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Archive for September, 2017

Yesterday, former acting CIA Director Michael Morrell resigned his position at Harvard to protest the school’s Institute of Politics’ fellowship offer to former Army Private First Class Chelsea Manning, who as PFC Bradley Manning, was troubled by actions of military personnel in Afghanistan and thus passed along secret military information to WikiLeaks.  Late word has come down that Harvard has rescinded that disputed fellowship offer.  I think the school  belatedly made the right decision.

If Harvard is looking to have a transgender fellow for its Institute of Politics, surely the number of transgender individuals is such that Harvard can look a little harder and do better than to hire someone who gave confidential military information to WikiLeaks.  If Harvard is looking to have a Fellow with ground-level knowledge of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are literally thousands of former Marine and Army squad leaders who led troops and interacted with the native population in both peace and war – black, white, male, female, liberal, conservative, gay, straight, etc.  It’s a population large enough that if Harvard looks hard enough, it can pretty much find exactly what it wants ideologically without resorting to someone who gave away secrets.   Plus, they could offer a more granular level of knowledge of what it’s like to be front-line soldier.  Former Private First Class Manning manned a computer at an operations center; it’s relevant, but it’s not front-line knowledge.

I understand PFC Manning’s deep concerns about some ways in which the war was being conducted.  But that’s why there’s an Inspector General in each Army division.  There was a legal way to raise a red flag and it would have been well within PFC Manning’s rights and responsibility to do so.  But PFC Manning chose a path that was illegal and potentially dangerous for fellow American servicemembers.  And that’s just not okay with Director Morrell and the vast majority of American soldiers.

-1TF

 

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Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Cross in the Roman Catholic Church. This got me to thinking – when, one steps away and looks at it from a distance, the veneration of the cross is a strange thing. Victims of the Holocaust remember the crematoriums, but they certainly don’t venerate them. People may respect the patriots Crispus Attucks and Nathan Hale, but they don’t venerate the rifles or rope which ended them. Thomas More fans don’t venerate the ax.

So why this veneration of the implement of execution?  It may be the idea of displacement.  This has been seen done by the homosexual community appropriating the words gay and queer, and by doing so, turning them from pejorative terms four decades ago into mere descriptions these days.  More recently, “deplorables” and “nasty woman” were terms uttered by presidential candidates that were then gleefully used by their opponents to describe themselves.  In each of these cases, the objects of scorn turned the use of a term back on itself.

The cross on which Jesus was crucified may have been more in the shape of a capital “T” then in the form we think of now.  It appears this, not the current symbol was what early Christians used, taking its place with the fish, lamb and an X that supposedly represented Christ.   This implement of torture and death has been turned back on itself.  The practice has been largely eliminated; the church and its symbol go on.

So why the cross?  It’s not clear, but I propose on possibility:  it might just be smart politics.  While the fish was a way to say Christ would provide, the cross could be a way to say either “Christ loved us enough to die for us” or in the alternative “I am willing to take up my cross, and not even death will stop us.”  That can be a useful symbol of power and affirmation in a church that consisted of the poor and powerless for its first three centuries.  If nothing else, it didn’t appear to hurt.  By the time of the Emperor Constantine’s conversion in 315 A.D., Christians were regularly making the sign of the cross (although “crucifixes” or crosses with Christ on them wouldn’t appear for another 200 years.)

This implement of torture and death has been turned back on itself.  The practice has been largely eliminated; the church and its symbol go on.

` 1TF

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Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the nominations of two candidates for positions on the Federal bench. One of them, Notre Dame Law Professor Amy Coney Barrett, was grilled by Democratic members Diane Feinstein and Richard Durbin for being a faithful Catholic. Feinstein, in her best Obi-Wan Kenobi imitation, declared, “the dogma lives loudly in you.” Feinstein, whom I normally respect, displayed a disappointing narrow-mindedness regarding faithful Catholics. She continued, “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” I think she’s referring to abortion and forced contraception funding. Perhaps if Barrett had been another, more “in vogue” religion, this line of questioning would be called out on the left. But Barrett’s a Catholic, so she just gracefully had to endure it.

Richard Durbin chimed in asking, “Are you an orthodox Catholic?” Sen. Durbin himself apparently attends Mass at Old St. Patrick’s, a liberal parish in Chicago, and frequently votes at odds with the Catholic hierarchy. He acted confused, saying he hadn’t heard the term “orthodox Catholic” before. That surprised me, because I’ve heard it a fair amount. I suspect he’s heard it, too. He appeared to be feeling out just how conservative Barrett was. She parried his jab by praising Pope Francis, which Durbin appreciated. She also did her best to explain, as if it were necessary, that while she is a faithful to her religion, she is also faithful to the Constitution.

The bottom line is that progressive members of the Senate see Professor Barrett as a threat. She has served as a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, and may (or may not) be a pro-life judge. Scalia tended to hire one liberal clerk per term, thinking it sharpened his thinking. Barrett was quoted in a 2013 Notre Dame Magazine article as saying scholars on both side of debate had criticized Roe v. Wade for unecessarily igniting a political firestorm, but she also said she found it very unlikely the core finding of Roe would ever be overturned.

Even if Barrett were pro-life, as a federal circuit judge she would be obliged to follow the precedent set down in Roe. But I suspect the deep concerns and probable opposition of Feinstein, Durbin and other progressives isn’t really about Seventh Circuit. Some readers may recall the campaign to destroy Miguel Estrada’s chances of serving on the federal bench. That was because Democrats were afraid the conservative Estrada would later be nominated to the Supreme Court, and they didn’t want to fight against the possible first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee. That time it worked out for them; Estrada was rejected and the honor of being the Court’s first Hispanic justice went to the more progressive Sonia Sotomayor. A similar calculus may be working here, with them trying to avoid opposing a smart and reasonable female Supreme Court nominee by stopping her at the federal level.

-1TF

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