Friday, August 17, 2018

Theological Predisposition

Amanda Marcotte explains

The Catholic Church sex abuse scandals are often talked about as if they are in the past, but this summer has been a reminder that this horror show continues to unspool, 16 years after the Boston Globe's famous "Spotlight" series exposing the cover-up first ran. This week, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report accusing more than 300 priests of abusing more than 1,000 children over seven decades. The details are almost incomprehensibly awful, including accusations of repeated rape, child pornography and priests who marked their victims with jewelry to alert other predators that these children had been "groomed" to accept abuse....

The church in Pennsylvania was working simultaneously to shield child abusers while pushing for laws to punish women for consensual sex, so the easy charge to reach for is "hypocrisy." But that's an accusation that barely skims the surface. The far more troubling reality is that the willingness to cover for sexual predators is entirely consistent with advocating for restrictions on women's reproductive rights. Both attitudes are rooted in the same poisonous commitment to putting men in positions of permanent social dominance as well as rejecting the idea that women and children have bodily autonomy and sexual safety rights.

Agreed. Marcotte argues, persuasively I think

Trump and the Christian right are aligned in their true belief, which is that women must be kept in their place.

So there's no real conflict in the Catholic Church covering up sexual abuse while trying to prevent women from accessing legal and safe abortion services. In both situations, it's about using sexuality as a tool to enforce patriarchal hierarchies. In both cases, it's about a group of conservative men conspiring to organize the world so they hold power and everyone else is subject to their whims.

Shame is a major factor here too. The same sexual shame that religious conservatives try to instill with restrictions on reproductive rights is also used to silence victims of sexual abuse. It's difficult for victims to speak up, precisely because so much shame is built up around sexuality. Victims, male and female, are often subject to people digging through their sexual pasts, using their consensual activities as "evidence" that they're dirty and therefore undeserving of protection against abuse.

It's possible that one reason more survivors of abuse are willing to speak out these days is that the pro-choice movement has done so much work in destigmatizing consensual sex. The fear that victims used to experience -- of being outed as someone who has consensual sex and quite likely enjoys it -- no longer has the power it used to have, creating more space to speak out.

Observing "the lesson here is there is no way for religious groups to preserve their traditions of male dominance and sexual shaming while also eradicating sexual abuse," Marcotte logically concludes "the only way to root out the abuse is to root out those patriarchal values."

That would have a major impact. However, rooting out sexual abuse by priests would require two additional steps, one which probably ultimately will be taken by the Church and the other which will not.

Obviously, allowing women to become priests would reduce the sexual perversion (with no quote marks necessary). At some point, that is likely to occur.

Nevertheless, the other step which would be helpful is one the Roman Catholic Church never will take because it would undermine the indispensable, all-encompassing role of the priest. 

Although origin of the concept is shrouded in mystery, the "priesthood of all believers" is a fundamental precept of Protestantism which emerged from the Reformation. The rationale may be described as

Old Testament priests were chosen by God, not self-appointed; and they were chosen for a purpose: to serve God with their lives by offering up sacrifices. The priesthood served as a picture or "type" of the coming ministry of Jesus Christ--a picture that was then no longer needed once His sacrifice on the cross was completed. When the thick temple veil that covered the doorway to the Holy of Holies was torn in two by God at the time of Christ's death (Matthew 27:51), God was indicating that the Old Testament priesthood was no longer necessary. Now people could come directly to God through the great High Priest, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16). There are now no earthly mediators between God and man as existed in the Old Testament priesthood (1 Timothy 2:5).

Confession- a less formal ritual in Protestantism than in Catholicism- and prayer are undertaken directly to God, rather than mediated through a priest or any other mortal individual. "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the mana Christ Jesus," wrote Paul.

The Reformers' perspective was not superior, some will argue, and your mileage will vary. Additionally, belief in the priesthood of all believers does not guarantee that there will be fewer acts of sexual abuse committed upon children by Roman Catholic clergy than by Protestant clergy.

There are other factors, and not only the ones pointed out by Marcotte. Members of the clergy in many independent congregations are subjected to a process less scholarly and formal than have clergy in either mainline Protestant denominations (e.g., Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, some Baptist) or in Catholicism. Further, there typically will be less vetting of the ministerial candidate.

Nonetheless, the role of the Catholic priest is one which exalts him to a remarkable level, in which he plays a part in the transmission of confession and prayer to the Almighty. It will affect the perception of the clergyman in the eyes of many young people, even in the West and in our most sophisticated of times.

There may be powerful biblical or otherwise theological rationale for eschewing the notion of the priesthood of believers. However, its role in sexual abuse of children should not be completely ignored.

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An Issue Reformers Will Ignore

This is bad. The editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer has found

According to reporting by Philadelphia-based journalist Maura Ewing — published in the Appeal, a blog of the Harvard Law School and Philadelphia Weekly as a part of the "Broke in Philly" series — the city routinely keeps 30 percent of bail deposits as "processing fees"even if the initial charges are dropped.

When people are charged with a crime, judges can impose cash bail. The accused is required to pay 10 percent of the bail amount. No matter what the outcome of a person's case, the city gets a 30 percent cut.  That means that people who were wrongfully arrested and charged are literally paying for the mistake of officials. It's also putting burdens on people who can least afford it.

The bail fee is one of many fines and fees that the court imposes on defendants. Unlike most fees, which are dictated by state law, the bail fee is in the city's control and goes to the city itself. In fiscal year 2018, the bail fee added $2.9 million to the city's general fund.

Both the city's mayor and its district attorney are addressing the situation, presumably because they no longer can ignore it (also because the mayor and the DA are Democrats, the latter official occupying an ideological space somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders).

However, this practice, reported by the New Orleans Advocate, is worse:

On Friday, (US District Judge Sarah) Vance declared that "undisputed evidence" shows the 13 judges of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court have "a policy or practice of not inquiring into criminal defendants' ability to pay before those individuals are imprisoned for nonpayment of court debts."

She also declared that the judges have an "institutional conflict of interest" in making such poverty determinations themselves.

That's because the proceeds from fines and fees go directly to the court's Judicial Expense Fund, a kitty controlled by the judges that can be used for a broad range of judicial expenses. Fines and fees have contributed about $1 million a year to the court's coffers.

Vance ruled that the court's failure to "provide a neutral forum for determination of such persons' ability to pay is unconstitutional."

The decision appears to leave it up to the court to decide how to set up a mechanism for such decisions.

Seafood gumbo and crawfish boil can get pretty expensive for judges except, of course, when poor defendants are paying the freight. It  might not be where the fines and fees have been going- but the temptation is undeniable, even if the burdensome assessments are imposed to enhance the court system. The court's fund and especially the general fund are legitimate destinations for bail money or fines/assessments, but not (as in Orleans Parish) when judges are disinterested in a defendant's ability to pay.

Prior to a finding of guilt, no money innocuously termed "processing fees" or otherwise should go to the public kitty. Nor should judges be permitted to impose costs upon a defendant, pre- or post- conviction, without determining his financial means.  (Video below, from The Young Turks, is worthwhile, notwithstanding Uygur implying the criminal justice system is a bowl of cherries for middle-class individuals. The biggest problem is for the working poor.)

Remember this especially when politicians allegedly intent on criminal justice "reform" ignore these practices in favor of decrying the imprecise and nebulous, bestial "mass incarceration."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Through The Russian Mob To The KGB

You've heard it for a year or so from the Republican National Committe, surrogates for Donald Trump, and even from the man himself when he tweeted

Objective fact-checkers, in these cases CNN, The Washington Post, and Politifact, have found this claim to be (on balance) inaccurate. Admittedly, the fact checks took place shortly after Trump's claim in mid-winter.

Several things have changed since then, one only the other day.  Continuing to inch his way, inresponse to a defense bill named after Senator John S. McCain, toward unquestioned authority

When President Trump signed a $716 billion military spending bill on Monday, he claimed the authority to override dozens of provisions that he deemed improper constraints on his executive powers.

In a signing statement that the White House quietly issued after 9 p.m. on Monday — about six hours after Mr. Trump signed the bill in a televised ceremony at Fort Drum in New York — Mr. Trump deemed about 50 of its statutes to be unconstitutional intrusions on his presidential powers, meaning that the executive branch need not enforce or obey them as written.

Among them was a ban on spending military funds on “any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea,” the Ukrainian region annexed by Moscow in 2014 in an incursion considered illegal by the United States. He said he would treat the provision and similar ones as “consistent with the president’s exclusive constitutional authorities as commander in chief and as the sole representative of the nation in foreign affairs.”

Charlie Pierce translates:

In other words, the president* doesn't have to enforce the provision in the JSMNDAA of 2019 that denies the legitimacy of Vladimir Putin's land grab in the Ukraine. It also leaves open the option to spend United States military funds to help Putin maintain control in Crimea if the president* so desires to do so.

The depth and breadth of Donald Trump's relationship with Moscow are shrouded in mystery. However, one clue comes from reporter Craig Unger, who discussed Wednesday on CNN the findings in his new book, "House of Trump, House of Putin." As described in Raw Story (video below from thirteen months ago), in 1984

It started off as a money-laundering operation where a man in the Russian mafia met with Donald Trump in Trump Tower — this new, glitzy building then — and he just came in with $10 million and he said, ‘I’ll buy five condos,'” Unger explained. “That event was typical of at least 1,300 such purchases of Trump properties.”

Unger went on to discuss the next major contact between Trump and Russians, which came in 1987 when he made his first trip to the then-Soviet Union.

In particular, Unger said one of his sources told him that Trump “had lots of fun with women” during his 1987 trip to Russia and that “the Soviets had kompromat” — i.e., compromising information — on him dating back to that trip.

Additionally, Unger said that any contacts with Russia mobsters by Trump should be seen as the same as talking with Russian intelligence officials.

“I interviewed a counter-intelligence officer for the KGB, i asked him about the Russian mafia, and he said it is another part of KGB,” he said. “They are another part of the intelligence.”

"Lots of fun with women" sounds a lot like like Donald Trump. It also sounds a great deal like raw (uncorroborated)intelligence that Christopher Steele was given about Mr. Trump.  Except to the mathematically illiterate, it all adds up to something very serious.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Being a day later and more than a dollar short, I take note now that, as Christina Cauterucci points out

On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump praised his chief of staff John Kelly for letting go of Omarosa Manigault Newman—or, in Trump’s words, “for quickly firing that dog!”...

Dog marks a new low in this war of words. Some people are calling it sexist. Some are saying it’s racist. Some people think it’s neither, and it could always be both! So, what is it?

Cauterucci argues

With evidence to support both racism and sexism in the use of the word dog, and taking into account Trump’s historical contempt for women and black people, it’s safe to say that the answer to the “sexist or racist?” quandary is “both.” The theory of intersectional oppression holds that both racism and sexism are multidimensional.

No definition of intersectionality was offered for those of us not on the cutting edge, still unaccustomed to ripping apart the English language for ideological benefit.  It does, however, allow writers or pundits to manipulate concepts like "racism" and "sexism" for purposes.

As if multidemensional intersectional oppression weren't sufficiently speculative, Cauterrucci concludes

Trump called upon a very specific kind of anti-black sexism that comprises both the American history of enslaved black women being treated as livestock-like “breeders” and contemporary pop culture depictions of black women as angry, emasculating “bitches.”

Trump's press secretary claims that he is an "equal-opportunity offender," a thug unafraid to ridicule or condemn anyone regardless of race or gender. Whether her characterization is overly generous, insufficiently generous, or accurate, the combination of black and woman does not appear to be particularly noxious to him.

Unlike Cauterrucci, I don't know much about black women being treated as livestock-like breeders. It's unlikely that a fan cheering on today's good works of one Frederic Douglass does, either.

No one ever knows for sure what is in Donald Trump's mind. However, his racism and sexism are often understandably attributed, by inference or directly, partly to age and gender.  So, too, should his phrase "for quickly firing that dog" be seen in the context of his age and gender.

In the greater New York City region in which Trump grew up, among white males the term "dog" generally was a synonym for "ugly woman." That would not be an apt description of Omarosa Manigault Newman. However, accuracy was not a high priority of boys coming of age in the late '50s and '60s in the NYC metropolitan area who wanted to insult a woman.

Alternatively, having referred to "firing that dog," Trump might have been using "dog" as synonym for "worthless employee," a synonym for "dog" in a certain context. That would imply, however, that Donald Trump is more concerned with a female employee's work product than her appearance.

We know that is unlikely because Donald Trump has a track record, and we don't have to understand the intricacies of socio-cultural jargon to recognize that.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Only What We'd Expect

Stipulated:a)  Donald J. Trump is racially bigoted; almost everyone realizes Trump is racially bigoted; b) some people are repulsed by Trump's bias, a few people are a little less than repulsed, and c) some have no problem with it.  Still, it's interesting that

President Donald Trump said on Monday night that he’d never used the N-word and that no tapes existed of him saying other inflammatory material, rebutting the claims made by former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman that Trump repeatedly said the word during the filming of his reality-TV series “The Apprentice.”

“.@MarkBurnettTV called to say that there are NO TAPES of the Apprentice where I used such a terrible and disgusting word as attributed by Wacky and Deranged Omarosa,” the president wrote on Twitter, claiming he talked to Burnett, who produces the series. “I don’t have that word in my vocabulary, and never have. She made it up.”

Presumably, one of the first questions at the next news conference starring Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the flack hack, will be "why did Mr. Trump call Mark Burnett to determine no tapes existed of something the President claims never happened?

That question may be preceeded by "Why has Mark Burnett, recognizing the inflammatory nature of Omarosa's charge, not releas a statement or tweeted a confirmation that Trump called him?

The producer could claim that Trump had called him even if the President had not done so. The President has publicly declared that Burnett called him. Thus, there is no chance of contradiction by Trump, and no way to demonstrate the conversation did not take place.

And yet, as of 10:00 Tuesday morning, there is nothing from Burnett despite

It's possible that Trump did not use the "n-word" on the set of The Apprentice.  The credibility of Omarosa Manigault Newman is not great- and who could doubt the word of the president who hires only "the best and most people?"

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Monday, August 13, 2018


Thus far, this we know: Theresa May is no LindseyGraham.

You know Lindsey Graham. During the GOP presidential primary campaign, Donald Trump revealed the South Carolina senator's personal cellphone number and Graham later noted that he received so many unsolicited calls that he had to discontinue his service.

A few months later, still during the campaign, Trump labeled Graham "a disgrace" and "one of the dumbest human beings I've ever seen."

Sometimes, truth is not a defense.  As of two months ago, he had reached full kiss-up mode:

Further, the senator has voted with the President nearly 90% of the time, further illustrating the placement of Graham's lips on the backside of Donald Trump. His ridicule of other public officials has not had the same effect.

After a terrorist attack in June, 2017 in London, President Trump slammed Saddiq Khan, tweeting "at least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is 'no reason to be alarmed.'" Less than three hours later, it was "we must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don't get smart it will only get worse."

In an interview while in England last month, President Trump contended Khan "is doing a terrible job" and "I think he has done a very bad job on terrorism. I think he has done a bad job on crime, if you look, all of the horrible things going on there, with all of the crime that is being brought in.” He remarked "allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame" and hailed Prime Minister May's political rival as “a very talented guy," adding “I am just saying I think he would be a great prime minister. I think he’s got what it takes.”

Guess who needs whose help; now? Politico reports

America’s top diplomat in London has urged Britain to support Washington’s push to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal and impose economic sanctions in the country, days after the EU vowed to stand by the agreement.

“America is turning up the pressure and we want the U.K. by our side,” Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador in London, said in an op-ed for the Telegraph published Sunday, calling on Britain “to use its considerable diplomatic power and influence and join us as we lead a concerted global effort towards a genuinely comprehensive agreement....

The first set of U.S. sanctions entered into force on Monday and targets sectors such as the car industry and aviation. A second set of sanctions covering Iran’s oil exports will be imposed in November.

Johnson warned Britain that siding with Brussels would have economic consequences, saying: “Any businesses that put their commercial interests in Iran ahead of the global good will risks serious consequences for their trade with the U.S.”

However, Great Britain was one of the original negotiators of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and- thus far- is unwilling to go the Lindsey Graham route because

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement — which he insisted is a “bad deal” that would not thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions — in May dealt a heavy blow to European allies, who vowed to stand by the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The U.S. call for British support comes days after EU leaders — including U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian, Germany’s Heiko Maas and EU top diplomat Federica Mogherini — issued a statement Monday making clear they are actively working to thwart renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran.

“We deeply regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the U.S., due to the latter’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” they wrote, adding that the EU is taking legislative action — activating a so-called blocking statute — in a bid to protect EU businesses operating in Iran from the U.S. economic sanctions....

Trump’s plea for British support on Iran has already been rebuffed by British officials, the Sunday Telegraph reported, citing continued U.K. support for the agreement.

Now that President Trump wants London to feed the hand that bit it, he has found- as of Monday morning- he is facing in Great Britain and the European Union parties which are not as "dumb" as is Lindsey Graham.  However, the deal with Iran was a positive step toward peace, and it is notable that Europe is more dedicated to its own interests and international stability than to following blindly a government whose head no longer sees it as an ally.

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Casting A Wide Net

You don't have to be a misogynist like Donald J. Trump to understand the problem with one of these questions. Donald Trump would not recognize the problem- but many fair-minded and normal voters would.

 The Huffington Post reports

For the past seven months, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) has been asking President Donald Trump’s nominees the same two questions.

“Since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?”

“Have you ever faced discipline or entered into a settlement related to this kind of conduct?”

Hirono  states “The questions have never been asked before. And why is that? Because it would take a woman to ask questions like that, I would say.”

And I would say that's a fairly insulting remark to make about women.

Question no. 2 is only logical because it is disturbing if the applicant has faced discipline or entered into a settlement related to improper conduct.  Not so reasonable is "have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?"

"Verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature" is so vague as to be meaningless. "Verbal harassment" is a subjective concept, one likely defined extremely broadly by Senator Hirono and very narrowly by a man who has committed verbal harasssment. Additionally, the question implies an equality between verbal harassment and physical harassment. There is a difference between the alleged behavior of, say, Al Franken and that of Matt Lauer.

Similarly, "have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors" is begging for a lie in response. There are tens of millions of men alive, and others now deceased, who have made an unwanted request for a sexual favor. Often, when the request is met with a "no" or "leave me alone" or "get lost, you creep," the incident abruptly ends. Even Senator Hirono's husband, being a man, may himself have done this at one time.

But no man is going to reply "yes" to that first question posed by Senator Hirono because it opens a Pandora's Box.  The question itself implies that if a man makes a request for a sexual favor- and sexual favors do not have to be intercourse, vaginal or oral- it is itself disqualifying, even if there was reason that the man did not expect it to be unwanted.

Senator Hirono is probably very safe in her Senate seat from Hawaii. However, people are watching and voters are watching. Hillary Clinton, determined to "break the glass ceiling," did not grasp the backlash from many voters, most but not all of them men, who sensed that some politicians harbor anti-male sentiments.  Until men are banned from the voting booth, Democratic office-seekers should not disregard their perspective.

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Theological Predisposition

Amanda Marcotte explains The Catholic Church sex abuse scandals are often talked about as if they are in the past, but this summe...