Saturday, July 31, 2004

Operation Iraqi Freedom: Humor by Tony Auth


Enron Executive Pleads Guilty

Remember that former Halliburton CEO, Dick Cheney, was on the board of Enron, and he was indirectly tied to World-Com through an alliance between World-Com and EDS Corporation, where he also sat on the board. The IT giant has laid of close to 30,000 workers during the Bush term and sent jobs oversees. Halliburton does business in Iran through an offshore subsidiary in the Caymen Islands, and Halliburton won the contracts in Iraq on a non-compete bid. Bush and Cheney also own stock in companies such as the Carlyle Group which has investors from the Bin Laden family and the Saudi royals.


Friday, July 30, 2004

Tom at Disputations Takes Lengthy Offense on My Enthusiasm for Kerry's Speech

Tom doesn't like it that I found the following statement by Kerry quite satisfying:

I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side.
Here is my initial response to Tom's post:


You wrote:
This week's hypothesis is that many self-described progressive Roman Catholics think it is better to be wrong and say "I could be wrong" than to be right and say "I am not wrong."
This is not my position at all. My position would more accurately be as follows:

It is better to be right and think you might be wrong but you're doing your best, then to be wrong and think you're right.

It is my best educated guess that Bush is wrong and he thinks he is right.

It is my best educated guess that Kerry is wrong and admits that he might be wrong.

Kerry is a less dangerous man because he is willing to admit the possibility of error and therefore can be persuaded to change course.

Bush cannot be convinced that he is probably wrong.

And I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that all wars of aggression are wrong by definition. And I may be wrong, but all the evidence I have weighed points to the fact that the war with Iraq was a gross moral evil because it seems to be a war of aggression declared by an improper authority for reasons that remain questionable.

My best educated guess is that abortion is also wrong. Therefore, it follows that permissive abortion laws would be murder in the eyes of God (but who am I to read God's mind). I believe (strongly so - but still, it's a belief) that abortion should be illegal.

I could be wrong, but I also believe that it is worse for the state to mandate abortion than for the state to merely allow abortion.

With an unjust war, it seems to me that the state would be killing innocent people. Therefore, an unjust war is on par with the state mandating abortion, which is worse than the state allowing abortion.

Therefore, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the most moral choice is to vote for John Kerry - but I wouldn't deny Communion to anyone who disagrees, or call them a heretic, or claim God is definitely on John Kerry's side.

And there are levels of certainty we can have about things and what the Church calls a "moral certainty" is not absolute certainty - but it's about as high as we can get.

And I could be wrong, but I am close to morally certain that the idea God is George Bush' side in this election is crap.


We all tend to use the language of certainty as short hand for our best educated guess or our highest levels of certainty. I'm fine with that. When we start to say God is on our side and not the other, we go too far. We use the name of the Lord in vain.

God is not on my side against you or your side against me. God is on our side - the side of humanity - so much so that he joined our condition and died for each of us. If we must say God takes sides, I would argue the liberation theologians have it right in saying that God takes the side of the poor, and Bush is not on the side of the poor!


Response to Michael Novak's Screed

Despite the fact that he knows the Pope and the Bishops disagreed with the war in Iraq, Michael Novak has become one of the top neoconservative Catholic apologist for the Administration. After Kerry's acceptance speech, he posted the above screed to the web just today and it has already started appearing on more conservative Catholic blogs. Thus, I decided to respond paragraph by paragraph.

You know how Democrats hate Bush now? How will they hate him when they lose to him on November 2 by three or four percentage points?
Saint Augustine said that we are to love the sinner and hate the sin. I don't "hate" George Bush. I hate his policies, which are immoral.
One of the political commentators I admire most for his astuteness said yesterday that the paroxysm of hatred the Democrats have been indulging for the last six months is the worst American political delusion he has seen in his entire life.
The neoconservative lust for American imperial power is the worst political delusion imposed on the American people I have ever seen in my life-time.
What will it be like - if after all this hatred, all this effort, all those millions upon millions of dollars spent to express disdain, contempt, and hate - Bush wins again, flashes a victory symbol over his head, grins, strides around shaking hands, glows with exuberance and radiance?
I'll probably contemplate moving to another country, like those who fled Nazi Germany before WWII started. The difficulty will be discerning whether an American can live safely abroad after Bush has antagonized the world, and discerning whether, like Dietrich Boenhoffer, I might be called to stay and risk being thrown in prison or even killed for opposing the fascist regime of the neconservative takeover of America.
For Democrats, losing is much worse than for Republicans. For Democrats, the purpose of democracy is to milk government for ever more abundant benefits. Republicans in principle believe in limited government, and thus in a certain way they do even better out of power than when they must exercise it. Democrats without power suffer much more. Democrats go listless, purposeless.
I am a registered Republican and I believe in limited government in the sense the party offered before the neoconservatives took over. The Patriot Act is not limited government. Detaining people without formal charges or representation is not limited government. Torture is not something contemplated by limited government. A half trillion dollar deficit is not the result of limited government. Amending the Constitution to discriminate against gays is not limited government. Leaking the names of CIA agents to the public is not an act of limited government.
In a minority, Democrats are fairly useless creatures. In victory, they cultivate grand visions of benefits to be shaken from government largesse; defeat, however, freezes the core of their being. Democratic defeat defies the natural order. For them, history halts. What had been an onward rushing tide swirls round and round, becoming still.
As stated before, I am not a Democrat. However, Novak is overstating the case here. Social Security, Medicare, and many things government offers because of their reforms are here to stay because they work. The government is not the enemy of the people or even of business. The government is the people. It is true that the success of business is in the government's interest, but the success of government is also in the interest of business, and corporate America has forgotten that. We do not need the false dichotomies of the neoconservatives.
So loss at any time (as in 2000) is almost inadmissible by Democrats. But a loss in 2004, particularly a solid loss, will be for them a disaster beyond imagination. Such recriminations there will be. Some will blame the "centrism" of the Kerry team, and the much-resented repression of the Left. Some will come to see the isolation in which the widespread paroxysms of hatred and contempt for George Bush blindly thrust them. Some will see that the core ideologies of the Left are faultily drawn - in economics, their attraction to a kind of governmental centralization, and their antipathy to capitalism, the market, corporations, and job creators. They claim to love employees while hating their employers, a self-defeating cycle. In matters of culture, others will see that the left-wing's sexual ethic and religious sensibility are too far out of tune with the American people. Nonetheless, one can predict that both in economics and in culture, others will try to drive the party more leftward still.
Nobody hates the small and medium size business owner, and nobody even wants to see the large corporation go under. However, Enron and World-Com have demonstrated that business can do incredibly wrong things and it is the job of government to hold corporations accountable. It is also the role of every one of us to take care of the poor. One cannot say "I'm personally charitable, but..." Poverty in America is wrong if we have the means to solve it by coming together and giving people a hand-up to pursue the American dream. Individual responsibility is not mutually exclusive with social responsibility.
In any case, it would be wise to get ready for the coming cataclysm.
Yes. It would be good to prepare.
In 2004, I see six reasons why the Democratic goose is cooked:
Only if Bush wins, which looks unlikely.
1. No one - neither his colleagues nor his wife nor his supporters nor he himself - has anything good to say about John Kerry except that he served bravely in Vietnam. The nearly 30 years since then have generated few boasts on his part, few commendations from others, few successes anyone can seem to remember.
I did not like John Kerry in the beginning. I still strongly disagree with him on the issue of abortion. But he's growing on me, and I was impressed with his performance at the 2004 Democratic Convention. I am finding that Kerry is not so much unlikable as he is complex and a little hard to understand without taking the time to listen. Would anyone seriously argue that we should not take the time to understand complex thinkers, or take the time to try to understand our top candidates?
2. The Democratic elite sitting in convention cannot present themselves as they are to the American people, but must stifle their deepest feelings, be silent about their most passionate aims, and hide their turbulent loathing of George Bush Republicans (lest it frighten independents with its ferocity). The Democratic elite is saying as little as possible about same-sex marriage. And guns. And very little about abortion. And not a word about total withdrawal of American troops from Iraq — quite the opposite. Democratic elites do not want the people to know what they really think. On that ground, they fear they will lose.
I'm for gay civil marriage or gay civil unions, and I'm even for blessing some sort of gay union in the Church - and I'm a heterosexual practicing Catholic and registered Republican. Kerry opposes gay marriage but believes the issue belongs with the states. Most Democrats are further left than Kerry and side more with me, though I'm Republican. I'm also for gun control ever since Columbine.

I disagree with Kerry on abortion, but think it is a greater evil for the state to engage in unnecessary and unjust wars. Waging an unjust war involves using the power of the state to kill innocent people. This is not like permissive abortion laws. It is worse. It is like have mandatory abortion laws. Besides, Bush never claimed he wanted to make abortion illegal and nothing he has done or said he will do has stopped or will stop a single abortion.
3. Democrats must hide from the public what they truly think about evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Catholics. They express these thoughts mostly among themselves.
I am a practicing Roman Catholic. I have nothing to hide. I go to Mass several times a week. I pray morning and evening prayer of the divine office. I say the Rosary. I go to confession about once a month. I believe in the sacraments, the creeds, and the golden rule and ten commandments. I value family. I am a Republican.

Yet, I find the presidential behavior and policies of George Bush and the neoconservative cabinet to be the most immoral and dishonest I have ever seen in my entire life. Granted, I'm younger than Novak. However, on the issues I most strongly disagree with Bush, the Pope and the Bishops are actually on my side, and Novak is in dissent!
4. John Kerry looks sillier in the pale blue NASA rabbit suit than Michael Dukakis did in a tank.
And Bush looked silly in his jump suit declaring combat over while American troops are still dying.
5. The months of April, May, and June were so heavy with bad news for George Bush - the huge Sorosian expenditures on anti-Bush ads came at him in torrents - and still he held even with Kerry in the polls. It is hard not to believe that there will be at least a slight change in the roaring winds. When it comes (and the change is already underway), it is bound to push Bush's sails steadily ahead as the weeks roll on.
Huh? Is Novak serious? The Bush campaign has been the most negative campaign in political history.
6. The worst lies told by the Democrats about Bush - those of Joe Wilson, Michael Moore, and others, saying that Bush lied about Iraq - have already been proven wrong by the 9/11 Commission (which was supposed to blow Bush out of the water just before the election, but ended up destroying his worst calumniators). These lies were also proven wrong by the British inquiry. Even the Kerry Convention in Boston ended up taking the Bush strategic line in Iraq, except for one thing: Kerry is wistful about the probability of persuading France and Germany to bear some burden on behalf of liberty in Iraq. Good luck! God knows, Bush and Colin Powell tried.
Me thinks the neoconservative doth protest too much. Michael Moore is an entertainer. He's fun for liberals - in the way that Rush Limbauch is fun to conservatives. Neither should be taken too seriously, and neither should be completely ignored.

The bottom line is that we never should have gone to war with Iraq unless one of two things happened: either the United Nations authorized the use of force, or we were under an imminent attack. Neither of the these conditions were met, and we alienated our United Nations partners by acting unilaterally. And we were even wrong about the WMDs!

The only way for the United States to try to regain credibility is to remove Bush and ask our new leader to beg forgiveness and try to rebuild the relationships we once had with Germany and France (if not improve them beyond what we had). Anything less than this is immoral in my opinion, and anyone saying this who can beat the neoconservatives has my vote.
Finally, there is the matter of faith, even of the sort Tom Paine showed in 1776. Paine was no Christian, but he did believe that God had created this vast and splendid universe in order to share His friendship with free women and free men, and for this reason the Creator put freedom at the core of things. Tom Paine had no tolerance for the Bible, and less for Biblical fundamentalists, but he was not so much an atheist, he wrote, as to believe that the Almighty Who made the universe for liberty would allow the cause of people willing to die for it to come to naught. Paine couldn't bring himself to believe that God would favor George III.
I honesty cannot believe that God is on George Bush's side, and Kerry does not ask me to believe that God is on his side!
In that same spirit, I find it hard to believe that the Creator who gave us liberty will ignore President Bush's willingness to sacrifice his own presidency for the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq - their 50 million citizens, and perhaps their progeny for ages to come. A kind of cosmic justice (which does not always materialize, I recognize) calls for vindication. Especially when the president has been so unfairly calumniated by his foes, domestic and foreign.
The war in Afghanistan was probably just, but we haven't completed the job, and Bush is doing a poor job finishing it. The war in iraq was wrong. You cannot force democracy and liberty on people from the outside. Nor was liberating Iraq the reason for going to war in Iraq and the neoconservatives know this because they had the audacity to write it down all through the 1990's (see the post below on PNAC).
In accepting the nomination of his party Thursday night, John Kerry could not quite bring himself to give both the president and the volunteer military who performed so well some credit for this great and significant advance for human liberty. The theme of liberty in the Muslim world belongs to George Bush. It was he who named liberty the only real alternative to terrorism.
The Iraqi people are not yet free. I do honestly hope and pray for the best for them, and want a President who will try ot help in any way we can to make Iraq a free country. But you cannot have liberty without stability, and stability comes first. I believe we need help from our former allies in keeping the peace. Security and stability lay a groundwork for liberty, but if America is the only peace-keeper, we remain a foreign occupier hated by the various factions in Iraq and among its neighbors. We absolutely need help from the international community. There is no other way. I believe that the Iraqi people need to be given more freedom in making their own decisions than Bush has actually given them. In other words, I want to see more the humble America Bush promised in 2000, rather than the arrogant control and dominance we are exercising.
"With a firm reliance on Divine Providence," to cite our forebears once again, Bush has publicly held that one cannot fight terrorism merely by killing terrorists. One must provide an alternative of liberty, prosperity, and opportunity - one must labor to build free societies where they do not now exist. Liberty works. I think Bush will win because these are the truths Americans hold.
I actually agree with this rhetoric about offering an alternative, I just don't see a correlation between Bush' words and the Bush Administration's actions in this regards.
Bush believes these truths. At this moment, the Democrats (who used to believe them, nobly so) do not even see their relevance. Kerry spoke well about patriotism, the international leadership of America, and liberty - but he seems willfully blind to the relevance of these beautiful ideals to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terrorism. For such ideals and purposes some 900 young Americans of this generation have laid down their lives. They will be thanked by generations yet unborn.
Those 900 young Americans died for the highest ideals of America. Novak is right about that. However, the policy makers who sent them to Iraq with these ideals did not send them there for the reasons they were willing to die. The neoconservatives have been clear for over a decade that they wanted to gain control of the oil rich Persian Gulf in order to maintain Ameircan supremecy over the United Nations, the emerging European Union, and any other economic or military power that may come to rival the economic and military supremecy of the United States. Fighting for a position of supremecy and dominance is not the same thing as fighting for freedom. Our troops may be motivated by the highest ideals, but our President's decision makers have clearly stated that their motivation is power!
So will their commander-in-chief.
Yep. If the neconservatives make up the entire cabinet, the Commander and Cheif must be one of them.


John Kerry on Family Values

My fellow citizens, elections are about choices. And choices are about values. In the end, it's not just policies and programs that matter; the president who sits at that desk must be guided by principle.

For four years, we've heard a lot of talk about values. But values spoken without actions taken are just slogans. Values are not just words. They're what we live by. They're about the causes we champion and the people we fight for. And it is time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families.

You don't value families by kicking kids out of after school programs and taking cops off our streets, so that Enron can get another tax break.

We believe in the family value of caring for our children and protecting the neighborhoods where they walk and play.

And that is the choice in this election.

You don't value families by denying real prescription drug coverage to seniors, so big drug companies can get another windfall.

We believe in the family value expressed in one of the oldest Commandments: "Honor thy father and thy mother." As President, I will not privatize Social Security. I will not cut benefits. And together, we will make sure that senior citizens never have to cut their pills in half because they can't afford life-saving medicine.

And that is the choice in this election.

You don't value families if you force them to take up a collection to buy body armor for a son or daughter in the service, if you deny veterans health care, or if you tell middle class families to wait for a tax cut, so that the wealthiest among us can get even more.

We believe in the value of doing what's right for everyone in the American family.

And that is the choice in this election.

We believe that what matters most is not narrow appeals masquerading as values, but the shared values that show the true face of America. Not narrow appeals that divide us, but shared values that unite us. Family and faith. Hard work and responsibility. Opportunity for all – so that every child, every parent, every worker has an equal shot at living up to their God-given potential.
Masterfully said John!


Current Economic Growth Slows

The economy is growing about the same rates as the beginning of the 2001 recession.


Bush Camp Scrambles in Reaction to 9/11 Report

Knowing that the 9/11 report made some sensible recommendations to do things differently than Bush has already done, the Bush camp is scrambling to maintain the image of the party that can provide safety from terrorism.

The Democrats poised themselves well in the DNC as the party that can do national security better by pledging to rebuild alliances and international cooperation, implementing the 9/11 Commission recomendations, uniting America, and providing more troops, more special forces, upgraded equipment and better military benefits through roll backs on corporate welfare.


The Washington Post's 2004 Best Blogs - Politics and Elections Readers' Choice Awards

Nominate your favorite political blogs at the link above.


Is George Bush Really Pro-Life?

A quick surf through Catholic blogosphere revealed to me that there are still a few Catholics who reject everything John Kerry has to say for the sole reason that he is pro-choice. I disagree with John Kerry on abortion, but I have never believed that George Bush opposes abortion on demand. The article above was written by me on March 4, 2004, and I still hold to it.

George Bush is not an anti-abortion candidate and never claimed to be. In fact, he explicitly stated that he does not believe an embryo is human life, and that he would not use abortion as a litmus test for Supreme Court Justices, nor would he sign a Right to Life Amendment without a bunch of exclusions.

Bush is not pro-life and never claimed to be in the same sense that Christians usually mean the word. Rather, he has allowed the religious right to project their hopes on him knowing that the Democrats would never say anything to lead the religious right to hope otherwise. Hope will not stop abortions. Truth will!

I give Bush credit for good politics - he has the religious right duped. However, I will not give credit for being a pro-life candidate. He's not.


Thursday, July 29, 2004

John Kerry's Speech


What a speech! I take back everything I ever said about Kerry being aloof and unlikable. This guy was on fire, and delivered a message that needed to be heard. Up to now, I've said I haven't made up my mind whether to vote for him or a third party. At this moment, he has me.

There was so much gold in this speech that I hardly know where to start. In the context of many prior discussions, here is my favorite part at the moment:

And let me say it plainly: in that cause, and in this campaign, we welcome people of faith. America is not us and them. I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side. And whatever our faith, one belief should bind us all: The measure of our character is our willingness to give of ourselves for others and for our country.
I still feel a great deal of discomfort about the abortion issue, but I've never been convinced Bush is really against abortion, even in 2000. Furthermore, if the state kills people in an unjust war, this is morally equivalent to mandatory abortion, which is worse than permissive abortion laws. Nevertheless, this was the stumbling block between me and Kerry. He answered it for me in the bolded sentence.

I'm sick and tired of Bush and his supporters trying to convince me that if I am not supportive of the war in Iraq, God is not with me, because he's with them. That's crap and I know it, as do many believers. I don't know for sure what God is saying about people who vote for Kerry, but I do know this much: God is not on George Bush's side on most issues!

And Kerry's not asking me to believe that God is on his side. He's admitting that he may have some opinions that might be in error, but he's doing his best to follow his own conscience. He's simply asking me to do what Jesus asked me to do. Pray humbly that we are - that I am - on God's side.

Heavenly Father, I pray for your mercy and guidance as I prepare for the elections this November. May your will be done through my vote and the vote of the American people. I humbly pray in Jesus' name!


And Amen to Kerry's speech!


Who Was "The Project for the New American Century" (PNAC)?

A reader recently asserted in my comments that it is pure conspiracy theory to believe that the Bush Administration had motives for war with Iraq that were not tied to the events of 9/11, Iraq's possible possession of WMDs, ties to terrorists or Saddam's brutal legacy.

The link above is to "The Project for the New American Century" or PNAC. This is their own site - currently waving the Bush-Cheney banner proudly at the top.

Members of this think tank that formed in 1997 included Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush, Richard Perle, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, William Bennett and many other neoconservatives. The "ideological father" is said to be Wolfowitz, who - according to their own site - wrote the a Defense Planning Guide in 1992 that formed the basis of the group's thinking:

This draft called for the United States to use its unmatched military power to prohibit any other nation in the world from rivaling the power of the United States, the only remaining superpower after the fall of the Soviet Union, and to safeguard "access to vital raw material, primarily Persian Gulf oil." This recommendation included military intervention in Iraq to safeguard this "raw material." This document was not intended for public view and after it was leaked to the New York Times it caused alarm among U.S. allies and Congress. It was later revised.

"The U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests. In non-defense areas, we must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order. We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."

- From the 1992 Draft Defense Planning Guidance
The phrase in bold is my addition, but the italics are on PNAC's own site. Think hard even about what the re-worked draft really says. PNAC is claiming that the U.S. must position itself as sole superpower militarily and economically. Even our allies need to be incented to stay in place - or dissincented from trying to grow to our level.

Look at what they have said of the United Nations (and this quote was there prior to Powell's speech to the U.N. before the war began):
Keep all peacekeeping and rebuilding missions within the power of American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations.
This a group that has consistently fought for over ten years to dominate the globe.

Why wouldn't the rest of the world hate us with people like this running the country?

How can we be safe from attacks of terrorists and others when we antogonize the entire global community by explicitly trying to dominate the planet?

I think they've removed some of their older work since I first came across this site, but a few things are still clear.

1) The war with Iraq was planned well before Bush took office. They even tried to convince Clinton to do it in 1998. Their letter to him is still there, and they're probably proud of it.

2) The permanent precense of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf (not temporary - but permanent) is the goal of this group. Oil is a large motivation for this, which they do not deny. They simply make you dig to get to the point by overwhelming you with other details as you try to read through documents up to 90 pages long.

3) This group believed that the United Nations and the emerging European Union posed a threat to U.S. supremecy - not to the safety of our citizens, but to our position of being the sole superpower. Even if this is true, what moral right does the U.S. have to try to assert power over these two organizations, whether economic or military?

Is it any wonder the French and Germans tried to stop us - especially considering that we now have gained control of the geography that supplies their own oil?

Take into further consideration the positioning of Halliburton by CEO Dick Cheney for a non-compete bid to work in Iraq. Halliburton also does business in the terrorist state of Iran. Consider Bush ties to the Carlysle Group, and their ties to the Bin Laden family.

This is not mere wild "conspiracy theory". These guys have written down what they intended to do long before most Americans knew who Osama Bin Laden was.

And I passionately disagree with their ideological position and have since before Bush took office. I believed Bush when he said that he wanted a humbler America less involved in foreign affairs. I did not know who PNAC was before he got elected, and did know his family's invlovement in it. Had I known, I would not have voted for him in 2000. He blatantly lied when he promised a humble America less involved in foreign affairs, and the evidence is right her at PNAC's own site!

PNAC wanted a stronger America capable of carrying multiple large scale wars simultaneously if necessary to maintain U.S. supremecy against any and all competitors, good or bad.

After the First Gulf War, I slowly came to the position that American power needed to become subsumed in a reformed and more effective United Nations. Just as the fifty states once thought of themselves almost as separate nations prior to the civil war, the United States needed to give up its nationalism and help build a more perfect union in the United Nations.

I believed long before 9/11 that the emerging European Union was a good thing, and looked forward to the day when it would be our equal economically and militarily - when the U.S. could stop being the major and often sole supplier of troops to places like Kosovo and Somalia.

What PNAC sought is the following:
"Fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars" as a "core mission." (see homepage at link at top)
What's next? Iran and North Korea? China? Russia? Maybe even France and Germany?

I came to believe what Bush actually said while running, but apperantly never meant. He duped me once, but he will not dupe me again. We need a humble America that realizes its interdependence with others and builds alliances through international institutions. We can have strength within our borders to defend against an attack or imminent threat in progress, but we don't need to be sending troops all over the planet unnecessarily to preserve prominence. If we want to help others, we could use non-violent means as a first resort, and only use military force in conjunction with the international community as an absolute last resort. This is what I wanted in the year 2000. This is what I voted for when I heard Bush saying we would be a humble America.

But no. PNAC had decided to darn near destroy the authority of the United Nations, and looked at the European Union not as an asset and potential ally, but a threat. PNAC recognized that in today's world, the group that controls the oil controls everything - including the wealth.

Don't get me wrong. PNAC did seem to believe that Iraq probably possessed WMDs and that Saddam was a brutal dictator with possible ties to terrorism, and they were concerned about that. However, it was not their major concern. In the year 2000 (before 9/11) they wrote the following:
In the Persian Gulf region, the presence of American forces, along with the British and French units, has become a semi-permanent fact of life. Though the immediate mission of these forces is to enforce no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, they represent a long-term commitment of the United States and its major allies to a region of vital importance. Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in the Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein. (p. 14, Rebuilding America's Defenses. (PNAC paper) emphasis in bold mine)
They clearly did not care as much about Hussein as other issues of power and wealth.

As far as I'm concerned this is diabolic thinking.

If you can read through the PNAC stuff and come to the consclusion that these guys are "right" and their position is "moral" than you need to seriously study some Church teaching and pray about this. In my mind, this is far more serious than whether a married couple contracepts or a person believes in women priests, or a person tolerates gays. None of these other issues of disagreement with Church teaching directly kills people.

People are dying in Iraq, and if you think like PNAC, you are assuming moral culpability for that by agreeing with them. I know supporters of Bush will try to say, "But Kerry's for abortion, and that's murder".

Two points. First, Bush has explicitly said that embryos are only "potential human life". He has no intention of making abortion illegal and never said he would. He may have only cut federal spending on it to offset some of tax cuts to the rich. Second, it is a greater evil for the state to actively kill people with its own authority for the purpose of global dominance than it is for the state to fail to act to protect all persons. I strongly disagree with Kerry on abortion, but I more strongly disagree with everything PNAC believes!

The Church has explicitly stated that they are wrong on every point. The Pope has said unilateralism is wrong. Ratzinger has said that pre-emption is not in the Catechism. The USCCB challenged Bush on Iraq on every single criteria of just war in a single paragraph of their letter to him. On every count, the authority of the Church has spoken out against every fundamental assumption PNAC holds.


What Does Fiscal Conservatism Mean to Me?

To me, being a political fiscal conservative means that you would favor a balanced federal budget, and that you would not try to balance the budget in such a way as to cripple economic growth.

More specifically, you will not reduce tax revenue below necessary government expense, nor will you increase taxes to cover expense to the point where business owners are forced to lay-off workers just to pay taxes.

If the government operates on a defecit, it should either cut expenses, or raise taxes. Before raising taxes, I think it is fair and just to look at government spending and attempt to reign in unplanned new expenses, cut out any waste, inefficiency, or ineffective or unnecessary programs.

Why am I even bothering to write what the term means to me?

Because many people who call themselves fiscal conservatives support George W. Bush. Yet, the Bush Administration is currently running the government with a half trillion dollar defecit.

Before raising taxes, I think its fair to ask if there is any way for the government to cut expense. However, it sure as heck seems that there isn't.

Expenses have been drastically cut by the Administration, and people have suffered from the cuts. The number of people living below poverty level is higher than when Bush entered office, and they aren't getting the assistance they would have in the past. Education is not getting the funding that even Bush promised. Some kids are going without lunch. The aid Bush promised to Africa for AIDs isn't getting there. Worst of all, our troops are not getting the support they need.

Is this all because of beaucratic waste? If so, Bush is incompetent at getting government to operate efficiently. More likely, his tax cuts went too deep.

The Democrats promise this can rectified on a balanced budget with an increase for the top two percent income brackets. Howard Dean did it in his state. Kerry has argued it for years, even when the idea of balanced budgets weren't popular with Democrats. And Clinton gave us the only budget surplus in over 30 years, and he did it while economic growth reached unprecedented levels. the Republicans have never produced a balanced budget since Ike.

If you define yourself as a fiscal conservative, and you mean the same thing by it that I do, I'd say the Democrats are the party with the most recent demonstrated capability of doing it, and Kerry's consistency on this issue before it was popular among Democrats only gives us more reason to trust that he means it.

I'm not saying anyone needs to vote for Kerry. I'm not even absolutely sure I'll vote for him (I'm still very troubled by his abortion stance). However, I will say that moral issues aside, if you are a fiscal conservative, I don't see how the Bush team meets the definition. Maybe I'm not defining the term the way Bush supporters do?


Email From Blogger

I received the following email from the blogger at the link above regarding my take on the Moore and O'Reilly debate. I am posting this with Jack's permission to use his name:

My take on the O'Reilly/Moore debate or the larger "Bush lied, our soldiers died" idea is that the "lying" is of the kind that happens to propagandize all wars. Warmongers always seize on a kernel of truth and exaggerate it to stimulate the fears of the people whose support is needed to prosecute the war. It's clear to me that the neocon faction within the administration was lusting to invade Iraq since the early 90s, and they seized on 9/11 as a pretext to justify such an invasion to the nation.

I can believe that they really believed that there were WMD, but that doesn't mean that the WMD were the real reason they went in. I don't believe they ever expected it to backfire on them the way it did. I think they were truly surprised when they were unable to find them. But that doesn't mean that they were honest about their true motives for invading Iraq. That's where the real lie lies. They never intended to honestly expose their deeper reasons for the invasion, which are far more complex, and, I believe, sinister. And so the irony is that the story that they depended on to give them cover was stripped away to expose them to the ridicule that they are now having to endure. Maybe there's a little bit of grace at work here as well.

So I think it's stupid for people like Moore to insist that Bush and his cronies lied about WMD; it's too easy to refute that. The real story is the masterful manipulation of the fears of Americans after 9/11. The president could have convinced an hysterical American nation to invade Canada if he came up with even the most remotely plausible pretext for doing so. But the imperial ambitions of the neocons led them to set their sites on Iraq, and so now there we are with this mess on our hands. That's where the criminality lies, not in dishonesty about the WMD.
Good points Jack.


John Edwards Address to the DNC

If you were watching, Edwards was fantastic. Even if you disagree with his politics, he put on an energizing performance, helped us get to know him a little better, and offered a clear vision and some specifics about what he and Kerry represent.

If you've been watching the DNC at all, it is very clear that the prime time speakers are grabbing the center of the political spectrum, and refusing to carry an extreme leftist position, and refusing to cater to the polarization of America.

Every speaker is talking about one America, where hard work and family values are important, and where we all participate in shared responsibilities to one another. Kerry and Edwards seek to position themselves as the candidates who can rebuild our international relationships, strengthen our troops, win the war on terror and do it all while providing better and wider health care, more jobs, better education and a balanced budget.

How are they going to pay for all of this?

Edwards answers as follows:

Well, let me tell you how we're going to pay for it. And I want to be very clear about this. We are going to keep and protect the tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans -- 98 percent. We're going to roll back -- we're going to roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. And we're going to close corporate loopholes.
Is there enough money in the top two percent income brackets and corporate taxes to cover all of this?

I did some math awhile back here. Since I originally posted this, Tom, over at Disputations advised me that he thinks my numbers needed to be divided by about four, since the income levels represent houosehold incomes, rather than individual people. He's probably correct. So here is the re-worked math:

The top one percent income bracket in the United States at the time Bush' tax cuts took effect in 2001 brought in an average of $1,028,000 per household. The population at that time was 290,342,554. Assuming an average household has four members, the top one percent represents 725,856 households. Every percent of taxes on this group adds up to about $7,461,803,638 nationwide, and about $10,280 per household.

After Bush' tax cuts, these folks still pay the highest percent taxes of 41.7 percent on average. However, in order to bring their take hom pay below the take home pay of the next four percent income bracket, we would have to tax them at 87.3 percent.

In other words, we're a very long way from taking enough wealth from these folks to effect their status on the social ladder or their ability to create more wealth with what they keep after taxes. For each percent we increase the taxes of just the top the one percent, we are generating roughly $7 billion, and we have 45.6 percentage points to play with before it hurts the wealthy so badly that they move down the social ladder.

I don't have the figures for the next one percent income bracket (and Edwards claims he wants to hit that group as well). I assume this next group would have a somewhat higher number of households, and the same sort of general principles would apply. Furthermore, these groups were paying much higher taxes under Clinton and the economy was doing just fine. The rich were still able to create jobs.

Some of the rich do not want you to do the math or gain accurate information. Some of them prefer to keep increasing their own personal wealth even if people literally starve and even if we have to invade another nation to generate new business opportunities. These people are happy with Bush cutting federal spending on abortion because it saves them taxes, but they don't give a hoot about making abortion illegal. Indeed, if a Right to Life Amendement ever got off the ground, some of them would fight it. These people want the poor to pay higher taxes to offset savings they could gain - which is what a flat tax would do.

Where many American people get confused when they hear Democrats talk about taxing the rich is that they tend to assume that being rich means the same thing as being upper middle class.

For the most part, the top two percent of the wealthiest people in the country can not be defined as middle class by any stretch of the imagination. These are not even most small business owners. These are people with obscene wealth - many of whom are chosing to support the Democrats because they know its the right thing to do, but others continue to look after their own self-interest.

Over eighty percent of this country's wealth is concentrated entirely in the hands of this two percent - and these people are millionaires and billionaires. Many of these people are the same people who have accumulated and ammassed obscene amounts of wealth by laying off your brother or sister, freezing your wages, benefiting from the war, and comitting accounting fraud while gaining astronomical margins on their investments. Many of these people back the Republican party out of self interest rather than an ideological belief in supply side economics.

There are many issues to consider in this election, such as the rightness of the war and abortion. Yet, I honestly have come to believe that very wealthy people in this country (and Cheney is one of them) are spreading lies and disinformation to confuse people about what they are really doing. The old saying is more true today than ever. Under the Republicans of the Bush Administration, the rich will get richer while the poor get poorer.

Let us remember that John Kerry and John Edwards (and Bill Clinton or any wealthy Democrat) are in this top two percent. They've seen the federal budget. Even if my math is off a bit, their own interest are not served by saying they plan to tax the top percent unless it is true that they know a better America can be built by doing so!


Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Debate Between Bill O'Reilly and Michael Moore

I think Moore blows it on the question of whether the President lied or not about Iraq's WMDs, but otherwise, I thought he argued well with O'Reilly. O'Reilly's argument is that we all know that Iraq did not have WMDs now, but Bush wasn't lying if he was simply mistaken.

My own response to O'Reilley is he started with a question to me about whether Bush lied about our motives for war would be what I have said all along: he either lied, or he is an idiot.

O'Reilly makes a big deal out of the fact that Putin and Blaire also believed that Iraq had WMDs, but the bottom line is that the evidence presented by Powell at the U.N. comprises the entirety of evidence that Bush, Putin and Blair all had combined. That evidence was extremely weak.

I was not convinced by it, and neither was most of the global community. Even many conservatives at the time admitted the evidence was weak, but they thought Bush had more evidence that could not be revealed for security reasons. Bush did nothing to dispel this assumption. He also did nothing to dispel a widespread misunderstanding among the American populace that Iraq was somehow connected to 9/11 (they weren't).

Why did the President, Putin and Blair not see how flimsy the evidence was? T

he reason seems to be that they simply assumed Iraq had WMDs before looking at any evidence, and they seem to have pressured organizations like the CIA and MI-6 to produce the evidence that would support their "plausible conjecture". In other words, the decision to go to war with Iraq was made prior to looking at any evidence - and evidence was actively sought out to justify (rationalize) a decision that was already made.

This practice of finding rationalization for decisions already made is intellectually dishonest if done knowingly, and idiotic if done unknowingly.

If Bush did not lie (or deliberately withhold truth, imply there was more to his case than he had, or otherwise deliberately act in order to obscure the weakness of his case for WMDs in Iraq), than he is an idiot unfit for the office of the Presidency.

These are the only two options we have with the evidence he made Powell present. If he was deliberate in his deception of leading people to believe there was more, he's a liar. If he found the evidence Powell presented to be incontrovertible evidence of WMDs with no further evidence, he's an idiot.

I'll repeat what I stated yesterday regarding just war doctrine. Plausible conjecture is not sufficient cause to go to war. One needs hard evidence, even if that means waiting until attacked. This is the very meaning of the most fundamental principle of just war - that wars of aggression are unjust by definition.


Ya Gotta Luv This Quote From Elena

I remain even more secure in the knowledge that the so called "men" making the "arbitrary decisions" in the future are more likely to come from orthodox Catholic homes than in liberal ones. It's a matter of mathematics. If Liberal Catholics have embraced a culture of elective sterility, (contraception, same sex unions, some even support abortion etc.) it's only logical that they will have fewer offspring to carry on their liberal causes. Catholics practicing their faith, open to new life will just logically have more children, and raising them with solid Cathoilc teaching, will produce the next generation of church leaders.
Of course, those who think like Elena wind up hoping and encouraging all their children to chose what she likely believes is the highest calling, which is celibacy.

If she doesn't, her idea of priesthood will die out, and if she does, she won't have grand-children. Trouble is, which of her kids has the calling? To play it safe, she'll need to make sure all of them are seriously considering it. It's a matter of mathematics, orthodoxy has to die out with so many of them becoming priests and nuns.

I wonder what will happen when Elena's children face the adult world and find themselves unprepared from the inevitable questions that they will face. What will happen when they face a question they can't answer because they were never exposed to the possibility that there is another way to look at the issue?

I can't possibly predict the future with any accuracy, but I suspect that they will be thrown into doubt and eventually rebel against the way their faith has been presented to them with a ferocity she can't imagine.

If that happens, will they find their way back to the Church?

I received an email from a woman a few weeks back saying that my own recent pieces on the strengths and weaknesses of Humanae Vitae as an illustration of the notion of "advancing progressive views" made her consider returning to the Church for the first time years. I pray she gives us another shot.

Maybe someone like myself will have to bring Elena's children back to the Church by saying something to the effect of "Maybe you're mom didn't really present the full truth of Catholicism to you entirely and accurately. You're confusing infallible teaching and non-infallible teaching, and misunderstanding the meaning of obedience as intended by the Vatican, itself. There is room for a multiplicity of ways of understanding this issue even among conservatives or the so-called orthodox. There is even room for legitimate dissent on this particular issue causing you so much doubt and anger. You don't have to leave the Church over this."

And the idea that so-called liberals aren't having children isn't always true either. As I've said many times, my wife and I don't practice either artificial contraception nor natural family planning. We want kids - preferably many of them. And we're both pro-life liberals who simply do not believe that couples who chose differently than us are necessarily living in sin, going to hell, or acting as second-class Catholics.

How will our kids fare?

I hope and pray that they will face the world with a broader understanding of what it might mean to be Catholic, and a greater capacity to accept different views without feeling their very faith is threatened.


A Quick Plug For Barack Obama

This guy was fantastic last night, and the pundits were saying he could be our first black president in a few more years. Here are some excerpts from the speech (full transcript is available above):

..., The people I meet in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks, they don't expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead and they want to. Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don't want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or the Pentagon. Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice,....

..., John Kerry believes in an America where hard work is rewarded. So instead of offering tax breaks to companies shipping jobs overseas, he'll offer them to companies creating jobs here at home. John Kerry believes in an America where all Americans can afford the same health coverage our politicians in Washington have for themselves. John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren't held hostage to the profits of oil companies or the sabotage of foreign oil fields. John Kerry believes in the constitutional freedoms that have made our country the envy of the world, and he will never sacrifice our basic liberties nor use faith as a wedge to divide us. And John Kerry believes that in a dangerous world, war must be an option, but it should never he the first option,....

..., Now let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued and they must be defeated. John Kerry knows this. And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure. John Kerry believes in America. And he knows it's not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga.

A belief that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief — I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper — that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America — there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America,....
Read the whole speech, or better yet, download the Real Player version.


The End of Marriage in Scandinavia by Stanley Kurtz

For the second or third time, Elena has posted a link in my comments to the above article. I thought that Nick and Mike and some other readers already adequately addressed the flaws in Kurtz' reasoning, but since Elena re-posted the link, I'm digging the issue back up and out into the open here.

I thought about doing a paragraph by paragraph analysis, but the printer friendly version of the article is 11 pages long, and frankly, I don't have the energy. So, I'll just go right to the fundamental flaws in reasoning, offer my own hypothesis to explain the facts, and trust that readers can go to the link above and look at the article in light of what I say to see if I am offering a better hypothesis.

Kurtz is writing in reaction to authors such as Andrew Sullivan and William Eskridge Jr. What Sullivan and Eskridge originally wrote is that the statistics demonstrate that Scandinavian marriages were on the decline with more and more people cohabitating without marrying, and/or getting divorced. Then after gay marriage legislation passed, the numbers of people cohabitating and/or divorcing declined and traditional marriages improved.

Kurtz does adequately explain why gay marriage is probably not a critical factor in improving tradional marriage numbers. He offers a far more plausible explanation that has to do with the demographics of age. People in the Scandinavian society seem to enter into more stable marriages upon the birth of a second child, so that the initial decline took an upward swing as second children were born and couples grew more mature. I have no quarrel with Kurtz on this portion of his analysis. He adequately throws Sullivan's and Eskridge's theory that gay marriage helps heterosexual marriage into question.

However, from that point on, Kurtz follows a flawed line of reasoning. Since he has shown that gay marriage does not improve heterosexual marriage statistics, he swings in the other direction of assuming they must hurt traditional heterosexual marriage.

Of course, he has absolutely no empirical evidence for this, since we already know from the prior discussion that traditional marriages did not decline in number after gay marriage became legal. They improved!

Furthermore, the logic of cause and effect simply isn't there. It does not follow that if gay marriages do not help traditional marriage, they must hurt it. It is entirely possible that gay marriage has absolutely no effect one way or the other on traditional marriage. Indeed, after accounting for Kurtz' analysis the statistics seem to bear this out empirically.

Knowing that he has no empirical statistical evidence to back up his argument, Kurtz spends nearly 9 of the 11 pages trying to argue his case by outlining a history of ideological debate and implying in rather simplistic fashion that the traditionalists side of the debate must be correct or marriage would not be in decline overall. The traditionalist argument has at its core that marriage and procreation must not be separated.

The problem is that Kurtz' analysis does not really answer why Scandinavians came to separate marriage and procreation. Furthermore, Kurtz analysis demonstrates almost conclusively that gay marriage can not be considered a cause of this separation. At worst, it is a symptom. We know it's not the cause because the decline in traditional marriage began some twenty years prior to any public debate about gay marriage in Scandinavia!

Of course, Kurtz alludes to contraception and abortion in the 1960's as the fundamental turning point in Scandinavian culture, and I'm sure Elena would agree that these two issues contribute to a moral breakdown in society. I would even agree with her that abortion is immoral, and a society that allows abortion is a society in moral jeopardy.

However, the flaw with Kurtz' analysis still lies in his own statistics and anecdotes. The couples who cohabitate and/or divorce are having children! The issue is not that contraception and abortion cause a separation of marriage and procreation. If this were the case, we'd see a rise in childless heterosexual marriage corresponding to a decline in marraiges with children. Rather, like gay marriage, the worst we can say is that they are symptoms.

So, what does cause this break-down in traditional marriages?

I don't think it is a wide-spread mistaken ideology as the defenders of orthodoxy seem to believe. People do not make decisions to marry or not marry based on ideology - whether that ideology is theological or political. People make decisions about marriage based on far more practical and mundane circumstances.

My own theory, which I believe adequately explains all the statistics, is that the break down in marriage is due to the shift in society from single income households to an almost necessary dual income household. This has its roots in feminism, but in saying this, I am not saying that the feminist insights were all wrong.

When women sought to enter the workforce and achieve equality with men, true equality would have demanded that a woman's pay, like a man in the 1950's, would be capable of sustaining a family. Furthermore, with women at work, the household chores that were once done by stay-at-home moms should have become equally shared, meaning that both men and women would need to work less hours individually. The decrease in individual work hours would not effect productivity, since there would be twice as many workers.

Instead, what has happened is that business initially paid women smaller wages, and as the outcry for equity became louder, rises in male income were slowed as women approach equity (and they're still not fully there). Meanwhile, nobody received reduced hours. Now we are locked into an economy where both a man and a woman must work to support a family. The corporations benefited from this arrangement that permitted what effectively became cutting overall compensation costs per hour in half over 40 years after adjusting for inflation.

Meanwhile, in a separate vein, many democratic nations, including the United States, took on the project of building "great societies". Part of this project involved building safety nets for the poor, which often included single parents. In order to support this, working married couples were taxed higher. Thus, it became just as easy or easier to be a single parent as it is to be married. Furthermore, with married couples spending less time together because both spouses work, it became harder for even the most well meaning couples to nourish the emotional aspects of marriage.

So what is the solution?

I'd say it's unrealistic and even undesirable that we, as a society, would decide to return to the 1950's where all women were expected to stay at home. It would be sexist and wrong to demand this of women, or even of men who might wish to be stay at home dads.

The answer lies in consciously structuring a society where every single worker is paid what the Holy Father calls "a living wage" - a wage great enough to support a family by itself. Furthermore, work hours have to be reduced. Men should get paternity leave just as surely as women get maternity leave, and men should be forced to take it. Taxes on working married couples should be reduced to the point where it is not cheaper to live as a single parent (it could be as cheap, but not cheaper). Social services to the poor ought to be opened to more married couples who fall below certain household income levels, even if both spouses are working. Health care ought to be available to everyone so that parents can feel less stress to need dual incomes.

Who will pay for all of this?

During the entire time of this massive social change, corporations and the wealthy have benefited enormously from the entry of women in the work-force and the reduction of wages to the point where a single worker can no longer support a family. The gap between rich and poor during this entire period has grown by factors of around 20 times. Massive wealth has accumulated in the top two percent of the social ladder, and these people have benefited enormously from the break-down of traditional marriage.

It seems to me that the changes we as a society need to make to save marriage cannot done except with graduated progressive taxes that restore equity and save marriage.

It also seems to me that the outcry against this comes only from those who are the upper income brackets. In other words, we as a society should not pay attention to the arguments from any single person bringing in a six figure annual salary or more. These are the people destroying marriage - not gays and lesbians. Gay marriage is at worst a symptom of the larger problem, and at best a legitimate development in our understanding of the inherent value of committed love.


A Business Case for the Fairness of Graduated-Progressive Taxes

I have been thinking about an issue raised by a few of my more conservative readers about the "fairness" of graduated progressive tax schemes. The readers seem to think that flat tax rates or elimination of income tax in favor of higher sales taxes are more fair, and the readers believe that the government double dips by taxing inheritances or taxing corporations and capital gains.

I tried in the past to argue from Church teaching that fairness needs to be redefined, but it occurred to me this morning that there is another way to look at this that demonstrates that graduated progressive taxes are "fair" in the sense that business uses the term. Assuming my more conservative readers are pro-business and pro-capitalism, this line of reasoning may make more sense to them. Let me know what you think.

I am the oldest of nine children. Many people asked my mom and dad as I was growing up how they could afford to raise nine children on a single middle class income. My mom always responded that it was actually cheaper overall to buy groceries in bulk than to buy the smaller quantities used by smaller families.

We all know that leveraged cost across high volume can lead to reduced costs. This is common business sense.

I work in information technology. The particular system I work with is used by multiple clients asking us to process the same type of transactions. Rather than charging a flat fee or hourly system hour fee, we charge for each transaction processed. Since our clients charge their customers for the transaction, we bill a percentage of their fee on each transaction. For our smaller clients who sell less transactions, we charge a higher percentage - and we tell them this openly.

The idea is that if they invest a little bit in selling more transactions, we can reduce the per transaction fee and still generate more revenue based on volume. In turn, the client will also collect more revenue per transaction and benefit from the increased volume in two ways: more sales generating more revenue for them and simultaneously at a lower cost to them. It's a win-win for our clients and for us.

Furthermore, this is "fair" because if we built a system for the smaller client alone, the cost and effort on our part are the same whether we build a system capable of processing 50,000 transactions or 100,000 transactions. But rather than charging the 100,000 transaction customer the same as we would bill a 50,000 transaction client, we are recognizing that we can cut our cost to the client as they maximize the use of our system.

In reality, a single client processing the highest volumes possible at the lowest per transaction cost may be able to generate enough profit to carry all the others.

However, it is absolutely fair to bill the smallest client processing the lowest volumes at the highest per transaction cost a percentage that would allow us to make a profit if they were the only client. This is just good business sense. We can't rely on any one single client to carry all the others, since any one client may opt to go elsewhere when the contract term ends.

Now think of government like a business. The government provides services to the people of America. In turn, these people pay the government for services rendered through taxes. These services include a wide array of material goods such as roads, power grids, water, military and police protection, education grants, health care and so forth.

People use these services to pursue the American dream of a better life.

The wealthy are using more of the services than the poor, though the poor may receive some benefits more directly while the rich tap into the wider infrastructure at a greater level than the poor. When the wealthy build a high rise office complex, that building will need paved access roads, water, electricity, communications and so forth. The entity that owns that building is using more government resources than a single mother who is simply asking the government to help provide her child a lunch at school.

Think of each income bracket as a unique client. The highest income bracket at a per person basis is leveraging more of the federal and state government resources than the per person use of the lowest income brackets. Furthermore, the highest bracket represents far fewer persons than the lower brackets - fewer raw transactions with a greater drain on resources.

Thus, if we are to treat each income bracket as a unique customer, graduated progressive taxes merely is the government's way of saying that until you increase your volumes (increase the number of people in your bracket), we have to charge you a higher rate. Meanwhile, we are able to charge the lower income bracket a lower rate because they have higher volumes. The poor are buying government services in bulk, and this is perfectly fair.


When the Subject is Life, What's a Catholic to Do? By Nina Butorac

This was emailed to me last night from a reader wondering if I agreed with it. I agree 100 percent. This is an excellent commentary in the SeattlePI by a pro-life Catholic Democrat and Eucharistic minister on how Catholics can and probably should think about abortion in this particular election.


More Corporate Scandal

U.S. Foodservice, the nation's second largest food distributor, revealed accounting fraud in 2003. Two of the top former executives were charged by a federal grand jury yesterday.


Cool Blog: "After the Future"

This link was emailed to me last night by a regular reader. I think this guy and I would think a lot alike on many issues. It's worth a look.


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

A Prayer After 9/11

The Friday morning after 9/11/2001, one of the canticles of morning prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours was taken from Jeremiah 14:17-22.

This same canticle was the first reading at Mass today. Maybe with the tributes to 9/11 at last night's Democratic National Convention, I recalled how I adopted this prayer on that Friday in September of 2001 as I prayed with friends.

Let my eyes stream with tears
day and night, without rest,
Over the great destruction which overwhelms
the virgin daughter of my people,
over her incurable wound.
If I walk out into the financial district,
Look! those slain by the plane;
If I enter the inner-city,
Look! those consumed by hunger.
Even the prophet and the priest
forage in a land they know not.

Have you cast America off completely?
Is New York loathsome to you?
Why have you struck us a blow
that cannot be healed?

We wait for peace, to no avail;
for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.

We recognize, O LORD, our wickedness,
the guilt of our ancestors;
that we have sinned against you.
For your name's sake spurn us not,
disgrace not the throne of your glory;
remember your covenant with us, and break it not.

Among the idols of the world is there any that gives rain?
Or can the mere heavens send showers?
Is it not you alone, O LORD,
our God, to whom we look?
You alone have done all these things.


The Moral Issues in this Election

I've been slow blogging today because real life outside of cyberspace threw a few curveballs my way today.

I don't think I would be the only Catholic blogger to say that the big moral issues in Catholic minds are as follows, though we may order them differently depending on the person:

1) abortion
2) the war in Iraq
3) the war on terror in general
4) the economy
5) care for the poor
6) gay marriage

On abortion:

On the abortion issue, I am pro-life. It seems I've picked up a couple of new readers, so let me reiterate that I oppose abortion on demand. I have stated this repeatedly and created articles on my homepage that strongly argue the pro-life case. In saying this, I do mean that I want abortion made illegal in every case except the principle of double effect.

Likewise, I consider abortion to be what Crisis editor, Hudson Deal, calls a "dominant issue". In other words, I don't like it when liberals try to excuse pro-choice politicians by effectively saying "But he cares so much about the poor", and I do not believe that the individual Catholic voter should hold an attitude of "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but..." We're talking about murder here, and if you personally oppose murder, you're going to want to see it illegal.

Nor should one try to pit the death penalty against abortion. Rather, we should have a consistent ethic of life, and consider abortion the more dominant issue since it takes the life of the innocent and is always inherently evil, while the death penalty is not inherently evil in all circumstances, but is instead evil in comparison to other available options. I oppose the death penalty (which Bush favors), but I do not pit this issue against abortion as though it is of equal importance.

As a hint to my pro-life conviction, I have stated publicly here that despite hosting a "progressive blog", I am a registered Republican who voted for Bush in 2000, and Dole in 1996, and Bush Sr. in 1992, and 1988 and Reagan in my first legal vote in 1984. I would consider changing parties if the Democrats would make more room for pro-lifers.

Yet, I have stated that Kerry should not be denied Communion based on his public voting record, and that while abortion is a "dominant issue", it should not be the dominant issue in this particular election.

As I look back, I think I may have been mistaken with single issue voting for Bush Sr. and Reagan as well. Abortion is not always the most "dominant issue" and it took George W. Bush to show me the fallacy of single issue voting.

Let me try to clarify these last points simply.

Saying we should not deny Kerry Communion based on his public vote does not mean we need to vote for Kerry. Rather, it means that as a matter of pastoral theology, it is not possible to judge the state of the soul of a person based on their public vote as an elected official in a representative democracy.

In a representative democracy, a representative must represent his constituents in cases where he may privately disagree with them. Furthermore, in the world of politics, it is sometimes necessary for a politician to make compromises in order to further the common good. Kerry has never denied the doctrine of the Church, and his public vote cannot be used to judge the inner state of his soul.

In saying that I have come to see that considering abortion a "dominant issue" does not mean we can vote based on a single issue, I am considering the next issue as another "dominant issue": the war in Iraq.

The war in Iraq:

If a nation waged an unjust war of aggression against another nation, this could be considered more important - or more "dominant" - than permissive abortion laws.

The reason is that when the state allows permissive abortion laws, the state is not actually performing murder. Rather, the state is failing to act in a case where it should act.

On the other hand, when a state engages in an unjust war, the state is not merely failing to act. The state is the entity doing the injustice, and the injustice is murdering innocent people.

To clarify, an unjust war is comparable to a state forcing women to have abortions as a means of population control, which is worse than merely permitting abortion.

In 1991, during the First Gulf War, I did not really take the time to understand why we went to war with Iraq. I was in the seminary at the time, and everyone around me was opposed to the war, but there were a few Bishops who favored the war, such as John O'Conner. The Vatican was silent. We had U.N. support, and the whole thing ended so quickly, I didn't have time to explore whether that war was a just war or not. In hindsight, I'm not sure the First Gulf War was a just war either, but that is not the issue in this election.

I have come to believe in a notion called active non-violence resistance to evil, which was practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, and the Solidarity movement in Poland. Yet, even as I believe this is a better path, I do not condemn anyone who chooses to fight in a truly just war as defined by the Church. But the war in Iraq does not meet those criteria - not by a long shot.

The very first premise of a just war is that one must have just cause, and the Church has consistently taught through the centuries that this de facto means that all wars of aggression are wrong. Indeed, the entire section in the current section of the Catechism (par 2309) takes this so much for granted, that rather than stating it as a separate principle, it is simply assumed by the repeated use of the word defense in reference to just cause.

The problem with the war in Iraq, which I recognized before this war began, is that Iraq had not attacked us as a state. It had not declared war on us. It claimed no ties to the events of 9/11 and no ties to al Qaeda. Iraq appeared to be contained and posed no threat to the United States.

I took the stance prior to the beginning of this war that war with Iraq could only called "just" if it met one of three criteria:

1) Compelling evidence were presented that clearly implicated Iraq was involved in the 9/11 plots. While I do not believe retaliation is a reason to go to war, if Iraq were clearly shown to be involved in 9/11, it would be the equivalent of law enforcement to use military power to bring those responsible to justice. The minimum force necessary should be used in this instance to apprehend the responsible parties with as little collateral damage as possible.

2) Compelling evidence was presented that Iraq was planning an immanent attack of a similar nature to 9/11. Even if they were not directly involved in 9/11, an imminent threat may justify the use of military power. By "imminent", I mean that the plan was in the process of actual execution with the capacity already in place. In this case, force could be used to disable the imminent threat.

3) A compelling case were determined by the United Nations to indicate violation of U.N. resolutions and mandates. If the international community deemed that Iraq had violated United Nations resolutions regarding the possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the U.S. could join an international coalition with the aim of disarming Iraq.

In each of these three instances, my feeling was that the word "compelling case" is similar to the legal instruction given to juries. Iraq must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Of course, we can argue till we're blue in the face about what constitutes "reasonable doubt" for an "immanent threat" according to criteria number (2).

However, my feeling was that from the point of view obeying Church doctrine with a leaning towards non-violence, it is better to risk being attacked than to pre-emptively attack and be proven wrong!

This is simple playground justice. The guy who throws the first punch is always wrong, even if the other guy was taunting him and looking at him funny.

In other words, it was not enough for Bush to present a case that Iraq might have WMDs hidden somewhere where U.N. inspectors couldn't find them. The Administration had a moral obligation to present an incontrovertible case that Iraq actually possessed WMD capabilities with the intent to use them!

An "incontrovertable case" would be something like a satellite photo of a nuclear warhead - not a photo of a truck that can serve multiple purposes.

Nor was it enough for Bush to suggest that there was circumstantial evidence that there may have been a connection to 9/11. The Bush Administration had a moral obligation to present a case that could hold up in any court that Iraq was tied to 9/11.

A meeting that may have never occurred between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat in Europe where nobody knows what might have been said if the meeting did occur does not prove a darn thing - not even in the local city court, much less the court of world opinion.

Nor is a vague threat of an attack from Iraq in the distant future an "imminent threat". An "imminent threat", by definition, is imminent. It is missiles preparing to launch, planes fueling up for take-off, troops in movement, a declaration of war, etc...

Finally, the U.N. did not authorize the use of force for the purpose of containing Iraq. Indeed, it seems Iraq was already contained!

The evidences Bush presented to the world were so flimsy that I honestly cannot fathom how any Catholic could call this a just war. Only if one presumed Iraq guilty whether the evidence led in that direction or not could one come to the conclusion this was a just war. Rash judgment is a sin.

Yet, Iraq's guilt without evidence is exactly what many commenters have been saying here. Despite the failure of the U.N. to find WMDs before the war, and despite the failure of Kay to find WMDs after the war, and despite overwhelming eyewitness testimony that Iraq destroyed its WMDs program after the First Gulf War, people continue to insist that WMDs will one day be found.

There were those who believed that Bush had evidence that he was withholding from us prior to war for security reasons. I can respect that opinion, though I demanded more evidence prior to the war myself. Some of these people have turned against Bush as it became clear that the evidence Bush presented was all the evidence he had.

But you know what? It doesn't matter if WMDs are found in the future. The point is that it is morally evil to go to war based on an unproven presumption that a country might have such weapons or might pose a threat.

In order to justify a war, one needs hard proof, not plausible conjecture!

It is always and every gravely evil to go to war based on conjecture alone without hard evidence, no matter how plausible that conjecture may be!

And it gets worse. About a month before the war began, I ran across papers published by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheny and many other key players in the Bush Administration that called for aggressive war with Iraq as far back as 1997. Their reasons for war had nothing to do with terrorism or Iraq's WMD capabilities, nor even with humanitarian desire to remove a dictator and build a democracy.

The reason for war with Iraq, in Wolfowitz's own words, was to gain U.S. economic and military supremacy over the U.N. and the emerging European Union by controlling the oil supply to Germany and France!

The war on terror in general:

Some folks will not see this as a strictly moral issue, and perhaps good people can disagree on the right strategy to prevent another 9/11. However, I hold that when a nation uses unjust war and unilateral action in an interdependent global society, that act is a immoral choice with consequences.

The simple fact is that alienating most of the global community, belittling the U.N., and waging a war that blatantly unjust has created a situation where terrorist feel even more justified in their actions, and people who otherwise would not have supported terrorism will feel that maybe the terrorist were right.

The actions of the Bush Administration have created a situation where the U.S. will be dealing with terrorist for decades.

A better way to deal with terrorism would have been to treat it as a matter of law enforcement to be dealt with through the cooperation of the United Nations. Immediately after 9/11, the U.S. had unprecedented support to do just that. Even Pakistan and Egypt were helping us.

The Bush Administration decided to go after their pet project - dreamed up in 1991 by Wolfowitz, and developed more fully by the Project for a New American Century in 1997. The war in Iraq is not part of the war on terror. It was a terrible distraction from the war on terror and has left our troops spread too thin.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration insists on tax cuts to those who have accumulated extreme wealth - wealth beyond what anyone can earn as mere just reward for labor in one life-time - and those tax cuts have taken from our own homeland security and the pay of our troops, as well as taking from social services.

You are not safer under the Bush Administration. You are considerably more vulnerable.

The economy:

The tax cuts were supposed to trickle down and generate jobs so that tax increases would be unnecessary. Instead, we have a half trillion dollar deficit and unemployment has remained higher under Bush than it was before he entered office.

The moral dimension is that Bush is cutting vital and successful social services in order to try to offset this. He would rather give the rich CEOs who sent jobs overseas a tax break than see that a child has a decent lunch at school.

Care for the poor:

Clinton said it best at the opening night of the DNC last night. We tried it their way (the Republican way) for 12 years before Clinton. It didn't work. So we tried it the Democrats way for 8 years, and we had budget surpluses, jobs, social services, and 8 years of peace and prosperity. Then we went back and tried it the republican way for four more years, and it isn't working again.

If you care for the poor - really care in the sense of feeling anguished that poverty exists in America - are you willing to risk letting Americans die for the sake of a political ideology that has never proven itself to work in reality?

The Church has clearly advocated social justice doctrines that are more in line with the Democrats than the Republicans. And if one recognizes that Bush is not really a traditional Republican, but a neocon, his own economic policies are further from Church teaching than the traditional Republican.

Gay marriage:

The Church (in the sense of the Vatican) clearly wants Americans to consider gay marriage as a threat to traditional marriage. However, it is very hard for me to imagine how allowing a gay civil marriage will lead to the disintegration of heterosexual marriage. One would have to be pretty uncertain of his or her own heterosexuality to honestly believe such a theory. This nation has survived over 200 years without defining marriage in the Constitution. I'm sure we can survive another 4 to 8 years without one while the theologians sort themselves out and present a better case (or change the teaching).

I'm not saying that any of us need to vote for Kerry or the Democrats. However, given the case against Bush, I can't possibly vote for Bush in good conscience, and I see his removal from power as a moral imperative more "dominant" than the single issue of abortion.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Humor by Ted Rall


The Origins of Our Major Political Parties

This is a long article, but very well done. It explains the origins of the Democratic and Republican parties, how they've each changed over the years, and why America tends to be a two party system.


Thirty Five Bloggers to Attend DNC

Realizing the power of blogs, the Democratic National Convention has invited 35 bloggers to attend with the 15,000 accredited journalists who will be present. The Wall Street Journal has the story with details on the bloggers.


Some Ecumenical Humor From Sister Christer

This is very light hearted humor I think we can all enjoy.


Some Thoughts on Modern racism

I was watching a program on public television over the weekend which presented a documentary by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. who currently holds the Chair of the Afro-American Studied Dept. at Harvard University. The documentary was about black families that have owned vacation homes on Martha's Vineyard for several generations.

Of course, the very topic makes one aware of unconscious prejudices, since I would have never guessed that black Americans owned vacation homes on Martha's Vineyard for several generations.

Gates told a story that really made me think. One of the people he was interviewing spoke of how blacks do things to mitigate racism. Gates summarized what he heard his interviewee saying with a story from his own experience, and the person being interviewed agreed that the story made the point exactly.

The story was that Gates had bought a home in an upscale neighborhood where his family would be the only black family. He stated that within days of closing on the property, he looked for an excuse to go to the local police station. He walked into the police station and introduced himself: "Hi. I'm DOCTOR Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and I just moved up into number eight on,...."

The point was to ensure that the police knew a black man had moved into the neighborhood and Gates wanted to avoid being arrested fro driving around the neighborhood at midnight or entering his own house. Anyone who does not see why Gates felt the need to do this is simply not living in reality.

Back in 1997, I read Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, and there were many stories of this type that made me think about the ways racism manifest itself in unconscious ways.