Renewal

At long last, it is Spring. All around us, the ancient miracle is happening once again. The season of Death is behind us, and new life is springing up. You have an invitation to join that renewal, but the Earth will not wait for you. So don’t delay until the yeast has raised the dough; make your bread without it. Have your walking stick ready; it’s time to go. The stone has been rolled away and the path to the light is open.

Are you coming? It’s too late to wish you could be replanted somewhere else, because it’s time to sprout. Here. Now. It’s Easter.

– from my 2013 sermon “Struggling With Easter

This week’s featured post is “Buttigieg vs. Pence“. You also might want to look at the church service the quote above is from. I’ve never liked Easter services, but that year I volunteered to lead a service in my hometown without realizing that date was Easter. With some trepidation, I accepted the challenge and did an all-spring-holidays-at-once service. I’m happy with how it came out. If you don’t care for Easter services either, check it out.

This week everybody was wondering whether the administration will obey the law

This was a question that united a number of news stories: the purge at DHS, Mnuchin’s refusal to let the House Ways and Means chair see Trump’s tax returns, the plan to dump detained immigrants in sanctuary cities, and whether Trump offered a pardon to the Custom and Borders Protection Commissioner to induce him to ignore laws about applicants for asylum.


DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned last Monday, just in time for me to mention it in last week’s summary. Tuesday, Acting Deputy Secretary Clare Grady was also forced out, leaving the Department in the hands of the next-in-line, Kevin McAleenan.

Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles was ousted, and at least two officials have been named as possibly heading out the door: US Citizenship and Immigration Services director Francis Cissna and Office of the General Counsel’s John Mitnick.

On April 5, Trump withdrew his nomination of Ron Vitiello to lead ICE, saying he wanted to go in a “tougher direction”. Vitiello was already the acting head of ICE.


Thursday, a Washington Post scoop began to flesh out what a “tougher” head of ICE might do.

The White House believed it could punish Democrats — including Pelosi — by busing ICE detainees into their districts before their release, according to two DHS whistleblowers who independently reported the busing plan to Congress. … Homeland Security officials said the sanctuary city request was unnerving, and it underscores the political pressure Trump and Miller have put on ICE and other DHS agencies at a time when the president is furious about the biggest border surge in more than a decade.

“It was basically an idea that Miller wanted that nobody else wanted to carry out,” said one congressional investigator who has spoken to one of the whistleblowers. “What happened here is that Stephen Miller called people at ICE, said if they’re going to cut funding, you’ve got to make sure you’re releasing people in Pelosi’s district and other congressional districts.”

… “It was retaliation, to show [Democrats in Congress], ‘Your lack of cooperation has impacts,’ ” said one of the DHS officials, summarizing the rationale. “I think they thought it would put pressure on those communities to understand, I guess, a different perspective on why you need more immigration money for detention beds.”

Administration sources initially described this as a “nonstory”, but then Trump himself verified it.

Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities

CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin:

These are human beings, and treat treat them like a form of plague that you want to impose on your enemies is really grotesque.

This fits into the larger context of the Trump administration breaking down barriers between politics and law enforcement. Little by little, we are losing the democratic ideal that political appointees set priorities and make policy, while the government’s career professionals are mission-driven and carry out their jobs apolitically. Instead, Trump is moving us toward the authoritarian model where everything is political.

Masha Gessen makes a good point: This is one of those stories that is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to know how to respond. Merely pointing out the illegality of using government resources to punish uncooperative congresspeople yields a point that shouldn’t be yielded: These immigrants are not a plague. They don’t bring crime and drugs and disease as Trump keeps claiming.

The response Gessen favors is similar to the one given by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan:

Here’s a message to President Trump: Seattle is not afraid of immigrants and refugees. … This president believes that immigrants and refugees burden our country and burden cities like ours. But he could not be more wrong. In Seattle, we know that our immigrant and refugee communities make our city a stronger, more vibrant place. … So if this president wants to send immigrants and refugees to Seattle and other welcoming cities, let me be clear: We will do what we have always done, and we will be stronger for it. And it will only strengthen our commitment to fighting for the dignity of every person. We will not allow any administration to use the power of America to destroy the promise of America.


I think it’s important to keep telling immigrants’ stories, because they’re so antithetical to the image Trump is trying to sell us. Mother Jones tells about Ansly Damus, a Haitian who legally sought asylum in the US, and has been held like a prisoner for two years.


Friday, the New York Times added:

President Trump last week privately urged Kevin McAleenan, the border enforcement official he was about to name as acting secretary of homeland security, to close the southwestern border to migrants despite having just said publicly that he was delaying a decision on the step for a year, according to three people briefed about the conversation.

It was not clear what Mr. Trump meant by his request or his additional comment to Mr. McAleenan that he would pardon him if he encountered any legal problems as a result of taking the action.


House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal requested six years of Trump’s tax returns last week. The law authorizing him to make this request is clear: It instructs the IRS to deliver the documents.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is delaying, while not admitting that he intends to disobey the law. Instead, he pretends that there is some kind of legitimate legal issue here.

Mnuchin, who has consulted with the White House and Department of Justice about Trump’s tax returns, said earlier this week that Neal’s request raised concerns about the scope of the committee’s authority, privacy protections for U.S. taxpayers and the legislative purpose of lawmakers in seeking the documents.

Think about what Mnuchin is putting forward here: that the executive branch has the right to judge the “legislative purpose” of the legislative branch. In other words, Congress is not really an equal branch of government.


Sarah Sanders to Fox News’ Chris Wallace:

Frankly, Chris, I don’t think Congress — particularly not this group of congressmen and women — are smart enough to look through the thousands of pages that I would assume that President Trump’s taxes will be,” Sanders said. “My guess is most of them don’t do their own taxes, and I certainly don’t trust them to look through the decades of success that the president has and determine anything.

It’s laughable that Trump can question the intelligence of Chairman Neal.

and a black hole

or at least a picture of where one ought to be.

and the Israeli elections

Netanyahu will be prime minister for another term. Israel will impose its will on Palestine, and keep pushing until there’s another intifada. I continue to believe that ultimately this situation is headed towards an ethnic cleansing.

and Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had been inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London for the last seven years, until Thursday, when British police arrested him after Ecuador stopped granting asylum.

His arrest raises a bunch of issues about freedom of the press that I haven’t unraveled yet — like “What’s the difference between journalism and espionage?” — so for now I’ll just link to a CNN article that points to the complexity.

and Brexit

There’s a new deadline: Halloween. It’s still not clear what will be different then.


Channel 4 commentator Jon Snow (not the Game of Thrones guy) touched off an uproar while he was covering a rally outside the Prime Minister’s residence by angry pro-Brexit protesters. “I’ve never seen so many white people in one place,” he said.

Why, wondered Myriam François in The Guardian, would white people be upset to be identified as white people?

First, white people are not used to being marked out by race. Despite habitually racialising others, we generally don’t take well to being racialised ourselves. Acknowledging our “whiteness” means accepting that our worldview isn’t universal nor objective. It is a white perspective, forged by a particular experience. The “facts of whiteness”, to paraphrase Frantz Fanon, make many white people uncomfortable.

It’s telling that Snow’s remark has sparked more outrage than the fact that a rally held in a city with 40% black and minority-ethnic population was almost entirely white. Far-right extremist Tommy Robinson addressed crowds in Parliament Square and somehow this doesn’t raise questions about race? If we weren’t so intent on ringfencing white people from any introspection, white people themselves might legitimately ask why the leave campaign has attracted so many racists and so few people of colour.

and you also might be interested in …

If Attorney General Barr has been telling the truth, his redacted version of the Mueller report should come out this week. (Thursday, possibly.) Trump has gotten nearly a month to shape a “no collusion, no obstruction” narrative, which his base will probably continue to believe even if the report says something different.


The Trump tweet linking Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and 9-11 is not worth discussing in itself. The speech Omar’s one line was lifted from was making the point that Muslims are not collectively guilty for 9-11, so attacking their civil liberties was unjustified. Trump’s tweet essentially makes the point that Muslims are collectively guilty for 9-11. I think we all (in one way or another) resemble people who have done bad things, so any support for the idea of collective guilt should threaten all of us.

What is worth discussing is the role Trump is playing in what has come to be called “stochastic terrorism“. Omar reports that her death threats have skyrocketed since Trump’s tweet, and Nancy Pelosi has asked the House Sergeant-at-Arms to pay special attention to Omar’s security, noting that Trump’s “hateful and inflammatory rhetoric creates real danger”.

Trump himself is not threatening to kill Omar, and he is not conspiring with any particular assassin. But he knows full well the kind of people who are out there, and how they might react to what he says.


It took about a month for New Zealand to change its gun laws after the horrific March 15 mosque shootings. The Prime Minister got behind a bill to ban military-style assault weapons, and Parliament passed it 119-1 on Wednesday.


Over the last two weeks I’ve been raising the question of whether Republicans would allow Trump to fill the Federal Reserve Board of Governors with stooges like Stephen Moore and Herman Cain. I mean, it’s one thing to let know-nothings take charge of education or public housing or the environment, but this is money we’re talking about. Billionaires and multinational corporations are counting on money to continue having meaning, so you’d think Republicans in Congress would want to keep the likes of Moore and Cain from screwing around with it.

It turns out they do. Four Republican senators — Cramer, Romeny, Murkowski, and Gardner — have come out against Cain’s nomination, which pretty much dooms it. Stephen Moore still might get the job.


Politico’s account of Trump’s visit to Mount Vernon sounds like something from The Onion.

“If [George Washington] was smart, he would’ve put his name on it,” Trump said, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. “You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.”

The tour was for visiting French President Emmanuel Macron, who was more into it than Trump.

The president’s disinterest in Washington made it tough for tour guide Bradburn to sustain Trump’s interest during a deluxe 45-minute tour of the property which he later described to associates as “truly bizarre.” The Macrons, Bradburn has told several people, were far more knowledgeable about the history of the property than the president.

I suspect if you picked a subject at random, Macron would be more knowledgeable about it than Trump.


I’m looking forward to a book that comes out this week: A Lot of People Are Saying by Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum. It talks about conspiracy theories, and about a subtly different concept: conspiracism.

In an interview with Vox, Rosenblum explains the distinction: Conspiracy theories are attempts to explain something, and often to re-explain randomness by imposing a cause-and-effect structure on it, however unlikely. In my view, Kennedy assassination theories are the archetypes: It seemed inconceivable that a lone loser like Lee Harvey Oswald could bring down a popular president, so bigger explanations were invented.

Conspiracism, though, is “conspiracy without the theory”. There are no dots to connect, just a bald assertion that somebody you don’t like is up to something.

For example, Trump’s claim that elections are rigged to favor Democrats (and hence that he’d have won the popular vote without the millions of illegal Hillary votes) is not an actual conspiracy theory, because he offers no explanation of how this could have happened. It’s not at all like a Kennedy-assassination theory, where the theorists can drown you in detail.


It would be great if white people would listen to black people’s explanations of privilege, but for a lot of whites that’s just never going to happen. So there’s a need for articles like this one by white NBA player Kyle Korver, where a white guy suddenly gets it.

By the way, there have been several books lately that belie the stereotype of the dumb jock. For example, look at Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by NFL defensive lineman Michael Bennett or The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and what matters in the end.


I’ve got to plug an explanation of the current Supreme Court gerrymandering cases co-authored by my nephew Mike Stephens, a recently-minted lawyer.

and let’s close with some low-tech high-tech

One of the problems with renewable energy sources like wind and solar power is how to regulate the flow: the times when you need the most power may not be the times when the most power is being generated. A lot of work has gone into designing batteries, but a conceptually simpler idea may work better: stacking concrete blocks. When you have more power than you need, you build the tower higher. When you need more power than you have, you let a block fall, generating power as it goes.

Another company is working on a similar notion, but instead of building a tower, it raises and lowers weights inside a deep mine shaft.

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Comments

  • Nathan Harvey  On April 15, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    It’s important to recall in the immigration-to-sanctuary-cities story that population growth in itself is a driver of economic activity. In fact, it is one of the most basic forms studied in economics. The new population require food and clothing and housing and other basic services, and where they are more successful, they add other demand. And they provide a base increase in available productivity of the same proportion. Even Piketty addresses this in his great book on capital and inequality – this is one of the two primary causes of wage-derived wealth of a population. So if immigrants are focused in certain locations, that will only drive their economic engine faster. A population growth of 5% per year would be a boon.

    • Kaci  On April 15, 2019 at 1:48 pm

      Only up to a point, though, I would think, because that also puts more demands on infrastructure like roads and schools. At least, my area is experiencing significant growth and it’s definitely coming with problems as well as benefits, and some folks are being left behind. (This does not, of course, change the fact that we should welcome immigrants as fellow human beings).

  • nicknielsensc  On April 15, 2019 at 9:14 pm

    The best response I saw to Trump’s threat to sanctuary cities was the NY Daily News’ April 13 cover: https://www.nydailynews.com/resizer/kmG-8a7CzUleXbQFPP49I3QXvpQ=/fit-in/800×600/filters:fill(black)/arc-anglerfish-arc2-prod-tronc.s3.amazonaws.com/public/AVWJE3LW7ZDU7EDE3C3OTWRJIY.jpg

  • Abby  On April 16, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    “It was not clear what Mr. Trump meant by his request or his additional comment to Mr. McAleenan that he would *pardon him* if he encountered any legal problems as a result of taking the action.”

    This is the most dangerous statement of this presidency. With this, DJT has announced that not only does he believe himself to the above the law, but he is also prepared to make all of his followers above the law. Where does it end? If someone can be pardoned for illegally closing the border, can someone be pardoned for murdering one of DJT’s political opponents? How about murdering one of his critics? How many can be pardoned in a day? What if DJT is in danger of losing the next election and he tells people to go and riot on election day near certain voting stations, and then pardons all who do? I have not been interested in impeaching DJT before this, but now I think it is a must.

  • Abby  On April 16, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    “When you have more power than you need, you build the tower higher. When you need more power than you have, you let a block fall, generating power as it goes.” This can also be done by pumping water uphill when you have more power than you need. I have been to a power plant that worked that way!

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