Good News For Male Prostitutes: Pope Sprinkles Holy Water On Condoms

I read in the Joplin Globe on Sunday that Pope Benedict XVI gave his it’s-sort-of-okay blessing on condom use for a certain class of sinners: male prostitutes.  Given the history of his flock of priests, that’s probably a good place to start.

In what was characterized by the Associated Press as a “stunning comment,” His Popeness said it could perhaps, possibly, maybe, conceivably, represent “a first step in the direction of moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.”  It seems that if a male prostitute has the desire to use a condom with “the intention of reducing the risk of infection,” that might be good enough for the Vicar of Christ, Christ Himself obviously not available for comment on the matter.

I want to applaud the Supreme Pontiff for stepping out of the dark ages into the merely darkish age of what passes for enlightenment in today’s Church. I see his bold move as representing “a first step in the direction of moralization, a first assumption of responsibility” for him and his Church.

Meanwhile, because of the Holy Father’s and his Church’s general teaching on artificial contraception—it’s a real no-no, in case you don’t know—millions needlessly suffer and die every year.

Millions.

Here’s the way the argument against artificial contraception goes:

1) The Church is charged with making sure as many people as possible end up in heaven, where there is no need for contraception since there won’t be any sex.  Instead, there will be endless games of badminton, and if you’re a good boy and girl and never use a condom or a birth control pill, when you pass on, you can play badminton against the reigning champs of the Cloud Nine Shuttlecock League: The Pedophile Priests.  Word has it, they haven’t lost a match in almost 1700 years!  Word also has it, after a grueling match, you should always let the priests shower first!

2) Users of artificial contraception are violating the laws of nature (if men were meant to wear condoms, they would have been born with wings, or something like that), the teaching of Scripture (“Thou shalt not wear raincoats while knowing someone in a biblical sense“—Leviticus 27:35) and the Church (the Pope says nobody no one except well-intentioned male hookers can wear rubbers), and are, therefore, sinners who will die and go to hell. 

Apparently, the price paid for limiting your offspring or protecting yourself from AIDS and other diseases, while experiencing God-ordained pleasure, is much greater than the price paid by priests, who while preying on the young, at least have the good sense not to use any artificial encumbrance.  Just remember, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

3) Therefore, the Church is holy and just in demanding that its followers, if they abstain from abstinence, do not use non-natural remedies for disease prevention or for contraception.  If its followers don’t like it, to hell with them. 

Uh, except the male prostitutes.  I almost forgot.

Why Obama Is Not A Lefty

I expect right-wing media in this country to say ridiculous things about Barack Obama, like, say, he is a communist, a socialist, or just an average leftist who is way out of touch with “mainstream” America.  On the adult-less right, anyone slightly left of Rush Limbaugh is a muddle-headed moderate, a leftist sympathizer, or worse.

But one even hears such talk among those who are not committed reactionaries.  On Morning Joe, for instance, it is a given among many of the regular guests that Obama has governed from the far left and voters smacked him down this November for doing so.

Uh, well, no.  He has not only not governed from the far left, a good case can be made that he has, in so many ways, governed from either the center-right, or, sad to say, the right-right.

Here are some examples of Obama’s often-conservative governance:

Health Insurance Reform

Obama’s signature accomplishment to date is health insurance reform, the Affordable Care Act.  He is proud of that achievement, as all Democrats should be, since it cost them a lot to get it passed.  And Republicans say they are committed to repealing it and replacing it with God only knows what.  In fact, tea partiers absolutely hate it and give it as an example of Obama’s fondness for socialism.

Except that it’s not. It’s not even close.

I heard today that the health insurance companies, normally fond of Republican enthusiasm for exclusively protecting corporate interests, are lining up to urge Republicans to slow down in their efforts to repeal health insurance reform.  From NPR:

“No one has said what this bill would be replaced with,” said Richard Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association. “But doing away with this would certainly be the wrong thing. … People have been gearing up for some time, well before this actual bill got passed, to make these changes locally, and have invested a lot.”

The truth is that the Affordable Care Act may have helped save the private insurance company from the profit-killing effects of a growing number of uninsured Americans.  According to Jonathan Oberlander at the University of North Carolina:

“Usually we think of the health industry as being in alliance with Republicans and opposing more government intervention in the health care system,” Oberlander says. But you have to ask why did the industry support the health reform law in the first place?”

He says the reason is that the more people there were without health insurance, the more that threatened the industry financially. In other words, its entire business model was about to fall apart.

So, we can conclude that the new health care law, with its insurance mandate that will drive many new customers into the arms of the private insurance industry, is far from being a left-wing dream.  And besides all that, the basic structure of the Affordable Care Act is very similar to what Republican Mitt Romney approved of when he was governor of Massachusetts.  In fact, it is more conservative than RomneyCare, as Jonathan Chait points out.

And largely forgotten is the health care overhaul legislation offered by Republicans in 1993 in response to Clinton’s attempt to reform the system.  It has striking similarities to what eventually passed this year.  For a comparison, go here and look for yourself.

There’s simply no way the new health insurance reform law can be interpreted as a move to the far left.  Sorry.  But, then, I don’t expect members of the media, especially on sound bite political shows, to mention that very often.

The War in Afghanistan

Obama has tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan and has exponentially increased the number of drone strikes in Pakistan.  He has, essentially one-upped the Bush administration, so much so, that as Politico points out, Mr. Bush had good things to say about Obama’s strategy:

“I strongly believe the mission is worth the cost,” Bush wrote in “Decision Points,” which comes out Tuesday. “Fortunately, I am not the only one.”

He expresses gratitude that Obama “stood up to critics by deploying more troops, announcing a new commitment to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, and increasing the pressure on Pakistan to fight the extremists in the tribal areas.”

Again, sorry pundits.  Obama’s war policy is Dick Cheney on steroids.

Financial Reform

Other than health care reform, there isn’t anything the left-wing of the Democratic Party has been more upset about than the financial reform legislation passed this year.  The left claims the law won’t do much to stop the practice of using “too big to fail” as an excuse for bailing out Wall Street gamblers.  In this, they have common agreement with many tea partiers. 

Even an admittedly liberal bright spot in the reform law—the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—has received criticism because President Obama refused to fight to install Elizabeth Warren—a hero on the left—as its head.  They fear that without her in charge, the “Banksters” will have their way with Obama’s rather conservative Treasury Department.

So, even financial reform turns out to be a frustratingly moderate approach to reigning in an out-of-control financial industry.

The Stimulus Plan and Lower Taxes

The New York Times reported recently:

In a New York Times/CBS News Poll last month, fewer than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans. Half of those polled said they thought that their taxes had stayed the same, a third thought that their taxes had gone up, and about a tenth said they did not know. As Thom Tillis, a Republican state representative, put it as the dinner wound down here, “This was the tax cut that fell in the woods — nobody heard it.”

The tax cut nobody heard of was in the Recovery Act stimulus plan passed by—and only by—Democrats.  It was a $787 billion bill (CBO now estimates it will cost $814 billion). Of that total some $275 billion (now projected at $290 billion) was for tax cuts for 95% of Americans. Get that?  Tax cuts.  For cutting taxes. You know, those things Republicans believe are major stimulants of economic growth, at least when Republican propose them.  When Democrats propose them, they somehow fail to stimulate growth, but that’s another subject.

Tax cuts comprised about 36% of the Recovery Act stimulus plan and it received ZERO Republican votes.

Now, it is widely known that President Obama and the Democrats took the approach of including such massive tax cuts in the stimulus bill—despite there being arguably better ways to spend the money—in order to get bipartisan support.  In other words, they made the bill much more conservative—and thus less effective—than it needed to be, since Republicans didn’t support it anyway.  Most people on the left believe the bill was too small and wrongly designed to appeal to Obama-must-fail Republicans. 

So, we can conclude that much of the stimulus package represented essentially Republican tax-cutting ideas, hardly part of any leftist agenda I’ve ever heard of.

The GM Revival

Remember last year when the right-wing told us that Obama was fulfilling his desire to socialize America by stepping in to save General Motors?  Never mind that the GM bailout begun under Bush.  And never mind that Congressional Republicans had no problems bailing out bankers.  It was just union workers they had a problem helping.  As John McCain said, the GM-Chrysler bailout, “was all about the unions.”  Except that the unions were forced to sacrifice, too. 

And in the end, yesterday’s IPO, the second largest in history, saw Obama’s socialist stake in GM drop from 61% to around 33%.  Damn! I bet he’s pissed about that:

We are finally beginning to see some of these tough decisions that we made in the midst of crisis begin to pay off.

Okay, so he’s not pissed.  Why not?  Why isn’t he furious that he doesn’t actually control GM anymore?  Because he’s not a bleeping socialist, that’s why.

Anyway, leave it to the Wall Street Journal to put in perspective the GM comeback and the government’s role in it:

The most important step may have been the government’s efforts to stock GM with a new management team, to shake up its corporate culture and refocus the company on making money.

Making money?  Obama wanted GM to make money?  Huh?  What kind of left-winger is he?

Small Business Tax Relief

Including the Recovery Act, Obama has cut taxes on small businesses eight (8!) times since he sat his socialist keister in the Oval Office.  Additionally, eight (8!) more small business tax cuts have been stalled in the Senate because of Obama-must-fail Republican recalcitrance.

The Employee Free Choice Act

Despite widespread fear among the business class, Obama hasn’t done one damn thing to get the EFCA passed. It’s hard to remember now, but when Obama-the Communist assumed office, the EFCA was the Holy Grail for organized labor. So much for Obama’s radical agenda for unions, which, the right told us, would destroy America.

Budget Deficits and Debt

Who was it that appointed the deficit reduction commission?  Oh, yeah.  It was that radical spender, Barack Obama.  And he will have to answer for it, as Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson make the rounds and explain to us that although the wealthy made off with billions and billions at Wall Street casinos, and although the financial system had to be bailed out by taxpayers, the pain of budget cuts will fall on average Americans, who will have to work harder and longer for less.  Rah, rah, Comrade Obama!

Free Trade

Despite resistance from the left, particularly unions, Obama is pursuing free trade policies and trade agreements with trading cheaters all over the globe.  

War On Drugs

California had on its ballot this November an initiative that would have legalized marijuana. Surely, every leftist in America, and most libertarians, favored the measure. Yet, the Obama Justice Department made it clear that it opposed Proposition 19 and that it would “vigorously enforce” all federal laws related to dope smoking, no matter the outcome.  No one can possibly argue that a McCain-Palin administration would have acted differently.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Despite favoring repeal of the military’s ban on openly homosexual service, President Obama had a chance to end the policy by simply refusing to appeal a federal judge’s decision last month that prohibited the government from enforcing or applying the ban.  Of course, it turns out that the administration did appeal the decision, thus irking homosexual activists everywhere. 

Why would he do that?  Because he takes his job as head of the executive branch seriously.  And the executive branch is charged with enforcing the law, whether the president likes it or not. That, my friends, is conservative governance.

Guantanamo Bay

It’s still open.  Any questions?

 

It’s A Strange Question, If Sarah Palin Or Donald Trump Is The Answer

America is in a strange place, if both Sarah Palin and Donald Trump think they can become president. 

Ms. Palin, who celebrates her self-described commonness, and Mr. Trump who revels in his self-described uncommonness, each have the nothing-better-to-do media types infatuated with whether one or both will run to become the Most Powerful Person On Earth

Think about that.

I’ve already said that Sarah Palin will not run for president in 2012.  Her goal is to keep speculation alive long enough to accumulate sufficient cash to purchase Alaska, so she can have it all to herself.  And right now she is able to routinely separate enough gullible commoners from their disposable income that someday that dream may come true. Good for her.  But president?  Come on.  Nobody believes that, even if she really wanted to go for it.

That leaves us with Donald Trump.  What is it about rich jerks like The Donald, who think the world pines for their pomp and longs for their leadership?  Nature kicked Trump out of the safety and comfort of his mother’s womb into the safety and comfort of a womb of wealth.  His father was a prosperous New York real estate developer.  Go figure.

Yet, despite such a head start in life, Mr. Trump managed to get himself in financial trouble in the 1990s (remember “junk bonds”?). From a 1991 article in Time:

Meet Donald Trump’s bankers. Like the characters in the fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes, a gaggle of major financial institutions has finally been forced to admit, after lending Trump billions of dollars, that there’s a lot less to the emperor — or at least his empire — than the banks had believed. Not quite nine months after bailing out Trump with a rescue package that gave him $65 million in new loans and eased credit terms on his bank debt, Trump’s bankers last week stopped the game. Already more than $3.8 billion in the hole and sliding perilously close to a mammoth personal bankruptcy, the brash New York developer had no choice but to accept the dismantling of his vast holdings. Meeting round the clock at secret Manhattan locations, Trump’s lawyers and bankers by week’s end had begun to hammer out a complex series of agreements on the distribution of some of his assets.

However, unlike you and me and most of the world, Trump was simply too big to fail completely.  He was so far in debt, his creditors had to cut him a deal in order to keep from losing even more money than the hundreds of millions they reportedly lost on his ambitions.  And through it all, The Donald kept his humility in check:

…despite his desperate situation, Trump, who has always prided himself on his mastery of dealmaking, once again seems to have come up with a strong hand. Pooh-poohing any notion that he was cornered, Trump insisted last week that the talks were friendly. “I have a great relationship with the banks,” he said, adding airily, “The 1990s are a decade of deleveraging. I’m doing it too.”

Yeah, it’s nice to have a “great relationship with the banks.”  I certainly have a great relationship with my bank: Everyone there knows where I live and if I don’t make my car payment, they will send someone out to check on me, and then they will tow my car away.

Donald Trump’s life, past and present, is God’s way of rubbing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s terrible truth in our face: the rich are, indeed, different from you and me.

Trump has confessed to us that he is thinking about running for president, as a Republican, of course.  I recommend everyone watch his interview with George Stephanopoulos.  You will find that he is willing to start a trade war with China, that he finds Sarah Palin interesting and he likes her, but you won’t find out his position on abortion rights, because he’s not ready to reveal that piece of information just yet.  He was asked,

Are you pro-choice?

Trump: I don’t want to discuss, right now, but you will be shocked when I give you that answer…I’m gonna make a decision and when I make a decision I’ll let you know about that. But I think you’ll probably be surprised.

Everyone knows you can’t win a Republican primary and be pro-choice on abortion, so, no doubt, Mr. Trump has to figure out not what he believes, but what he needs to believe.  He’s flexible. How thoughtful.

He confirmed his presidential ambitions this morning on Morning Joe.  Mika Brzezinski, who falsely represents political balance on the show, asked him this question:

So, this frustration you feel, is that why you were thinking of running for president, and would you run as a Republican?

TRUMP: Well, I am a Republican—I’d run as a Republican. And I haven’t decided—I’d prefer not running. I’m having a great time, as you know, doing what I’m doing. 

Yes, like his party comrade Sarah Palin, The Donald doesn’t really want to run for president.  He’s got better things to do. Both of these stunningly patriotic Americans suggest that their lives are full of wonderful things, like grizzlies and Fox “News” and skyscrapers and casinos and lots and lots of cash, but they would give it all up—except the cash—just to be our leader, if we really, really needed them.

When Joe Scarborough asked him this morning to rate Barack Obama as a leader, in his typically Trumpish way, Trump said:

Well, you know, I respect him, I like him, I think he is wonderful in many ways.  I think he has not been good for business and honestly and very sadly the world does not respect this country, and therefore I assume the world does not respect our leader.  He’s a nice man, I think he’s totally over his head.

Barack Obama is a nice man.  But he’s bad for business.  He’s over his head.  And The Donald knows this because, as he told Stephanopoulos,

I have many people from China that I do business with, they laugh at us.  They feel we’re fools.  And almost being led by fools.

There you have it.  A man who thinks he can be president bases his opinion of our country’s standing in the world, and our President’s ability to lead, on what his Chinese business friends tell him about America. 

As I said, America is in a strange place these days.

The National Debt: Let’s At Least Ask Who Dunnit

My friend Juan Don has turned me on to a chart created by Franklin “Chuck” Spinney, who used to be a budget analyst for the Pentagon and who is famous for criticizing what Wikipedia calls, “the reckless pursuit of costly complex weapon systems by the Pentagon, with disregard to budgetary consequences.”

About the painful choices that will soon have to be made relative to our present revenue and spending imbalance, Spinney asks:

So, as a first cut into a complex issue, perhaps it is time for the angry masses to ask which political party put them into the fiscal straight jacket that is setting them up for this horrible choice?

Here’s the chart that serves as that “first cut into a complex issue”:

James Fallows posted Spinney’s chart on The Atlantic website, and here is the explanation:

To be clear: the middle column is how much overall federal debt grew, or shrank, as a share of gross domestic product during each administration, and the right-hand column is the average annual rate of growth or reduction during that administration. As Spinney said in a note to me, “The idea of this column is simply to show the average annual change for the period covered in the first column — so you can compare one term administrations to two term administrations in terms of their annual performance.  The first row of the second column says, for example, that the average debt burden ratio declined by 4.7% during each year of the Truman administration.”

When the economy is growing faster than the debt, that administration looks “green.” When it isn’t, red. The chart may give a slightly unfair boost to Harry Truman, whose administration coincided with the end of huge outlays and borrowing for World War II. Otherwise…

My Favorite Billionaire

This morning on CNBC, Warren Buffett, one of the richest capitalists in the universe, told the somewhat astonished free-market-friendly hosts of Squawk Box that if it weren’t for the intervention of the government during the economic crisis in the fall of 2008, he would be eating Thanksgiving dinner at McDonald’s this year.

Buffett was on the show defending his op-ed piece in the New York Times, in which he thanked “Dear Uncle Sam” for saving not only his own company, Berkshire Hathaway, but “all of corporate America” and “300 million Americans.”  He wrote,

There was no hiding place. A destructive economic force unlike any seen for generations had been unleashed.

Only one counterforce was available, and that was you, Uncle Sam. Yes, you are often clumsy, even inept. But when businesses and people worldwide race to get liquid, you are the only party with the resources to take the other side of the transaction. And when our citizens are losing trust by the hour in institutions they once revered, only you can restore calm.

Hooray, for one rich capitalist who gets it. 

Buffett was also asked about the extension of the Bush tax cuts this morning.  I will quote him at length:

Unless we get more money from the wealthy people, we’re not gonna get our revenues back up to 19% or something like that of GDP.  I think the vast majority of Americans should not pay more taxes—if anything they should pay a little less—and I think people at the top should pay more.

The IRS released the figures for the highest  individual tax returns just a couple of months ago, and the average income was $358 million.  Now, if you take 400 times $358 million, you come up with $1.4 trillion of income for those 400 people.  And their average tax rate was under 17%, the lowest it’s ever been…

If you ask me what should happen with the tax code, it should hit people with huge incomes a lot harder and it should not be hitting people down below harder…

I’m gonna have a lot of capital gains this year…it’ll be in the tens of millions and when I get all through, I will have a tax rate—counting payroll taxes—of about 16 or 17 percent.  And the average for the other people in the office is going to be over 30%.  And that’s dead wrong.

On the tax issue, Buffett is one billionaire who understands what some Democrats are starting to forget.

He also weighed in on the Simpson-Bowles deficit-cutting proposal, particularly the tax-restructuring part of it.  Buffett believes, like everyone, that we will soon have to deal with the debt problem, and he has something of an idea as to what should be the proper amount of government revenue and spending and the ratio between the two, in terms of the GDP:

We’re taking in a little over 15% of GDP and we’re spending a little over 25%.  That gap has to narrow in the foreseeable future to something not greater than 3%… [The Simpson-Bowles plan] is only a sound plan, if it brings revenues up from the present 15 and a fraction percent up to something like 19%.  If you have expenditures of 21 and revenues of 19, that will work fine for this country over time…

There is no magic, you’re gonna have to raise more revenues and you’re gonna have to cut expenses.

As for the future, Buffett is bullish on America, as anyone who has ever listened to him would expect.  He says the economy “is getting better,” and when asked what the government can or could be doing about increasing job growth, he said,

I don’t think the government is nearly as big a factor in that as what I call the regenerative capacity of capitalism…Since the country was started, we’ve probably had 15 recessions, most of the time we didn’t even know what fiscal or monetary policy was—the terms hadn’t been invented—but we came back from those.  We come back from everything.  And we’ll come back from this one.  It won’t be next week or next month.  I mean, the sort of cardiac arrest that the country experienced, you  don’t get out of the hospital in a day or a week or a month…

Asked about the trend toward government policies that embrace austerity, which could harm the recovery, Buffett replied:

This country has faced lots of interesting problems over the past years.  We have gone through civil wars, world wars, Great Depressions…the country will work over time, but that doesn’t mean we get the right answers every day or every week…If they don’t get it right the first time, they’ll get it right the second time…

Let’s hope he’s right, as the fight over what to do next—if anything—begins.

The CNBC appearance, in two parts, can be heard here and here.

Slimy Republican Politics In The Name Of Jesus

Yesterday’s Joplin Globe carried a story on the issue of fake caller IDs used during this year’s election by the Missouri House Republican Campaign Committee.

Known as “spoofing,” the idea is to use reputable caller IDs—say, from hospitals—as a disguise to get people to answer the phone.  People then find they are listening to a recording saying nasty things about Democrats. Most folks obviously are more likely to answer a call when the ID reads “St. Luke’s,” as opposed to reading, “slimy Republican political operative.”

One such slimy political operative, Tom Smith, works for the state of Missouri as the legislative director for Joplin’s own, Ron Richard.  Mr. Smith owns Survey Saint Louis and Survey Missouri.  A victim of stolen identity, St. Luke’s Health System, alleged that one of Mr. Smith’s companies was the source of the automated calls and sued to have the practiced stopped, four days before the election.

Although Mr. Smith eventually settled the lawsuit by paying St. Luke’s attorney’s fees, he claims he didn’t know anything about the bait-and-switch practice until he read about it in the media.

Yep, that’s what he said.  But, if so, why settle the suit?

One thing Mr. Smith can’t deny, though, is the content of the robo calls.  His company produced the following attack on Democrat Courtney Cole (which I posted last month):

Female voice: This is an urgent alert for all Christian families. Before you vote you should know that state representative candidate Courtney Cole has taken hundreds in campaign donations from a representative of the hard-core pornography industry, including gay pornography.

“By allowing her Democratic campaign to be funded by those who are involved with and support hard-core pornography Courtney Cole clearly does not share our Christian family values.

“On election day stand up for what’s right and decent by voting no on Courtney Cole. Paid for by House Republican Campaign Committee, Inc.”

Similar disgusting calls were made to folks in other districts, including the 21st, where Democrat Kelly Schultz was a victim.  Republicans in Jefferson City knew Schultz very well, since she worked in the state capitol for eleven years, most recently as a legislative assistant to Rep. Sara Lampe, of Springfield.  But that didn’t stop some Republicans, including an aid to Ron Richard*, from attacking her, in the name of Jesus and family values.

And before I hear from someone who says, “Democrats do this stuff, too,” please be prepared to show me where in Missouri that Democrats used religious robocalls to smear Republicans?

That’s what I thought.

__________________________

*Perhaps someday, before hell freezes over, some local reporter will ask Ron Richard what he thinks about such things and what he thinks about his aid, Tom Smith, and his tactics.  Or what he thinks about his close colleague, Steve Tilley, who leads the House Republican Campaign Committee that paid for the robo calls. 

My money is on hell freezing over.

But we do know that the Kansas City Star reported last year that Tom Smith made “almost $500,000” via his political consulting business, which this year produced the robo calls above.  As an AP story put it,

Richard said he doesn’t have a problem with Smith’s side job as long as he doesn’t work on campaigns during the legislative session. 

The Domestic Truman Doctrine: Fight Like Hell For What Is Right

As we brace for the lame-duck legislative section, which will feature wounded Democrats and wound up Republicans, I want to note a couple of things coming from the mind of the excellent columnist for The New York Times, Frank Rich.

Last week he attempted to put some fizzle back in fast fizzling Democrats, including president Obama, who sometimes sound like they are succumbing to the idea that Democratic ideas aren’t worth a vigorous defense:

In the 1946 midterms, the unpopular and error-prone rookie president Harry Truman, buffeted by a different set of economic dislocations, watched his party lose both chambers of Congress (including 54 seats in the House) to a G.O.P. that then moved steadily to the right in its determination to cut government spending and rip down the New Deal safety net. Two years after this Democratic wipeout, despite a hostile press and a grievously divided party, Truman roared back, in part by daring the Republican Congress to enact its reactionary plans. He won against all odds, as David McCullough writes in “Truman,” because “there was something in the American character that responded to a fighter.”

Well, maybe there was.  And maybe there still is.  In any case, this week Rich pointed out the opponent in today’s fight: Republicans who vow “to fight to the end” to award the richest of the rich huge windfalls through extending the Bush tax cuts.

Mr. Rich says that Americans tend to like a lot of rich folks because we “admire and often idolize success.”  We particularly like those who create a lot of good-paying jobs.

But the liberal columnist says that “the wealthy Americans we should worry about” are “those who take far more from America than they give back” and “are all but certain to cash in on the Nov. 2 results”:

The Americans I’m talking about are not just those shadowy anonymous corporate campaign contributors who flooded this campaign. No less triumphant were those individuals at the apex of the economic pyramid — the superrich who have gotten spectacularly richer over the last four decades while their fellow citizens either treaded water or lost ground. The top 1 percent of American earners took in 23.5 percent of the nation’s pretax income in 2007 — up from less than 9 percent in 1976. During the boom years of 2002 to 2007, that top 1 percent’s pretax income increased an extraordinary 10 percent every year. But the boom proved an exclusive affair: in that same period, the median income for non-elderly American households went down and the poverty rate rose.

And it’s not that Democrats are innocent of all charges for this state of affairs:

How can hedge-fund managers who are pulling down billions sometimes pay a lower tax rate than do their secretaries?” ask the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker (of Yale) and Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley) in their deservedly lauded new book, “Winner-Take-All Politics”…

The authors’ answer to that question and others amounts to a devastating indictment of both parties…

America’s ever-widening income inequality was not an inevitable by-product of the modern megacorporation, or of globalization, or of the advent of the new tech-driven economy, or of a growing education gap…Inequality is instead the result of specific policies, including tax policies, championed by Washington Democrats and Republicans alike as they conducted a bidding war for high-rolling donors in election after election.

As Hacker and Pierson point out in their book, that bidding war began during the Carter administration, which is when Democrats first yielded to a new and powerful coalition of big-money interests that “launched a diversified attack,” including influencing public opinion through “orchestrating a campaign of op-ed pieces and magazine articles,” “grassroots mobilization,” and the targeting of “moderate Democrats,” many of whom represented “suburban districts that had traditionally been Republican.”

Sound familiar Tea Party fans?

Some have argued that Truman’s “comeback” after the devastating 1946 midterms had more to do with “rapid growth” in the economy leading up to the 1948 election than with Truman’s adversarial stance against the Do-Nothing Congress of his day.

Whatever the truth is, it couldn’t hurt President Obama and his fellow Democrats to channel the give ’em hell spirit of a fighting Harry Truman, as they finish legislative business this year and begin anew the next. 

And then hope like hell the economy catches fire.

The Glenn Beck Paradox, Part 2

I wrote the following in response to some very thoughtful comments on my post, “The Glenn Beck Paradox.”  If  philosophy-talk is not your idea of a good time, then avoid the following:

_____________________

To all,

I just love these philosophical discussions.

First, of course it is good advice not to just put trust or faith in any one person or idea, but to seek out all the information one can in a finite period of time.  But at some point, one has to stop looking and make up one’s mind.  G. K. Chesterton said,

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

The point of the post was to raise the sticky issue of epistemology (“What is knowledge and how do we come to know what it is we think we know”) in the context of someone (Beck) who clearly wants people to take his word for things, despite his urging them not to.  That is one of the oldest tricks in the Book of Demagoguery.

Despite Beck’s pleading, “Don’t take my or anyone else’s word for anything,” I was simply trying to point out that there are limits to skepticism.  Even science makes assumptions about the universe which cannot be proven, and without those assumptions, we would not have “knowledge” in the sense most of us use the word.

Fundamental among the assumptions of science would be the “real” existence of the physical universe (and other minds).  Science also assumes natural causation (the root of most conflicts between religion and science).  Scientific reasoning assumes that explanations for things happening in our universe can and will only be found in nature itself.  And, further, the evidence supporting those explanations will only come from the natural world, which, science assumes, has an operating consistency we would call predictability or “order.”

Oddly, none of these assumptions in science can be proven by science.

But notwithstanding the epistemological (and causation) problems in science, I raised the epistemology issue in the Beck post because it has always been a mystery to me how we come to know what we believe we know. 

Given the fact that none of us have infinite time to explore issues, how do we come to sound conclusions?  How much do we need to read and from what sources?  How much weight do we give a particular source?  Don’t we naturally give more weight to sources who share our worldview?  But, then, why do we have that worldview in the first place?  Where do we actually get our basic views?  Our opinions?  Even our assumptions?

I realize a lot of folks know the things they know because their truth meters are calibrated by their parents or priests or pastors.  But I know a lot of people who have rejected their childhood training, some radically so.  What’s the difference between those that do and those that don’t?

These things have fascinated me even before I did a 180 degree turn, as far as my political (and for the most part, my religious) views are concerned.  I can tell you what real-world events I think (I “assume”) led me to change my mind about conservatism, but I can’t tell you how those events actually “caused” that change, if in fact they really did.  Lots of people confront things that challenge their philosophy, but they don’t change their views.  They mostly stick with them.  Why is that?

I was so fascinated by this topic that I once e-mailed Alvin Plantinga, the great Christian philosopher, who is a first-class thinker and who is credited with rehabilitating theism’s respectability among professional philosophers.  I had understood his explanation of a belief in God as a “properly basic belief,” but I wondered how he could also consider confidence in the veracity of the Bible as a properly basic belief, too.  He referred me to a chapter in one of his books, in which he explains how the “conditions” for such a basic belief can be met.  Is he right?  Beats me.  Wish I knew.  I can only say I don’t believe he is.

But I do believe we have to have some sort of confidence that we can reason our way to justifiable beliefs and that what we then believe corresponds to the way things are, which in turn leads us to the way things “ought” to be.  

I am at present reading Sam Harris’ new book, The Moral Landscape, in which he argues that not only can science “determine human values,” it is our only reliable guide for doing so.  I started out as being somewhat skeptical of his claim, but I am becoming more convinced.  Again, how does such “convincing” work?  Beats me. Wish I knew. I can only say I am coming to believe he is right.

Finally, I believe in the power of scientific reasoning because it appears to represent the best hope we have of not only discovering valuable and useful knowledge about the universe, but about ourselves.

Oh, I do believe something else: Glenn Beck doesn’t have the foggiest idea what scientific reasoning is, and his lack of understanding is infecting others, as this audio clip demonstrates:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Joplin Republican Challenges Ozark Billy

It didn’t take long for the word “hypocrisy” and “Billy Long” to get married.

The right-wing blog, Bungalow Bill’s Conservative Wisdom, has alerted us to the fact that Ozark Billy has begun his 2012 campaign—he’s already started to recruit interns to help with his reelection —despite the fact that Billy said he was “not a career politician” and would be a “citizen legislator.”  

BBCW also made mention of local Joplinite Will Lynch, who worked for 7th District hopeful Jack Goodman during the Republican primary earlier this year :

Will Lynch, a former Republican staffer and Mizzou law student with an Abraham Lincoln beard from Joplin, is calling Congressman-elect Billy Long a hypocrite on Twitter. Lynch claims Long said during one of the major campaign events that politicians are “more worried about getting reelected” than anything else. Lynch has called out for people to find the sound bite.

Lynch himself also tweeted in regards to Long’s reelection efforts, “There’ll be a primary if I have to run myself…”

Full disclosure: I have known Will Lynch for a long time and I like him very much. Very much.  He and I had a long conversation this summer about politics, which, honestly, amounted to me lecturing him about why he shouldn’t be a Republican.  But Will stood his ground and defended his views as much as it is possible for a Republican to defend the indefensible.

And I will say this.  If Will someday decides to get in the race for our 7th District congressional seat, he will be a formidable candidate.  He is a good and decent young man, intelligent and committed to serving the people.  And unlike Ozark Billy, he would not be an embarrassment to our corner of the world.

I just wish to God he were a liberal Democrat.

Bush Rats Out A Rat

Not enough has been made of what George Bush revealed about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Bush’s new book.  Here is the passage that confirms McConnell’s hyper-partisanship and his tendency to politicize every issue under the American sun:

In September 2006, with the midterm elections approaching, my friend Mitch McConnell came to the Oval Office. The senior senator from Kentucky and Republican whip had asked to see me alone. Mitch has a sharp political nose, and he smelled trouble. 

“Mr. President,” he said, “your unpopularity is going to cost us control of the Congress.” 

Mitch had a point. Many Americans were tired of my presidency. But that wasn’t the only reason our party was in trouble. I flashed back to the Republican congressmen sent to jail for taking bribes, disgraced by sex scandals, or implicated in lobbying investigations. Then there was the wasteful spending, the earmarks for pork-barrel projects, and our failure to reform Social Security despite majorities in both houses of Congress.

“Well, Mitch,” I asked, “what do you want me to do about it?” “Mr. President,” he said, “bring some troops home from Iraq.”

To date, Mitch McConnell has not denied that this episode took place. And it’s not possible for him to deny what he was saying publicly about Democratic efforts to get Mr. Bush to change course, at the same time McConnell was urging Mr. Bush to withdraw “some troops” for political reasons:

“The Democrat leadership finally agrees on something — unfortunately it’s retreat. Whether they call it ‘redeployment’ or ‘phased withdrawal,’ the effect is the same: We would leave Americans more vulnerable and Iraqis at the mercy of al-Qaeda, a terrorist group whose aim — toward Iraqis and Americans — is clear,” said McConnell, the Republican whip.

Now, it is fair to ask how a man can retain his credibility after publicly accusing Democrats of advocating policies that “would leave Americans more vulnerable,” while he was privately urging President Bush to basically follow those same policies, just to make sure Republicans didn’t lose “control of the Congress.” 

Yet, as I said, very little has been made of this stunning revelation.  Of course, it’s just possible that the revelation is just not that stunning, when it comes to Mitch McConnell.

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