Monday, December 18, 2017

Dimwitted Trump Nominee Withdraws Nomination After Being Shamed By His Own Idiocy

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Dimwitted Trump Nominee Withdraws Nomination After Being Shamed By His Own Idiocy

"The Final Version of the G.O.P. Tax Bill Is a Corrupt, Cruel, Budget-Busting Hairball" New Yorker

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The Final Version of the G.O.P. Tax Bill Is a Corrupt, Cruel, Budget-Busting Hairball
The New Yorker

"The Final Version of the G.O.P. Tax Bill Is a Corrupt, Cruel, Budget-Busting Hairball" 

Grant the Republican Party leaders one thing: their tactics in passing their hugely unpopular tax bill have been consistent—consistently evasive. A few weeks ago, the Senate version of the bill was passed in the middle of the night. This weekend, the final iteration of the legislation was made public on Friday evening—a traditional dumping ground for bad news. The Republicans intend to hold votes on the bill early next week in both houses of Congress, and it seems certain to pass.

It is hardly surprising that Republicans don’t want to give anyone too much time to look closely at their latest handiwork. The final tax bill is the product of a conference committee that was tasked with reconciling the different bills passed in the House and the Senate. Almost eleven hundred pages long, the final bill is just as regressive and fiscally irresponsible as either of the two earlier bills, and it is arguably more so. At its center is a huge tax cut for corporations and unincorporated business partnerships—such as the ones that Donald Trump owns—while arrayed around the edges are all sorts of carve-outs and giveaways to favored industries and interest groups.

For individual households, the bill contains some tax cuts and expanded family credits. But these provisions are temporary, and they are also partially offset by changes to the rules about deductions. Because the deduction for state and local taxes will be limited to ten thousand dollars a year, for instance, some upper-middle-class households in states like California and New York could end up paying more to the federal government.

Nowhere to be found in the bill are three elements that House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and their colleagues originally promised to deliver when they urged the American public to embrace tax reform: revenue neutrality, simplicity, and fairness. The final bill is a corrupt, budget-busting hairball.
According to its authors, the bill will increase the budget deficit by about $1.5 trillion over ten years. That’s a lot of money, obviously, but it’s an underestimate. If you adjust the numbers for a series of accounting gimmicks, such as expiration provisions that are unlikely to go into effect, the real cost seems likely to come out at more than two trillion dollars.

To insure that the final bill would have enough votes in both chambers, the conference committee larded the bill with various additional handouts. They reduced the top rate of income tax to thirty-seven per cent, compared to 38.5 per cent in the Senate bill. 
(Currently, the effective top rate is close to forty-one per cent.) And they did a big favor to large businesses by getting rid of the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax, which many of them could have ended up paying because their tax rates under the new system will be so low.

The principle of simplifying the tax code met the same fate as the principle of fiscal responsibility: it was jettisoned. Originally, the White House proposed reducing the number of tax brackets from seven to three. The final bill contains seven brackets: ten per cent, twelve per cent, twenty-two per cent, twenty-four per cent, thirty-two per cent, thirty-five per cent, and thirty-seven per cent. On the business side, the revised treatment of pass-through income is so complicated that most tax experts don’t yet fully understand it. One thing we doknow is that it will create big incentives for highly paid employees to turn themselves into independent contractors or L.L.C.s, which qualify for the new low business tax rates.

As for fairness, that principle was junked a long time ago. The final bill reflects the same principle as the previous two G.O.P. bills: Dom Perignon for the plutocrats, cheap swill for the masses. The bill is also cruel. In abolishing the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to purchase health insurance, it will make individual plans even more costly and more difficult to obtain, especially for sick people. This isn’t just a tax bill. It is a backdoor effort to overturn the principle of universal access to health care.

As reporters went through the bill on Friday evening, they discovered various quirks, giveaways, and clawbacks, which appeared to reflect last-minute lobbying and rushed rewriting. Businesses owned by trusts were given a break, and so were architectural and engineering firms. On the personal side, the bill was found to contain a substantial marriage penalty: the maximum deduction of ten thousand dollars for state and local taxes is the same for individual filers and couples. That’s bad news for people who are wed—though the blow will be cushioned for those married couples who own sports franchises. 

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday night that the bill “preserves the ability to use tax-exempt bonds for professional sports stadium bonds—a priority for Mr. Trump, a GOP aide said.”
Another provision, which wasn’t in the House or Senate bills, allows real-estate developers who own buildings through L.L.C.s, as Trump does, to deduct twenty per cent of the income that these properties generate. To qualify for the break, the properties have to be newish ones that haven’t been fully depreciated. “This helps people who have held property for a while, like Donald Trump,” David Kamin, a law professor at New York University, told David Sirota and Josh Keefe, of the International Business Times.

Another beneficiary of this provision may well be Senator Bob Corker, of Tennessee, who is also a real-estate investor. Corker had been the only Republican to vote against the Senate version of the tax bill, but on Friday he announced that he’d changed his mind, and that “after great thought and consideration, I believe this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss.” Corker didn’t mention his personal interests, but Sirota and Keefe did. “Federal records reviewed by IBT show that Corker has millions of dollars of ownership stakes in real-estate-related LLCs that could also benefit” from the final bill, they reported.

Magic Mushrooms

"Universal Resurrection," Franciscan Father Richard Rohr

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Alan: As a child in the 1950s, the Mercy Sisters at St. Thomas the Apostle grammar school in Irondequoit, New York were clear: "The church does not teach that any human soul resides in Hell. In fact, we must pray for the salvation of everyone, even Hitler." 

Universal Resurrection
Monday, December 18, 2017

For Christians, Jesus Christ is the ultimate symbol of the universal pattern of union with the divine“When Christ is revealed, and he is your life, you will be revealed in all your glory with him” (Colossians 3:4). God’s clear goal and direction for humanity is mutual indwelling, where “the mystery is Christ within you, your hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Henceforth we know our true and lasting life in the new “force field” that Paul calls the Body of Christ, not in any individual or private perfection. If it is private, then it is not perfection. We live no longer, but Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20). This is a knowing so grand that only the Whole Body can fully experience it. We simply participate.
After his resurrection, Jesus tells the disciples, “I am not a ghost! I have flesh and bones, as you can see” (Luke 24:39). To Thomas, Jesus says, “Put your finger in my wounds!” (John 20:27). In other words, “I am human!”—which means to be wounded and yet resurrected at the same time. Jesus returns to his physical body unlimited by space or time, without any regret or recrimination. This is the utterly counterintuitive message of the Risen Jesus.
Jesus reveals the purpose and fullness of humanity, which is “that we are able to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), even in this wounded and wounding world. Through our “divine adoption,” we share in Jesus’ inheritance as “heirs of the same promise” (Galatians 3:29). Our code word for that is heaven. As Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions, and I have gone ahead to prepare a place for you. . . . I shall return to take you with me so that you may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
I do believe in the “bodily” resurrection of Jesus or my basic premise of body and spirit being one (incarnation) does not stand! I am quite traditional and orthodox here. Resurrection does not only mean an eternal reward in the future. “As now, so later!” Resurrection is the Incarnation taken to its full and logical conclusion. What we choose now, we will indeed be. It is our own decision (which is why almost all the world religions posit some idea called “hell”). We must protect the idea of human freedom, because love can only exist in the realm of freedom. God wants love partners, not robots or clients.
Alan: Human freedom is a useful (and perhaps "necessary") fiction. 

But it is also a "conditioned reality." 
Perhaps the most surprising outcome of Trump's election is proof that people -- particularly "good Christians" -- can be conditioned to believe anything, and with each step deeper into perdition these "good people" are not motivated by a conscious choice to embrace evil but a conviction -- often a conviction arising from their fundamental religious beliefs -- that Trump is, in fact, their personal savior and the savior of the nation. 

We are all stuck where we are stuck. 

And "coming unstuck" is a slow, tedious, painful process. 
"Free Will" is nowhere near as free as orthodox Christian theology holds. 
The nearly universal obsessions-and-compulsions that compromise "Free Will" are real and they afflict us all.

They even afflict -- I will say "particularly afflict" -- "the most orthodox," people who are obsessively compelled to defend "Free Will" and other canonized orthodoxies that do not "hold up" without psycho-spiritual contortionism and intellectual arabesques that put Harrison Bergeron to shame. 

I encourage you to observe the following set of mental calesthenics required by Pope Innocent III's conciliar pronouncement anathematizing the use of bows and arrows. 

More fundamentally, if "good Christians" can rationalize the election of Donald Trump, they (we?) can rationalize any god-damned thing.

For brevity's sake, I will not probe individual human beings' "genetic pre-predisposition to evil" as manifest in psychopaths time-out-of-mind, a fact that is coming-to-light only now as a result of modern psychological research which is one reason why many "orthodox" Christians spurn science. 

The strange case of Phineas Gage is also telling. 

Shades Of Phineas Gage: Brazilian Worker Survives Iron Bar Piercing Skull

The "absolutism" of "the orthodox" cannot admit the contradiction of traditional beliefs. For if they did, their "existential crisis" as "true believers" would not only require surrender of literal/absulutist "truth" but would eliminate the comfort absolutism affords. 

Here is the bargain Christian traditionalists make: "If I play by the rules, if I sign off on the WHOLE dogmatic package, my "personal salvation" is assured. 

For most people -- particularly those who believe that eternal torment is a real possibiity -- self-interested "salvation assurance" is Life's prime directive. It is not love. Not service. Not mercy, compassion or forgiveness. Not even the words Jesus speaks in the four canonical gospels.

What matters most is that "I" can rest assured that I've been spared "The Lake of Unquenchable Fire.

This central fixation on one's own salvation is an extremely subtle form of egotism. Such ferocious self-interest trumps Truth by clinging to tradition, not only for tradition's sake but because tradition provides the continuity-of-teaching that "proves them right" and thus insures their personal salvation.

Jesus Rails Against Human Traditions Of "Our Great Leaders Who Lived Long Ago" 

Pope Francis: There Are Two Ways Of Having Faith: We Can Fear To Lose The Saved," Or...

In defense of Free Will -- conditioned as it is -- recall Robert Browning's act of faith in core fiction: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for?" 

Faith is essential to human wellbeing, even when it requires belief in falsehood. 
I hasten to add that if "essential falsehood" does not work toward "universal salvation," the result of radically self-interested fiction tends toward cruelty-in-individuals and submission-to-autocrats in The Body Politic

"The Hard, Central Truth Of Contemporary Conservatism"

Often, Stinginess And Cruelty Are Christianity's Paradoxical Effects

Finally, it is crucial to be conscious of our necessary fictions while embracing them as mythic means to real ends. 
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Heaven is first of all now and therefore surely later. If God loves and accepts us now in our broken state, why would the divine policy change after our death? It is the same God and we are the same humans. For many of the early Eastern Fathers of the Church and for the mystics, salvation was not a question of if but when. How soon are you ready to allow God to show infinite love to you? Many do seem to wait until the very end. Some of the Church Fathers said that once we see the Infinite Mercy, we wouldn’t be able to resist it. (That is what Catholics actually meant by our strangely formulated belief in purgatory.)
Universal restoration or apokatastasis (see Acts 3:21) was recognized by many in the Eastern Church, but Western Christianity, both Roman and Protestant, paid little attention. We interpreted the New Testament largely in terms of individual and private salvation, which is hardly salvation. Only a very, very few win by our stingy criteria. We still wait for “the new heaven and the new earth” promised by Isaiah (65:17) and again at the very end of the Bible (Revelation 21:1).

"Christian Conservatism: "The Saved," "The Damned," "The Rich," "The Poor"


Gateway to Silence:
Going home to Love


Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 85-86; and
Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2007), 212.

Everyone Has Figured Out How Susceptible Trump Is To Flattery, Except Trump

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Everyone Has Figured Out How Susceptible Trump Is To Flattery, Except Trump

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"The Ten Best Ads Of 2017." (Don't Miss "The Talk.")

Great Graphic: The World's 8 Richest People Own As Much As Humanity's Lowest Half

Visualizing A Disturbing Truth: The World's 8 Richest People Own As Much As The World's Underbelly 3.6 Billion People

"Plutocracy Triumphant"
Cartoon Compendium

Compendium Of Best Pax Posts: Plutocracy, Economic Inequality & Collapse Of Conservatism

"Politics And Economics: The 101 Courses You Wish You Had"

Pope Francis: Quotations On Finance, Economics, Capitalism And Inequality

Teddy Roosevelt: "Malefactors Of Great Wealth... Are Curses To The Country"

Why Are Americans So Poorly Paid. This One Chart Will Even Shame The 1%

Inequality: Joseph Stiglitz Brilliant Reflection On Obama's State Of The Union Address

"Of The 1%, By The 1%, For The 1%,"
Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz

It's Not About Income. "It's About Net Worth, Stupid!"

American Plutocracy: Who's Punished And Who's Not

G.K. Chesterton: "The Anarchy of The Rich"
G.K. Chesterton and Warren Buffett's Class War

Margaret Mead: A Human Need

Is The United States #1? And If So, In What?

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UN Special Envoy Chastises Trump's America For "Inequality And Extreme Poverty"

The United States Is Number 1.
But In What?

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Watch An Ocean Of Dreamy Clouds Roll Through The Grand Canyon

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"Ursula Le Guin's Voice Rings Out In New Non-Fiction Collection," NPR

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Ursula Le Guin's Voice Rings Out In New Non-Fiction Collection

"Killing For Love," A Haunting Double Murder Case

   Image result for Jens Soering and the other an aspiring bohemian named Elizabeth Haysom
The Double Murder Case That Still Haunts Me

The New Yorker

Little I have written for the magazine over the past few years has subsequently haunted me as much as a story I published, in 2015, about a thirty-year-old double murder—although, to be honest, I found it pretty haunting from the start. In the summer of 1985, two sophomores on merit scholarships at the University of Virginia—one a punctilious young German named Jens Soering and the other an aspiring bohemian named Elizabeth Haysom—left the campus and, by plane, automobile, and bus, travelled the globe. They were in love, but it wasn’t a vacation.

That spring, Haysom’s parents had been grotesquely stabbed and slashed to death at their home in the woods around Lynchburg, Virginia. The two lovers’ flight had come amid efforts by investigators to question and fingerprint Soering. The following spring, they were apprehended in London while running an elaborate check-fraud scheme. In British custody, Soering confessed to the murders. By the time that he and Haysom were returned to the United States, though, their relationship was over, and his story changed. Haysom was sentenced as an accessory before the fact, and, in June, 1990, Soering—having recanted his confession, saying that Haysom was the true killer and that he had been trying to protect her—was found guilty of the murders. Both are still in prison. A German-American documentary look at the case, “Killing for Love,” comes to New York and Los Angeles today, and will screen in other cities and towns over the next weeks.

What haunted me about the Haysom case at first was the same thing that haunted me through months of reporting. To a degree unusual in the case of a criminal conviction, every surface seemed iridescent, subject to at least two possible readings. All the people I encountered agreed that the young Soering was brilliant. But was he, as he later claimed, brilliant in the callow way of youth: cocky, borne by romantic notions, and self-sabotaging—a rising fachidiotlost in a world of wiles? Or was he, as certain data points could also suggest, brilliant in a more sophisticated way: detached, calculating, and manipulative?

Was Haysom, as she claimed, a scattered, messed-up, dreamy young woman? Or was she scattered like a fox, tossing up dust and loose ends in a consistent, even shrewd, effort to assume blame as an accessory instead of as a murderer? Both Haysom and Soering were writers in college, and both have become successful authors who have published from prison. That haunted me, too—partly because there’s an inherent slipperiness involved in interviewing people who know how stories are composed, and partly because the coverup itself seemed to have literary attributes. As I put it in the magazine piece: “At least one of the people implicated has been hiding the truth with a writer’s mind.”

The Haysom case has never left public awareness, largely due to Soering’s efforts to declare his innocence and work toward release. (He is serving a double life sentence.) But attention has been somewhat heightened this fall, for reasons due to a small convergence. Earlier this year, Soering’s primary publisher, Lantern Books, brought out Soering’s sixth book in English, “A Far, Far Better Thing,” with a brief foreword by Martin Sheen. (Sheen came into contact with Soering’s writing on Catholic theology and the iniquities of the prison system.) Its main text is a hybrid of an account that Soering first published, in German, in 2012, and a multi-chapter addendum that Bill Sizemore, a former Virginian-Pilot reporter, added as a more recent exploration of evidence and arguments. Sizemore’s tour of the case shadows Soering’s own and, both men believe, points to a wrongful conviction. “From the moment I met Soering in 2006,” Sizemore writes, “my brain rebelled at the notion that he was a monstrous killer.”

In my magazine story, I quoted Karin Steinberger, a Süddeutsche Zeitung journalist, and Marcus Vetter, a filmmaker, who were then collaborating on the documentary “Killing for Love.” It’s a marvellous narration of the case, combining current-day interviews with some footage, photos, and documents from the eighties and from Soering’s 1990 trial. Smartly structured and crisply paced, it manages to elaborate on many of the case’s peculiarities while following some of the twists and new investigative paths that thirty years of scrutiny have brought. The documentary, called “The Promise” during a festival run, is a plea, but not a polemic, for reassessment of Soering’s incarceration.

It is also a narrative with a different outline from my New Yorker piece, in part because the filmmakers did not get Elizabeth Haysom to speak on camera from prison. (Not for want of trying: there were, among other things, logistical complications.) The launch point and landing platform for their story, as with most stories today, is thus Soering; the solar system through which they guide viewers is his. After Haysom and some people from her orbit decided to speak to me, I found myself with a different reportorial mandate. The effort to bring the two systems together for the first time since the trials—to cross-check accounts and see where they deviated and converged—was a strange and turbulent undertaking. Soering and Haysom disagreed, with confidence and conviction, about even small, essentially random details that had no bearing on the murders. Each accused the other, not always without reason, of trying to commandeer and guide the public’s approach to the case. In time, I came to think this narrative enmity was as much a part of the story as the larger question of who had taken the victims’ lives. As a late arrival to their shared history—and, more still, as a writer—that haunted me, too.

Certain things, however, were clear. As I put it in the piece at the time, “The crimes of which Haysom and Soering were convicted, it has become increasingly probable, weren’t the murders that occurred.” The convicting theory of the case didn’t account for the evidence, and an additional trickle of detail since then has carried it further afield. Last year, Soering’s lawyer commissioned a closer look at DNA tests conducted in 2009. (DNA testing was not widely available in 1985, when the murder was committed.) Much of the prosecution’s physical case had rested on some spots of Type O blood found at the scene of the crime, because Soering had O blood as well. But three DNA experts taken on by Soering’s team used two samples cited in the DNA report to determine that the O-blood sample was male and yet a non-match for Soering’s DNA.

Soering and his team have taken this as unambiguously exculpatory information. “The profiles were sufficient to eliminate Jens,” his lawyer, Steven D. Rosenfield, says; they believe that, in the absence of the O-blood connection, there is no physical case against Soering. In addition to a pending parole application—Soering’s thirteenth—they have appealed to Virginia’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, for a pardon. A so-called absolute pardon would rest on the idea of innocence; a conditional pardon could rise from the idea that there would have been no conviction from the evidence as it currently stands. The pardon application has been pending for more than a year, awaiting investigation, but it is not the first effort to get Soering out of U.S. prison. Most recently, a years-long repatriation effort sought to reintegrate him into German society, via its prison system. (That effort made sense to me then, for reasons I’ve elaborated.)

This year, to help the pardon petition, Rosenfield has been enlisting law-enforcement voices for support. During my magazine reporting, when I spoke with Chuck Reid, a detective who began (but did not finish) work on the Haysom case, he expressed ambivalence about the convictions. This autumn, he wrote to the governor from a stronger position, saying that he believed Soering to be innocent. Earlier in the year, a Virginia county sheriff, Chip Harding, had also delivered an analysis with the same conclusion. (It should be noted that both men became involved through the initiative and the coöperation of Soering’s associates, who maintain an impressive catalogue of documents and living sources and helpfully mete them out to anyone on the scent. Soering, who likes to anticipate everything, tended to grow distraught when my reporting carried me into less known territory. Both of the letters by Reid and Rosenfeld draw on Soering’s approved library of information, and hew to its broad contours.) From Harding’s reading of the data, especially an unattributed spot of Type AB blood indicated as male, he offered his own theory: that two unknown men were present at the time of the murders, along with Haysom. “In my opinion, Jens Soering would not be convicted if the case were tried today,” Harding wrote.

The two-man-one-woman theory certainly fits the evidence better than the convicting narrative. But there are nagging puzzles that it does not resolve—a feature common to all theories of this haunting case—and others that it raises. (It requires one to accept that not one but three crazed murderers, two unidentified and at large, have kept their secret intact, none flinching or betraying the others, for three decades, on a heavily publicized case.) But Harding’s conclusion that Soering would not have been convicted given current evidence is significant, regardless of the question of innocence. It makes a pardon investigation seem a reasonable step. This week, Rosenfield told me, “We are optimistic.”

It is less clear when such optimism might hope to be rewarded. McAuliffe, in a gubernatorial exit interview this week, which explored his Presidential prospects (“I never take anything off the table”), noted that he was punting the Soering-pardon matter to his successor, Governor-elect Ralph Northam, who takes office on January 13th. Yesterday morning, Soering phoned me, from prison, full of resentment for the news.

“I’m devastated. I’m depressed and disappointment and angry,” he said. The petition was submitted in August, 2016, he went on, and he didn’t understand why the review was taking so long. “I’d really hoped that I would make it home for Christmas in Germany this year,” he said. He pointed to a recent decisionby the governor of California, Jerry Brown, to pardon a man named Craig Richard Coley, who had been convicted of a double murder, in 1978. “The only difference I can tell between the two cases,” Soering said, his voice now carrying the hint of a beefy Virginia twang, “is that Governor Brown is not running for President.” Governor-elect Northam, he said, was “a good man,” but it would be months before he had time to take up the issue. “Of course, people can say, what does it matter? I’ve already spent”—he paused—“thirty-one years, seven months, and fourteen days in prison. It matters to me. It matters to the people who care about me. It should matter to the justice system of Virginia.”

Soering is fifty-one now. He has not lived in the world since his teens. He told me that the rhythm of his time is much as it was when I reported my magazine piece, in 2015. “I really enjoy working out and running, so I start my day with that, and then most of the day I’m working on the case.” Due to his circumstances, even that straightforward work had extra challenges. “It’s often hard to get on the phone,” he said. “There are six phones and sixty-four guys, sixty-four guys and one e-mail kiosk. Getting on the e-mail kiosk is, like, an issue.”

I asked him about his reaction to the Steinberger and Vetter documentary. He saw it once, a year and a half ago, and said that what he’d noticed most was himself. “I guess my overwhelming reaction was just embarrassment—for what an idiot I was back then,” Soering told me.

  • Nathan Heller began contributing to The New Yorker in 2011, and joined the magazine as a staff writer in 2013.
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The Double Murder Case That Still Haunts Me