Saturday, September 29, 2012

But Vote For Anyone You Want

It was a year in which:

Greece joined the European Economic Community;
Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6) was inaugurated as the 40th President of the U.S.A and, worse, was shot and wounded by an assailant;
Fifty-two American hostages were released by Iran in its effort to humiliate Jimmy Carter, who had left the Presidency minutes earlier;
The great, nearly incomparable, Dan Rather became primary anchorman/anchorperson of the CBS Evening News;
Talent-challenged Valerie Bertinelli married Eddie Van Halen;
Francois Mitterand, whose name is unknown to many Americans under the age of 50, became President of France;
Kim Carnes' Bette Davis Eyes spent more than two months as #1;
Pope John Paul II was shot and wounded in St. Peters' Square;
An earthquake in Iran killed at least 2,000 people;
Associate Justice Potter Stewart retired and was replaced by Sandra Day O'Connor, who thereby became the first woman on the United States Supreme Court;
Wayne P. Williams was indicted for the murder of 2 of 28 black children killed in Atlanta;
In a widely popular move- because the casualty was air traffic safety, not football- fired 11,500 air traffic controllers who had struck two days earlier;
Hosni Mubarak became acting President of Egypt;
President Reagan sent the since-deceased Presidents Ford and Nixon, and former President Carter, on their way to Egypt for the funeral of Anwar Sadat.
Thomas J. Paprock, J.D., DePaul University College of Law, founded the Chicago Legal Clinic, as Wikipedia terms it, "to assist the working poor and disadvantaged."

Thomas J. Paprocki?  You'll be forgiven if you don't recognize the name, especially because that occasion is as as much- if not more- a relic of the past than are all the other events which took place in 1981.

In a column and video posted by Catholic Times, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Springfield, Ohio, and obtained by Right Wing Watch, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki slams the Democratic Party platform.   He is exorcised by approval of a mere "single passing reference to God" in a "blatant disregard for the rules and for the apparent wishes of about half the delegates."  He criticizes the plank supporting same-sex marriage, that repealing the Defense of Marriage Act,  and the replacement of advocacy of "safe, legal, and rare" abortion with the right "regardless of the ability to pay."

Contending that these "matters... explicitly endorse intrinsic evils," the Bishop argues

My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding "political" and didn't say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins. I know that the Democratic Party's official "unequivocal" support for abortion is deeply troubling to pro-life Democrats.

After explaining the Church's nuanced position on the death penalty, the Bishop states that "different methods" in the platform to address "the needs of the poor, to feed the hungry, and to solve the challenges of immigration" are "prudential judgments about the most effective means of achieving morally desirable ends, not intrinsic evils."  Credit Paprocki at least with sticking to his talking points.   In a recent statement addressing the concern that the American Church may be aligning itself with the GOP, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia declared (emphasis mine) "But Jesus didn't say the government had to take care of them (i.e., the poor), or that we have to pay for taxes to take care of them.  These are prudential judgments."   (Perhaps you missed Jesus quoted in the Gospels as saying "abortion is an intrinsic evil.")

Bishop Paprocki echoes Archbishop Chaput in an additional way.   Chaput claims to be a registered Independent "because I don't think the church should be identified with one party or another."    Though he transparently, and sarcastically, ridicules (in an even more sarcastic manner than my aforementioned "exorcised") Barack Obama as The Leader (in reference to his role in the Party), Paprocki states "I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against."  Nevertheless, the Bishop concludes by cautioning "I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy."  

"I am not telling you which Party" to vote for, the prelate assures his flock, "but if you vote for a Democrat you're probably going to hell."   Additionally, of course, you ought to feel guilty for being "morally complicit" in "intrinsically evil and gravely sinful" actions.

By asserting that a Catholic who does not vote properly merely places the eternal salvation"of one's soul "in serious jeopardy," Bishop Paprocki qualifies his assurance that if a Catholic does not believe as he does, he or she is doomed.     Clearly, though, Paprocki, not coincidentally ignoring Scripture, is maintaining that the risk in voting the wrong way is absolute and nearly certain because he knows, and says so.   It's a slippery slope beginning with the belief that the eternal destination depends upon performing the moral act as the Church understands it.

Enough with theology, for if I assumed that my beliefs were correct, I would be following Bishop Paprocki down the dangerous road of concluding that God had confided all to me.   Of things worldly and secular, however, this we know:    Mitt Romney's running mate has been, and remains, a disciple of Ayn Rand, whose objectivist philosophy led her to an abiding faith in the radical philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism, as well as the atheism with which it is intimately linked.  

Paul Ryan remains devoted to Ayn Rand's heartless economic outlook, though he has separated himself from her atheism, which is similar to being fond of nachos- but without the cheese- or Joel Osteen's Christianity, but without being troubled by sin.   But don't take it from me.  It was Mitt Romney's running mate who himself contended, "there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works."  

To the guy who would be a heartbeat from the presidency, whom Paprocki agrees with on abortion and for whom the Bishop would like his constituents to vote, creating a system in which the powerful can more easily exploit the powerless is a moral issue.  To Bishop Paprocki, however, exploitation of the powerless by the powerful is a mere "prudential" issue, to be disregarded by constituents whom he is calling on to vote for the party hostile to the poor people he claims to be interested in.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

An Upper Class Love Affair

Joe Scarborough wants to fall in love-again.

Scarborough appears rather disgusted with his own party's presidential nominee, "neither a true conservative nor a courageous moderate" but "just an ambitious man" who "refuses to stick his neck out and take a stand on the critical issues of our time."   By contrast, in early 2008, he said Barack Obama "doesn't attack Republicans, he doesn't attack whites and he never seems to draw these dividing lines that Bill Clinton (does)."   (Imagine that- a black man who doesn't attack whites!)

But like a jilted lover, Scarborough now says

Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in Charlotte exposed him as an intellectually exhausted politician. The man who brought Hope and Change to the Democratic National Convention four years ago exposed himself in Charlotte as a guy who has no new ideas and no clue where he wants to take the country over the next four years. Obama is now reduced to mindlessly repeating the same tired lines he trotted out on the campaign trail in 2008. He had somehow morphed from the political equivalent of a young Elvis rocking Mile High Stadium four years ago to becoming the fat, sweaty singer who haunted Vegas showrooms in the months before his most inglorious expiration in the summer of 1977.

Barack Obama, however, was not Scarborough's first love, or even the most prominent one.   That honor would go to two-term President Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6), who along with Margaret Thatcher (Scarborough falls in love with women, too)

was tough and unapologetic about what she believed. Ronald Reagan was tough and unapologetic about what he believed. They won their campaigns, changed their party and transformed their countries because they were conservatives who dared to tell voters they planned to radically transform their governments. They got elected and did just that.

Ronald Reagan did, in fact, dare to tell voters that he would cut their taxes.  He did not, however, dare to tell them he would explode the debt, undermine the nation's manufacturing base, or eviscerate the middle class.    Donald Barlett and James Steele note that after Congress passed legislation to stem with higher taxes the loss of thousands of textile jobs to imports

President Ronald Reagan vetoed the bill, calling it protectionist and a violation of free trade.  "We want to open markets abroad, not close them at home," he said in a refrain that had become distressingly familiar to American workers in many industries.  Even though he had just killed a bill that would have saved jobs, Reagan sought to assure textile employees that he was on their side and insisted that he would not "stand bt and watch American workers lose their jobs because other nations do not play by the rules."  In fact, that's exactly what he did.  There were 756,000 textile industry workers in 1984 when Congress and Reagan took up the issue of textile tariffs. By the time he left office, the number was down to 728,000.  In 2011, only an estimated 120,000 worker were left, according to the Labor Department.

As Barlett and Steele describe, it wasn't only the 40th President who pursued free trade policies which eliminated hundreds of thousands of middle class jobs in the U.S.A.  Still, as Thom Hartmann explained four years ago

We built the biggest industrial infrastructure, industrial economy in the world. We have gone -- when Reagan came into office we were the largest exporter of manufacturing goods and the largest importer of raw materials on the planet. And, the largest creditor--more people owed us money than anybody else in the world. Now, just 28 years later, we're the largest importer of finished goods, manufactured goods; the largest exporter of raw materials--which is kind of the definition of a third-world nation -- and we're the most in-debt of any country in the world. This is the absolute consequence of Reaganomics.

Scarborough criticizes the growth of debt under President Obama and laments Romney's failure to advance a plan to reduce it.   But under the president so admired by Scarborough, the national debt nearly tripled as the former governor reversed  the post-war pattern of reduction of  the debt as a percentage of GDP.

Nonetheless, Reagan's assault on the unions had an even greater impact upon the tax-paying middle class.   In August, 2011 The New York Times editorialized

THIRTY years ago today, when he threatened to fire nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers unless they called off an illegal strike, Ronald Reagan not only transformed his presidency, but also shaped the world of the modern workplace.

More than any other labor dispute of the past three decades, Reagan’s confrontation with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions. It also polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity.

By firing those who refused to heed his warning, and breaking their union, Reagan took a considerable risk. Even his closest advisers worried that a major air disaster might result from the wholesale replacement of striking controllers. Air travel was significantly curtailed, and it took several years and billions of dollars (much more than Patco had demanded) to return the system to its pre-strike levels. 

That legacy remains with us.  The Times editors observed

By 2010, the number of workers participating in walkouts was less than 2 percent of what it had been when Reagan led the actors’ strike in 1952. Lacking the leverage that strikes once provided, unions have been unable to pressure employers to increase wages as productivity rises. Inequality has ballooned to a level not seen since Reagan’s boyhood in the 1920s. 

As the first graph below (from the Pew Research Center) displays, since 1980 the middle class share of national income fell from 60% to 45% while that of the upper class increased from 29% to 46%, an appreciable portion of which occurred during the Reagan years.    The second graph below (from the Center for American Progress) illustrates the decline in middle class share of national income paralleling the decline in union membership.

That's how it apparently is with some love affairs.  What he does to you, how he treats you, pales in significance next to those sweet little things he, like Ronald Reagan, whispers in your ear.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ay, Tis The Rub

Politico's Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman are not alone in believing

The kickoff presidential debate Wednesday in Denver is shaping up as do-or-die time for Mitt Romney, with the pressure intensifying this week after a flurry of swing-state polls showed President Barack Obama opening up a sizable lead.

Republicans, fretting about dwindling days for Romney to turn around his campaign, fear that if their nominee doesn’t come away with a decisive first-debate victory, he’ll continue to spiral downward and lose his last, best shot for a comeback.

The fear among donors and strategists: a break-even or so-so performance would subject Romney to a self-reinforcing cycle of criticism and pessimism in his own party that will send other Republicans fleeing and make it difficult for Romney to project a closing argument against Obama over the drumbeat of why-are-you-losing questions.

So the Mile-High face-off has gone from merely important to critical for a challenger in need of a break.

“It went from being important to being life-sustaining,” said GOP pollster Steve Lombardo, who worked for Romney in 2008. “Both from a fundraising perspective, to keep the money coming, and just a political perspective it’s huge. Romney can’t just do well and hold his own — he has to win and win decisively. If he’s at parity with the president, I don’t think that’s enough.”

There is, however, evidence from the past and simple common sense to indicate instead that of the three presidential debates, the one with the most lasting impact is likely to be the last.   Blogging about presidential debates, TV critic Eric Thurm reminds us that in 1984

The first debate went uncharacteristically poorly for Reagan. The president flubbed answers to Mondale’s charges that he wanted to cut entitlement spending and seemed out of his element. He spoke softly and unconvincingly on questions about a “secret plan” to balance the budget by the end of his second term. The medium of television, which in 1980 made Reagan’s personable nature and overwhelming charisma deadly for Carter, took its toll as the president aged. Mondale was perceived to have won, though not effectively enough to seriously change the tide of the election. Reagan, however, was under pressure because of his age (73, older than any other sitting president before or since), which suddenly became an issue in the campaign.

Reagan delivered a rambling closing statement or, as described here,  "displayed some confusion over closing statements, reinforcing for many viewers questions about his advanced age and his ability to govern for four more years."   But that did little to close the gap between the two candidates and merely piqued voters' interests in the second debate.

At the following, and last, debate, Reagan was asked

Mr. President, I want to raise an issue that I think has been lurking out there for 2 or 3 weeks and cast it specifically in national security terms. You already are the oldest President in history. And some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr. Mondale. I recall yet that President Kennedy had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuban missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?

He famously responded

I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.

Game, set, match.  The initial debate had whetted the interest of individuals who had, and who had not, watched the face-off and suspected that the incumbent was suffering from dementia or was simply too old to continue in the job.   Voters tuned in to the second debate to determine if their concerns were real, decided (probably incorrectly) they were not, and the election turned into a rout.

If any of the debates has a lasting impact on the election, it is likely to be the last, in which the impression of the candidates will be freshest in the minds of the voters.  Still, none of the debates is likely to have as significant an impact on the election as have presidential debates past, in part because of the substantially greater knowledge of both candidates possessed by the electorate in an age in which news, analysis, and opinion, from the center, left, and the right,  from both traditional and non-traditional sources, is far more widespread than in the past.

The idea that Mitt Romney's only remaining shot at gaining the White House is in the debates reflects a misunderstanding within the mainstream media of the burden he bears.   The resistance to reality is even more prevalent on the Republican right, which refuses to understand that its radical ideas are being rejected, preferring to blame the impending loss on one individual whom it never has trusted.  As Robert Reich explains

The Republican primaries, and then the Republican convention, have shown America a party far removed from the “compassionate conservatism” the GOP tried to sell in 2000. Instead, we have a party that’s been taken over by Tea Partiers, nativists, social Darwinists, homophobes, right-wing evangelicals, and a few rich people whose only interest is to become even wealthier.

These regressives were there in 2000, to be sure. They lurked in the GOP in the 1990s, when Newt Gingrich took over the House. They were there in the 1980s, too, although Ronald Reagan’s sunny disposition gave them cover. In truth, they’ve been part of the GOP for more than half a century — but never before have they held so much sway in the party, never before have they called the shots.

The second view about Romney’s decline also explains the “negative coat-tail” effect — why so many Republicans around the country in Senate and House races are falling behind. Scott Brown, for example, is well-liked in Massachusetts. But his polls have been dropping in recent weeks because he’s had to carry the burden of the public’s increasing dislike of the Republican Party. The same is true with regard to Republican senate races in Florida, Virginia, and every other battleground state. 

Romney’s failing isn’t that he’s a bad candidate. To the contrary, he’s giving this GOP exactly what it wants in a candidate. And that’s exactly the problem for Romney — as it is for every other Republican candidate — because what the GOP wants is not at all what the rest of America wants. 

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Into The Abyss

This is not the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan.  Heck, this isn't the party even of John McCain.   It was a mere four years ago that a woman at the latter's campaign rally said of Barack Obama (famous video below) "he's an Arab."    McCain responded "no, ma'am, no ma'am.  He's a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have differences with on fundamental isues.  And that's what this campaign is all about."

In May of this year, at a town hall event in Euclid, Ohio outside of Cleveland (as is everywhere in the world, except Cleveland), a woman stood and stated "We have a president right now who is operating outside the structure of our Constitution, and I do agree he should be tried for treason."   The candidate's response:  "As I'm sure you do, I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired.  I believe the same thing about the Declaration of Independence."

Asked afterward by reporters if he agreed with the lady, Romney responded “No, of course not.” Queried by CNN, he replied “I don’t correct all of the questions that get asked of me. Obviously, I don’t agree that he should be tried.”

Glad we got that cleared up.   The fellow who would go on to become the GOP nominee for President believes the incumbent should not be tried for aiding and abetting the enemy.   Bold of him to say so.

Still, Romney's sense of decency exceeds that of one of his party's sitting United States Senators, Scott Brown of Massachusetts.   During one of the Senator's rallies earlier this week, supporters chanted (video way below) what are described as "Indian war whoops" and Tomahawk chops to ridicule challenger Elizabeth Warren's contention that she is 1/32 American Indian or Alaska Native/ Native American/ Indigenous Person.

But these were no ordinary supporters.   The group included a Republican operative as well as Brown's Deputy Chief of Staff, Constituent Service Counsel, Special Assistant, and the State Director of his Boston office.  Caught with his pants figuratively down, the junior Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts remarked "It is certainly something that I don't condone.   The real offense is that (Warren) said she was white and then checked the box saying she is Native American, and then she changed her profile in the law directory once she made her tenure."

So the Senator says that he doesn't condone what he then went on to say is in response to a grievous act by his opponent.

Try it yourself.   Have someone accuse you of two inappropriate acts- one which you regret and one which you don't, but both of which you know the other individual knows is wrong.    In the first instance, you will reply "I am sorry for..." or "I regret that..." or "I don't condone."  In the second instance, your impulse will be to add the word "certainly," as if to say "Yes, I got it, you don't like it."

If Brown didn't condone it, one or more of his staffers would be fired for the display of ethnic bigotry Scott Brown obviously condones.   Instead, attempting to justify the behavior, he shifts the issue to his opponent.   "I don't condone it," Brown says, "but Warren deserved it."

The true measure of the depths to which the Gas and Oil Party has sunk is not the feeble, somewhat cowardly response of a Mitt Romney, who has inadvertently conceded he is not qualified to be President.   It is, rather, the acceptance- nay, support- for prejudice publicly offered by a sitting Senator desperate to be re-elected.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Targeting Public Education

It's a very influential, though thankfully still slightly disagregated, interest group.

As Harold Meyerson remarks on the opinion pages of The Washington Post

Here’s a bit of advice to America’s teachers: If you want the nation’s opinion leaders and CEOs to like you, don’t congregate in groups. Everyone, it seems, loves teachers individually. But when they get together, they become a menace to civilization.

That’s one of the clearest take-aways from the just-concluded teachers strike in Chicago. Editorial boards from the right-wing Wall Street Journal to the liberal New York Times were nearly unanimous in condemning the seven-day strike. The Chicago Teachers Union was depriving the city’s children of their right to an education not just during the strike, editorialists argued, but also every day — by refusing to bow down to standardized tests. In the eyes of our elites, such tests have emerged as the linchpin of pedagogy and the best way to measure teacher, not just student, performance.

There is little evidence that standardized tests for teachers improves educational achievement, nor that such testing for students boosts anything but scores on those tests.   Teachers teach to the test, as demonstrated wonderfully by the State of Texas, where preparation for the tests is almost as enthusiastically undertaken as Friday night high school football.  Fortunately, a backlash is brewing among individuals actually interested in education.

Charter schools have, on the whole, performed slightly worse than conventional public schools, even with the ability of the former to pick and choose their students.   Meyerson notes

the most extensive survey of student performance at charter schools, from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes , found that, of the 2,403 charter schools tracked from 2006 to 2008, only 17 percent had better math test results than the public schools in their area, while 37 percent had results that were “significantly below” those of the public schools and 46 percent had results that were “statistically indistinguishable” from their public-school counterparts.

As Helen F. Ladd and Edward B. Fiske observe on the op-ed page of The New York Times, "NO one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds"  Sean F. Reardon of the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University reports "a given difference in family incomes now corresponds to a 30 to 60 percent larger difference in achievement than it did for a child born in the 1970s."  The income achievement gap, which he defines "as the income difference between a child from a family at the 90th percentile of the family income distribution and a child from a family at the 10th percentile", has become "nearly twice as large as the black-white achievement gap.  Fifty years ago, in contrast, the black-white gap was one and a half to two times as large as the income gap."

Many no doubt will celebrate the apparent, superficial, progress in race relations, wherein the gap in educational achievement between white and black is now less than the gap between rich and poor.  

But all this evidence, and far more, is not stopping the educational "reformers,"   for whom the importance of poverty must be ignored.   As Donald Earl Collins explains in The Nation, this week, NBC (along with its corporate liberal arm, MSNBC) is running its

Education Nation Week in New York City. It will involve MSNBC's rising stars like Melissa Harris-Perry, Chuck Todd and Alex Wagner. It will include a two-day summit broken down into a series of case studies about the various issues in K-12 education and how to improve it for America's children. It will also include a teacher town hall and a student town hall.

In the end, it will all be a staged pageant of concern about kids, a subliminal message of corporatized education reform, a series of half-baked ideas that wouldn't have been good for schools a hundred years ago, much less now. I don't normally trash events before they begin, but I've seen this movie before. It's the one that's been given a bad title, a poor script worked on by five writers, with poor character development, mediocre actors and a wholly implausible ending.

NBC's Education Nation Week fits all of those because its hosts know about as much about the nuances of education as I do about the interactions of neutrinos with the Higgs boson particle. The week-long event is sponsored by University of Phoenix, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ExxonMobil, Target, Citi and the General Motors Foundation (the last one as a "Knowledge Partner"). Seriously? A for-profit institution with a ten (10) percent graduation rate? The biggest funder of ill-conceived education reform efforts, ones that have little chance of actually creating better conditions for teachers to effectively teach students of all stripes? Not to mention a bunch of corporations that have little incentive to reform public education for America's low-income students in a way that would truly level the playing field? Are you kidding me?

(Collins is disappointed in Harris-Perry, who contributed a pro-reform commentary to The Nation.  But those who have caught the latter's act should not be disappointed in her, nor in Wagner, whose deep consideration of political issues runs the gamut from A to B.)

This Committee to Destroy Public Education continues to propagate the easy answers, including the cliche "a good teacher..." (fill in the blank yourselves).  While the overall tax burden is lower now than it has been in the last fifty years, Republicans and neo-liberal supporters of the movement (when not speaking of education) continue to bemoan what they claim are high taxes and push for continuing today's low marginal tax rate for the wealthy.  They understand, but know not to acknowledge, that political support for significantly increasing the pay of teachers doesn't exist and, as long as they continue to demonize a progressive tax system, will not.   Further, those good teachers are not likely to be beating down the doors to teach in the most impoverished neighborhoods, any more than the wealthy reformers are likely to buy a home in north Philadelphia, Detroit's Highland Park, or Todd County in South Dakota

Blaming parents- many of them holding two or even three jobs- for lacking interest in their children's education- also is popular.   Insufficient involvement in the educational achievement of their children (or step-children) is a tendency of poorly-educated parents.  But Reardon concludes

the growing income achievement gap does not appear to be a result of a growing achievement gap between children with highly and less-educated parents. Indeed, the relationship between parental education and children’s achievement has remained relatively stable during the last fifty years, whereas the relationship between income and achievement has grown sharply. Family income is now nearly as strong as parental education in predicting children’s achievement.

Harold Meyerson is wrong about a couple of things (One is fairly inconsequential.).  He cites the support for the Chicago teachers' strike among black and Hispanic parents, arguing "it’s safe to say that the school reform movement hasn’t converted many outside the upper middle class."   But as he no doubt realizes, the movement is probably even more popular among the rich (a politically incorrect term, now that the right has admonished us to say "job producers") than the upper middle class.    For-profit universities, well-heeled foundations, oil companies, mega-banks, even big-box stores: hardly a lineup of the middle-class, of the upper or mainstream sort.

Addressing the importance of the socio-economic level of the home to which schoolchildren return from school, Ladd and Fiske point out "rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control."    Or, perhaps, their economic interests.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Sex And Power Shell Game

Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign calls same-sex marriage the "civil rights issue of our time."   The lead attorney for the plaintiff in the legal effort to overturn California's Proposition 8 (constitutional amendment which declared that between a man and a woman the only valid marriage) describes the fight as "the last major civil rights milestone yet to be surpassed in our two-century struggle to attain the goals we set for this nation at its foundation."

Many other prominent Americans have termed the effort to legalize same-sex marriage as "the civil rights issue of our time."   They, too, are wrong.  The civil rights issue of our time is civil rights.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine established by the Court's 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson      Chief Justice Warren observed "Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other 'tangible' factors may be equal,deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities?  We believe that it does."

The Supreme Court thus abolished state-sanctioned school segregation.   But make no mistake:   segregation in schools is making a comeback.   A report published September 19 by the Civil Rights Project

shows that segregation has increased seriously across the country for Latino students, who are attending more intensely segregated and impoverished schools than they have for generations.  The segregation increases have been the most dramatic in the West. The typical Latino student in the region attends a school where less than a quarter of their classmates are white; nearly two-thirds are other Latinos; and two-thirds are poor. California, New York and Texas, all states that have been profoundly altered by immigration trends over the last half-century, are among the most segregated states for Latino students along multiple dimensions.

In spite of declining residential segregation for black families and large-scale movement to the suburbs in most parts of the country, school segregation remains very high for black students.  It is also double segregation by both race and poverty.  Nationwide, the typical black student is now in a school where almost two out of every three classmates (64%) are low-income, nearly double the level in schools of the typical white or Asian student (37% and 39%, respectively).  New York, Illinois, and Michigan consistently top the list of the most segregated states for black students.  Among the states with significant black enrollments, blacks are least likely to attend intensely segregated schools in Washington, Nebraska, and Kansas.

School resegregation for black students is increasing most dramatically in the South, where, after a period of intense resistance, strong action was taken to integrate black and white students.  Black students across the country experienced gains in school desegregation from the l960s to the late l980s, a time in which racial achievement gaps also narrowed sharply.  These trends began to reverse after a 1991 Supreme Court decision made it easier for school districts and courts to dismantle desegregation plans. Most major plans have been eliminated for years now, despite increasingly powerful evidence on the importance of desegregated schools.

Public policy and the euphemistically-termed "education reform" movement are enhancing this trend, especially because

The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration, has taken no significant action to increase school integration or to help stabilize diverse schools as racial change occurs in urban and suburban housing markets and schools. Small positive steps in civil rights enforcement have been undermined by the Obama Administration’s strong pressure on states to expand charter schools - the most segregated sector of schools for black students. Though segregation is powerfully related to many dimensions of unequal education, neither candidate has discussed it in the current presidential race.

Restoration of school segregation is not the primary objective of the charter school movement, although the impulse does have its roots in white resistance to school desegregation after Brown. The primary goal is to dismantle teachers' unions and privatize the educational system, to the enrichment of individuals like Chicago venture capitalist Bruce Rauner.  Rauner, a major force in the drive to close public public schools and open charters in Chicago, has boasted "The critical issue is to separate the union from the teachers."

Mitt Romney is at least as committed to the movement to undermine public schools and expand the number of  charter schools as is President Obama, who supports mass firings of teachers when not up to his standards.     The education reform movement aims to alter the power structure of the nation, eliminating middle class jobs and the unions whose decline has not coincidentally paralleled the decline of the middle class in America.   Mitt Romney, not coincidentally, is at least as committed to the education reform movement and to segregation-enhancing charter schools as is President Obama, who supports mass firings of teachers when not up to his standards.  In June, Romney (in)famously argued that Obama "says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.  Did he not get the message of Wisconsin?  The American people did.  It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."   Less famously, but thoroughly consistently, Romney the previous month (one in which we discovered the real Romney) had contended "the teachers' unions are the clearest example of a group that has lost its way."

A Romney victory in November is, thankfully, unlikely. But supporters believe a definitive debate triumph (though an unexpected international event harming Obama is more likely) might turn things around.    Politico reports that Ted Olson is playing the part of Joe Biden in preparing Paul Ryan for his debate with the Vice-President.   Olson is best remembered as the lead attorney in Bush v. Gore, leading to the selection by the U.S. Supreme Court of the Texas governor as President, a process which has had devastating effects for the nation.  Olson, a solicitor general in the administration of Bush 43, has thrown in his lot with the ticket which wants to slash Medicaid, privatize the earned benefits of Medicare and Social Security, end taxes on investment income, turn energy policy over to the fossil fuel industry, and erode the public school system.

Ted Olson has another job these days, one which appears- but only at first glance- to contradict his work on behalf of the Romney-Ryan team.    He is, along with David Boies, the attorney working the courts to overturn Proposition 8 which, he maintains, obstructs "the last major civil rights milestone," the freedom to marry an individual of one's own gender.  The executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats comments "After he has spent as much time, money, and reputation on overturning Prop 8 as he has, it’s shocking to learn that Ted Olson would lift a finger to help the Romney-Ryan ticket during debate prep."

Disappointing, probably; unfortunate, surely (or maybe surely disappointing and probably unfortunate).   But "shocking?"    For Ted Olson and some others, assisting gay rights groups in their struggle will ensure they are not persona non-grata at some of the finest parties in Washington, and perhaps in New York and L.A.  But it will not offend corporate interests and the clout they wield nor upset the distribution of power among social classes.Public school teachers, as well as the children whom they help and whose interests they represent indirectly at the bargaining table, should be so lucky.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Voting Optional

You might think no one could be more ridiculous than was Mitt Romney when he commented

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not, what it looks like. I mean, when you ask those people…we do all these polls—I find it amazing—we poll all these people, see where you stand on the polls, but 45 percent of the people will go with a Republican, and 48 or 4…

But U.S. Representative Daryl Metcalf of Pennsylvania, responding to a question during a radio interview about voter ID in his state,  did his party's presidential nominee one better.   Metcalfe, like Romney, not only disregarded the 28.3% of households who contribute payroll tax (thus, obviously, working) but remarked

I don’t believe any legitimate voter that actually wants to exercise that right and takes on the according responsiblity that goes with that right to secure their photo ID will be disenfranchised. As Mitt Romney said, 47% of the people that are living off the public dole, living off their neighbors’ hard work, and we have a lot of people out there that are too lazy to get up and get out there and get the ID they need. If individuals are too lazy, the state can’t fix that.

Metcalf doesn't understand the purpose of the the voter suppression legislation enacted by the GOP in Pennsylvania.   In August,  Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson  refused to issue an injunction against its implementation.   On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court decided by a 4-2 vote to send the case back to the Judge for a "supplemental opinion."   Positive signs:  the Court labeled the franchise a fundamental right and appeared to shift to Judge Simpson the burden of demonstrating that "no voter disenfranchisement" would result from implementation of the legislation.  Negative sign: the two dissenters were two of the three Democrats.

Only a tiny percentage of the individuals have obtained the identification they need, which is not surprising given, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer

When the case was argued before the high court last week, Saylor noted that the state had not followed the letter of the law, which requires PennDot to provide a nondriver photo ID card for free to any registered voter who swears he or she needs it for voting purposes - "a policy of liberal access," as the majority put it Tuesday.

But state officials said federal Homeland Security requirements prevented PennDot from being so lenient - so the Corbett administration's Department of State, which oversees elections, imposed tougher rules on issuance of the nondriver IDs.

That department "has realized, and the commonwealth parties have candidly conceded, that the law is not being implemented according to its terms," the opinion said.

Initially, the state required voters needing photo IDs to provide certified birth certificates, Social Security cards, and proofs of residence. On the eve of Simpson's hearings, it announced a new plan to issue photo ID good for voting purposes only, requiring voters simply to give their dates of birth and Social Security numbers, along with documentation of residency.

So the Pennsylvania legislature passes a law making it more difficult for elderly persons, minorities, the poor, disabled individuals, and students (all Democratic constituencies) to vote.   Then the Republican governor, finding the legislation inconsistent with federal security guidelines, decides not to forego implementation nor to implement it as passed by the legislature but to change the law to his own liking.

GOP to its citizens:  heads we win, tails you lose.  If the individuals, in Metcalf's terms, are not too "lazy," we'll just make it even more difficult.  Perhaps if more people still apply for identification cards, we'll ramp up the requirements further.    It's back to the future for the Gas and Oil Party, as two (below) of Gary Trudeau's recent cartoons demonstrate.   If you can't win their votes, just stop them from voting.

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Introspection Needed

Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter and current columnist and pundit, had some pointed criticism of her party's presidential nominee on Tuesday.   She paid, as is her wont, homage to her first love, writing "Reagan in 1984 used to put out his hand: “Come too, come walk with me.” Come join, come help, whatever is happening in your life.'"  She believes, however, that Romney's campaign should recognize

The big issue—how we view government, what we want from it, what we need, what it rightly asks of us, what it wrongly demands of us—is a good and big and right and serious subject. It has to be dealt with seriously, at some length. And it is in part a cultural conversation. There’s a lot of grievance out there, and a sense of entitlement in many spheres. A lot of people don’t feel confident enough or capable enough to be taking part in the big national drama of Work in America. Why? What’s going on? That’s a conversation worth having.

I think there is a broad and growing feeling now, among Republicans, that this thing is slipping out of Romney’s hands. Today at a speech in New York with what seemed like many conservatives and Republicans in the audience, I said more or less the above. I wondered if anyone would say, in the Q&A, “I think you’ve got it wrong, you’re too pessimistic.” No one did. A woman asked me to talk about why in a year the Republicans couldn’t lose, the Republican candidate seems to be losing.

I said pre-mortems won’t help, if you want to help the more conservative candidate, it’s a better use of your time to pitch in with ideas. There’s seven weeks to go. This isn’t over, it’s possible to make things better.

Republicans are going to have to right this thing. They have to stabilize it.

It’s time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one. It’s not big, it’s not brave, it’s not thoughtfully tackling great issues. It’s always been too small for the moment. All the activists, party supporters and big donors should be pushing for change. People want to focus on who at the top is least constructive and most responsible. Fine, but Mitt Romney is no puppet: He chooses who to listen to. An intervention is in order. “Mitt, this isn’t working..."

Romney doesn’t seem to be out there campaigning enough. He seems—in this he is exactly like the president—to always be disappearing into fund-raisers, and not having enough big public events.

But the logic of Romney’s fundraising has seemed, for some time, slightly crazy. He’s raising money so he can pile it in at the end, with ads. But at the end will they make much difference? Obama is said to have used a lot of his money early on, to paint a portrait of Romney as Thurston Howell III, as David Brooks put it. That was a gamble on Obama’s part: spend it now, pull ahead in the battlegrounds, once we pull ahead more money will come in because money follows winners, not losers.

If I’m seeing things right, that strategy is paying off.

Romney’s staff used to brag they had a lower burn rate, they were saving it up. For what? For the moment when Americans would rather poke out their eyeballs and stomp on the goo than listen to another ad?

Also, Mr. Romney’s ads are mostly boring. It’s kind of an achievement to be boring at a moment in history like this, so credit where it’s due: That musta taken effort!

When big, serious, thoughtful things must be said then big, serious, thoughtful speeches must be given. Mr. Romney is not good at press conferences. Maybe because he doesn’t give enough, and so hasn’t grown used to them, and confident.

He should stick to speeches, and they have to be big—where America is now, what we must do, how we can do it. He needs to address the Mideast too, because it isn’t going to go away as an issue and is adding a new layer of unease to the entire election. Luckily, Romney has access to some of the best writers and thinkers in the business. I say it that way because to write is to think, and Romney needs fresh writing and fresh thinking.

Two days later, Noonan followed it up with a column in which she again slammed Mitt Romney's campaign, this time asserting it needed someone like Reagan campaign manager (and anti-semite, by the way) James A. Baker III, who

broke up power centers while at the same time establishing clear lines of authority—and responsibility. When you screwed up, he let you know in one quick hurry. But most of all he had judgment. He delegated, and only the gifted were welcome: Bob Teeter, Dick Darman, Roger Ailes, Marlin Fitzwater. He didn't like hacks, he didn't get their point, and he knew one when he saw one.

A campaign is a communal exercise. It isn't about individual entrepreneurs. It's people pitching in together, aiming their high talents at one single objective: victory.
Mitt Romney needs to get his head screwed on right in this area. Maybe advice could come from someone in politics who awes him. If that isn't Jim Baker then Mitt Romney's not awe-able, which is a different kind of problem.

To Peggy Noonan, veteran Republican pollster and corporate strategist Steve Lombardo (whose views Noonan approvingly cites), and so many others, the problem is strategic and personal.    Romney, she says, "should be surrounded by the most persuasive, interesting, and articulate members," such as Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Susana Martinez, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan, of his party.

Spare me.  Although the nominee isn't likable, the problem isn't personality.   Although Romney erred in allowing himself to be recorded denigrating almost half of Americans, the problem isn't strategic.  The problem is not the candidate- it is the candidate's party. CBS News reports

Senate Republicans blocked legislation Wednesday that would have established a $1 billion jobs program putting veterans back to work tending to the country's federal lands and bolstering local police and fire departments.

Republicans said the spending authorized in the bill violated limits that Congress agreed to last year. Democrats fell two votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to waive the objection, forcing the legislation back to committee.   

Supporters loosely modeled their proposal after the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps used during the Great Depression to put people to work planting trees, building parks and constructing dams. They said the latest monthly jobs report, showing a nearly 11 percent unemployment rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, merited action from Congress.

The vote came on a proposal to waive a procedural rule obstructing passage of the legislation, dubbed the Veterans Job Corps Act of 2011.   While every Democrat supported the measure, all but five Republicans opposed it.   They expressed concern over "politics" (I'm shocked, shocked, to find that politics is going on in here!), the budgetary impact, or that Senate rules would be put aside for passage, a common Senate practice.  Further, bill sponsor Patty Murray of Washington State stated that the program, according to a New York Times editorial, would be financed by "recovering more money from delinquent Medicare providers and forcing tax deadbeats to pay up before receiving passports."

One would expect a little more from a party than to express undying loyalty to "the troops" and then voting against them when it gets a chance.   Or maybe not, given its unofficial slogan has become the chant of "USA! USA!," especially when drowning out Americans expressing a contrary point of view.
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars," Cassius (not this one) said in Julius Caesar.   Mitt Romney's problem is neither him, nor in messaging, but in the policies and actions of the party, circa 2012, he represents.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Saving The Party From A Worse Candidate

Now we know that far-right flamethrower Ann Coulter was right, and she was wrong.

Last December, GOP strategist Sean Hannity, playing his role as Fox News host, played for Ann Coulter the famous statement she made at the Conservative Political Action Conference nine months earlier.   "I think, well," Coulter predicted, "I'll put it in the nutshell.  If we don't run Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee and we'll lose."

Chris Christie didn't run, and Romney has been nominated.   But her remark implied that were Christie to run for the nomination, he would be nominated and defeat Barack Obama.

We can now tell- with greater certainty than that Mitt Romney will lose- that, had the New Jersey governor competed and actually been nominated, he would have been pummeled.  We read today (or yesterday, online) from Christiephile Matt Katz of The Philadelphia Inquirer

Capping off 10 days of poor economic news for Gov. Christie, the state announced Thursday that New Jersey's unemployment rate inched up to 9.9 percent in August even as it continued a yearlong trend in adding 5,300 jobs.

The varying economic indicators were described as "kind of nuts" by Christie's top economist and became a launching pad for the administration's criticism of the federal Department of Labor's methodology for determining the unemployment rate.

The monthly jobless numbers - if they hold when they are finalized early next year - would be the highest for the state since the 1970s.

The national jobless rate, on the other hand, fell in August from 8.2 to 8.1 percent, while Pennsylvania's rate went from 7.9 percent to 8.1 percent.

Republican presidential nominee Chris Christie would have found it rather difficult to attack President Obama over the national jobless rate while the unemployment rate in New Jersey stood almost two (2) percentage points higher.

Perhaps the NJ governor instead would have emphasized his management of the budget and general stewardship of the economy.   That would have been almost as perilous, given  

In recent days, three bond-rating agencies have criticized Christie's optimistic revenue expectations for the $31.7 billion budget that went into effect July 1. Revenues have failed to reach administration projections in July and August, so New Jersey would have to collect 8.2 percent more in taxes this fiscal year compared with last year in order to preserve its budget.

Christie is hoping to use a surplus in that budget to push through a tax cut, which his office plugged again Thursday.

The last budget year may be an added complication.

The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Affairs announced 10 days ago that the administration was on pace to bring in $254 million less than expected from the budget year that ended in June. Christie disputes this number.

Christie, who is striving to make the state safe for radioactive waste, disputes those numbers, just as he disputes those unemployment numbers.  But he is being roundly criticized by Democrats in Trenton, even though a few of their leaders do fine imitations of Republicans.   The governor would have been far less able to withstand scrutiny in a presidential campaign than has been (even) Mitt Romney, of which we are reminded by a spokesman for the Democratic Party in Missouri (where Christie currently is stumping for the GOP gubernatorial nominee), who asks "Does Dave Spence really want Missouri's economy to look like New Jersey's?"

Coulter said she "remain(s) in love with" with the N.J. governor, whom she says "is going to be our cleanup guy in eight years."  Inasmuch as Christie would be extremely unlikely to challenge an incumbent GOP president for re-nomination, Coulter's statement suggests she believes Romney will be elected this autumn.   That would make the pundit and author 1 for 3 and, if his state's employment doesn't improve markedly, he whom Coulter believes will be the standard bearer in 2020 may become ex-New Jersey governor in 2014.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

And The Word Is 'Lie'

The Archodicese of Philadelphia is the sixth largest, by number of Roman Catholics served, diocese in the United States.    In an article reprinted by The by Huffington Post, David Gibson reports

A series of recent developments are renewing questions about the Catholic bishops' alignment with the Republican Party, with much of the attention focusing on comments by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who said he "certainly can't vote for somebody who's either pro-choice or pro-abortion."
In a wide-ranging interview published last week (Sept. 14), Chaput also echoed the views of a number of prominent bishops when he praised Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan for trying to address the "immoral" practice of deficit spending through his libertarian-inflected budget proposals.
"Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don't help the poor, we're going to go to hell. Period. There's just no doubt about it," Chaput told National Catholic Reporter.
"But Jesus didn't say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I can't make as a Catholic."
Chaput stressed that he is a registered independent "because I don't think the church should be identified with one party or another." But he said that the Democratic Party's positions on abortion rights, gay rights, and religious freedom "cause me a great deal of uneasiness."
The Archodiocese of Philadelphia is the sixth largest, by number of Roman Catholics served, diocese in the United States.   It should be, therefore, a big deal that its spiritual and bureaucratic head appears to be throwing his lot in with the Republican Party.    Gibson continues
He added that economic issues are "prudential judgments" open to a variety of legitimate approaches. Abortion, on the other hand, is "intrinsically evil" and must always be opposed.
That is a talking point voiced by many Catholic conservatives, including Ryan himself. Last Friday, Ryan told the Christian Broadcasting Network that opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, and support for religious freedom, are all "non-negotiables" for a Catholic politician while "on other issues, of economics and such like that, that's a matter of prudential judgment."
The debate over Catholic social teaching has become an unanticipated focus of the presidential contest, and has exposed growing divisions within the church.
Bishops like New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have voiced support and sympathy for Ryan -- a disciple of the late philosopher and atheist Ayn Rand, the patron saint of modern libertarianism.
For those who have never heard or read the word "prudential" except in relation to insurance, rest assured it is a legitimate word.   I'm sure of it.  The Internet says so.
Some of you may wonder why Archbishop Chaput says issues "of economics and such like that" are matters left to one's judgement while he refers to the deficit as "immoral" and implies that those who see it differently not to be taken seriously.   Call something "immoral" and if the other guy differs from you on it, his viewpoint is simply not legitimate.  It's a fairly subtle way of cutting off all discussion.
So the Archbishop's mind is made up on reproductive freedom; that's his prerogative.   His view of economic issues, in which help for the poor takes a back seat to an obsession with the deficit, is unfortunate.    So, too, is his idea that, of all things, deficit spending is "immoral."
Opinions may differ, and your mileage may vary.  But Chaput asserted definitively "Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don't help the poor, we're going to hell.  Period.  There's just no doubt about it."
Conservatives, comforted if not thrilled by the Archbishop's right-wing opinions, will not question Chaput's statement about Jesus Christ.  And liberals are fond of recalling Jesus' concern for the poor.   Therefore, few if any individuals will give a second thought to the remark.
So off this non-Catholic Christian goes to the ultimate source, Strong's Concordance, in finding words in Scripture, and traces all references to the word "hell" in the Old and New Testaments.  And to assuage doubt of readers, below are all verses (from the English Standard Version) in the Bible containing the term (all but the last two from Jesus), with an accompanying verse when necessary.

Matthew 5:22   But I say to you that everyone who is angry with this brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.
Matthew 5:29   If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
Matthew 5:30   And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Matthew 10:28    And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 18:9   And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
Matthew 23:15    Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
Matthew 23:33   You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
Mark 9:43   And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.
Mark 9:45   And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.
Mark 9:47-48   And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.
Luke 12:5   But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I told you, fear him!
Luke 16:22-23    The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
James 3:6   And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.
2Peter 2:4...9   For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgement... then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment...

"Jesus," the Archbishop assures us, "tells us very clearly that if we don't help the poor, we're going to hell."  And don't dare question him:  "Period.  There's just no doubt about it."   Except of course, that there is nothing in the Bible substantiating his claim.   Nothing.
One can speculate why Chaput says something he must know isn't true.   Contending he is a registered Independent, the Archbishop remarks "I don't think the church should be associated with one party or another."     Concerned about being accused of being unfeeling or inhumane, he establishes his compassion bona fides by telling us that if we don't "help" the poor, we're going to hell.
I am not accusing the Church, or even the Archodiocese, of anything.  Nor am I accusing Archbishop Caputo of  violating the Ninth Commandment (though that would make for a slick ending).  Otherwise, given that many theologians interpret 'false witness' as something beyond mere fibbing, I would be making the same error as Chaput, reading things into Scripture which just aren't there. 
But this is clear:  Archbishop Charles Chaput is making it up.   And what he's making up he undoubtedly knows is false.   There is a word for that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Romney's GOP To Average Americans:  Pay Up!

You've read, and/or heard, it one hundred times so far, so 101 times should be no problem:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.

There are so many things wrong with Romney's statement at the May fund-raiser at the home of a sex-crazed hedge fund manager.    Romney believes the 47% (actually, 46.4%, but why quibble over a million or so people?) who pay no federal income tax pay no income tax whatsoever, disregarding the 43 states which impose a personal income tax.   Romney believes this 47% will necessarily vote for Barack Obama, because, in the manner of Marxist economic determinism, he believes individuals will always vote their economic interests, which bears no relation to reality in the U.S.A. (and if it did, there would be no Republican Party).

Romney thinks these parasites of his imagination believe they are "entitled" to have government "care for them," which, given that he presents no evidence, and there is little evidence, for that opinion, marks him as an elitist par excellence.   And the former governor believes health care, food, and housing are entitlements.   Perhaps individuals are entitled to health care, food, and housing, but, alas, this nation has never accepted that idea.

Many Americans, especially Republicans, have latched onto the idea that nearly half the population is composed of able-bodied adults sitting on their rear ends rather than working at a job.    Presumably, Romney is irritated those 80-year old guys and gals are collecting Social Security when they should be out there working.      According to the pie chart (below) from the Tax Policy Center via Brad Plumer, 10.3% of the adult population (as households) are elderly.  Most of those- 66%- pay no federal income taxes on their Social Security income.   If a person files as an individual, he/she would pay income tax on Social Security benefits if total income exceeds $25,000; if a couple is filing jointly, there would be no tax liability on the benefits if the combined income is not over $32,000.   (Most individuals and couples are below the threshold and therefore pay no tax on these earned benefits.)

Of the remaining 36.1% of loafers, 28.3% are working but make so little they're not subject to federal income tax, but pay payroll tax; 6.9% are not old but claim income under $20,000; and 1% are classified by the Tax Policy Center as "other."     Ironically, a lot of the working poor escape paying federal income taxes because of GOP-sponsored tax cuts, in which in exchange for reductions  in upper-income rates, Republican Presidents have agreed to give a break to individuals and families on the lower end of the scale.    Thus, George W. Bush would boast on February 19, 2004:  "So the tax relief was passed, not only to help individuals, but to help our small business sector. We also increased the child credit to $1,000. We reduced the marriage penalty. I like to remind people that the tax code ought to encourage marriage, not discourage marriage." Seems like we want people to stay married, and the tax code ought to encourage that."   Old Republican tax policy:  lower the rates for the deserving and the undeserving alike.  New Republican tax policy:  lower the rates for the wealthy, increase them for students, the working poor, and elderly people.

The chart below, from Jon Perr (where he got it, I don't know) shows how the wealthy would make out like bandits under Romney's tax plan.   It does not, however, account for the deductions (such as for mortgage interest, state and local taxes, employer-provided health insurance) which benefit mostly the middle class, which he would need to reduce or eliminate to meet his stated goal of deficit reduction.   Nor does it include any policy changes made to accommodate his outrage that   many of the working poor and the lower-middle class are excused from paying income taxes to Washington.

Could it be that Mitt Romney himself, consistent with the old playground taunt, "it takes one to know one," pays no federal income taxes?   Harry Reid believes so, and has said so.   But Mitt probably has paid federal income taxes.    In January, Alexander Burns of Politico reported

Hours before he plans to release his 2010 tax returns, Mitt Romney noted at the GOP debate in Tampa that under his opponent’s tax plan, he wouldn’t have paid any taxes at all.

The moment came after Newt Gingrich joked about Romney’s 15 percent tax rate, saying: “I’m prepared to describe my flat tax as the Mitt Romney flat tax.”

Romney jumped in to ask: Do you tax capital gains at 15 percent or zero percent?
Gingrich’s answer: Zero.

“Under that plan, I’d have paid no taxes in the last two years,” Romney said, alluding to the fact that all his income is from investments.

So Mitt probably paid federal income taxes- at least in recent years.  However, he has not paid them on work he has done, but merely on capital gains.   And in the one year (2009) for which he has released full returns, he paid at the whopping rate of 13.9%, far less than did most of the people who work and pay income taxes.   Oddly, that is a part of the federal income tax system he did not complain about.

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Why This Comment?

Who's he talking about? Joe Scarborough wisely and very courageously asserts .... Again, a good question to ask about what he said in a...