Category Archives: Current Affairs

Kavanaugh Hearing, Day One: Sheldon Whitehouse Vs. the “Roberts Five”

Unless you’re a bear for punishment, you could have skipped most of the first day of hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, settling for the highlights on TV or in text. But then you would have missed the high point, a stunning tour de force of truth-telling from an overlooked member.

For opening entertainment, there were shouting protesters, soon removed, with reportedly 70  arrests. Other protesters paced somberly outside in costumes from The Handmaid’s Tale.

The specter of Gilead at the hearing.

Democratic Senators on the Judiciary committee loudly (but futilely) protested the orchestrated coverup of the vast majority of documents from his time working for George W. Bush, from which (I strongly suspect), Kavanaugh is still trying to wash the blood of the tortured innocent from his hands.

I don’t know why Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island isn’t   better known.  Maybe it’s Rhode island’s mini-size (at barely 1200  square miles, it makes Vermont — 8 times as large– look huge; or maybe its due to the state’s mostly Democratic voting record.) Perhaps it’s because he is not running for president.

Whatever; Whitehouse was a prosecutor and state attorney general before he came to Washington. He knows how to make a case succinctly and trenchantly. Further, this time he did a bunch of relevant homework.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

After him, the supposed ace debater Ted Cruz sounded shrill, small and tinny. Cruz only underlined the power of Whitehouse’s statement,  a masterwork of plain, well-informed, vivid, carefully angry and occasionally profane argument. Continue reading Kavanaugh Hearing, Day One: Sheldon Whitehouse Vs. the “Roberts Five”

McCain’s best “Maverick” Performance: as a witness against torture

I have to start here by repeating a caveat, best stated by Esquire‘s Charles Pierce:

“It has been fashionable for a while now to place McCain somehow above politics; the “maverick” thing was based on a sparse list of examples. There was the campaign finance law that he championed with Russ Feingold, a law that lies now in ruins because of judges for whom John McCain loyally voted. He campaigned vigorously to give the president a line-item veto until a Supreme Court led by William Rehnquist explained forcefully that such a measure was hilariously unconstitutional. He thoroughly supported Reagan’s adventurism in Central America, was a protege of Henry Kissinger, got snagged in the Keating 5 corruption and became a campaign-finance reformer only after skating on that episode more cleanly than the other four miscreants, one of whom was John Glenn. He was a reliable Republican vote on every nomination and every policy that evidenced the Republican Party’s slow slide into madness and chaos and he was unable and not a talented enough politician to stop it.

All true, sadly. Yet Pierce, who differed sharply with McCain on Continue reading McCain’s best “Maverick” Performance: as a witness against torture

Who Will Save Our Bacon? China Is Winning Its War With The U.S.

I’m reading more & more pieces like this one from the August 21, 2018 NY Times.

Yet they usually are not prefaced by what I think is the store of ancient Chinese wisdom that explains them all, namely, these quotes from Sun Tzu, in his classic text, The Art of War. (As it’s more than 2000 years old, it’s easy to find The Art of War online, complete & free. Here’s one edition.
I’m told Chinese strategists & planners treat it like the Bible, and I believe it. But good news for interested newcomers: it’s a whole lot shorter than the Western Bible.) Here’s a key quote:
 
“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. . . . In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. . . .
Now to the New York Times:
“Fears are growing that China is using its overseas spending spree to gain footholds in some of the world’s most strategic places, and perhaps even deliberately luring vulnerable nations into debt traps to increase China’s dominion as the United States’ influence fades in the developing world.
“The Chinese must have been thinking, ‘We can pick things up for cheap here,’” said Khor Yu Leng, a Malaysian political economist who has been researching China’s investments in Southeast Asia. “They’ve got enough patient capital to play the long game, wait for the local boys to overextend and then come in and take all that equity for China.”
NOTE: “The long game.” Such campaigns take awhile, But it sure looks to me like this one is working: bit by bit, billion (yuan) by billion, without “war,” but to the same end. Yet why have I not seen the pundits and the poohbahs taking account of these concepts? Sun Tzu said that such understanding makes a crucial difference:
Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. . . .
Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.
With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.This is the method of attacking by stratagem . . . .”
Back to The Times:
 
KUANTAN, Malaysia — In the world’s most vital maritime chokepoint, through which much of Asian trade passes, a Chinese power company is investing in a deepwater port large enough to host an aircraft carrier. Another state-owned Chinese company is revamping a harbor along the fiercely contested South China Sea.

Nearby, a rail network mostly financed by a Chinese government bank is being built to speed Chinese goods along a new Silk Road. And a Chinese developer is creating four artificial islands that could become home to nearly three-quarters of a million people and are being heavily marketed to Chinese citizens.

Each of these projects is being built in Malaysia, a Southeast Asian democracy at the heart of China’s effort to gain global influence.

But where Malaysia once led the pack in courting Chinese investment, it is now on the front edge of a new phenomenon: a pushback against Beijing as nations fear becoming overly indebted for projects that are neither viable nor necessary — except in their strategic value to China or use in propping up friendly strongmen. . . .”

NOTE: Malaysia is far away from me, here in North Carolina. So let’s add one more example, closer to home, and down home in initial ambiance:
The Smithfield Packing Company has its main meat processing plant in Tar Heel NC, a hamlet just off Interstate 95 near Fayetteville.

This photo hardly does justice to the ginormous megascale of the operation. The plant covers 973,000 square feet. Inside it approximately 32,000 hogs per day are slaughtered and processed, more than 3-million plus per year. It’s credibly reputed to be the largest hog slaughterhouse in the world.

That’s a heck of a lot of bacon. And it’s owned by a Chinese company, the WH Group, which snapped it up in 2013 for a mere $4-plus billion.

There could be many more examples, inside & outside the U.S.

Now, I admit I’m not an expert on China, or big time strategy, or even Sun Tzu.  But I know what I know, and see what I see.

And I see, too many Americans are lost in their social media underbrush, or haggling over a narcissist’s ignorant tweets. Also in the  meantime, a longtime pork belly fan like myself is blithely crunching the crispy rashers. And even I hardly ever remember these punch line paragraphs from this old wise guy:

Sun Tzu:  Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.

There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.

There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.

 In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack–the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.

And when the showdown suddenly comes (either in the Oval Office or at my favorite diner), I figure it will happen like this: “Your bacon, or your Bill of Rights. (Oh, by the way, your grandchildren will now be required to learn Chinese).”

Then, what am I (or they) going to say?

I’d say, “But wait; aren’t we supposed to have a war about this first?”

The reply will come with a condescending smile: “We already did. And you lost.
Here’s your new flag.”

Shooting Holes In Justice: Emmett Till & Jimmie Lee Jackson Memorials

Some Folks aren’t satisfied with killing people of color; they want to kill the memory of these murders too.

Take Emmett Till, Kidnapped & murdered in Mississippi in 1955,  after someone said the 14 year-old may have whistled at a white woman. His tortured and body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River days later; it took a jury one hour to acquit the men charged with the killing.  Outrage generated by the case gave a boost to civil rights struggles.

In 2007, county leaders established the Emmett Till Interpretive Center to memorialize Till and remember the case and what it represented. The center erected a sign in a rural area near the bank of the river where Till’s body was recovered. But that sign was soon stolen and never recovered.

A second sign was put up. before long, it was full of bullet holes.

This sign was eventually moved inside the Center, itself becoming an object for reflection. And not long ago, a new sign was put up.

The new sign is now collecting bullet holes. This image is only a few days old.

Such posthumous assaults are not limited to Mississippi. In February, 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson of Marion, Alabama, who was unarmed, was shot by a state trooper in an attack on a night march during the  historic voting rights campaign based in nearby Selma,.

Jimmie Lee Jackson’s funeral service, March 3, 1965. His death sparked the Selma-Montgomery march, which helped win the Voting Rights act.

Jackson was buried in a small cemetery near Alabama Highway 14 on the outskirts of Marion. His large headstone is impressively carved with a figure of Jesus keeping vigil.

It too has been hit  by numerous bullets. One knocked a chunk off the top, and seven or eight more are visible on close examination, in this 2015 photo.

Emmett Till’s killers walked completely free. The Alabama trooper who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Fowler, shot and killed a second unarmed young black man in 1966. But forty-five years later, Fowler was convicted of manslaughter, and served several months in jail, before being released due to ill health.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, left. James Fowler, right.

The Emmett Till Interpretive Center, located in Sumner, Mississippi, has plans to expand its facility and programs, and upgrade security.

Memories aren’t bulletproof. But they don’t die easily.

 

Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case

Let’s review: In February of this year, officials at Friends Central School in Philadelphia abruptly canceled a speaking engagement by a Palestinian Quaker peace studies professor, then suspended and later fired the two teachers who had planned the visit. Much public controversy ensued.

In May, the two former teachers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging discrimination and retaliation by Friends Central.

Earlier posts on the Friends Central School controversy are:

 here,  here,  here , here & here.

Early last month, Friends Central’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, on the grounds that the two teachers had “failed to state a valid claim,” and that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would see the court  become “entangled” in a religious dispute, which is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

On July 31, the teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, filed his response. Prosaically titled, “PLAINTIFFS’ MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT,” it asserted that to the contrary, the teachers’ complaint did state valid claims, further that pursuing it would not require any impermissible meddling in religious doctrines, and that the motion to dismiss should be denied and the case be moved to its next phase, which is discovery of documents and other background, in preparation for a trial. Continue reading Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case

New Split, Old Issue: Same Sex Marriage Rends Wilmington YM

An Interview with Stephen Angell. Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion.

NOTE: Wilmington Yearly Meeting comprises three Quarterly Meetings, two in southwest Ohio, and a third in eastern Tennessee, three hundred miles south. The group is mostly pastoral and programmed, and has been affiliated with Friends United Meeting.

A Friendly Letter (AFL):  Steve Angell (SA), thanks for doing this. So give us the scoop: has there been yet another yearly meeting split? Which one, when, and about what?

SA: The topic today is Wilmington Yearly Meeting, one of the smallest North American yearly meetings in Friends United Meeting. Its congregations are located in southwestern Ohio and Tennessee. ( A history of WYM to 1940 is online here.) The controversy is longstanding, and the background to the current difficulties is covered in Quaker Theology #30-31.

But the current intense phase arose in September 2016, when Cincinnati Friends Meeting, a semi-programmed meeting, held a wedding under its care for two women.

This event stirred up controversy over a set of issues that we’ve seen before, including Biblical interpretation, the authority of the yearly meeting, and the autonomy of monthly meetings.

Continue reading New Split, Old Issue: Same Sex Marriage Rends Wilmington YM

Earlham, The Grinch, & Sections “M” & “N”

At Earlham College, it’s going to be a tense Christmas this year, especially for faculty and staff.

That’s because, whatever goodies Santa brings, the Grinch will be close behind, snatching away the good cheer and hopes for a happy new year in 2019.

The  Earlham Grinch will be in disguise, but the masquerade won’t fool anybody: the Grinch will be dropping pink slips down chimneys (or for those  gone chimney-free, an email inbox will do).

And while today it may be sweltering summer, with winter holidays seemingly a universe away, Christmas is still on the minds of many around Earlham. That’s because the campus Grinch is already on the loose there, and has
claimed his first, highest-profile victim. Continue reading Earlham, The Grinch, & Sections “M” & “N”

Time To Do Some History Homework

Found a valuable piece on the History News Network: “Why Is Christian America Supporting Donald Trump?” It’s by John Fea, a historian  at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

Fea’s piece is not just timely, it’s also important. He homes in on the fact that the “Christians” in Trump’s base are operating on a specific religious reading of American history, one that’s not new, but which has always been false.

In fact, it’s not really an exaggeration to say that our struggle today for a democratic American future is also a fierce struggle to confront & root out a false so-called “Christian” pack of lies about our past. Unfortunately, at the moment the false history charlatans are way ahead, and it makes a real difference. And it could soon make much more. Continue reading Time To Do Some History Homework

Frederick Douglass on the Fourth of July

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the Fourth of July. It is the birth day of your National Independence, and of your political freedom.

This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day.

This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. l am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands.

According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. Continue reading Frederick Douglass on the Fourth of July

Full-Court Press: Apres Kennedy, Le Deluge?

I won’t try to predict who will be nominated for Anthony Kennedy’s seat. I  only vaguely recall the list of names that was floated before the 2016 election; the ones I recognized ranged from the outrageous to unthinkable.

I didn’t recognize Gorsuch then; but now we know that anything is possible, and lily Tomlin was RIGHT:

So let’s consider some of those legal landmarks that are now in deeper peril. Continue reading Full-Court Press: Apres Kennedy, Le Deluge?