March 16, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


"There's No Boogeyman He Can Attack" (GABRIEL SHERMAN, MARCH 16, 2020, Vanity Fair)

For Donald and his ilk it's just an opportunity to gin up racial hygiene hysteria.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Against the Infernalists: a review of That All Shall Be Saved by David Bentley Hart ( Karen Kilby, March 16, 2020, Commonweal)

We are so used to assuming that eternal damnation is part of the Christian package, he suggests, that we dramatically misread the New Testament texts. Not only do we dismiss or interpret away all those passages that seem clearly to point to universal salvation (Hart lines up twenty-three of them at one stage in his argument), but we also fail to notice the kind of language Jesus used in relation to judgment. "I am quite sure," he writes, "that, had Jesus wished to impart a precise and literal picture of the Age to come, he could have done so. But in fact the more closely one looks at the wild mélange of images he employed...the more the picture dissolves into evocation, atmosphere, and poetry." Hart points readers to his own recently published translation of the New Testament, which in its unusual literal fidelity to the Greek restores the original ambiguities of some key texts.

We are so used to assuming that eternal damnation is part of the Christian package that we dramatically misread the New Testament texts.
The most intellectually dense strand of the book--and the most difficult for non-specialists to follow--is Hart's argument against the idea that any rational being might permanently choose evil. The density here comes from the fact that Hart is working within a philosophical and theological paradigm that was once mainstream for the Christian tradition but is now unfamiliar to most Christians, even the well-educated, unless they have formal theological training. If one accepts this paradigm, with its assumptions about the relation of intellect and will, about the fundamental ordering of all creatures towards God, and about the nature of evil as privation, then one should find it simply inconceivable, Hart insists, that any human or angel could continue forever to choose against God. The idea is simply incoherent. This is a genuine challenge that needs to be taken up and wrestled with by Thomists and others who work within this classic theological paradigm.

Hart believes that people have not noticed this and other forms of incoherence because "infernalist" belief has darkened the minds of those who hold it, encouraging them to appeal to analogy, mystery, and paradox to cover over nonsense and contradiction. His biggest theme, however, is not intellectual incoherence so much as moral repugnance. It is to this that he turns again and again. The majority view is manifestly "odious" and the acceptance of it morally indefensible. The attempt to believe in eternal damnation has corrupted the moral imagination of Christians, causing it to "bend and lacerate and twist itself" in all kinds of terrible ways.

One explanation for the polemical tone of That All Shall Be Saved lies here: Hart is writing a book that, as he sees it, should not need to be written. The impossibility of a loving God damning anyone to an eternity of torment is so clear to a properly functioning moral instinct that it should not be necessary to go into complex biblical interpretation or philosophical analysis to settle the question. And Hart is constantly trying to remind his readers of this, to break through the resistance to the morally obvious.

And when He returns--this time in His glory, instead of as a mortal--who will say Him nay?

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Trump Is Talking About Pardoning Michael Flynn Based on a Made-Up Claim: There is no evidence the FBI "lost" any records. (Dan Friedman, 3/16/20, MoJo)

In his guilty plea, Flynn admitted he had lied to agents in that interview by claiming he did not discuss US sanctions on Russia with that country's ambassador during the presidential transition period.

If the FBI lost records of this interview, it would be a big deal. But neither the FBI nor the Justice Department says this happened. Instead, they say they turned over more than sufficient evidence to Flynn, including the original notes of agents who interviewed Flynn as well as the 302 report summarizing the interview. (You can read a redacted version they filed in court here.)

Powell claims there is a missing "original 302" of the January 24 interview. She has implied the FBI may have destroyed this document and altered evidence to hide evidence of Flynn innocence. (Powell here is pushing a version of a popular theory among right wing pundits that a failure by FBI agent Peter Strozk and other FBI officials to immediately find that Flynn was lying in the January 24 interview suggests he was telling the truth. An alternative understanding is that Strozk's initial impression showed Flynn had lied convincingly.)

Prosecutors, in an October 2019 filing, do indicate that is possible that they no longer have an "earlier draft of the interview report," but they argue that doesn't matter. "[E]ven if an earlier draft of the interview report once existed," the filing reads, "there is no reason to believe it would materially differ from the interviewing agents' handwritten notes or the other drafts--all of which state that the defendant made the specific false statements to which the defendant admitted guilt."

This argument prevailed in court. In a blistering December 16 ruling, US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is known for pushing federal prosecutors turn over any arguably exculpatory evidence to defendants, excoriated Powell's arguments. Sullivan even accused Powell of plagiarism. 

Sullivan found that "there were no material changes in the interview reports, and that those reports track the interviewing FBI agents' notes." He said the material prosecutors turned over is "both consistent and clear that Mr. Flynn made false statements to the FBI." In other words, the judge found that the Justice Department not only turned over adequate records of the interview to Flynn's lawyers, but those records show that Flynn is guilty of the crime to which he pleaded guilty.

That was in December.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Trump admits it: The governors are in charge (Jennifer Rubin, March 16, 2020, washington Post)

In public, President Trump emits meaningless happy talk and misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. In conversation with the nation's governors, however, he essentially admitted he has nothing to offer them. They -- and by extension the rest of us -- are on our own.

The New York Times reports:

"Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment -- try getting it yourselves," Mr. Trump told the governors during the conference call, a recording of which was shared with The New York Times. "We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself." . . .

Governors Jay Inslee of Washington, whose state is at the epicenter of the domestic outbreak, and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico both reacted angrily to the administration's slow response to the crisis.
Good for them. (Take note, former vice president Joe Biden: Lujan Grisham should be on any short list for your pick for your No. 2.) The notion that the federal government is so ill-prepared and still incapable of helping locate and distribute life-saving equipment is an admission of Trump's utter incompetence and negligence. It is also counterproductive, as Lujan Grisham pointed out: "If one state doesn't get the resources and materials they need, the entire nation continues to be at risk." It is stunning that the president does not grasp this.

We're four years in; why expect better?

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


McConnell pushing coronavirus vote to later in week over GOP opposition to House bill: report (David Edwards, 3/16/20, Raw Story)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is not expected to schedule a vote on a coronavirus relief bill until later in the week after initially calling the legislation "urgent."

Opposing relief worked so well in 2008....

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Coronavirus gives Vice President Pence his presidential moment (SEBASTIAN SMITH, 3/16/20, AFP) 

As the coronavirus crisis sweeps the US government, the nation has come to rely on a voice of calm from the White House -- only it's not Donald Trump's.

Caricatured as a meek and loyal yes man, Vice President Mike Pence is surprising even some of his critics with an authoritative performance in the role of coronavirus tsar. [...]

Heading the coronavirus task force has to be one of the hardest jobs in US politics today.

Pence not only has to coordinate the response to the pandemic. He has to clean up after his erratic boss -- and please him at the same time.

For weeks, Trump dismissed coronavirus as something that didn't have to be taken seriously. He also repeatedly accused his Democratic opponents and the media of hyping the crisis in a bid to weaken his reelection chances.

"His aides are literally scrambling around to try to make something more sane that's absolutely insane, which happens to be the president," Anthony Scaramucci, who briefly served as Trump's communications director, said in a scathing assessment on Sunday.

And Pence is the one scrambling the most.

He regularly has to massage or clarify the president's statements, all while framing his own comments as support.

But sometimes, the divergence in approaches by the two men cannot be masked over.

While Pence seeks to reassure, Trump, facing an increasingly difficult November reelection, sees conflict everywhere.

So when Pence praised the Democratic governor of Washington state, Jay Inslee, for his response to one of the worst local coronavirus outbreaks in the country, Trump brutally smacked him down.

"I told Mike not to be complimentary," Trump said. "That governor is a snake."

Pence doesn't bite back.

Still, when asked on NBC about the president's Twitter attacks against Democrats during the coronavirus crisis, Pence did issue what was interpreted as a rare rebuke, citing the "irresponsible rhetoric."

It's a vision of what America could be like if Republican Senators had done their duty.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to FBI (Shannon Vavra, 12/01/17, Axios)

In a statement, Flynn said: "Actions I acknowledged in court today are wrong, and through my faith in God, I am working to set things right. My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel's Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden makes his debut as the Democrats' presumptive nominee (Karen Tumulty, March 15, 2020, Washington Post)

What happened on Sunday night was not a presidential debate. It was former vice president Joe Biden's debut as the Democrats' presumptive 2020 nominee.

The headline of the evening was Biden's declaration that he plans to pick a female running mate, and that he would nominate an African American woman to the Supreme Court.

But it was the confidence with which Biden conducted himself throughout his two-hour exchange with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that signaled how dramatically the race has changed in the two weeks since the voters of South Carolina rescued his candidacy from oblivion.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The illness caused by the new coronavirus gets a new name: COVID-19: The name couldn't reference an animal, a place, or a group of people (Nicole Wetsman,  Feb 11, 2020, Verge)

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that the disease caused by the new coronavirus will be referred to as COVID-19. Until this point, the illness was known as 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease. Experts refer to the virus that causes the disease as 2019-nCoV, which stands for novel coronavirus 2019.

There are around 43,000 cases of the illness around the world, and it has killed over 1,000 people so far.

"Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing. It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks," said Tedros Adhanom, director general of the WHO, in a press conference today.

The name of the disease is linked with the virus that causes it: it starts with "co" and "vi" for "coronavirus." The "d" stands for disease, while "19" indicates the year that it was first discovered. What the name doesn't have is an association with Wuhan or China.

The outbreak started in Wuhan, China, and, initially, people colloquially referred to the unknown illness as Wuhan pneumonia or Wuhan flu. Naming conventions through the WHO say that the formal name given to an illness cannot refer to a geographic location. It also can't refer to an animal or group of people, has to be related to the disease, and must be easy to say.