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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – August 4, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Alberta Canada – 2018 photo by theoxernius. This is the third picture of Moraine Lake that Wrongo has published, including one of his own. This spot is about a 5-minute climb from the parking lot, so everyone who goes near the place takes a similar photo. The distinctive water color is from the sunlight reflecting off of dissolved particles of finely ground rock called “glacial flour”. It’s one of the most beautiful places in North America.

Will Mueller breach the castle’s walls? Certainly not just by winning the Manafort trial. Trump has supposedly given Jeff Sessions a “couple of weeks” to end the Mueller probe. If not, Trump will move to fire Ron Rosenstein. As Wrongo has said, Trump has everything in place now to fire Rosenstein from a technical aspect: When the previous number three official as Justice, Rachel Brand resigned, the Senate confirmed Brian Benczkowski, a buddy of Jeff Sessions. He can fire Rosenstein. That brings us to now.

Will Trump move on Rosenstein? The negative political fallout could bury Trump. Interesting times.

Then there was this from Jeff Sessions:

Let’s be frank. A dangerous movement undetected by many is challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom….We’ve gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law, where ministers are fearful to affirm holy writ from the pulpit, and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them hate groups. This President and Department of Justice are determined to protect and advance our heritage of freedom of religion.

Good Morning America subsequently tweeted:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces “Religious Liberty Task Force.” Sessions says the task force will “help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance,” including “making sure our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.”

That led to a tweet storm, of which this was the very best:

Has there been an instance where Christians have been persecuted in this country? Except by other Christians who thought the persecuted ones weren’t the right sort of Christian? We can find plenty of instances where Christians have persecuted others, but neither the Gay Cake decision, nor Hobby Lobby were about religious persecution. How can Christians be persecuted, when roughly three of four Americans self-identify as Christian?

There is a tendency by some Christians to think that Americans need to accept the Christian version of religion. Those Christians ignore the separation of Church and State, despite the fact that the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause clearly outlines the concept:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

Sessions is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. American Christians have the freedom to exercise their religion as they deem appropriate (within reasonable limits, which applies to all faiths). What the GOP and conservative Christians don’t have is the right to use the government to help establish their flavor of conservative Christianity as America’s official religion.

If Church and State become one, religious faith becomes a weapon, to punish or persecute those who believe differently. That’s not our America, unless you want your America to look like a Christian version of Saudi Arabia.

When the power of government puts its thumb on the scales, it surely will create religious tyranny.

Another week of big issues for us to try and thread our way through. It looks like a hot weekend across the country. Good luck to the firefighters in California, it seems that their work never ends. For the rest of us, we can take an hour or so and try to forget about the world’s troubles (and Trump’s) for a while. If you can do that, you will almost certainly be soothed.

Let’s get started by brewing up a large cup of Hawaiian Kona ‘Volcanic Estate’ Coffee ($59.95/ lb.) It comes from the Big Island. There, the volcano Mauna Loa creates excellent growing conditions for coffee trees. Volcanic Estate coffee is grown at between 800 and 2,500 feet. It has a light acidity that is complemented by slight chocolate and fruit undertones.

Now, settle back in your favorite air-conditioned spot, and listen to an exemplary classical guitar performance by John Feeley. He is performing Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1 in D. Obviously, it has been transcribed for guitar:

Feeley performs for nearly 20 minutes without a break, and without a score to follow. Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – Jeff Sessions Bible Study Edition

The Daily Escape:

Abandoned schoolhouse, Colombia Hills, WA – 2018 photo by Sean Peterson

Trump and Kim dominated the news this week. So many hot takes on the one-page agreement: Who won, who lost, it will take some time to digest. Today, it seems that there is less risk of another war on the Korean peninsula than we thought last fall, but let’s not celebrate just yet. We have a long way to go before there is peace in Korea. Kim still has his nukes, and his cannons are still pointed toward Seoul. Trump seems to have cancelled the joint military exercises, but that could change on his whim. Kim or Trump could decide to blow up their agreement, like Trump did with Iran.

Wrongo has followed with complete disapproval, the administration’s moves to separate children from their parents at the border, and to deny asylum to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. As we cruise into this weekend, we should remember the curious bible talk by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to a group of law enforcement officials in Indiana on Thursday:

I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.

Here’s the verse Sessions is talking about:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

This is from a senior person in the GOP, the party that SAYS their prime directive is to get the government out of people’s lives.

Splinter reports that Messiah College professor John Fea told WaPo that Session’s quoted verse has been used before in American history. The first time was by British colonists opposed to the War of Independence. The second time, per Fea:

…is in the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong. I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.

The verse was also used by German officials to help cement support among the country’s Christians for the Nazis.

It was also used by white religious leaders in South Africa to justify apartheid.

And, recently, Trump’s booster, Pastor Robert Jeffress cited the verse to support Trump’s threat to murder millions of North Koreans with “fire and fury” last year.

Sessions either didn’t know the verse’s racist and authoritarian history when he used it to justify tearing families apart, or he simply didn’t care. And what about Obamacare? Isn’t that also the law of the land? Shouldn’t Sessions agree that we respect, and obey it? But here is the GOP, once again cherry-picking the bible, this time to justify treating immigrants from south of the border as subhuman.

Let’s agree that Jeff Sessions is wrong. Separating families is wrong. Using the Bible to justify it is wrong.

Leave the final comment to long-time Sunday school teacher, Steven Colbert, who nailed Sessions:

But if he just read a little bit further into Romans 13:10, it says ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.’ I’m not surprised Sessions didn’t read the whole thing. After all, Jesus said ‘Suffer the children to come unto me,’ but I’m pretty sure all Sessions saw was the words ‘children’ and ‘suffer’ and said ‘I’m on it!’”

Enough! Time to downshift, to disengage from the political world for a few hours. To help you get started, head to the kitchen and brew up a vente cup of Koffee Kult’s Dark Roast Coffee ($15.99/lb.), roasted by Koffee Kult Roasters of Hollywood, FL. Enjoy its heavy body, cinnamon notes, and bright, long finish.

Now sit outside. And listen to Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott play “Romance for Cello and Piano” by English composer Frederick Delius, who died in 1934. This is from Ma’s 2015 album with Stott, “Songs from the Arc of Life”:

Ma and Stott met in the summer of 1978, when Kathryn Stott, then a student of classical piano, returned to her apartment after a holiday. She found a young Asian man practicing the cello inside the place she shared with violinist Nigel Kennedy. Stott recalls: “It seemed Nigel had sublet the apartment”.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – May 5, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Rua Nova do Carvalho, Lisbon Portugal – 2016 photo by Brotherside. Formerly a part of the red light district, but when the street was painted pink in 2011, it quickly became the epicenter of a vibrant party scene.

In a week with a Hawaiian volcano’s eruption, Bibi’s nuclear song-and-dance, and Rudy’s confessions on Fox that Trump had indirectly paid hush money to Stormy, you may have missed the report that the fired House Chaplain is back at work. The WaPo reported:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) reversed course Thursday and agreed to keep the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy on as House chaplain after an extraordinary showdown that included the priest alleging anti-Catholic bias among Ryan’s staff.

Ryan defended his original decision and continued to question whether Conroy was delivering sufficient “pastoral services” to the entire House. “I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House,” Ryan said.

That is how it ended. His return started when Rev. Pat Conroy rescinded his resignation in a letter to Ryan. Conroy wrote:

While you never spoke with me in person, nor did you send me any correspondence, on Friday, April 13, 2018 your Chief of Staff, Jonathon Burks, came to me and informed me that you were asking for my letter of resignation. I inquired as to whether or not it was ‘for cause,’ and Mr. Burks mentioned dismissively something like, ‘maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic.’

Great job, Mr. Burks! Did you know that there have been exactly two Catholics as House Chaplain?

Fr. Conroy continued:

At that point, I thought that I had little choice but to resign, as my assumption was that you had the absolute prerogative and authority to end my term as House chaplain.

This was mostly about the tin ear that some Republicans have when it comes to social issues. One House member, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), who is also a Baptist pastor, apparently said that the next House chaplain needed to have a family.

That would rule out anyone who, like Fr. Conroy, had taken a vow of celibacy. Why do some people continually use their religion to bludgeon others?

Democrats and a few Republicans have said they believed that Speaker Ryan was facing pressure from evangelicals within the GOP conference to find a chaplain whose politics more closely aligned with theirs, but for now, this little “holy war” in the House is over. Maybe the next House Chaplain should be a Zen warrior priest who roams the halls, hitting Congress critters with his sword, you know, in a pastoral manner.

Spring has sprung with a vengeance in the Northeast. Today, Wrongo has battled a love sick bird that is trying to build a nest above the kitchen door at the Mansion of Wrong. The determined bird tried three times before finally bowing to Wrongo’s will.

It’s Saturday, and we need to downshift, to turn our focus from all that is wrong with the world, to all that’s right. To help you make the change, start by brewing a cup of Taiwan roaster Kakalove Café’s Mandheling Onan Ganjang sourced from the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra ($18.50/16 oz.). The roaster says it is deeply sweet with vibrant acidity, and a syrupy mouthfeel.

Now, sit outside, take in the nature surrounding you, and listen to Sierra Boggess singing “The Lusty Month of May” from Camelot. It is performed live in 2012 at the BBC Proms:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 10, 2017

(There will not be a Monday Wake Up Call this week. Blogging will resume on Tuesday 12/12)

Jerusalem, Roy Moore, Franken, Bears Ears. Quite the week, but let’s start with this: Walmart pulls controversial t-shirt that encourages violence toward journalists:

The t-shirt’s message is: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED”. Walmart has now pulled it from its website. The shirt was also sold in the online store of a company called Teespring, who was the third-party seller for Walmart. The shirt was circulating well before that, though, as Jezebel found a tweet referencing the shirt from April of 2009.

Teespring allows users to design their own t-shirts and other merchandise. They sold a shirt with the words “Black women are trash”, and one that said “Eat Sleep Rape Repeat”. Wrongo fears that there will be no recovery from our slide to the lower reaches of hell.

Trump gave the Middle East a sign. Now he wrongly expects peace will break out:

Trump has success getting the world to change the subject:

Franken’s out. In with the new (giant) asshole:

The logical outcome of the religious freedom argument:

Waiting for the trickle down is like waiting for Godot:

 

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Rethinking Religion’s Place in Our Politics

The Daily Escape:

(Photo by Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart has an article called “Breaking Faith” that references polling conducted in February by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Beinart makes a few interesting points about religion and politics that are at odds with conventional thinking about its role.

He points out that over the past decade, there has been a dramatic shift in religious affiliation in the US:

Americans—long known for their piety—were fleeing organized religion in increasing numbers. The vast majority still believed in God. But the share that rejected any religious affiliation was growing fast, rising from 6% in 1992 to 22% in 2014. Among Millennials, the figure was 35%.

Beinart shows that the conventional thinking − that this new secularism would end the culture wars and bring about a more tolerant politics – was wrong. More from Beinart:

Secularism is indeed correlated with greater tolerance of gay marriage and pot legalization. But it’s also making America’s partisan clashes more brutal…As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.

This had huge ramifications in the 2016 presidential election. PRRI reports that the percentage of white Republicans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled since 1990, and that this shift helped Trump win the GOP nomination. Even though commentators had a hard time reconciling Trump’s apparent ignorance of Christianity and his history of pro-choice and pro-gay-rights statements with his support from evangelicals, the polls showed it had little effect:

A Pew Research Center poll last March found that Trump trailed Ted Cruz by 15 points among Republicans who attended religious services every week. But he led Cruz by a whopping 27 points among those who did not.

Beinart reports that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful. Since the early 1970s, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And that was a big part of Trump’s support. According to PRRI:

White Republicans who seldom or never attend religious services are 19 points less likely than white Republicans who attend at least once a week to say that the American dream “still holds true.”

And secularization created political differences on the left too:

In 1990, according to PRRI, slightly more than half of white liberals seldom or never attended religious services. Today the proportion is 73%. And if conservative non-attenders fueled Trump’s revolt inside the GOP, liberal non-attenders fueled Bernie Sanders’s insurgency against Hillary Clinton: While white Democrats who went to religious services at least once a week backed Clinton by 26 points, according to an April 2016 PRRI survey, white Democrats who rarely attended services backed Sanders by 13 points.

Beinart point out that the trend is also true among Blacks, where the Black Lives Matter movement exists outside of the influence of Black churches:

African Americans under the age of 30 are three times as likely to eschew a religious affiliation as African Americans over 50. This shift is crucial to understanding Black Lives Matter, a Millennial-led protest movement whose activists often take a jaundiced view of established African American religious leaders.

Beinart speaks about Chris Hayes’s book Twilight of the Elites, in which Hayes divides American politics between “institutionalists,” who believe in preserving and adapting the political and economic system, and “insurrectionists,” who believe it’s rotten to the core:

The 2016 election represents an extraordinary shift in power from the former to the latter. The loss of manufacturing jobs has made Americans more insurrectionist. So have the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and a black president’s inability to stop the police from killing unarmed African Americans. And so has disengagement from organized religion.

The grim conclusion is that secularization may be dividing us more than we realize. Beinart closes with:

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

The corollary seems to be that religious affiliation brings at the very least, some appreciation of community and civility to our culture.

But, the increasing distrust in institutions in America continues to grow. If it’s big and rules-based, people are less interested than ever in participating, and that includes churches.

Now, let’s hear a song for Zeus’ sake! Here is REM with: “Losing My Religion” from their 1991 album, “Out of Time”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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“One Nation Under God” – A Review

Some readers may have noticed the “Reading List” on the blog’s right frame. Today, we take Kevin Kruse’s “One Nation Under God – How Corporate America Invented Christian America” off that list and discuss it.

The book begins with the election of Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and describes how, through succeeding administrations, Americans came to think that we are a Christian nation instead of a nation of Christians. What started in Eisenhower’s living room ended up in corporate boardrooms, and finds a place at the heart of campaigning in today’s politics.

In 1935, James W. Fifield, a Congregationalist pastor from Los Angeles founded an organization called Spiritual Mobilization. Channeling donations from businessmen like tire magnate Harvey Firestone, Hollywood producer Cecil B. De Mille, Sun Oil’s J. Howard Pew, and the National Association of Manufacturers, Fifield built a nation-wide publishing and propaganda campaign that called ministers to action, saying:

Every Christian should oppose the totalitarian trends of the New Deal…

And to oppose:

The anti-Christian and anti-American trends toward pagan stateism in America.

This was conflated with slogans promoting: “free pulpit, free speech, free enterprise, free press, and free assembly.”

The Spiritual Mobilization campaign’s thesis was that if religiosity could be widely and officially deployed, it would be the sword that defeated both collectivist liberals and Communists who, in their view, were both working to undermine America.

Some context: The percentage of Americans who claimed membership in a church was low in the 19th century. Kruse shows that it increased from 16% in 1850 to 36% in 1900. It rose to 49% by 1940. It peaked in 1959 at 69%. Along the way, we adopted “Under God” and “In God We Trust” with little opposition from organizations like the ACLU. Much of what Kruse tells us is about familiar events:

• The addition of “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954
• The official adoption of “In God We Trust” on all American currency in the late 1950s
• The Supreme Court decisions that struck down state-mandated prayer and Bible reading in public schools in the early 1960s, and the huge polarization it brought among individual Christians vs. their Church leaders, mostly abetted by politicians who saw a campaign issue

Overall, the book is an excellent analysis of how Christian fundamentalism and capitalism were conflated in the 1950s to erode the divide between church and state, re-casting progressive political philosophy as both “un-American”, and “anti-Christian” at the same time. Importantly, he describes the thinking that emerged from Fifield’s movement and its subsequent embrace by Billy Graham; that our way of life and our economic system were ordained not just by God, but by the Christian God.

Graham said during the 1952 presidential campaign:

The Christian people of America will not sit idly by…They are going to vote as a bloc for the man with the strongest moral and spiritual platform, regardless of his views on other matters.

Graham meant Eisenhower. Kruse details the incestuous relationship between clergymen and politicians, with particular focus on Rev. Billy Graham’s remarkable ability to get close to, and influence, presidents.

Some have criticized the book, saying it does not prove its case about the influence of corporate America in the promotion of “One Nation Under God”. Wrongo disagrees. Most of the funding for these efforts, which began in the 1930s and continued through the Nixon administration in the 1970s were contributed by corporations and corporate executives. In fact, the book’s main premise is that corporatists are as responsible as politicians and clergy for making America a more Christian nation.

We continue to see the impact of these corporate/clergy efforts today: It bolsters the idea of American Exceptionalism, it limits the range of acceptable political debate, it fosters class warfare, and suborns churches to the cause of politics.

Today’s religious fundamentalists want to blur the lines between church and state. They seek to control American culture, to use faith in the service of ideals that leave no room for social programs, no room for diversity, no room for science, no room for ideas that contradict or challenge the myth of America as a Christian-capitalist-ordained-by-God empire.

This movement that started in the 1930s explains why many Americans favor policies that are clearly against their best interests. Not coincidentally, many of those in that category are also “religious conservatives.” A recent interview with a rural Kentuckian who voted for Republican Governor Matt Bevin who plans to roll back Medicaid expansion, despite her need for insurance, said:

My religious beliefs outweigh whether or not I have insurance…

She voted for an anti-abortion, anti-gay rights candidate, despite her personal need for insurance.

Kruse’s book explains why.

 

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Why do Conservatives Misunderstand Freedom of Religion?

At this point, Kentucky’s Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is in jail for not doing her job. She was sent to jail for contempt of court last week for openly defying multiple court orders to obey the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all US states. Judge David L. Bunning of Federal District Court said:

The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order…If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.

Davis has maintained that issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples is against her Christian beliefs. This has prompted her attorneys and supporters to come up with some wildly fanciful comparisons, including this one from Rep. Steve King (R-IA):

Steve King KIm is Rosa Parks-page-0-1

 

He wasn’t the only Republican to try to co-opt black civil rights history. Her attorney, Mat Staver, went for this:

Kim joins a long list of people who were imprisoned for their conscience…People who today we admire, like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jan Huss, John Bunyan, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and more. Each had their own cause, but they all share the same resolve not to violate their conscience.

Republicans, particularly evangelical Christians, believe they are persecuted when other people receive the same rights that they have had for decades or possibly, centuries. Persecution would be burning a gay flag on Davis’s lawn or you know, firebombing her church. Nobody is physically assaulting her, or turning water cannons (or dogs) on her.

Saying same-sex marriage is Constitutional doesn’t create persecution for millions of Christians, no matter how badly Ms. Davis and her Conservative supporters dislike it. Asking her to do her job is not persecution.

But the grandstanding award goes to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who released this statement:

Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny. Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith. This is wrong. This is not America.

Cruz goes on to observe:

In dissent, Chief Justice Roberts rightly observed that the Court’s marriage opinion has nothing to do with the Constitution. Justice Scalia observed that the Court’s opinion was so contrary to law that state and local officials would choose to defy it.

Cruz then ups the ante:

Those who are persecuting Kim Davis believe that Christians should not serve in public office. That is the consequence of their position. Or, if Christians do serve in public office, they must disregard their religious faith–or be sent to jail.

And, of course, Cruz is only the most vituperative of the Republican candidates. With the exception of Lindsey Graham and Carly Fiorina, all the other Republican presidential candidates have criticized the decision to jail Ms. Davis.

While it’s fun to poke at Republicans for their response, we need to remember that Kim Davis is an elected Democrat. That said, she was elected county clerk after serving 26 years as a deputy clerk under her mother in the same county, with a total population under 24,000. Her party affiliation has little meaning in the context of the national debate about gay rights, but it sure says quite a bit when most Republican candidates purposefully misunderstand what religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment really means.

They purposefully misunderstand that this country was founded on the rule of law, and separation of church and state. That the codifying of separation was designed to put an end to the interference of religion in the operations of government, exactly what Ms. Davis was trying to do. Congress passes laws, the President signs them, the Supreme Court determines their constitutionality… and then they’re subject to the individual veto of every county clerk in America?

Ok, Ms. Davis has principles that flow from her religious beliefs. That is just fine, and her faith can be celebrated.

She might remember that while she believes same sex marriage is against religious tradition, divorce was also forbidden and then difficult to get, because of religion until relatively recently. The no-fault divorce was introduced by California Governor Ronald Regan in 1970. Before then, you went to Reno, Las Vegas, or Mexico if you couldn’t prove adultery.

Thus, today’s Kentucky county clerk, who has been divorced three times, wouldn’t have easily gotten a divorce just 50 years ago, because, religion.

It sucks to be on the wrong side of history.

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