Ignorance of our future, a characteristic we all share, brings about our too often bloody battles in the present.

I’ve just read in the opinion pages of the WSJ a laudatory review of President Trump’s first 18 months in office by the former (2013-15) Australian prime minister Tony Abbott. And I’ve also just read a good number of the more than 500 accompanying reader comments. Now I’m always overwhelmed, and no less so on this particular occasion, by how differently the readers will read any one opinion piece.

There is absolutely no general reader agreement about little or anything, although here, and as a rule, there are the two opposing sides, in this instance those who agree with Abbott’s favorable review of Trump’s tenure, and does who do not.

And furthermore, as usual, the agreements and disagreements among the readers are sharp, and reflect just as sharp country and world wide divisions out there, at least among those whose lives hold a place for ideas (not everyone, Helas!).

In any case it has seemed apparent to me during a lifetime of reading such pieces and comments that we, you and I, and anyone else, are not about to agree to anything, let alone the record of our President during his first 18 months in the Oval Office.

Ask yourself, does he lie? And if so why? To fool people, or to get to the truth, his truth and only in that his manner, seeming to us to lie? Without taking issue with the various things that Abbott says, I readily admit that the former PM does make some not negligible debating points. In what follows below I have excerpted some passages from his WSJ article, while liberally cutting but not editing, not changing I hope the meaning of his text.

Mr. Trump has been remarkably true to his word… On the evidence so far, when he says something, he means it—and when he says something consistently, it will happen. He said he’d cut taxes and regulation. He did. He said he’d pull out of the Paris climate-change agreement and he did. He said he’d scrap the Iranian deal, and he did. He said he’d move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and he did, without catastrophe. He said he’d boost defense spending. That’s happening too…

So far, though, Mr. Trump’s strong rhetoric and tough action haven’t triggered a full-scale trade war, but have forced other countries to address America’s concerns about technology theft and predatory pricing. Then there’s the nuclear diplomacy with North Korea. Maybe a hitherto brutal dictator is looking for the survival strategy that Mr. Trump has offered.

For Australia, Mr. Trump has so far been a good president. He seems to appreciate that Australia is the only ally that has been with America, side by side, in every conflict since World War I. He has exempted our steel and aluminum from the tariffs slapped on many others. As a country that’s paid its dues, so to speak, on the American alliance, we have been treated with courtesy and respect.

As weightier allies found at the NATO summit this week, Mr. Trump is reluctant to help those who don’t pull their weight, and who can blame him? America has been the world’s policeman, the guarantor of a modicum of restraint from the world’s despots and fanatics. No other country has had both the strength and the goodwill for this essential task….

The truth is that the rest of the world needs America much more than America needs us. The U.S. has no threatening neighbors. It’s about as remote from the globe’s trouble spots as is possible to be. It’s richly endowed with resources, including energy and an almost boundless agricultural capacity. Its technology is second to none. Its manufacturing base is vast. Its people are entrepreneurial in their bones. From diversity, it has built unity and an enviable pride in country.

In many respects, America is the world in one country, only a better world than the one outside. If it decided to live in splendid isolation from troubles across the sea, it would lose little and perhaps gain much, at least in the beginning. A fortress America would be as impregnable as any country could be.

A new age is coming. The legions are going home. American values can be relied upon but American help less so. This need not presage a darker time, like Rome’s withdrawal from Britain, but more will be required of the world’s other free countries. Will they step up? That’s the test.

America spends more than 3% of the world’s biggest GDP on its armed forces, and the rest of the Western world scarcely breaks 2%. It’s hard to dispute Mr. Trump’s view that most of us have been keeping safe on the cheap. The U.S. can’t be expected to fight harder for Australia than we are prepared to fight for ourselves. What Mr. Trump is making clear—to us and to others—is what should always have been screamingly obvious: that each nation’s safety now rests in its own hands far more than in anyone else’s.

Trump has 2½ more years in the world’s biggest job and every chance of being re-elected. He is the reality we have to work with.

Now what might all this have to do with the “bloody battles” of ideas of the present? We differ over the issues, over global warming, the use of the word global, over the deep state, the administrative state, over the reliance on religious dogma to help us with the thorniest issues, such as same sex marriage and abortion, we differ greatly over legal and illegal immigration, on whether we should always accept those coming to us for asylum with open arms. There is of course no end to our differences, to things we differ about, many of them being battle ready, and all the more so when the Presidency, the Congress, and the Supreme Court are all themselves struggling for their own survival. In all these battles our general, and perhaps universal ignorance of the future, something we all share, even about global warming, ought to bring us together, not make it that as now our differences are pulling us apart.

How “enduring” is our Constitution?

Is there any best way to read/interpret the Constitution of the United States? Also is the Constitution a dead, living or, as the late original originalist, Antonin Scalia, would say, “enduring” document? According to Scalia, the Constitution today means not what contemporaries including SCOTUS might think it means, but what it meant at the time of its creation and adoption, this being, again according to Scalia, the “public meaning” of the document, and that which today it is beholden on the Justices to recover.

But most things that today most concern us are not mentioned in the Constitution. Even the most thorough original is not going to find evidence of what the framers might have thought, regarding asylum seekers, gun owners, and to mention just two of the thorniest subjects, abortion and same sex marriage. What did the public of 1789 think about such things? Probably little or nothing of course, and at the time they weren’t obliged to. Now they, which today is we, we think a lot about these things and our opinions are all over the map.

So where do we look for help in untying the knottiest questions that confront us? At the moment more to the nine Supreme Court justices than to the 535 members of the Congress. And the result is that the Justices are deciding questions that are not even mentioned in the Constitution (should they be? Scalia would say no). How then can one even be an original given this situation, and during the present time the originals are rapidly becoming a court majority!

Our original originalist would probably say that if it’s not mentioned, or not clearly mentioned in the Constitution it should then be up to the Congress to act and by its action to resolve the question if not fully enlighten us. But that of course hasn’t always happened (and it’s hardly happening at all right now) and many of the decisions of the court exist because the United States Congress has not stepped up to the plate, this being true of such hot button issues as immigration, gerrymandering and redistricting, abortion, same sex marriage, all of great importance at the present time, and including whatever limits ought to be placed on the executive.

Now for example, how might the originalist read the Second Amendment to the Constitution, that which says: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. What this meant at the time, the “public meaning” of the phrase, doesn’t seem all that difficult for us to understand. Doesn’t it clearly mean that people will be allowed to “keep and bear arms,” but in a militia, or military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency (not just anywhere, not in a local public school, not on the campus of the University of Texas) —the militia being a force that will be used to defend the security of the State.

In this original understanding individuals with the right to bear arms will be members of a militia. Take away the militias and don’t you then take away the right to bear Arms? Where was the militia at Sandy Hook, at Columbine, and at Stoneman Douglas high schools? The Constitution says nothing at all about an individual right to purchase and own arms in his or her own defense (arms which by the way are not described in the Constitution, and in any case bore no resemblance to arms today other than being able to shoot someone dead). So hasn’t the original originalist misinterpreted the “enduring and public meaning” of the Second Amendment to the Constitution? And what’s to prevent the growing number of originals on the court to go on entirely misinterpreting the meanings of the founders, the “public meaning” of their words at the time?

I’m at a complete loss to understand why first Justice Scalia, and after him Justice Gorsuch, and perhaps in the near future Justice Kavanaugh, why the three of them, and many others of their persuasion, are so attached to what might have been the public meaning at the time of the words and phrases of our Constitution. The meaning of everything, including the words in the Constitution, changes in time. And what changes the most just has to be the meaning of the words, of any words from 200 years ago, as we grow in understanding and make changes accordingly. As for the meaning of “a right to bear arms” we ought to be trying to determine what meaning if any it has for us today. For example, are our lives more secure with this “right” than without it? Not an unreasonable question, and to the answer of which the “enduring” public meaning of 1789 has little if anything to. contribute….


Politicians and Magicians or Getting away with lying

How Trump Gets Away with Lying, as Explained by a Magician



“How does he just keep lying?”

“He can’t possibly get away with this again.”

“Why do people still trust him?”

Our current Administration has shown an unprecedented disregard for the truth, and many Americans are flabbergasted at how few people are disturbed by this disregard. As a former card magician — and therefore someone with a bit of experience deceiving audiences — I have developed some strategies to catch other people in their lies.

Magicians are the best liars in the business. Not because they tell the most lies, or the biggest lies, but because they can get away with them even when you are anticipating the lies. We all know magic doesn’t exist. We all know that magicians are somehow lying to us when they are performing. And yet, the profession of magician has been around for thousands of years. It’s the same with politicians.

Here, I will reveal five tactics magicians and politicians use to gain your trust….

1. Dress for the Occasion

This may be obvious but it’s still worth mentioning because I get to add lots of pictures to this article of comically dressed politicians….

2. Separate Yourself from the Liars

I’ll defer to again to Penn & Teller, the undisputed experts at this technique. The duo fully understands that magicians are a notoriously dishonest lot, so they try their damndest to appear as if they are “rebel” magicians by occasionally criticizing “normal” magicians and revealing their secrets….

3. Divert, Divert, Divert

Everyone knows that magicians use diversions. A burst of confetti or a strange tap of the wand are easily deemed diversions by most observers. However, the best magicians use diversions so natural and comfortable that the audience can’t help but fall for them. Yet again, I will refer to the expertise of Penn & Teller….

4. Claim You Predicted the Past

To explain this, I’ll have to let you in on a magician’s secret. When you are offered a fanned deck of cards and are told to “pick a card, any card,” you might not actually have as free a choice as you imagine. This is because magicians often use a technique known as a “pack force.” When they offer you the cards to choose from, they will actually slightly manipulate the cards in order to encourage you to pick from a certain group of maybe 5–10 cards. To explain this, see the picture below.

The face value of the “key card” is known by the magician, and 5–10 cards to the right of it are also known. Usually, the key card is an ace, and the 5–10 cards right of the ace are of the same suit in ascending order. The magician keeps an eye on this key card and will encourage you to pick one of the cards in that group. Once a card in the pack is selected, the magician can simply count to the key card and they will know the value of the selected card

5. Tell People Lies they Want to Hear

“That’s ridiculous,” you protest, “who wants to be lied to?”

The answer is: Most people.

We have a whole city in California dedicated to people pretending to be what they’re not, an entire industry telling us that products it’s selling are things they’re not, and cosmetic corporations that allow us to look like people we’re not. We happily welcome these little lies because they make the world a bit nicer to live in. A spoonful of sugar helps the deception go down.

For magicians, this means they must perform effects in which people want to believe. Everyone wants to live in a world where vanishing, conjuring, transfiguring, and teleporting are possible. Raymond Teller is famous for his expertly performed effects that spur feelings of whimsy in his audience. So elegant is his magic that after seeing it, you won’t even want to find out how it is accomplished.

The first example I provide of this is his fishbowl effect, in which he transforms coins into living goldfish.

The second example of this is one of magic’s all-time most unique effects: Teller’s “Shadows.”

Fluid, exquisite, and polished. You want to be fooled because for a short time, Teller brings you into a world where the impossible is possible.

So, how do politicians tell you the lies you want to hear?

You may notice that during election season, candidates are intensely bitter about the country’s current circumstances, and they always paint a bright picture of the future. Each candidate, no matter his or her party, must denounce the current times in some way, and then promise the audience that there are better times ahead. A candidate must provide hope. Everyone wants to believe in hope.

Yet again, here is something at which Donald Trump excels. In the interview below, the then future President scorns Obama’s healthcare bill and promises some impossible word-goulash of mutually exclusive pledges which, while entirely impossible, sound wonderful.

You probably also remember Trump’s secret “Destroy ISIS in 30 Days” plan. Anyone who’s tried a “Lose Weight in 30 Days” diet knows it doesn’t work. However, people continually buy into these ideas because they sound wonderful. Trump is full of such promises, ranging from his claim that he is a great negotiator who can magically solve problems created by NAFTA and the Paris Climate Agreement, to his vow to bring back a doomed coal industry.

This is lesson five in telling lies: make sure to tell people what they want to believe.

Liberal and Conservative 1.1

I have known about wars, shooting wars and wars of words. Both kinds have been a big part of my life, although I’ve never participated myself in a shooting war. On the other hand I have often been a part, often a big part of wars of words, mostly among my fellows, and mostly my fellow workers and students in schools and colleges where I have studied and taught. But often also within my own family and among friends. At best the wars, especially the wars of words, were fun. At worst of course were the shooting wars, where mostly young men and women lose their lives, no fun at all.

I was taught, by the social media, by the culture in which I was immersed, that wars were always out there, not far away and playing a big part in our lives. But the opponents in the shooting wars I was familiar with were not individuals, but nations and peoples, at best defending their own lands, and usually speaking different languages, (I I’ve never known up close a Civil War, of which there are still many, between peoples of the same land and language, and that’s probably a good thing). The opponents in the shooting wars I have known if only from a safe distance, as in WWII and earlier WWI, and even later in Korea and in Vietnam, were good Americans, and bad Germans, and later good and bad Russians and bad Chinese. And these wars were brutal, they had to be won, they were wars of survival, and during my lifetime the Americans were for the most part the winners.

It took me almost a lifetime to fully realize that the most demoralizing, if not most frightening wars are not necessarily shooting wars between different nations and different peoples but sharp differences between peoples of the same nation, holding different ideas and different beliefs, beliefs and ideas over which they were ready to fight, that is, ready to wage war. That’s the kind of war that is today most with us and perhaps hardest for many of us, me included, to live with. Why? Because other points of view bring into question what we hold most dear, such as, for example, our views of liberty, equality, and fraternity, the sorts of beliefs we will fight for.

The most demoralizing war of all is that between Left and Right, liberal and conservative, the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots. Demoralizing because there is no need for it. And this war is going on right now. We read about it daily in the news. Just today for example we learn that President Trump has proposed a second far right conservative to fill the present vacancy on the Supreme Court. This will probably tip a long existing liberal/conservative balance on the Court definitely to the Right. It didn’t have to be like that. The Center is still there, although terribly neglected. Will those on the Left find the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh on the Right reason enough to go into battle, begin a war, to protect their own Left points of views about any number of issues such as religious freedom, marriage equality, entitlements and welfare, immigration and taxation, all with both Left and Right divisions?

The question I ask myself almost daily in response to the Left/Right difference regarding nearly any and every issue that comes up is this one, “is the difference real?” Does it really matter? Does it have to be there? Does it reflect or correspond to something substantial in our natures? Or might the Left and Right difference of opinion be eliminated easily by a random mutation in our genes, or by directed genetic manipulation of our DNA? Or best by a conversation in which the opposing sides listen to one another?

Re. immigration, if you’re on the Left you would take in more immigrants, not build a wall to keep them out, and you would abolish ICE. If you’re on the Right you’d give Trump his wall, and by the wall and in other ways reduce the number of immigrants coming here, legally as well as illegally, and with ICE as your big stick you’d send those who have come here say from the Northern Triangle in search of asylum, in search of a better life for their families, you’d send them back to their homes in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

What I really think is that all wars, wars of words or actions, are not at all necessary, and if they continue to exist it’s because we haven’t looked closely at our reasons for waging war, meaning taking one side or the other. About immigration, for example. We would only need to adopt a different belief about people, the belief that there is only one people, and that we are all one and the same people. If we did that why would we ever want to shut ourselves off from others, close our lands and minds and hearts to others just like us, people with the same nature, the same DNA, the different colors being of no more significance than the different clothes we might be wearing. And why would we not share with people who are asking us for asylum, what we have in such abundance?

OK, we’re not there yet. We’re a long way from being there. And now the Supreme Court is being used as another way of separating us. But there is nothing more real, is there, than our being all the same. To bring that dream of a global society about we need only  to work on the meaning of our sameness, to help ourselves and others to understand what that means. But, and that’s a big but, there are still too many who reject our sameness (our being creatures of the same species homo) and who want to go on “strengthening” what they see as our precious differences, the color of our skin, the external trappings of our religions, and what they see as the one and only permissible marriage, that between a man and a woman.

(Hey, think for a minute, a man and a woman, aren’t they more the same than different? Why would two men or two women being together be somehow less acceptable than a man and a woman being together? Are external physical characteristics or traits ultimately that which determines who we are, let alone what we can or cannot do? For many evidently they still are.)


I wanted a picture and by a Google search I found this one, but I really don’t understand it. Explanations?

The last letter of Thomas Jefferson to the public (to us).


Our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government.

The form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.

The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them illegitimately.

By the grace of God these are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.


Monticello June 24. 1826
Respected Sir
The kind invitation I receive from you on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration of the 50th. anniversary of American independance; as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey. it adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. but acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to controul. I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. may it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government. that form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. all eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. these are grounds of hope for others. for ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
I will ask permission here to express the pleasure with which I should have met my ancient neighbors of the City of Washington and of it’s vicinities, with whom I passed so many years of a pleasing social intercourse; an intercourse which so much relieved the anxieties of the public cares, and left impressions so deeply engraved in my affections, as never to be forgotten. with my regret that ill health forbids me the gratification of an acceptance, be pleased to receive for yourself, and those for whom you write, the assurance of my highest respect and friendly attachments.
Th. Jefferson

Susan Jacoby: The White House Is Tearing Down the Wall Between Church and State

Alex Merto

From Susan Jacoby, in the NYTimes of July 5, 2018:

Many Americans were shocked when Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned to the Bible — specifically, Paul’s epistle to the Romans — to justify President Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents.

This scriptural justification for a political decision should not have surprised anyone, because Mr. Trump’s administration has consistently treated the separation of church and state as a form of heresy rather than a cherished American value.

Attacks on the wall of separation established by the founders — which the religious right likes to call “a lie of the left” — are nothing new. What has changed under Mr. Trump is the disproportionate political debt he owes to extreme religious conservatives, whose views on church-state issues — ranging from the importance of secular public education to women’s and gay rights — are far removed from the American mainstream.

The very meaning of the phrases “religious liberty” and “religious freedom”— traditionally understood as referring to the right of Americans to practice whatever faith they wish or no faith at all — is being altered to mean that government should foster a closer relationship with those who want to mix their Christian faith with taxpayer dollars. This usage can be found in numerous executive orders and speeches by Mr. Trump and his cabinet members. Changes in language have consequences, as the religious right’s successful substitution of “pro-life” for “anti-abortion” has long demonstrated.

Religion-related issues, especially if buried in lengthy government documents, can often seem obscure, but they dominated the news at the end of June, when the Supreme Court upheld Mr. Trump’s travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries and struck down a California requirement that anti-abortion, state-licensed pregnancy clinics provide notice to their clients that abortion is an option. These significant rulings were immediately overshadowed by the retirement from the court of the frequent swing voter Anthony M. Kennedy, which now gives Mr. Trump the opportunity to nominate a predictable religious conservative who would most likely support the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

While it is impossible to overstate the long-term importance of the next court appointment, Mr. Sessions and many of his fellow cabinet members offer textbook examples of the everyday perils of entangling religion with politics. Mr. Sessions’s citation of the opening verse of Romans 13, which admonishes that every soul must be “subject unto the higher powers” and that there is “no power but of God,” inflamed an already bitter debate over immigration. the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, followed up with a reminder that it was “very biblical” to enforce the law. Neither went on to quote Verse 10, which proclaims, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Many pro-immigration religious leaders, including Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims, took umbrage at the biblical justification for a policy that could hardly be described as loving. Their objections, however, were based mainly on the idea that Mr. Sessions had picked the wrong verse.

It was left to secular organizations to identify all religious rationalizations as the fundamental problem. The Center for Inquiry, a secular think tank, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, on whose honorary boards I serve, issued strong condemnations — as did the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Rachel Laser, president of Americans United, put it succinctly: “The separation of church and state means that we don’t base public policy on the Bible or any religious book.”

And yet Trump administration officials have used fundamentalist biblical interpretations to support everything from environmental deregulation to tax cuts
Scott Pruitt, who resigned from his post as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, once asserted in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that Americans who want stricter environmental standards are contradicting the Bible. Mr. Pruitt, a former trustee of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “The biblical worldview with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind.” The trenchant headline recounting the interview in Baptist News read: “God Wants Humans to Use Natural Gas and Oil, Not ‘Keep It in the Ground,’ says E.P.A. Chief.”

Many evangelical Christians do not share such theocratic fantasies. These evangelicals, like former President Jimmy Carter, are spiritual descendants of Roger Williams, who was banished from the Puritan theocracy of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and founded the first Baptist congregation in colonial America. Williams is also credited as the first person to use the phrase “wall of separation,” in a 1644 response to the theocratic Puritan clergyman John Cotton. (There should be a “wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world,” he wrote.) Thomas Jefferson used the expression in a famous 1802 letter to a Baptist congregation in Danbury, Conn.
Williams is an inconvenient figure for today’s religious right, which asserts that the only purpose of the “wall of separation” was to protect religion from government — not government from religion. That was true in early colonial America, but the other side of the equation was well understood by the time the Constitution — which never mentions God and explicitly bars all religious tests for public office — was written. Destructive religious wars in 17th-century Europe, among other factors, had led many Americans to the realization that governments could indeed be threatened by a close identification with religion.

President Trump’s appointees seem unconcerned about whether statements praising the godliness of mixing religion and politics will offend secular and many religious Americans.

Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development and a devout Seventh-day Adventist, has described commitment to the separation of church and state as “crap,” prompted by “political correctness.”

At a December cabinet meeting, Mr. Carson was asked by Mr. Trump to say a prayer thanking God for the recently passed tax cut bill. Mr. Trump also took a jab at the press pool and said, “You need the prayer more than I do, I think.” Speaking to Mr. Carson, he added: “Maybe a good prayer and they’ll be honest, Ben.” Mr. Carson responded by thanking the Almighty for a “courageous” president.

Mr. Sessions took on a larger mission last fall when he sent a 25-page memo on “protections for religious liberty” to every federal agency. It warned that government “may not exclude religious organizations as such from secular aid programs, at least when the aid is not being used for explicitly religious activities such as worship or proselytization.”

Andrew Seidel, a lawyer with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, notes that although it’s hard to know what this will mean in practice, “It’s an invitation — but one that carries great authority — to go further and further and further in shrinking the distance between church and state.”

Last but not least is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Ms. DeVos, raised as a strict Calvinist, has devoted much of her life to promoting private and religious schools over public education. She is particularly proud that last year’s tax bill expanded the education savings accounts known as 529s so that they can now be used to pay for private schools, starting from kindergarten.

In May, Ms. DeVos visited New York City, which has the largest public school system in the country. She did not inspect a single public school. Instead, she stopped by two Orthodox Jewish schools and spoke at a fund-raiser where she was introduced by Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan. In her speech, she expressed support for tax credits to help pay tuition for private schools.

While applauding state initiatives to aid these schools, Ms. DeVos opposes any federal program that would create a new bureaucracy. That is not enough for Cardinal Dolan, who wants federal money (presumably because he knows that New York is unlikely to divert more taxpayer dollars to private schools).

“Some states will need more prayers and more action than others to bring about needed changes,” Ms. DeVos acknowledged.

As someone who believes that the separation of church and state provides equally needed protection for government from religion and for religion from government, I am grateful that laws speak louder than prayers — and take longer to craft on this earthly plane.

Susan Jacoby is the author of “The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies.”


Why They’re coming.

Who’s Really Crossing the U.S. Border, and Why They’re Coming
By Stephanie Leutert
LAWFARE, Saturday, June 23, 2018,

Central American migrants riding freight trains through Mexico (Flickr/Peter Haden)

The passages that follow are a much edited and much shortened version of Stephanie Leutert’s original article which I encourage you to read. For letting us know what in fact is happening at our southern border crossing her account is terrific . What would it take to get the president to read her text? More than anyone of us has, especially given the fact that the president doesn’t read at all. Why if ever he did begin to read, say “real news,” not the fake news of Fox and Friends, that by itself might begin to change our country, perhaps even begin to return us to the community of liberal democracies that are now being heedlessly and stupidly thrown under the bus by the president’s words and actions. As he so often says, SAD! DEMORALIZING!


Over the past week, the separation of 2,000 children from their parents along the U.S. border has forced immigration into the national spotlight. President Trump, who initiated the separations and then sought to quash criticism with a muddled executive order, has portrayed the policy as a harsh but necessary measure to stop a wave of migrants “bringing death and destruction” into the United States. He claimed that migrants want to “pour in and infest our country,” while linking those crossing the border to the gang MS-13.

But despite what the president says, the situation at the border is much more nuanced. There’s not a flood of people racing to and across the border. Also the migrants for the most part are far from being dangerous criminals. Most are women and children, fleeing the gang violence at home and certainly not trying to bring the gangs with them to our country.

Trump and co. has tried to tie Central American migrants to the gangs, MS-13 and Barrio 18. Our own government data reveals that gang members cross very irregularly and are the rare exceptions. The crossing numbers for gang members are far from being the “infestation” as described by the president.

The Migrants themselves today are not the same as they were some 20 years ago. The face of migration has greatly changed. Back in 2000, Mexican nationals made up 98 percent of the total and Central Americans (referring to Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran migrants) only one percent. Today, Central Americans make up closer to 50 percent. A declining Mexican birth rate, a stable economy, and the U.S. border buildup have all contributed to the decrease in migration from Mexico.

Still there’s no one simple description of a migrant. Across the U.S. political spectrum, politicians and activists present Central American migrants as either dreamers or law-breakers; those fleeing violence or those  using to their own advantage immigration loopholes; the crying toddlers or the MS-13 gangsters. Such divisions as these force migrants into rigid categories, losing the diversity of their reasons stemming from wide-ranging demographics and backgrounds.

To understand Central American migrants means first abandoning the depiction of the “Northern Triangle” of Central America as a homogenous region. All three countries of the triangle, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, have different histories and contemporary political realities, along with varying security and development indicators, all of which bear on today’s situation. What moves each of these immigrant groups to travel to the United States is not the same.

Take the following map,


which illustrates the hometowns of Central American migrant families apprehended at the border (as reported by the U.S. Border Patrol) from 2012-2017. In Honduras, most families report that they are coming from major cities, such as San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa; the situation is similar in El Salvador, with of these migrants hailing from San Salvador and San Miguel. This urbanization matters: these cities have high levels of urban gang violence, committed by MS-13 and Barrio 18. These groups have divided control of the cities up into a patchwork quilt and earn the majority of their money from local-level extortion.

For Central American residents, control of these gangs over their neighborhood likely means a weekly or monthly extortion payment simply for the right to operate a business or live in their territory. The price for failing to provide this money is death. All it takes is a neighbor or nearby shopkeeper to be gunned down for failing to pay the adequate fees, and it becomes clear that the only options are pay or flee. Parents may also send their children to the United States or take them north as the gangs try to recruit them into their activities: Boys of eleven years old (or younger) may be recruited as lookouts and teenage girls may be eyed for becoming the members’ “girlfriends.” Older women who date or at one point dated a gang member can become trapped and unable to escape the violence, with partner-violence a driving migratory factor for many women….

Without an ability to live safely or prosperously in Central America, residents begin looking to head north to the United States. That means coming up with the US$6,000 to $10,000 necessary for hiring a smuggler. To obtain this money, residents may sell their land or property, rely on the generosity of friends or family in the United States, or borrow money from local loan sharks and leave their farms and property as collateral…

The journey across Mexico is not, as Trump commented on Thursday, “like … walking through Central Park.” Migrants are extorted, robbed, assaulted, raped, kidnapped, and murdered at alarmingly high levels and with almost complete impunity. The perpetrators vary by geographic area, including MS-13 and Barrio 18 in the southern part of Mexico; larger criminal groups such as the Zetas and Gulf Cartel in the northern parts of the country such as Tamaulipas; local kidnapping rings and bandits throughout the territory; and even municipal, state, and federal migratory and public security authorities. …Women and children are also at particular risk, with nearly one-third of the women reporting that they were sexually assaulted during their trip through Mexico….

The families that the Trump administration has focused on separating make up an increasingly high proportion of the migrants who reach the U.S. border. Previously, many migrants would seek to reach the United States by hiking through the desert undetected. But in recent years, families have begun crossing the border and waiting for a Border Patrol agent, or showing up at ports of entry, to ask for asylum. Before the Trump administration’s recent immigration crackdown, these families would be then taken to a family detention center, where they would have to pass a “credible fear” interview to be released—that is, prove that they have a real fear of returning to their home countries. At least 77 percent of the families pass this hurdle and are released with an ankle monitor or after paying a bond. They can then begin their cases in immigration courts.

The Trump administration is looking to shake up this system. Under the current policy and the June 20th executive order, the administration is pushing to detain families together for months, if not years, while their cases are processed. …

Finally and despite the administration’s claims to the contrary, the numbers of Central Americans arriving at the border are not near the all-time highs, and there is no infestation or invasion of MS-13.

What the data shows instead is something far less dramatic: men, women, families, and children who are arriving to seek safety and the basic American dream of a better life.


Of Course, It Could Not Happen Here, Roger Cohen, in the NYT


« The Triumph of Death,” circa 1562, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder  .Bridgeman Images

PARIS — The German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel falls, torn apart by demands from her conservative interior minister, Horst Seehofer, that refugees already registered in another European Union state be thrown out of Germany.

The xenophobic Alternative for Germany, or AfD, enters a new nationalist governing coalition. The party’s cry of “take back our country and our Volk!” echoes through Berlin.

Congratulatory calls pour in from the nationalist leaders of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, Austria — and the United States. The American ambassador to Germany tweets his approval.

European Union leaders, buckling before the anti-immigrant tide, opt for the establishment of large detention centers for all migrants. Asylum seekers whose claims are verified will be admitted, while economic migrants merely in search of a better future will be evicted.

Riots erupt in these vast walled compounds. Rapid triage proves impossible. Conditions fester. Matteo Salvini, the rightist Italian interior minister, declares that a disastrous mistake has been made. The detention centers should have been located in North Africa. He defends his orders to the Italian Coast Guard to ignore calls for help from ships filled with migrants who, he says, may prove to be criminals and rapists.

The abduction of a Russian girl by Moroccan migrants at a Spanish beach resort causes an uproar. It turns out to be “fake news,” the work of Russian cyber-geeks deployed for information warfare, but not before rightist leaders across the European Union have denounced the “foreign animals” holding “little Tatiana.” Spain’s fragile government collapses.

Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic and Hungary announce that they are leaving the Schengen area and will reintroduce border and passport controls. The free movement of people, a cornerstone of the European Union, collapses. President Trump congratulates Europe on “coming to its senses at last.” His ambassador to Germany tweets a hymn to “rediscovered, strong nations.”

President Trump, arriving in Brussels for a NATO summit, explodes at the sight of the vast new $1.3 billion NATO headquarters building — “a scandal, a monstrosity, an insult to ordinary Americans.”

He declares that NATO is no longer an alliance; it’s a cost center. The United States is paying too much. Why, he asks, are European armies not being used to round up “the immigrants who infest your countries and destroy your Christian cultures”?

Turning on his former friend President Emmanuel Macron he denounces the French defense of a united Europe as “weak, weak.” Asked about the Trump-Macron relationship, a spokesman for Macron responds, “As we say in France, ‘les grands amours finissent toujours mal’— great loves always end badly.”

The NATO summit proves more fractious than the recent G-7 summit in Canada. Trump rages and sulks. He pouts and pesters. He declares that just as he has stopped joint United States military exercises with South Korea because they are a provocation to “my friend Kim Jong-un,” so he has decided, after consultation with “my friend Vladimir Putin” to withdraw from NATO military exercises in Poland and the Baltics because such exercises are a “provocation to Russia.”

A briefing paper prepared by his national security adviser, John Bolton, is leaked. It defines the president’s strategic objective as “the destruction of the World Trade Organization, NATO and the European Union.” Much progress, it notes, has been made toward all three goals. “The liberal democratic club is crumbling under the weight of its own decadence and political correctness.”

President Putin, citing “crimes” against the Russian minority in Estonia, sends the Russian army into Estonia, a NATO member. He insists that there has been no “invasion” but that ethnic Russians in Estonia have justifiably taken up arms.

Satellite imagery of Russian troops crossing the border is dismissed by Trump as “fake news.” Leading Republicans unanimously support his position.

NATO fails to invoke Article 5, which says an attack against any one NATO member must be considered an attack against them all. Allied governments abandon Estonia to its fate.

NATO disbands. Putin proposes replacing it with the Alliance of Authoritarian and Reactionary States, or AARS. Trump says he finds the idea “interesting.”

Britain leaves the carcass of the European Union. Germany, under its rightist coalition, announces it is giving up the euro and readopting the deutsche mark. The eurozone collapses. The American ambassador to Germany tweets his delight.

The European Union disbands. Its flag is lowered at the French-German border, where work on a high-tech wall flanked by banks of barbed wire has begun. Trump and Marine Le Pen, the French National Front leader, tweet their approval. Germany announces a strategic alliance with Russia. The United States Supreme Court rules, on “national security” grounds, that due process is not required before expelling undocumented immigrants. Mass deportations begin. Trump tweets that due process “is overrated.”

It could not happen. Of course, it could not happen. Only a fool would believe for a moment that it could.

Roger Cohen, NYT, June 29, 2018

More Good News

Bumblebees Thrive in the City but Struggle on the Farm.
by Jo Anna Klein

And us, people, do we struggle in the city and if we  ever do return,  will we thrive on the farm?

Facing two unnatural environments, these important pollinators are finding better niches to exploit in urban areas.

  • A colony of Bombus terrestris bumblebees, which fared better in an experiment when placed in London than in the English countryside. Credit: Ash Samuelson

Cities are filled with buildings, people and concrete — usually not seen as the ideal place for anything wild but great for nightlife.

But then there are the bumblebees of London. They may be faring better than their relatives in the English countryside, suggests a study published Tuesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society.

“We’re not saying from this that urban areas are the solution to bumblebee declines or that urban areas are the ideal habitat,” said Ash Samuelson, a graduate student at Royal Holloway University of London in Britain and lead author of the study. “But given the choice of two unnatural situations, they’re actually able to exploit that city environment, which is very different to what they evolved in.”

Bumblebees are important pollinators for flowers and crops that benefit from their vibrating pollination style. But pesticides, disease and habitat loss are wiping out all types of bees, worldwide. Oddly, as sprawling cities and vast agricultural fields replace forests and meadows, people have noticed more bumblebees buzzing around cities. Dr. Samuelson wanted to know if these bees were simply traveling to cities when agricultural fields ran out of food or if they actually were surviving better there and having more babies.

In the past 80 years, expanding urban areas in England have been found to host more species and lose fewer pollinators than agricultural areas. City parks and gardens provide a variety of flowers and foraging opportunities for bees throughout the season. Most agricultural fields offer bees only one type of flower, for a limited time. Some biologists have suggested that cities may provide refuge for bees.

Ms. Samuelson’s team collected more than a hundred wild, foraging queen bees and took them back to the lab to build colonies. Then they transplanted the colonies to 38 different sites — from London’s city center to surrounding villages, suburbs and farms. Then they monitored how they were doing.

A nest box containing some country bumblebee colonies. By multiple measures they performed more poorly than colonies in urban settings.  Credit Ash Samuelson

But even more remarkable was that suburban colonies were no better off than city colonies:

The bees did really, really well, even in the absolute center of London.”

In bumblebee colonies, sterile female offspring forage, bring in food for the nest, clean and help rear the brood. Once a colony makes enough of these workers, they start making bees capable of reproducing and carrying on the genetic line. Perhaps modern farm life — with fewer floral resources and potentially more pesticides — may be too stressful for the bees, preventing them from growing big colonies and making babies that make babies.

Can You Pick the Bees Out of This Insect Lineup?

How can we save the pollinators if we don’t even recognize them?

Some of the insects pictured below are bees, and some are not. Can you tell which are which? Select each insect you think is a bee.

Here are the two bees of my youth. I used to raise the honey bees for their honey. I would try not to be stung by the bumblebees. Six of the above are bees. And the others?

The survey had more than 1,000 respondents recruited by word of mouth and on social media, and may have been biased toward people with an interest in bees. Perhaps the Velvet Ant (No. 8) fooled you — it threw off about half of respondents, according to the survey, which was published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

For the record, that furry ant isn’t even an ant — it’s a wingless wasp.

Just like the rest of the world, the United States has a bee problem. Bees pollinate our plants, which make the food that humans and nearly everything else relies on for sustenance.

Since 2006, when researchers coined the phrase “colony collapse disorder” to describe the losses to commercial honeybee colonies, scientists, conservation groups, the government and news media have issued warnings of declining bee populations and the necessity of conserving these economically and ecologically significant pollinators.

By now, we understand their importance: 99 percent of respondents in the survey said as much. But, however much we may value bees, we don’t know much about their diversity.

“We realized there was a huge misunderstanding or lack of knowledge about most kinds of bees,” said Joseph S. Wilson, an evolutionary ecologist at Utah State University, Tooele, who helped lead the survey. “Everyone knew that bees were good, but even though they know that they’re good, most people had no idea how many kinds of bees live here.”

Do you? Tell us approximately how many different bee species you think there are in the United States. 100, 850, 4,000, 20,000? Actually About 4,000 bee species live in this country. If you were off, you weren’t alone: Only 14 percent of survey respondents were able to get within 1,000 of this number.


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