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.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Open Letter to the President from the Catholic Left

President Obama,

Congratulations on getting a second term to live among us in DC. As a fellow person of faith, might I take the liberty of suggesting a few progressive agenda items for your second term:

Sell Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the Federal Reserve, who can then write down mortgages to the value of the properties held so that the borrowers can sell their homes and the economy can get moving again.
Use your pardon power to Free Leonard Peltier - not at the end of your term but now. Also, let out the non-violent drug offenders or at least release them into mandatory treatment. Work to remove the criminalization of marijuana.

Consider personal accounts in Social Security, not to hold index funds but instead to hold employer voting stock so that eventually workers might become sole owners. You don't need Wall Street donations anymore, so now you can do what is right.

Free DC! Take a stand for statehood.

Shut down polluters, don't wait for carbon taxes to simply penalize them.

Rewrite the Partial Birth Abortion Act to protect all children after assisted gastrulation and ban all abortion techniques after the first trimester except induction (and baptism prior to death).

Increase the Child Tax Credit and make it refundable with pay. $500 per month per child (with state level matches) should about do it and make abortion rare. Very rare. Also, have that cut come from employer paid consumption taxes so that individual employees no longer have to file unless there is a mistake (like overreporting or double payment).

Add serious investigative resource to end human trafficking in both Food, Inc. and in the sex industry. Put federal boots on the ground. End peonage in farm, factory and brothel.

Be more liberal on defending the rights of gays to marry by begining civil actions against states whose constitutions prohibit marriage equality. Its your responsibility under the 14th Amendment.

Respectfully yours,

Michael Bindner

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Election post-mortem for the Catholic bishops - an open letter

Your Eminences and Excellencies:

I write today about yesterday's election where, given some of the statements coming from your body due to their reading of Faithful Citizenship, you did not do well in getting your point across. This is not surprising to many of us who simply disregarded much of what was written in many letters to the faithful printed in diocesan newspapers and church bulletins and the excerpts read from pulpits and included in the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass this past Sunday (I received both these messages in Alexandria, but I am sure they were nationwide from Washington, DC, where you are located, to Washington State).

This is not simply a matter, as the polls say, of a difference between those who attend Mass weekly and those who do not, for many weekly attenders also dissent from what has been said, largely in our names. I ask you to consider that the problem is that you may have a fundamental misunderstanding of both the issues which you say are "non-negotiable" and of your current power to move the faithful to action at the polls. Let us take each point individually.

The first non-negotiable is abortion. Let me suggest that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of why abortion is illegal in the United States. While certain states did enact liberal abortion laws prior to Roe v. Wade, the current state of abortion law is constitutional rather than legislative. As such it is untouchable, even with six Roman Catholics sitting on the Supreme Court. As you well know, if you were to thereaten any Justice with the denial of the Sacraments for not adhering to your position on abortion, they would be forced to recuse themselves as a group and the status quo would not change. Given this fact, holding elected officials to any standard having to do with the appointment or approval of Justices is merely divisive, since if the justice cannot be forced, the appointing official's action is irrelevant. Indeed, in the most recent landmark abortion case, Gonzalez v. Carhart, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito joined Justice Kennedy in not overturning Roe and instead justified the law based on the Commerce Clause.

Nor should Roe be overturned judicially in such a way as to return the country to the pre-Roe status quo, where abortion was regulated as a medical procedure rather than the taking of a life. Doing so by sending the matter back to the states would also end federal supremacy on equal protection law and privacy law. While you may not like the result, doing so would essentially enshrine the tyranny of the mob. Even a Catholic mob is still a mob and it cannot be countenanced in a country committed to constitutional rule and the rule of law.

There is still the possiblitiy of a Human Life Amendment, but when it is mentioned, I suggest you hide your wallets because there are at least thirteen states which would never ratify it. When a fundraiser says he supports the amendment and asks you for a donation, tell him donations are down and never give money collected from Lenten Appeals, as most of your donors would not approve, since such activities are more for Republican Party building than protecting the unborn.

A simple law granting personhood under the sovereign power of the legislature over citizenship, particularly the Fourteenth Amendment's enforcement provisions, would work just as well as an amendment. The problem with such laws, however, is that they would actually grant personhood and doing so in the first trimester gives the same personhood rights to embryos doomed to miscarry naturally. No family greiving such a loss wants anything to do with an investigation into the event, especially when the Church offers little comfort to such families. Any serious legislation on first trimester personhood must deal with the equal protection issues having to do with miscarriage, as well as with penalizing abortion providers and not mothers (which is constitutionally impossible). If any such bill is devised, Catholic legislators and voters would have to support it. Until such a bill is offered, however, ABORTION IS NOT AN ISSUE and should certainly not be used to deny Eucharist to any Catholic politician or voter. Indeed, supporting the pro-life movement in the manner which you do is actually participating in a fraud because there is no real bill on the table. Such fraud is mortally sinful, even if urged by the USCCB.

The second absolute is the contraception mandate, which as you have likely heard by now, has already been in force since December of 2000 when the EEOC ordered all third party insurance plans who provide preventative coverage to include it. While not a constitutionalized issue, it is still dependent on a civil rights finding and is long established. The only change is the fact that the administration is attempting to carve exemptions for the Church in limited areas and in that co-payments are eliminated. Granted, the President's political advisors picked a fight with you on this issue, but you did not have to join it. Indeed, doing so hurt your credibility, which is already damaged on this issue due to your misunderstanding of why contraception is wrong.

The only argument against contraception that carries weight is that families should be paid a living wage supported by tax policy so that they need not control their fecundity for economic reasons, especially if there are racial or ethnic considerations on who has the right to breed. The other arguments for avoiding contraception are simply wrong, as those of us who are married will not take advice on the quality of our marital love from celibates who still believe that Continence is necessary for the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Additionally, life begins at gastrulation, not fertilization, as this is when the unique life energy that ends at death first appears. Before this point, maternal DNA controls the development (and therefore provides the life energy or soul) of the zygote. There are many of us who understand the biological and interpersonal relationship issues better than you do and you should heed our counsel. Failing to do so has caused many to leave the Church, which is tragic. Many are about to die without its comfort and it is not their fault that they did not have the moral courage to listen to their own consciences on this issue.

The third non-negotiable is marriage equality. It is only resisted by bad proof texting worthy of Martin Luther, not bishops of the Catholic Church. When the Lord quoted the Genesis myth in the Gospels, he was not defending heterosexuality. Rather, he was defending both equality in marriage and its indisoluability because both parties have left their families and become one flesh. To deny gay and lesbian couples this right is to permanently infantalize them by depriving them of the right to chose to form a new union, locking them legally into their families of origin. Indeed, the actions of Catholic hospitals in not honoring these unions and vainly attempting to get gays and lesbians to repent from what is likely innate and therefore not sinful by denying them access to their families of choice has caused this issue to fester in the first place. It is time to end this lack of charity and not only recognize the marriages contracted civilly by your employees and parishoners, but begin to celebrate them in a church setting, as the families of those of us with a gay or lesbian member deeply desire. Legalizing such unions is also, in the end, a matter of constitutional law rather than legislation. Indeed, the Canon Law of marriage requires functionality rather than fecundity for a valid union and states that the couple makes the marriage, with the Church merely witnessing for the community. Simply apply the same standards. While I realize this may cause you trouble in recruiting priests among gay Catholic men, perhaps rethinking gay marriage would be a good time to rethink both the married priesthood, priestly countenance and the female priesthood, as the harvest is big but the workers are few.

The final matter has to do with the USCCB speaking for the faithful on political issues. In ancient times, this would not have been a problem, because the Overseer (which I would translate instead as Sheppard or Pastor, not Bishop) was chosen by election of the city church (which was often less populated than a modern parish). If we were to return to such a model, there would be no difficulty in allowing the order of bishops to speak for the entire faithful. As this is not the case, however, if you wish to speak in the name of a largely educated order of the faithful, you need to listen to us first, particularly on these issues. In the days before Catholics were largely college educated, they followed your lead on these matters. That is no longer the case, nor should it be. We have knowledge which you could use and yet you surround yourselves with counselors and legal counsel that put respect for your position over the truth. That bit of hubris is dangerous and I suggest you cast a wider net before speaking further on these issues of state.

Yours in Chirst

Michael Gerard Bindner

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Bishop's letter from the pulpit and in the bulletin on faithful citizenship

Last weekend, our bulletins included a letter on faithfully voting.  Today, only the highlights were mentioned in a letter which was read from the pulpit.  I am not sure if the Bishop or the Pastor chose the language to use, but I expect the former rather than the latter.

You can guess which issues were highlighted if you have been paying attention.  Oddly enough, these are the three issues which have or will play out without any regard to electoral politics.
The pro-life movement seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade.  This will never happen, however, because even the last two Republican appointees added to the Court, Roberts and Alito, chose to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Act using the Commerce Clause to justify the bill rather than using the case as a way to overturn Roe.  Indeed, with a majority of Catholics on the Court (there are six) the bishops could not actually order these Justices to support the Church's position.  They would have to recuse themselves from the case at the request or if Communion were used to force them to.  What you can't do to the Justices, you certainly can't to the appointing or confirming officials or the voters.

No personhood amendment will be added to the Constitution any time soon (count the states for yourself) and while a federal personhood bill is possible, it is not likely - at least not one that deals with the equal protection concerns having to do with miscarriage.  Any bill submitted is to make the base feel heard, but there is no serious legislation - and if there is no bill, I need not take into account this issue in determining whom I vote for.  In other words, the entire movement is a con game which my local bishop has sadly decided to support.  I need not follow him into sin, however and will not.

The second issue is the contraception mandate.  This is also a non-issue because preventative policies have required contraception coverage since December of 2000.  Similar state based insurance mandates have already been litigated.  Indeed, Catholic Charities of New York has already lost in federal court.  Twice.  This is not really an electoral issue at all and even though Valerie Jarrett did want it stoked, the fact of the matter is that the EEOC and the federal courts have already constitutionalized it as a woman's right to receive this coverage.  The only thing that changed from the prior mandate was the lack of a co-payment.  Indeed, the exception allowing Church organizations that are involved in active worship to not offer this coverage is probably unconstitutional.

The third issue is gay marriage.  While the White House has certainly made noise on this issue and it is proceeding in some legislatures, it is pretty much understood that if gays are a protected class, which recent federal judicial holdings are making them out to be, than the right to civil marriage cannot be denied to them.  In other words, the courts will settle this, not the elected officials.  Indeed, what the Church is worried about is not the state forcing them to treat employees with charity or forcing them to perform gay marriages, but that the priests and people will largely ignore the bishops and have civil marriages blessed in Church.  Worse, seminarians may start demanding the right to marry the man of their dreams and still be ordained.

In today's excerpt, no mention was made of the more essential issues of poverty and economic justice that elected officials do actually have something to say about.  The fact that the tangential was mentioned at the expense of the real is deeply troubling.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Are the Republicans as crooked as we think they are? Part I - Framing the Question

This Series was originally posted January 26, 2005 after the inauguration of George W. Bush.  It seems as applicable now, so I am reposting here and republishing it in my DC Catholic Progressive Examiner column, as well as on Facebook, DailyKos and in Open Salon.

As time marches on and the inauguration of George W. Bush becomes but a memory, it is important to delve into the question: Are the Republicans really corrupt, in thrall to the major corporations who are themselves consummate evil doers, or is there perhaps another explanation? Another way to ask this is, do the Republicans believe their own propaganda, or do they know that they are lying for the benefit of profit?

These questions are important for both parties. They are important for Democrats and Greens because they affect their messages and actions. For instance, if the Republicans truly are crooked than persuasion will have no effect. Rather, investigation is the best tactic. Winning than becomes all-important, because if you are out of power your investigative power is limited. If the top ranks of the party are truly evil than the strategy is to expose this evil to the rank and file Republican so that they will cast off their leadership or flee to the righteous side. This is essentially a neo-populist position. If the Republicans aren’t crooked, then rational argument is possible, as is compromise. It also becomes easier to attract voters from the other side, as then you only need convince them that their leaders are wrong, rather than that they have been duped in a conspiracy. This issue is also important for Democrats because of the adoption of the Democratic Leadership Council types of much of the free trade rhetoric from the other side. Most importantly, a conclusion that the Republicans aren’t crooked can lead to a more genteel polity, as the current tone of debate is frankly caustic.

This question is very important for Republicans. If the higher ups in the party are crooks than to be a Republican voter is to be the hoodwinked member of a criminal conspiracy. Most importantly, this discussion holds up a mirror for the Republicans to see. Whether the question is true or not, it provides a valuable view on how the party and its leadership are perceived by the other side.

Are the Republicans as crooked as we think they are? Part II – Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL), Wal-Mart and NAFTA

No accusation against the Republicans is starker than the contention that the war in Iraq, originally titled Operation Iraqi Liberation, was about the oil. The BBC has reported that the original war plan had documents already drawn up for the new government privatizing the Iraqi oil fields, as well as its completed application for the World Trade Organization. On the face of it, it would seem that the attack on Iraq was all about securing oil rights for American corporations. Was the rationale for this merely to enrich other members of the millionaires club, or is there something else to it? Before we come to an answer, let us consider another case.

The rise of Wal-Mart has led to the demise of both Main Street and much of what remains of several American industries, as Wal-Mart guides its vendors into relationships with Chinese factories. As a result, American plants in some industries are closing at a rapid rate. This has put pressure on unionized plants to exact wage concessions or simply close. Meanwhile, the profits of the firms that relocate operations, and indeed ownership, overseas go up – as do those of Wal-Mart and other big box stores. Is this another case of millionaire enrichment, or is something else going on?

Wal-Mart is only one case in a general trend toward free trade, which has been embraced by both Republicans and “New Democrats.” What began with NAFTA and the first President Bush is to be extended to an all American free trade zone including the entire western hemisphere. Article 12 of NAFTA, as well as the proposed trade pact, contain protections for corporations against local governmental interference. Why would a party so keen on American prerogatives surrender sovereignty to foreign corporations and an international tribunal to mediate disputes? Is this another example of corporatism run amok, or is something else going on here?

Are the Republicans as crooked as we think they are? Part III – Electoral Politics

Lets look at electoral politics. Three items come to mind: big money PAC and corporate contributions, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the targeting of black voters for ballot challenges.

The first item is endemic to the system and is practiced by the other party as well. Bill Clinton took it to a high art, although Mr. Bush has clearly exceeded even Clinton. The dangerous thing is the similarity between the donor list and the benefiting interests in the first three examples above. However, the same people gave to Clinton.
The history of the Swift Boat Veterans can be traced back to John Kerry’s protest days. (Maybe the Veterans and Kerry could have done a Dr. Phil episode instead to work out their grievances – although Jerry Springer might have been more apt). The same people were attacking him as part of the Nixon Dirty Tricks scheme. They would have been but an announce had it not been for the free media they received, especially on the Republican Fox News network. While they were effective, the sad fact of the matter is if John Kerry had responded appropriately they would not have been.

The targeting of black voters for challenge was widespread and it was illegal. It is the mark of a campaign that was willing to do anything to win. Of course, because they did win both the White House and the Congress the chance that the accusations will get a fair investigation are virtually nil and since people aren’t willing to take to the streets in protest it looks like they will get away with it. Do the actions of a few bad apples, including the President’s brother, mean the entire party is corrupt? It is tempting to say yes, although we are looking for a specific type of economic corruption in this analysis. While the type of self-righteous win-at-all costs mentality is telling of something being wrong, it does not per se mean that one has been bought off.

We’ve laid out the circumstances. However, they are not conclusive since to prove corruption one must prove motivation. Some Republican politicians are undoubtedly corrupt. One examination of the looting of the Reform Party by the Buchananites is enough to prove that. There hasn’t been a looting like that since the sacking of northern England by the Vikings (and this from a candidate who was speaking out against Republican trade policies). The question is: are the politicians and the armies of wonks supporting them out merely for riches. By riches I mean the kind of inordinate wealth pulled down by Enron or Global Crossing.

Are the Republicans as crooked as we think they are? Part IV - Motivations

Let’s look at the proposed Social Security reform of GWB. It was an outgrowth of efforts by the Cato Institute which were largely bankrolled by brokerage houses. Brokerage houses are likely to make money on any privatization, even the most progressive kind where workers are allowed to designate their union to manage their account. This is because unions, like any investor, need professional assistance. In the proposed scenario, where monies are invested in index funds at first, the likely share for the brokerage houses of any investment scheme is relatively modest. Most of the money will be made by the volume of transactions, although if these are pooled the likely effect is that the biggest task is the recordkeeping involved, which will likely be automated. The partners may make a nice dividend from the detail, but it will hardly be extreme and may involve more headaches from jumping through contracting hoops than the proponents expect. The usual reporting and ethics requirements may just sour the milk a bit for our hungry fat cats.

Lets go back to our first three examples, Iraq, Wal-Mart and NAFTA. Do the Republicans and “New Democrats” support these in order to get personally wealthy, or possibly wealthier? If they were, it could be traced. While some might argue that employment after leaving office representing an industry once regulated might be such a payoff, it is hardly confined to retired Republicans, or even New Democrats. While the practice smells of corruption, it is more an outgrowth of floor rules that allow former members privileges, even during voting and debate. This phenomenon also does not explain the gutting of the American workplace. If it could then the unions and losing corporations (such as domestic oil producers, American textile manufacturers and the AFL-CIO) would have simply tendered a better offer. Clearly something else is going on in the recesses of the Republican mind.

What’s going on is bad economic theory. Under the theory of comparative advantage, trade is mutually beneficial if one party produces a good more efficiently and then trades it for a good made better in the trading partner. In this occasion, both sides win and jobs are available for the displaced workers in the industry that now exports more. This is all well and good in theory, but when you have the world’s largest per capita consumption economy attempting to import all it can as cheaply as possible while exporting debt, health care, graduate education, high fructose corn syrup, culture and weapons then all you are building is a house of cards. The theory is that the way to satisfy the voters is to give them cheap products, particularly gasoline, building the highest average standard of living on the planet. The Republican economic machine seeks to allow the American consumer to buy more per dollar than any other consumer on the planet. This means cheap food, cheap consumer goods, cheap appliances and above all cheap gasoline. There are problems with how this shakes out, however.

Cheap food has made us the fattest nation in history, since the cheap stuff is also the stuff that makes you fat. Cheap gas has made the air unbreathable and has led to a backlash in the Arab world as American military might has been used to assure the supply of oil and the survival of the House of Saud. Finally, cheap manufactured goods have resulted in American job losses as manufacturing workers are displaced. They are displaced by immigrants who are often here illegally and must work under slave like conditions due to our immigration laws, which stop complaints. They are displaced by Mexican workers under NAFTA and finally by Chinese workers who are making pennies per hour (displacing even the Mexicans). You can’t shop, even at Wal-Mart, if you don’t have a job. Not everyone wants to or can build weapons, teach college or clean bed pans. The number of decent, middle class jobs is going down. This is one reason Bush is trying to build an “ownership society.” The theory is that if we all own stock than in our retirement we will be supported by foreign workers employed by multinational companies, not through taxation but through profits. This only works if Marx was wrong about the eventual proletariat revolt or if the workers overseas don’t organize and demand a middle class wage in their own economies.
The other problem is that eventually, the world will tire of American debt (the Chinese can’t devalue their currency forever), American culture (which the right wing doesn’t like for domestic consumption), American tobacco (people tend to die) and American weapons (since George is alienating our allies who are the biggest consumers). When this happens, the bottom may well fall out of American civilization and the Republican Party will get most of the blame.

So are the Republicans corrupt? No, just incredibility short sighted to the point of being stupid. If they do not rethink their industrial policy we don't need to worry about how to beat them. What the Democrats need to do, however, is distance themselves from the Democratic Leadership Council and its attempt to mimic the Republicans on trade. If they do not, they will also take the blame.