Saving Jesus

To save Jesus from those claiming to be his heirs, we must wrench him from the hands of those who use him as a façade from which to hide their phobias — their fear of blacks, their fear of the undocumented, their fear of Muslims, their fear of everything queer.

– Miguel De La Torre “The Death of Christianity in the U. S.

This week’s featured posts are “Trump’s Evangelical toadies are destroying the Christian brand” and “The Shutdown, DACA, and Immigration: Where We Are“.

This week everybody was talking about the end of the shutdown

One of the featured posts discusses this in more detail. One additional thing about the related immigration debate: Something you often hear European-Americans say is: “I’m not against immigrants. I just think they should come in the right way, like my ancestors did.”

Three points on that: First, when my German ancestors came to America in the 1840s and 1850s, there was no wrong way, because there were no rules. America didn’t start limiting immigration until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. From the beginning, it’s always been about race.

Second, immigrating to this country legally, i.e., becoming a legal permanent resident, isn’t the simple thing that “why don’t they just …” statements imply. People come here without a green card because they see no chance of getting one, not because they want to flaunt our laws. MTV’s Franchesca Ramsey explains:

Finally, Trump’s latest proposal (which further tightens legal immigration) will just make this worse. So the statement boils down to “Why don’t they do something we’re not going to let them do?”

and the Mueller investigation

Thursday, The New York Times reported that Trump ordered the Justice Department to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller last June, after it became clear Mueller was investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. Reportedly, White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than deliver the message to Justice, and Trump backed down.

For what it’s worth, Trump called the report “fake news” and “a typical New York Times fake story”. Joe Scarborough’s response to Sean Hannity’s attempt to first deny and then distract from this story is hilarious.

Wednesday, Trump told reporters he was “looking forward” to talking with Mueller, and said he would do so under oath, repeating a claim he made last June. It was only a few hours before his lawyers were walking that back.

Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer leading the response to the investigation, said Mr. Trump was speaking hurriedly and intended only to say that he was willing to meet.

If anybody expects to see Trump under oath without (or even with) an order from the Supreme Court, let me remind you of all the times he has said he would release his tax returns. All this just underlines the Jay Rosen quote I mentioned last week, about the pointlessness of interviewing Trump:

In an interview situation, [Trump is] just saying what — at the moment — makes him feel like the best, the biggest, the greatest, the brightest, the richest, the most potent. He’s just saying whatever comes to his mind as the most spectacular boast he can think of. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about his policies.

Speaking of interviewing Trump, Matt Yglesias comes to a similar conclusion about an interview Trump did with CNBC’s Joe Kernen:

Listening to him talk is interesting from an entertainment perspective (he did once host a popular television show), but it conveys no information about the world, the American government, or the Trump administration’s policies. If Kernen wanted to help his viewers understand what’s going on, he’d have been better off interviewing someone else.

Trump is also trying to get the Justice Department to release a memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes. It seems to be a summary of the conspiracy-theory view of the Mueller investigation. It’s based on classified information, and career DoJ people think its release would be “extremely reckless”.

He has also recently said things that make it look like he doesn’t understand what obstruction of justice means.

On Wednesday, speaking briefly to reporters, Trump defended his actions in the probe as “fighting back” against unfair allegations. “Oh, well, ‘Did he fight back?’ ” Trump said. “You fight back, ‘Oh, it’s obstruction.’ ”

If you’re the president of the United States and the Justice Department is investigating you, using your official powers to “fight back” is exactly what obstruction of justice means. It’s illegal for good reason.

but I to push back on Trump’s claims about his first year

I can’t bring myself to watch the State of the Union address tomorrow night, but I’ll probably read the transcript. No doubt it will be full of claims about how the economy is growing and creating jobs.

The truth is that Obama left Trump an economy trending in the right direction, and it has continued to do so. The GDP growth graph looks like this:

And the job-growth graph like this:

This is about what I would expect, because the Trump tax cut has yet to take effect, and there has been no Trump budget — everything is still running on continuing resolutions based on Obama’s last budget. If there’s a boom next year, that might belong to Trump.

and you also might be interested in …

If you’re having trouble understanding or explaining net neutrality, explain it in terms of Burger King’s Whoppers.

If congressional districts weren’t gerrymandered, what should they look like? 538 looks at the different things you might want to optimize, and the maps they lead to.

A video made by the War Department in 1947 is going around on social media. Its message — that we shouldn’t let rabble-rousers turn us against Americans who look different than we do — still resonates. “Remember when you hear this kind of talk: Somebody is going to get something out of it, and it isn’t going to be you.”

The extended play version is about 23 minutes.

Mother Jones chronicles the rise and fall of ECOT, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an Ohio charter school that made its founder rich, cost taxpayers millions, produced poor results, and now has collapsed, leaving many of its students in the lurch.

Multiple warning signs got ignored, because ECOT fit the Republican privatization ideal so well that it got tangled up in the partisan politics of the Ohio legislature. Former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland explains:

“I don’t think all political contributions are efforts to do something nefarious,” Strickland told me. “But in this case, I think it was so obvious that these schools were so bad and were failing and had such lax oversight. I cannot give the Republican Legislature the benefit of the doubt and say that they did not know.

“When you have a situation where public moneys are used to enrich individuals,” he added, “who then in turn support the politicians that support the policies that enrich them—it may not be illegal, but I think that fits the definition of corruption.”

Statewide, ECOT got “more than $1 billion in public funding, much of it diverted from better performing Ohio schools … at least 15 percent of that money—about $150 million—was paid to [founder William] Lager’s private companies”.

Yesterday [January 18], after 17 years of operation, the school came to a spectacular end. … Despite years of critics raising similar concerns, the school’s demise happened quickly, after two Ohio Department of Education reviews from 2016 and 2017 found that ECOT had overbilled taxpayers by $80 million for thousands of students it couldn’t show were meeting the department’s enrollment standards. As a result, last summer the state ordered the school to begin paying back almost $4 million per month in school funds, which ECOT claimed it was unable to do.

David Roberts writes about the role of climate change in our national strategy: It’s been taken out of the new version of the National Security Strategy, but the Pentagon continues to take it seriously in a lot of ways.

James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral now serving as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, succinctly lays out the reasons the military can’t ignore climate change in this piece. Scarcity of water and other resources will drive dislocation and conflict, he writes. Coastal Naval bases are in danger of being inundated by rising seas; the Arctic is melting and opening new areas of geopolitical conflict; the rising cost of climate impacts will squeeze the military budget; and responding to severe weather events will reduce military readiness.

However, the military can’t make up for climate denial in the rest of the government, because the military’s focus (appropriately, Roberts says) is to respond to climate change, not prevent it. And that could lead to this dystopian future:

As things get worse, those who can afford to protect themselves — move their military bases, build sea walls and desalination plants, claim newly navigable land in the Arctic — will pull farther and farther away from those who can’t (the global poor, who did so little to cause the problem). The US might come out on top in a more violent, chaotic world, but in the end, we do not stand apart. We will sink with it.

Dr. Larry Nassar got sentenced to 40-175 years in prison for molesting young women and girls who came to him for treatment. He’s 54 and already has a 60-year sentence to serve, so he’s never getting out.

In addition to Nassar himself, two institutions are in trouble for enabling Nassar and ignoring his accusers: USA Gymnastics and my alma mater, Michigan State, where Nassar was on the faculty.

The whole USA Gymnastics board has resigned. The NCAA is investigating the extent to which the university was complicit, and both the university president and the athletic director have resigned. The Nassar publicity has also brought attention to reports of sexual assaults by MSU football and basketball players, which were either ignored or taken lightly. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a report, which ESPN cites:

The report states students told investigators that Michigan State athletes “have a reputation for engaging in sexual harassment and sexual assault and not being punished for it, because athletes are held in such high regard at the university.” It also states that athletes received more training on sexual harassment and sexual assault than other students but noted possible mixed messages. It cites a program called “Branded a Spartan” about upholding the Spartan name. Some male athletes told investigators that “making a report about sexual assault might tarnish the Spartan brand,” and at least one said he might not report an incident involving a fellow athlete to the Title IX office, according to the report.

For a little over a month, Taco Bell has been trolling conspiracy theorists with its “Belluminati” ad campaign, like this commercial:

And guess what? It’s working. The Vigilant Citizen blog says this is “the Illuminati flaunting in plain sight”. The Unseen Encyclopedia warns that “the jokes on you … it’s always hidden in plain sight”.

And now Taco Bell is upping ante with this “Web of Fries” movie trailer.

Leaving the subject of Taco Bell, let’s talk about dietary fiber. Everybody knows it’s good for you, but nobody is sure exactly what it does for you. Now there’s an interesting theory that seems to prove out in mice: It’s good for the bacteria in your intestines.

and let’s close with something amazing

Somehow, my scientific education never covered the Leidenfrost Effect, which causes drops of water to float on a vapor layer above a metal surface heated to 500 degrees or so, and sometimes to climb up and over tiny grooves that can be formed into a ladder of sorts. It’s fun to watch.


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  • janinmi  On January 30, 2018 at 9:26 am

    The Leidenfrost effect vid is indeed amazing, esp. the maze. Thanks for sharing it.


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