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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

 

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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

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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

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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

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Words feel pretty useless at a time like this. On Sunday, October 1st, one man with an arsenal of weapons shot hundreds of concert goers in Las Vegas.

A few thoughts:

1) The gunman shot people attending a Jason Aldean concert. That makes me question . While most folks on the coasts probably aren’t familiar with Aldean, he is immensely popular amongst those in the “Flyover States” (which is also the name of a major Aldean hit on country radio). It seems an odd demographic to shoot up if the gunman was simply a conservative “angry white male” striking out at the modern world. There’s something else going on here, which brings me to #2.

2) Look hard at the gunman’s finances. He’s supposed to have been rich, but he really liked to gamble.  A lot.  Maybe he lost a lot more money than those around him realized, and was angry about it.

3) ISIS has claimed credit.  On the one hand, ISIS tends not to claim credit for attacks that aren’t there’s, so it’s worth checking this claim more deeply.  On the other hand, the facts as released so far don’t appear to bear their claim out.  Perhaps ISIS, whose land under control is down to just a sliver along the Iraqi-Syrian border, is trying to change the narrative by claiming this shooting.  But still … worth checking.

4) My guess is that a week ago, most folks had never heard of bump stocks; I know I didn’t.  Fully automatic weapons are for all intents and purposes illegal.  So should be something that operates as a workaround to turn a semi-automatic weapon (which is legal) into a fully automatic one (which is not). I support the Second Amendment fairly broadly, but I think reasonable people across the spectrum ought to agree in the narrow area of bump stocks and another workaround, trigger cranks.

5) He shot from the 32nd floor, making it virtually impossible for anyone to return fire. It’s a scenario I hadn’t considered before. Those of us who are Second Amendment supporters need to think how we address that situation. The shooter has opened a terrifying window. Does anyone think terrorists haven’t noticed? In the short term, perhaps large city police forces may have a sniper on standby or stationed at a high perch over large assemblies. But in the long term, we really need to consider how we are to deal with the high altitude shooter. A bump stock and trigger crank ban is a good start, but don’t expect the bad guys to actually follow the rule. How do we deal with the next one? The idea that we simply accept it as the “cost of freedom” isn’t the right answer. Scrapping the Second Amendment isn’t the right answer either. We’ve got to come up with a better one.

– 1TF

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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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