Special prosecutor appointed


Robert S. Mueller

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has appointed a Special Counsel–a.k.a., Special Prosecutor–to investigate Russian attempts to influence the U.S. election and any connections to the Donald Trump campaign.

The Special Counsel is former FBI director Robert Mueller, who was appointed by President Bush and continued to serve under President Obama.  He is widely respected by both Republicans and Democrats.

The drama unfolds. . . .We had Special Prosecutors investigating Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.  Do you think this will end differently for President Trump? [Read more…]

The 221 religions

V&A_-_Raphael,_St_Paul_Preaching_in_Athens_(1515)The United States military has nearly doubled its list of recognized religions to 221.

The list includes the various forms of neo-paganism, which is as sectarian as any other religion:  Druids, Heathens, Pagans, Shamans, Magick & Spiritualists, Wicca, Seax Wicca, Gardnerian Wicca, etc.   But Satanists did not make the list.

The new list includes the various kinds of unbelief:  Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, Deists, No Religion.

The earlier list had the one category “Jewish,” but this one usefully breaks down that religion into its  “Reform,” “Conservative,” and “Orthodox” strains.  Hasidic Jews are not listed, but Messianic Jews are.

It lists “Islam” as one group, but ignores the distinction between “Shi’ite” and “Sunni,” despite the current conflict between those two sects, which would seem to be important for our military to be aware of.

The Lutheran list is all confused.  “Lutheran Church in America,” “American Lutheran Church,” and the “American Evangelical Lutheran Church” are listed, though they no longer exist, having merged into the “Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” (listed).  “The Lutheran Council in the USA”–never a church, just an organization of churches– is also defunct, having shut down in 1988.  More recent organizations are not listed.  Nor is the North American Lutheran Church, which broke away from the ELCA.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is on the list, but not the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church or the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  And yet smaller Lutheran groups, such as the Free Lutherans and the American and the Independent Lutherans, are on the list.  There is a category for “Lutheran Churches, Other.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if other traditions are similarly garbled.  So the list falls short of being a comprehensive catalog of American religions.  But it’s interesting nonetheless.

How this list will be used is unclear.  Expect an initiative to provide religious support for all of these groups, and expect Christian chaplains to be pressured accordingly.  Read this article about the list and see our post on religion in the military.

Read the whole list after the jump.

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“I hope you can let this go”


Fired FBI director James Comey has reportedly kept a paper trail of President Trump’s inappropriate efforts to influence investigations of his administration’s Russia connections.

The New York Times reported on a memo that Comey wrote the day after the president’s national security director Michael T. Flynn resigned.  It recorded a conversation in which the president told Comey what a “good guy” Flynn is, concluding “I hope you can let this go.”

The White House denies the account.  According to another report, Comey’s notes show that he felt pressured to drop the investigation.  CNN’s legal analyst says this could be an obstruction of justice, what Nixon was impeached for.

There are those building a case for impeachment.  Comey is in a position to strike back.  The implication of these stories is that Comey made other memos and notes, so those may be coming out too, eventually.

Does the president’s “hope” really rise to the level of obstruction of justice, or are his critics over-reacting?

All of these controversies, even if overblown, are hurting President Trump’s ability to enact his agenda.  Republicans in Congress don’t seem afraid of him anymore and some are trying to distance themselves from the Republican president’s plummeting approval ratings.  That could jeopardize the repeal of Obamacare, immigration actions, tax reform, etc.

Realizing that Democrats won’t, should Republicans, the media, and Americans in general “let this go”?

[Read more…]

Officials deny claim that Trump revealed secrets to Russia

Sergei Lavrov

Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister

In yet another controversy, The Washington Post reported that President Trump revealed top secret information to the Russians during his talks last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  According to the report, the information had to do with threats from ISIS and exposed a crucial source.

But now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, who was present at the meeting, are forcefully denying the report.

So how do we know which is fake news?  The Washington Post story had to have come from someone inside the White House leaking it to the press.  So some of the president’s people are undermining him and some are defending him.

If this incident is true, it shows the president’s carelessness and diplomatic inexperience, as well as being another example of his ungoverned tongue.  It should not be construed, as some of his enemies probably will spin it, as revealing information to his Russian masters who put him into office.  Even the worst construction of the alleged conversation doesn’t support that.

[Read more…]

The religious comeback after Communist atheism

Bezbozhnik_u_stanka_15-1929The Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe strongly enforced the atheism mandated by Communist ideology.  They promoted atheism by laws, education, and brutal persecution of religious believers.  Schools taught required courses in atheism.

Churches were torn down or converted into movie theaters or (in the case of the Lutheran church in St. Petersburg) swimming pools.  Thousands of pastors were killed or consigned to the Gulags.  I talked with an Estonian who told me that her son once went inside an abandoned church because he was interested in the artwork.  He was warned never to do that again or he wouldn’t be allowed to go to university.

But 25 years ago, Communism collapsed in Russia and Eastern Europe.  Now those regions are arguably more religious than most of the countries of Western Europe.

A study by Pew Research shows the massive failure of Soviet atheism.  In the 18 former-Communist countries surveyed, 86% of the population believe in God.

And yet the temporary loss of a religious history shows.  Most citizens associate religious belief with national identity.  And they aren’t necessarily going to church all that much.

Catholics go to church more than the Orthodox.  But the Orthodox are more conservative morally when it comes to issues like homosexuality.

The Pew study describes religion in the former Communist states as “believing and belonging, without behaving.”

Read about the findings after the jump.

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Trump changes his story on the Comey firing

donald-j-trump-1342298_640President Trump’s order firing F.B.I. Director James Comey said that the action was taken because of how he handled Hillary Clinton’s e-mail case.  Then we were told that the F.B.I. Director was fired because of recommendations by Justice Department Officials.

Now in an interview with MSNBC’s Lester Holt,  President Trump says that he was going to fire Comey “regardless” of what the Justice Department had to say.  He also called Comey a “showboat” and a “grandstander.”

In the interview, the president kept returning to the F.B.I.’s investigation of Russian influence in the U.S. election, insisting that Comey told him three times that he was not under investigation.  And, indeed, looking into Russian efforts to influence the election does not mean that the president himself is under investigation, as such.  Meanwhile, accounts from inside sources within the White House–leaked by somebody–say that the president was indeed pre-occupied and “enraged” over the Russia investigations.

But firing the head of the F.B.I. does not make those investigations “go away.”  Agents assigned to that investigation will keep on doing their work.  The interim head of the agency, Andrew McCabe, said as much.

This is why I think President Trump’s action is not equivalent to Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” in which he fired the Special Prosecutor investigating him.  Even if that were Trump’s intention, the action would not squelch the investigations.  (And we see how well Nixon’s more calculated action worked for him.)

I think we are just seeing, again, the results of President Trump’s impulsiveness, his undisciplined words, his dysfunctional staff, and his governmental inexperience.

Those things can be fixed or compensated for, but they need to be addressed soon lest they fatally damage his presidency. [Read more…]