November 22nd, 2004

New

Random--Those Sneaky Republicans!

I got this from one Josh Marshall's website via MSNBC:

This weekend Congress was working on a massive $388 billion omnibus spending bill that will cover all manner of federal spending. But at the request of Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, a special provision was inserted into the bill which allows the Chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees or their "agents" to review any American's tax return with no restrictions whatsoever.

Specifically, none of the privacy law restrictions -- or the criminal and civil penalties tied to them -- would apply when the Chair or anybody he or she designates as his or her "agent" looked at your tax return.

The exact language of the provision is as follows ...

"Hereinafter, notwithstanding any other provision of law governing the disclosure of income tax returns or return information, upon written request of the Chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service shall allow agents designated by such Chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein."

The provision was slipped into the bill at the last moment. And, at least on the Democratic side, no one was told about it until some Dems caught it at the last moment.

Senate Republicans quickly backtracked, calling the provision a mistake or snafu and insisting they knew nothing about it. You can see some of the back-and-forth that took place on the Senate floor in this AP piece at CNN.

Sen. Stevens of Alaska, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, originally blamed the provision on a 'staffer'. But later, according to the AP, Sen. Frist and "congressional aides" said it was inserted at the behest of Rep. Istook.

And in case you're wondering, Istook's staffers are apparently telling constituents that Rep. Istook had to step out of the room for a moment when the DeLay Rule was being voted on.

Maybe he had to finish reading over Ronnie Earle's tax return?
-- Josh Marshall
New

Personal--The Conference: Mark & Dina; Seeing St. Joe Folks; The Art of William Schickle

The Epiphanies of Beauty: The Arts in a Post-Christian Culture conference went off about as well as I could have hoped in South Bend this weekend. It was most pleasing for seeing lots of old friends and former students, of course. Getting to spend hours with Lang and Dina is a rare event in life nowadays, and though I got to see Nathaniel in August, it still isn't an everyday thing. I checked in at the Morris Inn on Thursday to find that I had no reservation, despite having confirmed it the day before, and so that caused some aggravation. I missed getting together as planned with Julia Cunningham because of that, although I was able to enjoy a leisurely (and brilliant) Chinese dinner at the Mandarin House with Katie Ellgass, mostly about comparing programs now that she's started her M.D., and hearing about just how brutal (and odd, frankly) their schedule and demands are. Other students were surprises, like Adam Skocyzlas. Robert Holdemann, and Danielle Humphrey--now suddenly "Haley"--and I even ran into non-former student Josh Warner, who we didn't know was in town and with whom I had a looooong, good post-Folk Choir lunch talk about his decision to join the Trappists. I then treated myself to a visit with Cait and Val Efta before leaving.

It was bizarre to sit in the ballroom listening to Mark and Dina play: half flashback, and half wrong--almost like trying to relive a time solidly past. But along with good music, there was good talk there, too: Chris Bettcher and Rhodora Beaton were there, and I talked long and irrelevantly about pop culture and film with Ben Dillon and Eric Houston, hearing from the former what passes at St. Joe these days and what a disaster the Theology Department is: still being more Conservative than Christian. Even Bishop D'Arcy had instructed his priests not to endorse a candidate in the election, but that didn't stop these teachers from teaching the students categorically that voting for John Kerry would be a mortal sin and thus tearing down even more credability for Theology among the students. Crap crap crap.

Those are the bulk of the "details," but that doesn't really do it. Mark and I were talking a lot about how the great discourse--academic papers, paintings, statues, musical performances--going on at the conference, with the talk in the halls in-between, and the time we've been away, really made us "feel" that "Notre Dame thing" strongly for the first time in a long time. Despite the garishness it can muster in marketing itself at times, there still is something incredible going on there--I'll say it again: there are two Notre Dames, and at one of them, you can get the best intellectual and spiritual formation that I know of on the planet.

The memory of the conference: having had to "wing" my way through reading my (well-received!) paper Friday morning once I realized reading it would go significantly over my time limit, I was treated to the opportunity to re-read it for Mark and Dina since they arrived only later Friday afternoon. I will not forget the absolute, indulgent pleasure of being stretched out on my oh-so-comfy hotel bed, feather pillow under my head, reading the paper to Mark and Dina, stretched out and cuddling on the other bed, with Dali's The Sacrament of the Last Supper in its frame, balanced across their stomachs as they studied it, listened, and asked great questions.

The other memory of the conference: meeting William "Bill" Schickle, after being a fan of his work for years. He remodeled the Abbey of Gethsemani and that space has been one of the most spiritually significant of my life. I learned who he was after a time--his graduation project from Notre Dame, the three-sided water fountain at the Grotto with three scenes of Jesus involving water that he made 60 years ago was also something I'd admired--and Nathaniel acquainted me with more of his work by giving me the hardcover volume on him that Notre Dame Press put out some years back, The Art of William Schickel. It is now autographed with his "pleasure to meet you" note after we spoke briefly at the conclusion of his session. The memory here is me holding open the book as I was explaining to Mark and Dina how Gethsemani's church--visible in large glossy photographs within--so successfully expressed the Cistercian rule and spirituality. He walked out past us as this was happening, caught my eye as he heard and saw what was going on, and give a smile and nod of approval. Lang caught it, too, and smiled that "Oh, yeah..." kind of smile, knowing exactly how cool the moment was....