This blog started out as a collection of scripts for an online radio show of the same name. It riffed off of my 2004 book, Musings from the Christian Left, now republished as The Conscience of a Catholic Radical.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Paying for Katrina

Lately the deficit hawks in the Republican House of Representatives have been well covered in their call to cut out the pork as a way to pay for Katrina relief. It is amazing that someone can serve multiple terms in Congress and not know the basics of budgeting. Then again, the postal reform debate showed that Mr. Flake and his cohort are more talented at rhetoric than research.

The fact of the matter is that pork, also known as earmarked spending, is the diversion of money from the discretion of the Adminstration to the discretion of Congress. If there were less pork, there would be more money for agencies to spend at their discretion based on the law and on administration priorities. Stopping pork would simply increase administration discretionary funds, unless you divert money collected from the gas tax to hurricane relief. (Money that would not even be collected if those taxes were suspended to lessen the impact of high gas taxes).

All earmarks function in this way. To divert money from existing spending to hurricane relief the Concurrent Budget Resolution must be amended, cutting some appropriations while increasing others.

Some hurricane spending can come by simply redirecting money under current appropriations. For example, the Corps of Engineers could stop all non-essential projects outside the hurricane zone and redirect those resources to the Gulf. There are only so many contractors capable of doing that kind of work, so this type of reprogramming makes sense.

Many people who relocated were in public housing anyway. Obviously some of this money can be redirected to other jurisdictions within the HUD budget. The sad fact of the matter is, however, that the hurricane has increased the amount of work that the government must do. It did not lessen the need for government action in other areas of the country. Spending must ultimately increase. It can either be funded by debt or by increased taxation.

The Chinese have been more than glad to finance the Bush deficit until now, since this allows them to gain financially without actually having to buy anything made in America. Additional income earned by Chinese workers is therefore spent in China, increasing the growth of the Chinese economy while shrinking our productive capacity. They can only do this for so long, however. Eventually the amount of outstanding American debt will raise interest rates. This will attract more American investors, who are currently confining their investments to other places (such as the building of Chinese factories). In other words, the export of our debt to China happens because there are more lucrative opportunities for those wealthy Americans who had their taxes temporarily cut by the Republicans. It won't last forever.

When interest rates increase we will face a choice. We can either borrow money from wealthy Americans or tax them. If we borrow it we will pay them interest. If we tax them, we won't have to. Eventually, either the wealthy or their children will have to pay higher taxes, since increasing taxes on the non-wealthy will slow the economy and lead to still higher deficits. Only by taxing the rich can you balance the budget and grow the economy, as happenned under Clinton.

In a few fiscal years much of the Bush Tax Cut legislation will sunset unless the Republicans can find five Democratic votes. That is not likely. Given the President's approval ratings he is likely to lose strength in the Senate, which is not effected by the gerrymandering which keeps the Republicans in the majority in the House. So......

....the question of higher taxes is very much open. The President knows, or should be told in words of syllable that he needs to compromise on taxes on the wealthy. If he does not the next president will simply let them die, which is tragic because the 25% tax rate is a good idea. Some of the tax reform enacted was a good idea and should be preserved. If the President wants to make it permanent, he needs to do a real deal, one that the leadership of the Democrats can stomach. To do this, he must increase taxes on the wealthy and on wealthy heirs.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Roberts Hearings - Cold Comfort for Conservatives?

In the past two days, Chief Justice nominee John Roberts has soft pedaled his days as a movement conservative in the Reagan Administration (if indeed he ever was one) and embraced a right to privacy lodged not in emenations of penumbras but in the Liberty clause of the 14th Amendment. This denial of the right to privacy is code in conservative circles in saying that there is no constitutional justification for the right to abortion. Unlike the Chief Justice he is replacing, he is willing to consider the priviledged position of the Casey decision in deciding further cases on abortion rights.

Conservatives seem gleeful at his performance. They have the right to be to the extent that their guy is likely to get confirmed. However, their joy may be short lived as the judicial temprament he has shown demonstrates the he will be more like Kennedy and O'Connor than Scalia and Thomas, who bring their personal beliefs on abortion to the decision they will render - at least that is the impression.

A further question arises from this as to whether these last two are prejudging this issue. If this is not the case, it may be that given the convincing arguments that Roberts may bring to the conference on the right to privacy, the next such case may be decided unanimously in favor of abortion rights! Cold comfort indeed for conservatives.

On the other hand, the whole emphasis on Roe might indeed by a feint worthy of Gen. Norman Schwartzkopff. From a facial reading of the Fourteenth Amendment and its history, it is obvious that the intent of its framers is that any matter involving civil rights, be they the rights of the mother or the rights of the fetus, is of national concern. State law in this area is subserviant to federal rights. It is the lesson of the Civil War, when the United States became The United States. There is no overturning of Roe under this framework. What if conservatives are not stupid and they know this?

Back when I was a movement conservative in my younger days, I circulated the opinion that the Fourteenth Amendment was the key to overturning abortion rights. This cannot happen at the state level, it must be federal. Congress is empowered under this amendment to enforce the amendment and could thereby move the begining of citizenship from birth to the commencement of the fetal heartbeat (16 days after conception or a month after the last mensus). If it were to do so, the undo burden test of the Casey decision would be voided, since the fetus would have standing. Even if Roe were affirmed by the Court, congressional action in this area would have to be upheld, especially after the confirmation of Justice O'Connor's replacement, although the conservatives may wait until the death of Jusitce Stevens before attempting such a tactic. They do not have much time, however, since the conduct of the war does not look good for their continued possession of the Congress. If they were to do such a thing, they must do it fairly quickly, as a President Clinton would likely veto such a provision.

Now, would such a scenario be a good idea? Readers of this blog will know that I would say no, since it would likely lead us back to the bad old days of illegal abortion, whether this involves back alley procedures, self-induced abortion or forged lab reports which claim either miscarriage or a lower fetal age than is in fact the case. Such actions would be used as an excuse to again go after doctors in the same way that the DEA is pursuing pain specialists who treat their patients appropriately with large doses of narcotics. Even if women are not the targets of such enforcement, they will be its victims as the number of doctors willing to run afoul of the abortion police would diminish. In other words, such a prohibition on abortion would not work and would make society less free. It would not be a good idea.

Many Republican donors actually share this view, so it is unlikely that this or any other Republican Congress would enact it. They would certainly not get past a Democratic fillibuster. Even if they did, it would be the end of the Republican Party as we know it. Cold comfort indeed.

Where does this leave John Roberts? He will likely be confirmed. However, if this essay is circulated, it may make it impossible for the President to appoint another conservative to the bench unless she is a small c moderate conservative who would agree that privacy is settled law. Even then, given the possibilities I have outlined, she may never get a vote on the Senate floor.

A final comment on this. The Catholic Bishops and pro-lifers in the Church took great pains to support President Bush in the last election. It is arguable that they were even able to swing Ohio. The Roberts stance on stare decisis and privacy must be cold comfort to them as well as it seems they excerted themselves for nothing at all. This is not surprising, as they refuse to be guided by those of us in the Church who know a bit more about the presidency than they do. The chief impact a President has is the setting of the general parameters of the budget. James Q. Wilson demonstrated this in the late 80's in an analysis which showed that while President's don't always get their way in specific areas of spending they usually succeed in setting the general numbers on taxing, spending and debt. Presidents have little to say about abortion and less to say on how the Court views it. What they can control are the use of the military and the general direction of the purse. If the Church wishes to advise us on how to vote on various candidates it must focus on these things rather than on what the candidates for office cannot control. I set out on my website how Presidents and the Church may impact abortion using the power of the purse. Go to to find out the real solution to abortion or see my blogs on the issue from last January at

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Sins of Biloxi and New Orleans

The events of last week raise a few issues.

From a Christian Left perspective, the most obvious issue is whether New Orleans "deserved it" due to the sinfulness of the French Quarter. Certain conservatives have said so and they should be ashamed. First of all, Katrina did not hit New Orleans dead on, it hit Mississippi. Of course, one could counter that this is because of the gambling industry at Biloxi - which would raise an interesting debate on whether the Lord disapproves of gambling more than sexual excess. I would think a lot of church bingo parlors would take issue with that assertion, however. One could even point to the sins of slavery and the exploitation of the share cropper, although the Civil War is said to be punishment for the former while most in the south have repented for the latter - although certainly not completely.

I am not denying the sinfulness of gambling, rampant sexuality or drunkenness (especially in combination). What I am denying, based on scripture, is that God punishes cities for these evils. Jesus said, when asked of the sinfulness of the thirteen people killed by the Tower of Siloam that all have need of repentence (Luke 13:1-5). We must repent more for our sakes than for the Lord's. God is infinitely happy. He gives us morality not for his pleasure but so that we may live more happily in this life. When we are mastered by sin or the spiritual sickness of addiction we are already living in Hell. The key to understanding the salvation of the cross is that it is the Son of God experiencing the separation from God that the sinner feels and in doing so brings us back from Hell. I say much more about this on my web page at and

I do not believe that personal vice lead to the human tragedy of stemming from Katrina. Indeed, most of those who engage in this vice are tourists rather than locals. Nor do I believe that global warning is the cause since New Orleans and Biloxi have been under water before in the last century. Rather, the sins of these cities are bad urban planning - locating cities and gambling casinos in flood plains and floating them on the water. This is similar to the real sin of Sodom and Gomorah, which was located near volcanic sulfur springs. Hot springs and geysers erupt. The plain around those cities is covered with evidence of the detris of such an eruption.

Now that we know of the sin, it is the responsibility of those of us who are funding their rebuilding to repent of the sin (which is all of us). We must insist that those neighborhoods that are below the channel be raised up before being rebuilt. The ruins of the city can be used as fill as can soil dredged from deepening the navigation channels and the river itself, which should have locks and dams installed so that the water is lower than the neighborhoods. Some of this soil will have to be centrifuged to take out heavy metals, but this type of cleaning is necessary anyway due to the nature of the disaster. Not to do so is inviting a similar disaster and would not only be a sin, but would be bad government. As for Biloxi, the casinos should be built more inland and wetlands along the Gulf restored. This goes for most of the Gulf Coast, especially those areas devistated by Katrina.

Rebuild we must, however, and not only for the rich folks who got out early but the poor who were displaced. To permanently exile the poor who would wish to return would be a sin. They must be made whole, if only as a reparation for not effectively dealing with their impoverishment and for the African American poor as a reparation for slavery and sharecropping. This new city must also have the social infrastructure to provide education for all those who require it for their professional and human development. Any who are not literate at the tenth grade level must be educated to that level and must be paid while they are pursuing this education. I talk about how to do that on my web page at For more on reparations go to

Catholic Charities, USA is organizing long term recovery efforts, including human development. If you would like to contribute to that go to