Sunday, June 25, 2017

The United States was attacked by a hostile foreign power

Dan Rather
25 June 2017
The United States was attacked. It was attacked by a hostile foreign power who wished to harm our democracy. It was a sneak attack and its damage we are only starting to understand.
What Russia did in the 2016 elections should have every patriotic American angry and determined to rally to the defense of the nation. The Russian attack is back to being the talk of Washington thanks to a blockbuster report in the Washington Post which laid bare the response of the Obama Administration. The facts detailed in that important piece of journalism have raised a series of recriminations among the political chattering class over whether President Obama acted forcefully enough. That is an important debate, and one that will likely be pored over by historians in the future.
But while we shouldn't shy away from that discussion, we should also recognize that the threat posed by Russia has not dissipated. If anything it has only increased as Vladimir Putin has seen the success of his efforts to create political chaos in the United States.
President Trump has to this point shown no interest in taking this threat seriously. If anything, he hasn't demonstrated that he even understands the nature of the threat. He famously has been flippant about whether he even believed Russia was involved - that was until he could tweet out attacks on Obama's handling of the attack yesterday. How convenient. But that doesn't excuse him, our current Commander and Chief, of his responsibility to protect our Republic.
What hasn't gotten enough attention in the Post report, in my opinion, is how the Republicans in Congress reacted back in 2016.
(From the Washington Post article)
"the (Obama) White House turned to Congress for help, hoping that a bipartisan appeal to states would be more effective...(but) the meeting devolved into a partisan squabble. 'The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’ recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting."
In 1947, Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg famously said, "we must stop partisan politics at the water's edge.” And by this he meant in foreign policy and issues of national security. Well in a digital world, there is no water's edge. But there certainly is politics. Criticize the response of the Obama Administration all you want. But we cannot let political point scoring distract us from the current threat to national security.
The safety and security of this nation is now in the hands of President Trump and his allies in Congress. Will they take this Russia threat seriously? Or will they continue to play politics?
"When it comes to keeping America safe and strong, when it comes to keeping America free, there should be no Republicans or Democrats, only patriotic Americans working together." That was President Ronald Reagan at the height of the Cold War. What would he say about the game the GOP is playing today?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Lewis Powell: Assault On The American Fabric Started With Him

This may sound like a hyper-partisan article. It is not. It is based on actions by Republicans of all stripes that are verifiable and quantifiable. All Americans are being played irrespective of party affiliation. Republican leadership and political sidekicks are the masters of the game, the citizenry the pawns.

Republicans have never been known as a party fighting for the poor or the middle class. They have never been known as a party that believed in a social safety net. The problem for Republicans is that 90+% of Americans fall into that category.
The level of intolerance by the GOP is incomprehensible until the strategy is understood. It is easy to dismiss comments by a few. However, when it becomes a chorus line that is perfectly synchronized, it becomes a strategy.
Republicans balk when one speaks about the Republican war on women, war on the poor, war on the environment, war on gays, war on minorities, and many other select micro wars. They don’t want these wars called out. And the reality is these should not be called wars at all. It is much too simplistic.
It is a war on democracy. How do you win a war on democracy when there are many more subjects than you? You fight many battles. So the battle against the poor, the battle against women, the battle against gays, the battle against minorities, the battle against education, and any other micro battle to keep the subjects occupied is the modus operandi. It does not matter if in the process a few of the battles are lost. After all, their eyes are on the ball, the destruction of a functional democracy.

It was all in the Powell Memo

This week I interviewed Jeff Clements, co-founder of Free Speech for People, and author of Corporations Are Not People about corporate personhood and the Citizens United ruling. In that interview, he brought up the Powell Memo. Read the memo in its entirety. It gives the necessary perspective.
The Powell Memo illustrates the fear that Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer and member of the boards of varies corporations had for the masses. Powell was subsequently confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.
Powell lays out the game plan. The Powell Memo is a plan that was forward looking. It is a plan that so far has been well implemented. How did they do it?

The success of the Powell Memo is in the ubiquity of its implementation.

They created think tanks responsible for dispersing misleading information with a false cloak of authenticity. The Heritage Foundation is a classic example of this. They took control of the airwaves to disperse misleading information (e.g., talk radio, Fox News, CNBC, etc.). A relenting Chamber of Commerce uses corporate monies to bully policy and politicians that squeeze the masses (e.g., support for free trade agreements, outsourcing etc.).
They infiltrated college campuses with directed research for planned outcomes. They infiltrated the elementary and secondary schools’ textbook evaluation process to attempt Right Wing indoctrination. They used graduate business schools to indoctrinate students on an irresponsible form of capitalism. They flooded the country with books and paid advertising promoting their message. They continue to destroy unions.
The implementation has been successful thus far. The problem is that in Powell’s days there was no Internet. There was no way to form disjointed communities in mass that could rise up when knowledge was not controlled in a top-down manner. A new tactic had to be added. This new tactic is not new. It is the war to divide and conquer.

The current strategy is simply a modification of the Powell Memo to achieve the same result.

If one keeps a community, a city, a country in a constant state of disarray or chaos, it is easy for the subjects to take their eyes off real problems. That is the same tactics used in countries where a functioning Plutocracy reigns like Panama and many ‘third world’ countries around the world. Underlying human behavior is the same throughout the world. The world then becomes the testing ground for successful suppressive tactics. The successful ones are effectively being used against Americans now.
All the little battles described above occurring at the same time are nothing more than death by a thousand cuts. Americans are so busy trying to survive, fighting these culture battles and sub-class battles that they are unable to fight what really ails. What ails is the Plutocracy Powell’s memo aimed to preserve. The Republican assault on the fabric of America is but that implementation.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

On Not Living in the End Times How best to avoid the apocalypse

"What the Volcker shock entailed in policy terms, as he later admitted, was not “very fancy or very precise.” It ostensibly involved a change in procedure from announcing a target interest rate (and then selling or buying the quantities of Treasury bills through its “open market operations” to reach it) to targeting the money supply (and then forcing banks to bid against each other for the funds they needed to maintain their reserves with the Fed). The Fed’s embrace of restrictive monetary targets may have been, as Krippner puts it, a “political cover” to avoid direct responsibility for the resulting high interest rates, but the impact on the economy was clear enough: what was really significant about the conduct of monetary policy under Volcker “was not the money targeting but the austerity.” A new and increasingly invariant ethos for monetary policy, designed above all to “break inflationary expectations,” was in its formative stages during this period: “the change in objective was much more important and more durable than the change in procedures.” Volcker himself made it perfectly clear that he was prepared to embrace austerity—“and stick to it,” as he told the American Bankers Association three days after he announced the new policy in early October 1979. 

And stick to it he did, sustained by the public show of unanimous support he secured from the Fed’s governors and Open Market Committee, as the federal funds rate reached previously unheard-of levels. Carter’s presidency ended with the federal funds rate at 19.1 percent; and with the interest rate still at this level six months into the Reagan presidency, the US was plunged into the deepest economic downturn since the 1930s. US inflation, aggravated by the sharp rise in oil prices at the time, had stood at over 12 percent at the end of 1979, and was still almost 10 percent at the end of 1981. The back of inflation was finally broken when unemployment (which initially rose only slowly from its 1979 level of 6 percent) reached double digits in the fall of 1982. It was at this point, exactly three years after it had been launched, that Volcker let it be understood that the “shock” was finally over: the Fed’s “policy objective” had at last changed to monetary “easing.” Even when growth finally resumed in 1983, inflation came down to just over 3 percent and more or less remained there for the rest of the century. 

But the ability to stick to a policy of state-induced austerity for as long as three years was based on much more than Volcker’s personal determination. As we saw in the last chapter, previous attempts by the Fed to raise interest rates dramatically had run up against what McChesney Martin had once called the “ghost of overkill.” This was usually understood as meaning that the Fed drew back from raising rates too high to accommodate the democratic opposition to high unemployment. In fact, when the Fed drew back it was because it was itself caught up in financial capital’s own contradictory relationship to monetary discipline. Despite financial capitalists being the most vocal constituency for monetary restraint, they recoiled in horror at the instability that the imposition of high interest rates actually caused in financial markets. In 1969–70, as we have seen, once the financial system proved unable to accommodate the high-interest-rate policy that produced the commercial paper crisis and the collapse of Penn Central, the Fed had quickly pumped liquidity back into the system. US policymakers were subsequently haunted by the fear that this would happen again. Shortly before becoming head of the Council of Economic Advisors under Ford in 1974, Alan Greenspan warned in a private memo to the Treasury’s Bill Simon that a tight monetary policy would have particularly dire effects, especially since the size and range of the US mortgage market meant that the nature of “our peculiarly American thrift institutions places the crisis threshold far lower than any country in the world.” He notably added that that “the Federal Reserve’s response would be immediate and massive support for the thrift institutions”—which could, of course, only negate the initial monetary restraint.

What, then, allowed Volcker to go beyond what he himself called the earlier “hesitations and false starts”? Crucial to the change was the broadening and deepening of financial markets through the 1970s. This reflected the enormous growth in international finance that followed the removal of US exchange controls in 1974, which was further spurred by the British and Japanese liberalizations in the midst of the Volcker shock. But it also reflected the development of new derivatives markets that allowed for the spreading and hedging of risk, a more extensive commercial paper market, and the development of new securitized instruments including money-market mutual funds. The latter provided an escape hatch from the New Deal “Regulation Q” controls on how much interest banks and thrifts could pay on deposits, and so reduced the sensitivity of housing finance to high interest rates—although this meant that the Fed needed to push interest rates higher still to secure austerity. These changes would not have been enough to prevent the kind of scenario that Greenspan had feared back in 1974, if the Volcker shock had not been quickly followed by the passage of the Depositary Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act (DIDMCA) in early 1980; this Act finally accomplished what Nixon had proposed in 1973: the phasing out of “Regulation Q” ceilings. It also removed state usury laws that limited the interest banks could charge on loans, and gave more flexibility to thrifts by broadening their ability to engage in consumer and commercial lending.
Although the previous deregulation in airlines, trucking, and railways appeared to suggest that “banking’s time had arrived,” the Depositary Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act revealed by its very title the futility of seeing things in terms of a dichotomy between regulation and deregulation. Besides mandating greater regulatory cooperation between the Federal Reserve, the Treasury’s Office of the Controller of the Currency (OCC), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Act—“the most massive change in banking laws since the Depression”—widened the state’s regulatory remit over the whole banking system. All deposit institutions were now required to hold reserves with the Fed, and new rules were established for more uniform reporting to regulators, and for extended federal deposit insurance coverage. And it was this joint supervisory capacity that allowed the Fed, working more and more closely with the OCC and the FDIC, to sustain the Volcker shock by undertaking selective bailouts of those banks that were deemed “too big to fail.” This included the largest bailout in US history to that point, that of First Philadelphia Bank (whose roots went back two centuries to the first private bank in the US). The regulators feared that if the bank “collapsed slowly, in the manner of Franklin National [in 1973–74], it might provoke a crisis of confidence in the banking system.”

The Fed’s autonomy with respect to the financial system, and the detailed information it had about its precise workings that was unavailable to anyone else, was decisive in terms of the flexibility and persistence it needed to act. As Chris Rude has put it: “Contrary to the beliefs of certain populists, therefore, the Fed did not act in the interests of the banking system when it imposed austerity under Volcker because it was held captive by its member banks. The Fed was able to use austerity to promote the general interests of the larger US financial institutions because they were subject to its supervisory and regulative authority.” Yet the Fed’s autonomy could not have been sustained without support from the White House and leading members of Congress—not to mention the Treasury, which Volcker all along saw as the real “center of gravity.”

Underlying this was a broad class alignment between finance and industry. This encompassed not only Wall Street but also small savers, since high inflation had eroded support for the old New Deal ceilings on the interest paid for bank deposits, as could be seen in the American Association of Retired Persons and “Gray Panthers” lobbies, which called for the phasing-out of the “Regulation Q” ceilings. And the new class alignment also encompassed not only most industrialists, who were by now more than ready to endorse the bankers’ traditional hostility to Keynesianism, but even the AFL-CIO leadership who, as Volcker pointedly noted at the time, had in September 1979 reached a “National Accord” with the Carter administration that went so far as to give “top priority” to the “war on inflation.” All this allowed the Fed to claim in its 1979 Report that no internal opposition existed within the US to its “new approach to central banking.”

Fundamentally, the Volcker shock was not so much about finding the right monetary policy as shifting the balance of class forces in American society. Inflationary “expectations” (the economists’ buzz word at the time) could not be broken without shattering aspirations of the working class and its collective capacity to fulfill them. The defeat of the working-class militancy of the previous decade had culminated politically in the failed attempt to secure the state’s commitment to full employment in the Humphrey-Hawkins Act. A bone that labor was thrown when the Act was passed in 1978 required the chair of the Fed to make annual reports to Congress on its objectives for the year ahead. Nothing symbolized labor’s defeat more vividly in the following years than Volcker using his “Humphrey-Hawkins testimony” to make the monetarist case that low inflation was the Fed’s overriding target, even at the expense of unemployment, and that this was the principal means of ultimately reaching high employment.
But it was a Democratic Congress’s imposition on labor of what was effectively a “structural adjustment program”—in the conditions attached to the loan guarantees Congress gave Chrysler in 1979 to prevent its bankruptcy—that signaled the most important factor in sustaining the Volcker shock. Whereas there had been an explosion of labor militancy in the strike wave that erupted in the wake of the Fed’s 1969–70 “policy of extreme restraint,” a decade later the acquiescence of the UAW in the “reopening” of its collective agreement, to make wage concessions and allow for the outsourcing of production to non-union plants, now became the template for the spread of similar concessions throughout US industry. The union strategy that had informed collective bargaining in the auto industry had always been based on extending unionization in the sector, and removing wages from competition through “pattern bargaining” (in other words, negotiating agreements covering all the major firms). Against the backdrop of heightened competition from Japan (aggravated by high interest rates as well as the increases in oil prices) and the political defeat of the Democrats’ full-employment policy response to the recession of 1973–75, the threatened bankruptcy of Chrysler exposed, as Kim Moody has noted, the lack of any union plan for “dealing with large-scale business failure.” But if pattern bargaining in the auto industry was ended with Chrysler, it was soon perversely restored as similar concessions were granted to GM and Ford—and rank-and-file resistance was broken as unemployment reached 24 percent in that industry in the early 1980s. 

The appeal of Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts to the Democrats’ working-class constituency, followed by the explicit class war from above undertaken by his administration after the 1980 election (through cutbacks to welfare, food stamps, Medicare, public pensions, and unemployment insurance), was a major factor in turning this initial defeat of labor in the iconic auto sector into an historic shift in the broader balance of class forces. With workers desperate to hold on to their jobs, by the end of 1982 “major concessions had been negotiated in airlines, meatpacking, agricultural implements, trucking, grocery, rubber, among smaller steel firms, and in public employment.” Anti-union appointments to the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board had immediate effects in checking union organizing drives and sustaining employers’ bad-faith bargaining tactics. 

But, as Alan Greenspan subsequently reflected, in discussing Reagan’s legacy, “perhaps the most important, and then highly controversial, domestic initiative was the firing of the air traffic controllers in August 1981… his action gave weight to the legal right of private employers, previously not fully exercised, to use their own discretion to both hire and discharge workers.” The strike by PATCO (the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization), which had actually endorsed Reagan in the 1980 election campaign) was broken not only by the permanent dismissal of 12,000 controllers, but by military personnel being brought in to run the airports, while many of the strike leaders were arrested and led away in chains. Notably, Volcker himself thought that the breaking of PATCO did “even more to break the morale of labor” than had the earlier “breaking of the pattern of wage push in the auto industry.”"
Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch, The Making of Global Capitalism
Democrats say the financial crisis was caused by the deregulation of the last 40 years. Libertarians say it was caused by the regulation of the last 40 years. Both are right. The Schmittian sovereign is one that can guarantee continuity during a crisis by suspending the Liberal system in order to restore it. The government eats up power, but only uses it during emergencies, otherwise leaving it alone. In this way, not only there is even more freedom for Capitalists in regular times, but regulation actually broadens the scope and power of the market, allowing banks to do “financial innovation” with derivatives that puts the whole system at risk. The state becomes both strong and weak, allowing a bigger government and a freer market to flourish simultaneously.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A plea to impeach President Trump: By Jane Collins / For the Transcript

A  president can be impeached only for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” However, Bill Clinton was impeached for the lowest of low crimes: cheating on his wife. Donald Trump is cheating on America.
The impeachment process was designed to protect this country from corruption at the highest level. The “high crimes” referred to in the Constitution must be related to the president’s official duties and present a danger to the nation. The phrase has been interpreted to include treason, abuse of authority, intimidation, misuse of assets, dereliction of duty, and conduct unbecoming to the office.
When the House Committee asked President Clinton whether he had sex with his intern, if he had just responded that it was none of the Committee’s business, the impeachment process might have ended there. Instead, he lied to the Committee under oath, thus committing the real crime of perjury. What got him in trouble in the first place, though, was still ordinary monkey business that did no harm to the American people.
On the other hand, there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that Trump and his campaign team colluded with agents of the Russian government in order to gain him the presidency. It remains to be seen whether Putin’s involvement in the election was motivated solely by his hatred of Hillary Clinton, or whether Trump promised some quid pro quo like lifting sanctions against Russia.
So Trump might well have committed treason. He has certainly undermined many of the institutions on which democracy depends, like the Judiciary, as when he called the person who put a temporary stay on his Muslim travel ban a “so-called judge.” Calling the free press “the enemy of the American people” should be enough reason to impeach him, all by itself.
Anybody who has read a random sampling of his tweets knows that he frequently abuses his authority by threatening or attempting to intimidate anyone who criticizes him. As for “conduct unbecoming,” whole books could be written on the subject. For example, we all know how he once completed the phrase, “grab them by the ...”
“Dereliction of duty” might include Trump making his completely unqualified real-estate-developer son-in-law, Jared Kushner, his primary broker for peace in the Middle East, relations with China, the border wall with Mexico, the reform not only of the criminal justice system but the whole federal government, and more. Dereliction might also describe appointing a person who denies the reality of climate change to head the Environmental Protection Agency, a person who knows and cares nothing about public schools to head the Department of Education, and a white supremacist as his Attorney General.
Then there is his war-mongering. Trump claims to have bombed the Syrian airbase to stop Assad from using poison gas on his own people. But this is the same president who won’t allow Syrians trying to escape from Assad into our country as refugees. This is also the same guy who wants to make deep cuts in programs to feed the hungry, take health care away from 24 million people, and get rid of environmental regulations that keep our air and water clean and safe. The compassion excuse just doesn’t hold up.

Evidence continues to mount of Trump’s incompetence; dishonesty; use of the presidency to enrich himself and his family; support for tyranny and contempt for democracy; and nepotism. Perhaps worst of all is his eagerness to move the country’s assets from keeping our people healthy, adequately nourished, well-educated, and gainfully employed to expanding a military budget that is already bigger than the next seven largest militaries combined.

The danger Trump poses to the American people, and all people, grows every day. Maybe he is ramping up the war machine in hopes of reviving his plummeting popularity. People tend to support the president in wartime, at least at first. But it is unlikely that Trump actually understands anything about the Middle East or American complicity in the horrible wars in that area.

Trump lacks any knowledge of history or personal sense of humility that might make him reasonably cautious. Instead, with a blithe disregard for the possible consequences, he is playing chicken with another unstable nuclear-armed narcissist, Kim Jong Un of North Korea. He encourages our enemies by creating chaos at home, and alienates our allies with his rudeness, ignorance, and arrogance. He would rather get his news from Fox & Friends than from intelligence briefings.
There are more than enough grounds for impeachment hearings. But the impeachment process starts with allegations voted by a majority in the House. Unless House Republicans begin to fear that they will go down with the ship in the 2018 elections, they are not likely to begin impeachment proceedings. Even if they did, the Republican majority in the Senate would have to find the President guilty of the charges in order to get him out of office.
Getting rid of this disastrous president will be a long slog. We should begin to call for impeachment now. It might take a couple of years, and we’d still have to deal with Pence unless the Russiagate scandal pulls him down too; but the more we demand it, the more likely it is to happen.
We have to insist that our representatives pursue this option. We have to keep emailing and calling them. We can get to know their aides well enough to have conversations, and convince them we’re serious about this. We can go to their district meetings, get involved in party politics to bring pressure from that direction, even run for office on an impeachment platform. There are lots of useful suggestions at and elsewhere. And let’s remember to take care of ourselves so we don’t burn out.
Meanwhile, many states are criminalizing protest. All it would take is a few provocateurs paid to throw a few rocks, and we could start seeing mass arrests and the increased use of force against demonstrators. We must not be deterred.
We need to hit the streets so often, and in such numbers, that we make it absolutely clear to Trump, his cabal, and politicians of all stripes, that we believe Trump’s administration poses unacceptable dangers to the American people, and he has to go. Let’s make democracy work for us while we still can.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

‘Revelations,’ by Elaine Pagels

Into the Apocalypse With an Unruffled Tour Guide

MARCH 20, 2012

How well should a historian write? That’s a complicated question, but it’s hard to disagree with George Orwell, who thought that any exemplary book should not only be an intellectual but “also an aesthetic experience.”

Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton, possesses a calm, sane, supple voice. It’s among the reasons readers have stuck with her over a nearly four-decade career, often on hikes through arduous territory, like her commentary on ancient Christian works that were banned from the Bible. She’s America’s finest close reader of apocrypha. Ms. Pagels is best known for “The Gnostic Gospels” (1979), which won a National Book Award and was named one of the best 100 English-language nonfiction books of the 20th century by the Modern Library. That book spawned a million biblical conspiracy theories, as well as “The Da Vinci Code,” Dan Brown’s hyperventilating novel. Few seem to hold that against her.

The cool authority of Ms. Pagels’s voice serves her almost too well in her new volume, “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation.” She surveys this most savage and peculiar book of the New Testament — an ancient text that is nonetheless, as the novelist Will Self has put it, “the stuff of modern, psychotic nightmares” — as if she were touring the contents of an English garden. She’s as unruffled as the heroine of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” who declared in one of that excellent television show’s best episodes, “If the apocalypse comes, beep me.”

Her “Revelations” is a slim book that packs in dense layers of scholarship and meaning. The Book of Revelation, attributed by Ms. Pagels to John of Patmos, is the last book in the New Testament and the only one that’s apocalyptic rather than historical or morally prescriptive. It’s a sensorium of dreams and nightmares, of beasts and dragons. It contains prophecies of divine judgment upon the wicked and has terrified motel-room browsers of the Gideon Bible for decades.

Ms. Pagels places the book in the context of what she calls “wartime literature.” John had very likely witnessed the skirmishes in A.D. 66, when militant Jews, aflame with religious fervor, prepared to wage war against Rome for both its decadence and its occupation of Judea.

She deepens her assessment of the Book of Revelation by opening with a troubled personal note.

“I began this writing during a time of war,” she says, “when some who advocated war claimed to find its meaning in Revelation.”

Because he feared reprisals, John wrote this condemnation of Rome in florid code.

He “vividly evokes the horror of the Jewish war against Rome,” Ms. Pagels writes. “Just as the poet Marianne Moore says that poems are ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them,’ John’s visions and monsters are meant to embody actual beings and events.” For example, most scholars now agree, she says, that the “number of the beast,” 666, spells out Emperor Nero’s imperial name.

The so-called Gnostic Gospels, the subject of Ms. Pagels’s breakthrough book, were discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, in Upper Egypt. At that site scholars also found dozens of other previously unknown books of revelation. Among this volume’s central questions, then, is this one: How did John’s book of revelation become the only one included in the New Testament?

Ms. Pagels approaches this question from many angles but agrees with those scholars who have suggested that John’s revelations were less esoteric than many of the others, which were aimed at a spiritual elite. John was aiming at a broad public.

The others, she writes, “tend to prescribe arduous prayer, study and spiritual discipline, like Jewish mystical texts and esoteric Buddhist teachings, for those engaged in certain kinds of spiritual quest.”

What’s more, she writes, because John’s revelations end optimistically, in a new Jerusalem, not in total destruction, they speak not just to what we fear but also to “what we hope.”

John’s visions, throughout the centuries, have been applicable to almost every conflict or fit of us-against-the-world madness. Charles Manson read the Book of Revelation before his followers’ rampages; Hitler, encouraged by Joseph Goebbels, apparently read himself into the narrative as a holy redeemer, while the rest of the civilized world saw him as the book’s beast.

For a work that contemplates a hell made on earth, Ms. Pagels’s book rarely produces much heat of its own. It drifts above the issues like an intellectual satellite.

One of her great gifts is much in abundance, however: her ability to ask, and answer, the plainest questions about her material without speaking down to her audience. She often pauses to ask things like, “Who wrote this book?” and “What is revelation?” and “What could these nightmare visions mean?” She must be a fiendishly good lecturer.

The Book of Revelation is not prized as being among the best-written sections of that literary anthology known as the New Testament, but Ms. Pagels is alive to how its language has percolated through history and literature. Jesus, who appears on a white horse to lead armies of angels into war, will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God,” John wrote.

This image emerges again in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the Union’s anthem during the Civil War: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;/He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”

John’s book has caused great mischief in the world, Ms. Pagels suggests, but it is a volume that can be clasped for many purposes. It has given comfort to the downtrodden, yesterday and today.

John, Ms. Pagels writes, “wants to speak to the urgent question that people have asked throughout human history, wherever they first imagined divine justice: How long will evil prevail, and when will justice be done?”


Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation

By Elaine Pagels

246 pages. Viking. $27.95.

Monday, March 20, 2017

stress test for our democratic institutions by Dan Rather

Dan Rather
21  March 2017
The statements by FBI Director James Comey in testimony today about Russian interference in the 2016 election were jaw dropping. It should be also noted that both he and NSA director, Adm. Mike Rogers, categorically denied that there was any evidence to support Mr. Trump's repeated allegations that Trump Tower was wiretapped by President Obama. That we do know. But it must be noted how much we do not know. We cannot afford to back off on investigating, fully, completely, and openly, allegations that are anathema to the spirit of our republic. But we cannot also afford to jump to conclusions. We want answers. We want to know more. That is natural. But patience will be required. It is better that this plays out in a systematic way. It is for all these reasons that I think a careful bipartisan investigation is essential.

In-Ves-Ti-Gate~ In-Ves-Ti-Gate ~ In-Ves-Ti-Gate

Mr. Trump's poll numbers dropped before this news, to below 40 percent. A blip? A trend? We will find out. If they continue to drop, many Republicans in Congress will likely go from support for Mr. Trump to agnosticism to maybe antagonism. That's what happened with Richard Nixon. In the meantime, it will be hard to see how President Trump will get much of his agenda through under this shadow. The power of the presidency is strong, but it is not impenetrable.
Expect regular headlines about the Kremlin in your daily news feeds. For those of you old enough to remember the Cold War, this may seem like deja vu. But the nature of the threat is fundamentally different. In those days, there was a united front against Russian interference, overt or covert. Now there are serious and credible allegations about whether those close to Mr. Trump may have been colluding with the Kremlin. Colluding with the Kremlin, sounds like a spy novel, but it remains a big and unproven allegation. Let the facts point the way. And I hope men and women of all political faiths can rally to support the continual functioning of government in these surreal and dangerous times.

Cruel and unusual by Dan Rather

"Cruel and unusual," the phrase rings in my head as I read the press reports of President Donald Trump's proposed budget.
But to even talk about it as a budget is to miss the point. It is not a budget. It is a philosophy, and one that may come as a surprise to many of the people who voted for Mr. Trump. They will hurt in real ways. Meanwhile it confirms the worst existential fears of those who see his presidency as a threat to the very being of the United States they know and love.
This is a man who made a lot of promises on the campaign about helping those struggling in society, about leading the United States to greatness in such things as fighting disease. If anyone had any doubt about the hollowness of his words, this philosophy is all the evidence one would need.

This is a philosophy that doesn't believe in helping the poor, rural or urban, or the power of diplomacy or the importance of science. It is a philosophy that doesn't want to protect the environment. It doesn't believe in the arts. This is about putting a noose around much of the United States federal government and hanging it until it shakes with life no more. In the name of reining in waste, it rains pain and suffering amongst the Americans who already are the most vulnerable. It must be remarked that many of these programs are really small budget items in the greater scheme of things, rounding errors in the federal budget. The purpose is to send a message, not to save money.
Rather than investing in what truly will make America great, this philosophy pounds its chest with false bravado. People will die because of this budget. People will suffer. Diseases will spread, and cures will not be found (really? slash science research?) Our nation will be darker and more dangerous. You know it's a philosophy because the budget has few details really in it. And here is where I see its saving grace.
This philosophy is not the United States I think a majority of Americans would recognize. I believe that we are not so cruel, so shortsighted, so dark. It's easy to rail against the federal government on the campaign stump, but cutting programs that people rely on, that is the kind of thing that can break through the fake news into reality very soon. We have already seen the mess that has become of the health care efforts.

This philosophy is no longer theoretical and it will be a rallying cry for a reverse philosophy. Those who champion an empathetic America, an America prepared for the challenges of the modern world, will have plenty of evidence to point to. Mr. Trump has already put many Republicans in Congress on a defensive footing, on Russia and on healthcare. Wait until the constituents start calling about how they won't be able to heat their homes in the winter or the agricultural programs that were slashed.
"The administration's budget isn't going to be the budget," Senator Marco Rubio told the Washington Post. "We do the budget here. The administration makes recommendations, but Congress does budgets." You can expect to hear a lot more of that kind of rhetoric.
Mr. Trump's philosophy is an opening salvo in a battle for the soul of America that is only beginning. This will be a battle fought trench by trench. But I think it is winnable and America will reconfirm a governing philosophy that is hopeful, compassionate, and wise about the role of government in making our world a safer, fairer, and more just place to live.