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.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Include yourself in the Muslim conversation
MGB:_Faruq F.A. Nelson has problems with how Wills presents the material, which is meant to be proclaimed in Arabic. He states what the book does is commentary, which is surely true, just as what I have done above is commentary on the commentary. Faruq also comments on the organization of the chapters, both within and among themselves, but Wills is not teaching Qur’an. He is helping his usual Catholic audience better understand Islam where they have not bothered to do so before. I do not believe any of his audience are looking for a conversion experience, but it is helpful to fund common ground on the issues facing the people of the book today, including the Saudi funded terrorists whose actions show nothing in the way of understanding Qur’an or their own traditions. If we can pity them rather than hate them, we can begin to move forward.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Another Catholic Voice in the Public Square - November edition

In today’s bulletin, the latest from our parish pro-life committee came out. I missed the election issue, if there was one, which saved them an earful. Strangely, even though all of Washington is talking about tax reform, there was nary a mention, so I mentioned it in my response, which will be emailed to them presently.

In a budget funded by over one trillion dollars income taxation, $600 million is rounding. A portion is likely for Medicaid abortions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. Those are the recognized exceptions to the Hyde Amendment and they are not going anywhere. 80% of abortions are paid with cash and no insurance. The remaining 20% are paid for by insurance policies funded either with an Affordable Care Act subsidy or the Health Insurance Exclusion for private employers. This is very indirect funding, as is abortions paid for by government contract employee insurance. Regardless, the link between any of our taxes and any or all of the abortions performed is not enough to claim a violation of religious liberty or to merit the non-payment of income taxes, at least according to the text used in Special Ethics at Catholic Universities and minor seminaries, as any priest or lawyer will tell you if they kept their book.

The troubling portion of funded abortions are for trafficked immigrant women. If you assume that a woman who has been trafficked is ipso facto a rape victim, then Hyde would not stop these abortions. The way to prevent such abortions is to rescue these women sooner as part of prostitution enforcement, which is too often corrupted at the police level. More troubling is offering such abortions to avoid the birth of an American citizen as an anchor baby. The best of Catholic teaching on sexual matters is not when it tries to enter our marriage beds, but when it speaks out for the mentally infirm (both in the womb and as parents) and immigrants, defending their right to procreate or survive.

Catholic Social Teaching refers primarily to Encyclicals by Pope Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum), Pope Pius XI (Quadregismo Anno, esp 71 and Casti Connubii, esp. 120-121), Pope Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Caritas in Veritate, esp. 25). The passages referenced have to do with living wage requirement and social welfare systems, which have been attacked under the guise of austerity and which require that if the employer cannot arrange for a living wage (congratulations to MoCo Council for its $15 minimum wage law), then public support is required to fill the gap. While the proposed Tax Bill increases the Child Tax Credit by $600, it does so simply to offset the ending of the child exemption. The reality is that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, each additional child requires $1000 per month. We currently pay, both before and after reform, only $133.

If you want us to contact our members of Congress and the Senate on life matters, the lack of a living wage support in the bill, which should be funded with pay, not with end of the year refunds, should be at the top of the list. Indeed, the Pro-Life Activities Committee seems to be the one the needs the reminder here. This should be what they lead with in discussions on the tax debate, right after they condemn efforts to end Mandates in the Affordable Care Act (although at least these will collapse the system and lead to single-payer insurance) and the excessive cuts in the proposed bill favoring inherited wealth and the financial sectors. Any intimation that these funds will help small business (in terms of revenue) are simply untrue.

This is an area where Catholic leadership must be loud and clear against the excesses of this bill, as they will both encourage wage stagnation and abortion by giving the Executive Class an incentive to deprive the worker of the full measure of their productivity by keeping wages low, which is one of the four sins which cries to Heaven for Vengeance, in order to be paid a bonus. Higher tax rates discourage such rent seeking because the bonuses for doing so would go to the government.

This is not violation of subsidiarity, since only tax provisions have effectively prevented excessive executive salaries at the expense of the workers. Likewise, the Affordable Care Act provisions which demanded a certain benefit package in all insurance policies stopped the marketing of what amounted garbage health insurance. It was designed to make lower wage workers believe they had protection, and often did provide a small drug benefit, but was useless for any kind of hospitalization or more than one Emergency Room visit in a year. The market would not prune this garbage so subsidiarity required government to do so. Likewise, because the market will not provide $1000 per month per child in income below the professional level without fathers or mothers being fired for having additional children, the taxing power of the government must pick up the slack. This is why the Bishops now defend the Affordable Care Act and the Holy Sisters in the Catholic Health Association always favored it. To speak negatively of it in a parish newsletter displays a degree of partisanship that discredits all that is said, especially about abortion, where the pro-life movement is often dubbed the Republican Party at prayer.

Given their own self-governance, most Catholic Charities Adoption Agencies had little or no problem adopting children out to gay couples. It is only when certain bishops with a social agenda noticed that this became an issue. Studies show that they are safe and loving parents. There is a line between being a witness for truth and throwing a temper tantrum for not getting your way. Some bishops crossed that line long ago. Oddly, the whole movement for gay marriage came about because Catholic Hospitals were denying those who were euphemistically called long-time companions the dignity of a spouse in favor of often-estranged families of origin who blamed the spouse for their own bad behavior. These are cases where the couple had left their parents and become one flesh and our hospitals did not respect that. CHA finally decided to respect these relationships, even before the law changed. Would that the rest of the Church showed such wisdom.

Stem cell research is not abortion. Officially, abortion can only occur after pregnancy started with implantation. Such research is not meant to cure disease so much as to clone body parts. The research method is what is being practiced. The cells are useless precisely because they have not gone through gastrulation, which is natures filter to stop bad blastocysts from becoming embryos.

Whether civil rights precede written constitutions or have organized them, there is a difference between negative and positive rights. A negative right limits state power. A positive right uses state power to grant a privilege in society. Prior to Roe v. Wade, abortion law did not recognize the unborn as human beings so abortion was considered bad medical practice punishable with a fine (like shooting your neighbor’s dog) and notification of the Medical Society, which drove most abortion underground rather than stopping it. Roe noted the lack of congressional recognition of the unborn and drew the line at viability. Currently, the unborn have a right to life vis-a-vis the government, which cannot force an abortion on anyone and won’t execute a pregnant woman. It will not, however, include the unborn in the positive right to not be murdered by their mother (all murder statutes imply a positive right for the victim to having their crime solved and avenged). States cannot change who is a person under law. Only Congress can. There is now a Republican House, Senate and President, all purportedly pro-life. The enforcement clause of the 14th Amendment awaits! Put up or shut up, but make sure there is some compromise with the other party so that it does not simply undo what is enacted in 2019 (after impeachment).

For a more complete discourse on rights and abortion, see

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Value Added Taxes and Capitalism

I write a lot about value added taxes and often receive the same response, that they are regressive. As a single tax, this is true, although mitigating factors are whether there is some type of rebate, increase to net wages during transition (when they change the tax tables) and especially if there is a surtax on high incomes and inheritances (preferably one that treats cash or in-kind distributions as normal income). Every single tax need not be progressive if the entire system is.

The reality is that, for the most part, there is no difference for consumers between paying a VAT and paying embedded income and payroll taxes in the price of the product. When you buy any good or service, the salary and associated taxes, from the janitor to the store clerk to the line employee to the CEO are included. The only difference is that for a VAT, labor and capital are taxed at an equal rate. Also, income taxation for higher income shareholders and CEOs may not all be included in the price because of deferred compensation through savings which are harder to track, so separate taxation is still required, which also makes sure that richer people pay a higher rate.

In a free and competitive market, taxes that are levied are paid. In capitalism, however, price can be manipulated for tax effects, including outsourcing and off-shoring production and design. Any CFO or CEO that does not know how much of the product price is attributable to their own taxes, payroll taxes and employee income taxes (which they collect for IRS) and the corporate profits tax should be fired. Of course, lowering those tax rates won’t increase hiring, increase dividends by much or decrease prices. The money will go to the Executive Class in bonuses. He who makes the rules, gets the gold. As importantly, in oligopolies, the company has the power to set prices, not the free market. Most of the prices we pay are either oligopoly or monopoly set, often with little regulation to keep them down.

The tax plan I put forward, which includes a subtraction VAT with deductions and credits for employee child subsidies, health care, retirement savings, education, and remedial education and mental health through charitable giving can be manipulated to zero as long as the alternative services are superior to what the government offers. Beyond that, there is little room to game the system. All items are VAT payable and all income above a certain level is taxed at the same rate. It is more fair and more obvious than trying to calculate who pays what part of corporate income taxes and what is the true embedded tax rate in the price of a product. We can’t stop oligopoly pricing with taxes except to the extent that employee-owned firms start producing more of what their owners consume, taking them out of the market entirely, but that is a different story.

Justice Roy Moore

 (If I)… give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  1 Cor: 13:3

Roy Moore has made a career out of being persecuted for his faith, albeit unnecessarily. He chose to put the Commandments in the statehouse and knew he would lose out. he was removed. There is a world of difference between faith and triumphalism. Roy shows the latter.

Likewise, he refused to allow constitutionally mandated gay marriages in his state when the precedent had been set. There was no action or ruling he could take to have the matter reconsidered. He is either very stupid or wants to feed his persecution complex. It was fed because he was removed.

Was he giving valid witness or was he bragging about his faith? The Lord demands we pray in a locked room, not in the streets or by imposing our beliefs on others, especially not from a position of secular power. He was certainly showing no love for his gay married constituents. Indeed, any couple which forsakes all others and marries is to be cherished. Roy simply does not like losing.

And now we have the latest revelations and Roy is playing the victim again. This time, however, he has to bluff the Lord who said that it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck than to lead one of these little ones astray. He may have forgotten his sin, but God has not. Sorry Roy, you are not the victim, you are fish food. If you want to show love to those women and to Alabama, just go away and be quiet.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

How is Life a Right? A Letter to Pro-Lifers

Over the past few days, I have been having a debate with an unnamed troll on the Comments Page for an article on lessons for the Church after a year of Trump. The crux of the discussion was about whether the unborn have a right to life. I am reproducing a few of my comments here so as to help the movement find the right venue to seek rights for the unborn under the constitution (whether there is a divine right is only somewhat relevant to any right they may gain or have recognized under law. Until the movement finds the right path, embryos will continue to circle the drains at Planned Parenthood.

The unborn definitely have a right to life. The government cannot force their mothers to abort them. However, the constitutional right to life does not include not being murdered by a non-governmental party. That takes positive law. Not mumbo-jumbo. Fact. Because the state is not seeking their deaths (nor Democratic Catholic politicians) there is no negative right to life, i.e., it cannot simply be declared as a natural right. It is a positive right that must be enacted, and the states are constitutionally incapable of doing so.

Murder is a term of art. Abortion is not even manslaughter under the law. Do you want purity of law or many fewer abortions? The former is like going after undocumented workers for the misdemeanor of overstaying a visa and making it look like a crisis. I care about the human result. If purity of law is all you want, we have no use for you. If you are in this to promote the GOP, then you are more complicit with those murders than any pro-choice Democrat.

Stopping your mother from aborting you is a positive right, as well as minimum wage and insurance. Preventing mandatory abortions and allowing flag burning are negative rights because they prohibit government action. Being free from mandatory suicide is a negative right too, but no one advocates physician mandated suicide. Palliative suicide, however, is probably a civil right one day because it would limit government interference.

Only the sovereign national government can. Until it does, states cannot legislate on the unborns’ behalf, which is the essence of privacy.  You can argue if you want, but I am giving you the keys to the kingdom. You even have an ostensibly pro-life Congress. Go to it!

Until the movement accepts this as fact, because legally it is a fact, it is either deliberately ignorant or committing fraud. That is the obvious. I am not saying this because I like abortion rights but because until this question is faced, abortion continues. Because federal action is necessary to recognize the unborn and because abortion is a private action, rather than action of government, the right to not be aborted is a positive right rather than a negative right.

Negative rights can be declared, and the impact is automatic. Positive rights require legislative action to secure. Person is a legal, not biological term. In the United States one is a person at viability unless the state determines a different point in the second trimester. No first trimester embryo or fetus is a legal person. There is a problem in the first trimester having to do with miscarriage.

Until you can formulate language which stops abortion and does not implicitly include tort relief or investigation of miscarriage by police (and if you try to simply declare it, every abortion will be listed as miscarriage, so every miscarriage will be investigated), you cannot get away with a first trimester ban politically, which you must do because not being aborted is a positive right. The fact that the lead lawyer for the movement is Jay Sukalow means that he probably does not even understand what I am saying because he panders to his clients, not a good quality for a lawyer, and he is certainly not smart enough or well enough trained to come up with the language that would be required.

The fact is that the Court found that laws prohibiting abortions violated the due process rights of women to be left alone in their private medical decisions. Who makes the decision is vitally important because the states pander to reactionary elements, such as yourselves.

 I am sure the bishops would love the enhanced power that they can wield locally to go unchecked on things like gay marriage, sodomy, contraception and abortion if federal supremacy were overturned by overturning Roe. That is not religious freedom, it is religious power. I wish they would work harder on expanding Medicaid and fighting tax cuts, locally and nationally. I have no objection to the USCCB insisting on the best federal abortion law the GOP can pass. I welcome it, but the GOP would not because it would be the end of the ability of the movement to attract members to their campaigns. I would hope that such a compromise includes living wage measures, both $15 minimum and $1000 per month per child.

You must decouple from the movement to remove federal supremacy from sodomy and gay marriage. The bishops may want it, because they have more power over state legislatures than Congress, but that is because they can organize a mob against individual rights of smaller, less popular minorities. The latter is the most apt definition of tyranny I know.

Regarding birth control, the moral principle being enforced by Catholic doctrine is that if one is not certain that a life is at stake, that the life must be given the benefit of the doubt. Gastrulation removes doubt about the legitimacy of birth control. After this, the embryo is a person, but unless the state is killing it, protecting it is a positive right, not a negative one. That means that it takes state action, fetal rights cannot simply be declared and then let the chips fall where they may. That is just legal laziness.

The question of how much power to give the state in the first trimester can only be made by Congress (and no one else), but it has to be balanced against how much power to give the state over all such pregnancies, else the miscarriage rate goes the roof and you get every case investigated anyway. Any law will give you the status quo unless you want to deal with Downs abortions. This fine if you are willing to put up or shut up on supportive care.

Until you understand that protection from abortion, like protection from any crime, is a positive right demanding legislation, in this case federal legislation, then you will be seeking the wrong thing and misleading others. What I am saying is not apologetics. You are furiously defending your right to wrong in your legal interpretation. That does nothing for the unborn.

The best legislative option is not the impossible task of bringing police power to the first trimester of pregnancy in a way that does not touch miscarriages or ignore equal protection principles (which the courts will not allow anyway) but to bow to Pius XI and Marx about living family wages and pass a huge tax credit for children. My kid gets such a payment from Social Security because I am disabled and because I made good money it’s a good payment. I don't need such a tax credit, but most families with children deserve one, regardless of the likelihood of abortion.

We already do $1000 a year in child tax credits. Ending exemptions gets us to $1600 (I thought that would give an even $1000 more, but I overestimated effective rates). End mortgage interest and property tax gets you to $6000 or $500 per child per month. Ending SNAP and TANF family benefits and negotiating state level matches probably go high enough, although building it all into a subtraction VAT on employers will allow distributing it with payroll and raising the rate enough to make sure it is adequate (and indexing it).

If you got my point, you would have a chance of winning, at least partially. although that would be bad for GOP fundraising and volunteers, but Trump already burned that bridge. What I mean is that the SCOTUS will and should never forsake federal authority on this issue to the states, or on sodomy, marriage equality and the rest.

There are those who want that done to renew the days of Catholic political power, aka mob rule. Any plan that still goes that way is simply taking a fall (in boxing terms) to get paid and look busy for the voters. Knowing that, you must take responsibility for not following options that are not in conflict with the federal control over the states established by the 14th Amendment. Any fetal deaths that result are on you, because you could have gone down a more productive path. One that does not make guys like Richard Viguerie wealthy.

The unborn have a Dred Scott problem. Indeed, the remedy for Dred Scott, the 14th Amendment, caused that problem because southern states believed they could deny rights to anyone whose grandfather was not free, leading to the Amendment. Not mumbo jumbo, but history. The solution cannot come from the states. Anyone who says it can is taking your money and volunteer time to elected and give tax cuts to rich people.

Do you support the rich, the ambitions of the Catholic bishops or the unborn? There should be only one answer and it involves calling your Senators and Representatives now and asking for a bipartisan bill settling when life begins under the Constitution. Anything not bipartisan will simply be repealed in 2019. This must last.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Truth Matters by Bruce Bartlett

To understand the import of this book, you could call it, in a more Harry Potter title, The Truth Matters (and where to find it). Every journalism, American politics intro and media course, as well as any Poli Sci Doctoral Survey course should include this book on its syllabus. It is useful to any student doing general research. Indeed, it should be taught in High School Civics to inoculate young minds against believing everything they read on the Internet.

It is the best citizens’ guide to understanding facts in the media that has probably ever been done in the Internet age. It gives away for almost free what every good analyst knows through education and experience. Hopefully it will be read generally, even by those on the right and left whose biases make this work necessary. Is it perfect? No, but that is because I wanted him to name names, especially when he talks about the existence of fake news, editorial opinions and how to fight fake news, although the reader can likely figure out who he is referring to.

His essay on deceptive labeling leaves out the question of neo-liberalism, which the left sees as a bipartisan issue. Even if he disagrees, a few observations one way or the other would be useful. It can even be related to the conspiracy theory observations in the first Fake News Chapter, which can tag Michael Flynn’s son and much of the Green Party. The Polling chapter is interesting, especially the comments on how polls are used to rally the troops. It brings to mind Anthony Downs; Theory of Non-voting, which is wrong precisely because Downs ignores the very real calculus people make about the chance that there are others who think like they do, but not enough so that they can stay home on election day. The former is also a problem for the Greens and why they get no coverage.

That lack of coverage is an issue Bartlett does not address much, but you can see it in areas where you know there is uncovered fact, like the women soldiers of Rojava in northern Syria and the 60 Minutes story on big tobacco that was pulled for sponsor pressure. Finally, there is the question of the ultimate in Fake News, propaganda. Mentioning that some networks tend to favor it would make it hard not to name names. The saddest thing of all, of course, is when the beneficiaries of propaganda not only believe it, not knowing it is false, but then they retweet it and try to make it national policy. Sadly, that this happens is not fake news and sadder still, his followers believe him. Hopefully at least some will read the book.