The Wisdom and Power of God …

Yesterday, Father’s Day in the United States and many other countries around the world, the Catholic Church celebrated (I assume by coincidence) Holy Trinity Sunday. The first reading at yesterday’s Sunday Masses was from the Old Testament’s Book of Proverbs, and set forth expositions from a personified Wisdom, seemingly separate from God:

Thus says the [W]isdom of God: …

“When the Lord established the heavens I was there,

when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;

when he made firm the skies above,

when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;

when he set for the sea its limit,

so that the waters should not transgress his command;

then was I beside him as his craftsman …

and I found delight in the human race.” [Emphasis added]. Proverbs 8:22 – 31

The juxtaposition of this Proverbs passage with Father’s Day – the image of the Loving Father — brought again to mind the Church’s seemingly visceral obliviousness both to the horror of the systemic human violations it let occur and covered up for generations and to the effect that the revelations of these atrocities have had upon its credibility. 35 years ago, our parish had five English Masses each weekend. Now, it has three.  (All credit for the fourth Mass, in Spanish, meeting a need that I don’t believe our parish had decades ago.)  Gray is a prevalent hair color among worshippers. This observation is in no way intended to impugn some very fine pastors we’ve had; good priests have also become victims of the Church’s conspiracy. It speaks to the now-obvious endemic failings within the Church.

At least in Madison (very possibly a legacy of our now-deceased Bishop, Robert Morlino), we are seeing more pomp and ceremony than I can recall since my youth [pre-Vatican II 😉 ] – incense, an occasional Latin chant, ornate tabernacles prominently on display. Perhaps some in Church leadership believe that gilt can be substituted for guilt. The hierarchy (as someone very close to me regularly points out, a bunch of old men) seems completely at a loss to either see or address the fact that most of the young people in developed nations are no longer listening. These young aren’t impressed by the Church’s grand physical manifestations; on a purely material level, its grandeur pales in comparison to the most mundane of the last decade’s video games.

As horrific as the specific instances of abuse are – and I admit that it’s easier for me to say this, since our children had positive experiences with our religious, all loving people dedicated to God – I would submit that Church leadership’s intentional disregard and concerted cover up of religious’ illicit activities over decades if not centuries was the even-more monstrous wrong. This went beyond individual aberration.

If Wisdom was indeed there as the Lord established the heavens, marked out the face of the deep, made the skies firm, fixed the earth’s foundations, and set the sea’s limit … it seems unclear where Wisdom was as the Body of Christ became infected by a chronic pernicious disease. The Doctrine of Free Will seems a less and less adequate explanation. It is gut wrenching. A cure seems out of reach … save for the Power of God.

On Elizabeth Warren

As the Democratic Presidential hopefuls separate into tiers, MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren is by some measures displacing VT Sen. Bernie Sanders as the favorite among the Democratic progressives. While I have great respect for Sen. Warren’s intelligence and command of policy, and very much enjoy her feistiness, it seems to me that she might be the Democrat whom the President would most like to run against. Although Ms. Warren objectively scores well in a number of the measures that I indicated a while back I consider to be of paramount importance in selecting the Democrat that can defeat Mr. Trump, I would submit that in her case, the whole is unfortunately markedly less than the sum of the parts:

  1. Sen. Warren is tough. She will look strong on the stage against the President, and indeed, has a talent for getting under Mr. Trump’s skin. Her age – 71 at the time she would take office – is clearly not a problem against the older President and she looks and acts younger than she is. A ticket to a Trump-Warren debate would be worth Super Bowl prices. Even so, Sen. Warren may be the one Democratic candidate whose strength could be as much curse as blessing. More on that below.

 

  1. Ms. Warren, if not as rounded for the presidency as former Vice President Joe Biden, otherwise appears as or more intellectually prepared as anyone else in the Democratic field. She is deeply versed in the ways of the U.S. financial industry. She has a plan for everything to address the needs of our economically disadvantaged people (except perhaps for health care). She’s less seasoned in foreign policy, although I doubt anyone on either side of the aisle would question that she would be steadfast on America’s behalf in dealing with Russia, China, and other adversaries or quasi-allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. That said, Ms. Warren doesn’t necessarily possess – to put it delicately – a compromising and conciliatory nature. One can surmise that as president she might have difficulty working with business interests. One can fairly question whether a Warren Administration would make any progress on domestic issues if Republicans maintain control of the Senate and KY Sen. Mitch McConnell continues as the Senate Majority Leader; every issue will become a brawl.

 

  1. To her credit, Sen. Warren is – subject to the self-inflicted ethnic gaffe discussed below – not campaigning as an identity candidate; she certainly supports women’s rights but her heart seems more focused on economic issues. She is likewise not a shiny new toy in Democratic politics, another plus.

 

  1. Ms. Warren is overtly progressive, to me a drawback. In addition to her attacks on business, she has reportedly said that she is “in all the way” on the Green New Deal, a bugaboo for many voters (although she’s apparently been less forthright about her approach to Medicare for All). As I have noted before, Democrats need the center to win; swing voters’ concerns about the President seem centered upon his demeanor, his veracity, his biases, and his disregard for our institutions, and much less on his substantive policies. Mr. Trump’s most favorable substantive advantage at this point is the apparent strength of the economy. Ms. Warren is extremely vulnerable to being painted a “Socialist” by Mr. Trump and the conservative media – which, whether or not warranted, could persuade some centrists that she is scarier than Mr. Trump.

 

I indicated above that President Trump might consider Sen. Warren his most favorable matchup; I offer such because of intangibles. While beloved by progressives and despite her good intentions, she doesn’t, at least in my view, present a warm image; she seems too much the nagging schoolmarm (or, to us veterans of old time Catholic education, the intimidating nun) who scolded you (and perhaps rapped your knuckles) for not paying attention in class. The Senator’s unforced missteps regarding her Native American ancestry have invited the President’s ridicule, and his mocking references to “Pocahontas” – combined with his inflammatory claims about “Socialism” — will, I suggest, resonate among some of the swing voters that will decide the election. I predict that in any debate between Mr. Trump and Ms. Warren, policy wonks will judge her the substantive winner on every question, but for a pivotal segment of our electorate, the contest will evoke the age-old classroom drama – the President as the irreverent class clown, Ms. Warren as the strict grade school teacher – that Mr. Trump will win handily.

The Democratic Party has already run one Hillary Clinton; I would submit that if they nominate Sen. Warren, they may well, despite her objective qualifications, be in effect doing so again.

Wish I’d Said That

This week, I heard a learned observer – I’m sure enough it was George Will to attribute it to him, but am not entirely positive it was Mr. Will – state to the effect, “From the beginning of the New Deal through the end of the Obama Administration, American domestic politics have essentially amounted to a conversation between Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan,” indicating that President Trump has significantly departed from the tenets espoused by each.

An arresting image.  Wish I’d said that. In a post a while back, I noted that I consider President Reagan the most accomplished president of my lifetime, but the only reason President Roosevelt didn’t best him in my ranking is … because I haven’t been around quite long enough for Mr. Roosevelt to have qualified for the competition. 😉

I can’t recall whether Mr. Will also observed that notwithstanding their domestic “conversation,” Messrs. Roosevelt and Reagan were, decades apart, almost perfectly aligned on their views of America’s place and responsibility in the world – that which, in my view, is perhaps the most important component of what actually makes America great — or that in this area, Mr. Trump has also disrupted and is seeking to further disrupt if not destroy much of what these two American giants stood for. If Mr. Will didn’t add that … I’m reasonably confident he wouldn’t mind if I do.

The Sleeves From Her Vest

As all who care are aware, last week Special Counsel Robert Mueller vocalized his Report’s implied call upon Congress to conduct an impeachment inquiry addressing President Trump’s activities related to the Special Counsel’s investigation — a process that, if the inquiry’s findings merited, would culminate with a House impeachment vote and likely Senate Trial. Given his derogatory comments about the Special Counsel following the statement, it is apparent that the President himself interpreted Mr. Mueller’s remarks as a call for impeachment proceedings.

The practical difficulty with the Congressional approach urged by Mr. Mueller is manifest: there aren’t 20 Republican Senators who have the political courage to vote for the President’s removal from office even if they privately agree that his behavior warranted it. The political calculus is equally obvious. Any such efforts to remove Mr. Trump from office will: arguably play into his hands, enabling him to wage a straightforward crusade — against “the Dems,” “the Deep State Coup,” and “the Media”; result in an almost certain and outwardly vindicating Senate victory for the President; create a perhaps-unequaled way to galvanize his supporters for the 2020 election; and – to me most importantly – leave the centrist voters upon whom the election’s outcome will rest with the unfavorable impression that the Democrats engaged in an inappropriate partisan spasm intended to undo the results of the 2016 election. I would submit that for Democrats, an impeachment initiative is a sucker’s choice.

The two primary players in this constitutional chess match are obviously the President and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Mr. Trump is reported to recognize the strategic political advantage he may gain from an impeachment inquiry, but to be at the same time understandably wary about the inquiry’s outcome and its effect on the public. For her part, Ms. Pelosi is reportedly facing intensifying calls from members of her House caucus to begin an impeachment inquiry that she clearly considers a practical and political loser. She seemingly will soon need a way to appease pro-impeachment House Democrats while avoiding the political pitfalls that her instincts tell her lie in impeachment proceedings.

Rather than embark upon a struggle which Ms. Pelosi knows she can’t win, she could consider an approach that might enable her to maintain the upper political hand and help the country as well. House leadership might draw up a list of its top priorities and have staff draft bills that, if passed, would implement those priorities. Given our need to thwart future election meddling, the highest priority (at least for me) would be a comprehensive, amply funded bill enabling the safeguarding of our federal, state and local election systems from interference by state/non-state actors, combined with the imposition of legal duties upon significant social media providers to identify and remove fraudulent presences from their platforms. Other potential priorities could range across health care, the environment, immigration, infrastructure, repeal of some 2017 corporate and personal high-income tax cuts, etc., etc. Congressional Democratic leadership would then decide which one or two of the various priorities might (1) given the right incentive, be palatable to the White House and (2) be considered sufficient exchange by progressives intent on impeachment.

When this effort was completed, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer could approach the President and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with this proposal: if Sen. McConnell garnered sufficient Republican Senate votes to pass the House-drafted bills virtually “as is” and the President thereupon signed such bills, the House of Representatives would, after the bills had been passed and signed, suspend its investigations of the President for the remainder of the current Congressional term. This would not be an offer to “start discussions” of the Democrats’ priorities in return for the suspension; the quid pro quo for the suspension would be the prior enactment of the Democrats’ priorities “as is.” An ancillary, but crucial point: the House’s pledge to suspend its investigations would expire if the President claimed vindication related to the House’s discontinuance.

One might surmise that depending upon the priorities Democrats selected and how progressively the enabling legislation was cast, Mr. Trump, given his lack of grounded policy principles, might be very tempted to agree to the deal. Although Mr. McConnell would probably be less enthusiastic, I suspect that he might warm to the notion if the President suggested that he would otherwise endorse an alt-right Republican to compete against Mr. McConnell in the 2020 Kentucky Republican Senatorial primary.

There would obviously be nuances to be worked out and potential ramifications to be weighed; among them, that each side would have to agree to share the credit for whatever bills were passed, that there would be no assurance for the President that he wouldn’t be subject to the criminal justice system the day he left office, and that the deal might steady Mr. Trump’s politically-listing ship. Democrats would be gambling that Mr. Trump’s divisive and exhausting behavior would still be his 2020 undoing.

In October, 1986, President Ronald Reagan and U.S.S.R. Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, Iceland, desirous of reducing ballistic missiles and nuclear weaponry. During their discussions, Gen. Sec. Gorbachev proposed eliminating all nuclear weaponry, but added a condition – accounts I’ve seen varying a bit – that either field testing or deployment of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative (“SDI”) be delayed for a significant number of years. Mr. Reagan demurred, and the discussions ended (although they are generally credited with laying the groundwork for the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty). When asked about Reykjavik years later, Mr. Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Schultz, recalled, “[W]hat we did was use [as bargaining chips] things like an agreement not to deploy [SDI] for a certain number of years, which I remember arguing with the President, that’s like giving them the sleeves from your vest. There’s nothing we’re going to deploy in seven years anyway [my emphasis].”

There is admittedly no indication that the President, Senate Republicans, and Democrats are capable of contemplating any “grand bargain.” Even so, given the overwhelming likelihood that Democrats will never garner sufficient Senate votes to remove the President from office following an impeachment trial, if Ms. Pelosi was able to leverage the President’s uneasiness with impeachment proceedings (in turn caroming through Republican legislators’ evident fear of politically crossing Mr. Trump) to achieve substantive policy goals, while enabling the Democrats to escape the political box in which they are increasingly finding themselves, it would be a significant accomplishment in return for … the sleeves from her vest …

On CRS’ “Preliminary Observations,” re: the 2017 Tax Revision

Perhaps easily missed due to its release on the eve of the Memorial Day Holiday weekend, the Congressional Research Service (the “CRS”) — a legislative branch agency “charged with providing the United States Congress non-partisan advice on issues that may come before Congress” – on May 22 issued its Report No. R45736, “The Economic Effects of the 2017 Tax Revision: Preliminary Observations.” In its Report Summary, the CRS indicates as follows regarding the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act taking effect January 1, 2018 (the “Act”):

“On the whole, the growth effects [of the Act] tend to show a relatively small (if any) first-year effect on the economy … [T]he growth patterns for different types of assets … may raise questions about how much longer-run growth will result from the tax revision.”

“From 2017 to 2018, the estimated average corporate tax rate fell from 23.4% to 12.1% and individual income taxes as a percentage of personal income fell slightly from 9.6% to 9.2% [my emphasis].”

“While evidence does indicate significant repurchases [by corporations] of [their own] shares, either from tax cuts or repatriated revenues, relatively little [of the cash corporations received from the cuts or revenues] was directed to paying worker bonuses ….”

In the text of the Report itself, the CRS states:

“[T]he combination of projections and observed effects for 2018 suggests a feedback effect of … 5% or less of the growth needed to fully offset the revenue loss from the Act.”

“[T]he data indicate little growth in consumption in 2018. Much of the tax cut was directed at businesses and higher-income individuals who are less likely to spend. Fiscal stimulus is limited in an economy that is at or near full employment [My emphasis].”

“Much of these funds [received by corporations from the tax cuts and repatriated revenues], the data indicate, has been used for a record-breaking amount of stock buybacks, with $1 trillion announced by the end of 2018.”

Perhaps the only remarkable aspect of these preliminary findings … is that they were so widely predicted beforehand. A link to the pdf of the CRS Report is included below for those that wish to dig in more deeply.

https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20190522_R45736_8a1214e903ee2b719e00731791d60f26d75d35f4.pdf

On the Mueller Report … Mostly Sans Politics: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there 😉

While the depth and breadth of the Russians’ efforts to interfere with the 2016 election weren’t known by our intelligence services prior to the election, the early sections of Volume I of the Mueller Report nonetheless seem to me to cast a pall over a figure the Report mentions only in passing: then-President Barack Obama. It is undisputed that the Obama Administration was alerted to a notable level of malign Russian activity some months before the election, and engaged in internal debates about a strategy as to how best to respond. Mr. Obama said after the election that he had told Russian President Vladimir Putin in September, 2016, “to cut it out” or face “serious consequences,” and the Obama Administration publicly indicated in October, 2016, that it was “confident” that the Russian government was behind the theft and dissemination of Democratic officials’ emails. These actions received little attention from our people and had no effect on the Russians. Mr. Obama also said after the election – about the time he was then placing sanctions on the Russians for their behavior – that he was concerned that his Administration’s placing too much emphasis on the Russians’ actions prior to balloting would have appeared to be interfering with the election: “We were playing this thing straight – we weren’t trying to advantage one side or another. Imagine if we had done the opposite. It would have become one more political scrum.”

President Trump has recently criticized Mr. Obama for his relative reticence about the Russian interference prior to the election. Although Mr. Trump’s comments are transparently self-serving, I do believe that Mr. Obama should indeed have done more than he did to create greater awareness of the Russian threat and aggression. As President, he was sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Free, fair, and accurate suffrage forms the foundation of our constitutional system. Putting aside claims of active collusion or criminal conspiracy existing between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government, Messrs. Putin and Trump have both publicly acknowledged that they had a coincidence of interest in the election’s outcome. Neither is a strategist; both, brilliant opportunists. Any objective observer would recognize that it would have been Mr. Trump that initiated the “political scrum” that Mr. Obama decided it was best to avoid by failing to speak out more forcefully about the Russians’ behavior in the fall of 2016. For all of our former President’s charisma, intelligence, and good intentions, Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump each out-maneuvered him. The Republicans are so focused on defending Mr. Trump’s legitimacy and the Democrats so committed to protecting Mr. Obama’s legacy that neither have really expressed what I will venture: that given the intelligence he had at hand, President Obama should have damned the political consequences, and used his bully pulpit to place a spotlight on the Russians’ attack on our system. In the last great test of his presidency … he didn’t do his job.

A brief comment about Volume II of the Mueller Report, of which I have read – and only intend to read – its Introduction and Executive Summary. As all who care are aware, Mr. Mueller and his team, after outlining a litany of questionable activities by President Trump relating to the Russia investigation, elected not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgement as to whether Mr. Trump had criminally obstructed justice. Below is a link to a short Statement joined by hundreds of former federal prosecutors, asserting that Mr. Trump’s conduct “… would, in the case of any other person not covered by the [Department of Justice’s] Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.” Given their respective situations, Mr. Mueller’s and these prosecutors’ assessments seem complementary.

https://medium.com/@dojalumni/statement-by-former-federal-prosecutors-8ab7691c2aa1