"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

Friday, January 20, 2017

Ariel Poems: Marina

Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?

What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands
What water lapping the bow
And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog
What images return
O my daughter.

Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning
Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird, meaning
Those who sit in the sty of contentment, meaning
Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning

Are become insubstantial, reduced by a wind,
A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog
By this grace dissolved in place

What is this face, less clear and clearer
The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger—
Given or lent? more distant than stars and nearer than the eye
Whispers and small laughter between leaves and hurrying feet
Under sleep, where all the waters meet.

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.
I made this, I have forgotten
And remember.
The rigging weak and the canvas rotten
Between one June and another September.
Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.
The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking.
This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers
And woodthrush calling through the fog
My daughter.

--T.S. Eliot

Thanks, Obama!

Howard Fineman  points out that Barack Obama was no LBJ, not even a Harry Truman.

But since Ike, who was?

Yes, I know, I'm dipping back before LBJ with that one.  But Kennedy came out of the Senate much as Obama did:  his campaign and his hagiography after his assassination, were all about Kennedy.  Kennedy was no more a "wheeler-dealer" than Obama was, and he didn't let LBJ do all that much for him.  LBJ was the last creature of an American politics that was dying when he took office.   He was almost an anachronism. Nixon was not a creature of the Senate or the House; Ford was, but what did that matter?  Carter?  A southern Governor.  Reagan?  Gov. of California.  GHWBush?  A Washington bureaucrat, hardly an LBJ legislative manipulator.  Clinton?  Another southern governor, like GWBush.

The creatures of DC in that time?  Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld (no, never a POTUS or VPOTUS, but a creature of the DC bureaucracy).  And for Obama, it was Joe Biden.

Does anybody see Joe Biden as a better POTUS than Obama, as being more successful with Congress?  Biden tried to get the Congress to go along with some small measure of gun control after Newtown; how did that go, Howard?

Fineman draws the tightest noose around Obama's neck I've ever seen.  Most analyses blame the rise of the Tea Party on the economic collapse that occurred under Bush, and the ranting of Rick Santelli on CNBC.  And no small part of the organization of that "Tea Party" was owed to old Washington "insiders" who were hard-core conservatives in the GOP.  But according to Fineman, the Tea Party was completely grass roots, and completely Obama's fault:

Everything from the stimulus package to Obamacare was passed on straight party-line votes ― as though America ran on an English-style parliamentary system, rather than the cross-cutting give-and-take of a presidential and congressional one.

The result was the Tea Party explosion of 2010 and the diminishment of the Democratic Party ever since. He leaves behind a party weak, divided and confused at the end of his presidency. But he never really cared about the party. He was above all that.

He even dismisses, without mention, Mitch McConnell's infamous statement about making Obama a one-term President, or the vote of the GOP Caucus to defy Obama in all things.  Instead, yup, Obama's fault:

His response was to firebomb Congress from afar (“YOU have a drink with Mitch McConnell,” he said drily), and pressuring the only people he had the power to pressure, Democrats, via his foul-mouthed chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel. He also relied on professional Democratic arm-twisters of a Congress that was, at the start of the Obama presidency, entirely in Democratic hands.
I think the Democratic Party is in transition because political parties in the U.S. are in transition.  Hillary Clinton relied on the party to put her into the White House, but the party didn't show up at the polling places:  people did.  The party, once upon a time, gave people a reason to vote; but that motivation has been diminishing for decades.  The GOP, in their desperation, turned to inflammatory tactics and bomb throwers like Newt Gingrich (who took up the mantle from Dick Nixon, and turned that practice into an art form).  That is what turned into the Tea Party (that "revolution" was hardly sui generis or the result of Barack Obama's "cool" v. Rick Santelli's spittle); that and the blatant racism the Tea Party functioned on (remember any of that, Howard?  Remember the pictures of Obama the "witch doctor" and Obama the Communist?  Remember any of that invective?  Birthers and the like?  Why does none of that play a part in your "analysis"?).

The GOP has been riding that tiger since Gingrich won the Speakership, and now they wait to find out whether or not the tiger is going to eat them.  Problem is, the tiger may eat the country, too.  No, Obama was not our "magical Negro" who was going to sagely save us from ourselves; and maybe he thought he would be.  Or maybe he really believed in the "audacity of hope" and the "fierce urgency of now".  Certainly having a drink with Mitch McConnell was never going to change the course of the nation.  And certainly Obama had, has, a tremendous ego; get into the Presidency, hell, get into public office, without it.

As for what Obama tried to do:

It was a clever, technocratic and political strategy, sold inside the Beltway by a new wave of policy nerds who could follow Obama’s strange mix of GOP theory (marketplaces) and LBJ-style government “progrums.” But the final result ignored two things: the GOP’s willingness to cut benefits and their furious opposition to any new taxes.

In other words, the GOP are nihilist bomb throwers who want government to do only what they want it to do, and will oppose all other attempts at representing any more than a vocal minority of the country (did Donald Trump win because of the vote, or because of the peculiarity of the Electoral College?  In what other democracy on the planet would the loser of the popular vote legitimately win the highest office in the land?).   Do I exaggerate?  Right on cue, Newt Gingrich offers this explanation of why Trump's plan to cut the number of federal employees by 20% is such a good idea: “all those bureaucrats overwhelmingly voted for Clinton. There won’t be any real cooperation until we change federal law so we can fire them.” Thanks, Obama!

Even the Dixiecrats were never so determined to see government fail as the Tea Party has been, were never so determined to destroy the Congress and shut down the U.S. government if they couldn't have their way in all things.  And yet this sea change in American governance, this near collapse of the entire "American experiment," is the fault of one man, because he was a "clever technocrat" who thought a bit too much of himself.

Good grief.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Dese are de conditions dat prevail!"

The Greek concept of tragedy was based on their cosmology.  For them, creation was a matter of logos, but not the logos John referred to in the opening of that gospel (close, though!).  Logos as reason, not just as word.  Logos, reason, imposed order on chaos, and thus the cosmos as we know it arose.

Problem was, logos was not that tight a lid on chaos.  Christians wrestle with the problem of evil; the Greeks wrestled with the problem of unreason.  When things went wrong, it was a failure of logos; it was an irruption of chaos.  Reason did all it could, but it could fail.  When it failed in tragic heroes, tragedy resulted.  When it failed in human affairs, chaos resulted.  Chaos was never defeated, but only controlled, only quelled.  The lid stayed on by the efforts of reason, and chaos stayed in the background.  But eventually, in the last tragedy of all, logos would fail, and chaos would reclaim its supremacy.

Call it another reason Plato was pessimistic about the viability of democracy.  It's not really part of Plato's argument, but like the elegiac in Old English literature that still sounds in the best British and American literature today (think of all the glories of the past on Tolkien's Middle Earth, gone, long gone, and never to return; and even when they do, Aragon's rule, too, will fade), it's somewhere in the background of Plato's reasoning.

So now comes Charlie Pierce to lament the rise of Trump and the departure of Obama, and he says, in his summing up:

But the one thing he never did—and the fact that his political opposition is so contemptuous of his personal style is proof enough that he was right—was to turn the office into what his successor apparently intends it to be: an endless celebration of nothing. On his last day, despite all the interviews he's given about how his faith in the American people has grown stronger, it's hard to believe he doesn't look out the windows of the White House now and wonder if he truly understood the country and its people at all. It is the last day he will be President of the United States, a once-great country that doesn't understand itself.
Obama understood the people, and he told them what they wanted to hear.  Trump did the same thing, but he managed to gain control with less than a majority of the country, and his support is going down.   Not that the support of the people means that much:  Obama had support of 90% of the country after the Newtown massacre, but he couldn't do anything with it.  Our system doesn't work that way; it never has.  That Trump won the White House, though, and Obama leaves more popular than Trump comes in, doesn't mean support for Obama or the Democrats is going up.  That's the zero-sum game Hillary Clinton played and lost.  Disgust with Trump didn't translate into support for Clinton, and Trump's victory hardly means he's got the whole country in his hands.   The system doesn't work that way; it never has.

 Still, the ancient Greeks had a better handle on it, though the Christian doctrine of original sin isn't inapplicable, either.  The way to understand the "American people" is to understand that:  the one thing that joins us is not nationality or patriotism or heritage or tradition.  We all have different understandings of those terms. What joins us is a concept of sin, or the nature of chaos.  In either one, reason fails, and trouble results.  Our institutions have never been able to make us do what we don't want to do, and have never been able to save us from ourselves.  We started with a compromise on the "peculiar institution" of slavery, and it took a war to end it.  We made no effort to right that wrong for another 100 years, and the past 60 years have been marked by the refusal to accept that promissory note Dr. King spoke about in 1963.  This country was formed with its own version of chaos, rooted in slavery from the arrival of Columbus, and we haven't managed to eradicate that sin with words, yet.

This country has never understood itself, and it never will; not until it hears the words of Jeremiah Wright, quoting a U.S. Ambassador, that the chickens truly come home to roost, and we are responsible for what we have done in the world.  It wasn't Obama's place to be our national preacher and tell us those truths.  He was right to praise the strengths of the American people; as right as Trump is wrong to peddle lies.  But humankind cannot bear very much reality, especially from its President.  And if the chaos does overtake us someday, well, it will be on us.  There will be a certain inevitability in it, a certain justice.  And it will be because we thought too much of ourselves; and too little.

Filling the small hours....

Like the President-to-be, you can envision me hard at work....

I wanted to highlight this bit from Dr. King's speech:

The crowning achievement in hypocrisy must go to those staunch Republicans and Democrats of the Midwest and West who were given land by our government when they came here as immigrants from Europe. They were given education through the land grant colleges. They were provided with agricultural agents to keep them abreast of forming trends, they were granted low interest loans to aid in the mechanization of their farms and now that they have succeeded in becoming successful, they are paid not to farm and these are the same people that now say to black people, whose ancestors were brought to this country in chains and who were emancipated in 1863 without being given land to cultivate or bread to eat; that they must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. What they truly advocate is Socialism for the rich and Capitalism for the poor.

Because it goes directly against the current grain of the "rugged individual" and the "self-made man" which is part of the mythos of America  I am sick to death of hearing from people in the West who think they settled it all with their own two hands and a Colt revolver.  Without the land grants they were given to move across the Mississippi and head for the California coast, much of that area might still be controlled by Spain.  Without massive government support, the transcontinental railroad would still be a pipe dream.  Without all the things Dr. King mentions, the West might be even less inhabited than it is now.  And so much of California's prosperity is based on federal government spending it isn't even funny.

And, as he says:

They were provided with agricultural agents to keep them abreast of forming trends, they were granted low interest loans to aid in the mechanization of their farms and now that they have succeeded in becoming successful, they are paid not to farm and these are the same people that now say to black people, whose ancestors were brought to this country in chains and who were emancipated in 1863 without being given land to cultivate or bread to eat; that they must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. 
I watched this show the other night, a laudable effort by Houston Public Media (NPR/PBS) to discuss the race issues of the fourth largest city in the country.  It was excellent, and telling.  The small panel in the visual on the website listened to, and responded to, answers to questions by two other small groups (six each) of white and black Houston residents.  The differences between the groups were telling, but none more so than the discussion of "affirmative action."

As one of the panelists pointed out, President Kennedy coined the phrase rather inadvertently when he issued an executive order that government contractors "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."   It's the same concept King is getting at there; and the distinction is in something else the panelists mentioned:  Dr. King promoted integration; but his followers, after his untimely death, settled for de-segregation.

The difference haunts our efforts at facing racism to this day.

The white group each affirmed the idea that everyone should be treated equally, but all equally rejected the idea that this equality should be achieved by any action or any redress.  Their attitude was that of the Republicans and Democrats Dr. King addressed:  now that they are successful, people who were finally released from slavery 150 years ago, after 400 years of that peculiar institution dominating this country, should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

The way the ancestors of the current residents of the American West did.

We are profoundly divided on this issue because to face it squarely would mean to take a responsibility we, the white people of America, just don't want to take.  At the extreme this is the attitude of Dylann Roof, who thought his power would be stripped from him by black Americans.  Of course, Dylann Roof didn't have any power, so his impotent but murderous attack was not the response of the people interviewed by Houston Public Media.  More secure in their power than Mr. Roof was in his, they argue not for radical change to protect them, but for the status quo, to ensure them a comfortable end to their material existence.  The difference is profound, but the distinction is a fine one.

In an interesting programming choice, the PBS documentary "The March" followed the broadcast of  "Houston in Black and White."  I also recommend it, if you've never seen it.  The March on Washington was secure and successful only in retrospect.  At one point President Kennedy tried to dissuade Dr. King from the whole operation, on the basis that the FBI was reporting King's organization (and the others involved in the planning of the March) were infiltrated by Communists.  Which sounds like the paranoia of J. Edgar Hoover, until you remember the responses to the "Black Panthers" and consider the reactions to Black Lives Matter.

One of the things many of the participants, in the groups as well as on the panel, agreed on was that we must first put our house (whose house?  Don't worry about the details....) in order before we address the problems we have with others.  It's a comforting notion, this idea that we can set all our affairs straight and THEN address our relationships to others.  But it never works out that way.

In one sense, that argument is like Kierkegaard's swipe at Hegel; Kierkegaard imagined a man who became so abstracted from his own personal existence, so lost in the idealism of Hegelian thought, that he found one day he had died, and never realized it.  It is a comforting ideal to say "Once I am fine/perfect/comfortable, then I can take on my relationship with others," but you can no more abstract yourself from relationships with others than you can abstract yourself from your own existence.  And yes, I see that as the fundamental problem of the stereotypical "independent" Westerner:  a person so independent of others he dissociates from himself, and finds one day he's no longer alive, no longer human.

Auden was right:  we must love one another, or die.

We can't put "our house" in order without putting our world in order.  It is tempting to agree with Candide that we much each tend our own garden, but that only makes us gardeners, it doesn't make us community members.  We must take care of each other, or no one is taken care of; and we must begin with the other, and not with the self.

To put it in concrete terms, the rejoinder to the claim we must set our house in order first, we must take care of ourselves first, is the story of Elijah and the widow:

After a while the stream dried up, for there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go now to Zarephath, a village of Sidon, and stay there; I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ He went off to Zarephath, and when he reached the entrance to the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks. He called to her, ‘Please bring me a little water in a pitcher to drink.’ As she went to fetch it, he called after her, ‘Bring me, please, a piece of bread as well.’ But she answered, “As the Lord your God lives, I have no food baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a flask. I am just gathering two or three sticks to go and cook it for my son and myself before we die.’ ‘Have no fear,’ Elijah said, ‘go and do as you have said. But first make me a small cake from what you have and bring it out to me, and after that make something for your son and yourself. For this is the word of the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of flour will not give out, nor the flask of oil fail, until the Lord sends rain on the land.’ She went and did as Elijah had said, and there was food for him and for her family for a long time. The jar of flour did not give out, nor did the flask of oil, as the word of the Lord foretold through Elijah. 1 Kings 17:7-16 (REB)
Yes, it's the story of a miracle.  Yes, it's a story of faith, if you understand faith as "trust," not as some abstract concept relating an individual to God.  Elijah trusts the word of the Lord, and the widow trusts Elijah.  "But first," Elijah tells her; "but first make me a small cake...and after that make something for your son and yourself."  Had she not, she and her son would not have survived the drought; nor would Elijah.  The sensible thing for her to do was to insist she had nothing to share; because she wouldn't have.  But she didn't do the sensible thing, "and there was food for him and for her family for a long time."  It is a lesson in faith.  It is a lesson in hospitality.  It is a lesson in who you should take care of first.

Which is what Dr. King was talking about.  We set up systems:  systems of law, systems of economics, systems based on geography and social structures, and we say those systems will save us, preserve us, protect us; that if we only take care of the system first (family, friends, neighbors, wherever the boundary lines are drawn), then we can later take care of others.  We put our trust, our faith, in those systems.  Every time those systems fail and we insist they have not failed, they have only been failed.  Our trust, our faith, is truly blind, which is why we lash out at religious believers for their "blind faith."  Every time, we see in the world the reflection of ourselves, and call that the Big Idea the can never Fail.

Of course, if we put the other first, elevated the least and lowest and sent the first to the end of the line, if we tried first to take care of others so that all would be taken care of equally; what then?

Truly the more things change, the more they remain the same.  Unless we change them at the root; at the radix; unless we become radical.

The Doomsday Clock ticks closer to midnight....

Whaddya mean a tweet doesn't count as an inaugural address?

The PEOTUS has time for this:

And this:

But not for this:

We're two days away from having a new president. But we're apparently a lot longer than that from having a Trump administration with even a minimally functional ability to govern.
Overall, out of 690 positions requiring Senate confirmation tracked by the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service, Trump has come up with only 28 people so far.

The Atlantic's Russell Berman had a good story two weeks ago about how far behind Trump was. Since then? If anything, it's getting worse -- he's added only two of those 28 since Jan. 5. As Berman reported, the Partnership for Public Service suggested a president should have "100 Senate-confirmed appointees in place on or around Inauguration Day." At this pace, he won't have 100 nominees by the end of February, let alone having them confirmed and hard at work.
So what?  Trump won't start to work until next Monday, anyway.  What could go wrong?  Besides, I'm sure he'll keep tweeting to tell us how the press is telling lies about him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


I wrote a lengthy post about this article:

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, faced a skeptical and at times testy crowd Tuesday as dozens of people arrived at an afternoon meeting to make sure he knew they would not let the Affordable Care Act end without a fight.
Pointing out how conservative the district is that Rep. Brady represents, and how much the article indicated he was out of touch with his constituents on the usefulness of the ACA.  My favorite bit was at the end:

It was clear that local organizers of the event had not anticipated so much spontaneous dissent. Chamber CEO J.J. Hollie remarked at the beginning that the crowd was larger and more varied than expected, making a pointed comment that word must have seeped out on social media.

This was not the first meeting where elected officials who favor repealing the ACA have encountered unhappy constituents. A video of Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., sneaking out early of a town hall meeting has made the rounds of the internet. Frustration boiled over as those who opposed a repeal were unable to speak with him.
Damned social media, letting people we don't want to represent into meetings with the Representative!  But the more interesting story is not this one out of Texas, but the many coming in from across the country.  That bit about Mike Coffman, the first report of dissent about what Paul Ryan and the GOP want to do.  He got "partisan activists," it seems:

"Yesterday was unfortunate because partisan activists showed up only to disrupt the event I was holding at Aurora Central Library. I have been doing five minute one-on-one constituent meetings for the last five years although I do allow small groups, if they share the same issue concerns. This gives an opportunity for everyone to be heard and not just the loudest voices in the room."

The video above is from that link.  Watch the people singing "America" and "This Land is Your Land" and chanting "This is what democracy looks like!"  Damned partisan activists!

Texas and Colorado:  and then Grand Rapids, Michigan:

"Do you or do you not support the immediate repeal of the Affordable Care Act with or without a replacement?" one attendee asked.

When Amash answered, saying he expects the burden of replacing the federal law upon repeal to fall to individual state governments, the crowd erupted with dissent.
And in Virginia:

I am a physician, really worried about the effect of the repeal of the ACA on my patients. I have been calling Garrett, my Republican Rep from Charlottesville area of VA to see what his position is. His staff tell me that “We have not discussed this with the representative yet” – which of course is the same thing as saying he is running away from having a position.
Remember the attempt to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, and how fast the House reversed course on that?  There's a reason Paul Ryan wanted to repeal the ACA as soon as Trump's hand comes off the Bible on Friday, but more and more it looks like he's not going to get there.

If history is any guide, anyway.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Oh, I fully intend to: remembering Dr. King in 2017


I came to see this in a personal experience here in Chicago last summer. In all the speaking I have done in the United States before varied audiences, including some hostile whites, the only time I have ever been booed was one night in our regular weekly mass meetings by some angry young men of our movement. Now Iwent home that night with an ugly feeling. Selfishly I thought of my suffering and sacrifices over the last twelveyears. Why would they boo one so close to them? But as I lay awake thinking. I finally came to myself. And Icould not for the life of me have less impatience and understanding for those young men.  For twelve years, I and others like me, have held out radiant promises of progress. I had preached to them about my dream. I had lectured to them about the not too distant day when they would have freedom, all here, now. I had urged them to have faith in America and in white society. Their hopes had soared. They were now booing me because they felt  that we were unable to deliver on our promises. They were booing because we had urged them to have faith in people who had too often proved to be unfaithful. They were now hostile because they were watching the dream that they had so readily accepted, turn into a frustrating nightmare. This situation is all the more ominous in view of the rising expectations of men the world over. The deep rumblings that we hear today, the rumblings of discontent, is the thunder of disinherited masses rising from dungeons of oppressions to the bright hills of freedom. All over the world like a fever, freedom is spreading in the widest liberation movement in history. The great masses of people are determined to end the exploitation of their races and lands. And in one majestic chorus they are singing in the worlds of our freedom song, “ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around”.

And so the collision course is set. The people cry for freedom and the congress attempts to legislate repression. Millions, yes billions, are appropriated for mass murder; but the most meager pittance for foreign aid for international development is crushed in the surge of reaction. Unemployment rages at a major depression level in the black ghettos, but the bi-partisan response is an anti-riot bill rather than a serious poverty program.The modest proposals for model cities, rent supplement and rat control, pitiful as they were to began with, get caught in the maze of congressional inaction. And I submit to you tonight, that a congress that proves to be more anti-negro than anti-rat needs to be dismissed. It seems that our legislative assemblies have adopted Nero as their patron saint and are bent on fiddling while our cities burn.  Even when the people persist and in the face of great obstacles, develop indigenous leadership and self-help approaches to their problems and finally tread the forest of bureaucracy to obtain existing government funds, the corrupt political order seeks to crush even this beginning of hope. The case of CDGM in Mississippi is the most publicized example but it is a story repeated many times across our nation.Our own experience here in Chicago is especially painfully present. After an enthusiastic approval by H.E. W’s Department of Adult Education, SCLC began an adult literacy project to aid 1,000 young men and women who have been pushed out of overcrowded ghetto schools, in obtaining basic [literary] skills prerequisite to receiving jobs.

We had an agreement with A&P stores for 750 jobs through SCLC’s job program, Operation Breadbasket and had recruited over 500 pupils the first week. At that point Congressmen Paccinski and the Daley machine intervened and demanded that Washington cut off our funds or channel them through the machine controlled poverty program in Chicago. Now we have no problem with administrative supervision, but we do have a desire to be independent of machine control and the Democratic Party patronage network. For this desire for a politically independent approach to the needs of our brothers, our funds are being stopped as of September 15th and a very meaningful program discontinued. Yes the hour is dark, evil comes forth in the guise of good. It is a time of double talk when men in high places have a high blood pressure of deceptive rhetoric and an anemia of concrete performance.  We cry out against welfare hand outs to the poor but generously approve an oil depletion allowance to make the rich, richer. Six Mississippi plantations receive more than a million dollars a year, not to plant cotton but no provision is made to feed the tenant farmer who is put out of work by the government subsidy. The crowning achievement in hypocrisy must go to those staunch Republicans and Democrats of the Midwest and West who were given land by our government when they came here as immigrants from Europe. They were given education through the land grant colleges. They were provided with agricultural agents to keep them abreast of forming trends, they were granted low interest loans to aid in the mechanization of their farms and now that they have succeeded in becoming successful, they are paid not to farm and these are the same people that now say to black people, whose ancestors were brought to this country in chains and who were emancipated in 1863 without being given land to cultivate or bread to eat; that they must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. What they truly advocate is Socialism for the rich and Capitalism for the poor.

I wish that I could say that this is just a passing phase in the cycles of our nation’s life; certainly times of war, times of reaction throughout the society but I suspect that we are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning. That is the sickness of racism, excessive materialism and militarism. Not only is this our nation’s dilemma it is the plaque of western civilization. As early as 1906 W. E. B Dubois prophesized that the problem of the 20th century, would be the problem of the color line, now as we stand two-thirds into this crucial period of history we know full well that racism is still that hound of hell which dogs the tracks of our civilization. Ever since the birth of our nation, White America has had a Schizophrenic personality on the question of race, she has been torn between selves. A self in which she proudly profess the great principle of democracy and a self in which she madly practices the antithesis of democracy. This tragic duality has produced a strange indecisiveness and ambivalence toward the Negro, causing America to take a step backwards simultaneously with every step forward on the question of Racial Justice; to be at once attracted to the Negro and repelled by him, to love and to hate him. There has never been a solid, unified and determined thrust to make justice a reality for Afro-Americans. The step backwards has a new name today, it is called the white backlash, but the white backlash is nothing new. It is the surfacing of old prejudices, hostilities and ambivalences that have always been there. It was caused neither by the cry of black power nor by the unfortunate recent wave of riots in our cities. The white backlash of today is rooted in the same problem that has characterized America ever since the black man landed in chains on the shores of this nation.

This does not imply that all White Americans are racist, far from it. Many white people have, through a deep moral compulsion fought long and hard for racial justice nor does it mean that America has made no progress in her attempt to cure the body politic of the disease of racism or that the dogma of racism has been considerably modified in recent years. However for the good of America, it is necessary to refute the idea that the dominant ideology in our country, even today, is freedom and equality while racism is just an occasional departure from the norm on the part of a few bigoted extremists. Racism can well be, that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on western civilization. Arnold Toynesbee has said that some twenty-six civilizationhave risen upon the face of the Earth, almost all of them have descended into the junk heap of destruction. The decline and fall of these civilizations, according to Toynesbee, was not caused by external invasion but by internal decay. They failed to respond creatively to the challenges impingent upon them. If America does not respond creatively to the challenge to banish racism, some future historian will have to say, that a great civilization died because it lacked the soul and commitment to make justice a reality for all men.

The second aspect of our afflicted society is extreme materialism. An Asian writer has portrayed our dilemma in candid terms, he says, “you call your thousand material devices labor saving machinery, yet you are forever busy. With the multiplying of your machinery you grow increasingly fatigued, anxious, nervous, dissatisfied. Whatever you have you want more and where ever you are you want to go somewhere else. Your devices are neither time saving nor soul saving machinery. They are so many sharp spurs which urge you on to invent more machinery and to do more business”. This tells us something about our civilization that cannot be cast aside as a prejudiced charge by an eastern thinker who is jealous of Western prosperity. We cannot escape the indictment. This does not mean that we must turn back the clock of scientific progress. No one can overlook the wonders that science has wrought for our lives. The automobile will not abdicate in favor of the horse and buggy or the train in favor of the stage coach or the tractor in favor of the hand plow or the scientific method infavor of ignorance and superstition. But our moral lag must be redeemed; when scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men. When we foolishly maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum we sign the warrant for our own day of doom.

It is this moral lag in our thing-oriented society that blinds us to the human reality around us and encourages us in the greed and exploitation which creates the sector of poverty in the midst of wealth. Again we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the protestant ethic of hard word and sacrifice, the fact is that Capitalism was build on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor –both black and white, both here and abroad. If Negroes and poor whites do not participate in the free flow of wealth within our economy, they will forever be poor, giving their energies, their talents and their limited funds to the consumer market but reaping few benefits and services in return. The way to end poverty is to end the exploitation of the poor, ensure them a fair share of the government services and the nation's resources. I proposed recently that a national agency be established to provide employment for everyone needing it. Nothing is more socially inexcusable than unemployment in this age. In the 30s when the nation was bankrupt it instituted such an agency, the WPA, in the present conditions of a nation glutted with resources, it is barbarous to condemn people desiring work to soul sapping inactivity and poverty. I am convinced that even this one, massive act of concern will do more than all the state police andarmies of the nation to quell riots and still hatreds. The tragedy is, our materialistic culture does not possess the statesmanship necessary to do it. Victor Hugo could have been thinking of 20th Century America when he wrote, “there’s always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher classes”. The time has come for America to face the inevitable choice between materialism and humanism. We must devote at least as much to our children’s education and the health of the poor as we do to the care of our automobiles and the building of beautiful, impressive hotels.

We must also realize that the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be  solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power. We must further recognize that the ghetto is adomestic colony. Black people must develop programs that will aid in the transfer of power and wealth into thehands of residence of the ghetto so that they may in reality control their own destinies. This is the meaning of  New Politics. People of will in the larger community, must support the black man in this effort.

The final phase of our national sickness is the disease of militarism. Nothing more clearly demonstrates our nation’s abuse of military power than our tragic adventure in Vietnam. This war has played havoc with the destiny of the entire world. It has torn up the Geneva Agreement, it has seriously impaired the United Nations, it has exacerbated the hatred between continents and worst still between races. It has frustrated our development at home, telling our own underprivileged citizens that we place insatiable military demands above their critical needs. It has greatly contributed to the forces of reaction in America and strengthened the military industrial complex. And it has practically destroyed Vietnam and left thousands of American and Vietnamese youth maimed and mutilated and exposed the whole world to the risk of nuclear warfare. Above all, the War in Vietnam has revealed what Senator Fulbright calls, “our nations arrogance of power”. We are arrogant in professing to be concerned about the freedom of foreign nations while not setting our own house in order. Many of our Senators and Congressmen vote joyously to appropriate billions of dollars for the War in Vietnam and many of these same Senators and Congressmen vote loudly against a Fair Housing Bill to make it possible for a Negro veteran of Vietnam to purchase a decent home. We arm Negro soldiers to kill on foreign battlefields but offer little protection for their relatives from beatings and killings in our own South. We are willing to make a Negro 100% of a citizen in Warfare but reduce him to 50% of a citizen on American soil.

The first paragraph could be the experience of President Barack Obama.  For the rest, only the particulars of history have changed; the fundamentals of the country are unaltered, indeed, have snapped back into the place they were 50 years ago.  We have no one who speaks to us this way today and if we did, we would treat her or him as Dr. King was treated 50 years ago.

We would do better to open our hearts and our minds.

Doing what the PEOTUS asked

Bernie Sanders is wrong:

Yes. The next problem has to do with going issue by issue. This is happening right now. Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer went onto the Rachel Maddow show on the same day, and they said, “The American people agree with us, issue by issue, each case and we’re going to press Trump issue by issue, and we’re going to start with health care and go on to other things.” What they’re missing is values.

They’re missing the idea that many Americans who depend on health care, affordable health care, for example, have strict-father positions and voted for Trump against their interests. And this is something has been known for ages, that a lot of poor conservatives vote against their material interests, because they’re voting for their worldview. And the reason for it is that their moral worldview defines who they are. They are not going to vote against their own definition of who they are. 

But not for the reasons George Lakoff thinks:

What you’ll learn in those courses is what is called Enlightenment reason, from 1650, from Descartes. And here’s what that reasoning says: What makes us human beings is that we are rational animals and rationality is defined in terms of logic. Recall that Descartes was a mathematician and logician. He argued that reasoning is like seeing a logical proof. Secondly, he argued that our ideas can fit the world because, as he said, “God would not lie to us.” The assumption is that ideas directly fit the world.

They’re also, Descartes argued, disembodied. He said that if ideas were embodied, were part of the body, then physical laws would apply to them, and we would not have free will. And in fact, they are embodied, physical laws do apply to them, and we do not have absolute free will. We’re trapped by what the neural systems of our brains  have accumulated. We can only see what our brains allow us to understand, and that’s an important thing.

So what he said, basically, was that there are no frames, no embodiment, no metaphor — none of the things people really use to reason. Moreover if we think logically and we all have the same reasoning, if you just tell people the facts, they should reason to the same correct conclusion. And that just isn’t true. And that keeps not being true, and liberals keep making the same mistake year after year after year. So that’s a very important thing
For one thing, Donald Trump didn't win because he garnered overwhelming support from a majority of the electorate.  He won because Hillary Clinton refused to listen to Howard Dean, and assumed the active support of "traditional" Democratic voters who didn't bother to turn out because they were expected to, but never encouraged to.  Black voters in the South certainly didn't vote for Donald Trump, but their turnout was lower than 2012 because Clinton's campaign didn't get out their vote:  they just considered their vote as given.  Had Clinton actually campaigned in Texas, she might have won the state.  She certainly got closer to winning it than any Democratic candidate since Texas went blood-red.  Trump only won by the quirk of the electoral college and by Clinton running a poor national campaign.

If Donald Trump and his promises were so popular, would this be happening?

On Saturday, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman held an event for his constituents at a public library in Aurora, Colorado. At least 150 constituents showed up, most of them hoping to ask Coffman about his recent vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his plans for a replacement. But only about 70 people got to meet with Coffman: Despite booking a large room with ample space, Coffman allowed in only four constituents at once for five minutes at a time. When the crowd grew restless, police put up crime scene tape and Coffman snuck out the back door—six minutes before the event was scheduled to end.

Trump didn't win because he kept making people think of an elephant.  If that were the case, his approval rating right now wouldn't be the lowest ever recorded for an incoming President.

In fact, let's run this entire conversation through Lakoff's analysis:

In an interview on ABC's "This Week," Priebus responded to Rep. John Lewis' (D-GA) comment that Trump is not "a legitimate president" by denying that Republicans ever questioned the legitimacy of Obama's election victory.

"I and we look up to John Lewis and his historic contribution to civil rights and voting rights," Priebus said. "And in particular his—"

"But the President-elect said he was all talk and no action!" George Stephanopoulos interrupted, referring to tweets Trump posted Saturday morning lashing out at the Georgia congressman and civil rights icon.

"But, let me answer, but here's the problem," Priebus said. "We need folks like John Lewis and others who I think have been champions of voter rights to actually recognize the fact that Donald Trump was duly elected."

He called it "incredibly disappointing" and "irresponsible" for someone of Lewis' stature to question Trump's legitimacy as president.

"I think in fact President Obama could step up," Priebus said, suggesting that the White House should come out in Trump's favor.

"But isn't it harder to do that after a tweet like that from the President-elect?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"But George, hang on! John Lewis stood up in an interview and said that Donald trump was not a legitimate president! That's insanity, and it's wrong!" Priebus replied. "You're worried about a tweet that says 'get back to work instead of questioning my legitimacy'? Too bad!"

"We just had Senator Sanders on the program. He did not question the legitimacy of the President-elect," Stephanopoulos said. "But he did say that it was right to bring up questions like this because of Donald Trump's past and questioning the legitimacy of Barack Obama with those years and years of questions about where he was born."

"Donald Trump's made it clear certainly over the last few years that President Obama was born in Hawaii," Priebus claimed.

"Not until the end of the campaign!" Stephanopoulos replied.

"But hang on a second, George, we're not questioning the legitimacy of the outcome of the election," Priebus said. "You didn't have Republicans questioning whether or not Obama legitimately beat John McCain in 2008."

"It is a fact that Donald Trump was questioning whether President Obama was eligible to serve as president under the Constitution," Stephanopoulos countered.

"And many people were, George, but that's been resolved for years now, and it's been resolved for at least two years in Donald Trump's mind!" Priebus hit back.

"Just a factual point," Stephanopoulos interrupted, speaking over Priebus. "He didn't stop raising those questions until late in this campaign, not two years."

"But look, George, that's not the point!" Priebus said, visibly agitated. "The point is not where Barack Obama was born! The point is that we've got congressmen on the Democratic side of the aisle that are questioning the legitimacy of President-elect Trump."

A commenter at TPM said Priebus and Stephanopolous were using different definitions of "legitimate" there.  Perhaps, but does it matter?  Priebus is simply lying.  He's deflecting all criticism of Trump and insisting the only person who can be criticized here is John Lewis.  Now, frankly, that's the kind of criticism Martin Luther King faced in his day.  If you imagine Dr. King was a revered figure, that his "I have a dream" speech was the only speech he had to give, that his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" opened the eyes of a nation as they turned to him for guidance and solace and reconciliation with their past; well, then, what Priebus said probably sounds legitimate to you.

But that's not likely.

Do the Democrats counter Priebus with sage wisdom?  Or do they go one step past Stephanopolous and simply call him a bald-faced liar who can't be trusted to report on the state of the weather outside?  Because that conversation is simply insane.  One need not dissect it, argue with it, explain it, or analyze it.  It is simply bullshit, and should be called same.

It's what Donald Trump would do.  It's the "straight talk" that Lakoff says has made Trump so popular (again, so popular his approval rating is at an historic low before he takes office.  It will only do down from there; it always does.).  I don't have to not think of an elephant when I hear the remarks of Mr. Priebus:  I'm already thinking of a man so full of shit his eyes are brown; of a mendacious lying weasel who would back the bus over his grandmother if he thought it would advance is career; a Grima Wormtongue, a toady, a bug I'd step on if I found it on the kitchen floor when the lights went on.  People who can lie that easily (and poorly) have no place in decent company.

That's what I think of.  Well, that and the fact challenges to Obama's legitimacy as President go back for 8 years.  And if you're being particular about what Priebus claimed, you can find a list of prominent GOP politicians who challenged Obama's legitimacy as President here.

Josh Marshall hits on this point in his reaction to the way the press is already covering Trump, and what should be done about it:

Trump wants to bully the press and profit off the presidency. He's told us this clearly in his own words. We need to accept the reality of both. The press should cover him on that basis, as a coward and a crook. The big corporate media organizations may not be able to use those words, I understand, but they should employ that prism. The truth is that his threats against the press to date are ones it is best to laugh at. If Trump should take some un- or extra-constitutional actions, we will deal with that when it happens. I doubt he will or can. But I won't obsess about it in advance. Journalists should be unbowed and aggressive and with a sense of humor until something happens to prevent them from doing so. Trump is a punk and a bully. People who don't surrender up their dignity to him unhinge him.

Much the same applies to the endless chatter about 'conflicts of interest' and the insufficiency of his plan to separate himself from his businesses. Why are we still saying Trump isn't doing enough to avoid conflicts of interest? He's made clear he wants to profit off his presidency. Let's accept that. That is what he wants to do. If you're a journalist, start documenting the details. If you're an activist or politician start mobilizing against his corruption.
We know what Trump is doing.  Quit trying to prove it to the satisfaction of people who will never be satisfied (the mythical "Trump supporters" who must be convinced to abandon Trump, or all hope is lost; i.e., the same people Lakoff would have us worry about) and just start talking about the situation as it is.  Don't worry about thinking of an elephant; worry about dealing with reality.

Besides, Reince Priebus really is a mendacious weasel.  Maybe we should try not to think of a weasel when we think of him.

But to get back to Bernie Sanders for a moment, a man who always manages to sound like the shrillest of his internet die-hard supporters (the ones who still say Sanders would have defeated Trump, where Hillary never stood a chance).  The same people who he thinks agree with him on every issue also think "Obamacare" is an abomination but the Affordable Care Act is a godsend.  They are the same people who want the government to stay out of their Medicare, and who think they paid into Social Security, and all they are taking out of it is their own money.  They agree with Sanders, in other words, that the ACA and Social Security and Medicare are important; but they don't agree on why.  And while they are happy for the government to take care of them, they are convinced it doesn't, and instead spends inordinate sums in "handouts" to illegal immigrants and other freeloaders.  And by the way they think taxes are only levied on U.S. citizens, and non-citizens somehow avoid paying taxes altogether; unless they are in this country "legally", in which case this magic shield that avoids taxation evaporates.  Of course Bernie Sanders doesn't assume everyone is fundamentally rational or he'd never have used Simon and Garfunkel's "America" and stirring scenes of white folk in his first campaign ad.  But like the rest of us, he preaches it round and square as it suits him.

And then there's Lakoff's analysis of Descartes.  Is he serious with that stuff, or does he just think it makes him sound smart to mention a name he's sure will be recognized?  Actually, the distinction between humans and other animals based on reason goes back to Aristotle, and was championed by the Church, to whom Descartes was making careful obeisance (if he got too far out over his skis, he knew he'd never make the landing).  Descartes didn't invent the idea that humans had souls which made them rational, and animals were automatons:  he simply translated Church teachings into the secular philosophical language of his day.  The idea that Descartes preserved that for the sake of free will, and that we "know" free will "doesn't exist," is so amateurishly wrong it's laughable.

Now don't think of a hyena.  Yes, we can only understand what our brains can comprehend, but that's not an argument limited to sociology.  It applies to Lakoff's reasoning, as well.  And one thing we can understand is Godel's proof of incompleteness in formal systems, so that there are always questions a system can formulate which the system itself cannot answer.  And we have Wittgenstein's insight (no slouch in rational thinking, he) that there are realities which don't fit into rational expression at all.  Now, are human beings fundamentally rational?  No; but Aristotle himself understood that.  Lakoff is setting fire to a straw man, not presenting even a minor insight.

And last but not least, of course, there's the hidden wound of American racism; the still fundamental cultural, legal, and political issue of our country, the sin we will not confess, the root we will not extirpate, the damage we will not repair.  Donald Trump won, ultimately, because of it, and to not even mention that is to commit yet another act of racism against the people Trump will surely injure in the next four years.

Or maybe the problem is with those of us who do think Black Lives Matter.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pardon Me?

In the spirit of Gerald Ford and George H.W Bush, I really think Barack Obama needs to issue a pre-emptive pardon to Hillary Clinton on January 19th, or maybe early on the 20th.

Again, Trump is referring to this:

Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who investigated Donald Trump’s alleged Kremlin links, was so worried by what he was discovering that at the end he was working without pay, The Independent has learned.

Mr Steele also decided to pass on information to both British and American intelligence officials after concluding that such material should not just be in the hands of political opponents of Mr Trump, who had hired his services, but was a matter of national security for both countries.

However, say security sources, Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. 
Interestingly, these connections have more to do with the Russia connection than with the reports of blackmail material.  Just to put that in context of recent history:

By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton’s email transgressions.

The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.

As the election approached, FBI director James Comey made public his bombshell letter saying that Ms Clinton would face another email investigation. Two days before that Mr Giuliani, then a part of the Trump team, talked about “a surprise or two you’re going to hear about in the next few days. We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn things around”.

Jason Chaffetz, the same person who wants to question the head of the Office of Government Ethics because he dared criticize Trump's claim about how he will put his businesses in a "blind trust," has said he will continue to investigate Clinton's use of a private e-mail server.  Would that lead to referring criminal charges to the DOJ?  Well, when the PEOTUS says Ms. Clinton is "guilty as hell," why should anyone think it will stop with his inflammatory tweets?

This is already shaping up to be one of the most corrupt and clueless administrations in U.S. history.  This tweet, in 6 days, will be illegal:

The President can't promote a particular company.  It's a violation of federal law.  Does anyone expect Trump to suddenly become aware of that in a week's time, and act accordingly?  And that is the smallest, least important, of his infractions.

So the only decent thing for Barack Obama to do, the one thing that cannot be undone, is to issue a pardon to Hillary Clinton for anything she might have done which might be construed as an illegal act.  Whether she accepts it is another matter, but she doesn't deserve to be hounded, much as her husband was, by an overzealous prosecutor with an axe to grind.

John Lewis should have died for your sins

So now John Lewis is responsible for the state of the poor in this nation, and our "inner cities" are aflame and awash in criminality.  From coast to coast, the major urban areas of America resemble "Escape from New York" combined with the great Chicago fire.

Why is this man's mind stuck in the 1970's?

And, as a reminder, it is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2017

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Let's all sing like the birdies sing....

Just follow this and see if it makes any sense:

Well, the allegations (phony or not has yet to be determined, especially the claims about money from Russia) were certainly put together by Trump's political opponents and "sleazebag political operatives."  But he can't finish the thought without blaming U.S. intelligence agencies again.  This report wasn't released by U.S. intelligence, it was in circulation for months by the private firm that produced it, or other private actors.  But Trump can't blame Russia.  And why is that, again?

I don’t attribute any of this to back-channel phone calls or an alleged secret meeting in Prague. But I’m at a loss to explain, in the absence of collusion, why Trump and his coterie would behave this way, and why Pence would go join in their attacks on the intelligence “bureaucracy.” Something is deeply wrong with the incoming president-elect and his White House team. They seem not to understand, or to care, that their job is to represent and protect the United States, not Russia. Their behavior in the past two weeks makes this problem indisputable. Until we know more, they cannot be trusted.

Saletan has a very carefully amassed mountain of evidence to support his still too-cautious-by-half conclusion.  There really isn't anything more that can be known which would justify Trump's actions as Saletan catalogues them, or as presented in these tweets.  And while this investigation won't necessarily be the most thorough possible (who knows, yet?), it certainly indicates attention will be paid:

The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said the panel will investigate allegations Russia used cyber attacks to influence the U.S. presidential election, including any links between Russia and the political campaigns.

The committee plans to interview senior officials of both the Trump and Obama administrations and may issue subpoenas to compel testimony, the panel’s Republican chairman, Richard Burr, and its top Democrat, Mark Warner, said in a statement.
Trump's report won't be the only one out there; but if his report exonerates the Russians, it will be the most telling.

Holy Shit

No, not that, really; this:

It's all about this:

“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis told Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected and they have destroyed the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”
Politics really is making the strangest bedfellows.

Adding:  is Trump's racism again on display?  What makes you ask that?

And of course we have to keep this in mind:

Lewis's comments come from a particularly powerful source: A black member of Congress and major civil-rights figure. While Lewis didn't cite allegations of bigotry and racism made against Trump, the whole thing can't help but hearken back to Trump's own questioning of the legitimacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama. For years, Trump raised questions about whether Obama was born in the United States and thus could serve legitimately as president. Obama eventually produced a birth certificate in 2012, but Trump only acknowledged Obama was born in the United States a few months ago.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus were particularly incensed by Trump's long-running questioning of the legitimacy of the first black president, saying it amounted to bigotry and a racial dog-whistle. After Trump finally admitted Obama was born in the United States in September 2016, members of the CBC held a press conference to denounce Trump.

At the time, Lewis urged Trump to seek forgiveness.

As a public figure Trump is simply beneath contempt; and yet he keeps sinking lower.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ariel Poems: "The Cultivation of Christmas Trees"

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish – which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprises, delight in new possessions
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of the goose or turkey
And the expected awe on its appearance,
So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to the children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St. Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):
So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By “eightieth” meaning whichever is the last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.

--T.S. Eliot

I suppose this seems to belong in Christmas, not Epiphany; but the spirit of it seems to point more toward the latter.  And it is the last of the Ariel poems, although it won't be the last posted here.

Why there is an Article I, Sec. 9, in the U.S. Constitution

First Amendment be damned?

I've gotten a little too deep into arguments with conspiracy theorists in Salon comments, who argue that Glenn Greenwald has the goods on this dossier story, because it was released (per Greenwald) by the CIA to CNN, who then (somehow) got Buzzfeed to publish it, all on behalf of the "Deep State."

Which is all pretty much Alex Jones territory, but where Mr. Jones is a crank, Mr. Greenwald is a font of wisdom and truth, and where the U.S. intelligence agencies couldn't be trusted to tell you it was raining outside, Mr. Greenwald's "evidence" is irrefutable and taken as fact as a matter of faith.

Yeah, it's pretty stupid.

Anyway, the version of the story being told, starting with CNN getting the document from the CIA and somehow convincing Buzzfeed to do the dirty deed, is so full of ignorance of the facts it isn't even funny.  Samantha Bee got closer to them than any one story has so far.

But let us all say:  Thank the Lords and the low creatures for the Beeb.

First, the idea these documents were released by the CIA moments before CNN convinced Buzzfeed to publish them:

BBC News correspondent Paul Wood said he understood Mr Steele left his home on either Tuesday or Wednesday, before he was publicly named, and was now "in hiding".

He said he had been told Mr Steele, a father of four, had asked his neighbour to look after his three cats.

Our correspondent said he had been shown the memos about Mr Trump in October last year, when he was told Mr Steele was "in fear of his life", having spoken out about potential Russian involvement in Mr Trump's election.

He said he had been told by members of the intelligence community that Mr Steele was "extremely highly regarded" and was thought of as "competent".
The central allegation made in the memos was that Mr Trump was "vulnerable to blackmail", he added.

Which is really the question:  how vulnerable is Trump to blackmail?  One can't imagine this story having any credibility if it involved Obama, or even George W. Bush (well, maybe in his drinking days, but not afterwards).  But Trump?  All to easy to imagine it's true, even if it is all fictional.  None of which even gets to the question of Trump's financial connections to Russia.  He says he has none; he refuses to release any documents proving that statement.  So why should we believe him, especially with the Presidency literally at stake?

Of course, these reports may be false,  despite the background information on Mr. Steele:

As a member of MI6, he had been posted to the UK's embassy in Moscow and now runs a consultancy giving advice on doing business in Russia. He spoke to a number of his old contacts in the FSB, the successor to the KGB, paying some of them for information.

They told him that Mr Trump had been filmed with a group of prostitutes in the presidential suite of Moscow's Ritz-Carlton hotel.

I know this because the Washington political research company that commissioned his report showed it to me during the final week of the election campaign.

The BBC decided not to use it then, for the very good reason that without seeing the tape - if it exists - we could not know if the claims were true. The detail of the allegations were certainly lurid.
Well, the sex ones were lurid; the financial ones were so dull they're already disappearing down the memory hole.

And once more, with feeling:

The 35-page dossier on Mr Trump - which is believed to have been commissioned initially by Republicans opposed to Mr Trump - has been circulating in Washington for some time.

Media organisations, uncertain of its credibility, initially held back from publication. However, the entire series of reports has now been posted online, with Mr Steele named as the author.

Intelligence agencies considered the claims relevant enough to brief both Mr Trump and President Obama last week.
The first sentence is the best part, but we can do a bit better than that:

The opposition research firm that commissioned the report had worked first for an anti-Trump superpac - political action committee - during the Republican primaries.

Then during the general election, it was funded by an anonymous Democratic Party supporter. But these are not political hacks - their usual line of work is country analysis and commercial risk assessment, similar to the former MI6 agent's consultancy. He, apparently, gave his dossier to the FBI against the firm's advice.
But then we really go down the rabbit hole:

And the former MI6 agent is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by "the head of an East European intelligence agency".

Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file - they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was "more than one tape", "audio and video", on "more than one date", in "more than one place" - in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg - and that the material was "of a sexual nature".
So, to be clear, there is this set of documents Buzzfeed published; and then there is other information.  Apparently, a lot of it.  The sex allegations may be, as one CIA informant told the BBC, "Hokey as hell."  But then we have to follow the money:

But it is not just sex, it is money too. The former MI6 agent's report detailed alleged attempts by the Kremlin to offer Mr Trump lucrative "sweetheart deals" in Russia that would buy his loyalty.
Mr Trump turned these down, and indeed has done little real business in Russia. But a joint intelligence and law enforcement taskforce has been looking at allegations that the Kremlin paid money to his campaign through his associates.

On 15 October, the US secret intelligence court issued a warrant to investigate two Russian banks. This news was given to me by several sources and corroborated by someone I will identify only as a senior member of the US intelligence community. He would never volunteer anything - giving up classified information would be illegal - but he would confirm or deny what I had heard from other sources.
Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was - allegedly - a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.
It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States. The CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created.

The taskforce included six agencies or departments of government. Dealing with the domestic, US, side of the inquiry, were the FBI, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Justice. For the foreign and intelligence aspects of the investigation, there were another three agencies: the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency, responsible for electronic spying.

Lawyers from the National Security Division in the Department of Justice then drew up an application. They took it to the secret US court that deals with intelligence, the Fisa court, named after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They wanted permission to intercept the electronic records from two Russian banks.

Their first application, in June, was rejected outright by the judge. They returned with a more narrowly drawn order in July and were rejected again. Finally, before a new judge, the order was granted, on 15 October, three weeks before election day.

I'm not a fan of FISA, but when you can get a judge to issue an order, there is something involved that isn't necessarily "Hokey as hell."  And when a taskforce of six agencies is at work, it takes quite a conspiracy theory to discredit what they are doing.

Does the tape exist?  Is the taskforce even still in existence?  We may never know, although Larry Flynt and Penthouse are offering 7 digit sums for the videotape.  That could be interesting.  Trump says:

Which isn't even a correct statement of what Clapper said.  Then again, what Trump said in that tweet above isn't correct either.  This document wasn't "leaked" because it was never classified; and it was never classified because it was never a government document.  It was oppo research commissioned during the primaries.  Which brings us to the interesting observation at the end of the BBC article:

In a New York Times op-ed in August, the former director of the CIA, Michael Morell, wrote: "In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr Putin had recruited Mr Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation."

Agent; puppet - both terms imply some measure of influence or control by Moscow.

Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the NSA, simply called Mr Trump a "polezni durak" - a useful fool.

The background to those statements was information held - at the time - within the intelligence community. Now all Americans have heard the claims. Little more than a week before his inauguration, they will have to decide if their president-elect really was being blackmailed by Moscow. 
Damn that Buzzfeed and their lack of journalistic ethics!

Adding:  since I wrote this (but before I published it) the discussion is already shifting to how this "secret" document was "leaked."  But of course, it was never a secret, not even an open one.  It was "secret" because it hadn't been published.  It wasn't "secret" because it was classified under U.S. or other applicable laws.

This is the root of conspiracy theories, especially theories about how "the media" hide information from "us."  If I don't know about it, it must be because it's being kept from me.  Well, in this case, it was; but in the name of journalistic ethics, not in the name of perfidy.

That Trump wants to use this to rail against the U.S. intelligence agencies again, and to turn to the verifications of Vladimir Putin, is what is really troubling here.

Paranoia strikes deep.