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, August 28, 2006

Plan B, Stem Cells and the Catholic Church

Last week was a big one for issues of reproduction. The Washington Post reported on Friday on the FDA's decision to allow over the counter sales of Plan B birth control.

The vocal opponents of this decision couch their objections in respect for life and women's health terms. It is rather obvious, however, that the biggest objection they have is on sexual morality. The fact of the matter is, human life cannot begin before gastrulation, when stem cells differentiate after implantation, interspecies cross-breeds die whether caused by beastiality or invitro, twinning can no longer occur and the fathers DNA is an equal partner to the mothers in development.

It is not up to the FDA to consider the impact of birth control on sexual ethics - that is a job for churches - although I hardly trust my own church with its celibate clergy in this area either - since this celibacy came about because the aesthetics convinced everyone else that it was wrong to receive communion the day after or of having sex. Yes, that is right boys and girls, that is the core belief which is no longer held except for a few real wackos who have obviously never had to deal with a two year old that is the responsible for the entire dysfunctional system called Catholic sexual morality.

Speaking of the Church, the Post reported on the following day that the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops are decrying the study published last week that shows that you can take a stem cell away from a blastocyst without killing it. They oppose the research because it shows that before gastrulation, a blastocyst is only potential human life. It is not that they are anti-science, it is that if they are wrong on stem cells they are wrong on birth control too. And since they have called these issues part of their infallible Magisterium which as far as I can tell is merely the assembled letters of the popes which have not even been said to be ex cathedra - their obvious error on birth control causes their whole house of cards to fall. Their problem is that they are trying to have it both ways - they state that they are teaching natural law but that they are doing it authoritatively. The only problem is, natural law must stand on evidence alone. Once you start claiming a position of authority than you have abandonned natural reasoning.

I have a web page that addresses both of these issues at http://www.geocities.com/xianleft_michael/Contraception.html

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Unwinding the Credit Boom

Robert Samuelson writes in August 23th's Washington Post on Unwinding the Credit Boom. He traces the advent of high consumer borrowing to its current historic levels. He reports that the Fed is trying to slow it down gently but that only time will tell whether their strategy will lead to a soft landing or a recession.

We shall see. In other countries, people can get consumer debt through their unions rather than the marketplace. Perhaps employee-owned firms will begin to do this as well. If they do, you will see people moving their credit business from the marketplace where interest is required to private sources, where it might not be. If interest payments merely boost profits, then charging interest in an employee-owned firm would be an implict transfer from younger borrowers to older borrowers, who are already advantaged by owning more shares, which accumulate other shares unless the full payout goes to the worker. For the bigger picture, see the text of my book at http://www.geocities.com/iowaequity/PayEquity.html, http://www.geocities.com/bindner_space/careers.html,
http://www.geocities.com/bindner_space/interindependence.html

The New Middle East

First, let me say that I do not support or condone the actions of Hamas, Al Queda, Hizbollah or the Iraqi insurgency. Nor am I any fan of Saddam Hussein, which some modern day socialists are. His rule was no golden age of Iraq. He was a tyrant and not the smartest tack on the board, else he would have capitulated with the First Infantry Division on his border.

In the Washington Post of July 29th, Steven Cook rightly cautions against equating democracy with the rule of law necessary to conduct it in Lebanon and Palestine. He misses his own point, however, as part of the rule of law is accepting the results of democratic elections, especially if they reflect the will of the electorate. Also, to occupy another country where they hate you - or even a region of that country - and not expect an insurgency is hardly honoring the rule of law.

In the Post of August 23rd, Saad Eddin Ibrahim of The American Univeristy writes about "The New Middle East" Bush is Resisting. He hits the nail on the head where it comes to respecting the rights of elections we do not agree with.

If we and Israel respected the Palestinian election, there might not have been any kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and there would certainly be clear channels for negotiating for their release. As it is now, tensions can only increase.

If we had any respect for the rule of law, we would not have even tried to cobble together an artificial Iraq, but would have instead found a Sunni Arab nation or Turkey to occupy that portion where we really were not wanted, perhaps the Baathist Syria or the Hashemite Jordanians. Neither would have been opposed as we are, and in fact would and still could be looked upon as liberators from American tyranny. Many fear a civil war, which is silly since the civil war in Iraq has existed since and even before the first President Bush's administration provided aid and comfort to those who would overthrow Saddam. Such a war is more tribal than sectarian. As soon as we supported Saddams would be overthrowers, we entered the fray on their side. It is a truely clumsy act of dissembling to claim otherwise. See http://www.geocities.com/mikeybdc/Iraq.html for more information on both the Iraqi situtation and on American hegemony and the inadequacy of the UN.

On Hamas and Israel, the sad fact of the matter is that some form of government unfriendly to Israel is the natural outgrowth of years of occupation, detention and settlement. There are two hopes for peace in Israel, one is the creation of a Palestinian state, not as an Israeli colony but either an independent nation or a province of a larger Arab state (Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and possibly Arabia) under a Hashemite constitutional monarchy. The other option is total annexation and full citizenship for Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. The latter would be necessary if the Tablets of the Law are to be returned by God and the Coptic Church to Israel (which seems to be a right wing hope in its quest for Armageddon). See http://www.geocities.com/xianleft_michael/Israel.html for more information on this.

Our involvement in this region has as much to do with the preservation of the defense industrial complex. If we are ever to break free of this we need to redirect our defense industry to the peaceful exploration of space and transform our alliance to an allied government, which as I say in the Iraq essay, is necessary given the current American overreach and the resentment among our allies that George Bush is behaving as if he were king of the world, which our international treaties actually make him.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Iraq Spillith Over - Time to Geteth Out

Daniel L. Byman and Kenneth M. Pollack write about the Iraqi Civil War in the Sunday Outlook section of the August 20 Washington Post. They maintain that we cannot choose sides in this civil war. The only problem is that we already have. For all the history of the region's civil conflicts they left out the genesis of this one, the tribal conflict between Saddam's community and the remainder of the country which the United States helped stoke when it urged the Shia and Kurds to revolt in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. Any analysis that does not start with the premise that we started it is incomplete. This also puts the conflict in perspective, as a tribal conflict may or may not spread as a true sectarian civil war would.

Acknowledging our part in the Iraqi civil war gives us a way out. In fact, it shows that getting out is the best option. We need not insist on the existence of an artificial Iraq, but should instead find a Sunni Arab nation or Turkey to occupy that portion where we really were not wanted, perhaps the Baathist Syria or the Hashemite Jordanians. Neither of the last two will be opposed as we are. They will be looked upon as liberators from American tyranny. For more on how and why we got into this, how the U.N. can't help, how to get out, and the problem of American hegemony, see http://www.geocities.com/mikeybdc/Iraq.html.

Our involvement in this region has as much to do with the preservation of the defense industrial complex. If we are ever to break free of this we need to redirect our defense industry to the peaceful exploration of space and transform our alliance to an allied government, which as I say in the Iraq essay, is necessary given the current American overreach and the resentment among our allies that George Bush is behaving as if he were king of the world, which our international treaties actually make him. It is time to overthrow this king, and to do this we need a majority of the House to oppose him and two-thirds of the Senate to have an open mind.

Conservatives Without Conscience

I have just now finished John W. Dean's recent book, Conservatives Without Conscience. (Reviewed in The Washington Post August 9th). In this work he uses psychological data on authoritarianism to examine how authoritarians in both the neoconservative and social/religious conservative movements have taken over the Republican Party and how this is could be a step to a larger dictatorship if not watched.

Dean traces authoritarianisms history in the public, although his efforts are not perfect. He mentions the disengagement of envangelicals from national politics from the 1920s until the 1960s. This may be true, however Mr. Dean misses a big piece of American political history by making this contention. What does he think Segregation was if not the ultimate in authoritarianism. The conservative hot button issues of abortion, homosexuality and desegregaton were not present on the landscape in this period because the social revolution the right wing authoritarians are currently reacting to had not yet occurred. Dean calls the right wing authoritarians Radical, but the classic term is Reactionary, since the right wing authoritarians seek an earlier time when sex was back in Pandora's Box (if it ever was). In the time where Right Wing Authoritarians were innactive in national politics they were very active in local politics making sure that Segregation was enforced. I find it hard to believe that the leaders in the segregated South, or the North for that matter, weren's Social Dominators and Right Wing Authoritarians. In fact, for a systematic discrimination to succeed, authoritarianism must be operative. It was never not operative in the American south, since the slave and sharecropper systems required it to function. When coverage of the Civil Rights movement made segregation socially unacceptable, the authoritarians had to find another avenue to power. Luckily the sexual revolution played right into their hands. Dean's problem with the social conservatives seems to be as much their inclusion in the Republican Party as their existence as a political force. This is shocking coming from someone who served in the Nixon White House. It was called the Southern Strategy. Perhaps Dean did not get the memo. What has changed is that these people are no longer as poor as they used to be. The Depression did not treat them well. Now that they are doing better economically, their dollars are sought.

What is new is the union between the Protestant Evangelicals and the Catholic ethnic conservatives. This would have been unthinkable fifty years ago, but abortion politics have made it possible. The Catholic hierarchy's complicity in this is fascinating. I am not sure who is capturing who. In conservative Catholic end times prophesy, the return of the Protestants to the Roman Church is as essential a step as the conversion of the Jews the Evangelicals look forward to. I wonder who is capturing whom.

I am not sure that all elected officials are not, to some extent, social dominators. They may not be out and out segregationists, but most of those elected to high office have, let us say, a healthy dose of self-esteem. In effect, they believe they are a cut above everyone else. Their amorality, especially in sexual matters, does not seem to know party line (remember Monica?). They seem to suffer from compulsive's disease (alcoholism, sex addiction, etc.) at a higher rate than the average citizen. A part of that pathology is a dominating personality. Also, whether they, as a class, are true believers in inequality - rather than exploiters of their followers authoritarianism - is an open question. The case of Strom Thurmond's illegitimate daughter is a case in point. His first love, whose child he financially supported, was in the class he proportedly hated. Maybe, just maybe, he was speaking into the listening of his constituents. While there are undoubtedly some true believers in racial inequality among the social dominators on the Republican side, they aren't necessarily the norm. As to economic inequality, the tax cuts of the past two decades may be as much about pandering to ones donors as an overarching belief in economic inequality.

The Authoritarianism Dean details can as easily be called Hierarchism as defined in the Grid/Group Theory of Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky. Looked at that way, the trends Dean highlights are not pathology but a long standing chosen way of life. The existence of dominant personalities in elected office is also nothing new. The parallel Dean draws between Viet Nam and Iraq also shows that adventurism in American policy is not a unique development. Indeed, the Spanish American War and the genocidal wars which opened the American West bear striking similarity to our current situation. What has changed is the coverage and the acceptability of an anti-war movement. Prior generations would have rounded up dissenters or lynched them.

Now, I am in no way arguing that we should left the current coalition unchecked. Indeed, its rise to dominance has as a key factor the inclusion of Catholics who left the Democratic Party in reaction to the partial birth abortion bill vetos of President Clinton. As long as the Supreme Court composition stays the same over the next few months, the issue of partial birth abortion will soon die, since the current Court's balance is not enough to reverse the actions of the lower courts declaring the federal partial birth abortion ban unconstitutional (just in time for the fall election). This issue will be used to mobilize the base and will then fade into obscurity - especially if the War is going badly and the Democrats gain control of one or both houses of Congress. A loss may actually better for the Republican Party as Dennis Hastert, who Dean largely ignored for reasons that are not entirely clear, is governing badly and seems to be out of ideas and way out of his depth. It would be a relief for the Republicans if his time as Speaker were ended through a change in the majority.

So, how do we get out of this mess we are in. The current political landscape is unsustainable. Political change comes when two factions work together and forge a new center coalition. When morally conservative prohibitionists and socially liberal suffregettes joined forces they made progress on both of their issues, winning the frachise for women and banning alcohol (I didn't say the progress was always good). In the same way, if abortion opponents and living wage supporters get together, a new coalition is possible. A ban on early abortion is unlikely, however some restriction on late term abortion is still possible if combined with economic and social measures that make it more unlikely than it already is (only 12% of abortions occur in the latter stages of pregnancy). Indeed, if the right economic reforms are passed, those which I have laid out here in previous entries, the enactment of criminal penalties will be entirely unnecessary since the only late term abortions performed will be for medical necessity.

Forging such a coalition is what the Musings from the Christian Left and the Christian Libertarian Party Manifesto are all about. This entry is cross-posted to both blogs.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Estate Tax and Minimum Wage Vote

Charles Babington reports on the failure of the compromise legislation to raise the minimum wage while permanently cutting the estate tax. Opponents of the repeal argue that it will cost the federal treasury, although most rich people use trusts and other shelters to avoid paying the tax. Only the "unprepared rich" ever pay this tax. Repealing or cutting the tax would leave quite a few of the estate planners who thrive on its provisions out of work, so you wonder whose side the Democrats are really on. Much of the debate is about perception. The Republicans have been, quite rightly, identified with the rich and shameless, while the tax itself is associated with Marxism, since the early Communists had both it and an income tax on its list of interim reforms.

Maya MacGuinneas and Ian Davidoff wrote an article in July offering the possibility of taxing inheritances rather than estates. This is a good approach and is also advocated by the Capital Ownership Group, an online think tank. To make an inheritance tax more pallatable, I would add additional modifications which will shut up the critics on the right.

The first is to tax only cash or in-kind disbursements to heirs. In other words, if a productive asset is liquidated or given over to the personal use of an heir, taxation applies. If, however, the asset is retained for business purposes the tax is deferred until it is liquidated. This would exempt any family farm which is still worked or any stock which is not sold. As long as the family remains in the family business, no tax is owed.

The second modification is related to the first and it goes to the real purpose of the estate tax - to distribute wealth. If an asset is liquidated in a sale to the employees of the farm or firm, whether a qualified Employee Stock Ownership Plan or similar scheme or an employee cooperative, taxes will be waived permanently - just as they would be if the original owner had made such a transfer to an ESOP. Now, there is the codicil that the transfer must be to broad based ownership, not to an executive group. The IRS has been cracking down on such schemes among the living, as the ESOP law is meant to encourage broad based ownership, not the creation of fortunes to the few.

This points to the final point in the estate tax debate - about whether an asset is taxed multiple times. Such an argument is a red herring for one very simple reason. Had the dearly departed fat cat liquidated the assets in the estate, some form of tax would be owed. If the money were distributed, then gift taxes must be paid. If he or she kept the money, capital gains taxes would be owed. Death should not be a way to avoid these taxes, hence the need for a tax on heirs.

For more information on my tax reform proposals, go to my Iowa Center For Fiscal Equity web site for the testimony we submitted to the President's Tax Reform Commission.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Kansas School Board Evolves

The Washington Post reports that the majority of the Kansas Board of Education will no longer favor Intelligent Design. It pays to trust the people. It also shows that elections matter in this age of pressure group politics.

The teaching of intelligent design is an obvious back door to the teaching of creationism in the pubic school system. There is no issue in the private school system, at least in the Catholic parochial system. They teach Darwin, although the text I had in junior high made reference to creation theories of various cultures (which seems like an intelligent way to design a text on the subject). Decades earlier, their were those in the Catholic Church who were against Darwin, but they evolved too.

Frankly, it would be interesting to see what would happen if Creationism were taught not as doctrine but as scientific theory. Such a treatment would have to include an explanation of where the story came from. A fact based treatment of this question would have the fundamentalists running to the Courts, since the current thinking on this question is not that God dictated the story to Moses, but that it evolved from the Sumeric and Caananite creation myths having multiple gods which created man to serve them so that they would stop killing each other. Teach Creationism and biblical literalism is going down as a theory. Tee hee.

For more on education in general, see my web page at http://www.geocities.com/xianleft_michael/education.html