21 April 2019

He Is Risen

He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. 

Matthew 28:6
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Matthew 28:1-10

Thus Matthew recounts the miracle that is the essence of Christian belief, and the font of all Christian tradition: that Jesus, having suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, descended into Hell, yet rose again from the dead.

Whether the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is miracle or myth is, ultimately, irrelevant. Miracle or myth, the relevance of the Resurrection in daily living is as metaphor: Jesus overcame even physical death, transcending into Divine Being. 

The Good News that is the Gospel is simply this: through faith--in Jesus and in God--all men may similarly transcend into divinity. Indeed, the Christian community is called to such transcendence,  as Paul points out in Romans:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.
The Resurrection offers meaning and hope. Through the Resurrection, Christ redeems all of Mankind. And if the Resurrection is the foundation of Christianity, redemption is surely its most essential teaching. 

Redemption is Christianity's greatest contribution to Western thought and Western civilization. Redemption shifts the meaning of law--both the laws of men and the Laws of God. Redemption displaces the highly conditional and consequential ramifications of Mosaic Law (and the many other ancient legal traditions of which the Mosaic Law is but a part), replacing atonement as the key to righteousness, and thus the essence of justice. Redemption, the particular gift of Jesus Christ, is thus relevant to even the most avowed non-Christian.

Consider the words themselves. "Atonement" is "reparation for an offense or injury". "Redemption" is an act "serving to offset or compensate for a defect." Atonement is something we ourselves must do; redemption is something that is done for us, and offered to us.

This is no small change to the meaning of law. When Christ healed the paralytic, proclaiming the man's sins were forgiven, the scribes and priestly authorities accused Him of blasphemy. The notion of redemption was as radical--and as threatening to the established social order--then as it is today, the era of political correctness and "#MeToo" pogroms against the slightest of sexual faux pas. When redemption displaces atonement as the measure of justice, those who enforce the law are themselves displaced, for what need is there of priestly intercession or priestly justification when the demand for atonement, the insistence upon acts of contrition, is mooted?

In teaching redemption vs atonement, Jesus articulates an inescapable and universal truth: regardless of who we are, where we are, what we have done or not done, we are all human. We are all part of the same Mankind whom Jesus came into the world to save. This is not a truth that is confined to the Bible, nor to the teachings of Jesus, and there are innumerable secular sources that echo this same truth--one of my personal favorites comes from John F. Kennedy's American University commencement address in 1963: "...our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal."

Thomas Jefferson positioned this truth at the center of the Declaration of Independence, brilliantly transforming a simple proclamation of the American colonies' intention to rid themselves of British rule into a profoundly eloquent proclamation of humanity, and the universal bequest of civil rights and civil liberties that is given to all men in all places at all times. This is a theme President Kennedy would reiterate in his 1960 inaugural address: "...the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God."

Redemption is thus the essential prerequisite to liberty. As redemption is the fundamental proclamation of our humanity, it is also the foundation of our freedom. Redemption establishes that the ultimate authority--the sole arbiter of right and wrong--is not a judge, nor a king, nor any head of a State, but only God Himself. Redemption renders us all equal, and thus through redemption we derive the Jeffersonian precept that all government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed--for when we are all equal before God, and when we are all redeemed by God, on what authority may any one man impose upon his fellows?

The theme of redemption is subtly woven throughout the text of the United States Constitution. We see it in the unconditional pardon power granted to the President in Article 2 Section 2. We see it in the prohibition in Article 1 Section 9 against Bills of Attainder. We see it in the prohibition against "corruption of blood" in Article 3 Section 3. We see it in the rights expressed in the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Amendments. The wording of each of these passages is noteworthy for being unconditional. These rights are not held to the whimsy of a government, nor of any court nor judge. These rights belong to all people, in all times, at all places. Being unconditional, they are neither earned nor can they be rescinded.

Without the hope of redemption, how could any people even contemplate the "more perfect Union" mentioned within the Constitution's Preamble?

Redemption is the eye to the future. Atonement is ever focused on the past. Redemption is what makes possible the societal transformations sought (and, in large measure, achieved) by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as laid out in his historic "I Have A Dream" speech:
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." 
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. 
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. 
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 
I have a dream today! 
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. 
I have a dream today! 
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
The Good News of this Easter Sunday, of every Easter Sunday, is not merely that Jesus has risen from the dead, but that, by His rising, we all may hope to rise--rise above our failings, rise above our faults, rise above the petty differences that separate us from each other. The Good News of Easter is that it is within every man to rise up and be free--and we are all called to freedom, even as Paul reminded the Galatians:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
My prayer this day is that all may rejoice in the day, for He is Risen and we are made free. 

18 April 2019

The Mueller Report: Twin Triumphs of Fake News and Conspiracy Theory

After many months, many subpoenas, many interviews, and endless bloviation, hyperventilation, and fabrication by both the legacy media and portions of the alternative media, the much-anticipated Mueller Report has finally been released to the public. Aside from redactions (which are disturbing to some, a non-issue to others), we may now see what Robert Mueller has seen, we will now know what Robert Mueller has known.

The actual report itself is some 400 pages in length, but we already know how Attorney General Bill Barr has summarized its conclusions:
  • "After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, and hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the Special Counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those schemes."
  • "After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report, and in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other Department lawyers, the Deputy Attorney General and I [Attorney General Barr] concluded that the evidence developed by the Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense."
As readers of this blog will recall, when Mueller was appointed Special Counsel I pointed out the history of Special Counsel investigations was one largely of failure. Mueller's investigation has held true to that form--no indictments for any conspiratorial collusion with Russia (or anyone else), only peripheral players charge with any form of obstruction (chiefly lying to the FBI). Two years and $30 million worth of investigation, and we have very little to show for it.

Can I get my money back?

To be sure, Democrats are outraged that Mueller failed to crucify Donald Trump, and even more outraged that Attorney General Barr failed to spin Mueller's report into a crucifixion of Donald Trump. During and after Barr's morning press conference, several took to Twitter to pontificate and bloviate some more:

Other commentators and members of the chattering class strove not to be outdone by Democrats:

Not wanting to be left out, numerous conservative commentators felt compelled to tweet out the insanity and inanity of the left over Mueller's finding of no collusion:

What none of them have done is make the case for their particular position. What we are seeing is not a sober and serious discussion of the report, and of the many troubling questions arising from its contents, but merely an endless echoing and retweeting of one of two basic narratives: 1) For the Democrats, "orange man bad/Russia!"; and 2) for the Republicans, "witch hunt!" and "Russia Collusion Hoax".

None of these commentators are speaking to the substance of the Mueller Report. On both sides of the political aisle, people are reducing the report to the most expensive MacGuffin of all time--a prop merely to push their chosen narrative forward, facts be damned.

None of these commentators are willing to confront the disturbing dimensions of the Mueller Report:
  • How and when is it appropriate for the FBI and the country's intelligence apparatus to conduct secret surveillance of a political campaign? When is it okay for the government to spy on other Americans?
  • What are we to make of the careerist leadership of both the FBI and the Department of Justice that both were willing to believe the worst of Donald Trump on the flimsiest of evidence?
  • Why did the media persist in advancing an increasingly debunked "collusion" narrative, ignoring all evidence to the country?
  • What are we to make of President Trump's often incendiary tweets? Should we demand a different standard of conduct from the President?
  • What did Russia do to upset the electoral applecart in 2016? 
These are the questions that should be discussed, not just in Congress or by the legacy media, by by all Americans. The one undeniable truth of Mueller's report and the investigation that preceded it is that there has been a significant assault on our Constitutional system of governance. That assault is the one point of truly bipartisan consensus in this entire sordid drama.

That our system of government was assaulted is undeniable: we have 400 pages of Mueller Report to substantiate that, even if there is debate over whom is doing the assaulting (Trump, the Democrats, the "Deep State", or Russia). Who is asking what shall we do about that? How can We The People protect the Constitution from similar predations in the future? How do We The People protect and defend our Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic?

Neither side wants to have that discussion. Both sides wish to promote their preferred conspiracy theories, arguing not fact but feelings. As the sampling of Tweets above demonstrates, both sides have no interest in engaging with others to arrive a some fact-based, logically-derived articulation of the truth in these matters.

Today is a sad day for The Republic. In the Mueller Report the twin evils of Fake News and Conspiracy Theory have won the day. Time will tell if those demons win the day tomorrow as well.

14 April 2019

What DID Russia Actually Do?

Andrew McCarthy, writing in the National Review about the recent indictment of Julian Assange in relation to then-Bradley/now-Chelsea Manning's 2010 theft and dissemination of classified military secrets, asks a salient question: Why was Assange not also charged in relation to Robert Mueller's indictments of various Russian citizens and presumptive government agents for "meddling" in the 2016 Presidential election?

This is a relevant question. Presumably, Assange is one of the un-named (and unindicted) co-conspirators referenced in Mueller's 13 July 2018 indictment of several Russian intelligence operatives for hacking into the Democratic  National Committee's computers and stealing several gigabytes worth of material. It necessarily follows that any evidence against the Russians must also be evidence against Assange.  Yet Assange was not indicted last year and he is not indicted now for anything in connection to the presumptive hack of the DNC systems.

As McCarthy puts so succinctly, "what is going on here?"

I invite people to read his full column delving into that very question. It highlights several legal and factual deficiencies of the recent Assange indictment, as well as the fundamental weakness of Mueller's Russia indictments.  Indictments that do not withstand even passing scrutiny are surely among the worst prosecutorial abuses; even the imputation that either the Assange indictment or Mueller's Russia indictments are little more than a thin tissue of legal fantasy is a damning criticism of the ethics and probity of the Department of Justice.

However, behind McCarthy's perceptive inquiry lies a broader, and in some ways more frightening question: What did Russia actually do? Did Russia even interfere with the 2016 election?

I have asked this question before--right after Mueller released his second round of Russia indictments. A claim of Russian interference in American elections is a serious claim, a troubling claim, but it must be a claim of fact to be worthy of any consideration at all.  Yet, as a claim of fact, the "Russia meddled" claim is largely fact free. To reiterate:
  • The Facebook ads presumably purchased by the Russian troll farm The Internet Research Agency were, upon closer inspection, contradictory and confusing, attacking Hillary Clinton, her 2016 primary rival Bernie Sanders, and even Donald Trump. A large portion of them appear to have been in Russian, further questioning their utility as campaign material.
  • Mueller's indictment of Russian operatives advances a theory of the DNC hacking case that is the polar opposite of conclusions reached by the FBI and by cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike. In particular, the online persona Guccifer 2.0 is central to Mueller's theory of the hacking case while dismissed as tangential or even irrelevant in the Crowdstrike and FBI analyses (and Guccifer was the person presumably with whom Assange communicated to encourage further hackings and disclosures of Hillary Clinton-related material).
  • One of Mueller's initial Russia indictments was of a company that quite literally did not exist at the time the presumed offenses were committed.
What was true in July of 2018 remains true today: we have no facts before us to sustain the charge that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.  This has always been the reality of the "Russia Collusion"/"Russia Hacking" narrative -- we do not have any actual facts to support the narrative.

We should also remember that we have never had any presentation of facts to support the narrative. Even the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment was remarkable for its complete lack of any evidentiary support or even logical cohesion.  In the aftermath of Mueller closing down his two-year investigation with precisely zero indictments for any form of collusion or conspiracy with Russia by any Trump campaign staff or affiliates, the "Russia Collusion" narrative has been well and truly debunked and discredited; it is the epitome of "Fake News."

If the ICA was "Fake News", if the "Russia Collusion" narrative is "Fake News", on what basis can we know that Russia did anything improper in the 2016 election?

Putin's Russia is a thuggish autocratic kleptocracy. It is no leap of faith to state that Russia is certainly capable of seeking to upend the liberal democratic order within Western democracies.  Russia certainly could interfere in elections, and may very well be highly motivated to do so.

But the belief that they could interfere is not proof that they did--and after three years of investigations by both Congress and the FBI, we do not have any evidence that they did. Without evidence, any narrative of Russia interfering in US elections is just another conspiracy theory. Without evidence, that narrative is not a serious political discussion on any level.

Without evidence, the breathless charges by the legacy media that President Trump is threatening the nation's security by not blithely believing the intelligence community about foreign affairs are vacuous and vapid political panderings. No one's asserted expertise in any field counts as evidence for or against any proposition. Expertise allows one to offer insights into evidence, but it cannot take the place of evidence and it cannot create evidence where none exists.

Where there is no evidence, we cannot logically make any conclusions, and all that is left is seductive speculation. In the case of Russia and the 2016 election, we still have no evidence, we still have no answers, we only have more questions, combining and coalescing into a seductive speculation.

What did Russia actually do during the 2016 election? Quite simply--and disturbingly--we do not actually know.

12 April 2019

What Shall It Be -- Press Or Propaganda?

Whatever vestigial notions that a free press remained within the legacy media died this past week, as two seemingly unrelated stories combined to demonstrate the extent to which the legacy media is not free, and does not wish to be free.

The week began with Attorney General William Barr's much-heralded appearances before two Congressional committees, during which he uttered a simple sentence that has the legacy media positively epileptic and apoplectic: "I think spying did occur."

The "spying" to which he refers, of course, is the government surveillance of President Trump's 2016 campaign for office. Virtually the whole of the legacy media immediately and roundly excoriated Attorney General Barr for making a supposedly outlandish and unsubstantiated claim.

The second story of note occurred when Julian Assange, founder of the now famous (or infamous) disclosure web site WikiLeaks, was arrested in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, and now faces possible extradition to the United States, accused in relation to then-Bradley/now-Chelsea Manning's 2010 theft and disclosure of US military secrets.

Where these seemingly disconnected stories coincide is in the fertile fields of press freedom and press objectivity, and the degree to which these are inextricably intertwined.  

The consensus of the legacy media on Attorney General Barr's assessment that the US government spied on a political campaign during an election cycle is that Barr advanced a noxious "conspiracy theory". Chuck Todd of NBC News asserted there was "zero factual basis" for the claim. MSNBC's Nick Ackerman accused Bar of participating in a "White House coverup" of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report to the Attorney General regarding possible collusion between then-Candidate Donald Trump's election campaign and the Russian government. Over at CNN, Anderson Cooper pontificated that Barr's comments were "an insult to the men and women" of the Department of Justice.

Democrats in Congress quickly jumped on  the noveaux conspiracy theory bandwagon. Representative Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, insisted on Twitter that Barr was directly contradicting earlier DOJ testimonies:

Senator Mark Warner called Barr "irresponsible":
Senator Chuck Schumer panned Barr's comments "beneath the office of the Attorney General:

What both the legacy media and the Democrats overlook is the reality of government actions taken with regard to President Trump's 2016 campaign:
  • The FBI sought and received a warrant to conduct surveillance on one-time Trump campaign staffer Carter Page in October 2016.  That warrant is publicly available--its existence is a fact not open to dispute.
  • British-based academic Stephen Halper was recruited by elements of the FBI to gather information on both Carter Page and fellow campaign staffer George Papadapolous.
  • The infamous and much-derided "Steele Dossier" was compiled by a former British intelligence agent who was also an informant for the FBI.
  • None of these actions were known to the Trump campaign while they were ongoing.
None of these facts are in dispute.  Nor can anyone dispute the dictionary definition of the word "spy"
to watch secretly usually for hostile purposes
The United States government conducted secret surveillance on President Donald Trump.  There is no denying this. 

There is also no denying the fundamentally hostile intent of that surveillance. Any effort to find evidence of malfeasance by an individual is intrinsically hostile to that individual. The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution are constant reminders of the individual's need and right to defend himself or herself against the intrinsic hostility of any government investigation or accusation.

Yet the legacy media is denying both realities, with no hint of either irony or self-reflection.  To call Attorney General Barr's statement "conspiracy theory" is to completely ignore established empirical, factual, unimpeachable evidence of what the FBI did and when they did it. To call that statement a "cover-up" is to advance a narrative that is fundamentally and irreparably at odds with reality, so much so that words such as "delusional" are fitting descriptors of media behavior.

The United States government spied on Donald Trump. Arguing otherwise is an unconvincing exercise in pure propaganda.

It is against this backdrop of a lunatic legacy media peddling propaganda that we must now consider the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange immediately after having his asylum in the Ecuadoran embassy in London revoked.

Assange's immediate arrest was in relation to a 2012 sexual assault charge against him in Sweden. He took refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition from the UK to Sweden to stand trial for that offense.

However, the United States government has also long wanted to prosecute Assange for his role in publishing the reams of classified documents stolen by then-Bradley/now-Chelsea Manning in 2010--military secrets which some claim exposed intelligence gathering sources and methods, the disclosure of which arguably put lives directly at risk.  Following Assange's arrest by the London police, the United States revealed indictments against him charging conspiracy with Manning in the 2010 data breach and publication.  Assange, the US government has argued, in equally complicit and equally guilty as Manning is regarding the latter's demonstrable criminal activity.

As with Barr's "spying" comments, there are certain empirical factual realities attached to Assange's arrest:

  • Manning was convicted by court martial for espionage and theft for stealing classified military documents 
  • Manning has acknowledged transmitting them to WikiLeaks, which published much of the material, which is still online, and for which WikiLeaks has established custom searches to facilitate browsing of certain subsets of the material, such as the Afghan War Diaries.
  • The DOJ has alleged in its indictment that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks assisted Manning by cracking certain encrypted passwords. 
  • The DOJ also alleges that Assange encouraged Manning to obtain more classified materials for publication.  It is worth noting that Manning's statements regarding his submissions to WikiLeaks do not provide any direct confirmation of these allegations.
The American Civil Liberties Union has condemned Assange's arrest, stating "..prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent...." Indeed, the central point of opposition to Assange's indictment is that WikiLeaks is a publisher, and that their disclosures of government secrets is, arguably, a form of journalism.

No less a legal authority than Harvard Law Professor-Emeritus Alan Dershowitz has argued that WikiLeaks is a publishing organization no different from the New York Times and the Washington Post. These newspapers published the archive of classified military secrets known as "The Pentagon Papers" in 1971--not only were they never charged with a crime, they won a Pulitzer Prize for their efforts. 

The New York Times in 2016 also published excerpts of Donald Trump's tax returns for 1995. Tax returns are privileged and confidential, and whomever provided the documents to the Times unquestionably obtained them illegally.  The New York Times was not charged with a crime in that incident either, and at least one legal scholar argued that its publication of illegally obtained tax records could not be prosecuted under the First Amendment.

The DOJ case is further convoluted by the fact that the standard federal statute of limitations is 5 years, and this indictment is presented well outside of that time frame. According to Andrew McCarthy, writing in the National Review, the government appears to be relying on an exemption to the five-year rule for terrorists and terrorist sympathizers, which extends the statute to eight years--which in turn requires making a solid legal case that Julian Assange is, in fact, a terrorist and not a journalist, and that WikiLeaks is, in fact, a terrorist organization and not a publisher.

The legacy media has been quite content to indulge the government in advancing this argument, and to give preferential audience to those public figures willing to champion this argument.  Some even found Assange's arrest an occasion for sarcasm and levity.  The consensus of the legacy media, with few exceptions outside of Fox News' Tucker Carlson, is that Julian Assange is getting his comeuppance.

Yet what makes WikiLeaks a publisher (and Assange therefore a journalist) is the inescapable reality that it publishes information--just like the New York Times, and just like the Washington Post. Just as the New York Times was not prosecuted for the Pentagon Papers, WikiLeaks should not be prosecuted for Manning's stolen files. To consider otherwise is to grant the government a license that is not specified within the Constitution or any amendment--the power to effectively license media outlets. To consider otherwise is to eliminate the First Amendment protections upon which freedom of the press depends.

WikiLeaks is a news publisher, and its contributors are journalists. No government gets to say otherwise. No government should say otherwise.

This much is certain: government-sanctioned press is not free press.  Media outlets that must seek the approval of the State cannot possibly hold that State to any form of account. It requires no deep training in the law to understand this reality, and to understand the dangers it poses to the freedom and liberty that are this nation's bequest to future generations.

So it is that we close this second week of April, 2019, with one of the most cherished of American institutions--a free and unfettered press, able to hold government to account and not be held accountable to government--under existential threat from within and without.  In denying the simple reality that government agencies can and have spied on US citizens, the legacy media, long the embodiment of the free and unfettered press, has abandoned that position entirely. In denying the simple reality that WikiLeaks is a publisher of information, legacy media has declared there shall be no more free press, but only government sanctioned press.

So it is that we, as a society, must look ever more critically at all the media, both the legacy entities and the upstart alternative outlets, and decide which ones will be the path for journalism in this country in the future.  Will we have a free and unfettered press, powered by a disruptive coterie of independent media sources, or will we have a corporatized and compromised press, residing within the legacy media, content to promote only such narratives as find favor with the blessed few? Will we have rich sources of useful information, or will we have pathetic purveyors of pabulum and propaganda? 

What shall it be: press or propaganda? Sadly, the answer is not at the moment certain.