Bob Schwartz

Category: Politics

The Hopeful But Limited Relief of Having the New Kavanaugh Investigation

It is good news that there will be a new FBI investigation in the Brett Kavanaugh matter. Any movement towards a return to free, open and lawful democracy is welcome.

But before we pop champagne and release balloons, a reality check. Here are some ways the investigation could have little effect on the outcome—in fact, will be designed to have little effect, besides providing cover for vulnerable and/or spineless Republicans.

1. It is a limited investigation. We don’t know the scope, which is being directed by Trump. It could be as narrow as the single incident alleged by Christine Blasey Ford, the incident that was the subject of Thursday’s hearing. This could mean simply talking to her, to Brett Kavanaugh, and to the few people who were there—only one of whom, Mark Judge, is an eyewitness.

Judge has already said that as an effect of his chronic alcoholic blackouts, going back to high school, he has no memory, one way or the other, of the incident. There is no reason he won’t say the same thing to the FBI.

The investigation could be broader. It could include other allegations that have been made. It could include everything that Ford and Kavanaugh testified to during the hearing. It could thus involve Kavanaugh’s claims about his benign behavior, claims that have been refuted by a number of people who knew him in high school and college. It could include all this, but almost certainly will not.

2. Trump controls the report of the investigation. Trump ordered the investigation. His order presumably included a specific scope of investigation for the FBI to follow. Just as importantly, the report of the investigation will go directly to Trump, who can decide how much of the investigation report can be shared and who it can be shared with.

The worst case, which would not be surprising, is that no copies of the report will be distributed. Instead, senators will be allowed to review the report in the White House. They may be allowed to take notes.

All of this—any presidential redaction and any restricted distribution—are part of the desire by some for this investigation to be “confidential”…

3. The investigation is, in some unspecified way, supposed to be “confidential”. Judge has said he wants whatever he says to be confidential. Kavanaugh has indicated he expects it to be confidential. It is unclear what this means functionally. But it is easy to see the case that would be made:

The only reason we are doing this investigation is to further inform the senators responsible for deciding on confirmation. Others, whether other members of Congress or citizens in general, may be curious, but they have no compelling reason to see the detailed report, given that it contains sensitive information.

If that reasoning sounds extreme, that is, extremely suspect, it is. But if you need a basis for it, just look at the “investigation” that went into Kavanaugh in the first place, and look at the history of the Trump administration. No twisted attempt at hiding the truth is too absurd.

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Mark Judge and the Theology of Whistleblowing

Mark Judge has come up frequently in the matter of Brett Kavanaugh. Judge was a high school buddy of Kavanaugh’s, and has chronicled his own wild years as a teenage alcoholic. The question Judge can answer—but so far won’t—is whether Kavanagugh was mostly a “choir boy”, as Kavanaugh swears he was, or whether together they engaged in drunken and sometimes aggressive behavior.

Kavanaugh doesn’t want an FBI investigation, Trump will not order one, and the Senate Judiciary Committee did not subpoena Judge. At this point, the only way Judge will speak out is voluntarily. And he has made clear that he does not want to be involved, that he has no memory of the particular incident involving Christine Blasey Ford, and that given his health and his recovery from long-time alcoholism, his public involvement would be detrimental.

This is all to introduce a different light on the matter. Judge’s memoirs of his life and recovery, including a high school depiction of the thinly disguised “Bart O’Kavanagh”, have gotten the most attention. But Judge, a devout Catholic, has also written frequently about the Church and about the need for more theological education.

The involvement of the Church in the Kavanaugh nomination has been pretty straightforward. It is believed that he will help in advancing constitutional limits on or even banning of abortion, and so he is favored. The influential magazine America: The Jesuit Review enthusiastically endorsed him in July. Yet after yesterday’s hearings, where it became apparent to some that Kavanaugh may have been lying about the incident with Ms. Ford, America rescinded its endorsement:

The Editors: It is time for the Kavanaugh nomination to be withdrawn

While we previously endorsed the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh on the basis of his legal credentials and his reputation as a committed textualist, it is now clear that the nomination should be withdrawn….Judge Kavanaugh continues to enjoy a legal presumption of innocence, but the standard for a nominee to the Supreme Court is far higher; there is no presumption of confirmability….We continue to support the nomination of judges according to such principles—but Judge Kavanaugh is not the only such nominee available. For the good of the country and the future credibility of the Supreme Court in a world that is finally learning to take reports of harassment, assault and abuse seriously, it is time to find a nominee whose confirmation will not repudiate that lesson.

This is not, however, about the Catholic position on Kavanaugh. It is about whistleblowing. Mark Judge is in the position of a whistleblower. As a general matter of ethics and theology, that is a topic that has been widely discussed by Catholic theologians and philosophers. And as a specific topic, the Church is painfully familiar with keeping secrets (yes, sexual secrets) and the theology of handling those who might open a pathway to the painful truth.

Mark Judge has no doubt sought faithful guidance on how to proceed. That religious direction may be supplanted by legal process: it is almost certain that in a Democratic Congress, the Kavanaugh matter will be pursued in hearings, even as Kavanaugh sits on the Court. That will mean a subpoena for Judge.

Duty to yourself. Duty to others, especially the suffering. Duty to your faith. Duty to the truth. As a thoughtful Catholic Mark Judge knows, as every thoughtful person of faith knows, there are way more questions than answers.

The Difficult Realities of Impeaching Trump

Yesterday was an encouraging day for those who hope to see the uncovering and dismantling of the corrupt and un-American Trump enterprise. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted; Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen pled guilty and directly implicated Trump in his criminality. Even the likelihood that Manafort and others who haven’t turned on Trump will be pardoned doesn’t take away from the day’s significance.

This has raised hopes that Trump will be impeached if the Democrats are successful in the midterm elections. Which means—not wanting to burst the rare bright balloon of yesterday’s news—it is time for a reality check.

Let us say that the Democrats win a majority in both houses of Congress.

The impeachment process begins in the House, with hearings and a simple majority passing articles of impeachment. In a Democratic House, that should be no problem.

The trial for removal of a president then takes place in the Senate. If the Democrats do win a majority in the Senate, it will be a small majority at best. Let us say that they have a 53-47 majority. Conviction for impeachment requires a two-thirds majority, which is 67 votes. So 14 Republicans would have to vote to remove the president.

You may think that what we will have learned by then about Trump’s corrupt presidential conduct and fitness for office will finally move Republican Senators to agree to his removal. (As a matter of fact, if you privately asked Republican Senators today whether they would rather have Mike Pence in the White House immediately, the answer would be a unanimous yes.) But not a single thing we have seen indicates that any sitting Republican Senator—that is, those who are not leaving office—is willing to stand up to Trump. Why would we think that we can find 14 or so Republican Senators with the courage to remove him from office, no matter how egregious the evidence?

Okay, enough reality. I would like to be totally wrong about this. Let’s enjoy this moment of hope for American restoration.

198 Methods of Nonviolent Action

The following list of 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action is from Gene Sharp and his Albert Einstein Institution. It is one of their many excellent and widely-used publications on nonviolent social and political action.

I last published this list in November 2016, immediately after the election. At that point, people did not know exactly what to do about the election of Trump, and did not yet know how extreme the results might get.

Now there is disagreement on the tactics of resistance and protest. That sort of disagreement is common to all American resistance and protest movements, going back to resistance in colonial America—appropriate as we approach the Fourth of July.

The latest tactic is the shaming and shunning of Trump administration officials complicit in planning, executing or enabling pernicious and un-American Trump policies. The question that is bound to arise is whether a tactic has gone too far and whether a tactic is actually counterproductive. There is no simple answer to these questions, as study of the civil rights and Vietnam War movements will tell you.

The good news is that there are lots of options—according to this list 198 of them. Some are extreme; none in particular is recommended; all are worthy of attention. Disgust, anger and frustration are powerful social and political motivators. Doing the right thing for the right reasons is the difficult decision. This thoughtful list can help.

198 Methods of Nonviolent Action

Formal Statements
1. Public Speeches
2. Letters of opposition or support
3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
4. Signed public statements
5. Declarations of indictment and intention
6. Group or mass petitions

Communications with a Wider Audience
7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols
8. Banners, posters, displayed communications
9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
10. Newspapers and journals
11. Records, radio, and television
12. Skywriting and earthwriting

Group Representations
13. Deputations
14. Mock awards
15. Group lobbying
16. Picketing
17. Mock elections

Symbolic Public Acts
18. Displays of flags and symbolic colors
19. Wearing of symbols
20. Prayer and worship
21. Delivering symbolic objects
22. Protest disrobings
23. Destruction of own property
24. Symbolic lights
25. Displays of portraits
26. Paint as protest
27. New signs and names
28. Symbolic sounds
29. Symbolic reclamations
30. Rude gestures

Pressures on Individuals
31. “Haunting” officials
32. Taunting officials
33. Fraternization
34. Vigils

Drama and Music
35. Humorous skits and pranks
36. Performances of plays and music
37. Singing

Processions
38. Marches
39. Parades
40. Religious processions
41. Pilgrimages
42. Motorcades

Honoring the Dead
43. Political mourning
44. Mock funerals
45. Demonstrative funerals
46. Homage at burial places

Public Assemblies
47. Assemblies of protest or support
48. Protest meetings
49. Camouflaged meetings of protest
50. Teach-ins

Withdrawal and Renunciation
51. Walk-outs
52. Silence
53. Renouncing honors
54. Turning one’s back

The Methods Of Social Noncooperation

Ostracism of Persons
55. Social boycott
56. Selective social boycott
57. Lysistratic nonaction
58. Excommunication
59. Interdict

Noncooperation with Social Events, Customs, and Institutions
60. Suspension of social and sports activities
61. Boycott of social affairs
62. Student strike
63. Social disobedience
64. Withdrawal from social institutions

Withdrawal from the Social System
65. Stay-at-home
66. Total personal noncooperation
67. “Flight” of workers
68. Sanctuary
69. Collective disappearance
70. Protest emigration (hijrat)

The Methods of Economic Noncooperation: Economic Boycotts

Actions by Consumers
71. Consumers’ boycott
72. Nonconsumption of boycotted goods
73. Policy of austerity
74. Rent withholding
75. Refusal to rent
76. National consumers’ boycott
77. International consumers’ boycott

Action by Workers and Producers
78. Workmen’s boycott
79. Producers’ boycott

Action by Middlemen
80. Suppliers’ and handlers’ boycott

Action by Owners and Management
81. Traders’ boycott
82. Refusal to let or sell property
83. Lockout
84. Refusal of industrial assistance
85. Merchants’ “general strike”

Action by Holders of Financial Resources
86. Withdrawal of bank deposits
87. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments
88. Refusal to pay debts or interest
89. Severance of funds and credit
90. Revenue refusal
91. Refusal of a government’s money

Action by Governments
92. Domestic embargo
93. Blacklisting of traders
94. International sellers’ embargo
95. International buyers’ embargo
96. International trade embargo

The Methods Of Economic Noncooperation: The Strike

Symbolic Strikes
97. Protest strike
98. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)

Agricultural Strikes
99. Peasant strike
100. Farm Workers’ strike

Strikes by Special Groups
101. Refusal of impressed labor
102. Prisoners’ strike
103. Craft strike
104. Professional strike

Ordinary Industrial Strikes
105. Establishment strike
106. Industry strike
107. Sympathetic strike

Restricted Strikes
108. Detailed strike
109. Bumper strike
110. Slowdown strike
111. Working-to-rule strike
112. Reporting “sick” (sick-in)
113. Strike by resignation
114. Limited strike
115. Selective strike

Multi-Industry Strikes
116. Generalized strike
117. General strike

Combination of Strikes and Economic Closures
118. Hartal
119. Economic shutdown
The Methods Of Political Noncooperation

Rejection of Authority
120. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance
121. Refusal of public support
122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance

Citizens’ Noncooperation with Government
123. Boycott of legislative bodies
124. Boycott of elections
125. Boycott of government employment and positions
126. Boycott of government depts., agencies, and other bodies
127. Withdrawal from government educational institutions
128. Boycott of government-supported organizations
129. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents
130. Removal of own signs and placemarks
131. Refusal to accept appointed officials
132. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions

Citizens’ Alternatives to Obedience
133. Reluctant and slow compliance
134. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision
135. Popular nonobedience
136. Disguised disobedience
137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse
138. Sitdown
139. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation
140. Hiding, escape, and false identities
141. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws

Action by Government Personnel
142. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides
143. Blocking of lines of command and information
144. Stalling and obstruction
145. General administrative noncooperation
146. Judicial noncooperation
147. Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcement agents
148. Mutiny

Domestic Governmental Action
149. Quasi-legal evasions and delays
150. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units

International Governmental Action
151. Changes in diplomatic and other representations
152. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events
153. Withholding of diplomatic recognition
154. Severance of diplomatic relations
155. Withdrawal from international organizations
156. Refusal of membership in international bodies
157. Expulsion from international organizations

The Methods Of Nonviolent Intervention

Psychological Intervention
158. Self-exposure to the elements
159. The fast
a) Fast of moral pressure
b) Hunger strike
c) Satyagrahic fast
160. Reverse trial
161. Nonviolent harassment

Physical Intervention
162. Sit-in
163. Stand-in
164. Ride-in
165. Wade-in
166. Mill-in
167. Pray-in
168. Nonviolent raids
169. Nonviolent air raids
170. Nonviolent invasion
171. Nonviolent interjection
172. Nonviolent obstruction
173. Nonviolent occupation

Social Intervention
174. Establishing new social patterns
175. Overloading of facilities
176. Stall-in
177. Speak-in
178. Guerrilla theater
179. Alternative social institutions
180. Alternative communication system

Economic Intervention
181. Reverse strike
182. Stay-in strike
183. Nonviolent land seizure
184. Defiance of blockades
185. Politically motivated counterfeiting
186. Preclusive purchasing
187. Seizure of assets
188. Dumping
189. Selective patronage
190. Alternative markets
191. Alternative transportation systems
192. Alternative economic institutions

Political Intervention
193. Overloading of administrative systems
194. Disclosing identities of secret agents
195. Seeking imprisonment
196. Civil disobedience of “neutral” laws
197. Work-on without collaboration
198. Dual sovereignty and parallel government

Rep. Steve King of Iowa: I don’t want Somali Muslims working in Iowa meat-packing plants because they want consumers of pork to be sent to hell. (Or something like that.)

“I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops.”
Rep. Steve King

Can America go for one minute—let alone one hour or day—without some hateful and ignorant politician saying something hateful and ignorant?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: You have to read this story carefully to follow the intertwined threads of hate and ignorance. Steve King thinks he is an expert on pork (which he no doubt is) and on Muslim theology (which he profoundly is not). He is probably profoundly ignorant about Christian and Jewish theology too. For Christian education he should turn to his pastor. For Jewish theology, he should turn to “the lead Jew in Congress”—whoever that is.


Politico:

Steve King singles out Somali Muslims over pork

The Iowa congressman says they shouldn’t work in his district’s meat-packing plants because they won’t eat pig products.

By KYLE CHENEY

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Friday that he doesn’t want Somali Muslims working at meat-packing plants in his district because they want consumers of pork to be sent to hell.

In a Breitbart News radio interview, the eighth-term congressman known for his inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric, said his views were informed by a conversation with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who he called “the lead Muslim in Congress.”

King said Ellison informed him that Muslims would require “a special dispensation” from an imam in order to be able to handle pork in one of his district’s meat-packing plants. “The rationale is that if infidels are eating this pork, [the Muslims] are not eating it,” King said. “So as long as they’re preparing this pork for infidels, it helps send them to hell and it must make Allah happy.”

“I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops,” he concluded.

Ellison’s office declined to comment on King’s interpretation of his remarks.

King said he approached Ellison about the issue because meat-packing plants in his district had informed him that they hoped to hire Somalis to work in their facilities. “And I say, ‘well, Somali Muslims, will they cut pork?'” King recalled of his conversation with the plant leaders. “They looked at each other and said, ‘We don’t’ know.'”

King has drawn attention for his frequent flirtation with fringe, racist political elements. Earlier this week, he retweeted a known British white supremacist’s warning about immigration.

King’s commentary on pork consumption and Islam doesn’t stop at his district’s edge. Last week he slammed Sweden, which he said “capitulated to Halal” when the organizers of an international soccer tournament there decided against serving pork to accommodate a large number of Muslim players.

“I draw the line here and, if need be, will fight for freedom of choice — in our diets,” he tweeted. “Iowa’s 4th Congressional District is the #1 Pork district in America. No takin’ bacon off our tables.”

Who damaged him?: “Trump cites as a negotiating tool his policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.”

It is the kind of question we usually ask about serial killers and genocidal dictators, not about the President of the United States: who damaged Trump so tragically? Was it his parents? Satan? Or did he invent himself in the form of a toxic monster? (My thought, which may be suggested in a future post, is that Trump may be the Antichrist. But that’s for later.)

Washington Post:

President Trump has calculated that he will gain political leverage in congressional negotiations by continuing to enforce a policy he claims to hate — separating immigrant parents from their young children at the southern border, according to White House officials.

On Friday, Trump suggested he would not change the policy unless Democrats agreed to his other immigration demands, which include funding a border wall, tightening the rules for border enforcement and curbing legal entry. He also is intent on pushing members of his party to vote for a compromise measure that would achieve those long-standing priorities.

Trump’s public acknowledgment that he was willing to let the policy continue as he pursued his political goals came as the president once again blamed Democrats for a policy enacted and touted by his own administration.

The real tragedy is not that Trump is trying to reshape America as his personal hell on earth, for his purposes. The tragedy is how many Americans, including so many Republican leaders and people of supposed faith, are willing to join him in that effort and cheer him on.

As with all monsters, political and criminal, the question is not really how they became the monsters they are. The question is what, if anything, we do about it.

They wanted a postmodern president (though they didn’t know it). They got him.

Postmodernism (aka pomo), a wide-ranging and pervasive intellectual concept and movement, is hard to talk about precisely. Many minds have contributed to its complexity, many others have transformed it into a pop culture referent. Its usage grew vague, as it came to try to mean whatever anyone wants to say it means: everything to everyone, nothing to no one. What’s more confounding is that in many quarters, it has now been left behind as an old-fashioned and uncool intellectual fad, even though it is only a few decades old.

Nevertheless, it may turn out to be a useful analytical tool, as we are increasingly drowning in two questions: Where are we and how did we get here?

One attempt at a succinct definition of postmodernism:

A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tried to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

Postmodernism is “post” because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody – a characteristic of the so-called “modern” mind.

From the PBS show Faith & Reason

Did some people “want” a pomo president? In some ways, yes. Let’s assume we can’t stand still, as individuals, as nations, as societies. Which we can’t. Whatever modern moment we reached, it turned out to be unsatisfying for a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons. One reaction is to want to “get back” to an earlier point. But that is impossible; there is never going back. If you can’t go back, and refuse to continue on the current path, why not, essentially, throw it all away—all the “modern” thinking and principles that got you where you didn’t want to be.

And so, pomo Trump. Defying objective truth, defying explanation, defying principles. The intellectuals who gave us postmodernism believed it to be a way of looking at the world. They also knew that, like existentialism, its wholesale adoption as practice rather than theory was problematic. Like a tree without roots, a house without foundation.

In contemplating those questions—where are we and how did we get here—we are through the postmodern looking glass. The other even more important question—how do we get out of here—is the most important question of the age.

Trump’s Ties: The Tragic Comic Idiosyncrasies of Dictators

“The general contemporary rule of thumb is that your tie should fall right at the top of your belt buckle, regardless of tie length, style of the tie, or how tall you are.”

Sometimes, as the Freudian cliche goes, a cigar is just a cigar. And a tie is just a tie.

In the case of Trump’s ludicrously long ties, which point at his crotch, it’s obvious something else is going on.

Dictators are often known for their idiosyncrasies. Sometimes there is a psychological basis. Sometimes it is a signature, part of a brand. Sometimes it is just a personal preference. Fidel Castro, for example, was associated with his cigar, which he obviously liked, which is Cuba’s best-known product, and which, well, is more than a cigar.

Trump is the first president to regularly refer to the size of his “hands”, his “button”, and once in a while, almost directly, his “penis”. The only evidence we have so far about this is from Stormy Daniels, who has only said that Trump is “average.” God willing, that is the only detail we ever have to deal with. But absent evidence, we only have Trump’s word for it. We all know what that’s worth. So most people don’t believe him. Or his ties.

Trump v. Kim: Who’s the Sucker?

Trump has been played by Kim of North Korea. Just as he is being played by Putin of Russia. Just as he is being played by Xi of China. Just as smart authoritarian rulers everywhere are lining up to see how to take advantage of him.

It brings up a proverbial thought: If you look around the poker table, and you can’t tell who the sucker is—it’s you.

Democrats: Micah 2020

Dana Milbank writes in today’s Washington Post:

Hey Democrats! What’s the big idea? No, really. What’s the big idea?

A dozen possible Democratic presidential candidates assembled at a downtown Washington hotel Tuesday for one of the first cattle calls of the 2020 campaign. The good news: There were, on that stage, all of the personal qualities and policy ideas needed to defeat President Trump. The bad news: These qualities and ideas were not in any one person….

For November’s midterm elections, it may be enough for Democrats to say they are against Trump. Congressional Democratic leaders took a stab at a unified agenda for 2018 — “A Better Deal” — and were roundly mocked by progressives.

But to beat Trump, they’ll need more. Trump convinced tens of millions of Americans that they are losing ground because of immigrants, racial and religious minorities, and foreigners. What will Democrats advance to counter that grim message?

Given how lost the Democrats are (and how that might lead to further losing), I suggest that they consider the Bible. Not the weaponized, sectarian and exclusionary interpretation of the Bible that is so popular with selfish and heartless ideologues. But the Bible that demands humane conduct—something that we see slipping away election by election, day by day (and that means you too, Democrats).

The prophet Micah is a great touchstone. The revealed solution for an aggrieved people does not involve greater piety, more sacrifices, or brutal nationalism. All that is required is justice, goodness and humility:

With what shall I approach the Lord,
Do homage to God on high?
Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?

Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
With myriads of streams of oil?
Shall I give my first-born for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for my sins?

“He has told you, O man, what is good,
And what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do justice
And to love goodness,
And to walk modestly with your God;
Then will your name achieve wisdom.”

Micah 6:6-9 (NJPS)

Micah is not available to run in an election. But justice, goodness and humility are always available as a platform.