pass his healthcare bill, so it doesn't matter.  It's simply not going to happen.

The sad/funny thing is Trump thinks tweeting is Presidential legislative action.  Well, it's not funny or sad; it's pathetic.

“We must now start fresh with an open legislative process to develop innovative solutions that provide greater personal choice, protections for pre-existing conditions, increased access and lower overall costs for Kansans,”[Sen. Jerry] Moran said in a statement.

No, no!  We just need to put it on Twitter!

Truly pathetic.

Who knew insurance was so complicated?

Glad there's nothing important going on!

Can we just agree Brit Hume is an idiot?

Speaking with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace and Obamacare architect Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, Hume called coverage of those with pre-exisiting conditions, not a “triumph” but problematic, like insuring a driver who has a car wreck in their past.

“The triumph of Obamacare is this coverage for pre-existing conditions, which basically defeats the whole idea of insurance,” Hume suggested. “Which is, for example, in the automobile insurance market, if you could wait until you had a wreck and then buy insurance and have the repairs covered, that’s comparable to what we’re doing here.”

Emanuel attempted to interject saying, “But Brit, if I have cancer –,” only to be cut off by the Fox personality.

“Hold on, let me finish. Can I please finish?” Hume exclaimed. “The idea of insurance is that you purchase it to guard against risks and things that may occur in the future. It’s not that you purchase the coverage after you are already sick. Once that idea is gone, Obamacare essential remains.”

Given a chance to speak, Emanuel attempted to explain the dilemma to Hume.

“If I have cancer through no fault of my own, I didn’t hit a car, I need to have insurance to cover me. This bill does nothing for those people,” he lectured. “It only makes the price of their insurance ever higher. Cancer patients and patients with multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease get completely written out of coverage by this bill.”

Genetics, man; if they're predisposed to cancer or Alzheimer's, they don't deserve coverage.  That defeats the idea of insurance; everybody knows that.  Right?  'Cause the idea of insurance is to never pay for anything, right?

Maybe Mr. Hume is related to an insurance company employee.

As a person who, in 46 years of driving has had 3 accidents, and yet still has insurance coverage (which has returned to normal; it jumped up after the second wreck, but has subsided again), I wish to tell Mr. Hume he doesn't understand insurance at all.

Car insurance is now required in almost every state (I hate to overstate that, so I qualify it), if you want to own a car.  Health insurance used to be something that covered hospitalization (I'm old enough to remember going to the doctor as an adult and not using my insurance to cover my visits.  Indeed, I remember when my doctor had to hire another doctor to help pay for the staff he had to hire to handle all the insurance paperwork as insurance began to take over healthcare.  Now try going to the doctor without it.  I used to pay all my medical bills myself.  I wouldn't want to try that now.).  Health insurance is now more necessary than car insurance (which is really just to make sure I have a company to pay your company for the damages I cause to you).  And neither is revoked if you use it, or is problematic if you have a "pre-existing" condition like driving enough you raise the odds you'll have a wreck.

These things that pass for knowledge I don't understand.....