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So yesterday the Supreme Court issued a decision in the highly anticipated case of Jack Philips, a traditionally Christian baker that did not want to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Traditionalists rejoiced at first, but I don’t think the decision means what they think it meant.

In a 7-2 decision, written by Court bellwether Anthony Kennedy, the Court sided with the baker. However, Kennedy’s decision was narrowly tailored to the facts of this specific case. In this particular case, Kennedy ruled as he did because he took issue with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, or at least one particular member, showing an open hostility toward the baker’s religion. Kennedy’s decision turned on that. Kennedy left open the possibility that a more neutral, less hostile (at least openly) commission might be able to make a similar ruling. Kennedy’s decision did not balance the cake shop owner’s First Amendment freedoms of religion and speech (ie. artistic expression) against the purchasers’ Fourteenth Amendment right of equal access.  Liberals may disappointed in the short-term here, but I suspect conservatives may be disappointed in the long-term.  Kennedy’s refusal to write a broader decision that overtly protected the baker’s 1st Amendment right to refuse to provide a service that violated his sincerely-held religious beliefs speaks of one of two things: 1) either he wants society to try to work this out before having the court’s decree one way or the other, or 2) when a less openly hostile commission rules on a similar case, Kennedy would be part of a 5-4 majority to uphold the ruling.
(Note: one thing left out of much commentary is the Commission’s conduct. It is a window on the future that sincerely (and conservatively) religious citizens fear. Now, such anti-religious language will be muted, but that doesn’t mean Commission members won’t still harbor such animosity and vote accordingly.)

So yesterday’s ruling was a little like the Trump election. It wasn’t a large victory; it was merely a speed bump on the path to secularism. And it raises the stakes for a Court nomination if the rumors about Kennedy’s retirement are true.

– 1TF

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So there’s an article in the New York Times today, regarding a survey conducted for the American Political Science Association of 140 “political experts”. These political scholars were asked to rate all of the United States presidents, up to and including the Current Occupant.  And as one might have expected, President Trump is listed as the single worst president of all time.  In fact, Democratic-leaning scholars gave him a rating of only 8 out of a 100.  There was a considerable gap to the second worst president, James Buchanan, at 16.  The average was 50.

A few things about that: First, it seems a little early to be rating officially the current President good, bad or indifferent. It reminds me a bit of when Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for apparently breathing and not being George W. Bush.  Trump’s off to a poor start, and I think he’s not a good guy, but the grade one year for almost any president is really “Incomplete”. (On that note, I also think it may be unwise to even rate William Henry Harrison’s 30 days in office at all.) When his time is over, I expect Mr. Trump to have earned his place near the bottom of the pack. But it’s early yet.

Second, these ratings say as much about the scholars as they do about the presidents. President Obama is rated eighth in this same survey – sixth by the Democratic scholars with a score of 78. That is not a reserved judgment; that’s hero worship.  It’s as if they were using it for group therapy during their unexpected political exile.  The idea that these are much more than political opinion polls is further belied by the fact that those Democratic scholars also rated Bill Clinton over winner-of-the-Cold-War Ronald Reagan.  (Which is nothing new.  In 1996, presidential historian and Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger rated all the presidents and found Reagan 26th out of then 42, six behind Clinton. It’s hard to view such ratings with a straight face.

In conclusion, this is not in any way a defense of the Current Occupant.  I think Trump’s had a poor start and is likely to have a poor end.  But it is an observation that the American Political Scientists Association appears more interested in being a participant in the political contest rather than an unbiased scholarly observer.  When you wonder why some on the right question the reliability or trustworthiness of those in the academy, a survey like this provides evidence.  Look at where they rate those they like, whether accomplished or not – Wilson, Clinton and Kennedy – on the one hand, and those they don’t – Reagan and Coolidge. It’s not an unbiased survey; it’s a political document by political people who want you to think they’re not.

– 1TF

 

I’m amazed I even need to say this – government is serious business and needs to be conducted by serious people.

The President has conducted his presidency in a manner that his political opponents abhor. They see his policies as misguided and/or mean-spirited and his manner as boorish.

Fine.

But at the State of the Union, his opponents matched him by not even perfunctorily applauding his entrance. The guy hadn’t even said anything yet. His speech wasn’t a sea of red meat. Yet the silence followed, even during announcements of good economic news and salutes to American heroes. It was surreal. And viewers who saw it, saw “those people don’t want to work together.”

But of course, never discount this President’s ability to overplay his hand. President Trump recently called the Democrats’ actions at the State of the Union “treasonous”.

Treasonous. Treason is a crime punishable by death in this country.

One can reasonably call the congressional Democrats’ actions at the State of the Union a lot of things – misguided, angry, rude, foolish and juvenile. But it was not treasonous. And it is politically poisonous for this nation’s commander-in-chief to accuse them of treason. Many Democrats love this country; they just hate its leader. Ronald Reagan (who would be 107 today) would have just laughed off the Democrats’ disdain; he’d a give a wink to the voters that said “see what they’re like, the poor devils?” and the country would have laughed with him as he became even more popular.

Trump has no talent for humor, so he couldn’t do this. But he could do the next best thing, which is to keep quiet. The Democrats made a big mistake at the State of the Union. Trump should have just left it alone.

-1TF

So, according to Yahoo News, some guy, a public health employee of Los Angeles County, delivered horse manure in a Christmas package to Steven Mnuchin’s house in Los Angeles as a protest against the tax bill. This is a quick back-of-the-envelope list of why this stunt was foolish:

1) It plays right into the idea that liberal extremists are rude exhibitionists who just don’t other, more square, people very much. Giving somebody – anybody – the digested leavings of a horse – really? Just thoughtless and unkind. And despite what the sender thought, really unfunny (see #3)

2) The letter of protest along with the manure was signed, “The American People”. It is highly presumptuous to do almost anything in the name of “The American People”. “The American People”, like any group of 300 million people, have a hard time agreeing on virtual anything of controversy. Think about it – the war in Afghanistan, single payer health insurance, nuclear power, Taylor Swift as an artist – the American people have a range of opinion on each. To claim to speak for all of them on any matter – especially one like this millions of them will lose money and millions more will get it – is an exercise in moral narcissism.

3) As I imagine the sender well knows, senior public officials get regular threats against themselves and/or their families. That’s why this letter wasn’t funny. Somebody had to figure out this package contained merely horse manure. Officials had to x-ray the thing because it could have been, and occasionally is, something more dangerous. So this package and its contents needlessly messed up the workday of some poor employee not named Steven Mnuchin (who wasn’t home and likely went on his way blissfully unaware of any security concerns).  Furthermore, it needlessly cost taxpayers money.  I figure the sender, being a public health official in Los Angeles County, would consider public funds scarce enough.  I don’t see why he thinks he has the right to make them even more so.  Unless of course, like in paragraph #2 (so to speak) – moral narcissism.

At the risk of costing the taxpayer another fifty cents, Mr. Mnuchin might want to have a short note sent to the sender to thank him for his gift and letting him know the Secretary would be using it to improve his daffodils.  Such a delicate response might be noteworthy for the presence of a little good-natured humor and its lack of Trumpian sound and fury.

Look, I’ve got a few issues with the tax bill and more with Mr. Mnuchin personally. He strikes me as a guy who was born fabulously wealthy and had his path through Goldman Sachs blazed for him by his father and older brother, so he never had to struggle or worry about finances like regular Americans. He’s not the person whom I would have chosen for Treasury Secretary. No matter. Despite what the sender might imagine, this wasn’t funny or even clever. I would be upset if this had been done to any member of any administration. It is no way to treat a public official or really, anybody.

-1TF

Politico reported on widespread speculation on Capitol Hill that then aging and ailing senior senator from Mississippi, Thad Cochran (R-MS), may retire early next year. (h/t politicalwire.com)

Should that happen, the Magnolia State’s governor, Phil Bryant, will have the responsibility of choosing a successor. This writer respectfully implores the Governor to appoint someone who won’t embarrass the state or the Republican Party. Please avoid the debacle that occurred next door. When Jeff Sessions resigned his seat in Alabama, the embattled then-governor Robert Bentley appointed the attorney general that had been investigating Mr. Bentley for ethics and law violation. How that was not investigated for obstruction of justice, I know not. That mal-appointed senator, Luther Strange, never, ever should have accepted something of value – namely the Senate seat – from the governor he was investigating. Strange managed to lose a primary to disgraced judge Roy Moore, who then managed to lose the seat to Democratic prosecutor Doug Jones. The whole thing was just a perfect storm of depravity and incompetence.

Please, Governor Bryant, should the moment present itself, choose someone who won’t embarrass your state. Choose someone who can withstand a primary challenge from anyone who would embarrass your state. Cast a wide net in your search.  Get caught looking for someone other than a white male.  I’m not saying you can’t choose a white male; the best candidate may wind up being one.  But your pool of contenders should look like the citizens of Mississippi, who last I checked, included about 1.5 million females and more than a million African-Americans.  I’m a pro-life conservative; I would hope any new senator would be as well.  But there are conservatives with whom moderates can work, and conservatives who only speak to their base and turn off everyone else.

I wish Senator Cochran good health and that he and his family have times of peace and love in the days ahead.  Meanwhile, I suspect that the Governor will have to make an important choice.  There are plenty of right-of-center, inclusive possibilities.  Choose wisely, Governor.

– 1TF

 

The news this morning carried an article about Bill Gates investing in land to build a “smart city” in the Arizona desert. It got me to thinking about the word “smart” being used to advance progressive policies.

People who like new-urbanism like to promote “smart-growth”.  The problem with this type of talk is that it makes the unspoken assumption that opposing ideas are by definition, “dumb”.  Hillary Clinton used to talk about “smart power”, the obvious unsaid statement being that other ways of projecting power were the result of ignorance. This came from a person who supported toppling both the Iraq and Libya invasions, against the 2007 surge of American troops, and oversaw the mistake-ridden aftermath in Libya. It takes some nerve to talk about “smart power” after all of those decisions.

I met a whole lot of so-called “smart” people in law school. Some really were smart. Some were merely book-smart. Some were industrious overachievers. And a few, I wondered what they were doing there.  As noted in the famous Fredo and Michael scene in Godfather II, even stupid people hate being considered stupid.

Describing policies as “smart” sounds smug, self-satisfied, exclusive and in a democratic society that depends on the votes of the many, well … kinda dumb.

Congressional passed a use of force authorization on September 14, 2001, three days after nineteen Saudi Arabian terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It is now October 2017., and high time for the American people, through their Congress, to check our azimuth and see if we want our military to make a course correction. We shouldn’t drift aimlessly into the next armed conflict in some country where we least expect it. Our country’s military has fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Yemen, Somalia amongst others. The Marine Corps has been a major tenant in Djibouti for more than a decade. Millions of Americans were surprised to learn of U.S. troops dying in military operations in Niger and Mali, being wholly unaware we even had troops there.

While it’s not Congress’ job to micromanage combat operations, it is Congress’ job to decide whether we should be in certain theaters of war in the first place. The vast majority of the 2001 authorizers are retired and/or dead. The Senate co-sponsor, Jesse Helms, has been dead for nine years. We are now on our third president since the original authorization. It’s time to review that authorization, scope and bound it if need be, and make sure our military is actually doing what the country wants it to be doing. A review once every sixteen years isn’t too much to ask.

– 1TF