Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Taking a Break

I decided to give up blogging for Lent.

Since around last September, I have been feeling that this endeavor is more often distracting me from spiritual growth than helping me to grow closer to God.

Maybe a little break will help me see things differently.

At any rate, I need some quiet and wordless time with God as well as a little more time to devote to real people in the real world outside of cyberspace. I decided to give myself that time this Lent.

See y'all after Easter.


Monday, February 27, 2006

The Morality of Race in America

Overall, this article in Crisis is not too bad.

I don't entirely agree with it, but there are some nuggets worth pondering.

I am particularly in disagreement on the issue of the death penalty that opens the article. In answer to the question of "What if Tookie Williams were white?", I'd still be in opposition to killing him with state authority.

Yet, the racist application of the death penalty remains a strong reason for even proponents of it to think hard about the issue.

Further, I support some type of affirmative action, whether race or class based. I am also not opposed to reparations.

Nevertheless, these programs cannot succeed without some of the other things Armstrong Williams is advocating - and for that reason, we should listen to what he has to say. It's not an either/or proposition, but a both/and.


John Allen's Word From Rome

Allen provides thumbnail sketches of the 15 new Cardinals.


Sister Joan's Latest

I wish she would fleshed out a little more about the first line of this piece.


When the Vote Goes the 'Wrong' Way

NCR's editorial on the Hamas victory in Palestine is worth a quick read.


A Brief Thought

Maybe Bush was the right man to be elected in November of 2004. As soon as he won, terror alerts stopped.

Yes. I am being facetious.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Does Cardinal Schönborn Approve Blessing Gay Couples?

The rector of Vienna's cathedral under Christoph Cardinal Schönborn performed a blessing for all couples in love on Saint Valentine's Day, including gay couples. He states he did this with the Cardinal's prior approval, and the Cardinal has been silent.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Is All Authentic Doctrine Infallible?

Some of my commentors seem to mix together the notions of ex cathedra teachings, solemn definitions, and the term "authentic doctrine".

It is a plain fact, already defined by the Church, that not all "authentic doctrine" presented by the Pope is "ex cathedra" or "solemnly defined".

This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and sincere assent be given to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated. (LG 25.1)
Note that the council is very clear that "authentic doctrine" is not always presented "ex cathedra".

Such doctrines are due the "submission of the will and intellect", which is not the same as "the assent of faith".

Solemn definitions include the ex cathedra definitions of a pope exercising infallibility following a specific formula, or the dogmatic definitions of an ecumenical council, again following a specific formula.
Canon 749.3: No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless this is manifestly demonstrated.
Solemn definitions do not include the pastoral decrees or canons of an ecumenical council, nor the authentic doctrines proposed by the pope in encyclicals or apostolic letters.

I am not saying that non-infallibly defined teaching does not demand respect.

Indeed, some doctrines not solemnly defined are presumed infallible according to what is called "ordinary and universal magisterium" as described in LG 25.2. This too, must be manifestly demonstrated.

Most of the "authentic doctrine" presented by the popes and bishops is not solemnly defined.

Nor would the popes, bishops and theologians consider most of it to be manifestly demonstrated as part of ordinary and universal magisterium.

This means that most of the Church's teaching demands the submission of intellect and will, but only a small subset of it demands the assent of faith.

Submission of the intellect minimally demands some benefit of the doubt that the proposed doctrine contains a degree of truth.

This does not mean that you cannot ask critical questions of the teaching, even hinting at possible error in the formulation. Nor does it mean that one cannot apply the teaching differently than the pope.

There is room, in other words, for legitimate dissent. Yet, one must seek some degree of truth in the teaching, even while in dissent.

Submission of the will demands obedience in accord with the primacy of conscience.

When conscience and obedience seem to conflict, one must find a way to obey conscience that meets some minimum requirement of outward obedience to the demand of the authentic doctrine.

It is always and everywhere a sin to violate your own conscience. If one perceives a conflict between conscience and authentic but non-infallible doctrine, one must obey conscience first. Yet, one should seek a way to achieve a both/and or a compromise that avoids direct disobedience to authentic doctrine.

I have pointed out many times that authentic doctrines that are not solemnly defined have changed or modified in Church history.

It is not that I am saying non-infallible teachings are just wrong in their entireity. I am saying that they sometimes need to be fleshed out further and sometimes even purified of some admixture of truth with error.

Most important, I am merely saying that the distinction needs to be made clear between what is known infallibly, and what is presented as authentic doctrine that may not be infallible.

Not all authentic doctrine is infallible.

I believe that all of the Catechism of the Catholic of the Catholic Church is presented as authentic doctrine - every jot and tiddle of it. I do not beleive that the Catechism is infallible in its entireity.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Peace Cops?

This Sojourner's article explores a topic that has been on my mind for some time.

Basically, the gist of the article is that a just war ought to be concieved of in the manner of just policing, and we may need to think of ways of establishing an international mechamism of just global policing.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I Know a Cardinal!

I've been so busy lately that I haven't been keeping up too well with news and blogging.

Anyway, I check in at The Washington Post tonight, and see that Bishop Sean O'Malley is among 15 men selected as Cardinals by Pope Benedict.

Bishop William Levada is the other American.

I know Cardinal O'Malley, personally.

I got lost driving him to the airport once,...,saw the movie Cabeza de Vaca with him when it first came out,...,have had dinner with him several times,....,etc,....

I've said it before, and my liberal readers criticized me for it, but I think Sean O'Malley could be a saint in the making.

This is not to say Cardinal O'Malley and I see eye to eye on everything, or that he doesn't have his sins and faults. Yet, my experience of him is that he is simply a good person doing his best.

I hope power will not corrupt him.

I recall an old Friar now deceased telling me in 1992 "Keep your eye on Sean. He'll be a Cardinal someday."

Father Miles, you were right! Pray for your brother.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Commonweal Review of the Purpose Driven Life

I haven't read Rick Warren's book. From what I hear from those who loved it, I suspect I would agree with this review if I did read the book.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Austrailia's Controversial Cardinal Pell

Pell claims "There never has been a traditional teaching of the primacy of conscience,..."

The CCC says, "A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience." (par 1800), and says "Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ." (par 1778) and that, "When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking." (par 1777).


Jimmy Carter Says to Let Hamas Govern

Carter makes some good points about the limits of Hamas' power and the pressures on them to cooperate in the peace process.

On another very unrelated note, I ran across Carter's opinion on abortion politics that was released last November.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Trouble Posting

For some reason, my posts for Friday kept getting swallowed by whatever I posted last.

I confess that it was tempting to see this as a neoconservative plot, especially as I surfed blogdom seeing the pro-war blogs weren't experiencing the difficulty.

Here's everything I was trying to post:

How Hamas Won

In Kevin Peraino's Extreme Victory for the February 6 issue of Newsweek, a political strategists for Hamas reveals how they won the Palestinian elections:

The radicals are learning to massage their message. Nashat Aqtash, a communications professor at Bierzeit University on the West Bank, has been tutoring Hamas candidates on the language of modern politics. He says he learned his most valuable lessons from watching Bush's spin doctors: replace hot-button words with polite equivalents, "We don't need to 'kill people'," he says, We need to 'remove occupation.' Both are the same, but the meaning is totally different." And aim your pitch to attract swing voters. "People tackling social issues get higher votes," he says, "When you kill, don't say you're going to do it. Just do it. And then say you're sorry."
Pray for the People of the Philippines

A mudslide has killed hundreds, and as of this morning, 1,800 seem to be dead or missing. Keep these people in your prayers, and be on the lookout for ways to send assistance.

Sister Joan Chittister's Latest Column

..., will stir up some controversy.

She is opposed to calling the murder of Father Andrea Santoro a martyrdom, because he was killed by a young man seemingly suffering from a mental disorder rather than a state sponsored persecution.

Further, she feels calling him a martyr will inflame already tense relations between Muslims and the Christians in the region.

I'm not sure I agree with her. Father Santoro seems to be by all accounts a good priest motivated by the highest ideals to go to live in Turkey to promote dialogue between Christians and Muslims, and minister love to whomever he could.

He did so knowing that his life could be endangered, and he paid the ultimate price.
Sister Joan is correct that we all should bear in mind that his murder was carried out by a man with a neurobiological condition mitigating his own culpability, and deserving of our mercy and prayers.

Yet, we Christians should stop to celebrate the heroism of people like Father Santoro who still show such heroic charity 2,000 years after Christ. Lives like his are a witness to the living power of the resurrected One.

The Latest Word From Rome by John Allen

...,was posted to NCR yesterday.

I find myself in basic agreement with Allen's portrayal of Pope Benedict's notions of ecumenism. The goal of ecumenism is not to mush all religions together, but to remain distinct, able to critique one another, and yet find the areas of common ground where we can work and pray together and promote peaceful co-existence.

Nine More Troops Died In Iraq

It long overdue that we, as a nation, perceive that we need to tell our President we do not want to stay the course any longer. This course is leading nowhere.

Added Saturday Night While Neocons Continue to Disrupt???

Can't we all just get along? by Rabbi Marc Gellman


Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Follow Up To Yesterday's Post

Yesterday, I posted a description of the Consistent Ethic of Life Option.

I was mulling over a point that I raised in that post that took me some time to appreciate.

In the United States, many of our political debates focus on rights: the right to life verses the right to choose; equal rights for this group or that; the right to make a profit verses worker's rights, and so forth.

It hit me, if a parent simply abandons a child, has the parent violated a right?

Most of us would be morally repulsed by this. Depending on the exact circumstances, this could even be illegal.

What is my point?

Beyond the language of rights, we have responsibilities to care for one another.

Those responsibilities are not merely personal "religious beliefs". They are not acts of private charity.

We know when a responsibility is avoided almost intuitively.

The common good is our responsibility to care for one another as human persons. It may feel incovenient at times, and when it does, "rights language" does not excuse from your responsibility to care for others.

Responsibility may not always feel like charity, but the state can demand you to fulfill your responsibilities.


2006 Catholic Blog Awards Open for Voting

Few of my nominations made it.

I was apparently nominated most bizzare, and no I did not nominate myself for this or any other category.

But you know what - I'll take it. Vote for me, because liberals or progressives never win any of these awards.

Besides, the front runner in that category so far has already won in the past and has several nominations in other categories (The Curt Jester).

Create an upset victory for the progressive cause!

I can't remember for sure which categories I nominated folks a few weeks back, but I do remember who I nominated this year:

Batimeeus Quest - Mark 10:1 was likely best priest's blog.

Damien's Spot was nominated, probably for most humorous blog.

Nate Nelson was likely my pick for most political, and the group blog he founded called Sollicitudo Rei Socialis was my nomination for best social commentary.

The latter is up for best policitical, so there's another chance for liberal upset - vote for that one!

I think I nominated Steve Bogner's Catholicism, Holiness and Spirituality as most insightful.

He's up for most devotional, so I'd be very inclined to give him a vote. The only problem is that his competition is Steven Riddle's Flos Carmeli, which was my original nomination for that particular category.

I nominated Rebecca Nappi's Journey to Vatican III as best blog by a woman, though, in all fairness, Amy Wellborn's Open Book will likely deservedly win once again.

Disputations was my nominee for most intellectual, and he's up for that category.

I think I went with nominating Ed Deluzain's Iron Knee for best blog by a man, though he isn't an option this year.

I can't remeber for sure where I put Catholic Sensibilities, but I'm sure I nominated Todd and Neil for something. Probably most theological.

I wanted to nominate Ono's Thoughts for something, but couldn't figure out where to place him.

If there was a category for Protestants commenting on Catholicism, I would have given it to either Christopher's Bending the Rule or Lynn's Noli Irritare Leones.

Well, few of my nominations made it, probably because I'm so bizzare.

Yet, there are some progressive options this year, which has usually not been the case.

Give us your vote wherever you can!


John Allen's Word From Rome

This was actually posted last Friday. The lead story of the first priest to be martyred in the twenty-first century is particularly moving.


NCR on the Federal Budget

It pretty much says what I've been saying for a week now.


Chile's New President

A socialist single mother and agnostic formed an alliance with Christian Democrats to become Chile's new president last month. Interesting....


Commonweal Gets Tough With John Neuhaus

I don't know if I've ever seen Commonweal get this harsh. Neuhaus apparently struck a nerve.


Commonweal on First Encyclical

The Pope gets rave reviews for Deus Caritas Est.


Commonweal Review of Brokeback Mountain

I haven't seen the movie yet (since Serafia was born, I haven't made it to a single movie in the theaters).

In a conversation about other topics, a conservative and presumably straight priest mentioned casually to me about a week ago that this movie has been changing minds and hearts of his straight male parishioners about homosexuality. He made this statement in a simply matter of fact manner that didn't seem to either disapprove or approve of what he was hearing.


Executive Powers?

Columnists for The Washington Post seem to be steamed by the Bush Administrations justifications for vaguely defined expanded executive powers during time of war.

Conservative columnist, George Will, in today's No Checks, Many Imbalances criticizes the Bush Administration's interpretation of war time powers as clearly "discordant" with the law.

Wills thinks the law should be changed to allow Bush to continue doing what he wants, but is critical of the Administration's attempts to interpret away current law.

David Ignatius picks up the same theme in The Arrogance of Power, comparing Bush's actions to Richard Nixon in the 1970's.


Cheney Speaks on Shooting

As much as I dislike Cheney's politics, I don't think this incident should be politicized. Cheney accepts responsibility for what happened, and there's little else to say about the matter.


More Congessional Scandal

This time, it's a Democrat accussed of ethics violations and accepting bribes.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Consistent Ethic of Life Political Option

A reader seems upset that I am asking Democrats to take seriously that pro-lifers consider abortion to be murder.

He seems to feel the pro-life movement is an imposition of religious belief on the American people, and that it is debatable whether the unborn are human beings.

He seems to want a place on my site to debate these points, so here's the post to do it.

Let me start the ball rolling with my own viewpoint - a viewpoint I know many people share.

The Constitution seems to imply that the rights of citizens belong to those born or naturalized in the United States.

With all due respect to PETA, obviously, these rights do not apply to dogs and cats or any other animals other than human beings.

At different points in American history, there has been heated debate over which human beings born in the United States should be granted the rights of citizens.

The Native American was denied all rights of "personhood" entirely.

The African American was granted the status of being three fifths of a human person.

Women were considered full persons without the right to vote.

Criminals are considered persons who have their rights revoked for serious crime.

And, of course, the unborn have never been defined as persons, though the courts have ruled that the states have expressed a legitimate compelling interest in the interest of the potential for personhood in the unborn human life.

Outside of the United States of America, we see a world where ethnic cleansing and genocide have been practiced even in democratic Western nations, as well as other types of systems.

The most notable historical example of genocide by an elected party was in Nazi Germany, though Germany's democracy was eroded by Hitler long before the final solution.

Some of us fear that similar things are occurring in our midst today.

Even if there is no God, and we see the state as a sort of social contract between people to protect ourselves from our most violent impulses, the most fundamental of principles that must be established in common is the legal meaning of a human person.

The pro-life position, plain and simple, is that the least arbitrary and all inclusive definition that does not lead to silliness is that a human person is a human being, where a human being is a living self-contained organism possessing the genetic DNA structure of the species homo sapiens sapiens.

This definition avoids making pets and plants persons deserving the right to vote. It also avoids excluding any and all people based on race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, and so forth.

In defining the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is imperative that such rights do not over-ride the right of a human person to the right to life.

If human life cannot be defended, it becomes impossible for the social contract to protect us each from one another, and liberty is eroded by the strong over the weak.

A consistent ethic of life would oppose the deliberate destruction of all human organisms. When in doubt, the rights of personhood should be presumed to belong to the human organism.

Abortion, embryonic stem cell research, experimentation in human cloning, euthanasia, and the death penalty, the non-defensive use of military force or the use of military force known in advance to cause collateral damage would all violate a consistent ethic of life.

Of course, so would terrorism, genocide, violent crime and so forth. The bottom line of a consistent ethic of life position is that there is no exception to the rule that all human beings have a fundamental or foundational right to life that can never be violated.

How do we enforce such a law if we cannot kill violent offenders who threaten the life of another?

Law enforcement must aim to disarm and restrain the violent offender without killing the offender.

If a deadly blow is dealt in the process of disarming the aggressor, the law could allow this under the condition that the offender was threatening human life, resisting arrest, and every effort to employ non-lethal force was exhausted.

The military exists as a form of law enforcement and should be equally restrained in the use of lethal force.

Riot control techniques should be used against violent group aggression, foreign or domestic, before employing any sort of defensive deadly force.

The military should only be employed when all efforts at non-violent conflict resolution or non-violent resistance to aggression have been tried and failed.

Collateral damage must be minimized and any use of force that is known in advance to have likely collateral damage cannot be employed.

It would be appropriate in employing military force to use overwhelming troop numbers as a deterrent to the aggressor continuing in the path of aggression.

International institutions can authorize assistance to local bodies to provide this defensive use of force.

Simply put, the consistent ethic of life platform translated into local, national, and international law would make many of the atrocities we see in history or in the world today a thing of the past.

Yet, in order to make the law as consistent and as enforceable and effective as possible, it is imperative that the rights of human personhood be granted to every living human organism, which does include human embryos.

Opponents of this view will inevitably use "tough case" scenarios to try to poke a hole in the consistent ethic of life position.

Questions will be raised regarding abortion in cases of rape, incest, life endangerment to the mother, severe retardation in the unborn, and crisis pregnancies among teenagers or those living in dire poverty.

At this point there is a bit of divergence among pro-lifers about direction.

Those who see government as little more than a social contract to avoid killing one another will tend to go down the conservative path to pro-life Republicanism, and may wind up making compromises on issues like the death penalty and war policy where law enforcement is the primary role of government.

While the basic ideal of mitigating or moderating these compromises may persist, they often wind up with what is viewed by most as an inconsistent ethic of life.

This is not my own position.

Many believers in a consistent ethic of life strike out in a different direction.

Many of us believe that the social contract theory of government does not adequately address the underlying questions raised by pro-choicers and others regarding human suffering.

Government and law do not exist solely to protect us one from another, though this is one function of government.

Ultimately, however, the government exists to support the common good. The common good is not the greatest good for the greatest number. Instead, it is the good of each unique human person.

Starting with the foundational principle of protecting the right to life, the government must go beyond merely defending human life from deliberate destruction to assisting individuals in finding the means to live life to its fullest within the limit of respecting the life and other legitimate rights of others.

We make a fundamental assumption that all people are not only capable of grave evil and that the state must protect us from the evil of others, but people are capable of great good, and the state must assist and encourage the good.

Rape, incest, life threatening conditions, care for the retarded, teenagers in crisis and dire poverty are not outside of the scope of government responsibility, accountability and intervention.

The solution to these problems cannot be a violation of the right to life, because the right to life is the most fundamental of all rights. The state should never mandate, authorize, or permit the deliberate destruction of a human life in any form.

Yet, with that said, the state must be part of the solution to all of these problems. A state that is not tackling the reasons women currently choose to have abortions is a state that is derelict in its responsibility.

What does this mean?

Our entire society, including state, business, neighborhood and faith communities is responsible for creating a culture where men do not rape women.

Our entire society, including state, business, neighborhood and faith communities is responsible for creating a culture where medical advances are made to prevent the death of women during pregnancy.

Our entire society, including state, business, neighborhood and faith communities is responsible for creating a culture where the mentally retarded live lives of human dignity and their parents receive the support they need.

Our entire society, including state, business, neighborhood and faith communities is responsible for creating a culture where single mothers receive the support they need.

Our entire society, including state, business, neighborhood and faith communities is responsible for creating a culture where poverty is reduced to the lowest level possible.

All of these ends are to be achieved without the deliberate destruction of human life, and that's a very liberal or progressive agenda!

If we cannot reduce rape to zero, we would still have a responsibility to the woman who finds herself pregnant through rape. Abortion will not heal the traumatic wounds of being raped.

As a society, we owe rape victims far more than the easy solution of terminating pregnancy and forgetting her.

It is ultimately a failure of us all that she was ever raped in the first place, even if the primary personal responsibility lies with the rapist himself.

Yet, if I do not advocate the death penalty for the rapist, I can hardly justify the death penalty for the child of the rapist.

Adoption may be an option as a part of the healing process for the survivor of rape, and the process and our collective responsibility to the survivor will not end there.

If we have such awesome responsibilities to one another under the notion of a government supporting the common good, where does individual liberty as a human good worthy of promotion fall into place? Am I advocating a sort of collectivism that borders on communist oppression?

Doing good for others does not mean that we cannot also receive the benefits of the common good.

Americans who embrace a consistent ethic of life and the principle of the common good also affirm that the common good includes such principles as private property rights, the right to a just and living wage and a fair reward for productivity.

We support all personal liberties that either do not interfere with the fundamental rights of others, or neglect our basic responsibilities to others according to the common good.

We support the freedom of expression and encourage a diversity of viewpoints in exploring the solutions to our common problems.

We believe in working through the democratic process to achieve our agenda with multiple strategies.

We do not rest all hope on overturning Roe via biased judges with an across the board conservative agenda who disregard court precedent, though an unbiased judge making a sound decision that interprets Roe in a new light would cause us no heartburn.

We expect elected representative officials to voice the concerns of their constituents, and some elected officials represent solid pro-choice majorities.

If a politician is personally opposed to abortion and his constituents are not, we are open to dialogue towards compromise, or a change in the consensus through democratic means.

Yet, we are firm in our belief that a consistent ethic of life holds the most promise for a good society - and is an ideal towards which all politics should strive - and is worthy of the effort to build a national consensus.

We want the debate on abortion to continue and receive more attention. Unlike other liberals, we do not hope it will go away, except by making abortions end.

There is nothing inherent to the American constitution or our declaration of independence or a regulated capitalism that incents innovation or hard work that we reject.

We are Americans who embrace freedom.

In general, many who believe in a consistent ethic of life lean left politically.

We are not communists or socialists, but we aren't libertarians or far right conservative Republicans either.

As a general rule of thumb, we see gender and racial equity and justice as central to the common good.

We generally see sound environmental policy as part of defending human life.

We tend to be concerned about economic justice and policies that show a preferential option for the poor.

We generally are very concerned about worker's rights and just and living wages, and generally support unions. We are likely to seek ways to make it easier for people to access education.

We lean internationalist in our view of how America should relate with the world.

There are aspects of the traditional Republican platform other than reducing abortion that may make some degree of sense to many of us.

For example, many of us generally support balanced budgets and believe that businesses operating with enlightened self interest can help support the common good as well as the state or unions or faith based communities.

We are willing to apply principles of subsidiarity that allow local bodies to be the first responders to problems, though we will hold the entire society accountable for the final results.

We support family values by seeking to make marriage and family life easier for married couples to sustain in a culture where consumerism, workaholism, and morally corrupt entertainment makes forming a family a counter-cultural activity.

Yet, these commonalities with conservative politics have their limit.

Many of us very easily include gay couples adopting children in our definition of family.

As a matter of civil legislation, we believe that gays and lesbians and transgendered have the same rights as others to participate fully in building the common good and benefiting from the culture that supports the common good.

Graduated or progressive taxation is seen by many consistent of life ethic voters as essential to democracy and the common good, and a fair way to ensure the demands of economic justice are met without stifling economic growth entirely.

We would seek to save social security and provide universal health care and build strong safety nets. We are not opposed to race based or class based affirmative action to redress social inequity. We support minimum wages.

Indeed, on most issues, we find ourselves agreeing with progressive minded secularist Democrats, Green party, or other left leaning political bodies that avoid the pitfalls of the communists.

And we wish we were more a populist movement, because we believe our message would appeal to the masses, especially the poor, if it were simply backed by those with current political power.

On the areas we share in common with other left leaning politics, we can range from moderate to radical.

The more radical among us on other issues than abortion remains truly concerned to promote a culture of life, and is not opposed to striving to a day when abortion rates will be zero and a right to life amendment is conceivable. In the meantime, such a person may make compromises on abortion with an incremental approach towards a goal.

The more moderate among us on other issues may feel at home as liberal Republicans or conservative Democrats or independent, but we see life issues as fundamental and high priority. We are often the so-called swing vote, and abortion politics is always a big part of our decision making as we swing back and forth.

I am aware there exists other independents or third party or swing voters who are not at all motivated by the consistent ethic of life. Personally, I believe the majority of swing voters embrace some version of the consistent ethic of life.

We are the Reagan Democrats or the pro-life Kerry vote or the anti-death penalty Bush supporter who questions preventive war policies.

What I am faulting the Democrats for failing to grasp is that for a pro-lifer who leans left on all other issues, whether moderate or radical, does consider the issue of abortion a priority. It can't be swept under the rug like a piece of housing legislation. It is a centerpiece to our political world-view.

We are dealing with something many of us consider murder, and something that opens the door to other atrocities against human persons. Similar types of arguments will apply to issues like embryonic stem cell research or euthanasia.

So far, I have not quoted a single line of scripture. Nor have I appealed to the authority of the pope or bishops. Nor have I appealed to religious traditions or the writings of saints. Nor have I even mentioned the name of God.

Yet, with the exception of the implied acceptance of gay civil unions, there is not a single word of this post that is contrary to Roman Catholic social justice teaching.

Indeed, Catholic social justice teaching positively affirms all that I have written, and clarifies that this view is strongly supported in scripture and tradition and the teachings of popes and bishops.

Thus, while the view I have expressed can be held by a compassionate atheist or any other non-Catholic, it would not be surprising to find large numbers of Catholics who hold this view.

That's a voting block comprising roughly 27 percent of all voters, and while Catholics are currently a divided group, I think a truly consistent ethic of life candidate would unite many of them - and appeal broadly to many others as well.

My apparently pro-choice reader asked how my views on abortion are not the imposition of faith on politics.

The Roman Catholic Church does teach that there are distinct roles between Church and state and there is a legitimate autonomy between the two that must be respected.

Yet, faith does shed light on the whole of human life.

Many devout Catholics pray over every little decision they make. That's just who we are.

What does that mean?

In Roman Catholic faith, we hold it as dogma to be believed with the assent of faith that some truths are written on the heart of every human person on earth and are discernible through natural reason apart from any appeal to revealed truth.

It is those truths - what we refer to as natural law - that must be upheld in the political and cultural realm.

What does not apply universally to human persons in church discipline should not be a matter for the Church to impose on the state.

For example, we don't need a law saying people go to Mass on Sundays or abstain from eating red meat on Friday's in Lent.

In fact, sometimes the religious believer who embraces a consistent ethic of life is at the forefront of reminding other religious believers when we are mixing too much religion in politics and not enough sound reason.

The right to life is a universal human right. Abortion is not a universal right. Reason can grasp this apart from faith.

Faith does not dictate to me that abortion must be illegal.

Rather, faith informs me that a good and loving God is there for women in crisis, and that to the Lord and giver of life, there is no such thing as an unwanted child.

Faith informs the heart that there must be an alternative to abortion that meets the deepest heartfelt needs of the women who seek abortions.

Thus, faith provides the emotional security to move forward where reason leads naturally.

Am I saying that the pro-choice position is irrational?

To a certain extent, I am.

It's not that I don't understand the emotional appeal of the pro-choice arguments. Who is not emotionally moved by horror stories of botched back-alley abortions sought by women in pain and crisis?

Anyone who doesn't feel for women in such situations is lacking in basic human empathy and compassion.

Anyone who cannot feel mercy and understanding for women who have chosen abortion in difficult situations is affectively immature.

But is the only possible solution to difficult situations the destruction of an innocent human life? That's where the so-called "reason" of abortion breaks down.

In Western society, we have come to see a division between head and heart that is so sharp that many of us almost knee-jerk see them as opposed to one another.

On the abortion issue, the right appeals most often to the head, while the left appeals to the heart on the issue itself.

Then, somehow, the left goes to the head on the issue of religion in general where the right goes to the heart.

The head and the heart do not need to exist in conflict with one another. That is what faith brings to the table in politics.

It is less that faith drives the outcome of decision against reason, and more that faith opens the heart and mind to imagining solutions that bring tough reason and genuine loving affection for human persons together in common cause.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bush Budget Diverts Health Care to Homeland Security

Blogger's been on the fritz all day, but finally, we can post.

Bush is diverting a couple of billion dollars from domestic health care to Homeland Security.

I was upset when he was able to earmark $439.3 billion for the military while he could not find $26 billion for international humanitarian aid. This just fuels the fire.


Bush to Cut Health Care to Increase Homeland Security

Y'all can guess how I feel about that if spending $439.3 billion on defense while we can't cough up $26 billion for international humanitarian relief upset me.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Islam and Power: by Fareed Zakaria

I don't always agree with Zakaria's columns in Newsweek, but this one seemed to resonate with something I have been pondering.

The column opens with the following:

George W. Bush is not a man for second thoughts, but even he might have had some recently. Ever since 9/11, Bush has made the promotion of democracy in the Middle East the center-piece of his foreign policy, and doggedly pushed the issue. Over the last few months, however, this approach has borne strange fruit, culminating in Hamas's victory in Gaza and the West Bank. Before that, we have watched it strengthen Hizbullah in Lebanon, which (like Hamas) is often described in the West as a terrorist organization. In Iraq, the policy has brought into office conservative religious parties with their own private militias. In Egypt, it has bolstered the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the oldest fundamentalist organizations in the Arab world, from which Al Qaeda descends.
I mentioned in the post below that I just finished reading Jim Wallis' God's Politics... and I agree with the book about 99 percent.

The one percent I do not agree with his treatment of radical terrorism.

Repeatedly, Wallis says that liberals should not refer to terrorists or their supporters as freedom fighters.

I have a few readers who would otherwise reject Wallis' politics who agree with him on that point.

To clarify his intent, Wallis points out that the Taliban and Al Queda restricted many freedoms in Afghanistan, including religious liberty, women's rights, civil liberties, and other personal freedom's.

I don't deny that individual liberties were non-existent in Afghanistan.

In fact, I'm going to have some difficulty explaining what it is I don't agree with, because it is not very clearly and consistently worked out in my mind.

In my mind, to fail to understand that there is a different concept of liberty among some Arab or Muslim factions is the most fundamental of all errors made in the West.

On the one hand, let me be very clear that I believe it is written on the human heart by Allah that it is intrinsically and gravely evil to destroy the life of an innocent human being.

I believe that all people, anywhere on earth, regardless of what religious tradition they follow, act in direct violation of their own conscience if resorting to a tactic of killing non-combatants.

The voice of God within is telling them not to do this.

No cause whatsover is justification for an act of terrorism.

Everyone knows this. It is self evident.

Anyone who denies this and chooses to deliberately target a non-combatant is no longer truly a freedom fighter or a mystic or a religious leader.

He or she a lunatic in need of intense prayer, spiritual counsel, psycological and psychiatric help, including potential medication and even incarceration if unable to gain control of these impulses.

I am in no way defending terrorism.

With this said, another principle that needs to be remembered is that when people choose to do evil - even crazy people - they often do so under the delusion that they are achieving the good.

Even the lunatic is seeking something good when chosing to do evil, and while the means may be evil, the end he or she desires may not be evil.

I do believe that Muslim terrorist are seeking something that is good - and something many Arabs who chose not to engage in terrorism perceive as good, that few people in the West comprehend.

It's a religious liberty for a community of faith or a nation of people to define itself and form its own identity.

They want the liberty to live in a society free of the corrupting influence of foreign religion or foreign ideology.

They want to be free to wear the hajib and respect the different roles of men and women without persecution from the state or the international community.

They want the freedom to design laws in accord with the Q'ran and the hadith.

I am a liberal Roman Catholic who supports such ideas as women's ordination, married priests, and gay unions.

However, I think that these matters are issues that should be decided internally by Roman Catholics.

If the state tried to force the Church to accept ordained women, married priests or gay unions, I'd be joining the conservatives in loud protests.

If the United Nations tried to force the Church to change, I'd be protesting the United Nations.

It's not that I oppose women's equity or gay rights. It's that I affirm the right of a religious community to define itself without outside interference within some limits.

I have been mulling this over for some time, and I have no real definitive answers on where lines are drawn, but those on the progressive end of the political spectrum need to be careful of the means that we employ to effect social change.

There can be such a thing as a secular fundamentalism - and it can be very ugly, as we saw in Soviet communism or Pol Pot.

Wallis admits there is such a thing as secular fundamentalism, and even spends a good deal of time railing against it.

What he fails to address is that much of what he accepts as prophetic religion - the "good religion" that he juxtaposes against the "bad religion" of fundamentalism - does not quite have the unambiguous Biblical support he implies, and is perceived as secularist by many believers.

Don't get me wrong here.

I already said I favor women's ordination. There is Biblical and theological support for such notions. Junia of Rom 16:7 seems to be a woman apostle. Phoebe or Rom 16:1-2 is a deacon. Christ's treatment of women as seen in Jn 4 is inclusive. The OT has female images of God, and Paul's famous line in Gal 3:28 seems to point to a full equality for women.

Yet, there do exist some counter-arguments that the Church is working through. There are passages of scripture seeming to demand silence of women in church, and a long tradition of an all male priesthood exists in the Roman Catholic Church.

The state has only a very limitted right or authority to settle internal debates within the Church or Mosque.

The churches, synogogues, and mosques, have their own ways of settling internal debates.

What do we do if a religion is clearly violating a universal human right or universal human dignity?

For example, it is said David Koresh was sexually molesting minors in the name of God. Must we honor his religious freedom to molest children?

I think not, as does most of the country.

Many Westerners feel that polygamy, whether practiced by a Muslim, an African animist or an American Mormon violates the rights and dignity of women. Must the freedom to more than one wife be honored?

In this case, I am personally oppossed to polygamy, but not so sure of how to deal with it legislatively.

What if a religion of human sacrifice arose once again?

Does the state have no right or responsibility to intervene in religious affairs?

I am a religious believer and a believer in democracy. The two views overlap in my mind. There exists truth with a captiol "T" that is true to God apart from what human beings believe.

Religious believers are in a process of trying to discern God's view of truth, whether we are Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Protestants, Buddhists, Orthodox Christians, or even atheists who make the case that we cannot know God's will because there is no God.

A majority ruling does not for a single instance make a ruling true in God's eyes.

Truth is not subject to the changing whims of the masses. The world is more round than flat no matter how many people believe it flat. God doesn't absolutely command the hajib in one locale and allow women to wear mini-skirts in another.

However, if there is a God who cares at all to reveal himself to human beings, the majority ruling is our best collective guess at a point in time.

It may be a mistaken view, but it's the one that should prevail for the sole reason that it is the majority view.

I am also not against the notion of tradition as a democracy for the dead - so long as we don't overcount their votes!

In America, the majority may rule that women and men are equal in such a way that forcing clearly defined social roles and forcing manners of dress are contrary to equity.

In the Arab world, where a single religion dominates, the majority may rule very differently, and we in America must accept that reality, and not try to use some sort of force other than verbal persuasion to change the Arab consensus.

My belief is that God wants us to follow the democratic process, even when democracy leads to wrong decisions, or the inability to make some decisions because the polarization is too great.

There will be some who will object that in the Arab world, women do not have the opportunity to join the decision making process.

That is worth pursuing in a dialogue with Islamic male decision makers, trying to persuade them to include women.

In order to persuade them, we cannot force them to give women the vote at gunpoint.

That will only antagonize a religious believer to embrace the spirit of martyrdom. He or she can be easily swayed to believing it good to take the forces of perceived evil down with him or her.

Such and attitude of perceiving others as evil to be taken down with you is mistaken - not God's truth - in my mind.

Yet, such a view can be understood by any believer who can put himself or herself in the place of one who feels forced at gunpoint to change a religious belief.

Remember in Catholic grade school when the nuns told us stories of the martyrs and asked us if we would stay true to Jesus even at gunpoint?

Maybe a secularist sees this as cruel rubbish to tell children, but I think every true believer has a bit of the heart of a martyr inside.

Life somehow is a little more worthwhile when you feel that maybe some things are worth dying to protect.

Sure, the spirit of martyrdom may be mixed with the spirit of self preservation - causing a bit of internal conflict.

Many of us hope that if it ever comes, it happens quickly. A slow painful death is not what any of us seek. Few of us in the West actually expect to be martyred.

These fears would be overcome by many of us when and if an unjust aggression occurs.

If you perceive an irrational enemy attacking you, it's best to just get it over with and lay down your life for the higher cause.

Many Arab nationalists and Muslims feel that way about certain perceived aggression against them.

There is another fear that can prevent people from becoming martyrs.

In my own case, more than the fear of death is the fear of dying for the wrong cause. The Nazis had their martyrs, afterall.

If we are to win the war on terror, we must convince Arabs that the Taliban embraces a bad religion.

This is difficult to do from where we are in America. But we cannot try to use force to make up for the fact that we can't have a face-to-face conversation.

What we in the West seem to fail to grasp is that we cannot in any way whatsoever attack Islam with force and win. We will lose when we do this.

If women were given the right to vote in a predominantly Muslim country, and a majority of Muslim women vote to wear the hajib, Westerners must not assume that these women have not had their consciences properly raised.

What I am driving at is that the way to combat radical Islam, in my opinion, is not with the force of the sword or gun. We must win the war of ideas - religious ideas.

The promotion of democracy in the middle east must not be viewed as a promotion of Western ideas of the separation of mosque and state, or Western ideas of individual liberty.

What we are promoting is the freedom of religious discussion and religious debate to derive religious solutions to life - and if that's not what we are promoting, we will lose.

In order too do this, we must understand Islam well enough to pose questions to Muslims from the sources of their own tradition that would respect women or religious tolerance.

We must also know our own tradition well enough to explain it.

The important thing we are trying to establish in the Middle East, which we never should have done by way of arms, is the notion that religious dialogue between very sincere adherents of very different religious traditions or patriotic national groups can take place without killing one another.

I strayed far from Zakaria's column.

In his column, he suggests that political power for terrorists will be their eventual undoing as terrorists organizations. He claims that the martyr who becomes a mayor has lost.

I tend to agree with Zakaria on that specific point.

Thus, it is critically important to empower Arabs and Muslims in the political process - in processes where the outcome will not be to our Western liking.

Indeed, we should have been working with the so-called "religious fanatics" a long time ago to mount the non-violent resistance to Saddam Hussein that would have been a true people's revolution.

The important thing we need to convey to the Arab world is that true believers willing to give their lives for the faith can sit at table in peace discerning the will of Allah together, even across religious boundaries.

It is giving the Arab nationalist or the Muslim chosen by his or her own people a chair at the table that makes peace, not giving the "right" Arab from our Western point of view the chair at the table.

In other words, we, as Americans, need to be ready to sit face-to-face with a Muslim fundamentalist and dive into the Q'ran and the hadith, as well as the Bible and the Christian tradition, or the secular sources of American secular humanist faith.

We utterly fail to do this through arranging covert coups, employing preventive or preemptive wars, using prolonged military occupations, making efforts to secure oil rigs and capitalism, acting undiplomatically to elected leaders while continuing to tacitly support secular leaning dictators, or employing other efforts to force Western values of individual liberty into the culture.

I don't know if I am explaining myself well, because, I confess, I am still thinking through this. I'd be interested in the thoughts of others.


Hypothetical Question to Bush Voting Catholics

I just finally got around to reading Jim Wallis' God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It.

I read most of the book through his articles in Sojouners, but it was good to see it all compiled in one place.

As an aside, I didn't just read this to confirm my views. It was actually a penance I recieved in confession!

The book is excellent, though it a little weak in detail in some chapters. Yet, I agree with about 99 percent of Wallis' overall points.

I don't want to write a review of the book just yet so much as highlight one thing on my mind that leads to a question that readers can help me either verify or deny.

In a chapter on abortion and the death penalty, Wallis relays stories of giving talks and presentations in Catholic settings, such as Notre Dame University.

Wallis is an evangelical Protestant with a progressive political bent, and he states that progressives and non-Catholics in general very grossly underestimate the passion abortion stirs for Catholics.

He goes on to say that he is positive that Democrats are losing millions of Catholic votes on this issue alone, and that in many cases - in the majority of cases - the pro-life Catholic vote is very politically progressive and liberal on other issues.

I know some folks are probably tired of the 2004 election, but I'm thinking ahead.

I'm actually thinking about this issue for an article I want to submit, and I know any response on this blog is unscientific.

I'm just wondering...

I think Wallis is absolutely right.

Indeed, I've felt that way my whole life - that I should be a Democrat ,..., would be a Democrat ,..., if I could just be a pro-life Democrat and really mean it.

And by "mean it", what I am saying is that there is absolutely no way I am going to hold an ideological position that murder should be legal in an ideal society.

I know the pro-choice reader may find this reference to abortion as "murder" to be fightin' words.

There may be a small handful of Catholics who wish to call abortion something else than murder - perhaps even to make certain critical theological distinctions that may or may not be valid.

I am not calling abortion "murder" in this post in order to convince anyone else that abortion is, in fact, murder. For the sake of this post, maybe it's not.

But the important thing to understand about the Catholic vote is that many Catholics do believe abortion is murder, whether it actually is or not.

The passion on the issue does run deep - perhaps even deeper than with evangelical Protestants. The passion is held by Catholics who would otherwise be solid leftists.

If I believe abortion is murder, I'm not trading that issue for some other issue that doesn't involve human life.

Maybe an unjust war will allow me to vote pro-choice, but a minimum wage law will not. I'd rather be underpaid than support legalized murder.

I'm not going to let it get bundled with other issues either, such that I support abortion if it's part of universal health care. I'll go without health care if that's my only option.

I'm not going to compromise on it, except as a step to get where we ultimately need to be if it is murder. Maybe a partial birth abortion ban is all I can get right now, and I'll take it.

And I'm not against women's rights. We need to do more to overcome sexism. I support women's ordination in the Church and would vote for a woman pro-life feminist in a heartbeat.

Where the Democrats fail is not taking seriously that pro-lifers, and especially Catholics, believe abortion is really and truly murder.

I don't mean that every Democrat needs to believe abortion is murder.

What I do mean to say is that every Democrat needs to understand that many Catholics feel that it is murder.

They need to think about the issue and how to talk to the issue with that understanding in mind.

Here's a question for Bush voters who are Catholic:

If John Kerry, with all his aloof character manner and inability to make his message simple, had run against George W. Bush in 2004 with his exact same platform he had, and no other changes than being anti-abortion and against federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, how many Bush voting Catholics, if any, would have switched votes?

Conversely, I guess the question also needs to be asked, how many Catholics who voted for John Kerry would have voted against him if he were otherwise the same as he is, but had been pro-life?

This is unscientific, but I am interested in the comments of other readers.

I am convinced that a pro-life Kerry would have kicked G.W.'s butt in 2004.

I did vote for Kerry, but the decision was painful for me, even as much as I despise the life denying policies of George W. Bush.

It would have been far easier had Kerry been pro-life. It actually made my stomach upset voting for someone so seemingly pro-choice (though he tried to moderate the message by the end).

I have a theory that abortion lost Kerry the election, and I've stated this theory before - and even predicted it more than a year before November of 2004.

I'm predicting it again in 2006 and 2008 - if the Democrats don't make room for real honest to God, pro-lifers, they will keep losing elections.

Some readers try to dismantle this theory by analyzing polls on "moral values" to show other issues were the real issues.

Part of the problem with polls is that we all know we aren't really soppossed to be single issue voters.

Those who see abortion as murder will often say all the way up to pulling the lever that they are considering all the issues - and they are. They'll keep saying this even after they voted solidly pro-life.

But when it is time to pull that lever, it makes many Catholics sick to the stomach to knowingly vote pro-choice. I don't think I am alone in this.

I'll even bet that Catholic women who have had abortions often find it difficult to vote pro-choice!

Well, the way I see it, I honestly believe that had Kerry been pro-life, he would have garnered around ninety percent of the Catholic vote, instead of roughly half.

He had everything else going for him as a Catholic.

He is a practicing Catholic.

His views on war were far more consistent with the Church's views, and he had John McCain saying he'd make a fine commander in chief.

His views on the death penalty and economic justice were more consistent with Church teaching and the Catholic cultural ethos.

He is one of the pioneer fiscally conservative Democrats who argued for balanced budgets.

Catholics are too divided over gay marriage for his view that the states can decide to turn them off.

In an election as close as 2004, I think that having an overwhelming majority of the Catholic vote would have tipped the scales.

Bush won 50.7 percent of the popular vote, and Kerry had 48.3 percent. In raw numbers, Bush had 62,040,610 and Kerry had 59,028,111.

It is estimated that 27 percent of voters were Catholic, and that Catholics split 52 percent for Bush and 47 percent for Kerry.

You can do the math yourself, but had Kerry garnered ninety percent of the Catholic vote, and there were no change to other groups, the result would have been 73,084,190 votes for Kerry and 48,311,417 for Bush - or, 60 percent Kerry and 40 percent Bush.

Even if Kerry had won just 60 percent of the Catholic vote, it would have tipped the scales on the popular vote 52 percent in his favor, and only 48 percent for Bush.

Again, you can do the math yourself.

Some may want to argue that had Kerry been pro-life, then some pro-choice votes may have gone to Bush. That seems intuitively far fetched to me.

But just in case, if I have any voters for John Kerry who are also pro-choice, even if non-Catholic, could you answer that question?

Would a pro-life Kerry have driven you to Bush?

If there is anything incorrect in my theory, maybe more voters would have stayed home on both sides - though I am convinced the anti-war Catholics and other anti-war voters were out in full force, and they were not voting pro-Bush.

If anything, while Kerry's views met a minimalist understanding of just war doctrine, the anti-war vote would have liked an even stronger critique of the invasion and handling of Iraq. I would have.

Yet, it was abortion that lost the election - not because a majority of Americans are pro-life, but because a majority of Catholics are pro-life.

I think this is one aspect of the culture wars the Democrats can't win.

It's going to take decades ,..., maybe even a century ,..., but abortion will be illegal in the United States of America someday.

I think many, if not most, Catholics believe that, or at least have some glimmer of hope when people say it is possible.

When it is eventually a thing of the past, it will be thought of the way we think of infanticide today - which was legal only a little time back.

I don't say this to lay a guilt trip on anyone who has had an abortion or supported abortion rights.

I don't believe people sin unless they fully comprehend what they are doing, and at any rate, I can't judge souls. Further, God is infinitely more merciful than we can imagine.

Yet, just as the notion of legalized infantacide would terrify most Americans today, I believe that there will come a day when legalized abortion will be considered barbaric.

The sooner the Democrats realize that abortion is a lost cause, the sooner they can start winning elections again.

Oh sure. Before we implement restrictions, we may need to reduce the demand for abortion through economic justice, adoption reform, more support for women who choose life, preventive measures, and so forth.

If the Democrats focus on reducing abortion rates, that is a great step forward that will be welcome to many Catholic voters.

That is a good strategy for 2006 and 2008, so long as the words are met with deeds that actually impact abortion rates better than restrictions.

But ultra-sound technology and other advances of this sort are going to keep doing for the pro-life movement what it already has been doing for the last few decades - slowly making people realize that something sacred is inside the womb of a pregnant woman, and something that should not be causually destroyed.

When the day comes that abortion is illegal, there won't even be much protest. By then, women in general won't want abortions.

In the meantime, how are elections going to be won today?

I'd venture to say that a politically progressive pro-lifer will give many voters - especially Catholics - the option they seek.


Friday, February 10, 2006

Brown Blames Bush for FEMA Failure

Brown has probably lost all credibility. I have little comment.




In my comboxes, a reader asks:

Could you perhaps expand on subsidiarty and what you mean by this...?
Let's start working towards some understanding of this with the definitions offered in the CCC:
1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.
Let's say what subsidiarity is opposed to.

It is a principle that opposes "collectivism" that reduces the human person to a cog in the machine giving all power, all responsibility and all accountability to those who control the collective.

It is a principle that says we should not rely on a community of higher order to do what a community of lower order can do on its own.

And therein lies the rub where I personally think subsidiarity is often misunderstood.

Subsidiarity says that a community of higher order should not do what a community of lower order can do on its own.

Yet, it does not say that the community of higher order should not help the community of lower order to do better.

I am thinking of a response to my reader's questions that largely will apply to American business corporations and government, because that model is most familiar to me.

Within the Church, which is hierarchically structured, the applications should be clear as well.

What might be confusing is when two parallel institutions are dealing with same problem.

I am a manager. I have people who are "beneath me" on the corporate hierarchy. What does that mean?

I don't do the job of those reporting to me.

I can do their jobs. In fact, I have done their jobs.

I may even occasionally pitch in on their tasks just to remind them I can do their jobs and to help in a short term crunch - but I should not do this often.

It is no longer my job as a manager to do their jobs.

And truth be told, a good manager could manage a group without ever having done the job of those reporting to him or her. Every good manager knows this. Probably every good pastor knows it too.

I am accountable for the team's performance, but I am not responsible for the task of each team member.

If I spend my time doing their jobs, I am not doing my own job.

If I even spend my time standing over their soldier dictating their every move, I am not performing my job.

What, then, is my job?

My job is to remove the obstacles of those "beneath me" that prevent them from doing their jobs.

My job is to ensure that those "beneath me" understand how success is defined, and that they have the means to achieve success.

I keep putting "beneath me" in quotes because, though that's how it is seen on an organization chart, that's not how I see it.

In my view, I am the servant of the team. I am their "go to guy" when they are having difficulty achieving success.

And if they don't come to me, I go to them - not to micromanage how they do the job, but to ensure they have what they need.

They each have a job to do, and my job is precisely to help them succeed, and then to reward that success.

If an individual is not succeeding, the first place I look is to myself.

What am I doing or failing to do that is causing this person to fail? Am I listening? Is the direction I am giving unclear? Do they feel respected? Are the repercussions of failure understood? Am I providing a uniting vision and building cohesion? Are the rewards of success understood? Do they feel heard? Are there tools the person needs that I failed to provide? Do they feel valued? Is there a lack of communication with other work teams? Is there training I should have done or arranged? Is there a process that needs refined? Can some task be automated to improve efficiency? Were there unanticipated variables I need to address? etc....

Sometimes, the failure lies with the individual. Yet, I am accountable for dealing with that.

I wrote in the past how I once had to fire an individual for sexually harassing customers. That's pretty flagrant. I have had to have some hard performance discussions with people in the past.

Sometimes, the poor performer can drag the entire team down, and you just have to be tough sometimes and either motivate the poor performer to change, or let him or her know that this job is not their vocation in life.

Other times - many times - poor performance has nothing to do with a lack of talent or motivation. There are obstacles to success that require intervention, and that's my job.

Yet, it is not my job to either do the job of those "beneath me", nor to micromanage how they achieve success to the point where they actually fail because of my own failure in judgment in trying to take on their responsibilities.

My job is to stay focused on removing obstacles to success and enhancing performance.

Tied to this, I have some base task responsibilities that nobody else on the team has.

I have reporting responsibilities to clients or upper management on team performance and profit and loss and so forth. I receive direction defining success from clients and upper management, as well, that needs to be diffused to the rest of the team.

When the direction from above or from without is counterproductive, I may have to push back. That's part of my job.

If I discern that pushing back is a dead end, I need to figure out how to best implement what is required in a way that allows the team members to continue to achieve individual success.

Throughout everything, I must act ethically, honestly, and with transparency - knowing when a problem needs to be escalated, and when it can be resolved without escalation.

In the end, the success or failure of the entire team is my responsibility for which I am held accountable, even if the failure occurred in a team member or something outside of our control.

I see subsidiarity as a principle that applies to all human institutions. It's sort of respect for the chain of command not only bottom to top, but top to bottom as well.

Subsidiarity does not mean that the federal government need not assume accountability for a task the states can do.

Nor can subsidiarity ever be used to evade responsibilities of the international community.

Nor is subsidiarity a way to push off either accountability or responsibility to a parallel institution, such as trying to push the role of the state onto the church, or the role of church onto the state.

What it means is that the federal government need not assume responsibility for a task the states can do, yet, the federal government is accountable for the results of the local state.

There is a difference between responsibility and accountability.

The people "beneath me" are responsible for individual tasks. I hold them accountable for those individual tasks for which they are responsible.

In turn, I am held accountable for the results of the entire team, though I am not responsible for the tasks of any single team member.

In a like manner, the federal government is accountable for the national common good. The states are responsible for the common good in their domain. The federal government can, and should, hold the states accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities.

As long as the states are achieving results, the state and the federal government both look good.

If the state fails, it can be appropriate to blame both the state and the federal government.

The federal government can, and shoudl intervene in state failure. Yet, the federal government shoudl avoid this, and instead focus on helping states succeed.

When the international community comes along and says the federal government is responsible for doing some task, we cannot use subsidiarity as an excuse to say some other locality is responsible.

Some things go beyond the capability of the state or local government. All conflict and problems should be solved at the lowest level possible. Yet, any problem that cannot be solved locally needs to be escalated to the "higher order".

A husband and wife ought to settle their own disputes. If they can't, they may see a marriage counselor. If the dispute becomes severe (violent), the police may need to be involved.

In my job, if the reason the team cannot succeed is something beyond my control, I may need to escalate the issue to my own leadership so that they can coordinate resources to assist my team.

We need to know when to humbly ask for help.

On an issue like poverty, if your family member is hungry, feed him or her - even before you feed the hungry elsewhere. If there is no food in the house due to famine and massive unemployment, seek help from the church and state.

If the local churches can't help, they can call on the wider body of Christ. If the local government can't help, they can call on national or eventually international aid.

If the problem is too big for either church or state, the two entities can work together. If international institutions and the church together cannot remove the obstacles to success, they can still focus on mitigating the harm.

I don't see subsidiarity as a way of deciding whether or how two different parallel institutions tackle the same problem - as with church and state facing poverty. Both can coordinate efforts together.

I don't know if I've clarified what I think subsidiarity means or made it more muddy. I confess, it seems to me almost intuitively obvious what it means, so maybe I am making assumptions that aren't clear to others - or that may even be mistaken.


CIA Official Accuses Bush Administration of Misusing Intelligence

Paul R. Pillar joins the growing number of intelligence officials who claim the Bush Administration "cherry picked" or "misused" intelligence on Iraq to justify an invasion that was decided before all information was considered.

He describes an atmosphere where officials felt pressured to bend data to support a forgone conclusion, rather than letting the facts lead to a conclusion.

He also states that his own analysis concluded that an invasion would create chaos with little hope of establishing true democracy in Iraq.


Lt. Gov. Steele Compares ESCR to Holocaust, then Apologizes

Maryland's Lieutenant Governor, Michael Steele, who is also making a bid for the U.S. Senate, compared embryonic stem cell research to the holocaust while speaking to an audience of 35 Jewish leaders:

Look, you, of all folks, know what happens when people decide they want to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool.
After a firestorm erupted, Steele apologized and issued the following statement:
When I was asked the question about stem cell research, I had just finished speaking at length about my first trip to Israel and the powerful memories I had of my visit to the Holocaust museum there. Those memories have had a lasting impression on me, but in no way did I intend to equate the two or trivialize the pain and suffering of more than 6 million Jews.
Apparently, an apology with this statement is still not enough, and some are asking for further renunciation or clarification of his earlier comments.

Lieutenant Governor Steele is a pro-life Roman Catholic, and I've read his positions on the issues over the years.

I see little reason for him too apologize or clarify much further than he has.

Steele honestly believes that embryos are human beings, and that embryonic stem cell research destroys an innocent human life.

Whether you agree or disagree with him that the embryo is a human being, respect the fact that he believes the embryo is a human being, as do many of his constituents.

Believing such a thing leads to certain practical conclusions about what embryonic stem cell research means.

And it is not an "unscientific" belief based on politics either, as the article states one person believes.

To my knowledge, there isn't a biology book in the country or the world that doesn't acknowledge that the embryo is a human life.

He did apologize and clarify that the embryos do not suffer in the same manner as the atrocity of the holocaust. He knows the difference, and isn't trying to trivialize what occurred in Nazi Germany.

I presume he is also aware of the difference in motive most people perceive in the Nazis and those who support embryonic stem cell research. If that is the clarification sought, I am sure Steele sees the difference.

And frankly, when a Black Roman Catholic speaks to what he perceives as an injustice in a country with a history of racism and anti-Catholic bigotry, I think he has at least as much right as any other minority group that suffered discrimination.

Yes. I am aware I am defending a Republican here - and one who may not agree with everything I personally believe.

Yes. I am aware that antisemiticism is real and evil, exists even in America, and I am aware there are distinct differences between the Nazi holocaust and embryonic stem cell research.

That said, I happen to agree with Steele that embryos deserve to be treated with the rights of human personhood, including the right to life, and the right not to have experiments performed on them.

There are alternatives to embryonic stem cell research that are promising.

I do not question for a moment the sincere motives of those who urgently and desperately seek cures to awful diseases.

Yet, if you believe, as Steele believes, and as I believe, that an embryo is a human being, it is simply unacceptable to perform experiments on an embryo or destroy it.

While there are very distinct differences between the Nazi holocaust and embryonic stem cell research, there is a commonality in the notion that human beings are having experiments performed upon them - assuming you believe the embryo is a human being.

I know that not everyone thinks the embryo is a human being. If you want to debate that issue, fine. I'm willing to do so cordially, and I think Steele would be too.

Yet, regardless of whether you believe the embryo is a human being or not, millions of Americans do believe it is - including many progressives who oppose genocide and the death penalty and unjust wars, want to protect the environment, and promote national and international economic justice, embrace gays and lesbians and a whole host of progressive causes.

Steele should not have to apologize for his belief. I certainly won't apologize for my own belief that the embryo is a human being.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Tax Cuts Can be a Scam!

I just learned something today that I probably should have known, but didn't.

In some recent discussions about our federal budget, the subject of my income has come up in one way or another.

It's nobody's business, but I am in the bottom of the 25 percent tax bracket filing jointly with my wife.

I had to look this up, and I discovered something important in our discussions about taxes.

I found The 2006 tax tables with a good explanation of what it all means.

I think the chart may be a bit of a simplification, because I am pretty sure there are more than six brackets at these percentages.

Yet, a number of internet sites rely on this format and even these numbers, so I believe it is close to an accurate representation of your taxes.

I know some readers will hate doing math, but to understand the scam, we need to dive into the numbers.

The 25 percent tax bracket is between $61,300 and $123,700 for married people filing jointly.

Let's say you and your spouse make $85,000 (which is more than me). Does that mean that you pay 25 percent of $85,000?

Will your tax be $21,250 before any deductions?


The reason the answer is no is that all of the money at the lower brackets is taxed at the rate appropriate for that bracket.

In other words, your first $15,100 is taxed at 10 percent, and the next $46,200 is taxed at 15 percent, and the final $23,700 is taxed at the 25 percent. This is clarified in the table and the text on the home page.

Your total tax before any deductions would be $15,875 instead of $21,250 - a difference of $5,375.

There's nothing wrong with this. Indeed, this is a good thing, and it helps me understand even more the fairness of "progressive taxation".

The top tax bracket on this chart is 35 percent.

I'm not sure if this is the actual top bracket or not, but there is something to grasp here to see how "tax relief" is a scam against the American people, especially the poor and middle class.

Taking the charts at face value, when a couple filing jointly is in the top bracket, the tax on the first $366,550 that they make will never exceed $91,043. No matter how much you tax them above that - even if 100 percent, they are guarenteed to take home a net of $275,507.

Of course, I am not going to argue that that we jump from 33 percent taxes to 100 percent in the top bracket, but stick with me here.

I found a list of tax brackets laid out in pretty much the same sextiles or quintiles from 1945 through 2003.

During the Second World War, those with individual income over $200,000 were in the 94 percent tax bracket.

Yet, remember that this does not mean that they only took home $12,000, while the person with an income $44,000 took home $12,320 at 72 percent.

What this means is that if he made $205,000, only 5,000 would be taxed at 94 percent. On his first $44,000 he netted the exact same amount as the person who makes $44,000.

Again, I am not arguing that we make a tax bracket that high.

I still have an old article in my archives from The Christian Science Monitor.

I used it for another article in favor of progressive taxation, and that was before I learned how the tax system really works.

At that time, the top one percent of households earned $1,028,000. They were in the 41.7 percent tax bracket.

The next four percent averaged $204,000 per family, and they were in the 35.8 percent tax bracket.

At the time I wrote my original article, I demonstrated that you could tax the top one percent at 80 percent before their net pay was lower than the next group's gross.

Do the math: $1,028,000 x 0.80 = $822,400 tax, and $205,600 net take home pay.

Now I have learned that this math was incorrect.

You could tax the top one percent even HIGHER than 80 percent, even all the way up to 100 percent, and you will never bring the top one percent lower than anyone else!

The reason is simple: The richest people in the country pay the exact same tax you do on the income they make up to your level of income!

Now, let's look at another factor.

If we used the 2006 tax table I linked first, and assume that all taxes below $366,550 are accurate and did not change in any tax restructuring, but instead of making the top bracket 35 percent, we increased it to 39.6 percent - which is what the tables in my historical data show under the Clinton term - what would that look like?

Remember, on the first $366,550, these folks are guarenteed to take home $275,507.

But what if every dollar from $366,550 to $1,028,000 were taxed at 39.6 percent? What is the difference on that amount?

First, remove the $366,550 from $1,028,000, since the lower amount will be taxed at the lower rates no matter what. That leaves you $661,450.

The current 35 percent rate would be as follows: $661,450 x 0.35 = $231,507 tax and $429,943 net take home.

The Clinton 39.6 percent rate would be as follows: $661,450 x 0.396 = $261,934 tax and $399,516 net take home.

The difference in tax is $30,427.

And that's only on what they made over $336,550!

If we assume a household is about four people on average, and the current population of the United States is about 295 million, we're talking $22 billion dollars from the top one percent (do the math yourself this time)!

What's my point here?

I say tax cuts can be a scam because, if you're like most Americans, you probably recieved around $300 or $400 back when the tax cuts first took effect.

The richest one percent received whatever you received plus soemthing in the ballpark of $30,000-$40,000, at a cost to government services of billions.

Well, for the past few days, I've been on a roll regarding the United States' failure to meet its commitment to support the Millenium Goals of the United Nations as advocated by the One Campaign.

We owe the program about $26 billion for last year.

My numbers are rough estimates with some outdated income levels.

Yet, it seems clear there is close to the amount we're seeking in just increasing taxes on the top one percent to the levels under Clinton.

Of course, as more tax revenue is recieved and laid out, the one percent goal changes - so we still may need to look for some cuts in spending.

I have been particularly upset that we seem to be able to find all the money we want for the military, with Bush seeking $439.3 billion for this year's defense budget, excluding the cost of the war in Iraq.

My suggestion was to take the $26 billion and then some from the military to relieve both international and domestic poverty.

We spend more than the next two top spenders on miltary, Russia and China, combined - with our military expense taking up abnout 45 percent of the total global spending on military.

I also admitted in my comboxes that when I look at the line item detail of the budget, it seems there is some fluff. Why are we still subsidizing tobacco?

I'm a smoker, but should y'all be paying for my habit?

I can be a fiscal conservative here.

Yet, here's another way to come up with the money for the Millenium Plan, even as we fiddle towards the one percent target:

If we just restore the top tax bracket to Clinton levels, leaving the lower leves alone or even cutting them slightly, we could get there.

And don't argue that the economy can't grow with those kind of taxes, because it was growing at a good clip under Clinton.

On a higher level, after examining how taxes really work, I am all for some cuts in the lower brackets, which can easily be offset by modest increases in the higher brackets - maybe even creating a new highest bracket.

Coupled with some cuts to redundant programs and pork, and with a close eye on how to reduce the military spending, we could easily have a balanced budget that is fair to the poor.

Of course, we need to look for and weed out ways for the wealthy or anyone else to commit fraud or make or unfair excessive deductions.

There are people who made over $250,000 last year and paid no taxes - legally. We need to clsoe those loopholes.

If the rich complain, remember that on the level of income equal to your own, they are paying the same rate you pay!

No matter what the tax is in the upperbrackets, the rich person is guarenteed the same net income to pay his tithe up to your own income level that you have!

In fact, our couple in the top one percent making $1,028,000 could pay a tithe on their gross income ($102,800), pay the Clinton tax rate of 39.6 percent ($352,977), and still walk away with $572,223 before deductions were considered!

How many of the rich added the $30,427 in tax savings over their bracket limit to their tithe to make up for the fact that social services were cut by that amount for each of them?

How many of the rich invested $30,427 in a way that would trickle down to the poor that they otherwise could not afford?

And since the rich accumulate their wealth on the backs of the grunt work done by those in lower tax brackets, or from our spending, what right do they have to that $30,427 if they aren't filtering it back down?

And recall, every few points we knock off the rich adds up to billions to dollars from the federal government when 80 percent of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of one or two percent of the people.

That's why any and all talk of tax cuts are a scam if they are aimed at the wealthy, rather than the poor.

And that's why tax cuts to the wealthy at the expense of social programs is doubly unfair to the poor.

Abd that's why tax cuts to the wealthy and cuts to social services are especially egregious if we manage to raise billions for killing people.

Of course, I would still love to reduce military spending a full $298 billion or more so that we gave more than $26 billion to the Millenium Goals, save social security, and do a better job promoting peace.

Nevertheless, if folks won't buy the plan to cut the military spending of Russia and Cina combined (about $121 billion), consider restoring taxes on the top one percent at Clinton day levels.

That will get us close to target on the Millenium Goals as well.