A letter from Parsnip

We should keep on blogging the way we have done.

… on blogging in the Trump reign.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street…

This is the opening line of Auden’s fine poem on the outbreak of the Second World War. A year later, Evelyn Waugh memorably pilloried Auden and Isherwood in his satire Put Out More Flags, as the poets Parsnip and Pimpernel bravely opposing fascism from New York. He had a point. In the summer of 1940, petit-bourgeois Kentish shopkeepers and lumpenproletariat middle-aged farm labourers were joining the Home Guard, Dad’s Army, in order to fight invading Panzers and Brandenburgers, a battle in which they would have got themselves killed. Every wargamed rerun of Operation Sea Lion confirms the wisdom of Hitler’s decision to cancel the invasion, but the shopkeepers didn’t know that at the time.

My excuse for Parsnippery is that I’m not American and don’t live in the USA, so I’m not running from anything. It would still be rather unseemly to egg on others to take personal and career risks from a safe vantage point in Spain. So for the record, let me say just once: I support the resistance to the odious acts and statements of an illegitimate, incompetent and dangerous President, and welcome what non-violent protest you feel up to. On violent protest, I am more with Macaulay than Gandhi and King, as long as it’s effective, which these days it rarely is. I do not expect to say this again. So what am I doing here?

A week ago I had a little exchange with Keith Humphreys. He wrote a post on blindness to “sweet spots” in public policy. I commented that such rational thinking had no place in the age of Trump’s nihilism. Keith rejoined that there are other players than the US federal government.

On reflection, Keith was right and I was wrong. So I, and as far as I am concerned my fellow RBC bloggers, should keep on doing what we have always done, as long as we have readers. There are negative and positive reasons for this. Continue reading “A letter from Parsnip”

“What do you think—our country’s so innocent?”

Some things speak for themselves.

O’Reilly: “Putin’s a killer”

Trump: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think—our country’s so innocent?”


Here’s what these things are they saying: President Trump’s odd comments and behavior regarding Russia merit a rigorous, bipartisan investigation of the President’s personal finances and his links to Russia.

Cold war liberals at the Chicago Women’s March

Continue reading ““What do you think—our country’s so innocent?””

Getting rid of the “Johnson Amendment”

So what does Donald Trump mean when he says he wants to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment”?

Trump always talks about “churches,” but the proviso, inserted in the tax code in 1954, forbids all tax exempt non-profits (organized under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)3, and therefore referred to generically as 501(c)3 organizations) from contributing to political campaigns.

If the law were changed to exempt churches only, the courts would have to decide whether than created an unconstitutional “establishment of religion,” but it doesn’t require a law degree to see that allowing tax-exempt churches to attack tax-exempt Planned Parenthood by running campaigns against politicians who take positions favorable to reproductive rights, but forbidding Planned Parenthood from defending itself, would be grossly unfair.

Moreover, churches – unlike most other non-profits – aren’t required to disclose their donors. So allowing them to serve as campaign vehicles would not only convert them into tax-deductible super-PACs, it would allow unlimited amounts of hidden money to come into politics. (Citizens United and its progeny have already severely weakened disclosure rules.) Disclosure has been, until now, regarded as an invaluable protection against corruption. If Trump gets his way, any individual, privately-held corporation, partnership, or LLC could purchase influence with unlimited, undisclosed, tax-deductible campaign contributions simply by laundering them through a church, or even a fake “church” organized solely as a pass-through for bribes. (Again, for religious-freedom reasons, the IRS is very wary of deciding that a group calling itself a church isn’t really a church: the New Testament rule “wherever two or three are gathered” about covers it.)

But wait! It gets worse. If churches can gather money without disclosing their donors – and obviously that degree of privacy protection is required for the free exercise of religion – and spend that money to run political campaigns, then the market is open for foreign as well as domestic corruption. The Russian, Chinese, Saudi, and Iranian governments would all, predictably, either find congregations already recognized by the IRS to use as front groups or incorporate new ones. Of course a group organized as a mosque might not be able to wield much influence without stirring up opposition, but nothing bars the Saudis or the Iranians from paying some stooges to set up a fake Baptist church. Nor is an outfit organized as a church for IRS purposes have the word “church” (synagogue, mosque, temple, whatever) in its name; many people would spot “Society of Friends” as meaning Quakers, but you and I could start a group tomorrow called “Truth Tellers,” incorporate it as a church, and then run political ads with the trailer “This message brought to you by the Truth Tellers.”

So, like most of Trump’s ideas, this one reduces mostly to corruption and the sacrifice of American sovereignty to foreign – especially Russian – influence. And of course that won’t keep the tame preachers of the Christian Right from backing him all the way.



Macaulay’s Roman mob

Macaulay cheers on far from non-violent protest.

The crowds protesting the odious anti-some-Muslims executive order are heartening. Unlike the bon enfant Womens’ March, they were focused and angry.

Angry is good here. I thought of the best of Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, Virginia. Macaulay was a liberal toff. But here, he takes the side of a violent mob protesting with “pebbles, and bricks, and potsherds” against an eerily apt combination of oligarchic lawlessness and sexual and economic predation, with vile sidekicks thrown in. His generation understood that bourgeois liberals need a tiger of popular anger to ride to moderate reforms. Otherwise, Grey’s Reform Act of 1830 would not have been possible. Rioting has become ineffective with modern policing: rioters can’t get close enough to the rulers to throw a real scare, and the economic damage gets diverted onto luckless bystanders like the Korean shopkeepers in Watts. The objection to a “Burn Wall Street” movement is more practical than ethical.

Read the whole thing (not forgetting the Preface) to cheer yourselves up. Three rousing passages. Continue reading “Macaulay’s Roman mob”

The Muslim ban fiasco….

The President’s team had months to prepare this signature immigration initiative. And they produced…an amateurish, politically self-immolating effort that humiliated the country, provoked international retaliation, and failed to withstand the obvious federal court challenge on its very first day.

Given the despicable nature of this effort, I’m happy it has become a political fiasco. It also makes me wonder how the Trump administration will execute the basic functions of government. This astonishing failure reflects our new President’s contempt for the basic craft of government.