Thursday, December 29, 2011

Unclear on the concept: part LVXII

Apparently the Illinois Catholic Charities organization is closing down rather than having to help gay couples adopt children. They are protesting an Illinois requirement that they can't accept state money unless they stop discriminating against same sex couples.

First of all, it is not clear to me why they would stop performing charitable work simply because they don't want to help certain people: Whatever happened to the the injunction of "hating the sin but not the sinner"? They certainly could follow the standard conservative principle of refusing to take "government money," yet continue their good works using their own funds.

Instead, keeping with an equally long tradition of militant right-wingers, they would rather try to pull an end-run around policies put into place through democratic means by a majority of their fellow citizens.

OK -- so far nothing unusual: just standard religious exceptionalism. However, Anthony R. Picarello, general council for the militant Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCB), offers this analysis:

"It's true that the church doesn't have a First Amendment right to have a government contract, but it does have a First Amendment right not to be excluded from a contract based on its religious beliefs."

No, Mr. Picarello. The church was not excluded from this contract because of its beliefs, it was excluded from the contract because it wouldn't comply with the terms of the contract, which clearly state that contractors may not discriminate. They can believe anything they want, and announce their beliefs in pulpits and street corners as much as they like. To make a simple analogy, if a building contract requires foundations to be poured with concrete, and you believe that Elmer's glue will suffice, you can state that belief as much as you want, but you can't expect to get that contract.

Lots of fundamentalist churches used to believe -- and a few still believe -- that "mixing of the races" is wrong. They used the same argument that Mr. Picarello is now dredging up to try to show that anti-discrimination laws were somehow oppressing them. But it didn't work then and it shouldn't work now. This is a democracy, and we try to treat all law-abiding citizens fairly. If that violates the opinions of some religious group that wants to treat some law-abiding citizens unfairly, well then they can't expect taxpayers' money -- some of which was contributed by the very people they want to shortchange -- to support their efforts to do so. Would the Catholic Bishops use the same logic to support groups that refuse to place children with Catholic or Mormon or Jewish or left-handed families, say?

What part of democracy does Mr. Picarello and his clients not understand?

(Which brings me to our "cave"-man President. Will he now let religious groups refuse to cover contraception in their healthcare plans, in violation of current statutes? Why isn't this a no-brainer for him?)

Friday, December 23, 2011

You can't make this up.

 John Boehner said yesterday (about the House going along with the Senate on temporary tax cut):

"...why not do the right thing for the American people, even though it’s not exactly what we want.”

(This is a quote from UPI)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

We'll take it...

Well, it's not like the Dems and Obama did anything great or bold or clever. In fact, the Republicans in the House overreached, the way arrogant and not very smart people often do. They were mislead into doing so because they are fundamentally wrong about things: they buy into a philosophy of a powerful elite over the majority and of the wealthy over the poor. Most are self-righteous in their narrow and intolerant religious views and ignorant of not only science but of economics and social philosophy.

The victory itself was minor: the PTR (Party for the Rich, formerly the GOP) in the House, in thrall to the Tea Screamers, having to back down and eat the Senate's two-month extensions of (1) a dubious "temporary" lowering of the FICA tax and (2) a temporary extension of unemployment benefits. Many battles over these issues remain -- and we'll see how tough the Dems are when push really comes to shove.

However, let's hope that this is the first cry of "The emperor has no clothes on." Maybe folks will wake up from the seemingly endless nightmare of buffoonery we've had to put up with from the Republican presidential B-Team (there is no A-Team) candidates.

Could this be a turning point? I will go to bed hoping so.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The there that isn't

There simply is nothing to discuss or even listen to from the "field" of Republican presidential candidates. I actually watched most of the last debate and couldn't find anything substantive. The whole was based on how much each candidate didn't like Obama and thought his policies were failures. Not one scintilla of defense for any pro or anti positions was given. No one explained why the "personal mandate", for example, was bad -- they just competed with each other in their distaste for it. They couldn't explain why this policy came out of Republican/conservative think tanks and had been supported by Republicans for decades ("Individual mandate is individual responsibility"). Or why Nixon's healthcare plan was to the left of Obama's. Or why the "public option", so popular in public opinion polls here and successful in practice most everywhere else, is not under discussion anywhere in the ranks of our reps.

Of course, none of the candidates explained how they would eliminate the vastly unpopular denial of coverage for "previous conditions" that the insurance industry has saddled us with, and which Obama's healthcare plan would get rid of. Would they allow people to opt out of healthcare premiums until they were sick? Or, would they simply let those without healthcare die (as many in the audience at an early debate seemed to favor)?

Mitt Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts supported and signed the bill which is the model for Obama's healthcare bill, said that, basically, he did so because "what's good for Massachusetts is not necessarily good for the country." No one knows what he means by this except as a way of making excuses to the Tea Screamers and other yahoos who don't like the plan. Thus, there was no debate on the issue, just on whether Romney hated the plan at least as much as his rivals say they do.

None of the candidates or the simpering incompetent moderators seemed to understand that the temporary lowering of the FICA tax does not necessarily imperil Social Security -- since when do Republicans care about saving Social Security as we know it? -- because the change specifically says that the lost revenue would be made up from general funds. Do facts have any meaning in this circus? One can make the argument -- and I have a great deal of sympathy for it -- that lowering the FICA tax temporarily will make it impossible ever to raise it back again, making Social Security dependent on general funds from the federal budget. The could allow a breach in the wall of the whole SS structure which, in future years as the hump of "boomers" pass through the system, would require more and more general revenue funds. A far better plan -- and one I've always supported -- is to raise the cap on income subject to FICA. This would enable the wealthy to shoulder their fair tax burden, perhaps lower the rate for everyone (especially when the boomers die off) and would ensure the solvency of the SS system indefinitely.

In any case, the world of true debate about real ideas is not the cloud-cuckoo-land of the Republican "debates". The latter is all about $10,000 bets, conspicuous religiosity, and who has hewn most faithfully to unexamined conservative mythology. It seems to me that grownups should be allowed equal time to reply -- especially those from the fact and reality-based community.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Major computer crash

Sorry for the hiatus: my old computer definitively died and I've spent the past week breaking in a new one. It seems that it's now whipped into shape, so I hope to get back to blogging very soon.

(Don't ask me why thinks I'm posting this at 4 in the morning! It's actually about 7AM.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Job creators aren't the rich

Here's an article from Bloomberg news, written by a very rich person, who turns the usual Republican baloney about rich "job creators" upside down. Check it out here. (Thanks to Maxine for sending me this.)

We can't all be like you now, can we Angela?

This is, of course, is a paraphrase of the great line in which Jeremy Irons as Claus Von Bulow puts down Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silvers) in the classic film "Reversal of Fortune."

But I'm referring to Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel who would very much like the whole European Economic Community to be like her own country: industrious, prudent, thrifty, docile. These are, of course, traits long admired by many of the Germanic persuasion (and others, of course), and account for certain elements of Germany's "success", both past a present.

However, belt tightening may not be the best strategy for most of the rest of Europe, any more than it has been for Japan since its last recession (still continuing) or for the U.S. (still continuing for most of us). Unemployment not only creates misery for the unemployed, but keeps most national economies from recovering, and keeps their debt high. As far as I can read, stiff roll-backs in government spending (even when there are deficits) have not worked in ending or shortening recessions. On the other hand, the "pump-priming" and other measures of Keynesian economics have been quite effective since WWII in preventing and/or shortening major depressions, or preventing them from becoming like the Great Depression. Arguably this is still very much the case. Paul Krugman has been writing about this for some time: see his recent column, for example, Killing the Euro.

By the way, German banks were among some of the worst speculators in subprime mortage-backed securities, CDOs and Credit Default Swaps. They were known in the investment banking community as the financial sucker of last resort, especially a few banks in Dusseldorf -- first mentioned in Michael Lewis's The Big Short and featured in Chapter IV of his latest book Boomerang. In any case, whether German's had any major role in the 2008 debacle or not, they will be called upon to be a major bailer-outer of the Euro-zone and more, simply because (1) if the Euro goes down, so will the European economy (including Germany's) and (2) there doesn't seem to be anyone else to do it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Snookered again?

I may be wrong, but it seems that the Republicans have been one-upping the Dems for the past few months. I'm referring to the endless broadcast of their stupid debates in which their superficial and nasty prejudices are put out over the air without any sort of "equal time" for reply by people who know anything about anything. Consider: Bachmann and that "frothy" guy ("Santorum") are total idiots who know nothing about anything;  Ron Paul who can't seem to distinguish rationality from looniness (he spouts about equal parts of each); Cain who is happy that thousands of women have not made complaints about being harassed by him (why didn't he claim billions, after all?) and who proposes a tax plan that will transfer wealth to the rich from everyone else faster than anyone else's tax plan; Gingrich  and Romney who seem to have no moral scruples whatever and will do or say anything or accuse anyone of anything if it will advance them politically or financially; and Huntsman, who isn't given much coverage anyway because he doesn't sling enough red-meat to the true believers (he's not really a Republican because he claims to believe in science -- a no-no for this band of yahoos). Oh, I forgot about Rick Perry ... but that's OK.

Why are these clowns allowed air time without challenge?

(Note: they have been challenged in print by just about every fact-checker in the press and on line. They are, literally, factually challenged.)