With Feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.

Emily Dickinson

This week’s featured post is “We need hope, not optimism“.

This week everybody was talking about tariffs on Mexico

The Mexican tariffs are over before they started. A deal with Mexico was announced Friday. Trumpists are declaring victory, while anti-Trumpists are saying that Mexico largely reiterated commitments it had already made. (This is similar to the new NAFTA agreement Trump negotiated. Just about everything that wasn’t in the old NAFTA were concessions Mexico and Canada had already agreed to during the TPP negotiations.)

CNBC comments:

Whatever Mexican officials may promise the Trump administration, it’s unclear they would have the capacity to deliver. “Mexico’s immigration and refugee agencies are severely understaffed, under-resourced and overwhelmed by the increased numbers of Central Americans heading north,” [Tony] Wayne [of the Atlantic Council] said.

One way to judge the agreement will be whether the number of migrants apprehended at the US/Mexico border goes down (on an year-over-year basis; we already know apprehensions will go down over the summer because they always do). My prediction: Trump will be unhappy when the apprehension numbers come out, and the tariff threats will be back.

The deal means that we will never know whether Republicans in Congress were serious about trying to block the tariffs.

There are two bits of collateral damage from these negotiations: First, Trump has asserted his right to impose tariffs on any country at any time. So trade deals with the US are basically meaningless; why exactly should any country negotiate one? Second, if indeed more Central American migrants are held in Mexico while their American asylum requests are processed, what will happen to them there? Mexico itself has many of the violence and corruption problems they are fleeing in their home countries. I hope the media will pay attention to the human cost the deal imposes on these already-oppressed people.

The same CNBC article pulls back to take a broader view of the Mexico and China trade disputes.

U.S. economic weapons are the most potent in the world, and 88% of world trade is still done in dollars, although the U.S. share of global GDP has shrunk from nearly half after World War II to 38% in 1969 to about 24% now. That remains the case because for many years a good part of the world viewed this arrangement positively.

It remains to be seen – in Mexico, China and beyond – how much Trump will gain through his unique willingness to use economic weapons.

What’s clear already is that friends and rivals are more interested than ever before in exploring alternatives to the U.S.-dominated system. Such a transition would take many years, involve enormous costs and unfold in stages. However, consistent overuse of U.S. economic power has made the unthinkable more plausible.

Also on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo downplayed the significance of climate change by saying:

Societies reorganize, we move to different places, we develop technology and innovation. I am convinced, I am convinced that we will do the things necessary as the climate changes.

Of course, if anyone tries to adjust to climate change by moving to the US, we’ll stop them.

and straight pride

Apparently a “straight pride” parade has been scheduled for August 31 in Boston. The announcement garnered widespread derision, which may have been the point.

I find it hard to believe this event will actually happen, or that the organizers even want it to. If it does, I predict it will be a fairly pathetic event, because there just isn’t much pent-up straight pride that has been unable to express itself until now. Growing up, I remember many sources of insecurity; but worrying that it might not be OK to be straight was not one of them.

Whether the parade happens or not, though, announcing it is a very effective trolling stunt, producing outraged quotes that can be cut-and-pasted into blog posts “proving” how much hatred and discrimination straights are expected to live with. You can already watch that happening here and here.

Here’s my view: In general, overclasses just don’t need special celebratory events. A White History Month is unnecessary, because the historical significance of white people is already being covered quite well. (Picture some tearful white boy desperately searching his textbooks for a hero who looks like him.) Ditto for a men’s studies program. No scripture needs to remind us to remember the rich, because who can forget them? A White Lives Matter movement is superfluous, because white lives already do matter. And so on.

and Trump’s European tour

He’s back from Europe without breaking any treaties or calling for regime change in Belgium; I guess I should be happy. He insulted the Mayor of London and the Duchess of Sussex, and told the UK who their next prime minister ought to be, and let’s not even talk about his ridiculous tux, but he didn’t do anything really outrageous like expose himself to the Queen, so the trip was more-or-less a success.

Does it seem like we’re lowering the bar for the President of the United States? I know it was a long time ago (or at least it seems that way), but didn’t we expect more out of Barack Obama?

Isn’t Photoshop wonderful? The picture on the right is fake, but I have to say it does capture something.

The ceremony to honor the sacrifices made by Allied soldiers at D-Day had to be pushed back 15 minutes while Trump gave an interview to Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, in which he described House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “a disaster” and Bob Mueller as a “fool”. We used to say “politics stops at the water’s edge“, but that is another lost norm of American democracy.

We later found out that French President Macron was the actual cause of the delay, but Trump took credit for it:

Listen to those incredible people back there. These people are so amazing, and what they don’t realize is that I’m holding them up because of this interview, but that’s because it’s you. By the way, congratulations on your ratings. I’m very proud.

Ingraham then told her viewers to disregard what they had just heard the President say, because (you know) he says stuff.

Some of you may have heard or read that President Trump supposedly held up the entire D-Day ceremony in order to do this interview with me,. That is patently false — fake news.

and Biden’s Hyde-Amendment reversal

The Hyde amendment is a piece of legislative boilerplate that has been added to appropriation bills ever since Rep. Henry Hyde got it passed in 1976. It prevents federal funding, i.e. Medicaid, from paying for abortions.

At the time, the amendment was viewed as an abortion compromise: Abortion would stay legal, but people who opposed it would know that their tax dollars weren’t paying for it. In practice, though, it has meant that abortion is an option for wealthy and middle-class women, but not poor women. The result has been to keep women trapped in a cycle of poverty: early pregnancy results in early motherhood, which prevents a woman from finishing her education and starting a career that could launch her into the middle class.

Last week, Joe Biden stood virtually alone as a Democratic presidential candidate who still supported the Hyde Amendment. That position was part of his tolerant, don’t-poke-the-bear attitude toward Republicans in general: show some willingness to make reasonable compromises and trust that they’ll do the same.

The problem here is that anti-abortion forces are showing no signs of compromise. Instead, they’re pushing to make abortion completely illegal in places like Alabama and Missouri. If they’re going to send doctors to jail, what exactly are we getting in return for our tolerance and understanding?

Thursday night, Biden reversed himself. He’s now against the Hyde Amendment.

This is both good and bad for his candidacy. For many (me, for example) Hyde is a bridge too far: I care more about women trapped in a cycle of poverty than about the sensitive consciences of anti-abortion zealots. (If they want to reduce abortions, they can help us make contraception more easily available.) Biden has never been my top choice among Democratic candidates, but I hadn’t written him off until the Hyde flap. Now that he’s recanted that position, I’ve returned him to convince-me status.

On the downside, the inherent weakness of a moderate position is that it can seem opportunistic or even wishy-washy. It’s one thing to have middle-of-the-road beliefs, and something else to shift with the winds of public opinion. Biden’s change of heart makes it harder to argue that he comes from a place of deep principle.

Any time I criticize or express doubts about a leading Democrat, I feel obligated to remind everyone of this: Biden is infinitely better than Trump. If he gets the nomination, I’ll support him every way I can.

but we shouldn’t lose sight of the abuses on our border

Jonathan Katz at the LA Times urges us to call the border detention camps what they are: concentration camps. He recounts the series of recent incidents: deaths in custody, herding people into small spaces, not providing adequate medical care, isolation cells for people who are not dangerous, locking children in vans for more than 24 hours at a time, and an end to many educational and recreational services for minors at the camps.

He then comments:

Preventing mass outrage at a system like this takes work. Certainly it helps that the news media covers these horrors intermittently rather than as snowballing proof of a racist, lawless administration. But most of all, authorities prevail when the places where people are being tortured and left to die stay hidden, misleadingly named and far from prying eyes.

There’s a name for that kind of system. They’re called concentration camps. You might balk at my use of the term. That’s good — it’s something to be balked at.

He quotes Hannah Arendt:

The human masses sealed off in [the camps] are treated as if they no longer existed, as if what happened to them were no longer of interest to anybody, as if they were already dead.

Andrea Pitzer, who has written a history of concentration camps, posted a tweetstorm on Trump’s camps:

The longer a camp system stays open, the more predictable things will go wrong (contagious diseases, malnutrition, mental health issues). In addition, every significant camp system has also introduced new horrors of its own, that were unforeseen when that system was opened.

What’s especially ominous about Trump’s concentration camps is that the rhetoric of cruelty is already widely accepted among Trump’s supporters: These people shouldn’t have come here, so we can do whatever we want to them.

Of course this system is going to attract sadists and repel people of conscience. And of course the sadists will do as much as they’re allowed to in an environment where no one is paying attention.

and you also might be interested in …

UU World just published my review of three books about fascism: Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works, Timothy Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom, and Yascha Mounk’s The People Versus Democracy. I’ve already discussed Snyder’s book at more length on this blog, and the other two have been mentioned now and then.

Here’s how skewed things have gotten in Alabama: Not even rich people can speak their minds without reprisal any more if they support abortion rights. Hugh Culverhouse Jr. denounced the state’s recent decision to criminalize abortion, and called on students to boycott U of A until the state relented.

In reaction, the University’s law school sent back his $26.5 million and took his name off their building. Culverson responded with this:

There will be no winners in the wake of the decision Alabama has made to attack the constitutional rights of women. The state will become more divided and isolated, and it will be people such as the future students of the University of Alabama law school who will suffer the consequences. Whether my name is taken down is unimportant, but I hope university administrators will contemplate all the names that will never appear on their admissions rolls, as well.

The U of A business school will continue to be named for Culverhouse’s father, who also supported abortion rights.

[An update based on a comment below: AL.com, a news site I’ve considered reliable in the past, says that the dispute is more complicated, and that discussions about returning Culverhouse’s money were going on even before he made his comments about abortion.]

Esquire comments on a new report by OpenSecrets on Trump’s widespread conflicts of interest.

It increasingly appears the President of the United States has business holdings all over the world that are drowning in shady money. … The level of lying, corruption, conflicts of interest, and other malfeasance here is just gobsmacking.

And WaPo’s Plum Line column pulls together a series of incidents where people wanting favors found ways to put money in Trump’s pocket.

The White House blocked the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research from submitting testimony to the House Intelligence Committee “on the grounds that its description of climate science did not mesh with the administration’s official stance”.

the Trump administration is debating how best to challenge the idea that the burning of fossil fuels is warming the planet and could pose serious risks unless the world makes deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.

The Washington Post summarized what the White House found objectionable:

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research’s 12-page prepared testimony, reviewed by The Washington Post, includes a detailed description of how rising greenhouse gas emissions are raising global temperatures and acidifying the world’s oceans. It warns that these changes are contributing to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

“Climate-linked events are disruptive to humans and societies when they harm people directly or substantially weaken the social, political, economic, environmental, or infrastructure systems that support people,” the statement reads, noting that while some populations may benefit from climate change. “The balance of documented evidence to date suggests that net negative effects will overwhelm the positive benefits from climate change for most of the world, however.”

The senior director for emerging technologies at the National Security Council, Will Happer, is a long-time climate-change denier. He reportedly is advocating for a panel of climate-deniers to “conduct an ‘update’ of the National Climate Assessment” that will make it more friendly to the fossil-fuel industry.

The government just found a novel way to save $40 billion: reclassify high-level nuclear waste as low-level nuclear waste, so that it can be disposed of more easily. What could go wrong?

The waste is housed at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina, the Idaho National Laboratory and Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state – the most contaminated nuclear site in the country.

The explanation sounds like it could possibly make sense:

The old definition of high-level waste was based on how the materials were produced, while the new definition will be based on their radioactive characteristics – the standard used in most countries, the energy department said.

The old definition said high-level radioactive waste resulted from a military production stream, [Undersecretary of Energy Paul] Dabbar said. That meant, for instance, that all the waste from plutonium production at Hanford was classified as high level.

It was a “one-size-fits-all approach that has led to decades of delay, cost billions of dollars, and left the waste trapped in DOE facilities in the states of South Carolina, Washington and Idaho without a permanent disposal solution”, the agency said.

But this is where we see the cost of this administration’s constant lying, and the appointment of a know-nothing like Rick Perry as Energy Secretary. (Obama’s first secretary of energy, remember, was a Nobel laureate. Dabbar is a little more qualified than Perry: He may have come to the government from investment banking, but before that he was an officer on a nuclear submarine, though his official bio doesn’t say what his responsibilities were.) There are times when the government really is playing it straight and needs the public to trust that it’s doing the right thing. But how can we?

I agree with Michael Gerson so seldom that I feel like I have to mention it when I do. In a recent WaPo column, he responded to Franklin Graham’s call for a Day of Prayer to support President Trump. Gerson first recalled that praying for a nation’s leaders is fairly common in the Christian tradition and ought to be uncontroversial. But Graham is asking God for a little more than is usually considered proper.

Graham made clear that the real purpose of the event was not to pray for the president, but to pray in his political favor. “President Trump’s enemies continue to try everything to destroy him, his family and the presidency,” Graham said. “In the history of our country, no president has been attacked as he has.” The American Family Association described the day of prayer as a type of “spiritual warfare,” necessary because Trump’s many accomplishments “make him very unpopular with the Devil and the kingdom of darkness.”

Who are the “enemies” that Graham had in mind? Who represents “the kingdom of darkness”? The Democratic Party? Robert S. Mueller III and the “deep state”? Never-Trump Republicans?

However the conspiracy against the president is defined, I suppose I am part of it. Having been accused of serving the Prince of Darkness, I feel justified in making a frank response.

Gerson goes on to call Graham’s event “blasphemy” and “an abomination” and suggests that Graham has sold out Christ in favor of Trump.

For a minister of the gospel, making Christ secondary to anything is the dereliction of a sacred duty. Making the gospel secondary to the political fortunes of Donald Trump is betrayal compounded with farce.

Sean Hannity thinks it’s “despicable” that Nancy Pelosi wants to see a political opponent (Trump) in locked up. “That happens in Banana Republics,” he says.

I’m not sure what I find so morbidly fascinating about incels, the “involuntarily celibate” men who believe their looks unfairly doom them to lives without the hot chicks they otherwise deserve.

New York Magazine’s Alice Hines uncovers the world of incel plastic surgery, where strong jaw-lines and broad shoulders are created in order to turn incels into “Chads” — the incel name for the small percentage of men who get all the sex.

and let’s close with something award-winning

Saturday I was at a birthday party in Vermont when people started telling me about this neighbor they knew, Anais Mitchell, who kind of came from nowhere (other than down the road) and created a musical and would be up for a Tony award Sunday night.

I hardly ever make it into New York, so I don’t keep track of what’s on Broadway, and had never heard of Mitchell’s musical Hadestown, which was the big winner with 8 awards, including one for Mitchell’s score.

Here’s the audio of “Why We Build the Wall” from Hadestown, which was written before Trump became president.

Like a wall, the logic of the song builds verse by verse until it eventually encloses itself:
What do we have that they should want?
My children, my children
What do we have that they should want?
What do we have that they should want?
We have a wall to work upon!
We have work and they have none.
And our work is never done
My children, my children,
And the war is never won.
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall:
We build the wall to keep us free
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  • Ted Major  On June 10, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    I’m a regular reader and enjoy your thoughtful insights into current events, but I think you might need to look a little more closely in to the renaming of the University of Alabama’s law school.
    While Culverhouse would like to paint his dispute with the University of Alabama as being about Alabama’s abortion ban, there’s more to the story than that. As the email chain embedded in the linked article shows, the trustees were already proposing to return his donation before he made any public comments about the abortion ban because Culverhouse was trying to influence hiring, admission, and scholarship decisions and asking for his money back when he didn’t get his way.

    • weeklysift  On June 10, 2019 at 6:26 pm

      Thanks for that additional information. I’ll add that link to the post.

  • davebritt  On June 10, 2019 at 9:39 pm

    Hey, just wanted to say thanks for your Weekly Sift posts. I don’t always have the time to read them as carefully as I’d like, but they’re always worth the time I have. I delete most emails after I’ve read them, but I save yours on the chance I can look at them again later. Thanks also for steering me to the Unitarian Universalist website. Our small Disciples of Christ congregation in central Louisiana is a somewhat lonely outpost of left-of-center thinking and spirituality, and I know most of our members would appreciate it. Thanks again!

  • Lawrence Hardeman Page  On June 11, 2019 at 4:27 am

    For those worried by Biden’s choosing another response to abortion consider;
    “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7

    For those who believe in divine truth, the life of a human soul begins with our first breath. We do not become “a living soul” according to the Bible until that first breath of life comes through our nostrils. The entire anti-abortion movement is a false argument about who is “a living soul.” The movement of the fetus like the mother’s own beating heart are all an extension of the mother’s living being. The fetus according to the Bible does not become “a living soul” until it is separated from the mother and takes its first breath and becomes a soul

    We will see how many are robots of propaganda or true believers.

  • Nicole Neuhauser  On June 11, 2019 at 11:20 am

    Thank you for your posts; I really appreciate the time and energy you invest to write these every week!
    Do you know of anything we can do about the detention centers/concentration camps? I hate sitting in my house, comfortable and privileged, while these atrocities are happening to people on the border. Do you have any suggestions of who we can call or write letters to? Any other ideas?

  • James  On June 11, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Embedded video is for Brandi Carlile’s The Joke

  • ramseyman  On June 11, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    I would have to say that Biden is finitely better than Trump. Mot Dem candidates are infinitely better, but if we elect Biden we still get the guy who brought us mass incarceration and assets forfeiture. And that’s just the beginning of a very long list. I don’t mean to grind a political ax here. I’m ust saying an objective look at Biden’s actions over the years would seem to show that his policies are basically Republican.

  • weeklysift.com  On June 12, 2019 at 10:36 pm

    Look at a good benefit for victory. weeklysift.com

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