GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s Budget in Need of Absolution

From Solidarity Notes (Albany, NY) June, 2012

Georgetown Priests and Faculty Take Issue With GOP Rep. Ryan’s Budget Plan

Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, a Roman Catholic, claims that his budget is in keeping with the traditions of his faith, as he cuts social programs, attempts to cut or eliminate parts of Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare—but there are those who disagree with him on all of his attempts to make life easier for the rich and for Corporate America.

The following is a letter that met Ryan when he recently went to Georgetown University in Washington to explain how his budget and policy views are beneficial to the people:

Dear Rep. Paul Ryan:

Welcome to Georgetown University. We appreciate your willingness to talk about how Catholic social teaching can help inform effective policy in dealing with the urgent challenges facing our country. As members of an academic community at a Catholic university, we see your visit on April 26 for the Whittington Lecture as an opportunity to discuss Catholic social teaching and its role in public policy.

However, we would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely note in several letters to Congress – “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” Catholic bishops recently wrote that “the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.”

In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.

Cuts to anti-hunger programs have devastating consequences. Last year, one in six Americans lived below the official poverty level and over 46 million Americans—almost half of them children—used food stamps for basic nutrition. We also know how cuts in Pell Grants will make it difficult for low-income students to pursue their educations at colleges across the nation, including Georgetown. At a time when charities are strained to the breaking point and local governments have a hard time paying for essential services, the federal government must not walk away from the most vulnerable.

While you often appeal to Catholic teaching on “subsidiarity” as a rationale for gutting government programs, you are profoundly misreading Church teaching. Subsidiarity is not a free pass to dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own devices. This often-misused Catholic principle cuts both ways. It calls for solutions to be enacted as close to the level of local communities as possible. But it also demands that higher levels of government provide help—“subsidium”—when communities and local governments face problems beyond their means to address such as economic crises, high unemployment, endemic poverty and hunger.

According to Pope Benedict XVI: “Subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidary and vice versa.”

Along with this letter, we have included a copy of the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, commissioned by John Paul II, to help deepen your understanding of Catholic social teaching.

Respectfully,

(Signed by 90 priests and faculty members of Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution in Washington, D.C., at the end of April….)
I guess that means all those Congress members that voted for Ryan’s budget ought to be seeking forgiveness as well.

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Dignity

What the financial crisis still rocking the world has taken from many middle and lower income people is not only their livelihoods, savings, or pensions, but their dignity. The Greek sovereign debt crisis has many causes, not the least of which are the structural weaknesses inherent in the European Union being an economic union but not a political union. The role of financial speculators such as Goldman Sachs has not been discussed in much depth in the mainstream corporate media, but its influences are without a doubt being felt along with the austerity imposed by the banking giants in Europe futilely, it would appear, trying to hold the EU together. If recent reports are correct, that will be increasingly difficult as the countries that make up that bloc retrench and weather the crisis that has yet to subside for a great many of the world’s people.

For one pensioner in Athens, the austerity imposed upon Greece by foreign creditors proved the last straw. Dimitris Christoulas , a retired 77 years old pharmacist took his own life in Syntagma Square in the center of Athens leaving the following note describing his actions:

In translation:

The collaborationist Tsolakoglou government has annihilated my ability  for my survival, which was based on a very dignified pension that I alone (without any state sponsoring) paid for 35 years.

Since my advanced age does not allow me a way of a dynamic reaction (although if a fellow Greek was to grab a Kalashnikov, I would be the second after him), I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance.

I believe that young people with no future, will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945 (Piazza Loreto in Milan).

Dimitris’s death sparked riots in the streets of Athens as frustrated Greeks suffering under the heavy weight of austerity measures fought with police whom they accuse of being the enforcers of a fascist regime. The reference to “the collaborationist Tsolakoglou government” refers to the pro-Axis government of Georgios Tsolakoglou during the German occupation of Greece in 1941 – 1942. Chants following Dimitris Christoulas’s funeral included: “Fascists! Sons of Bitches! Here come the hangings!” When crowds descended on Syntagma Square an aggressive policeman opposing the mourners was badly beaten.

“I won’t pay.”

Renee Maltezou in ekathimerini.com writes:

Stunned Greeks asked if a flawed recipe of austerity cuts to save the country was pushing its citizens to the brink – and family and friends said that is exactly what Christoulas had hoped to accomplish.

“My father’s handwritten note leaves no room for misinterpretation. His whole life was spent as a leftist fighter, a selfless visionary,» his only daughter, Emy Christoula, 43, said in a statement.

“This final act was a conscious political act, entirely consistent with what he believed and did in his life.”

She recalled as a child attending a 1975 concert by Greek leftist composer Mikis Theodorakis, where she and her father sang together. For some dreamers, «committing suicide is not an escape but a cry of awakening», she said.

Friends and acquaintances describe Christoulas as a quiet and gentle man, but also a passionate leftist deeply shaken by the pain that the crisis had inflicted on his fellow citizens.

To many who knew him, «Makis» was a hero – a martyr who had jolted Greeks into asking whether spending and salary cuts prescribed by the foreign lenders in exchange for financial aid as Greece lurched towards bankruptcy had gone too far.

“The way he did it made the difference. It was a political act,» said 91-year old Thymios, a fellow-member of Christoulas’s neighbourhood association, who would not give his last name.

“Maybe the right thing would be to keep fighting but his act was symbolic: He went into the politicians’ ‘nest’ – parliament – and humiliated them.”

As foreign elites demand austerity in return for loans, and a compliant government bends to the wishes of those elites and enlists the security forces to enforce compliance from the public, a pensioner robbed of his pension commits a final act meant to preserve his dignity. The last book he read was Greece’s Pompeii, a comparison of Pompeii’s decadent, corrupt social system with modern Greece. Yet another stark example of the instability of inequality.

Governor LePage Is Not Helping

The drag that state and local budget problems are contributing to the economic recovery looks dismal, as in depression economics dismal. The contribution to real GDP from states and local economies is in negative territory with the pain of cutbacks being shouldered by real people in the form of cuts to education and lay-offs of police, fire fighters, teachers, draconian cuts to the elderly, the disabled, the poor. This policy of focusing on cuts rather than raising revenues to balance state and local budgets is being done under the baseless notion that austerity and tax cuts to business will grow the economy, but the numbers, over and over and over, tell a story diametrically opposite to that “business-friendly” narrative.

The irony here is that there is nothing “business friendly” about it. Small businesses are suffering through the lack of consumer demand these policies contribute to. Laid-off workers don’t buy goods and services. Small businesses feel the brunt of this stifling of demand, laying off their workers, foregoing new investment to grow their business, purchasing less inventory. Those that benefit from the tax cuts already enacted add little to growth as the wealthy to whom these cuts go either save their windfall or invest for their own benefit. Again, the numbers show state and local contributions to real GDP are negative – putting the brakes on the economic recovery. These mythological “job-creators” are not creating jobs, and to consider this the only way to grow Maine’s economy is wrongheaded.

st_locgdp

                                                          Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

As a vocal proponent of this austerity in the face of budget shortfalls Governor LePage is more the problem than the answer. Selling our future short for the temporary gain to the wealthiest in Maine is not in the interest of the long term prosperity of our State. Repeating the meme that it is so does nothing to make it so. But the Governor seems completely innoculated against that logic. As noted previously, even the Maine Revenue Services acknowledges that fairer taxation that brings the wealthiest Mainers into line with other taxpayers would cover the DHHS shortfall.

And the infection of this idea is not just a disease confined to the Blaine House. Senator Snowe has been a vocal proponent of a federal balanced budget amendment, the very thing that has hog-tied state governments creating this scenario of cutting benefits that serve the interest of all people, the 100%, although primarily the middle and lower income families while cutting the taxes on the wealthiest, not because it is good policy but because it is what they demand and have the resources to get. This Congress is, after all, the best that money can buy…

Paul Krugman puts this problem of destructive austerity from state and local budget cuts while failing to raise sufficient revenues more starkly:

It’s hard to overstate just how wrong all this is. We have a situation in which resources are sitting idle looking for uses — massive unemployment of workers, especially construction workers, capital so bereft of good investment opportunities that it’s available to the federal government at negative real interest rates. Never mind multipliers and all that (although they exist too); this is a time when government investment should be pushed very hard. Instead, it’s being slashed.

What an utter disaster.

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