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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The Story of Citizens United v. FEC

The latest addition to the Teach-In Page is the excellent resource found on The Story of Stuff website telling the story of the Citizen’s United v FEC decision, the abysmal decision reached about two years ago by the activist Roberts Supreme Court, the most activist Supreme Court in decades. Joining the movement to overturn this disasterous decision begins with understanding what the problem is. Efforts to pass local and state resolutions, and Constitutional amendments to win back control of our government are under way. This primer gives a great description of the problem all of the efforts being taken are meant to address.

The Top Ten (that profit from war… and why state and local budgets are in depression)

Military contractors lobby Congress and the Pentagon for contracts, and once they win the contracts they use some of that money to lobby Congress and the Pentagon for contracts, and once they win the contracts they use some of that money to lobby Congress and the Pentagon for contracts, and once they…

The Top Ten.

Haven’t we been warned that this might happen?

Another View on the Politics Prolonging the Lesser Depression

This VOXEU article discusses the politics that arise in the aftermath of financial crises on a broader scale, not just our current one.

Political environments appear systematically different in the aftermath of a financial crisis relative to before the crisis. This column argues that the ensuing gridlock and the delay in potentially beneficial policy reforms should come as no surprise.

Financial crises of all colours (banking, currency, inflation, or debt crises) leave deep marks on an economy. Deep economic contractions, both in output and employment, are systematic in the interim and in the aftermath of financial crises, as thoroughly documented in research by Reinhart and Rogoff (2009) and Reinhart and Reinhart (2010).

Sustained waves of volatility, often resulting in secondary crises (e.g. debt crises following banking crashes), are almost the norm in the post-crisis period (Reinhart and Rogoff 2011).

What exactly occurs in the aftermath of financial crises that makes recovering from such shocks so hard? This column argues that the answer may lie mostly with the politics, not the economics.

I might disagree with the authors that the Occupy movement is primarily a “leftist” movement, but the overwhelming weight of this analysis that the politics of the extremes are at play here is difficult to dismiss. With the dominant culture favoring the corporatist alignments of corporation, wealth, and the elite political class the extreme politics prolonging the current Lesser Depression, as Paul Krugman describes our present economic status, can be best described as that which favors inequality at the expense of the vast majority of the public in the world’s nations today. Austerity in Europe is pushing the EU into a recession, and while the Federal government in the US has largely avoided the drastic austerity crippling Britain, Spain, Ireland, Portugal,  and Greece states and local municipalities in the US are being forced into austere budget cuts that defy logic, are counter-productive to growth, largely rooted in extreme political economics espoused by both parties that for the past 40 years has helped create the difficulties and inequality we are now experiencing.

 

What We Have Become…

                                                               Pavel Constantin, Cagle Cartoons, Romania

 

What does it say about democracy in the US when this cartoon coming out of a former communist country in Eastern Europe so clearly describes our corporatist state where an elite political class enjoys the benefits of police state protections against the people? Stay in line, and nobody will get hurt…

Paul Krugman’s Playboy Interview

Paul Krugman speaks with Playboy about the financial crisis and why the ongoing slow recovery is unnecessary, the result of politics, not economics. Read the entire article, but here are a few of the “money” quotes:

PLAYBOY: Some of [the] debate is irrelevant to the average person. All they know is they don’t have a job or they don’t have a job that pays enough.

KRUGMAN: The point is there’s a tremendous amount of suffering. A lot of America is much worse off than it was four years ago. I think the main reason you should be angry about it is that it’s gratuitous. This doesn’t have to be happening. We actually have the tools to make most of this go away. If we could throw aside the political prejudices and bad ideas that are crippling us, in 18 months we could be back to something that feels like a much better economy.

On the utility of union organizing:

PLAYBOY: Is it accurate to simplify our modern economy as a choice between working for a high-wage General Motors model versus the low-wage Walmart strategy?

KRUGMAN: I think the choice we made, really without understanding that we were making the choice, was to make Walmart jobs low paying. They didn’t have to be. In a different legal environment, a megacorporation with more than a million employees might well have been a company with a union that resulted in decent wages. We think of Walmart jobs as being low wage with 50 percent turnover every year because that’s the way we’ve allowed it to develop. But it didn’t have to be that way. If the rise of big-box stores had not taken place under the Reaganite rules of the game, with employers free to do whatever they wanted to block union organizing, we might have had a different result. Part of the hysterical opposition to the auto-industry bailout was the notion that we were bailing out well-paid workers with union jobs.

On the policy failures that have prolonged unemployment at demoralizing low levels that hurt the country, its labor force, based on backward political thinking:

PLAYBOY: So people in America today are suffering when they don’t have to be because of policy makers who won’t do the right thing?

KRUGMAN: That’s right. I’ve gotten some grief for my remark that if it were announced that we faced a threat from space aliens and needed to build up to defend ourselves, we’d have full employment in a year and a half. But that’s true. Why couldn’t we do that to repair our sewer systems and put an extra tunnel under the Hudson instead of to fight imaginary space aliens? Everybody in the world except us is doing a lot of investment in infrastructure and education. This is the country of the Erie Canal and the Interstate Highway System. The Erie Canal was a huge public infrastructure project financed with no private or public-private partnership. Can you imagine doing that in 21st century America? We really have slid backward for the past 200 years from the kinds of things we used to understand needed to be done now and then. And all of that because we are shackled to the wrong ideas.

(The interview that appears in the link above in a recent edition of Playboy, so if a little suggestive skin is offensive to you, reader beware.)

The Disingenuous Mr. Romney Comes to Portland

I confess. I was a bad boy at the Romney event last Friday evening at Portland Yacht Services. I openly challenged some of Romney’s disingenuous assertions and after a time the police, at the request of the owner, asked that I leave which I voluntarily did. I have a video clip of my peaceful exchange with the officer. When I inquired who requested my leaving I was given to understand by the police sergeant who escorted me to the exit that it was Phineas Sprague, local business man and host of the event.

I’d like to ask why a campaign event such as this would be publicized as “open to the public” but in fact not be a public event when it comes to the subject of speech. I understood open to the public to mean that anyone from the public was welcomed, regardless of political persuasion. That is what I have always thought “public event” meant. And as a public gathering I naturally thought my speech, particularly my political speech, could arguably be protected. Private ownership of the property on which an advertised “public event” was taking place was used in this case to trump public speech. Had I repeatedly shouted, “fire,” it would have been entirely appropriate for the nearest fifty people to clamor onto my back and shut me up. However, stifling me for challenging Mr. Romney’s thin assertions hardly rises to the level of “fire.”

A fellow that was not even allowed entry into the event and instead stood outside the door listening said nothing whatsoever. His appearance disqualified him. He had the appearance of a fisherman, wore cargo shorts to his mid-calf, had longish hair and a beard, and wore a beret with a non-descript insignia on the front. He described himself as a conservative, actually as an acquaintance of Mr. Sprague. As soon as he entered the event police were signaled by someone inside to remove him. Open to the public, indeed.

I didn’t shout “fire,” at least not in the literal sense. By addressing the platitudes and thin veneer of Mr. Romney’s rhetoric I was calling out the shallowness of the spectacle. A 1%-er put up a private stage for this other 1%-er to shower the crowd with feel good bromides — “When I am President I will create jobs…” “When I am President I will fix the economy…” – saying nothing, really, about how that would be accomplished in any meaningful way. After all it has been over three years since Mr. Romney’s party have openly admitted to on principle opposing every Obama policy and yet the economy improves, albeit slowly but still. It is meaningful that he loves his country, as he offered (I’m sure he does, he has done extremely well here, and in the Caymans…), but the platitude that by bestowing more favors on the 1% he will create jobs and balance the budget is as light as gossamer.

I would have Mr. Romney comment on the fact that one of the last times strong measures were taken to balance the federal budget, by Andrew Jackson, a 75-month depression occurred. These hollow notions are what the 1%-ers — him on the stage and him staging the event — use to whip up support for policies that benefit the 1% more than anyone else. There is a reason why the US Census Bureau citing 2010 census data states one in three Americans is poor or near poor. It is no coincidence major corporations are reporting record profits quarter after quarter, or that a very small minority holds the vast wealth of the country. The wealth of this nation has been systematically redistributed upward through preferential tax treatment and special services that only the wealthiest have access to, among other mechanisms. It’s no coincidence the national conversation shifted to this inequality when Occupiers occupied Wall St, the engine feeding this inequality. The truth of this resonates far and wide.

The Maine Revenue Service recently affirmed that if Maine’s wealthiest citizens were taxed at the same level that most other Mainers are, the 65,000 Maine people threatened to be thrown out of MaineCare, Maine’s Medicaid program, would not fear for their health, their housing, nor their place in society. The politics of the corporation and the 1% does not make for a government of, by, and for the people.

With my challenges I am taking back my little piece of ground and occupying it. There is a fire in our republic and I will cry fire.

I have a great deal of respect for the Portland Police, or I should really say, police in general. They do an incredibly difficult job policing our cities and towns. They deal with situations most of us would balk at, some of which put their very lives at risk or in danger of severe harm. They are required to make careful sometimes life changing split-second decisions that are expected to be blameless. Not just anyone possesses the courage to face such a job so organic to the proper functioning of our society. I have a great deal of respect for those that aspire to do so. (On the other hand, I have little respect for the militarization of local police under a dubious banner of national security. This is a slippery slope we have slid way too far down already.)

The police, as far as politeness and respect for my person were concerned, carried out Mr. Sprague’s bidding in an entirely appropriate manner. The space was his and I admit he had the prerogative. My speech obviously upset Sprague and by instructing the police to ask me to leave, he obviously did not think my speech was protected speech. I think really, though, we never even approached that question. My challenges to Mr. Romney were not part of the script for the evening and that may have been what upset him.

I respectfully followed the officer’s polite request that I leave Mr. Sprague’s property. The officer is part of the 99% and I respect that his unions are under attack by people like Mitt Romney, and those that provide stages for Mr. Romney to deliver the 1%’s song and dance routine. Think of me as someone throwing a metaphorical rotten tomato at a lousy performer.

For more on the disingenuous Mr. Romney, Brad Delong offers:

Mitt Romney Rises to Amazing Heights of Incoherence in Michigan

Bring Our War Dollars Home: Afghanistan

A recent article in Armed Forces Journal could not be clearer on the state of the war in Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis writes in Truth, lies, and Afghanistan:

I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.

I came across this piece through the excellent online newsletter put out by the Afghanistan Study Group, the Afghanistan Weekly Reader. Wonkish and authoritative the ASG’s reports and news releases are non-partisan, and of the highest quality sort of analysis and information I’ve found on the subject of the decade-plus war being waged in Afghanistan.

The latest DoD request: $88 billion for the war effort in 2013 as the drawdown of troops continues. And for what, asks ASG’s Mary Kaszynski?

We’ve mentioned before that this number seems suspiciously high, considering the pace of the drawdown, We’re not the only ones who think so. At the budget briefing two weeks ago a reporter noted that the cut from last year’s war costs to this year “doesn’t seem like it’s that much of a reduction” and asked DOD officials to “give us some sense of what that’s for, that 88.4 billion?” JCS Chair General Dempsey’s response: “For recapitalization, for reconstitution, we’ve always said that it would take years following the end of the conflict to recapitalize the force.  And some of the OCO costs are caught up in that. ”

Dempsey’s answer is not that surprising. The need to “recapitalize” or “reset” the force after a decade of war is a favorite line for those who want to keep defense spending high. Trimming the defense budget, we are told, would hollow out our military forces and leave us open to all sorts of dangers.

The problem with this argument is that it’s simply not true. A new report from the Congressional Research Service says, in a typically understated way, “it can be argued that the use of the term “hollow force” is inappropriate under present circumstances.”

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.

The #1 Source of US Oil: Alberta Tar Sands, and They May Be Coming to Maine

A new posting to the Video page, Dirty Oil, is the story of the Alberta, Canada tar sands project, currently the largest industrial project on the planet, strip-mining boreal forest for bitumen at an unprecedented scale. An area the size of Florida holds what is being advertised as the world’s largest potential oil reserve. This land area will potentially be clear cut, the top soil removed, the bitumen (oil sands) extracted by strip mining techniques, the oil extracted from the sands emitting three times the CO2 into the atmosphere as conventional oil extraction, requiring many barrels of water per one barrel of oil to harvest the crude. The title of the film, Dirty Oil, understates the problem. The Canadian government stands to make $70 bil by 2020, the Province of Alberta about $40 bil.

Some of the Alberta tar sands oil is planned to be diverted to eastern Canada, flowing into the Portland-Montreal Pipeline, reversing the current direction of flow in the pipeline, to be shipped to markets. Opposition to the XL pipeline has temporarily been halted, but the shovels and trucks pulling the bitumen out of the ground has only increased over the past decade… This oil will go somewhere…

Dirty Oil, and a companion film, H2Oil, tell the story of this gargantuan project, the people directly affected, the costs to our global environment, the lax regulation, dishonesty, professional assassinations occurring along the way.

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