Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Vaccine passports are white supremacist

The Biden administration has proposed Covid-19 "vaccine passports," according to multiple news reports. (Update, May 24: the state of Oregon has now announced that these will be required to go unmasked in any indoor, public-access gathering.)

The Biden administration is working on creating a set of standards for people to prove they've been vaccinated against Covid-19, according to an administration official.

The official said they're currently working with a range of companies on the standards, including non-profits and tech companies, adding that they are likely still weeks away from being finalized, the official said.

Multiple government agencies are engaged in conversations and planning, coordinated by the White House, as this kind of system will play a role in multiple aspects of life, including potentially the workforce, another senior administration official told CNN. [Link]

Implementing vaccine passports would be a white supremacist measure. This does not require a long explanation, so let's get straight to the point: poor people are much less likely to be vaccinated than higher-income persons, such as in these states:

But racial demographics are not spread evenly across income deciles.  

Any gap in vaccinating rich versus poor inevitably exacerbates racial divides. Black and Latino people are far more likely to live in poverty than white people, and despite having died at higher rates throughout the pandemic, they are receiving fewer vaccines than white people.
According to the long-set standards of Black Lives Matter and other critical-theory advocates, whether racial disparities like this are intended or not is irrelevant. These disparities are the results of racial discrimination and white privilege baked into the social-legal-medical networks for centuries. Therefore, it does not matter that this gap in immunization is not intended. It does not matter that the men and women managing the vaccine program and distribution, or administering it to the public, do not discriminate at the vaccine sites by the race of persons who come for the shots. (For clarity's sake I emphasize that I have not found any statement by BLM on vaccine passports; I am not quoting BLM here specifically on the passports, but using their long-established criteria to address the topic.)

Lack of deliberate intent does not excuse systemic racism. The fact that matters is this: "Black and Latino people are far more likely to live in poverty than white people, and despite having died at higher rates throughout the pandemic, they are receiving fewer vaccines than white people." 

Furthermore, a Research Letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that even among health-care workers
... health workers in all ethnic groups were more likely to accept vaccination than were the same groups in the general population, but large disparities nevertheless persisted, the largest being between whites and blacks. Among the health workers, for example, about 35 percent of blacks said that they were not likely to accept the vaccine compared with about 10 percent of whites. The corresponding figures for the general population were about 60 percent and 24 percent, respectively. All other groups fell somewhere between blacks and whites.
"But such disparities exist mainly because blacks are simply deciding to refuse vaccination at higher rates than whites," is one response. "Everyone has the opportunity and so if more blacks than whites decline the shot, then it's their own fault." 

Of course, such a response can come only from a position of privilege. It concretizes rather than addresses the white supremacism of vaccination processes and passports. The passports will obviously be issued only to persons who have completed the vaccination shots. And that means that a vaccine-passport system will be just as racially unjust as vaccine administration. 

Passports will inevitably privilege white people over people of color. Whites will be advantaged for travel, for attendance at sporting events or even government functions open only to passport holders. And as CNN's report above indicates, whites will be massively over-privileged also for employment and job assignments. Jim Crow could not have thought of a better way to widen the income and social inequality gaps between whites and POCs. 

But at least there are no more mean tweets, so all is well. 

Update: A reader has pointed out another white supremacist aspect of this plan, namely that the vaccine passport's main means of distribution will be electronic. And that will require passport holders to have a smart phone, an app, full internet service and online accounts. Guess which economic and racial demographic is less likely to have those things? Although to be fair, the digital divide between whites and blacks is small for smart phones. See here.

It is also worth remembering that in the former slave states, manumitted blacks were required to carry with them at all times their certificate of manumission. If they didn't and so failed to produce them on demand, they could be (and were) returned immediately to slavery. So there is a certain history of "show me your papers" for black people that whites do not have. A lot of criticism by whites of the vaccine passport has been to compare it to Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Fair enough. But for black Americans, a more apt comparison would be to compare it to the Confederate Home Guard, described by some historians as the Gestapo of the Confederacy. 

Update: Are we seeing a pattern emerge from this administration
[A]ccording to a Thursday report in the Washington Post, the White House is being warned that too much focus on “physical” infrastructure could lose the bill support among minorities, because such a focus would represent “nostalgia” for an era where “working class whites” benefitted from government welfare, and could be considered both “racist” and “sexist.”
“Some people close to the White House said they feel that the emphasis on major physical infrastructure investments reflects a dated nostalgia for a kind of White working-class male worker,” the Post noted Thursday.
Racist and sexist in the same bill. Quite an accomplishment.

And as someone commented elsewhere, will Oregon require vaccine passports to be presented at voting stations? 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Better you than me, Jesus

 Mark 11.1-11

11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.

3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Jesus has been on the road for three years, ministering, preaching, healing, teaching. Now the Jerusalem gate is before him. Behind it are the powerful people who are conspiring to kill him. Around him is the crowd singing his praises and hailing him as their coming liberator.

All the expectations of the crowd will be shattered this week. My colleague in ministry, Paul Larsen, once wrote of the time the University of Arizona lost to Duke for spot in the Final Four. He compared the crowd cheering for Jesus with the thousands of fans who were cheering for Arizona. As the second half progressed, the Arizona fans’ cheers became less strident, less lengthy, less frequent. Finally, they were muted. The fans departed the stadium in grim, bitter silence. Their dream of carrying home the championship trophy had gone a-glimmering. Back on the campus, the people who had cheered for their team turned into a mob. They destroyed university property and defaced buildings.

The difference between a crowd and a mob is thin. Crowds cheer, mobs riot. The turn can be made in just a moment. Jesus surely knew what the crowd expected and just as surely knew he was not their man, not like they wanted.

The ugliness of fickle faith is nakedly displayed during holy week. Almost everyone who knows Jesus will do one of two things this week. Either they will abandon him, or they will call for his destruction. The first is the crowd. They don’t know Jesus personally, only his reputation. And they have molded his reputation to fit their own desires. When they discover Jesus doesn’t fit their mold, the townspeople today cheering Jesus will dismiss him as yesterday’s news. They play no further role in the few days remaining of Jesus’ story.

A smaller crowd, hand picked and stage-managed by the priests, will call for Jesus’ death only a few days from now, yelling to Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar!” and “Give us Barabbas!” instead of Jesus. Then finally, they will yell, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Not even Jesus’ disciples will remain steadfast. One will betray him; the others will abandon him. Soon after, Peter will deny three times that he even knows Jesus. When Jesus walks his last mile, he will be surrounded only by lethal enemies. And on the cross, as he hangs suffocating in agony, will come the bitterest abandonment. “My God!” Jesus will call. “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

No one will remain faithful to Jesus after today except a few women. They will approach him as he hangs on the cross. To be fair, so will one disciple, John. But at least three women, probably four, will come to the cross, including Jesus’ mother. They will watch him die. They will help prepare him for burial, a task cut short by the beginning of the Sabbath on Friday evening. Only the women will return to the tomb on Sunday to finish the job.

We call the final week of Jesus' life, "Passion Week." It is the central focus of the Jesus story. The week begins with joy in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem but then plunges into despair, fear and mourning at his death. In holy week, Jesus was –

Hailed by the people,

feared by the powerful,

watched by the Romans,

loved by his disciples, but then was betrayed by one and was abandoned by the others.

arrested by the Jewish police,

beaten by his countrymen,

tried and convicted by the Jews and the Romans,

flogged by the Romans,

scorned by the people,

sentenced to death and crucified by the Romans,

buried by friends.

Jesus’ encounters with the ruling hierarchies of Judea and Rome was the clash of conscience without power meeting power without conscience. Power won. Jesus died. All was lost.

 Had he been an ordinary man, Jesus might have been smitten by his ticker tape reception into Jerusalem and let the people make him their king. He had a rightful claim to the throne, being in the line of King David. The Romans might have even conspired against Herod to put Jesus on the throne. Herod wasn’t exactly stable. A King Jesus might have been acceptable to the Romans, provided he understood who was boss.

But we can’t imagine Jesus playing to the crowd, and certainly not playing along with the Romans. Nothing we know about him makes us think it was remotely possible that he could have accepted the crowd’s desire for him to rule as an ordinary king of the Jews. It would have been the end of his mission. So, I am thankful that Jesus was who he was and didn’t let anything so trivial as public acclaim lead him away from his mission.

But I am aghast at my thankfulness, for in my gratitude I am condemning Jesus to the cross. A King Jesus could do me no good. Jesus, King of Judea twenty centuries ago, cannot be a savior for me now. Jesus had to become the Christ, “highly exalted” and given the name that is above every name. And that means the cross for him then to give me eternal life now. I am thankful for what that means for me, but shocked at what it meant for Jesus. It turns out that the high priest, Caiaphas, was on to something. It is better for Jesus to die than for us to be destroyed, he told the high council. I swallow hard at that, but I have to agree.

So please, Jesus, enjoy your moment in the limelight, basking in public acclaim, but ignore it. Really, just ignore it. If you don’t ignore it, you may live, but I will die!

And if you do ignore it, you will die.

Better you than me, Jesus, better you than me.

“And can it be,” Charles Wesley wrote, “that I should gain an interest in my savior’s blood! Died he for me? Who caused his pain! For me? Who him to death pursued?”

So I cannot join the street celebration of Jesus entering Jerusalem. I want to shout with elation like they did. I want to to yell “Hosanna!” at the top of my lungs, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” I believe that, I do. But I cannot shout it, not even today, because I know the shouts are wrongly intended. They are political shouts of acclaim that I cannot give voice.

So this Friday, when another crowd gathers before Pilate, I’ll be in it to my great shame. I do not want to yell for Barabbas’ freedom instead of Jesus, but I will if that is what it takes. I won’t scream to Pilate, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” At least, I don’t think I will.

But Jesus, I’ll follow you up the hill to Golgotha. I’ll even help carry your cross if they want. I’ll stand by as they nail you down then lift you up. And I’ll cry and collapse in grief and despair.

I’ll watch you die, Jesus. I won’t like it. I’ll cry and be ashamed.

But I won’t try to stop it.

Because it’s better you than me, Jesus, dying for my sins.

Better you than me.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Shutting down the Suez Canal

By now I assume everyone knows that the Suez Canal is closed because of the container ship Ever Given ran aground while transiting:
Yep, it is blocked all right!

(The ship is operated by by the Taiwanese shipping line Evergreen, but the vessel is owned by a Japanese company, Shoei Kisen.)  

But the canal's operations were slowed (though not stopped) 10 years ago because the service workers linked to the waterway went on strike. At the time, about 2.1 million barrels per day (MBD) of oil and oil products were trans-shipped through the Canal in both directions. There is also the Sumed pipeline, running from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean coast, that has a capacity of about the same (crude only, though) which can easily pump 1 MBD.

Market speculators say that the canal's closure will cause the spot price of crude oil to rise. That is very possible, and near-certain if the closure lasts more than the two weeks initially estimated. Suez-transit costs are far below costs of sailing all the way around Africa's Cape of Good Hope, but this is mainly because ships' fuel oil ("bunker oil") is priced so high right now.

In 2011, shippers said that bunker fuel oil prices would need to fall to $370 per tonne to make the Africa Cape route economically attractive. It was priced about $100 more. Today, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) fuel oil prices are ranging between $454-485

Adding to total costs of Suez transit is the added costs of sailing the piracy waters off Somalia, although these risk costs are much lower now than in years past. At present, cost about $10 million more per year for a single Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC, the second-largest crude-oil tanker afloat) to sail around the Cape rather than the Canal. "Need for rethinking about when to sail around the Cape of Good Hope?" explains the implication of routing through the Canal compared to sailing around Africa. A summary:

1. "... a fully laden VLCC cannot go through the Suez Canal without a partial discharging of cargo to the Sumed Pipeline at Ain Sukhna Terminal in the Rea Sea before picking up an equivalent shipment at Sidi Kerir Terminal on the Mediterranean Coast." The reason for the stop is that the Canal has a maximum depth of 66 feet; VLCCs cannot transit the Canal fully laden. And the offload/onload stops costs money.

2. "One important issue that has changed the picture dramatically is the potential repercussions for ship owners of the executive order issued by US President Obama." The order is still in effect. It is called, "Executive Order Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Conflict in Somalia." For shippers, the order lay additional compliance requirements before they can deal with pirates who capture a vessel and/or crew. For example,
... the shipping company whose vessel is captured off of the coast of Somalia, in addition to determining whether to negotiate with the pirates, will also have to determine whether any sanctioned pirates are involved anywhere in the chain of events. Out of an abundance of caution, one would expect that a U.S.-based shipping company would presume an SDN is involved and would work with his insurance company and its financial institution to obtain the necessary authorization from OFAC before dealing with the pirates. One also would expect that OFAC will institute expedited licensing procedures to reflect the danger and urgency of pirate hostage-taking situations. Where a non-U.S. shipper is a victim of piracy but a U.S. insurer, reinsurer or financial institution is involved, the compliance burden is likely to shift to those parties.
Passage into out out of the Suez Canal in the south unavoidably entails sailing through piracy waters. The executive order raises compliance costs of the risk, though in a rather fuzzy way. However, these costs are part of the total costs of Canal passage, which are also affected by:

3. Bunker fuel oil prices, as discussed, plus daily charter rates and ship values for container vessels in relation to totals shipping costs of Suez transit.  
What matters the most in the cost calculations?

For a liner company it is primarily a question of higher bunker expenses due to the large consumption of fuel oil for the very powerful engine, while a tanker company primarily is concerned with the added capacity costs even though the fuel consumption also plays a significant part.
4. Comparing costs of the Canal versus around Africa:
The costs incurred from going round the Cape is related to the extra fuel consumption but also to the extra capacity required and related insurance premium increase in order to lift the same quantum of cargo in the same amount of time. Conversely, the costs incurred in going through the Suez Canal consist of canal tolls, extra insurance risk premium and the use of services such as tugs, pilotage and mooring. 
Bunker fuel today is about the same price as 10 years ago. But freight markets are low because of the pandemic. This makes the Canal option much less costly than sailing around the Cape. If bunker fuel's price drops below $370 per tonne, the Cape route becomes more economical even though much longer. But no one is forecasting that. 

The bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Costs of Canal transit would have to increase very sharply to make the Cape route more economical for crude and container ships. For example, piracy insurance premiums would have to more than quadruple.

One month ago, before the Ever Given problem, container ship charter prices reached a 13-year high of more than $21,000 per day for a one-year term, reaching into the $30s for a three-year term. There was already a shortage of shipping containers driving costs up, and now the Ever Given's capacity of 20,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) is stuck going nowhere. However, there are a large number of other container vessels sitting dead in the water in Suez approaches on both ends of the canal. They and their container capacities are off the market also. 

The depressed oil markets because of Covid drove down VLCC charters costs to about that of container ships. However, VLCCs are much more fuel efficient than container ships, so total daily costs from all sources have to be compared. Dry bulk vessels have an altogether different calculation since they are chartered for each voyage, so total revenue weighs more heavily than costs, per se.

Here is a handy Excel calculator of comparative costs of sailing the Cape or the Canal that informs just how complex and assumptive the decision can be - click here.

My assessment:

Oil spot market prices will rise not long from now (they are up today) because of the blockage. Even when the blockage occurred, oil prices fell, but that was because EU countries had just announced stricter pandemic-lockdown-type measures, depressing economic activity forecasts. 

For those who are adventurous enough, buying "long" oil ETFs such as USO may pay off. (I am not so buying, however.) 


-- a primer on the world's oil-transit choke points.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

More divided now than ever

I used to believe that the USA is as divided now as it was in 1860, and as the 1860 electoral map shows, the country was very divided then. But I think we are far more divided now than then. 

Born and raised in the South, I was taught the mythologies of the South's secession and of the Civil War, especially those of the "Lost Cause" of the South and what I came to call "Noble Lincolnism" in the North. But after I decided to do my own research of the era, I discovered that almost all I thought I knew was simply Bravo-Sierra. 

I learned that not only was slavery the focal point of the country's disunity, it was in fact the only meaningful point of the nation's disunity. That is, in 1860 the South and North were not really in dissension over anything substantive but slavery, not even on secession. (After all, there was an active secession movement among state-level politicians, including the governor, in Wisconsin in 1860!)

On almost every other principle of America's founding and the structure and purpose of government, there was practically no disagreement between North and South. By 1860, though, all the areas of basic commonality were fully overshadowed by the slavery issue with all its moral and political implications, but both the USA and the temporary CSA were established as representative republics with governments of limited powers and authority. 

But today, the American Left and Right share almost no commonality of political world view. I am an ordained United Methodist minister, now retired, and I suggest that what is happening to the country is well illustrated by what has happened to the United Methodist Church, the third-largest religious denomination in the country.

The UMC began grappling with homosexuality in the 1976 General Conference of the church. In our polity, the GC, as it is called, is the only body that can set rules and regulations for the whole denomination. The GC meets every four years for two weeks and does not exist in between. 

Beginning in 1976, advocates for full inclusion of homosexuals in all offices of the UMC began their fight. Then and in each successive GC until 2016, they fought for the GC to approve ordination of homosexuals and to include officiating of same-sex marriages or unions as part of all pastors' ministry, to include such services in UM churches' sanctuaries. 

They never succeeded. Finally, 2016's GC set a special GC for 2019 that would have the sole task of resolving the issue once and for all. All the delegates agreed that the 2019 GC would determine the final answer and that neither the advocacy nor traditionalist side would raise it again. That GC met in February 2019 and voted to retain the status quo and in some details to strengthen it.  

Of course, it did not "resolve" the issue at all. The advocacy side doubled down and reorganized while the traditionalists stood around and patted themselves on the back for winning. As the result, the liberal-progressives dominated elections for delegates to the 2020 General Conference. In the meantime, an ad hoc commission was established to find a way forward. It announced that secessionism was the only answer for 2020 (although of course it was not called that) and with the Council of Bishops' approval, the first order of business for the 2020 GC was to be a vote on the dissolution of the United Methodist Church into at least two denominations. 

The 2020 GC did not take place because of Covid. It was rescheduled for this year, then rescheduled to begin in late August 2022 (update: now rescheduled again to 2024). Even so, there are no voices anywhere calling for reconsideration of dissolution. That die has been cast even though the vote remains 18 months away. 

It took from 1976 to 2019, but both sides finally realized that they each understood all matters of the issue and that no new arguments, no new theology, no new insights, and no more debates were going to go anywhere. No one's mind was going to be changed. No compromise was possible because the fundamental tenets of each sides' beliefs and religious world view had been pared down to their core. There was nothing left for either side to give that did not equal full surrender. And no one was going to raise the white flag. 

So secession. Sorry, I mean, "Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation." 

Welcome to America today, the UMC analogically writ large. Like the UMC, the coming dissolution of the United States began long ago. I think it actually began in the Civil War, which IMO is when the "imperial presidency" really began, though the seeds did not sprout until Wilson's disastrous presidency. But then they did take deep root and have grown ever since. 

Just as Lincoln's election brought secessionism into the fore in 1860, the one-two punch of Trump-then-Biden are the levers that are fracturing the country now. There simply is no compromise even possible between Left and Right any more because there is no common ground or understanding on how the country should move into the future. By "no," I mean zero. 

No common ground at all on these matters; there is no longer any "centrist" position:

  • Limited government
  • Size of government
  • Scope of government
  • Authority of government
  • Reach of control by government
  • Global warming - climate change - environmental policy
  • Who controls election processes in states
  • Who gets to vote
  • How voting is done
  • How votes are secured
  • How votes are validated
  • What is the meaning of citizenship
  • Immigration
  • Use of technology
  • Meaning of privacy
  • Meaning of human rights
  • What does the word, "unalienable" mean
  • What does federalism mean
  • Control of the judiciary
  • International relations
  • Energy policy
  • Federal spending
  • Abortion
  • Identity politics
  • The right to keep and bear arms
  • What is "truth?"

I could go on, of course, but I think that gets the idea across. I do not see how a dissolution of the country is avoidable. Avoidance will require sincere and enduring compromises of politics from both Left and Right, compromises that are not actually possible because they would require the surrender of fundamental tenets of political belief. That is not going to happen. 

So what will be the tripwire for us? I think it will be the 2022 mid-terms. No matter which party comes out ahead, the result will be soundly rejected by the other side. I pray that the aftermath will be peaceful, but I am not going to bet any money on it. But the United States as we have known it until now will begin dissolving then. 

God, I hope I am wrong. 

RelatedThe Priesthood of Politicism Offers Only Damnation

Update: As to be expected, Angelo M. Codevilla gets more to the heart of the matter than I, although his paper and my essay do not disagree. He is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute and professor emeritus of International Relations at Boston University. Read, "American Exodus."

Update: "America never more politically divided than under Biden." 

The latest Gallup research shows that under President Joe Biden, the partisan gap has reached its widest point, surpassing the gulf under former President Donald Trump and likely making Biden the all-time leader of partisan approval.

In Biden’s first months, the gap between approving Democrats and Republicans has been 86 percentage points. That means Biden is approved by 96% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans. He easily beat his former boss, former President Barack Obama, by seven points.

By comparison, Trump had 87% approval among Republicans and 10% among Democrats. While he bragged about his GOP approval, former President George W. Bush had a higher (89%) rating with Republicans in his early days. ... 

The survey is the latest to show the political division in America growing after the heated 2020 election. It follows another from Rasmussen that found bipartisan agreement that "cheating" helped Biden win the election.

 Update: The Univ. of Virginia: "New Initiative Explores Deep, Persistent Divides Between Biden and Trump Voters."

— Majorities of Trump and Biden voters express support for several elements of the bipartisan infrastructure and reconciliation bills being debated in Congress, but there are marked differences in their levels of support. (see Table 1 below)

— Majorities — often large majorities — of both Biden and Trump voters express some form of distrust for voters, elected officials, and media sources they associate with the other side. A strong majority of Trump voters see no real difference between Democrats and socialists, and a majority of Biden voters at least somewhat agree that there is no real difference between Republicans and fascists. (see Table 2 below)

— Significant numbers of both Trump and Biden voters show a willingness to consider violating democratic tendencies and norms if needed to serve their priorities. Roughly 2 in 10 Trump and Biden voters strongly agree it would be better if a “President could take needed actions without being constrained by Congress or courts,” and roughly 4 in 10 (41%) of Biden and half (52%) of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that it’s time to split the country, favoring blue/red states seceding from the union. (see Table 3 below)

City Journal: The New Secession Movement | City Journal ( 

Washington Free Beacon: "The Sense of an Ending" Dec. 3, 2021.

Whatever happens, I find I cannot escape the sense that America has reached an impasse, that it has arrived at a moment of transition, and not just on the matter of abortion. Whether one looks at politics, economics, or the world, one sees a realignment of forces, a shuffling of players off and on the stage, to prepare for the next act in the drama. The Trump presidency seems less like the harbinger of a new beginning than a spectacular climax to a historical epoch. If so, we are living through a sort of denouement, a working through of conflicts left unresolved. "It feels like the order we have all taken for granted since the end of the Cold War is badly decaying, and has gotten so fragile that it might well shatter soon," wrote Damir Marusic of Wisdom of Crowds last month. Question is: What replaces it?

The U.S. is Heading Toward a Second Civil War. Here Is How We Avoid It --  The author offers no guarantees, but his prescriptions at minimum can do no harm. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Priesthood of Politicism Offers Only Damnation

A progressive friend of mine posted this on his FB page. I was tempted at first to respond that the singular exception of either party that comes to mind is Donald Trump, in whose administration the incomes of minorities and the lower half of income earners rose faster and by a larger proportion than of whites and the upper earners. And that under Trump's policies, minority unemployment reached the lowest ever recorded. 

But I didn't so reply. Instead, it struck me that Stewart was basically correct, and that naming Trump as the exception simply buttressed Stewart's point. In fact, I agree with Stewart, but not fully because Stewart does not go near far enough. He pulls up way short of the issue. 

Following are three links, all dating well before Trump was even on the political scene at all, which should give a clue that the corruption of the federal government by far predates Jan. 20, 2017. 

The first is on Bill Moyers, now 86, is a lifelong Democrat who served as LBJ's press secretary for two years. His liberal-progressive creds are solidly established. And on his site is this article: "Anatomy of the Deep State," by Mike Lofgren. 
Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country. ... the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself.
And as Lofgren explains, not only is it in a class by itself, it is in a class for itself and no one else. 

Second is a paper of a research project by Cambridge University, which, being in England, can hardly be accused of having a dog in the fight. Cambridge says its empirical research of American politics shows that
... economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.
Well, duh.
Third is, "America’s Ruling Class And the Perils of Revolution," by Angelo Codevilla. He is Prof. Emeritus of international relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. He also served as a foreign service officer and professional staff member of the Select Committee on Intelligence of the United States Senate.
Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters — speaking the “in” language — serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America’s ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.
As I said, all of these articles were published before Donald Trump was part of the country's political scene. Despite all the fury about Trump's presidential tweets and often off-putting personality, the real reason Washington pushed back against him was because "he is not one of us." It is true that under Trump the rich got richer, which ordinarily would be greeted joyously by Democrats and Republicans alike (but especially Democrats, who are now the party of and for the upper class). But that was far overwhelmed by the fact that the non-rich got richer also, and by higher margins than the wealthy. So the Trump years essentially were a time of wealth transfer from the wealthy Political Class to the non-Political Class, and that was simply intolerable. 

As Ben Weingarten explained last year, Trump exposed the rot and corruption of our ruling class.
[O]ne of President Donald Trump’s myriad achievements stands above all others: he has exposed the unprecedented degree of rot and corruption that pervades the American system.
More specifically, Trump has exposed the ruling class: the bipartisan political establishment and its adjuncts in Big Tech, the corporate media, Big Business and Woke Capital, the academy, and across the commanding heights of American society.
Trump’s manners engender hatred in the ruling class. Even more significantly, his tenacity in confronting the ruling class’s members with their failures—and the fact he has threatened to rectify those failures—discredits and disempowers those responsible for them. Their response—a perpetual effort to destroy him—has shown the ruling class to be lawless and tyrannical.
But Trump's truly unforgiveable sin for which no redemption was possible was this: he accurately identified China as the chief threat to America's political security, and took steps to oppose it. The literally uncounted and uncountable tens to hundreds of million dollars the Chinese Communist Party has poured into Political Class pockets has become its addiction, and no one is ever going to be allowed to turn it off or even reduce it. 

Two months before 2016's election, it was clear to Prof. Codevilla that America's status quo "has resulted in citizens morphing into either this class’s stakeholders or its subjects." 
From the primary season’s outset, the Democratic Party’s candidates promised even more radical “transformations.” When, rarely, they have been asked what gives them the right to do such things they have acted as if the only answer were Nancy Pelosi’s reply to whether the Constitution allows the government to force us into Obamacare: “Are you kidding? Are you kidding?”
On the Republican side, 17 hopefuls promised much, without dealing with the primordial fact that, in today’s America, those in power basically do what they please. Executive orders, phone calls, and the right judge mean a lot more than laws. They even trump state referenda. Over the past half-century, presidents have ruled not by enforcing laws but increasingly through agencies that write their own rules, interpret them, and punish unaccountably—the administrative state. 
In 2004, Glen Wishard wrote "A Thumbnail History of the Twentieth Century," boldface original:

The common theme is politics as a theology of salvation, with a heroic transformation of the human condition (nothing less) promised to those who will agitate for it. Political activity becomes the highest human vocation. The various socialisms are only the most prominent manifestation of this delusion, which our future historian calls "politicism". In all its forms, it defines human beings as exclusively political animals, based on characteristics which are largely or entirely beyond human control: ethnicity, nationality, gender, and social class. It claims universal relevance, and so divides the entire human race into heroes and enemies. To be on the correct side of this equation is considered full moral justification in and of itself, while no courtesy or concession can be afforded to those on the other. 
Therefore, politicism has no conscience whatsoever, no charity, and no mercy. 
I have said before that politics is the religion of America today, frankly much more on the Left than the Right, but not absent from the Right at all. 

Orwell was correct that politics very easily can can become nothing but gaining and keeping power. When that happened within one party - note past tense - in America, no one should be surprised that eventually the other party followed suit. 

That is where we are: politics in America is a literally religious-type quest for power - and for nothing else at all. We are way past (I say many years past) the times when effective, enduring compromise was possible. It is not. 

I do not see any way to reverse this. I am reminded of a disease I read of some time ago, that once it becomes symptomatic, it is too late to treat it. I think that politically that is where we are now. It seems clear to me that we no longer live in the "United" States of America, and I see no way to regain that. 

The question is whether the United States will survive in its present form, or will some kind of dissolution come to pass. Personally, I am not optimistic

See also:

Social Democracy is Collapsing Before our EyesAmerican civic life is fracturing, and everyone knows it.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Shadow Agendas & Thorns in the flesh

I remember Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live doing the Weekend Update skit. At one point he said, “We have some partial sports scores for you: 24 to 17, 14 to 9, 17 to 12, 21 to 18.” 

The scores, of course, are only half the story. Likewise, in reading the letters of Paul we get only half the conversation. We do not have the letters or reports from the churches to Paul. So, we must infer the issues Paul was trying to resolve.

The Corinthians had heard other evangelists; Paul called them “super apostles.” Those men made grandiose claims about their authority and accomplishments. Self-exalting braggadocio was a high art form in the Roman world; humility as a virtue was a Jewish notion, not a Roman or Greek one. It appears that the Corinthian Christians doubted Paul's apostolic credentials because he wouldn't boast about himself. Paul responded that even though he could not match the super apostles’ oratorical skill, he knew what he was talking about.

 So Paul wrote back:

I will not brag about myself, except of my weaknesses. I could boast if I wanted without being foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I won't, so that people won't think better of me than of the Christ who is in my witnessing and living, even though I've been given amazing revelations (2 Cor. 12.5b-7). 

Paul replies that he could brag of a great deal if he was so inclined, and all of it true. Then he explains why he won't play that game: It's not about him, it's about Christ. I don't want people to think more highly of me, says Paul, than of Jesus, about whom I witness and for whom I live. 

I once heard someone explain a concept that some behavioral psychologists call "shadow agendas." Shadow agendas are the things people devote their time, attention or money to that are hidden from almost everyone they know. Shadow agendas may start innocently enough, but then come to be the true orienting focus of one's life, the purpose of living for which other aspects of life are shuffled to support and conceal. Paul told the Corinthians that he had no shadow agenda. Paul refused to use the Gospel to promote himself, saying, basically, "I refuse to boast about myself because Jesus is more important than I am. I am the messenger, but I am not the message." He won’t use his apostolic mission to promote himself over Christ, to exalt himself using Christ as cover. 

Paul continued this way:

That's why, to keep me properly humble, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan. Three times I prayed to the Lord about this, so that it would not vex me, but he said to me, "My grace is all you need, for my power is perfected in your weakness." 

So I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses! The power of Christ fills me more strongly because of them. Once I learned this, I stopped letting my weaknesses rule my life – I don’t even pay attention to the insults, hardships, persecutions and setbacks I suffer serving Christ. For my weaknesses are really another way to be strong (2 Corinthians 12.8-10).

The word translated "thorn" also could refer to a sharp stake used for torture, which seems better to fit Paul’s context than thorn. Paul understands this thorn, or stake, has served to keep him humble before God.

Paul doesn’t say what the thorn was. It evidently doesn’t matter; anyone who engages seriously in doing the work of Christ will likely find he or she has one, too. I have come to understand the thorn in the flesh is whatever tends to hinder or damage your effectiveness as a disciple. 

I knew a man in Virginia who had come to the unshakable conviction that Christ was raised from the dead and that Christ was Lord of his life. But he stopped growing in faith because of his profane language. He thought that unless he stopped swearing, God would not accept his service, his faith or even his prayers. Another man said in a Sunday School class that he felt the same way about smoking cigarettes. Both these men admitted that they had stopped growing in faith because they felt that their vices, their thorns in the flesh, were so ungodly that all those men did was sort of mark time, waiting for the day when God would remove the thorns, like magic. 

 But how realistic is it that a disciple's life will have no thorns? That would be like a football player telling the coach, "I'll play football as long as I don't take a hit." The coach might answer, "If you're going to be in the game, you're going to take hits. The only way not to take hits is to sit on the bench."

It is probably overbroad to say that if someone has never felt a thorn in his flesh, then the devil co-opted him or her long ago. But it’s probably not very overbroad to say that. Ranchers don't round up cattle in the corral, they chase the ones running free. In the same way, the devil doesn't chase folks he's already rounded up. He goes after the ones God's got. 

Now the devil knows that he's not going to get many Christians to renounce their Christian faith. But tempting us to follow our own shadow agendas instead of Jesus's agenda will do just as well. 

I heard a story of four Methodist people – a minister, a Sunday School teacher, a committee chairperson and a church attendee – who were riding in a car together on a two-lane highway. It was raining. As they went around a bend a big truck hit them head on. The next thing they knew, they were standing before Jesus on judgment day. 

The pastor winked at the other three and whispered to them, "Piece of cake." He stepped forward and said, "Lord, I was an ordained minister in the church. I preached every week! I consecrated bread and wine and baptized men, women and babies!" 

"Lord," the next person said, "I taught Sunday School for twenty years."

"Lord," said the third, "I did a lot of church work and served on committees."

"Lord," said the fourth person, "I went to church on Sundays when I could have stayed home."

 And the Lord replied, "Do you think that bullet points on your religious resume would impress me? You, preacher, was the real point of your preaching to make yourself look good to move up to a big-steeple, prestige church or was it to bring people to confess me Lord? You, Sunday School teacher and you, church worker and you, pew sitter – were you just doing religious jobs to hold up an institution, or were you bringing souls to salvation? 

"All of you – was your reputation among others the main concern of your church life, or were you willing to look foolish on my behalf? Did you surrender your own desires to my will or did you use me to get your way? Did you trust that my grace was sufficient for your weaknesses or did you use your weaknesses as excuses to keep me at arm's length? Was maintaining your personal religious comfort level most important or did you risk everything you held dear to lead other people to me and my kingdom?

"You know," the Lord continued, "everything about me was out in the open. No secrets. Every teaching I uttered, every miracle I did, every prayer I prayed, every parable I taught, every step I took, the bread I broke, the wine I blessed, the cross I carried, every nail through my body –  all had one purpose, completely transparent, out in the open: to show that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, and that anyone who believes in him will never perish, but have everlasting life. 

"That was my only agenda, and that's all there was to it. I hid nothing. I was born for it, I lived for it, I died for it. And God proved it was true by raising me from the dead. All I asked was that you make me number one in your life. Number one. Not your advisor but your Lord. Not just fit me in when it was convenient or suited you. My requirements of you were very simple: to live for me every day and to tell others about me, to invite them to be with me forever.

"That was my agenda. What was your agenda?"

In Europe there is a cathedral which has following engraved words:

Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us.

You call Me Master, and obey Me not.   

You call Me Light, and see Me not.

You call Me the Way, and walk Me not.

You call Me Life, and live Me not.

You call Me Wise, and follow Me not.

You call Me Fair, and love Me not.

You call Me Rich, and ask Me not.

You call Me Eternal, and seek Me not.

If I condemn thee, blame Me not.

During this Lenten time of spiritual self-examination, each of us should ask, "Do I have a shadow agenda that I use my faith to prop up? What do I want from church – respectability, stability, a place to get my way? Or do I want to learn how to deny myself even to the point of following Jesus to Golgotha? Am I taking hits for Jesus or am I sitting on the bench? Is the devil chasing me because I'm running free for Christ?"

Paul struggled with such questions, so do I and so should we all. Here was his insight: once Paul was honest about his weaknesses, he realized that they didn't really matter to Jesus. The devil at his strongest cannot match Christ at his weakest. "My grace," said the Lord, "is all you need." Our weaknesses are a door into which Christ can pour his grace and overcome them, if only we go ahead and serve God despite our weaknesses. "Once I learned this," said Paul, "I stopped letting my weaknesses rule my life ... For my weaknesses are really another way to be strong."

Perhaps this sounds inspiring, but I find it daunting:

No shadow agendas, only Jesus.

No sitting on the sidelines.

No hiding behind our weaknesses.

In other words - no excuses.

For each one of us and all of us as a church, our questions are: 

  • Will the grace of Christ penetrate us all the way through? 

  • Do we want mainly to be known as church people or do we want mainly to live as and lead others to become Jesus' disciples? 

"My grace is all you need," said our Lord, "for my power is perfected in your weakness."

Pentecost - Filled with New Wine

Acts 2:1-21 1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.   2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound lik...