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Another one bites the dust

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This time, it’s Cory Booker. He just announced, via Twitter, that he’s dropping out of the race.

“It’s with a full heart that I share this news—I’m suspending my campaign for president. To my team, supporters, and everyone who gave me a shot—thank you. I am so proud of what we built, and I feel nothing but faith in what we can accomplish together.”

Short and sweet. The Senator joins the other Democratic candidates who have left the race—Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Kirsten Gillibrand, Eric Swalwell and the others.

Those who will debate tomorrow night are a dwindling bunch: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Steyer and Amy Klobuchar.

It’s still a tight race (and we can’t count out Michael Bloomberg, who’s ineligible to debate because he’s self-funding his campaign). Biden is still the favorite, nationally, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Percentage-wise, the odds in favor of winning the nomination are:

Biden: 37%

Sanders: 23%

No one: 14%

Warren: 13%

Buttigieg: 10%

All others: 2%

To me, this indicates that most Democratic voters haven’t made up their minds. Overwhelmingly, sentiment among Democrats and many independents is that Trump absolutely must go. Nothing else matters. They don’t care which Democrat is elected, as long as he or she is able to beat the worst president in history and restore normalcy to American politics and culture.

That’s certainly the way I feel. I have a soft spot for Mayor Pete, and I’m amazed that a gay man has come this far; but I wonder if enough Americans can put aside their discomfort with a gay man and vote for him. I also have some trepidation about Sanders and Warren; both may be too far to the left to win the actual election. That leaves Klobuchar, whom I’m increasingly liking. She’s a moderate progressive, has the best smile of all the candidates (no small thing when so much of the race is run on television), and is a woman. It also leaves Bloomberg. I saw one analysis that said Bloomberg, of all the candidates, is best poised to win Florida, because he’s an elderly New York Jew and Florida is filled with elderly New York Jews (of whom I’m one, too).

After the disastrous embarrassment of the 2000 election in Florida (remember “hanging chads”?), Florida has emerged as possibly the most important swing state. I know that people talk a lot about Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin as the swing states, where fewer than 78,000 voters gave the 2016 election to Trump.

But look at the electoral votes of all the states. Let’s assume the Democrats hold all the states they won in 2016. Now, suppose Trump wins Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10), as he did in 2016, for a total of 46, and the Democrat wins Florida (29). The Democrat then would have to compensate for losing the three Midwest states by winning a state Trump won in 2016 that has at least 17 electoral votes; or the Democrat would have to win at least two Trump states with a combined total of at least 17 electoral votes. What state/s could qualify? Let’s look at a couple possibilities. (Keep in mind that Bloomberg is not included in most recent polls due to his non-debate status.)

North Carolina (15 electoral votes). Trump won in 2016. But Sanders and Biden are currently ahead of him in the polls, according to FiveThirtyEight. So North Carolina, which is trending blue, could be a significant Democratic win.

Ohio (18 electoral votes). Trump won in 2016. Polling results there have been mixed, but in FiveThirtyEight’s latest roundup, four polls show Democrats beating him this year, while only two show Trump beating the Democrat (four others are even). So Ohio could be a big pickup for Democrats.

Texas (38 electoral votes). One of the big enchiladas. The Lone Star State went for Trump in 2016, of course, but guess what? FiveThirtyEight has Biden trailing him by a single point (48%-47%). But RealClearPolitics has Biden beating Trump in two of four Texas polls.

Now, remember I said “suppose Trump wins Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10), as he did in 2016, for a total of 46.” But is this a valid assumption? No. Currently (as of Jan. 8), every Democratic candidate is beating Trump in Michigan!

So what’s the bottom line?

It’s going to be a fight, but North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Michigan—states Trump won in 2016–are all distinctly winnable by the Democratic candidate! I doubt that Texas will make the switch in 2020. But between the other three, there’s a total of 49 electoral votes. That’s easily enough, with Florida, to hand the election to the Democrat.

So I’m hopeful. This is the Democrats’ race to lose. Given their history of circular firing squads (cf. 2016), it might be too much to expect them to maintain solidarity. But I’m feeling good right now.


Why evangelicals pray for World War III

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I wrote last week about the paradox in Genesis and also about the Bible’s strangest book, Ecclesiastes. I ended that post by telling you I would be writing about why evangelicals are rooting for a world war that will kill millions, which they believe will bring about the return of Jesus Christ.

This, too, is a paradox: why is the thing evangelicals want most—the second coming–contingent upon the most destructive, horrible event in history?

To get to the bottom of this conundrum, we have to start with a first principle of evangelicalism: the inerrancy of the Bible. According to this view, every word in the Bible must be literally true, since the Book of Books was written, not by man, but by God. And God, being perfect, does not lie. Hence, the words of God as portrayed in the Bible are true.

Needing to bolster their case, fundamentalists search for clues in the Old Testament that purport to predict several things: (1) the first coming of Jesus Christ, (2) his death and resurrection, and (3) his return, which, they believe, will usher in a period of global turmoil, culminating in their (evangelicals’) being called to heaven, while rest of us go to you-know-where.

And true to Matthew 7, “he that seeketh, findeth,” it’s not hard to find anything you want in the Old Testament, the Alice’s Restaurant of holy texts. Evangelicals point to Psalms (which predict the destruction of Israel’s enemies), to Isaiah (“For unto us a child is born”), to Ezekiel (who foresaw the return of the Israelites to the Holy Land). But it is in The Book of Daniel, especially, that evangelicals (and some extremist Jews) find clues to the End of Days.

Daniel 7:13-14, for instance, is seen as directly anticipating Jesus’s arrival on Earth (“I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man came…and there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people…should serve him.” Daniel speaks also of a time of tribulation and destruction: in 12:1-3, for instance, “and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation…and many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

The Jewish people could not have cared less about Daniel’s hallucinogenic fantasies, but once the Christian church decided to adapt the Old Testament to their needs, Daniel came in handy. The Son of Man? Who else but Jesus! A time of trouble? Of course, the End of Days! Some dead souls to awaken, some to be eternally punished? Yes, Christians to heaven, everyone else to hell!

But it took the addition of another Book to the Canon to really cinch the case for The Rapture. The Book of Revelations, which is part of the New Testament, was written shortly after the death of Jesus and the Jews’ last war against Rome which resulted in destruction of the Second Temple, around 68 CE. Revelations is a thrilling book, filled with monsters and demons, catastrophic events and nightmarish symbols. It emphasizes the tribulations and destruction of the End Times, the return of Jesus, the Last Judgment. This has all been popularized as “The Rapture,” a term that does not occur in the Bible. Borrowing from St. Paul, it describes how Jesus’s followers will be snatched away from Earth, taken into the air and sent directly to God.

But before the Rapture and Second Coming can occur, certain conditions are required. First, Jerusalem must be restored as the capitol of the Jewish people—which is something Trump formally did last year, when he moved the U.S. Embassy there. (Fox News’ resident theologian, Jeanine Pirro, tweeted that Trump had “fulfilled Biblical prophecy” by that move.)

The other pre-conditions for Rapture are described in a manifesto published by Capitol Ministries, a far-right Christian group, organized in 1996 to conjoin Republican politics with evangelical theology (and which launched, in 2017, a special Ministry to Trump’s Cabinet, where it enjoys the undiluted support of such officers as Dr. Ben Carson). This manifesto, entitled “The Bible On When War is Justifiable” (let that sink in!) states that God’s use of Earthly war “is not difficult to understand” since it hastens Jesus’s return, according to prophecy. The sole role of government is to assist in Jesus’s return; government therefore has a duty to wage war if war will hasten the Second Coming; and anyone who resists a government-waged war (for instance, pacifists) “will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

The details are too numerous for me to go into in detail, but I will summarize. Suffice it to say that evangelicals, like the ones at Capitol Ministries, believe the final war is imminent…that Donald J. Trump was selected by God to wage it…that while the fighting will be hard, in the end America (that is, God) will triumph…that in the coming war, any and all weapons are justified, including nuclear weapons…and that when the war is finally won (which means the complete vanquishing of America’s enemies, who include Islam and “embedded enemies,” or Democrats and liberals), then the stage will have been set for the Rapture, Second Coming, and lifting to heaven of all good Christians.

If you, dear reader, are sane—which I’m sure you are–you know that the above script sounds like a Hollywood religious thriller like the Da Vinci Code, or the ranting of an inmate in a lunatic asylum. But remember this: the biggest, most dependable part of Trump’s base are evangelicals, followed by conservative Catholics. They constitute the majority of his Cabinet, his judicial appointees and his advisors. To be sure, many of these people are delusional, which is a hallmark of schizophrenia. But there they are, and right now, they’re running the country. And what they want—what they’ve been waiting for all their lives, and now feel is within their grasp—is for Jesus Christ to return to Earth, and thence to bring them up to heaven. This is why they’re itching for war with Iran—which would spread to a larger conflagration across the Middle East, bringing in Russia, possibly China, and NATO.

War! Catastrophe! Bloodshed on an impossible scale!

Let’s not fool ourselves: this is the earnest desire of Pence, of Pompeo, of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. and all the death-desiring Christians who worship Trump. They want the world to end—so that they can have eternal life in the bosom of their Christ. That, my friends, is the Republican platform, no matter how much they otherwise lie.


Paradox is built into the Bible’s first words

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“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”

That is the first sentence in the Bible (King James version). It sounds straightforward, but in those ten words are contained the seeds of every philosophical conundrum, every cosmological question, known to humans.

Consider: If there was a “beginning,” then what preceded the beginning? We do not know, and the Bible does not tell us. Nor does it tell us why God decided to create anything in the first place. Was he bored?

Who is the “God” who created the heaven and the earth? Who created God? Who created God’s creator? This infinite regression has been the bane of philosophers forever; they’ve been—and remain—unable to resolve it.

What is “the heaven” which God created? It could not have been the sky, which God did not create until the third day. Nor could “heaven” have been the stars, Moon and Sun, since those were not created until the fourth day. Ancient peoples in the Middle East seem to have thought of “heaven” as the roof of the world, the firmament; but Genesis 1:7-8 says God created “the firmament” on the second day and called it “heaven.” So “heaven” could not have been created “in the beginning.” Nor could “heaven” have been anything physical.

For that matter, why did God create two things (heaven and earth) instead of one thing? The Bible does not tell us, but we can make inferences. Had God created only one thing, it would have been co-equal with God. Since nothing can be co-equal with God (“There is none like you, oh Lord,” said Jeremiah), God could not have created only one thing.

So God created two things, and in so doing, he established the yin-yang duality that seems to pervade the universe. He created also the psychic split that man has suffered from since the Creation. Is man mind (“heaven”) or body (“earth”)? A little of both? Philosophers have wrestled with this dilemma, too. Today, man and woman—all of us—continue to try to understand the mysterious interplay of mind and body. Was this God’s intention in creating a world of duality, to puzzle us?

That duality also fuels the split between science and religion, a tug of war that continues to have dramatic repercussions across the world. Science (“earth”) is one way of understanding reality. Religion (“heaven”) is another way. Often the two cultures are irreconcilable. Science says the Earth is billions of years old; religion—at least, the Orthodox Jewish and conservative Christian version—says the Earth is 5,800 years old. There can be no compromise between “heaven” and “earth.” (America finds herself on the horns of this dilemma at this very time, with a faux-Christian science denier in the White House.)

It’s enough to drive a person crazy, which is why the Book of Ecclesiastes is worth a read. The authors (and there were probably multiple authors) acknowledge the impossibility of making sense of anything; and besides, even the quest to make sense of things is “vanity.” “For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

Why bother, then, to try and understand? Yet we’re programmed to do exactly that, which leads to another question: If “wisdom” equals “grief,” then why did God give us the curiosity to inquire, and the mental ability to reason? Surely we would be happier if, like dumb beasts, we didn’t second-guess everything in our fruitless search for understanding. Surely our contentment would be greater if we could revert to a pre-Tree of Knowledge innocence.

The Bible is curiously silent on this topic of why Man is homo sapiens sapiens: He who knows he knows. Was it that bite of the apple that made us self-conscious? Why do we think so much? It just gets us in trouble. Yes, our so-called “intelligence” has invented penicillin, gotten us to the Moon, given us the Internet. But it also, as Ecclesiastes explicitly states, ensures that “vanity and vexation of spirit” is the inevitable lot of mankind.

So those ten little words contain within them the entire panoply of what it means to be human. Why did the men who assembled the Old Testament Canon permit Ecclesiastes to be part of it, in the first place? Such an odd book: so depressing and weird, so un-religious: a splash of cold water on the otherwise optimistic Torah. Here man is depicted, not as the Crown of Creation of a benign, progressive God, but a hopelessly muddled, confused creature, given the capacity to understand nothing but his own incapacity to understand anything.

Let us allow Ecclesiastes to answer this question in its own way: Its final words—“the conclusion of the whole matter”—are these: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”

All well and good, but it sounds as if the men who ended Ecclesiastes with that admonition had a debate that went something like this: “We can’t end with ‘all is vanity.’ That’s such a negative downer. We have to reconcile Ecclesiastes with the other Books, or else we shouldn’t include it in the Canon at all. So let’s end it with the same message of Genesis, Deuteronomy, Exodus: ‘Keep God’s commandments.’”

There’s something desperate in this: Since we can’t get to the truth of anything, we might as well give up trying and just put our noses to the grindstone and obey God’s 613 commandments. There is something to be said for this; at the very least, it is an approach to life. But it’s not really satisfying, since we can’t get rid of the impulse, the drive and obsession to know and understand (and besides, it’s impossible to obey all the commandments—another expression of the universal duality). But that drive to understand is, of course, itself a curse, since it is fundamentally unachievable.

And this, too, is an example of the duality God wrote into the world. We are forever yin-yanging between conclusions, unable to land safely, to get to the bottom of anything, until Death ends the whole game. “Dust [will] return to the earth, the spirit will return unto God who gave it,” but even this—let us lament!—is meaningless. “All, saith the preacher, is vanity.”

Incidentally, given the fact that God made a “beginning,” it is logical he will make an “end.” I’ll be writing on Biblical eschatology, or end-of-the-world scenarios, and how Trump’s biggest supporters, evangelicals, hope to bring about a massive worldwide war, in which millions will die, so that they can get their Rapture.


The Bolton testimony: Bill Kristol’s startling prediction

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Bill Kristol has been a lifelong conservative Republican, a neo-con who as a rightwing gadfly in Washington helped kill Bill and Hillary’s healthcare plan in the 1990s, and was a strong advocate of George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq.

Kristol, for all his conservatism, was not a Trump fan—Trump, after all, was not a Republican–and has in fact been one of Trump’s harshest critics—harsh, that is, by Republican standards. He’s a favorite political commentator on MSNBC. Like his Republican counterpart Steve Schmidt, he takes pleasure in blasting away at a regime he considers corrupt. Kristol’s most recent move vis-à-vis Trump came last month, when he and other Republicans formed an organization called “Republicans for the Rule of Lawdemanding that Trump permit the U.S. Senate to call witnesses in the upcoming Impeachment trial.

That was good. But yesterday, Kristol did something even better. In the midst of all this uncertainty about where Impeachment is headed, he made a startling prediction on Twitter:

“What’ll happen: House sends over articles. Senate adopts McConnell’s rules on party line vote, convenes as court of impeachment. House managers make case, show need for witnesses, seek to call them. CJ Roberts agrees. His ruling upheld by 47 Dems + ~ 12 Reps. Bolton testifies.”

If you read my post yesterday, you’ll recall I was feeling despondent: Trump is winning the Impeachment game, I thought…McConnell is beating Pelosi…there won’t be witnesses…etc. Today, I’m more upbeat, and the reason is that Kristol has a pretty good feeling for Washington politics. His radar has often been accurate. So what does his Tweet mean?

Bolton—if you’ve been following this—has been central to the Democratic case for Impeachment. He was Trump’s National Security Advisor—one of the top posts in the administration—until he left that job; whether he was fired or quit is irrelevant. We knew from other sources that Bolton had been frustrated and infuriated by Trump withholding Congressionally-approved aide to Ukraine because Zelensky was dragging his feet about inventing dirt on the Bidens. (Bolton famously was said to have called bagman Giuliani’s involvement in the scheme “a drug deal”).

For weeks, Democrats wondered if they’d be able to get Bolton to testify in the House Impeachment inquiry. During that period, Bolton remained mute. It looked like he wouldn’t…then it looked like he might…no one knew. Then the other day, Bolton, in a statement, cleared the record: He will testify, he said, if subpoenaed.

That was cheerful news to Democrats, although it led to the question of why he hasn’t already been subpoenaed. The ostensible reason the House Democrats haven’t already subpoenaed him was because Pelosi feared that process would take months, and she was anxious to wrap things up by the end of 2019 or early in 2020. As for the Senate, it was unlikely McConnell would allow a Bolton subpoena. Bottom line: No Bolton.

That’s the context of Kristol’s tweet. It’s true that if McConnell has his way, there will be no witnesses—including Bolton. But the wild card is the man who will be presiding as Magistrate over the Trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts.

Roberts, like Bolton, is a conservative Republican, but you have to remember that he was the swing Justice responsible for some great Democratic victories: striking down California’s Proposition 8, which declared that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and the Big Enchilada: legalization of gay marriage. Rightwing evangelicals went ballistic after SCOTUS’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges gay marriage ruling; they could hardly believe that a professed Christian like Roberts, who is Catholic, would side with the “homosexuals’…uncleanness [who] dishonor their bodies [and] exchange the truth of God for the lie,” in the immortal words of Franklin Graham. But Roberts did.

Was Roberts stung by Christian criticism of him? We cannot know his innermost thoughts. But now he will be presiding over the Impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump. There has been much speculation about whether he’ll be an activist Magistrate or a passive one; we just don’t know at this point.

But Roberts, Kristol predicts, will be an activist Justice. He will uphold a motion (presumably by Senate Democrats) to call witnesses. Republicans will object; there will be a strenuous floor fight, but Roberts will assert his sovereignty over the proceedings (which he has every right to do), putting his own prestige (which is very high) on the line and, in essence, daring Republicans to defy him. Democrats, joined by enough conscientious Republicans to pass the motion, will call Bolton (and possibly others, such as Mulvaney) to testify. Schumer will issue, in the name of the Senate, a subpoena; Republicans will resist it, but the same coalition, presided over by Roberts, will approve it. Bolton will show up, raise his right hand, swear to tell the truth—and the game will be on.

Will Bolton say what we all think? “There was a quid pro quo. Trump extorted or bribed Zelensky.” If he does, it’s a whole new ballgame, and Trump and his enablers need to be very afraid.


Iran, Impeachment: So far, Trump is winning

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Both parties, Iran and the U.S., appear to have backed off a more serious confrontation this time. Trump got what he wanted—talking points as a tough guy so he can boost his credentials with his “Christian” backers who are about as Christian as my little dog, Gus. Meanwhile Iran got what they wanted and needed—their own talking points about how they got “revenge” on the Great Satan.

Well, if this is as far as things go, there will be no major war this time.

I don’t know about internal Iranian politics but I do know about U.S. domestic politics. Things are always so finely balanced: was it a good day for Dems or a good day for Republicans? The pulse shifts from moment to moment. The events of the past week haven’t really moved the needle, in my judgment. But if Democrats get the right message across, this could be bad for Trump.

What’s the right message? Well, it’s not the one Democrats have been issuing the last few days. They’ve been all over the map: it’s all coulda-woulda-shoulda. Trump should have notified Congressional Democrats. Trump shouldn’t have been so rash. Yes, Soleimani was a very bad guy, but that didn’t justify taking such a risk.

The problem with these angles of criticism is that they don’t mean anything to most people. They’re the political equivalent of making a point in etiquette: “Trump put his fork on the left side of the plate instead of the right side. Therefore, he’s unfit for office.” But that doesn’t cut it. Nobody cares about points of etiquette, which is what these coulda-woulda-shouldas amount to.

What people do care about—or would care about if it were pointed out to them—is that Trump deliberately risked started a war to protect his fat white ass from Impeachment and/or defeat in November. That’s something the public can understand: the wag-the-dog scenario I blogged about last week.

But so far, Democrats aren’t putting it that way, and I don’t understand why not.

Democrats also are failing to thread the needle with Impeachment. They’re coming up with mealy-mouthed responses to McConnell’s intransigence, but they’re not looking directly into the cameras and delivering the one message that would resonate with the American people: Trump is preventing witnesses in a Senate trial because he’s guilty and he knows it. This is a cover-up.

That’s the winning ticket, not mushy nonsense like Pelosi’s latest: McConnell must release a “trial plan” before she refers the Articles to the full Senate.

Nobody cares about “trial plans.” Nobody knows what a “trial plan” is. This is arcane, inside-the-beltway stuff, boring to the extreme; it means nothing to the average voter. Instead, Democrats should be speaking in a single, undivided voice (just as Republicans always do): Trump is preventing witnesses in a Senate trial because he’s guilty and he knows it. This is a cover-up. Say it over, and over, and over: repetition, as Goebbels and Trump well know, is the way to penetrate people’s brains, not verbose statements that require actual analytical thinking.

Where does this leave us, then? We have two huge issues right now: Iran and Impeachment. And so far, Trump appears to be winning on both. He’s ended, apparently, the immediate threat of war by not vowing further retaliation in his speech this morning (despite his hyperbolic, self-serving rhetoric),* and he’s successfully (through McConnell) prevented a full, fair trial in the Senate, meaning that he’ll be acquitted and thus enabled to scream from the rooftops of Twitter VINDICATED!

But this is far from over. The point is to get rid of Trump. Impeachment is not going to work, because Republicans don’t care about trivial things like Justice, Truth and Democracy. That leaves only the November election as our one, final chance to depose a dangerous, unstable and arrogant man, who never should have been elevated to power.

* Trump took credit this morning for the lack of casualties in the attacks, but we now know that’s because Iran gave the two bases advance warning it would strike, so commanders were able to evacuate American and Iraqi personnel from the target areas.


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