Welcome

The Most Important Question For Alabama Voters: How Low Will You Go?

Republished from Breaking / Bannon.

The most important question the Alabama Senate election on December 12 will answer is not: Do Alabama voters care more about abortion or pedophilia?

The most important question the Alabama Senate election on December 12 will answer is: Do Alabama voters care that Roy Moore is an embarrasment to the state?

In other words, Alabama voters must decide: How low will you go?

Abortion and pedophilia themes in this election are emotionally volatile symbols (mostly as vectors of our inner lives, not directly connected to social reality in any meaningful sense) that crowd out debate about the issues that truly do matter in the lives of most Alabama residents. These culture war themes are not irrelevant or unimportant. But they are a small part of a larger conversation, and absolutely should not be tent-pole factors in the outcome of the election.

On issues that matter in this larger conversation – laws and policies governing: taxes, spending priorities, health-care access, reproductive rights, gender and racial equity, immigration policy, environmental protection, foreign policy and diplomacy, national infrastructure, and science and technology investment – Doug Jones and Roy Moore will shape debate and cast votes that are pivotal to the fortunes and the future of Alabama residents and of the United States.

On all of these issues, Doug Jones will be informed and thoughtful. He will not be exciting. Flames will not burst from his ass. But his track record, his “body of work” (as sports analysts like to say), gives us confidence he will reclaim for the Senate some dignity and some policy relevance. By contrast, Roy Moore is an empty suit, an ignoramus who takes pride in his lack of interest in and knowledge of policy matters, and in his lack of concern for the history and significance of the U.S. Senate as an institution.

As a U.S. senator, Roy Moore would not debate or deliberate. He would not inform himself, for in his mind, he has long known everything he or anyone else needs to know – that the Bible contains all truth and is a sufficient basis for making all decisions concerning policy and principle. As a U.S. senator, Roy Moore will stand and fulminate. He will raise high his Bible. He will cite the 10 Commandments. And in his pride and arrogance, he will bring the Senate, as an institution, to its knees.

With respect, then, to this conversation about laws and policies that directly affect the lives of all Americans, the election of Roy Moore would indicate that Alabama voters are prepared to go very low, indeed. But there is more to consider – or perhaps (in the spirit of going low) less to consider.

In his bravura performance as president, Donald Trump has already transformed the United States into a global punch line. Alabama voters know this. They elected him by a margin of 28 percent over Hillary Clinton. A vast (although declining) majority of the state still supports Trump personally and approve of his sub-fuhrer style as president.

With their support for Trump alone, one might conclude a large number of Alabama voters have no shame. But the election of Roy Moore would carry Alabama to depths previously unexplored in the capacity of a state to revel in its own pathos. And personally, I do not believe Alabama is capable of this descent, an existential slipping of the gears that leaves us that much closer to free-fall as a nation.

One theory to support this view is that Alabama voters, like many elsewhere, mostly voted against Hillary Clinton rather than for Donald Trump. A vote against Hillary of coure offers no evidence that matters of policy and principle much concern these voters, of course, but such a vote nonetheless indicates that Trump’s appeal may largely derive from his novelty, that he is a new and shiny object to gaze upon and admire.

Alabama voters already know Roy Moore. He is not new and shiny. He is already a pustulating pimple on the rear end of the state, with support from its hinterlands, but a style and a “body of work” that has long been a source of distress and consternation to many in the state. The most recent sexual predator allegations only surface and reinforce an awareness of Roy Moore’s creepiness that has already been long-acknowledged and understood by people in Alabama.

For these reasons, my hunch is that Alabama voters will choose not to take that next step toward perdition and inflict Roy Moore upon the entire nation.

 

Gorsuch Victory Lap Speech at the Federalist Society: Some Correctives

As Politico reports, Neil Gorsuch on Thursday night delivered a victory lap speech at the annual conference of the Federalist Society. The article tells us that Gorusch’s big applause lines concerned his:

  • Snide reproach to those who characterize the Federalist Society as a secret cabal scheming in darkness to infiltrate and control the federal judiciary; and
  • Full-throated and triumphant affirmation of originalist and textualist judicial philosophies the Federalist Society and legal conservatives support as articles of faith.

Let’s consider these remarks in turn.

The Secret Cabal

This is what Gorsuch said. “If you’re going to have a meeting of a secret organization, maybe don’t have it in the middle of Union Station and then tell everybody to wear a black tie. It’s not a shadowy cabal in need of Joe McCarthy.”

Here’s the thing. No one believes the Federalist Society is a shadowy cabal. While not a large organization compared to its right-wing big brother, the Heritage Foundation, The Federalist Society is enormously well-funded and well-organized. One could infer the organization schemes and acts under cover of darkness, given its lack of emphasis on publishing research. However, the Federalist Society’s explicit mission has for decades been to function as an “activist” organization, with the clearly stated aims of:

  • Recruiting law students to its values, methods, goals, and practices; and
  • Packing the federal court system with its acolytes.

Gorsuch’s remark is therefore a disingenuous red herring, but one fully consistent with the feckless line the Federalist Society has fed its suppoters and backers for years – that we’re small, beleaguered, disparaged, and maligned / but plucky, feisty, principled, and courageous.

Originalist and Textualist Judicial Philosophies

This is what Gorsuch said. “The duty of a judge is to say what the law is not what it should be. Tonight I can report, a person can be both a committed originalist and textualist and be confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States. Originalism has regained its place and textualism has triumphed and neither is going anywhere on my watch.”

Several points here.

  • As Gorsuch well knows, the distinction between what the law is and what it should be is not binary, but subject to gradations of ambiguity, nuance, and consequence. His statement about the duties of judges is therefore rhetorical and ideological, not substantive and meaningful, and more significantly relevant as an ahtorical rendering of the Constitution as revealed religion.
  • Originalism and textualism have likewise become ideological shibboleths freighted with meaning for those initiated to their mysteries. Federalist Society luminaries will tell us judicial review does not need knowledge or guidance assembled from legal precedent, legislative history, social science, natural science, or data science. Judicial review requires only  the inert words captured in a small, fixed, and dated set of canonical “founding” texts (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Federalist Papers, etc.). These “original” texts are a Procrustean bed, a Solomonic, incontrovertible measuring stick, no matter how anachronistically ill-equipped they may be for comprehending and adjudicating the most pressing matters and challenges of our time. Hence, legal conservatives such as Gorsuch will writhe around the unanswerable and possibly irrelevant question: What did this clause of the Constitution mean to the Founders? One might reasonably ask in return: Why not closely inspect entrails?
  • Gorsuch’s preening and strutting bombast reflects, generally, the triumphalist swagger of The Federalist Society, which for the past three decades has viewed itself as a government-in-waiting, now fully ascendant, and not in the least bit troubled by the need to saddle and mount the rampaging, caterwauling, bucking bronco they once swore never to ride.

 

Stephen Moore Is Not A Real Economist: Why Does Anyone Listen to Him?

When queried about why Donald Trump did not reappoint Janet Yellen as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Associated Press reported the following response from Trump economic whisperer, Stephen Moore.

Stephen Moore, an economist at the Heritage Foundation who was a senior economic adviser to Trump’s campaign, said Trump wants someone who will support loosening regulations. He also said the president simply wanted his own person in place.

“The job of the Fed chair is not just to be the lead person on monetary policy. This is the chief economic voice of the nation,” said Moore. “She’s not with the program.”

Questions Arise Over Departure of First Woman To Lead Fed (AP, November 3, 2017)


Stephen Moore is the chief economist for the right-wing Heritage Foundation. He is also on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. And founding president of the Club for Growth.

Stephen Moore is a go-to quote for journalists seeking a right-wing perspective on economic policy debates. But he is not a real economist in any sense of the term. His only advanced degree in economics is an M.A. from George Mason University.  He does no economic research. And he is mostly known professionally for the depth and scale of his ignorance on economic details. Wikipedia may have put it best when it listed his profession as “writer.”

Stephen Moore is not a serious person, but dangerous because people who should know better (journalists) pretend he is.

Roy Moore and the Horse He Rode in On: Revealed Religion and Natural Law in the Alabama Senate Race

The crudest presumptions of natural law theory still inform our political and cultural conflicts. In recent posts, I’ve focused on the logical and moral contortions a focus on creator worship as the ground of our being requires of revealed religions. Alabama’s Republican Party offers the most recent permutations of this bizarre fever dream.

On Tuesday, former (twice!) Alabama state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (with a rich symbolism perhaps not fully appreciated) rode his horse Sassy into the unincorporated town of Gallant (population 850, also known as Greasy Cove) to cast a ballot for himself as the Republican nominee for the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions.

In the wake of a backlash against “DC swamp” candidate Luther Strange, Moore coasted to a win over nine other candidates, and will once again face (the geographically vast, awesomely named) Strange in a late-September run-off primary. As Senator, Moore promises to restore Christianity to the Capitol and fight the rise of Islamic “Sharia law” in the United States, commitments presumably of little significance to Strange, a former oil industry lobbyist.

While it’s tempting to linger on the incredible Gothic theatricality of this event (for example, the mixed metaphors of “the swamp” as the habitation of the “silk-stockinged elite“), for our purposes, we need initially only pay attention to Moore’s deranged, megalomaniacal Constitutional rants, which begin with the Bible, linger around themes such as God’s desire for families to keep loaded guns at home to protect their children, and end with the natural law gymnastics of early 19th-century Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story.

Moore’s jurisprudence and politics fully conform to the conservative commitment to natural law as a gift and instrument of God via revelation. “I’m not a politician. I don’t like politics,” Moore told a gathering of elderly white folks at Mr. Fang’s Chinese Restaurant on the night before the primary vote. “It’s what God has done through me.”

In a conversation that evening with Jeff Stein of Vox, Moore emphasized, repeatedly, “You have to understand what religion is — the duties you owe to the creator.” According to Moore, Justice Story, one of the most highly regarded jurists of the early Republic who in recent years has become, somewhat surprisingly, a fan favorite of legal conservatives and natural law enthusiasts, supported and refined the view that the duty of the Constitution and the First Amendment was to “foster religion and foster Christianity.”

Here, Roy Moore parses a view of religious liberty consistent with the precepts of Robby George, the Acton Institute, and other conservative Christians for whom conscience becomes the principled basis for ignoring legislation, regulation, and court decisions of the federal government with which they disagree on the basis of the “self-evident” precepts of natural law. Of course, this parsing has long formed the hallmark of Roy Moore as a jurist, with his placement of the stone tablets of the Decalogue in the Alabama state courthouse and his refusal to enforce the marriage equality ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court (with helpful cover from Antonin Scalia’s high court dissent and full-throated support from Robby George).

Roy Moore, quoting from Joseph Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution, has for several decades been instructing us that “the rights of conscience are beyond the reach of any human power; they are given by God and cannot be encroached on by any human authority without a criminal disobedience of the precepts of natural or revealed religion.” On Senate primary election night, with a flourish characteristic of the natural law synthesis initially formulated by Aquinas, Moore concluded, “We need to go back to the recognition that God’s hand is still on this country and on this campaign. We must be good again before we can be great. And we will never be good without God.”

Christian-conservative jurists and philosophers will often invoke Abraham Lincoln’s response to the Dred Scott decision as the ultimate defense of conscience in response to judicial overreach. In reality, these appeals to conscience and religious liberty are, like patriotism, a last refuge of scoundrels. Arguments on behalf of conscience, natural law, and higher law – whether voiced by Antonin Scalia, Robby George, or Roy Moore – mask a theocratically minded support for states’ rights that both dissolves the foundations of nationhood and obliterates the rights of conscience when they fail the arbitrary test of Biblical authenticity.


Analogies for Our Time – The Spanish Civil War

Many analogies exist, in history and in literature, for our straining efforts to account for our inverted times. Our instincts are to obey our laws, trust our institutions, have faith in our leaders. But in these times, fealty to our laws, institutions, and leaders risks our destruction as a nation, if not as a species.
We already know about The Handmaid’s Tale. We know about 1984 and other dystopian literature. We should consider The Caine Mutiny. But perhaps the historical analogy that best fits our times is the Spanish Civil War, where for complex (and fascinating) reasons, robust, unifying institutions never evolved during the country’s nation-building stage, which both established the fragile terms of the Republican “moment” in the early 1930s, and the savage intensity of the right-wing counter-strike when the war commenced in 1936, with the full force and fury of the traditional landowners, the Catholic Church (the most reactionary in Europe), and the fascist military mobilized to destroy this challenge to their privileges, identity, and existence. \
For two great reads on this topic, check out The Spanish Labyrinth, by Gerald Brenan, the classic analysis of the historical background to the Spanish Civil War, and Adam Hochschild’s recent and fantastic history of Americans in the Spanish Civil War, Spain in Our Hearts.

The Incredible Lightness of Banning … Donald Trump from My News Feed

I use Feedly to aggregate stories from about 80 publications, ranging from The New Yorker to Neatorama. On any given day, I scan 200 or 300 stories from this news feed. I select 50 or 60 of these stories to “Read Later” and use IFTTT to post them automatically to the Reading Room of my Jeremiadus website. The website currently archives nearly 9,000 stories, on pretty much any subject you can imagine, under the broad umbrellas of politics, science, literature, philosophy, and culture.

One would think the breadth of this feed would extend even beyond the prehensile reach of Donald Trump. But one would be wrong. Of these 9,000 stories, nearly 3,000 reference Trump somewhere in the article. This Trump tilt is not the result of my own selection bias. If anything, my instinct is to choose stories that eschew, ignore, abrogate, elide, defenestrate, and abandon Donald Trump. And yet there he is.

Today, Feedly launched a “mute” feature, allowing users to filter any word or term from their news feed. I “muted” Donald Trump and Feedly “banned” 1,300 recent articles from the publications I track. My world instantly lightened.

Trump is batshit crazy. We know this. But the weight slipping from my shoulders and from my mind has little do with his deranged clown act. The political antics of the Keystone Cop Republicans aren’t really even the source of my distress. The problem is that any time a story invokes Trump and the creepy dementors he has unleashed upon us, we all become rubber-necking assholes craning our necks and bugging our eyes to get the best view possible of the carnage unfolding on the road beside us. We become vampiric, pustule-sucking warlocks, slurping the toxins, getting off on the whole sordid mess.

There is nothing redeemable about the situation. Trump dirties himself daily, but of course our tragedy as a nation is that he dirties all of us. He brings us to our knees. How are we to think about this?

In the 21st century, we lead accidental lives. We appreciate the randomness of existence, but succumb to this randomness, rather than making use of it. We are overwhelmed by noise and can locate no signal. We are awash in images and words, with no ability to parse their meaning, to source them to an underlying reality about which we can (mostly) agree (most of the time). These images and words themselves, recursively, constitute their own reality, a slipstream that pulls us further away from each other, and from ourselves, until our shouts are merely echoes, globules of emotion, randomly firing synapses, ejaculations of judgment.

Fuck you! … fuck you! … haha … haha … 

Trump is obviously a fully accidental species of human, a cratering self-inebriate, careening from one random moment to the next. He is a walking, talking meme. Entirely noise. Entirely unparseable. He truly doesn’t matter, because he possesses no meaning beyond himself. If he were to disappear, we would never miss him, but in the meantime he is all we can think about. So I am thrilled to be able to mute this deranged, minimally human person from my life.

We don’t need to agree about what is true. We only need to agree about what is false.

Consider the drunken sailor of random walk fame, whose problematic journey home inspires the mathematics underlying basic probability and resolves itself empirically in the fibrillations we associate with Brownian motion. Our challenge politically – and it is always a challenge but one now amplified to the nth degree by the random behaviors and speech irruptions of Donald Trump – is our compulsion to locate agency, and causation, in the actions of individuals. We are responsible for ourselves, a truism that has become ontological – we only know we exist because we believe we have free will and that we can own, understand, and account for our thoughts and actions as individuals. Cogito ergo sum.

Leaving aside for the moment the internally dubious merits of this Cartesian formula, the 21st extension of its logic has led us to a place where what we know about ourselves as thinking, acting individuals presumes no access to or understanding of what others know about themselves. Which sticks us in the middle of the radically subjective shit storm that has allowed Donald Trump to commandeer the ship of state. We each travel alone, in darkness. Meaningless beyond ourselves. And so free to judge without standards and without consequence.

But randomness is not the problem. Randomness is, in fact, the solution. Because, of course, truth emerges probabilistically. Form is itself the product of thousands and millions of inebriate movements. Meaninglessness resolves itself into meaning via randomness. Truth and causation will always remain elusive, but with a focus on the actions, not of single individuals, but of thousands and millions of individuals, we can make sense of our policy choices less subjectively, less reactively, less reductively and with a more humble sense of our individual cogito-ing selves in relation to the transpersonal dynamics of populations and of ecosystems, which are forever contingent and in flux.

The current healthcare debate illustrates the choices and the stakes of the decision to embrace risk, uncertainty, and randomness – as the idea of insurance itself, and the much-maligned but indispensable discipline of actuarial science, tell us we must. The Republican health care legislation backed by Trump obviously has nothing to do with actuarial science and population health (which would make single-payer a no-brainer) and everything to do with crude Old Testament impulses to reward and punish according to the code of the vendetta and to extract the pound of flesh as one would the barrel of oil or the lump of coal.

Which returns us to the drunken sailor of yore, whose journey is poignantly asymptotic. On his own, we know from probability theory, the inebriate sailor’s odds of returning home may be slim to none. But with a population of thousands or millions of drunken sailors, we can reliably predict how many will find their homes again, and at what intervals, without knowing for sure which specific sailors they will be. A profound and soothing thought.

With my Feedly mute feature, I can erase Donald Trump, misanthropic carnival barker who cannot leave home. Public welfare issues that matter in politics remain for me to ponder, clarified and restored by his absence.