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.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why Republicans Aren’t Serious About the Deficit - TheFiscalTimes.com

Why Republicans Aren’t Serious About the Deficit - TheFiscalTimes.com

Good essay by Bruce Bartlett. It is an interesting irony that the CBO chief that let Part D slide in is now the chief GOP scold on the budget. He knows where the bodies are buried, since he buried them.

I suspect that the reason the GOP is not serious about debt reduction is because they see the national debt as a benefit program for the wealthy, who are paid interest for holding it. This has been their default position since Alexander Hamilton and forms the basis for an aristocracy of wealth in this nation.

There is not way to shame them into responsiblity and no need to in the immediate term. The fiscal crisis which will cause action will come soon enough - when pre-existing condition reforms kick in and the private insurance market collapses.

There are three possible fixes for this - although they could occur sooner than later should the Republicans collectively grow a brain or hire competent brains to advise them this time. The three fixes are:

Single-payer catastrophic insurance for all, including those on Medicare and Medicaid, with the Health Savings Account portion paid by the employer or the Government and a Flexible Spending component paid by the beneficiary out of their salary or benefit checks. If HSAs are not accessed and remain at full balance, the funding for them would result in higher salaries or benefit checks for the individual.

The second option is straight up single payer insurance - which will occur if the Democrats or Greens take control of Congress and the White House due to Republican dithering.

The third option is the repeal of pre-existing condition reforms in exchange for the creation of a strong public option (either with a catastrophic/HSA component or as a comprehensive policy). This must be done before private insurance collapses. Of course, under this option, most sick people will eventually be on the public option, which will lead to popular pressure to ban private insurance.

The public components of each option will require expanded revenues - at which point the Medicare and Medicaid underfunding problems will be addressed. The Democrats will want to soak the rich, which is not appropriate. Since benefits are broad based, the revenue source must be as well - indeed probably more broad based than the payroll tax. Then the question becomes whether the levy should be on consumers through a VAT or through a slightly more hidden expanded business income tax. The strengths of the latter are that private insurance can be preserved as an offset - which can be offerred to just employees or to retirees and former employees as well (with an exchange market to "trade liability" for former employee coverage so that only the last employer writes the check but is not stuck with the entire cost - I want a Nobel for that idea) - and that the more hidden the tax, the more likely it can be set at a high enough rate to be adequate. A VAT, especially one that mimics a sales tax, risks underfunding health care.

In the end, unless people are willing to put up with the kind of hard to get health care most often associated with the Medicaid program, the answer cannot be cutting either doctor's fees (which will cause doctors to not accept Medicare patients) or repealing Medicare Part D. It must come from adequate funding, which means the GOP cannot be counted on to do it.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Weigel on Moynihan - Revised

George Weigel wrote in the Arlington Catholic Herald this week about the career of Daniel Patrick Monynihan as a Catholic in public life. He lauded his accomplishments and abilities and then dinged the former Senator for not paying more attention to Life issues. You can read his essay at http://www.catholicherald.com/opinions/detail.html?sub_id=14200

Earlier today, I published a response critical of Weigel misunderstanding what he said about Moynihan voting against the partial birth abortion bill, when Weigel stated that Moynihan never voted against abortion UNTIL that bill. I apologize for getting the facts wrong. I do not apologize, however, for disagreeing with Weigel on the impact of the Senator's career. Moynihan probably did more for the unborn than any Senator in history, precisely because he voted to increase the social welfare programs that made abortion less likely. I suspect he also saw through the political nature of most of the legislative program advanced in the name of life. There are many possible ways to protect human life legislatively, however overturning Roe by appointing justices who will do so is not one of them, since such a ruling would tear down much in the way of current equal protection precident (which conservatives loathe as much as Roe, but which actually protects the Church in areas of the South where there are few Catholics and where many still cling to the belief that the pope is the antichrist). So, even though I was wrong on the factoid Weigel cites, I still vehemently disagree with his conclusion. Indeed, Senator Moynihan provides a sterling example of exactly how Catholic politicians, voters and clergy should look at the issue of abortion.

Election post mortem - life issues

Before the election, I wondered about what to do when all three congressional candidates are pro-choice. I posted the article here and on the Examiner, DailyKos, and Open Salon. In this article, I stated that when all candidates are pro-choice, (and even when they are not), the pro-life voting strategy should look at which candidate's party will increase or decrease the incidence of abortion. That candidate is usually the Democrat.

In Virginia 08, the Democrat won and will undoubtedly vote for policies that are better for families - especially given a likely Republican onslaught against economic policies that include what Catholic doctrine calls an option for the poor, both in tax subsidies and in benefit programs.

Overall, the pro-life cause suffers, as under the pressure of bad economic times, unemployment extensions beyond the Lame Duck session will likely cease and tax benefits for families will likely be reduced unless the current majority enacts the latter within the month on a permanent basis (the Making Work Pay credit enacted under the Recovery Act and the expanded Child Tax Credit enacted in 2001 by President Bush). Welfare reform will also likely include punitive measures, which Obama suspended in the Recovery Act, limiting welfare benefits - so it is likely that the number of abortions will eventually increase.

More specifically, part of the Republican wave was the replacement of 23 conservative, pro-life Democrats with Republicans. The net result on support for abortion is these cases is nil, but the support for policies that would reduce abortions is negative - so I would have to call the Republican wave a bad thing for the unborn. Pro-life activists (particularly at the highest levels of the Catholic Church) should look long and hard at their motives, given these results.

Part Two of the bishops' letter

In this past week's edition of the Arlington Catholic Herald, the second part of a two part letter on the election from the Virginia Catholic Conference was posted. This essay is entitled "Voting is the tip of the iceberg." In this essay, the bishops describe how they wish to build an advocacy network all through the year and speak of the importance of prayer. The article has not been posted on the web page as of yet - so I have no link to offer this week.

When bishops speak on the issues, to an extent they are doing so in the name of their flocks. Gaining some consensus on what to say on matters where the concern is political, rather than theological, seems wise. In the ancient Church, bishops were elected, so their representativeness was not an issue so much as a problem, since often an entire city church would hold heretical views. During the Classical period, when the Church as an organ pf and then a replacement for the Empire, the authority of the bishops included suppressing heresy, which was needed, and thinking for the people, which was not. In the days of enlightened despotism, Catholic monarchs - and later Protestant ones, desired to appoint their bishops and Rome rightly stepped in to prevent this overreach by the civil government. With much of western Christendom in the hands of the people, however, such papal protection is no longer necessary to ensure the independence of the Church. Until the means of episcopal election is reformed, however, consultation is necessary.

I dearly wish the bishops would consult with their flocks more on Life issues, especially with those of us who disagree with how the issues are being pursued. Focusing on Roe is not the answer, nor is electing a President who would appoint justices to repeal Roe. Indeed, the last two Republican appointees who were appointed for this reason specifically refused to do so when given the opportunity on the partial birth abortion case . Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were thought to be the answer to pro-life prayers, but instead joined with Justice Kennedy in finding other grounds for letting the Partial Birth Abortion Act stand. Realizing that judicial repeal was a dead letter, two lawyers who had been prominent in the pro-life movement supported President Obama in the last election, with one being denied Communion on one occasion (an action that, thankfully, Virginia bishops do not undertake). I find it odd, however, that no one in the movement called for denying Communion to Roberts, Kennedy and Alito, but yet would deny it to Pelosi, Biden and Moran -who's involvement in the issue is much more tangential.

So, if I had the bishop's ear, what would I tell them? I would tell them to focus on living wages for families and opportunities for youth who keep their children in order to reduce the number of abortions. I would start by increasing the pay of any Virginia Catholic employee who has another child by at least $12,000 per year - and by giving free High School and College tuition to both teen parents should the girl become pregnant, as well as a stipend for living expenses. Since a living wage is unaffordable for many small businesses, I would ask them to advocate for an increased refundable child tax credit of $500 per month per child at both the state and federal levels - payable with wages rather than at the end of the year.

Support for tax credit legislation should be the litmus test for pro-life voting, not opposition to Roe v. Wade - or even a non-existent abortion ban bill that would have to be federal and would have to deal with the issues of tort liability for miscarriage and police power in investigating miscarriages. The latter two issues must be dealt with if Congress granted rights to the unborn. I don't see how this could be done without simply ignoring first trimester abortions, since making exceptions would make any first trimester ban unenforceable.

Finally, I would call for the bishops to excommunicate any Catholic business owner or stockholder who does not pay employees a living wage, since doing so effectively condemns any pregnancies the employees would have to termination. Such an omission is more of a cause of abortions than is failure to vote for an abortion ban that has not even been introduced.

Trying to cure gays in Arlington

The Arlington Catholic Herald reports a rather spooky conference held in the Arlington Diocese on overcoming same sex attraction on the day before Halloween. It was hosted by Fr. Paul Scalia, the chaplain for the Courage Apostolate, Deacon Bery Levy of the Meir Clinics in Rockville and Jonah, one of the Courage members. You can view the story at http://www.catholicherald.com/local_news/detail.html?sub_id=14222

Followers of this space know that I have been commenting about a series by Fr. Scalia over the past several weeks (although I am sure there are conservative Catholics who are scandalized that I would argue with a Priest, especially one whose father serves on the SCOTUS). The articles provided publicity for the conference. A few of the high points reported is the assertion that same sex attraction is more prevalent today.

I disagree with this. It is obviously more prominent, because gays and lesbians are no longer hiding from society, which in former days attached criminal penalties to homosexual acts in private and treated homosexuals as mentally ill, sometimes with incarceration in a mental health facility. Now that these sanctions have been removed, people are now out and proud - but there are not more homosexuals as a result.

Part of this conference was a focus on reparative therapy, which is largely discredited in the psychological community as a violation of the personhood of gay and lesbian individuals.

Reparative therapy is based on the assumption that gays are made, not born, and the practitioners, like Levy, deny that homosexuality is inborn. The research mostly says otherwise. Any success they do claim is likely due to the fact that sexuality is on a continuum - so they likely have reprogrammed individuals who were bisexual by nature - about a third of their clients. Another third can pretend to be heterosexual but then go back to same sex attraction while another third cannot be reached at all.

Reparative treatments might also be successful if someone is the victim of pederasty and assumed they were gay because of it - in which case some type of therapy is justified - but that is not the same thing as changing an innate trait - since most gays and lesbians were never abused.

One final bit of pseudoscience is the assertion that younger sons from large families with more brothers are more likely to be gay. I suspect that what is happening instead is that in any larger group of males you are more likely to find a few gay ones and that older sons are much more likely to hide their sexuality from their fathers if they are gay. This comes more under the heading of being more likely to hide from authority than homosexuality being more prevalent.

I think the basis for wanting to repair gays is the mistaken belief that it is necessary for their salvation to do so, so that they can avoid sin - and that the real problem is that the Church cannot face the fact that homosexual activity by people who were born gay cannot be sinful - so that the appropriate thing is to simply recognize this and teach that they should keep their sexuality within the bounds of marriage instead. Most Catholics already feel that way - which is really what frightens the hierarchy.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Rule Obama Forgot: “It’s the economy, stupid.” - TheFiscalTimes.com

The Rule Obama Forgot: “It’s the economy, stupid.” - TheFiscalTimes.com

The unemployment problem is secondary to the problem of mortgage debt. You could have thrown three times the stimulus at the economy - however with four million families owing twice what their homes are worth, the economy will stay flat until the housing bubble reinflates (which is unlikely, bad public policy and seems to be what Wall Street is hoping for) or until mortgages are either abandonned or modified. The mortgage modification plan the White House worked out had great potential - the problem was it was not mandatory and with the lack of cramdown authority on primary residences, banks have no incentive to deal (especially if they believe the bubble will reinflate - which is kind of pathetic). At the very least, the Federal Reserve, Freddie and Fannie should have been made to modify the mortgages on which they hold the paper. Until bankruptcy reform is repealed (unlikely unless done in the lame duck session) or TARP authority is used to have government held mortgages modified, the crisis will continue and McConnell may get his wish on making Obama a one term president.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Voting this morning/projections

Turnout was not heavy in my Alexandria, Virginia precinct, but there was a line. It was heavier than the usual midterm election is a safe Democratic district. Many people who first voted in 2008 were there.

This is a District where the President did nothing. If Obama voters turned out with no urging here, they are likely to show up in other parts of the state where the President did make an appearance.

My projection is that of the 63 seats that are at risk, half will go to each party - meaning that the Republicans will gain only 32 seats, leaving the Democrats with a seven seat majority (without some of its weakest members who voted GOP anyway).

This will continue the run of good luck for San Francisco, which gets to keep its Speaker.

On a related not, Sharon Angle will fall to large Latino turnout in Las Vegas. Murkowski or McAdams will win in Alaska and O'Donnell will lose in Delaware. The Tea Party Express and their hero, Sarah Palin, will be blamed for the fact that the Democrats are keeping Congress. Her presidential bid (and mine) will end tonite).

Finally, Bristol Palin will be voted off of Dancing with the Stars.

If I should be wrong, a rump group of Republican moderates will begin to vote with the Democrats on fiscal issues in both houses (especially the debt ceiling) - while the tax cuts on the middle class will be made permanent during the Lame Duck Session, along with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Taxes on the rich will go away and the Republicans will have to swallow Clinton era inheritance taxes.

The secret to bipartisanship during the Clinton years was never the leadership cooperating with Clinton (except on a very few issues, like NAFTA, Welfare Reform and Capital Gains Tax Cuts), but because a group of moderate Republicans consistently rolled the leadership. This will happen again.