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, April 19, 2010

Catholics, the Tea Party and tax reform

The Tea Party came to DC last Thursday, in time for tax day. Coincidentally, yesterday's Gospel had the risen Lord meet the apostles for breakfast on the Sea of Tiberius with the command to Peter to feed my lambs, tend my sheep and feed my sheep. Most homilies focus on how this was the opporunity given to Peter to make up for denying Jesus on Good Friday, but given the role popes have played in advocating for the poor - especially over the last century and a half and including the current one - there seem to be deeper meanings. Pope Benedict is no slacker in advocating for the social gospel. Indeed, his encyclical Caritas in Veritate stands as quite a stark contrast to the Tea Party movement's latest focus on the injustice of leaving the poorest untaxed.

The issue of everyone paying taxes is key to those who support a Flat Tax, who desire totally proportional taxation with everyone paying the same rate. The Fair Tax is a varient of this, even with VAT offsets, since the rate charged prior to offsets is equal to everyone. This view is important to people who believe in equality in process rather than equality of result. Indeed, they believe equality of result rewards sloth and breaks down a sense of community sacrifice. Dick Armey is an extreme believer in this view - and not just because his funders also hold it.This view is not uncommon in society. It's existence is why I propose a VAT along with a shift of wage taxes from individuals to an expanded business income tax. Making such taxes visible promotes at least some shared sense of sacrfice.

The desire for shared sacrifice also leads to the use of per capita debt statistics - even though such statistics are entirely inappropriate given our tax system. The real liability for the national debt is exactly the same as the liability for the payment of tax. They are one and the same, since the ability of a nation to borrow rests solely on its ability to tax. If anything, the national debt liability should reflect the distribution of wealth, which is much more skewed to the top than either the distribution of income or the distribution of taxation. Since wealth is harder to tax than income (even by an LVT - because of the liquidity problem), what each individual owes is a function of the amount of taxes owed (see line 60 of Form 1040) less the additional credits on later lines. This total, times 9 (which is roughly the ratio of federal income taxes to national debt) gives each individual what they really owe. My family ended up owing roughly $5,500. Our share of the debt (aside from taxes owed) is roughly $50,000. Most Tea Party activists pay more in taxes. Given my analysis of how that relates to their liability for the debt, one can easily see why they wish to spead the pain. The tax changes I propose would essentially further limit the liability for the debt to the wealthy who pay an income surtax - however I would limit the surtax to debt repayment, interest payments and the payment for overseas deployments. Once such deployments are ended and the debt repaid, the reason for the tax would cease - as would the tax itself.

The other egalitarian feature I wish to emphasize is my proposed expanded child tax credit, which would be an offset to business income taxes and paid to workers as a component of wages. This would replace other family entitlements and is necessary on justice and efficiency grounds because small employers of low wage workers cannot afford to pay a living wage (which for me as a Catholic intellectual is non-negotiable doctrine) if mandated without some kind of tax support. Lacking tax support would either drive small firms into bankruptcy or result in business size exclusions that defeat the purpose of living wage mandates.

Of all the issues we face as Catholics, I believe the issue of justice for families is the one we should focus on most. If we get this one right, the problems of abortion and health care go away. Neither party really deals with this issue well - which is why we must either continue to prod them or look somewhere else.

Passive Euthanasia at the Arlington Catholic Herald

Fr. Tad Pacholczyk talks about nutrition and hydration in the Catholic Herald this week. He relates the story of a woman, of told, who had a stroke and was totally unable to communicate. She eventually recovered. You can read the article at http://www.catholicherald.com/opinions/detail.html?sub_id=12801

This underlines the need for making sure that proper diagnostic tools are used before someone is considered too sick to treat. Many people with strokes and in comas still have brain functions. Two-thirds, however, do not.

Fr. Tad mentions Terri Schaivo in passing but still does not acknowledge that the correct thing was done in her situation. Her cerebral cortex had liquefied, as was apparent from both brain scans and from her autopsy. She felt no pain. Indeed, she had been brought back from the dead incompletely. If anything was abhorrent in her care, it is that they worked on her for so long when she should have been allowed to stay dead. Advances in trauma care are making her case less likely, since it seems that inducing hypothermia gives the brain and heart a chance to recover slowly - sudden oxygenation of dying tissues tends to destroy them. Until such advances are universal, however, there must be a different ethic for dealing with those cases where someone has been brought back from what is essentially a natural death, but brought back incompletely. Doctors have already played God and in such cases, all interventions should be withdrawn as quickly as possible.

Fr. Tad speaks of Passive Euthanasia rather derisively. I recall that in the time of Karen Ann Quinlan, it was the ethical term of art for those cases where it was perfectly legitimate in the eyes of the Church to stop extraordinary measures. The ethics on this really has not changed much, only the irresponsible use of language by those who wish to make doctrine by press release.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Where the Roma Come From

I was recently looking on the Famous Gypsies web page, when I found a link on the web ring to an article about the origins of the Roma people. Find it here. They artlice examines various origin myths of the Roma Sinti, who lived in Germany. It appears that, based on similar cultural markers, such as religious practice, the Rhoma people, though they exiled in India and Persia before, were originally exiles from the Northern Kingdom, Israel, who became Christians when India was evangelized in the first century. The Kulanu (All of Us) movement, who looks for lost tribes, has found many who remained in India and it seems they are begining to find us. It seems we have more in common with the Jews than the Holocaust.

If this link can be proven, then most of the lost tribes are, in fact, Rhoma people, and are mostly either practicing the traditional Rhoma faith or are Catholics. The question is, will this give us a right to return to our Northern Kingdom from our long diaspora? (And, yes, I use we, since one look at old family pictures shows to truth of the family stories that my father's family is Sinti). This, of course, ads a wrinkle to the whole question of the return of the lost tribes, since we don't practice Judaism (having no Levites in our midsts - indeed, we were exiled before there was such a thing as a synagogue). Indeed, the term Judaism excludes the other tribes by definition. This does not make us any less sons of Israel, however, with all the rights that pertain to that lineage, including the rights that come from suffering the holocaust under the Nazis. It is also likely that those left behind in the exile, some of whom are Israeli Arab and Palestinian, are also of our blood, and should be recognized with us as valued cousins of the Jews and sons of Israel (not Ishmael, as has been believed).

Just what the situation needed, more complications. Netenyahu will have a cow when he finds out. If this becomes generally known, we will have to be granted a right of return and Arabs and Palestinians will have to be granted the right to stay. Will most of us? The thought is attractive, especially for those who have not settled - and those are legion and under persecution in Europe to this day. If no one else, these should be allowed return from exile.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Archbishop Chaput's comments on JFK's legacy

Today's Catholic Herald includes a story by Nancy Frazier O'Brien about Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's talk at Houston Baptist University on "The Vocation of Christians in American Public Life." The Archbishop bemoaned how, since JFK's talk to the Baptist Ministerial Alliance, Catholic politicians have been putting a wall between their religious beliefs and their political duties. O'Brien interviewed the Archbishop by email on the talk, included coverage of an editorial in the Los Angeles Times criticizing the talk and sought comments from Catholic scholars on both sides of the issue. Those who criticize the Archbishop point to a decline in anti-Catholicism in the public square and an increase in pluralism while those who support his comments think that they may be part of a move to call Catholic politicians to task on support for abortion and gay rights.

As a Catholic politician, I agree that we must discuss life issues. What the Archbishop does not seem to realize is that Catholic politicians really don't wall off their beliefs. Indeed, support for health care reform while walling off federal funds from abortion services is an example of putting the Magisterium into law to a very great extent. While Catholics talk about pluralism on the issue, what they are really saying is that they don't want to get into a public discussion on the issue with the Church. For some, this is out of respect for the bishop's office, especially for those of John Kerry's generation. Others fear alienating the portion of Catholic voters who would resent such disrespect, even if they agree with the argument made by the politician. Resorting to pluralism allows some Catholic Democratic politicians to have their cake and eat it too.

Disagreement is not without its risks as well, since many bishops have a nasty habit of excommunicating politicians that agree with them publicly, even (and especially) if those politicians are right. Many bishops, especially A/B Chaput and his ally on this issue, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, mistake the nature of the public law on abortion in the United States. In most Catholic nations, legalized abortion was done legislatively. This is not the case in the United States. While they understand that, they are not quite ready to concede that most Catholic politicians have no say in the question - including state governors - since the right to privacy in abortion services has been constitutionalized. Indeed, former governor, now Secretary of HHS, Kathleen Sebelius has still been advised to avoid Communion for her quite correct veto of an abortion ban in Kansas, since the ban proffered was, in fact, unconstitutional. The Secretary has been treated most unfairly and the bishops have been cutting themselves off from the wise counsel of Catholic politicians who disagree with them on abortion law.

This lack of knowledge allows the Republican Party to politicize the issue while at the same time making it unsolvable, since even the last two Republican justices appointed to the Court upheld Roe while also supporting the Partial Birth Abortion Law. If overturning Roe were really important, Roberts, Alito and Kennedy would have been told to avoid Communion. It is odd that Catholics are told to make abortion the primary issue - but when they do and support a President who runs on this issue nothing happens. I smell a rat called coalition politics.

Even if abortion and gay marriage were not, at heart, constitutional issues, there is a big difference between not fining doctors who perform abortions and active participation in providing or paying for abortion services. Telling young girls that they should have abortions if they get pregnant out of wedlock would be wrong (in view of the Magisterium), however making sure that they do not die in a back alley abortion is not (no matter what the Magisterium says) since the remedy offered by the pro-life movement does not pass the smell test as public policy. Catholic Democrats who think so should explain why and what to do instead.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Can and should the Church survive?

Yesterday, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Sodano, compared the discussion of past cover ups of clerical sexual abuse as "gossip" at Easter Mass at the Vatican. This is what one would expect of someone who is culturally hierarchical. Indeed, much of the Vatican household is circling the wagons against what it regards as an outside threat.

Today, the Catholic and non-Catholic blogosphere and the main stream media were understandably and justifiably outraged (with the possible exceptions of the Deal Hudson crowd of ultraconservatives). The question has been raised on what will happen next for the Church and the papacy.

Considering that the prophesies of St. Malachy carry a bit of credence behind the walls of the Vatican and the current pope (the Glory of the Olive, which has to do with both his name and his mission) is second to last, if not last pontiff (the last prophesy on Peter the Roman indicates he may be an anti-pope), the question is not unfair.

Some of the Faithful from Boston are organizing a conference of sexual abuse survivors for October 31st of this year, however their objectives are limited to remedies in this area. While they have legitimate demands that must be met, they are not the only ones. Indeed, even without this crisis, the essentially feudalistic structure of the Church has been ripe for reform since most Catholic nations evolved democratic structures (which is part of the reason the Church has historically resisted democracy, since it could see the writing on the wall).

The Church is actually no stranger to democracy. Indeed, for centuries bishops were elected by the local clergy and even the faithful. Papal appointment of bishops is a later development and comes as part of the interplay between Rome and Catholic kings who claimed the right to appoint bishops instead. Given the choice between Rome and the state, Rome was a better source of authority. Where monarchy is only formal and not absolute, however, it is time for Rome to take a back seat. Additionally, much of the Church in the western world has expanded outside of Europe, particularly Roman Europe, into lands that are ethnically Germanic and Gallic. There was an ancient Gallic community that was a Church in its own right in Asia minor before it was swallowed up by Constantinople. There is a reasonable argument for its revival, especially given the overtures Benedict XVI has made to the Ecumenical Patriarch since the beginning of his papacy and the almost day to day deterioration of the the Vatican's reputation, much of it self-inflicted.

I suspect that God is being obvious about his intentions for the Church and that these intentions have to do with christian unity at the price of papal authority. Until very recently, Rome was still proclaiming primacy in reference to the Eastern Churches. This claim is quickly being diluted by events. One wonders how quickly the various episcopal conferences will seek refuge in Constantinople - or rather how quickly the faithful will see this as a possibility and demand it. Until Rome eventually humbles itself, there is no hope that the remainder of western Christianity will seek union with it - however they may seek union with its non-Roman parts, should they bypass Rome in search of competent stewardship.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Christian Left: Happy Easter#links

The Christian Left: Happy Easter#links is an Easter greeting I wrote two years ago that I share with you again today.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Christian Left: The Damnation Trial of Jesus of Nazareth - A One Act Play#links

The Christian Left: The Damnation Trial of Jesus of Nazareth - A One Act Play#links is the same message as my usual Good Friday meditiation, but in a form more amenable to the Law and Order/People's Court generation.

The Christian Left: The death of Jesus and it's meaning for us (Geocities Rescue)#links

The Christian Left: The death of Jesus and it's meaning for us (Geocities Rescue)#links is my usual Good Friday meditation. It was part of the book and I first reposted it here in 2005. Here it is again.