This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Monday, January 08, 2018

ANTIFA, The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray


Bray was asked to write this book a month after Black Bloc protestors shut down Milo Yiannopoulos when he tried to spew his poison at U. Cal. Berkley last February. He was also planning to name undocumented students on the campus in his presentation and the University felt powerless to stop him. The Black Bloc was not so powerless and the disruption led to the cancellation of the event. This followed the prior fall and summer where anti-fascist protestors disrupted Trump events on a regular basis.

Fascism is hard to define as it is not a particularly intellectual pursuit. It thrives on racism, anti-Semitism, anti-feminism, anti-gay and with Milo and Trump, anti-immigrant organizing. Haters like this are not the smartest tools in the shed, from the Neo-Nazi KKK member, the idiots who persist in the belief that Obama was not born in Hawai’i, including the Idiot in Chief whose presidency seems to be solely about undoing everything Obama did, ignoring the fact that Obama pulled us out of the fires of 2008. The ANTIFA does not listen to people, it silences them, both from self-defense and because once these idiots gain power, the unthinking masses seem to follow them as they did in Germany and as they do now with Trump.

I suspect the strongest clue that one is a fascist is that the ANTIFA takes notice and works to disrupt your hate speech, which is still banned in some countries. If you a police chief and Black Lives Matter is protesting your headquarters, there may just be a problem of racism among your officers. Fascism is based on fear and fearing that someone might be armed is not reason to shoot them until you see a weapon. Any officer who can’t hold their fire until then is too much of a coward to protect and serve the public.

I am ancestrally Roma on my father’s side (may mother’s father’s side is descended from Plymouth and Jamestown, like Obama Bush and not like Trump. To say that my people in Europe are friendly to ANTIFA is a profound statement, especially in Italy. When we perceive danger, we tend to respond. If that happens here (although I am sure our people in New York have probably bought Trump ten times over), we will respond here.

The book starts with the lead-up to World War II and the inadequacy of the resistance in stopping the fascists, who did not take power by revolution. They maneuvered their way into it and were largely accepted by the masses in the right ethnic majorities. It would take too much space to describe the resistance during the war, but after the war it came about sporadically when Fascists started to organize and Jewish veterans in England would not let them hold their demonstration. They kept standing in their way until their own infighting doomed that particular outbreak. That was the pattern through the early 2000s and that is the pattern now. It is what works, with new tools such as Doxing (putting names to faces on the Internet and sending their employer the pictures) as well as traditional physical resistance, from blocking entrances to trains to marching routes.

There are a whole lot of tools in the shed and a serious discussion on why the are used. Anyone interested in helping or who things ANTIFA goes too far should buy the book. Bray seems to know everyone, from England to Greece to Syria (although his knowledge may be from secondary sources, which you can find on this blog).

The book also relates to the socialist nature of ANTIFA, although all anti-fascists are not socialists. Black Lives Matter is not a socialist organization but it is anti-fascist. Fascists do seem to be tools of capitalism, using racism, et al to keep the order need to operate the economics of worker, consumer and citizen domination. Finding a workable socialism is one way to solve the fascist problem permanently, not just the Scandinavian version, which retains the capitalist elite, or state capitalism, which is a form of fascism, but something more cooperative. The way to get there is not to wait for state action but to Occupy Capitalism. As frequent readers know, I have a whole blog on how to do that which you can easily Google using my name. The other solution is to dispense with the advantages of whiteness. Having a permanently coddled group standing ready to vote for Fascists like Trump is not healthy for the growth of society. Cooperative socialism that looks for talent wherever it may be rather than among the socially favored is one way. Making the majority aware that what it clings to is a myth is the other. It’s why we march.

Friday, December 29, 2017

What the Qur’an Meant by Garry Wills

Garry Wills begins the book noting how misunderstood the Qur’an is, both by those who would use it for violence and by those who would hate it for that reason. He had heard that the Koran does not order the violence attributed to it, but had to admit he had never read it, hence the book. He found that it contains some similar stories and an organization by the size of the passage, rather than any chronological or topical order. The biggest Surah are first, the smallest last. None of the passages had any justification for the excesses of the Islamists, just as the Gospel has no justification for the violence of Christianity, from wars to inquisitions to current attempts to censure theologians or believers in ordaining women. Neither the Qur’an nor the Gospels was penned by Jesus or Muhammad. Transcription came from oral history. What is written is important, however, because the real believers are in the book, not the streets. Before getting into the book, Wills starts with addressing our ignorance about it and Islam, all having to do with the misguided decision to go to war in Iraq. He also credits The Study of Quran by Nasr et al in his search for understanding.

The first type of ignorance is secular ignorance. This relates to our lack of intelligence about Iraq itself, its lack of any involvement in 9-11 and the presence of weapons of mass destruction (although after Syria, it may be there were some that were moved west, but that is just my speculation. The main ignorance was assuming that, with the Soviets gone, the world had fallen to the neo-liberal ideal of democracy which should be exported to the world, especially to Iraq. After ”Mission Accomplished” the Iraqis should have embraced freedom so our military could move on (and let me add, maybe Iran?)/

The second type of ignorance is religious. The late 20th Century was becoming secular. The Fundamentalist started to fight back with its Year 2000 Project (although the rise of the Nones means not much success has been achieved, as if we could move the hearts of unbelievers by our rhetoric). This fundamentalism is revivalist, not marked by reason. It is deeply felt and reactionary.  It fights against modernization in the first and third worlds. Rumsfeld ignored the fact that the Iraqi people were not going to come quietly. The west saw the problem as Islam. It wasn’t. It was people in Iraq being told how to think. American reactionaries attacking Iraqi reactionaries is not a problem easily solved, with both parties coming from ignorance.  No wonder Trump is its crowning achievement. He has not a clue on Islam, which is why we must read the Qur’an, or at least this book, especially when Trump and our own fundamentalists fear us doing so, as occurred at UNC in 2002. Of course, this is not unique to Trump. In 2003, George W Bush acted with his faith and his gut and into Iraq we went.

Our fearful ignorance starts on September 11th.  The Patriot Act started the ball rolling. and spy budgets greatly increased, as did violence against Mosques and Muslims. There were attacks by Muslims, like the Boston Marathon bombing, but all were from fringe groups. Hate mongers seize on this, and get elected President because of it. The fear builds on both sides as Trump ban Muslims and both Obama and Trump use drones without worrying about the collateral damage. Iraq and Afghanistan have been long wars with no end in sight. The only way out must be understanding.

Wills starts his summation of the Qur’an by noting its setting. It is a Desert Book. Rain comes from God to revitalize the desert. It is the first item of creation. To survive, you must find it at an oasis by knowing the Path to get there. The Path is another name for the Way, which was what early Christianity called itself. Shari’ah is a religious path as well (a term used once). It is about survival, not conquest. Water is about purity. To be pure you must wash, sometimes using sand if necessary. Being without water harkens to the Israelites demanding water in the wilderness. (I would add the necessity of washing in Judaism as well). Water is both salty and sweet, with only sweet water in heaven. Also of the desert is the camel, both their reality and their use in predicting the end of time.

Next is the description of the watery Heaven, where it is abundant at any spot. It is garden always watered and an abundance of dates, grapes and rivers of milk,, honey, and a wine that does not make one drunk. Every spot is shaded there. It is, in essence, what the desert is not. Then there is Hell, with only boiling water to drink, with the only food, zaqqum, which increases thirst. Clothing is of fire and the punishments attack the mind and the skin, with the tongue proclaiming one’s own sin to others.

Chapter 5 is on conversing with a Cosmos of talking nature. This is a theme for Job, Jesus (the stones would shout) and Augustine querying creation as to whether it is God. It is almost like a Disney movie in some places, although the universe communicates silently in others. We
Agnostics in the AA Big Book is another example. God causes but is not of creation. Yet he is in his creatures, especially man, including in ourselves. Qur’an posits that the idea of the one is innate, with polytheism only arising later. This makes sense, since the multiplicity of gods are used to explain the human nature, not the divine one.

Chapter 6 gives us a perpetual stream of prophets, from Adam the repentant who sinned equally with his wife (whose name is not mentioned) rather than taking what was given him to Abraham, Moses, Jesus and the rest and Muhammad and with the belief that there is a prophet for each age in the future. Adam and Eve were mortal before eating the fruit, unlike the golden age Jewish and Christian myth. One must wonder if Islam has reacted to Darwin as negatively as the staunch traditionalists in Catholic and Evangelical Christianity who cannot accept it as a myth having to do with blame rather than a story of disobedience, repentance and salvation.  Abraham is tied to Isaac but also Ishmael, who assists him in rebuilding Ka’bah in Mecca. Muhammad tried to cleanse Ka’bah and was exiled to Medina, returning later to purge it of idols.  On Abraham, in Qur’an, it is Ishmael who is sacrificed before Isaac is born.

Moses is one of the big three prophets (with Jesus and Muhammad) because of the complete covenant made and his monotheism. His life and mission are laid out in Qur’an. The Qur’an says the three faiths should not argue because they have the same goal. Of course, Christianity has rejected the dietary rules of Leviticus and much of Numbers (like forced abortion to test for adultery). Indeed, the Sociology of Mary Douglas demystifies the Law in Torah as building a nation in exile rather than as a revelation directly from God. In a world of gay weddings serving scallops wrapped in bacon at the reception, can much of the Qur’an’s moral precepts survive as well?

Next comes Jesus, with his mother Mary, who is the only woman named in the Qur’an. He is still born of the Spirit and is to come again at the final judgment, but is not considered One with God, although he is word of Allah. God teaches him Torah, although I suspect he learned it the old fashioned way (by being a Pharisee) and came to his faith in his divinity, which Islam does not accept, by the miraculous nativity story told to him by Mary. Qur’an tells the same story, but with Jesus defending his mother’s honor as an infant, so she could not be the source for his understanding of his unique status.  Instead of the Spirit, in Qur’an, Jesus promises Muhammad.

Jesus is a Messenger of the Gospel, but not a divine sacrifice. He did not die but was brought to God. This will make it hard to reconcile a belief that the Father, Son and Spirit are manifestations of the one God, not three Gods, mostly because this would have muddled the message in a setting in Mecca where polytheism was the enemy. That is no longer a concern, but the brand identity problem persists, just like an asexual clergy limits the advance of Catholicism into the modern world. Both will struggle with the concept of Jesus as part of a divine vision quest into human abandonment rather than as either a bloody sacrifice or an escape to Heaven. The Qur’an preaches a continuity of revelation. It is in that spirit that I offer further options in reconciling scriptural law to natural law (rather than going the other way) and in finding new ways to consider the sacrifice of Jesus and the necessity of his divinity within it.

Chapter 7 offers the Qur’an’s peace to believers. It does not disrespect any other people of the book. It is the latest revelation that does not supplant the Torah or the Gospel. Still, Muslims cannot flee the Qur’an for penance shopping, nor should Jews flee the Torah and its punishments, which are harsher on adultery. Likewise, Christians cannot flee the Gospel (not mention of Paul). In this, the Qur’an faults the ecumenical councils that seemingly go beyond the Gospel to deify Jesus, while Jesus himself preaches the One God. this seems to be a matter for future revelation to Islam on what his meant by the Trinity. I took a stab at this for Muslims and Jews at  http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2009/10/how-christians-understand-god-geocities.html Wills examines whether Qur’an has superseded Torah or the Gospels (it was not meant to), what to do with Apostates (honor Martyrs who were not) and affirms the family of believers in the one God. I wonder how Islam deals with Buddhists, who are actually a discipline rather than a religion?

Chapter 8 is about Zeal aka Jihaad. Zeal can become Zealot or Fanatic. It is a word like Crusade, which the Christian Right still does not disavow although cooler heads realize that crusades and inquisitions had nothing to do with the Gospel and are probably not a good way to oversee or monopolize the development of doctrine. I certainly found Dignitas Humanae uplifting for the Church while Dignitas Personae needed more discernment on the nature of the human soul. In Qur’an, just war is defensive war. There are rules, just as there is just war theory in Catholicism which seems more honored in the breach by today’s drone warriors. War was not to be waged around sacred sites like the Ka’bah in Mecca unless you are attacked.

Believers should attempt to reconcile before battle. Indeed, the war lords of Afghanistan seemed to do that with the US and we thought we were winning. Then we made the mistake of staying. Doers of evil should be left to themselves, that includes the misogynists of the Taliban (although perhaps we should allow passage to any Afghan woman who wants to leave with us). The unnamed Cain and Abel of Qur’an are an example of trying to avoid violence. Abel did not claim a right to pre-emptive murder because his brother was attacking him, so he was killed. Cain was then remorseful and sought mercy.

There are Sword verses in Qur’an and the Gospel. In Qur’an, in applies to idolaters, not Christians. In the Bible, it is used to mock carrying a sword, not to try to decapitate the High Priest’s servant. Jesus was making a joke about being a fugitive that Peter missed, as usual. Those ill-considered crusades came about because of the misunderstanding of Christ and the sword, which only brings death.  The Qur’an describes the taking of Mecca after exile and efforts to avoid collateral damage, something the CIA and Air Force could learn from. My father designed the autopilot for our drone systems. He meant them to save pilots, not to kill children. Some of my ancestors were American patriots. While we accepted French help, we believed in freeing ourselves on the field of battle. We cannot free people from the Taliban unless they are strong enough in spirit to hold that ideal. It is best we negotiate out now. Much as it would be delightful to have Ammon al-Zawahiri’s skull as a trophy, he is likely so old that it no longer matters. It is time to cut and run.

Chapter 9 takes us to the Right Path (Shari’ah), which is as misunderstood as Jihad. In the Qur’an, it is the basis for having a law for moral excellence, but it is not the law itself. Islamic law takes several forms, four for the Sunni and three for the Shia. Some are harsh, some are not. Many believers have abandoned the ones involving physical punishment just as Anglophones have abandoned burning heretics, pressing, hanging and drawing and quartering.

Those states that have outlawed Sharia have simply looked stupid. Sharia can be practiced as Canon Law is by Catholics. The phrases that are in Qur’an punish most crimes with alms, fasting or sexual abstinence. Unlike Islam, the west does not provide for foreign courts for its Muslim residents, although some Muslim nations do. American Muslims follow our civil law like anyone else. What they do devotionally is not a matter for U.S. law and infringing upon it is unconstitutional if it were enforced. It really cannot be because we don’t know enough about it.

I suspect that when most think of Shari’ah, they think of Saudi adulterers being beheaded or Daesh abusing other people of the Book, which is against Qur’an. In other words, they have a problem with the Saudis, whose law is called Hanbali. It would never be practiced here because it is cruel. Objecting to it, however, is the job of the Department of State, not any state legislature. I am all for forcing the Saudis to behave by measures from sanctions to invasion, but I doubt the current Secretary of State, a lifetime Exxon man, would agree.

Chapter 10 is about Commerce, which Muhammad knew something about as a merchant. He specified that commerce be written down, witnessed and equal. No one is allowed the upper hand. Goods must be of quality. Interest is allowed for long term transactions, but usury is not. You are not allowed to drive the other out of business with high fees. Unpayable debts are to be forgiven and God is a hidden party to all transactions and their execution. Hell is the penalty for bad intent unless forgiveness is sought.

You do commerce partly to be able to do Charity. When giving charity, you must give quality goods and food, not rubbish. Indeed, this parallels the idea in Matthew 25, where when you feed another, you feed Jesus. Do you want to give Jesus old clothes and rotted food?

There is no capitalism in this system, it is merely trade, but you easily see how modern capitalism is disagreeable to the Muslim commercial ideals. I pity the fool who adopts western models over what is required in Qur’an, as Allah still watches all. I find it hard to believe that Allah approves of monopsonistic wage structures that keep workers desperate and monopolistic pricing, especially for medicines, but cars as well. Don’t start me on housing finance. Islamic Socialism was a real thing, although sometimes it came with tyranny. It is time to include it any future cooperative socialist structure offered by other people of the Book.

Chapter 11 is about plural marriage and the status of women. Not polygamy, which is multiple marriages, but polygyny, which is having multiple wives. It is essential to establish such a system if you want to enforce discipline on women through withholding sex should she not respond to guidance. If all else fails, corporal punishment was advised, which is one of those verses that people struggle with now and not even something you can do in the West. In Qur’anic times, women and many men were not literate. Of course, this is still the case in some tribal areas in South Asia, but this is less all the time.

I suspect that these teachings applied to richer men, including the Prophet and his Harem and not to most Islamic marriages. There were Jewish examples of Polygyny in ancient times. It no longer happens. Teachings for Muhammad’s harem and descendants included limits on sumptuary finery (the Prophet tried to live modestly), use divorce as punishment, be careful marrying the wives of stepsons, and don’t allow scandal in the harem, especially false accusations. Also, be careful of the rotation of the conjugal relations, especially when an event changes the order. Of course, sometimes coupling is just companionship. There is more to marriage than sex. Radical Mormons have found that as well.

Chapter 12 shows how women fight back. They are entitled upon marriage to a bridal sum that they can leave with if they divorce their husbands or are divorced. Even without consummation they can take half of it unless they or the husband waives their share. If their husbands follow the Qur’an, they are not left destitute, especially if they marry well. This limits the ability of the husband to be high-handed or resort to hitting too much, or even once.

There is an equivalent in the United States. Divorce leaves women or men with half of their spouses retirement savings automatically and a portion of Social Security or Military Retirement. I am sure there are such provisions throughout the west, but Islam seems to have come up with them first. Being divorced in ancient Israel led to prostitution. Not so in Islam. The right to leave and remarry is a freedom not found in Catholicism, although other Christians seem to proof text St. Mark better when Jesus talks about divorcing a wife and, which should be in order to, marry another as being adultery. This is after polygyny was ended in Judaica or else one would have simply added the new talent and kept the first wife. Understanding this as one act should allow the Church to calm down on the issue of remarriage. As long as getting the new spouse was not the reason for ending the first marriage, it is not adulterous. Putting words in the mouth of Jesus that it is so is simply bad proof texting.

Chapter 13 covers the veil. Fighting against the veil has a bad history with western colonialists trying to disrupt wearing it to upset sexual relations in colonized Muslim nations. This is as bad as our agenda in Afghanistan, where the Taliban were and are cruel to women, at least in our eyes and probably in theirs, but this is not so much an Islamic thing as a tribal thing. Of course, in Islamic just war, you do not wage war simply because the enemy does evil things. You leave them to God. Still, I would propose offering free flights to any Afghan woman who wants to escape. I suspect the Taliban will come around quickly. A society that believes in freedom of expression and dress should not assume that it can tall others when to put away their traditional garb. Catholic sisters largely have, nuns have not. That the French went after the veil is scandalous. While Muslim women should be free not to wear it in western society, by the same token they should be free to. Qur’an says little on this. The Prophet’s wives veiled when dealing with the public and worked through a screen, thus keeping some amount of privacy. Indeed, this was not a general teaching, but if you live in a desert, men and women cover their heads to survive (see chapter 4). Finally, there is the question of women covering their charms by a more modest neck line. Whether these were décolletage or jewelry is not clear from Qur’an.

The Envoi on Fairness in reading should be read for oneself. It reiterates why this is an important exercise.

Peace be upon you.

Also see the National Catholic Reporter review at https://www.ncronline.org/news/theology/include-yourself-muslim-conversation

Faruq F.A. Nelson has problems with how Wills presents the material, which is meant to be proclaimed in Arabic. He states what the book does is commentary, which is surely true, just as what I have done above is commentary on the commentary. Faruq also comments on the organization of the chapters, both within and among themselves, but Wills is not teaching Qur’an. He is helping his usual Catholic audience better understand Islam where they have not bothered to do so before. I do not believe any of his audience are looking for a conversion experience, but it is helpful to fund common ground on the issues facing the people of the book today, including the Saudi funded terrorists whose actions show nothing in the way of understanding Qur’an or their own traditions. If we can pity them rather than hate them, we can begin to move forward.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

This year in Modernism from the Catholic Left

I have been quite busy this year writing about dissent, authority and scholarship. Here is a listing of readings that you can look at as whole or individually:
Jesus, the Pharisee?

This Year on Abortion and Homosexuality from the Catholic Left

These are the articles in which I argue against what the pro-life side is doing and how it can do better and why the conversation on homosexuality is a ruse. I do not include the many posts I made on the Center for Fiscal Equity site urging Congress to expand the child tax credit to living wage levels, which you can read at: Fiscalequity.blogspot.com
Dignitas Personae at Nine Years
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/12/dignitas-personae-at-nine-years.html
How is Life a Right? A Letter to Pro-Lifers
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/11/how-is-life-right-letter-to-pro-lifers.html
New authentic interpreter of doctrine emerges, frets over Paglia
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/10/new-authentic-interpreter-of-doctrine.html
Comments from this weekend’s debate on abortion
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/09/comments-from-this-weekends-debate-on.html
Sex and pleasure
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/08/sex-and-pleasure.html
Dissent and Obedience in the Church
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/08/dissent-and-obedience-in-church.html
Four Reasons for Cake Bakers
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/08/four-reasons-for-cake-bakers_17.html
Is the clergy objectively disordered sexually?
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/08/is-clergy-objectively-disordered.html
Elitism
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/07/elitism_20.html
The Pro-Life Movement as a Scam
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/07/thepro-lifemovementasascam.html
The Right Wing Holy Grail, Constitutional Conventions!
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/07/the-right-wing-holy-grail.html
Answering the Five Dubia
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/06/answering-five-dubia.html

Another Catholic Voice in the Public Square - November edition
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/11/another-catholic-voice-in-public-square.html
Another Catholic Voice in the Public Square - October edition
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/12/another-catholic-voice-in-public-square_17.html
Another Catholic Voice in the Public Square - September edition
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/12/another-catholic-voice-in-public-square.html
Religious Freedom/Religious Power:Another Catholic Voice in the Public Square - July edition
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/07/religious-freedomreligious-power.html
Another Catholic Voice in the Public Square - May Edition
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/05/another-catholic-voice-in-public-square.html
Another Catholic Voice in the Public Square-April
http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/04/another-catholic-voice-in-public-square.html



Monday, December 18, 2017

Jesus, the Pharisee?

Today, we celebrated the Third Sunday of Advent, which includes the famous dialog between John and the priests and Levites, and then with the Pharisees. The latter is most interesting:

Some Pharisees were also sent. 
They asked him,
"Why then do you baptize
if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?"
John answered them,
"I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie."

In this discussion, he was plainly speaking with members of the Pharisee party, not the public at large. The interesting line is ”there is one among you whom you do not recognize,..” What if John is being literal here.

It would answer the question of the lost years. He probably did not stay a day laborer because his brothers did not. His nephews, the sons of his sister or half-sister Salome were the sons of Zebedee. Being a fisherman is a lot more lucrative than day labor, but Jesus was not one of their partners. This verse shows that he may have gone to his Father’s house after all.  Were Pharisees mostly married? If so, this answers the question of whether Jesus was.

This would certainly add a twist to all of those times Jesus condemns the Pharisees. He would be speaking as a reforming insider rather than a rebellious outsider. Consider all of those times he had Pharisees with him, even until the washing of the feet by Mary of Bethany. Were they monitoring him or were they colleagues? He certainly attacked the Sadducees like a Pharisee.

This question makes the betrayal narrative much more profound. Was Jesus betraying his party or trying to perfect it? If he was not their enemy then he probably loved them and they him. This makes the actions of Gethsemane and Calvary all the more shocking and it explains why Joseph would provide Jesus a tomb.

There is no proof of course, indeed while the current understanding goes the other way, perhaps it should not. It is an interesting question to keep in mind as we listen to the Gospel throughout the year.


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Another Catholic Voice in the Public Square - October edition

I found the October edition of Voice of Truth - The Catholic Voice in the Public Square when I found the September edition which I commented on earlier today. This issue was about protesting funding of Planned Parenthood and other abortionists, an issue I had previously addressed. Federal Medicaid funds do not cover abortion except for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in danger. The funding of such abortions is so remote from any individual taxpayer that they are not justified in withholding their taxes as a response (so say Catholic ethics textbooks).

Maryland opts to use its own Medicaid funds to cover abortions. It is one of few states who do. If a Human Life Amendment were ever submitted, Maryland would not ratify. Indeed, if Roe were repealed, there is already a permissive abortion law on the books. Even here in Maryland, the funding is too remote for any single taxpayer to object.

As for what Catholics hold as the Truth, all your reminders are false. While the Declaration relied on Divine Providence (on a Deist/Masonic model), the Constitution relies on We the People, the unanimity of the states in submitting the Constitution and those who ratified it, not by God, either implicitly or explicitly and if it had, it would been more Masonic than Catholic. We were created by mothers and fathers before Adam and Eve, who are mythical.

Science has proven that blastocysts are made up of the future placenta/bag of waters and individually independent stem cells who do not operate as an organic whole until gastrulation, which is why doctors and researchers do not believe they harm individuals when doing research or prescribing birth control prior to gastrulation but treat post-gastrulation embryos (an technically, no one is an embryo until then) with respect unless the pregnancy endangers the mother (including the prospect of self-termination).

Moses did not ban abortion and the author of Numbers mandated it when adultery was expected (Num 6). Indeed, that was the part of the Law that is referred to when Joseph is said to have been a righteous man not willing to subject Mary to the Law, which would have had her drink bitter herbs, thus aborting the Christ.

Catholic Doctrine only recognized abortion as starting at conception under Bl Pius IX (who was wrong about most things he touched as well. All of the things he called errors are now called modern theology and scripture study. As for the Declaration of Independence (which, by the way, was ruled not to be used as legal precedent when someone claimed it contained a right of revolution under the Constitution), the government has no right to force abortion. That is also true in the Fifth Amendment. Not mandating it and allowing it are two different rights.

Understanding the right to life is important. There are positive and negative rights. Negative rights protect women from state abortion laws until the child is viable. They also protect the unborn and the born from being killed by the government through forced abortion or maternal execution. In other words, they have the same negative right to life anyone else does. Positive rights are created by the government, such as a child tax credit and the right not to be murdered, whether it be by a mobster, a mugger or your mother as an infant. That positive law has not been extended to the unborn, who the Common Law states are only recognized as legal persons vis-a-vis their mothers at viability.

Under the 14th Amendment, congressional enforcement powers could move that to any point that they deem the fetus should be considered a person. Equal protection would demand that all such fetuses and/or embryos have the same rights, which in the first trimester includes embryos which have miscarried, those rights being post-mortem investigation and Tort relief for malpractice. Aborted fetuses would also have the equal protection right to have their killers punished, including the person who ordered their death. Indeed, the equal protection rights of contract killers would be violated if mothers were exempt. The right to life movement, in an attempt not to look anti-feminist, has painted itself into a corner by taking maternal punishment off the table. No one is person if their murder is not as fully punished as any other person. Until you come up with a number of weeks where the abortion is so onerous that it must be punished, then that abortion is none of your business.

Once you agree on a number, take it to Congress while you still have Republicans controlling both chambers and modify by law when unborn children are legal people. I would say 25 weeks, but you might get away with 20, provided there are health exceptions of course. No fetus as the right to insist its mother carry him if it is doomed to die before birth. That is too much of a health risk. Labor should be induced immediately to end the pregnancy, baptize the child and let it die. The bishops may not like it, but moral cowardice is a true feature of natural law ethics.

In most cases, abortion is paid by cash. In those states, you are more likely to fund an abortion by eating out than by paying your taxes, because abortions are one of those things that low wage workers buy, because they have to so they can feed their other children. They are part of the 72% of abortions due to economic factors. Banning abortion will not stop them from seeking one. The best way to stop these abortions, and the ones in Maryland, is to Fight for $15. This has already passed in Montgomery County.

A decent child tax credit is necessary. The one insisted upon by Marco Rubio is about $10,600 short. Another reason that killing the Tax and Job Cuts Act should be scored as required for a 100% pro-life rating. All we get from Republican pro-lifers on such a request is the sound of crickets.

Mentioning the Affordable Care Act is highly partisan, although there are relevant measures. Some Obamacare policies do allow abortion because they are replacing insurance coverage provided by employers who received the health insurance exclusion (which is still in the GOP tax bill) which does not have a Hyde Amendment. Most tax law supported abortion comes through such tax law. As for the canard that we can all keep our own doctors, it was a mistake to say because policies that were insurance in name only because if you used them you exhausted them became illegal, as well they should have. Insurance premiums went up because they always go up because there is no cost regulation of either drug prices or hospital fees. Single-payer would do that. It is the only Catholic option (and it could exclude abortion funding but would likely include a line of credit account to guarantee access). Regardless, 3100 of your 5100 Adult Lay Catholics in St. Mary’s support Obamacare. Don’t commit calumny about it in our names. I’ve seen you do it twice. Do it again and I complain to Monsignor.

On clinic funding, funds are not fungible. OMB Circulars on keeping funds separate are serious business. PPUSA knows not to violate them. Don’t lie in our names. If you do not like PPUSA providing women’s health services (which do include contraception), then have Holy Cross (and other Catholic hospitals provide all but contraceptive care is as convenient and subsidized a manner as PPUSA. Poor and not-poor African American women are at much greater risk of breast cancer. BEFORE you defund PPUSA for mammograms, make sure something else is in place for them, although I can’t see the bishops letting them provide birth control, as they are unwilling to look at the science on blastocysts v. embryos. Neither do the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have avoided fines if only they make a deal on notification with their insurance provider, as the Supreme Court directed. Their religious liberty stands protected, their religious power over their workforce is not and should not be.

Please study closely what I have submitted today about the nature of rights and abortion. Until you understand it, you will continue to wander in the wilderness. But do not wander too long. The Congress will change hands in a bit more than a year from now. You have until then to decide at what point in the pregnancy abortion must be considered infanticide, with parental punishment, with that point being where you can protect the unborn under law (while recognizing that earlier cases are none of society’s business except to give money to the family once the child is born.

I won’t be joining your group, although you should consider my arguments prayerfully, and I don’t being praying not to be misled, you already are. Try to find a less partisan tone.


Another Catholic Voice in the Public Square - September edition

I found where they kept the old issues of Voice of the Truth - The Catholic Voice in the Public Square that I missed when I was home with broken ribs. this is my response to the September 2017 edition.  This reads like a civics paper.  I used to grade these as a doctoral student.  It would not have been an A paper, both for the outraged tone and a misunderstanding of the concept of rights, particularly that they are both negative (protection against the state) and positive (provided by the state).

They first provide quotes from the Declaration of Independence, including the phrase "a decent respect of the opinions of mankind."  They miss the point that this also applies to how we deal with women and that how reproductive rights are guaranteed is part of the rights that women deserve.  They also cite, as all good Christian Republicans do, the seeking of Divine Providence.  History tells us that the person who wrote that line was a Deist, as was Franklin, although Adams was Congregationalist.  Not a Catholic in the bunch.  When they get to the Bill of Rights they put in Declaration text instead of Fifth Amendment text about life, liberty and property without due process (which makes no mention of God).

They do mention the First Amendment as well.  Until Vatican II, the Church was strongly opposed to the First Amendment.  They believed every nation should have an established Catholic Church.  that insanity stopped with Dignitas Humanae, which no longer requires Catholic public servants to enact Catholic doctrine into law.  We want to, of course, but how we do so is a matter of prudential judgment.  Forcing an abortion ban should not be required if we are serious about true doctrine.

The authors fast forward to 1820 and de Tocqueville and the lack of central government, which the authors credit to the Bill of Rights.  In reality, it is the lack of taxation that kept the government small and the rich very rich.  It also produced the states' rights doctrine (which pro-lifers try to use as the method to ban abortion), but that doctrine produced slavery, which made people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line rich and gave us Dred Scott.  The Fourteenth Amendment, which we first saw as Article 14 of the Bill of Rights as passed by the House and removed by the Senate, demolished states rights theory, from undoing Dred Scott to guaranteeing abortion rights for women and gay marriage (as negative rights, meaning state governments cannot interfere).

They remark about elementary schools reciting the Pledge, which is more GOP than right to life, if there is a difference.  I suspect my daughter still recites it in her Tennessee middle school, although it was a Cold War artifact.  Last I checked, we had won, although sometimes I wonder with Trump as President.

They also look at Russell Hittinger and his new natural law theory.  I like the old natural law, the one that does not give the Roman Curia and the Papacy a veto over reason.  As for American Law, it is based on natural rights, not natural law.  There is a huge difference. Natural rights are how we deal with the state. Natural law is how we order our consciences, not how we try to control society.

There is quite the discussion of Pope Leo, which I agree with, although both Leo and Pius XI had ideas about the family which are now decidedly quaint - see my comment near the top about the rights of women.  They both hit the nail on the head regarding a family wage, whether the employer provides it (economically impossible for many) or the state does (say through a child tax credit), it must be provided and doing so is NOT a matter of prudential judgment.  An adequate CTC is, according to USDA, $1000 per month, not $1400 per year.  The GOP has a long way to go before it is really the Party of Life - more than $800 a month.

Minus ten points for an incorrect use of subsidiarity.

We then get to the 1960s (it was a four page newsletter) and the authors talk about what seemed to be a coordinated rebellion against the establishment, including the Church, although neither I nor they were off the playground, or even born, by that time.  The comprehensive story of that rebellion is in the book 1959, the Year Everything Changed.  https://www.amazon.com/1959-Everything-Changed-Fred-Kaplan/dp/0470602031   It turns out that in the 50s (and this is not new information) the Catholic Church in America was poking its nose into everything, seeking not religious freedom, but religious power.  The birth control and marriage debates are an attempt at past glory, but have been two of the most notable failures of the last fifty years.

The next section carries that theme, from Jerry Falwell, who claimed Mission Accomplished once the Berlin Wall fell (he had a point, St. John Paul II's trip to Fatima seems to have worked).  They talk about a culture in disarray, but look has been elected President.  He watches FoxNews which until this past week was owned by the owner of the trashiest entertainment company, both TV and records, on the planet.  You don't even have to leave the world of Murdoch to find the corruption his talking heads complain about, or the kind of sexual abuse that turns all of our stomachs.  And if you don't have enough, you can go to the Republican Party of Alabama. Luckily a hero of civil rights litigation challenged them and won, putting Trump's attempts at alt-right and big money hegemony at risk.  The Congressional rating is well earned, although it is mostly earned by those who would insist on the Hastert Rule, in McConnell blocking Obama and in trying to circumvent the impeachment of a corrupt and unqualified President who lied to Catholic voters and claimed to be pro-life. Republican Gerrymandering keeps an unqualified Congress in place.

No conservative should lecture progressives on a corrupt society until they examine their own side.

And stop with the tax cuts.  Rome declined because it was unwilling to tax its patrician class adequately.  Until we do, we cannot distribute enough money to families to stop abortion.

The question of how to respond is interesting.  The authors say not to cooperate with sin.  The term of art is cooperating with evil. If it is not evil to give one kind of civilly married spouse benefits (which is sinful) then you cannot decline them to another civilly married kind of spouse unless you are practicing bigotry, which is sinful - for you.  Faith is about seeking God's help in finding your moral answers, not in judging the conduct of others.

Going back to the age of the Founders, the end of the Revolutionary was was interesting.  It did not end the way the King or generals wanted it to.  It ended with an election and the Tories being thrown out of Parliament.  After Yorktown, the Continental Army mostly disbanded while the Crown was billeted in Manhattan.  Any given Sunday they could have sent thirteen Companies out and captured each state capital, pretty much unopposed.  By then, Parliament held all the cards.

There is also the judiciary, which the authors do not mention, which is not accountable to the people (one of its virtues) but which usually does not go too far ahead of them either, as was evident in gay marriage, which could have been declared in Lawrence v. Texas.

The ending screed against progressivism is inflammatory.  Lincoln was a progressive and only a progressive solution will reduce abortion.   We are as constitutionalist as the other side, probably more so regarding the need to impeach Trump.  Indeed, our constitutionalism stands for the rights of all those the majority would marginalize (including those who are differently ordered sexually).  At the Centennial in 1876, progressives used the Declaration of Independence as a model for protesting how workers were treated by capitalists and their unaccountable Senate.  We used Article V to change the Constitution to stop it, as intended.

Not long ago, I was in a discussion on rights, positive and negative, and how they apply to the unborn.  You can see my half of the discussion at http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/11/how-is-life-right-letter-to-pro-lifers.html  The unborn actually have an absolute right to life vis-a-vis the government, who cannot force any woman to have an abortion or execute one who is pregnant.  Beyond that, abortion protection is a positive grant of life, like not being murdered.  The current Court considers some late term abortions (partial birth) as Infanticide.  Abortion is what happens before Infanticide and is allowed under privacy because the unborn person has no legal status under the 14th Amendment, which is the operative provision of law on who is and is not a person.

Congress can change the line on when Abortion becomes Infanticide.  You have a Congress in place now who might.  Put up or shut up.  The trick is that once an abortion is considered infanticide, equal protection demands legal sanctions for both mother and doctor.  You cannot order murder and not be punished.  The pro-life movement says that the mother will not be prosecuted, that she is somehow a victim of an evil abortion machine.  Baloney.  Until you decide what week of pregnancy you will hold the mother responsible for killing her child, abortion stays legal.  Pick a week and tell Congress to enact it into law, then confine the rest of your efforts to providing a living wage to families so that they won't consider abortion.  And quit using abortion to elect Republicans, since they won't go along with a high enough child tax credit to stop people from resorting to abortion.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dignitas Personae at Nine Years

Nine years ago yesterday, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s released an instruction on biotechnology, entitled Dignitas Personae. At the time, I made comments on John Allen’s coverage on National Catholic Reporter which NCR did not preserve. I will try to duplicate them here and expand upon them. You can find the article on  https://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican-publishes-new-bioethic-paper

The instruction was designed to intervene in any changes President Obama would make in NIH guidelines put forward by President Bush which banned what was mislabeled as embryonic stem cell research. Indeed, Pope Benedict went out of his way to give President Obama a copy when he visited Rome. Obama changed the guidelines anyway to allow stem cell research on cells harvested from blastocysts. None of the research has born fruit, but it was not designed to. Adult cell research survives the filter of gastrulation, so we know the cells harvested are viable. Pre-gastrulation cells are most likely junk. The only value of pre-gastrulation cell research is developing methods for cloning, which is no more shocking to the conscience than making a twin, although a twin won’t have the same personality because it will have different astrology.

The CDF had a great many concerns regarding the human dignity of blastocysts, which are essentially collections of stem cells, all identical, dividing inside a trophoblast, which becomes the placenta. They have no integrity until gastrulation, when the stem cells organize into a person according to the genetics of both parents. Indeed, in stem cell research, the stem cells are not harmed, only the trophoblast. Still, at this point, they are simply cells, not organisms. The CDF list of horribles included: assisted fertility, including but not only in vitro fertilization (they disagreed with anything outside the sex act), destruction of unused zygotes (no, Cardinal, they are not embryos until after gastrulation), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (turkey baster), freezing zygotes (they are not embryos), freezing eggs for later (IVF is more effective), reduction of embryos (which is abortion), preimplantation diagnosis and preventing implantation. You can read the instruction at  http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20081208_dignitas-personae_en.html

All but embryonic reduction have zero problems in relation to the right to life because prior to gastrulation, the stem cells dividing as individuals in the trophoblast are simply not a human being. Undifferentiated cells have no guiding soul. You can split the trophoblast and take half away and you have twins. The trophoblast functions according to the maternal DNA (and therefore her soul) and is discarded at birth.

Future developments, which until recently were considered science fiction, were also condemned: Gene therapy germ line cell therapy (inheritable gene therapies), genetic engineering, human cloning, stem cell research, chimera (adding human DNA to animal to grow an ear), untraceable tissue harvesting. I discussed stem cell research, including cloning, above. The rest of these will work, will not work or have worked, some will prove therapeutic and their ethical issues will be discussed as the technologies go to market and that discussion will have a wider reach than the troglodytes at the CDF.

The Cardinals at CDF thought all of these procedures immoral because they assumed the stem cells were more than atomized potential beings, and indeed, most of these potential beings are in some way flawed and no child is ever born from them.

Scientists understand this and have no problem with any of these procedures as taking life. While they will not say so directly, it is telling that most will not do anything to interfere with an embryo after gastrulation, at least unless there is something wrong with it, and then many will still not interfere unless that flaw endangers the mother. This is one of those times the Church must listen to science.

The other problem the Cardinals have is their quaint view that all life must begin with a sexual union between a man and a woman and no other form of sexuality is permissible. Such moral idealism serves no one and is likely the result of their celibacy not being a charism but a sexual orientation known as asexuality. Being asexual is fine, but assuming that your asexual hang-ups apply to anyone else is why Ottoviani and Pope Paul VI were laughed out of town when they issued Humanae Vitae. It is why Digitas Personae had one week of fanfare and was never heard from again.

Here is what I said at the time in America Magazine in response to an editorial by Drew Christiansen, SJ entitled  “Science, Technology and the Human Future: A new instruction on bioethics from the Vatican”  https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/681/editorial/science-technology-and-human-future

“The sexual ideal represented in the Congregation's statement is beautiful poetry and idealism. Human sexuality is far more ambiguous, however. While the goal of all sexuality being focused around married conjugal love open to the creation of life is very poetic, there is a point when one must distinguish a poetic aesthetic from natural reasoning, which must be more firmly based in reality then can ever be provided by a celibate Curia which formally held that one cannot say Mass or receive the Eucharist for a period after engaging in conjugal relations. The CDF must be more open to the sciences of both embryology and human sexual behavior to recapture any kind of teaching credibility with what is now a much better educated Catholic populace.”

It is not that I dislike the idea of falling in love, getting married and having children. Most people like that ideal. Gays and lesbians even like that idea. There is simply no need to be fetishistic about the sexuality or the science involved, with the exception of culling children in the womb or eliminating Down’s Children. Of course, if the Church wants to insist on protecting the latter, it must ramp up the respite care for all Down’s families, Catholic or not, as well as adult services for these individuals, with both contributed and dedicated taxpayer funds. Without very obvious assistance, don’t be shocked if families take the path of least resistance.

A few months later, John Allen covered a Vatican Symposium by the Pontifical Academy for Life entitled “New Frontiers of Genetics and the Risk of Eugenics." No loaded language there, eh? The article can be found (sadly without my  comments, and I had been looking for them) at  https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/bioethics-message-lost-vaticans-credibility-gap 

Eugenics used to be an in thing and the Church rightly stood up for the rights of racial minorities (such as Romany) and the mentally disabled to procreate. Sadly, they went from pro-creative choice to the sexual idealism discussed above. Here are the five major criticisms of progress, which I will answer in turn, just as I did almost nine years ago. Hopefully discussion will result.

1. Genetic engineering may compromise human freedom by hard-wiring people toward certain behaviors, attitudes, and life choices. Critics often invoke C.S. Lewis' famous work "The Abolition of Man," in which he argued that the first generation to master genetic technology would become the architect of succeeding generations, thus eradicating "man" in the sense of a free rational agent.

Carl Jung posited racial memory, which could be a kind of genetic predisposition to a certain set of values and abilities. My great-grandfather started the cooperative movement in American agriculture and I am expanding it to industry and making it more socialistic. Nature has been noticing talents running in families for millennia. Using gene therapy to fix asthma, depression or prevent adrenal tumors (likely inherited from a grandmother) won’t stop that.

2. Children may be subject to new forms of exploitation, such as the phenomenon of "savior babies" -- offspring deliberately conceived in order to provide genetic materials for siblings or other family members, obviously without informed consent.

Healthy children have been transplanting healthy tissue to sick children since transplants have been invented. Usually it saves lives in leukemia in a bone marrow transplant. The promise of genetic engineering is taking stem cells from the patient, modifying them and letting them be their own donor. Are intra-family donations complicated? Sure. But they always were.

3. "Genetic profiling" could lead to new forms of discrimination in health care, insurance, employment, housing, and other sectors, as the rights of genetic "undesirables" are progressively curtailed.

No doubt about this one, which is why we need single-payer health care, British style national-health service or employer provided doctors in employee-owned companies which provide housing and which boldly stand for equality as more socialist employers will do. Public law should also provide protection and much more vigorous enforcement. In cases where a genetic condition is a bar to employment, disability payments should be much more generous, guaranteeing an advanced urban lifestyle for those rejected from the daily grind. Sadly, conservatives will object to the disability stipends more than the discrimination.

4. The high cost of genetic enhancement will likely mean that only the rich will be able to afford it. As a result, inequality will be deliberately encoded in our genes -- a prospect some refer to as "genetic apartheid". The children of the rich will not only be richer, but stronger, faster, better-looking, and smarter.

Again, with decent single-payer, public health or employer provided health, all families will be rich enough for therapy. Again, the conservatives will object to the free therapy more than they oppose unequal enhancement.

5. Genetic selection may disrupt human ecology. One already sees this potential in India and China, where widespread use of cheap ultrasound technology has led parents to abort female children at a much higher rate because they're perceived as less desirable. The natural sex ratio is about 105 boys for 100 girls, but in India today it's 113 boys for every 100 girls, and in some regions it's as high as 156 boys per 100 girls. In China, the sex ratio has gone as high as 120 boys for every 100 girls, which among other things could mean that a fifth of Chinese men won't be able to marry for lack of available mates.

This is a self-correcting problem. While some men without women have chased the prospect of their virgins in paradise after acts of jihad, most will simply realize that it’s time to quit aborting girls. Such societies need revolution for other reasons having to do with the rights of women and workers. Genetic selection is a symptom.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Include yourself in the Muslim conversation

https://www.ncronline.org/news/theology/include-yourself-muslim-conversation
MGB:_Faruq F.A. Nelson has problems with how Wills presents the material, which is meant to be proclaimed in Arabic. He states what the book does is commentary, which is surely true, just as what I have done above is commentary on the commentary. Faruq also comments on the organization of the chapters, both within and among themselves, but Wills is not teaching Qur’an. He is helping his usual Catholic audience better understand Islam where they have not bothered to do so before. I do not believe any of his audience are looking for a conversion experience, but it is helpful to fund common ground on the issues facing the people of the book today, including the Saudi funded terrorists whose actions show nothing in the way of understanding Qur’an or their own traditions. If we can pity them rather than hate them, we can begin to move forward.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Another Catholic Voice in the Public Square - November edition

In today’s bulletin, the latest from our parish pro-life committee came out. I missed the election issue, if there was one, which saved them an earful. Strangely, even though all of Washington is talking about tax reform, there was nary a mention, so I mentioned it in my response, which will be emailed to them presently.

In a budget funded by over one trillion dollars income taxation, $600 million is rounding. A portion is likely for Medicaid abortions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. Those are the recognized exceptions to the Hyde Amendment and they are not going anywhere. 80% of abortions are paid with cash and no insurance. The remaining 20% are paid for by insurance policies funded either with an Affordable Care Act subsidy or the Health Insurance Exclusion for private employers. This is very indirect funding, as is abortions paid for by government contract employee insurance. Regardless, the link between any of our taxes and any or all of the abortions performed is not enough to claim a violation of religious liberty or to merit the non-payment of income taxes, at least according to the text used in Special Ethics at Catholic Universities and minor seminaries, as any priest or lawyer will tell you if they kept their book.

The troubling portion of funded abortions are for trafficked immigrant women. If you assume that a woman who has been trafficked is ipso facto a rape victim, then Hyde would not stop these abortions. The way to prevent such abortions is to rescue these women sooner as part of prostitution enforcement, which is too often corrupted at the police level. More troubling is offering such abortions to avoid the birth of an American citizen as an anchor baby. The best of Catholic teaching on sexual matters is not when it tries to enter our marriage beds, but when it speaks out for the mentally infirm (both in the womb and as parents) and immigrants, defending their right to procreate or survive.

Catholic Social Teaching refers primarily to Encyclicals by Pope Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum), Pope Pius XI (Quadregismo Anno, esp 71 and Casti Connubii, esp. 120-121), Pope Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Caritas in Veritate, esp. 25). The passages referenced have to do with living wage requirement and social welfare systems, which have been attacked under the guise of austerity and which require that if the employer cannot arrange for a living wage (congratulations to MoCo Council for its $15 minimum wage law), then public support is required to fill the gap. While the proposed Tax Bill increases the Child Tax Credit by $600, it does so simply to offset the ending of the child exemption. The reality is that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, each additional child requires $1000 per month. We currently pay, both before and after reform, only $133.

If you want us to contact our members of Congress and the Senate on life matters, the lack of a living wage support in the bill, which should be funded with pay, not with end of the year refunds, should be at the top of the list. Indeed, the Pro-Life Activities Committee seems to be the one the needs the reminder here. This should be what they lead with in discussions on the tax debate, right after they condemn efforts to end Mandates in the Affordable Care Act (although at least these will collapse the system and lead to single-payer insurance) and the excessive cuts in the proposed bill favoring inherited wealth and the financial sectors. Any intimation that these funds will help small business (in terms of revenue) are simply untrue.

This is an area where Catholic leadership must be loud and clear against the excesses of this bill, as they will both encourage wage stagnation and abortion by giving the Executive Class an incentive to deprive the worker of the full measure of their productivity by keeping wages low, which is one of the four sins which cries to Heaven for Vengeance, in order to be paid a bonus. Higher tax rates discourage such rent seeking because the bonuses for doing so would go to the government.

This is not violation of subsidiarity, since only tax provisions have effectively prevented excessive executive salaries at the expense of the workers. Likewise, the Affordable Care Act provisions which demanded a certain benefit package in all insurance policies stopped the marketing of what amounted garbage health insurance. It was designed to make lower wage workers believe they had protection, and often did provide a small drug benefit, but was useless for any kind of hospitalization or more than one Emergency Room visit in a year. The market would not prune this garbage so subsidiarity required government to do so. Likewise, because the market will not provide $1000 per month per child in income below the professional level without fathers or mothers being fired for having additional children, the taxing power of the government must pick up the slack. This is why the Bishops now defend the Affordable Care Act and the Holy Sisters in the Catholic Health Association always favored it. To speak negatively of it in a parish newsletter displays a degree of partisanship that discredits all that is said, especially about abortion, where the pro-life movement is often dubbed the Republican Party at prayer.

Given their own self-governance, most Catholic Charities Adoption Agencies had little or no problem adopting children out to gay couples. It is only when certain bishops with a social agenda noticed that this became an issue. Studies show that they are safe and loving parents. There is a line between being a witness for truth and throwing a temper tantrum for not getting your way. Some bishops crossed that line long ago. Oddly, the whole movement for gay marriage came about because Catholic Hospitals were denying those who were euphemistically called long-time companions the dignity of a spouse in favor of often-estranged families of origin who blamed the spouse for their own bad behavior. These are cases where the couple had left their parents and become one flesh and our hospitals did not respect that. CHA finally decided to respect these relationships, even before the law changed. Would that the rest of the Church showed such wisdom.

Stem cell research is not abortion. Officially, abortion can only occur after pregnancy started with implantation. Such research is not meant to cure disease so much as to clone body parts. The research method is what is being practiced. The cells are useless precisely because they have not gone through gastrulation, which is natures filter to stop bad blastocysts from becoming embryos.

Whether civil rights precede written constitutions or have organized them, there is a difference between negative and positive rights. A negative right limits state power. A positive right uses state power to grant a privilege in society. Prior to Roe v. Wade, abortion law did not recognize the unborn as human beings so abortion was considered bad medical practice punishable with a fine (like shooting your neighbor’s dog) and notification of the Medical Society, which drove most abortion underground rather than stopping it. Roe noted the lack of congressional recognition of the unborn and drew the line at viability. Currently, the unborn have a right to life vis-a-vis the government, which cannot force an abortion on anyone and won’t execute a pregnant woman. It will not, however, include the unborn in the positive right to not be murdered by their mother (all murder statutes imply a positive right for the victim to having their crime solved and avenged). States cannot change who is a person under law. Only Congress can. There is now a Republican House, Senate and President, all purportedly pro-life. The enforcement clause of the 14th Amendment awaits! Put up or shut up, but make sure there is some compromise with the other party so that it does not simply undo what is enacted in 2019 (after impeachment).

For a more complete discourse on rights and abortion, see http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2017/11/how-is-life-right-letter-to-pro-lifers.html


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Value Added Taxes and Capitalism

I write a lot about value added taxes and often receive the same response, that they are regressive. As a single tax, this is true, although mitigating factors are whether there is some type of rebate, increase to net wages during transition (when they change the tax tables) and especially if there is a surtax on high incomes and inheritances (preferably one that treats cash or in-kind distributions as normal income). Every single tax need not be progressive if the entire system is.

The reality is that, for the most part, there is no difference for consumers between paying a VAT and paying embedded income and payroll taxes in the price of the product. When you buy any good or service, the salary and associated taxes, from the janitor to the store clerk to the line employee to the CEO are included. The only difference is that for a VAT, labor and capital are taxed at an equal rate. Also, income taxation for higher income shareholders and CEOs may not all be included in the price because of deferred compensation through savings which are harder to track, so separate taxation is still required, which also makes sure that richer people pay a higher rate.

In a free and competitive market, taxes that are levied are paid. In capitalism, however, price can be manipulated for tax effects, including outsourcing and off-shoring production and design. Any CFO or CEO that does not know how much of the product price is attributable to their own taxes, payroll taxes and employee income taxes (which they collect for IRS) and the corporate profits tax should be fired. Of course, lowering those tax rates won’t increase hiring, increase dividends by much or decrease prices. The money will go to the Executive Class in bonuses. He who makes the rules, gets the gold. As importantly, in oligopolies, the company has the power to set prices, not the free market. Most of the prices we pay are either oligopoly or monopoly set, often with little regulation to keep them down.

The tax plan I put forward, which includes a subtraction VAT with deductions and credits for employee child subsidies, health care, retirement savings, education, and remedial education and mental health through charitable giving can be manipulated to zero as long as the alternative services are superior to what the government offers. Beyond that, there is little room to game the system. All items are VAT payable and all income above a certain level is taxed at the same rate. It is more fair and more obvious than trying to calculate who pays what part of corporate income taxes and what is the true embedded tax rate in the price of a product. We can’t stop oligopoly pricing with taxes except to the extent that employee-owned firms start producing more of what their owners consume, taking them out of the market entirely, but that is a different story.


Justice Roy Moore

 (If I)… give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  1 Cor: 13:3

Roy Moore has made a career out of being persecuted for his faith, albeit unnecessarily. He chose to put the Commandments in the statehouse and knew he would lose out. he was removed. There is a world of difference between faith and triumphalism. Roy shows the latter.

Likewise, he refused to allow constitutionally mandated gay marriages in his state when the precedent had been set. There was no action or ruling he could take to have the matter reconsidered. He is either very stupid or wants to feed his persecution complex. It was fed because he was removed.

Was he giving valid witness or was he bragging about his faith? The Lord demands we pray in a locked room, not in the streets or by imposing our beliefs on others, especially not from a position of secular power. He was certainly showing no love for his gay married constituents. Indeed, any couple which forsakes all others and marries is to be cherished. Roy simply does not like losing.

And now we have the latest revelations and Roy is playing the victim again. This time, however, he has to bluff the Lord who said that it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck than to lead one of these little ones astray. He may have forgotten his sin, but God has not. Sorry Roy, you are not the victim, you are fish food. If you want to show love to those women and to Alabama, just go away and be quiet.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

How is Life a Right? A Letter to Pro-Lifers

Over the past few days, I have been having a debate with an unnamed troll on the Comments Page for an article on lessons for the Church after a year of Trump. The crux of the discussion was about whether the unborn have a right to life. I am reproducing a few of my comments here so as to help the movement find the right venue to seek rights for the unborn under the constitution (whether there is a divine right is only somewhat relevant to any right they may gain or have recognized under law. Until the movement finds the right path, embryos will continue to circle the drains at Planned Parenthood.

The unborn definitely have a right to life. The government cannot force their mothers to abort them. However, the constitutional right to life does not include not being murdered by a non-governmental party. That takes positive law. Not mumbo-jumbo. Fact. Because the state is not seeking their deaths (nor Democratic Catholic politicians) there is no negative right to life, i.e., it cannot simply be declared as a natural right. It is a positive right that must be enacted, and the states are constitutionally incapable of doing so.

Murder is a term of art. Abortion is not even manslaughter under the law. Do you want purity of law or many fewer abortions? The former is like going after undocumented workers for the misdemeanor of overstaying a visa and making it look like a crisis. I care about the human result. If purity of law is all you want, we have no use for you. If you are in this to promote the GOP, then you are more complicit with those murders than any pro-choice Democrat.

Stopping your mother from aborting you is a positive right, as well as minimum wage and insurance. Preventing mandatory abortions and allowing flag burning are negative rights because they prohibit government action. Being free from mandatory suicide is a negative right too, but no one advocates physician mandated suicide. Palliative suicide, however, is probably a civil right one day because it would limit government interference.


Only the sovereign national government can. Until it does, states cannot legislate on the unborns’ behalf, which is the essence of privacy.  You can argue if you want, but I am giving you the keys to the kingdom. You even have an ostensibly pro-life Congress. Go to it!

Until the movement accepts this as fact, because legally it is a fact, it is either deliberately ignorant or committing fraud. That is the obvious. I am not saying this because I like abortion rights but because until this question is faced, abortion continues. Because federal action is necessary to recognize the unborn and because abortion is a private action, rather than action of government, the right to not be aborted is a positive right rather than a negative right.

Negative rights can be declared, and the impact is automatic. Positive rights require legislative action to secure. Person is a legal, not biological term. In the United States one is a person at viability unless the state determines a different point in the second trimester. No first trimester embryo or fetus is a legal person. There is a problem in the first trimester having to do with miscarriage.

Until you can formulate language which stops abortion and does not implicitly include tort relief or investigation of miscarriage by police (and if you try to simply declare it, every abortion will be listed as miscarriage, so every miscarriage will be investigated), you cannot get away with a first trimester ban politically, which you must do because not being aborted is a positive right. The fact that the lead lawyer for the movement is Jay Sukalow means that he probably does not even understand what I am saying because he panders to his clients, not a good quality for a lawyer, and he is certainly not smart enough or well enough trained to come up with the language that would be required.

The fact is that the Court found that laws prohibiting abortions violated the due process rights of women to be left alone in their private medical decisions. Who makes the decision is vitally important because the states pander to reactionary elements, such as yourselves.

 I am sure the bishops would love the enhanced power that they can wield locally to go unchecked on things like gay marriage, sodomy, contraception and abortion if federal supremacy were overturned by overturning Roe. That is not religious freedom, it is religious power. I wish they would work harder on expanding Medicaid and fighting tax cuts, locally and nationally. I have no objection to the USCCB insisting on the best federal abortion law the GOP can pass. I welcome it, but the GOP would not because it would be the end of the ability of the movement to attract members to their campaigns. I would hope that such a compromise includes living wage measures, both $15 minimum and $1000 per month per child.

You must decouple from the movement to remove federal supremacy from sodomy and gay marriage. The bishops may want it, because they have more power over state legislatures than Congress, but that is because they can organize a mob against individual rights of smaller, less popular minorities. The latter is the most apt definition of tyranny I know.

Regarding birth control, the moral principle being enforced by Catholic doctrine is that if one is not certain that a life is at stake, that the life must be given the benefit of the doubt. Gastrulation removes doubt about the legitimacy of birth control. After this, the embryo is a person, but unless the state is killing it, protecting it is a positive right, not a negative one. That means that it takes state action, fetal rights cannot simply be declared and then let the chips fall where they may. That is just legal laziness.

The question of how much power to give the state in the first trimester can only be made by Congress (and no one else), but it has to be balanced against how much power to give the state over all such pregnancies, else the miscarriage rate goes the roof and you get every case investigated anyway. Any law will give you the status quo unless you want to deal with Downs abortions. This fine if you are willing to put up or shut up on supportive care.

Until you understand that protection from abortion, like protection from any crime, is a positive right demanding legislation, in this case federal legislation, then you will be seeking the wrong thing and misleading others. What I am saying is not apologetics. You are furiously defending your right to wrong in your legal interpretation. That does nothing for the unborn.

The best legislative option is not the impossible task of bringing police power to the first trimester of pregnancy in a way that does not touch miscarriages or ignore equal protection principles (which the courts will not allow anyway) but to bow to Pius XI and Marx about living family wages and pass a huge tax credit for children. My kid gets such a payment from Social Security because I am disabled and because I made good money it’s a good payment. I don't need such a tax credit, but most families with children deserve one, regardless of the likelihood of abortion.

We already do $1000 a year in child tax credits. Ending exemptions gets us to $1600 (I thought that would give an even $1000 more, but I overestimated effective rates). End mortgage interest and property tax gets you to $6000 or $500 per child per month. Ending SNAP and TANF family benefits and negotiating state level matches probably go high enough, although building it all into a subtraction VAT on employers will allow distributing it with payroll and raising the rate enough to make sure it is adequate (and indexing it).

If you got my point, you would have a chance of winning, at least partially. although that would be bad for GOP fundraising and volunteers, but Trump already burned that bridge. What I mean is that the SCOTUS will and should never forsake federal authority on this issue to the states, or on sodomy, marriage equality and the rest.

There are those who want that done to renew the days of Catholic political power, aka mob rule. Any plan that still goes that way is simply taking a fall (in boxing terms) to get paid and look busy for the voters. Knowing that, you must take responsibility for not following options that are not in conflict with the federal control over the states established by the 14th Amendment. Any fetal deaths that result are on you, because you could have gone down a more productive path. One that does not make guys like Richard Viguerie wealthy.

The unborn have a Dred Scott problem. Indeed, the remedy for Dred Scott, the 14th Amendment, caused that problem because southern states believed they could deny rights to anyone whose grandfather was not free, leading to the Amendment. Not mumbo jumbo, but history. The solution cannot come from the states. Anyone who says it can is taking your money and volunteer time to elected and give tax cuts to rich people.

Do you support the rich, the ambitions of the Catholic bishops or the unborn? There should be only one answer and it involves calling your Senators and Representatives now and asking for a bipartisan bill settling when life begins under the Constitution. Anything not bipartisan will simply be repealed in 2019. This must last.


Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Truth Matters by Bruce Bartlett

To understand the import of this book, you could call it, in a more Harry Potter title, The Truth Matters (and where to find it). Every journalism, American politics intro and media course, as well as any Poli Sci Doctoral Survey course should include this book on its syllabus. It is useful to any student doing general research. Indeed, it should be taught in High School Civics to inoculate young minds against believing everything they read on the Internet.

It is the best citizens’ guide to understanding facts in the media that has probably ever been done in the Internet age. It gives away for almost free what every good analyst knows through education and experience. Hopefully it will be read generally, even by those on the right and left whose biases make this work necessary. Is it perfect? No, but that is because I wanted him to name names, especially when he talks about the existence of fake news, editorial opinions and how to fight fake news, although the reader can likely figure out who he is referring to.

His essay on deceptive labeling leaves out the question of neo-liberalism, which the left sees as a bipartisan issue. Even if he disagrees, a few observations one way or the other would be useful. It can even be related to the conspiracy theory observations in the first Fake News Chapter, which can tag Michael Flynn’s son and much of the Green Party. The Polling chapter is interesting, especially the comments on how polls are used to rally the troops. It brings to mind Anthony Downs; Theory of Non-voting, which is wrong precisely because Downs ignores the very real calculus people make about the chance that there are others who think like they do, but not enough so that they can stay home on election day. The former is also a problem for the Greens and why they get no coverage.

That lack of coverage is an issue Bartlett does not address much, but you can see it in areas where you know there is uncovered fact, like the women soldiers of Rojava in northern Syria and the 60 Minutes story on big tobacco that was pulled for sponsor pressure. Finally, there is the question of the ultimate in Fake News, propaganda. Mentioning that some networks tend to favor it would make it hard not to name names. The saddest thing of all, of course, is when the beneficiaries of propaganda not only believe it, not knowing it is false, but then they retweet it and try to make it national policy. Sadly, that this happens is not fake news and sadder still, his followers believe him. Hopefully at least some will read the book.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Looking at Marx’s Wage Labor and Capital

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/wage-labour/index.htm

Introduction (by Engels)

Let’s look more closely at our 27 shillings of daily production and profit. Is Engels correct in assuming that the worker is entitled to all 3 shillings of profit? If the worker was the owner of the lathe and steam engine and purchased the materials required, then obviously he would be. If the capitalist owns the steam engine and lathe, then he is entitled to the profit on the one shilling of input he provided, assuming materials are easily disposed of if not used with no loss, and raising the price for easy calculation to 28 shillings, the worker should receive 3 shillings profit and the capitalist, one shilling.

Most capitalists would not concede that point. They consider themselves at risk for the material costs as well. The risk to capital is now 3.5 shillings per day, but even that calculation leaves half a shilling more in the pocket of the machinist.

If the machinists were unionized, the wage would be higher and the day shorter, but the profit entitlement would be higher as well, hopefully higher than the dues paid to the union. Of course, the capitalist may also be a sales worker, entitled to a share of the profit from the labor of selling the machines. If it were just the machinist and the capitalist, they should organize as partners, although the assumption should be many machinist and one capitalist, who may or may not employ separate workers to sell the machines.

Preliminary

Marx could be describing the expulsion of the working class from the middle class under the rule of the neo-liberals, with the eventual election of the abomination, Donald Trump, as an ersatz billionaire who pandered to the worst racial and misogynist hatred still existing in the unradicalized working class.

What are Wages? How are they Determined?

Labor power can also be called the supply cost of labor, which may be over or under the wage, the price of labor. The price of the materials, like the wool to be made into cloth, include the labor power of the farmer and the broker. The sheep gets food for her trouble or may already be mutton. The farmer’s landlord gets his share, probably an out-size one (and he may even be the capitalist).

Marx poetically demonstrates that the capitalist risks only property. The worker contributes a portion of her very life, which cannot be replaced. The comparison to the slave and serf are interesting, because, however, badly, the master or lord must make sure the workers’ needs are met by the system. There is no guarantee for the worker in capitalism.

By what is the price of a commodity determined?

Marx starts by highlighting the goals of monopoly and monopsony and goes from there to how these things effect prices and how they relate the the cost of production. I am sure if he were here today, he would have something to say about the artificial oil price boom of the last decade. He then relates cost of production to labor-time included in the cost.

By what are wages determined?

Supply and demand influence the price of labor power, but in general it is the supply cost of labor (living and education/training) that determines the price of wages or labor power. His observations on the lower cost of training translating into subsistence wages is as true today as a century and a half ago, although if the collective pays for training and education, a more equal price can be paid for having it. Likewise, he is equally correct about the need to pay for replacement workers, aka children. Both Milton Friedman and a number of Roman Catholic Popes agree with him on this. The sad factor of the matter is that the economy does not pay people enough to propagate themselves (i.e., have kids). Immigration covers some of the lack, bringing in workers used to a lower standard of living, i.e., slaves.

The Nature and Growth of Capital

Marx identifies capitalism as a set of social relations rather than as a necessary thing. It consists of both physical and human means of production but also of the exchange values and commodities. This allows shifting commodities within the same system. Commodification provides a common scale for trading or sales. The fact that we have classes of people who can only labor makes them the servants of the accumulated labor of others in machines and commodities, the essence of capitalism. Of course, we don’t have to use money. If we shift to a standard labor hour based currency and have workers determine the means of production, commodification diminishes and capitalism is doomed because it is deprived of workers and growth.

Relation of Wage-Labor to Capital

Capital reproduces itself from workers generating profits for capital or building capital equipment. This provides jobs for workers, but jobs which produce no value above subsistence. Of course, when consumer surpluses build up, the working class gets a better life, which is why revolution has never come to an industrialized society. It is not how workers work that must change for revolution, it is how we consume. We control production as shoppers but not workers. This is what we must change, allowing more control of commodities available from working. Under capitalism, workers subsist while capitalists live in luxury. During the mid-20th century, this was reduced through progressive income taxes, but low taxes again allowed CEOs to minimize wages and the mansions built as a result are again recreating class division. owning the means of production through collective action takes care of that.

The General Law that Determines the Rise and Fall of Wages and Profits

Here Marx assigns all profits to productive labor. Even before machines could think this ignored the financial risk of the capitalist, who in turn ignores the fact that the worker has risked a portion of the only possession he really has, time on earth, in spending the day employed. In this part, Marx discusses the rise of real wages in comarison to the relative share of labor and capital. In the U.S., since the early 70s, relative profits have gone through the roof while relative wages have not. Capital is stronger than ever. Automation provides some of this, as does monetary policy designed to control inflation, however the biggest factor has been tax policy that rewards CEOs for cutting labor costs by lowering their tax rates, which Trump wants to do again.

The Interests of Capital and Wage-Labor are diametrically opposed
Effect of growth of productive Capital on Wages

In the start of the industrial age, growth in capital meant more workers at lower pay. Unions and a consumer surplus, where technical efficiency produced too many commodities to maintain price levels took the steam out of revolution, although the economic booms and busts of capitalism have made it harder for workers to advance as a class unless they are radicalize. Therefore, Marx’s surmise of the desperation of the working class is a bit overblown, at least until you examine the working conditions of undocumented workers in America, some of whom are actually slaves, kept under peonage to company stores or until they pay back what the capitalist paid to Coyotes who provided them. The growth of capital often involves monopolization, where higher cost producers go belly up, which means in some industries everyone must use slave labor or its equivalent. Then the entire market brings down the price (consumer surplus), although slaves don’t get the benefits. Not so in an employee-owned firm that uses much of its production internally because the workers control the means of consumption.

Effect of Capitalist Competition on the Capitalist Class, the Middle Class and the Working Class

Marx describes very well how we get to a consumer surplus domestically without identifying how that benefits workers. He then addresses how power comes from being able to fire workers on an international scale. He could be writing today and would be as accurate on trade. The decrease in wages for some and the low wages in Asia testify to how globalization works against workers. The antidote is employee - ownership across borders and an equal standard of living for each worker. Are machinists immune to downward wage pressure? Not then and not so much now.  Now it is the workers who can program the machines, although if the collective pays them to get that knowledge then the collective shares the reward, although the educated worker may get a stock bonus rather than higher wages. Female and child labor were identified as lowering wages. Child labor has been outlawed, although some places it rears its ugly head. No one nowadays talks seriously about women working being a problem, although maybe a non-working spouse could be subsidized to provide child care to children. At various times, including ours, an excess of workers was a problem. Then and now, solidarity is the solution.