Senator Amy Klobuchar on CNN

When I watched Monday night’s CNN town hall in New Hampshire with Senator Amy Klobuchar, I’m reminded of the old saying that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. Trump riffs for an hour or more, saying nothing, and  he wins the undying and uncritical adoration of his base. Klobuchar answered questions for an hour. She spoke with substance, humor, knowledge of the issues, honesty — no to free four year college for everyone — depth and integrity. She’s also quick on her feet, and I could see her on the stage debating Trump, turning back some of his casually nasty remarks without stooping to his gutter level.

Will it be enough, for her or for another Democratic candidate of substance? I hope so.

What To Do About the Children?

The collapse of the ISIS caliphate and the deaths of many of its fighters has left an excruciatingly difficult problem: what to do about the wives, often European or some U.S. citizens, and their children. Now in refugee camps, some of the women want to come home.

Governments in Europe, not to mention the deeply anti-Muslim government we have now with the Trump administration, are understandably wary of women who went voluntarily to join the caliphate, and in some instances worked actively on its behalf. Their children are often young, have lost their fathers, and are deeply bonded with their mothers. Letting the kids come home to be raised by other family members willing to take them risks severing that maternal bond and causing the children harm. So does leaving all of them in refugee camps, some to starve to death or die from illnesses easily treated here. But no one sounds terribly interested in believing the mothers when they say “Oops, I made a mistake.”

I have no idea what is the fair or just or right thing to do here. The ISIS caliphate was a tragedy, one whose effects will clearly reach far into the future as these little ones grow up. And these are just the children whose mothers want to bring them home, not the ones whose mothers are still ardent supporters of the cause.

Next Vatican Scandal: “Children of the Ordained”

For centuries the Catholic Church, its internal workings shrouded in mystery, seemed to control the message and present an exalted, mystical face to believers and non-believers alike. Now, with simple DNA tests that can confirm paternity, social media that can connect people in like-minded situations, and the collapse of tolerance for one scandal after another, the Church is entirely losing control of its own narrative. The mystical and exalted face is looking pretty tawdry.

The latest scandal — the one after a global pedophilia crisis, then the one about priests and bishops raping nuns, then the one about ordained clergy falling off the wagon re celibacy — has to do with what the Vatican labels “children of the ordained.” Stands to reason that if the all-male supposedly celibate clergy is having sex, children are the result. The Vatican has rules for how these children are supposed to be regarded, which apparently do not include compelling their fathers to support them or providing for the children out of Church assets. The document outlining the rules is confidential. The Vatican will confirm that it exists, but not reveal the contents.

With DNA tests, it’s far easier to prove paternity. With social media, it’s easy to discover you’re not the only one and gain solidarity and a stronger voice. And with the collapse of tolerance, offspring of ordained clergy have a compelling public case to get better treatment from the still fabulously wealthy Catholic Church.

There’s no way the current confab of bishops in Rome is going to be able to confine their deliberations to the pedophilia scandal. Too much other bad stuff is hitting the fan.

I’m afraid Pope Francis, whose amiable and personally generous spirit was evident during his recent trip to Panama, is going to be know as the guy in charge when it all fell apart.

Et Tu, McCarrick?

Until recently, 88 year old Theodore McCarrick was a prince of the Roman Catholic Church, an influential and widely known Cardinal who had the ear of the Pope, and who influenced Church policy at the Vatican and before his retirement, in the powerful diocese of Washington D.C.

McCarrick also abused his power by sexually assaulting seminarians and altar boys to whom he had unfettered access. The abuse went on for decades, and was apparently known at highest levels of the Vatican, who continued to promote McCarrick to increasingly more exalted positions.”Uncle Ted”, now an old man, says he doesn’t remember being the quintessential funny uncle at the party that everyone tried to avoid.

Uncle Ted has been defrocked after an investigation, his removal from the priesthood ultimately sanctioned by Pope Francis. Funny Uncle Ted is now simply “Mr. McCarrick”. No more red berettas or pointy cardinal hats for him.

A new book coming out by Frederic Martel called In the Closet of the Vatican claims that 80% of priests who work in the Vatican are gay, although not necessarily sexually active. This volume joins others written over the years on the same topic. Prominent Catholics like the late Cardinal Spellman of New York and theologian Henri Nouwen have long been alleged to be gay. There has been widespread speculation about retired Pope Benedict, who dresses in ruby red slippers and ermine capes and is often seen in the company of his personal secretary Archbishop George “Gorgeous George” Ganswein.

Now things get complicated. Being gay does not equate to being sexually active, and clearly Catholic priests both gay and straight struggle with celibacy and often fall off the wagon. Being sexually active as a priest is arguably not always coercive — arguably, because of the power differential. Being gay or straight and sexually active does not equate to pedophilia, although American Cardinals like Raymond Burke want to cleanse the priesthood of all gay men and therefore “solve” the pedophilia crisis.

Writers who have long studied the issue of gay clergy often suggest that the most vociferous and vindictive Cardinals doth protest too much, and are hiding their sexual orientation themselves. Et tu, Cardinal Burke, he who wears scarlet gloves and jeweled red hats and a 20 foot silk train?

But official Catholic teaching does label homosexuality as “objectively disordered”, so having to live in the closet as a gay priest is a problem of integrity and authenticity. And the pedophilia crisis, along with the now recognized problem of priests and bishops raping and impregnating nuns, roils on. Uncle Ted apparently keeps his pension and his savings, and has the good will of prominent Catholics who are likely to provide him a place to live after he is turfed out of Church supported housing.

At the very least, my take is that the Catholic priesthood attracts seriously sexually immature men who then act out in ways that are deeply damaging to the people who look to them for spiritual guidance, not sex. The inherent power of the priesthood for observant Catholics amplifies the damage, which for many victims is lifelong.

This is a structural problem, solved only by changing the structure of the ordained priesthood. In my view, admitting both married men and ordaining women would go a long way. We’re beyond the point where Church tradition of an all-male clergy can legitimately be sustained.

Our Infrastructure Problem

Nobody would call Panama’s government a sterling example of probity or effectiveness. That said, the government has successfully undertaken the building of a major extension of the new metro system that will span the Bridge of the Americas and greatly alleviate the choking traffic coming and going from Panama City into La Chorrera.

This isn’t a future plan, a wish list item, or a pie-in-the-sky political promise. They are actually building the extension. We saw construction underway on the recent trip from Panama City to the village and back.

Our country, by contrast, can’t seem to get its act together for any meaningful infrastructure projects, although anyone who has to contend with aging public transit, rickety bridges, out-of-date airports, and perilous rail systems would agree that the need is dire.

Here, from Matthew Iglesias, writing for Vox, is an explanation of why infrastructure projects here have such dismal prospects, even though the need is inescapable. This is his conclusion, but the whole article is worth reading.

From high-level choices about which cities to prioritizes to mid-scale decisions about routes to tiny-scale decisions about how to build stations and all the rest, if the country wants a modern transportation system it has to prioritize building useful transportation — rather than its current practice of trying to avoid any tough choices until the point where nothing gets built at all.”

Trump’s Predictable Shtick

Peter Beinart, writing for the Atlantic, has an excellent piece outlining Trump’s entirely predictable shtick whenever things are not going his way:

Trump invents a crisis. Then he actually creates one. Then he folds in the negotiations. Then he declares victory. Then what?

The question is whether, when Trump declares victory, he’s merely pretending to have won, or actually believes it. As bad as it would be for a president to deliberately and repeatedly lie to the public, it might be worse for a president to deliberately and repeatedly lie to himself. If Trump wakes up one morning and realizes that, despite the USMCA, American manufacturers are still relocating to Mexico, he might tear up the agreement and provoke a new trade war. The more Trump is forced to admit that his border wall isn’t actually being built, the more likely he is to declare a national emergency, thus creating a legal and even constitutional crisis.

Preventing the cycle from starting all over again might require allowing Trump to maintain his delusions of grandeur. It’s like dealing with small children: It’s safer to let them think they’ve won than endure the temper tantrum that will ensue if they realize they’ve lost. As dangerous as Trump is when he lies, he might be even more dangerous when forced to temporarily admit the truth.”

This article was posted just before Trump actually declared a national emergency in a power grab to find money for his silly wall to defend against the non-existent crisis on the border. Now we have a constitutional crisis.

You’d think Trump’s core supporters would get tired of the predictable Trump script. But looking at reality TV, which follows the same basic format every week, I guess not. Some people are easily entertained.

The rest of America most decidedly is not.

Update on Seattle Snow

There’s a real dichotomy here, with downtown Seattle pretty much back to normal — streets and sidewalks clear, grass visible — and the hillier neighborhoods like mine and Capitol Hill, which are still a mess.

The pic below is of my friend Louise’s cabin, near Alpental — ski country — about an hour into the Cascade Mountains from downtown Seattle. Area ski lovers are in heaven, with feet and feet of new powder. Lots to shovel, though, to get into your cabin.

All of that said, we’re returning to normal. Busses are running again; I rode one downtown on Wednesday to get my hair cut and colored — no more white roots. Late Wednesday afternoon my held mail was finally delivered — although I have a couple of Amazon packages still on weather delay because of lingering weather conditions. On Thursday Seattle Schools reopened, although on a two hour delay. Louise and I met for breakfast at our favorite neighborhood spot. I drove to Belltown and parked instead of walking as I usually would. Queen Anne hill is open, but there are still icy patches on the steep sidewalks.

I still have too much snow in my front and back yards for the mapaches to have returned to dig up my sod.

I’ve adjusted back to Pacific Northwest time zone but not to the chillier temps — although we’re in the high 30’s, which is hardly that cold. Panama was 90 degrees, and only a tad cooler at night. That’s a big temperature swing. I had to put a sweatshirt on in the house, even though my heat is set to its normal 68 degrees and I’m usually quite comfortable with that.

I’ve started to sort out my tax information, and I activated the new credit card that arrived while I was gone. I’ve handed out the small gifts I brought back, all but two.

Largely back in my routine, I’d say. 🙂

The Mueller Report

What concerns me about the Mueller report, if and when we finally see it, is that everything likely to be documented in the report is already visible to us. Trump’s mendacity, his self dealing, his fascination with autocrats and his need to curry their favor, his willing to skate over the legal and ethical line, his essentially cruelty and disdain for people who are vulnerable or can be made vulnerable to his vicious caricatures, his shady business practices — what is there that we don’t know and haven’t already seen? And yet Trump’s hold on the Republican Party, and on Republicans in Congress, remains near-absolute. Even if Mueller documents collusion with Russia, or conspiracy to steal the election, a bit over 30% of voters — his core Republican base — say they have no objection to the intervention of a hostile foreign power in our democratic elections.

That’s shocking, and pretty horrifying. Call Trump’s base “low information voters”, or people easily swayed by reality TV and Fox and Friends — call them what you will. But they are far too many to be disregarded. Indeed, Mitch McConnell values his hold on power more than anything, apparently, and he will not cross the base — even to defend the Constitution.

What a sorry state of a affairs.

Is Biden Running?

CNN and MSNBC seem to think Biden is edging closer to an announcement that he is in the race. I hope not. The Democrats are no longer the party of out of touch old white men. Biden is gaffe-prone, and he has far too much baggage. I hope, if he enters the primary, that someone puts up on a continuous loop the tape of him throwing Anita Hill under the bus in the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings. I’d contribute to that ad in  a heartbeat, with the hope of forcing Biden into an early exit from the race.

Clarence Thomas, on the Supreme Court all these years, has been the conservative gift that has kept on giving, and in the worst possible way. Biden can’t get a pass on the basis that the hearings were a long time ago. Anita Hill has had to live all these years with the damage to her reputation. We’ve had to live all these years with Clarence Thomas.

No, Joe. Say it ain’t so, the rumors that you are running.