Weekend Reading: March 25, 2017

Good morning and welcome to the weekend!  It was a busy week in the world of news. The two big political items were the defeat of the GOP healthcare replace/repeal bill (although no actual vote was taken), and the continuing (although now more serious) saga of stories about high level Trump campaign operatives having been in strategic communications with Russian officials during last year’s campaign.

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard a LOT about all these stories, and there are many other interesting items to get to. But in case you haven’t, there are a few good ones you may have missed. First, reporter Bob Costa jotted down his conversation with the President over the phone after the Healthcare Bill failed – I found this interesting because it gives you a window into how Trump is going to spin this defeat.

The next is a column from Fred Barnes. Fred doesn’t hide his contempt for the Freedom Caucus (the small group of conservative Congressmen who successfully blocked the bill), but he also gives them some props for understanding some of the flaws of the bill and standing tenaciously on principle. The Dems also stood against it – as you’ll read in the Costa piece, not one of them switched sides to vote with Speaker Ryan.

During it all, I guess the siren call of the slopes couldn’t be resisted by top White House advisor (and Trump son in law) Jared Kushner: Trump unhappy Jared Kushner took a powder on the ski slopes as health care bill floundered.  Now, this was reported by CNN, so take it with a grain of salt. But again, interesting dynamic there.

Sort of along similar lines: FIRST DAUGHTER IVANKA TRUMP GETS WEST WING OFFICE.  At first I read this story about Ivanka with indifferent amusement – it brought me back to my own days at the White House, and how cool the West Wing was (it never got old!), and how special it must have been to have an office there. Most of the staff is dispersed across three other buildings near the White House, and only the top echelon get to actually have an office IN the West Wing. But as I read along, I became bothered by the thought that someone not employed by the government and therefore not accountable to those standards, has an office in the West Wing of the White House. I think its great that Ivanka can advise her father on some issues – that must be a really special relationship. But if you’re going to have security clearance, a special phone, and a special office next to the most powerful man in the world, then it stands to reason that you should also have the responsibility that comes along with those perks.

Now I want to give you two pieces that are a bit older, but are pretty interesting and will get your mind churning.

The first has a title as long as a Puritan sermon and is called ‘Welcome to the Dark Net, A Wilderness Where Invisible World Wars are Fought and Hackers Roam Free’ (seriously, that’s the title).  You’ll enjoy this one if you have even a passing interest in what goes on behind the scenes on the interwebs.

The second is from the Atlantic, so understand that its coming from the quasi-intellectual bastion of the left. It’s called ‘How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts’.  I am unsure that I agree with the conclusions in this article, but there are some interesting items in here, and especially interesting insights into how slot machines are made to function these days. My view on gaming is that if you walk into a casino with $200, a reasonable (and sane) position to hold is that you’ll not be walking out with it. It’s entertainment, and its expensive entertainment at that. If that’s how you get your kicks, then go for it. But what is at issue here (at least in my mind) is the predatory nature of the gaming industry, and how far they’re willing to go to get more money – the article paints them as overtly greedy, which differentiates them from most fortune 500 companies who at least try and appear (or pretend to be) interested in the social implications of their products/work/influence. There’s also an apparently growing amount of evidence that the areas surrounding casinos (for instance) increase in crime, and even some opponents who say that politicians aren’t getting all the money from the deal they had hoped when negotiating casinos in their states, due to the crime costs – its not a net victory, some say.  Though I don’t know if these are verifiable stats, they are items of concern mentioned in the article as well.  Good food for thought here.

Did anyone else see this?  ‘In Cold Blood’ Killer’s Never-Published Memoir Raises Questions About His Motive.  I thought it was pretty interesting, especially after having slogged through Capote’s original hit book on the matter just this year.

This was funny: O NSA, You Have Searched Me and Known Me

Now, let’s get to the Russian stuff…First, from the Denver Post, Fox pulls legal analyst Andrew Napolitano from air after Trump report’.  And then…from the Associated Press, ‘Before Trump job, Manafort worked to aid Putin.’  Manafort seems to have been an international “gun for hire” (says the AP’s Horowitz).  This is all new information, but it also all happened a decade ago (which the AP acknowledges).

That’s interesting stuff, but not really super relevant since Manafort has long since been at a distance from the Trump orbit.  What seems to be a lot more relevant is this story from CNN: US officials: Info suggests Trump associates may have coordinated with Russians.  This is all emanating from Monday’s revelation from FBI director Comey’s testimony before Congress.  Heck, all of this may be nothing at all. But there’s a lot going on here on multiple fronts, and we may never know if its anything legit or not. Usually in politics, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But we’re living in a world right now where news organizations that used to be legitimate have been going out of their way to ruin politicians from opposing political factions irregardless of how flagrant their bias appears.  Mike Allen concluded as follows,

Watergate was a coverup of a burglary. This could be the coverup of a nuclear-armed U.S. nemesis that infiltrated our politics with the specific aim of disrupting the very foundation of our democracy — a presidential election — and did so, possibly, in a manner that elected its preferred candidate and locked in all party control that could decimate the opposition party for years.

My CONCLUSION…In days like these, we must be extra discerning before we jump to partisan sounding conclusions, and weigh everything we hear with wisdom. Mouthpieces on the tube and the twitters all have agendas and perspectives to justify – this goes for folks on the right and left alike.

Speaking of the Twitters: Why Even Donald Trump Can’t Save Twitter

DID YOU KNOW…that during all this hubbub about Russia and healthcare, there’s been a Supreme Court nomination in progress?  Here’s a funny moment from the hearings this week. 

OOOOOPS: Authorities: Man errantly texted prosecutor about drug swap

Also happening in the midst of our American political mess, was a terrorist attack in London. The Bobbies have two in custody (the attacker was dead on the scene). Apparently this attacker was operating as part of a wider group/plan.  These are the kinds of things that happen and you shake your head and wonder ‘what can I do about this?’  It all seems so far away, doesn’t it?  Possibly the best thing to do would be to pray for the family members of the victims, that their lives would be protected, and that they’d find more ultimate salvation and comfort spiritually.

Physics Lesson? From the Wall Street Journal: How a 145-Pound Golfer Became One of the Game’s Longest Drivers

Lastly, I wanted to bring some items to your attention this week that were really fascinating and sad. The first is on how secularization is letting us down. The Atlantic (again) talks about how there was this great promise of secularization sweeping away all the tension and strife and polarization in society, and how that promise was wrong.  The second is how Tim Keller, one of the most popular and helpful and conservative preachers/theologians in America is now being denied some snooty award from Princeton, after Princeton initially offered him the award. The reason seems to be that (all of a sudden?) there has been an uproar over Keller’s views on the role of women in the church. Keller believes women ought to have a prominent and important role in the life of the church, but unlike the liberals at Princeton, he doesn’t believe women should be ordained to preach, nor does he believe that people of an LGBTQLMNOPQRSTUVWZYZ (just wanted to cover all my alphabetical bases there) persuasion ought to be ordained ministers. In other words, he holds to the Bible.  Al Mohler covers both items really pretty well in his briefing here.  Of course the sad thing about the Keller situation is that Princeton used to be a great bastion of conservative intellectual thought, and produced some of the great defenders of orthodoxy a hundred years (and longer) ago. The institution has teetered on liberalism many times and was rescued in the past by towering conservative intellects like Gerhardus Vos. This was once the home of the great B.B. Warfield. It’s sad to see it degenerate into theological heresy/liberalism.

That’s it – that is all I have in terms of news and such.  It was a sobering and not a super uplifting group of stories from the week. Corruption/compromising of prominent institutions (both state and religious) is discouraging. So what are Christians supposed to think and do? Do we cynically say “well that’s just the way the world is”?  I think we have to acknowledge that we’re living in a fallen world, certainly, and that all of us (even those of us who have been rescued and redeemed by the Lord) are sinners whose mess gets on everything.

But Christians are also called to take the word of Truth, the Bible, notjust  the opinions of the church or of man, but the Bible, and shine the light of the Gospel through word and deed. More often than not, this means individual conversations. Corruption in the public square ought only to serve as a ratification for all we know about the human heart, and what we know of the solution.

That same Bible says that Jesus lived during a time of extreme corruption and violence. Not only were the Romans violent oppressors of the populace, but in the case of the Jews of Palestine, even their own people sold them out for money.  But I am hopeful – even for our own times – because I remember men like Matthew. He was a tax collector, one of these turncoats who sold his own people down the river, extorting hefty sums from them so he could live in opulence. His situation, his influence created a social and political problem – the kind we read about in the stories I posted above – and it was solved. It was solved in his life and sphere of influence when he was ransomed by Christ. He was drawn to a much more desirable kingdom.

The gospel changes lives; Christ still changes lives. And for those of us involved in the world of politics, it would be good to remember that – even when the headlines, and the people we know, seem to be gradually succumbing to and reflecting a greater tide of corruption and polarization.

PJW

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