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.

Occupy = Zapatistas

“The government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and security policy.” Mexico, Political Update, Chase Manhattan Bank.

“It is time for us to see this in a larger context. Decisions are made in place like Geneva that impact on the poorest of the poor in Mexico. They decide that the conditionality of a loan to Mexico is going to include the export of meat from Mexico, that means that the land that the Mexicans have used to grow corn is now used to grow cattle. And that cattle is sold to make fast food in the United States. That’s a decision not made by the Mexicans, it’s made by a world trade organization. Who is the enforcer of this? Well of course, the US military becomes the enforcer of a non-democratic, even anti-democratic, corporate effort to control the world economy.” Blasé Bonpane, Director, Office of the Americas.

“We are in this era of a global economy. We are in this era where corporations want to be able to go anywhere in the world, pay as little as they can pay, exploit workers as much as they can exploit them, then move on to the next place. It is very, very convenient to have this big body of dispensable workers right across the border. So I think Mexico is a goldmine for US corporations, and they’re still in the process of figuring out how to tap that goldmine. And the things like the uprising in Chiapas become a real inconvenience for them. “   Medea Benjamin, Co-director, Global Exchange.

“The day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) comes into effect, several thousand soldiers take over half the state of Chiapas, declaring a war against the global corporate power they say rules Mexico. They call themselves the Zapatista National Liberation Army. Zapatista shows this uprising, the story of a peasant rebellion, armed and up against the first world military. It is the story of a movement that transformed Mexican and international political culture forever …”  thoughtmaybe.com

Watch the nearly one hour video here.

The Most Dangerous Man in America

The latest addition to the Video page is a film entitled, The Most Dangerous Man In America, directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith. This is what Henry Kissinger called Daniel Ellsberg in the followup of Ellsberg’s leaking the Pentagon Papers to Congress and the press describing the consistent, systematic lying about Vietnam coming from the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and later by extension, Nixon. Ellsberg was a devoted cold war numbers crunching analyst working at the Rand Corporation completely in the thrall of the idea that the spread of communism was antithetical to democratic Western ideals and needed to be stopped by force of arms. After witnessing first hand the fabrication of evidence supporting a scale up of involvement in Vietnam by Johnson, Ellsberg began questioning the entire house of cards.

This discovery came first by remotely collecting data from military personnel on the ground in Vietnam, and then by participating as a civilian in full uniform and with arms in the conflict. Ellsberg eventually saw that the manufactured crises reported to the public were by and large ruses giving cover for what amounted to mass murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians by eventually the hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs dropped indiscriminately on the countryside of North Vietnam.

When the truth of this became understood, Ellsberg weighed his options and after witnessing the resolve of draft-dodgers willing to go to prison rather to an unjust war, he sought to “cast his whole vote,” as Thoreau had advised in Civil Disobedience, and find a way to exert his maximum influence on stopping the war. The Rand report that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers was the top secret history of the Vietnam War documenting the US involvement in the war from Truman through Johnson, and became the means by which Ellsberg would accomplish this. Leaking this report first to members of Congress, who largely ignored it, and then to the press, most notably the New York Times, the entire course of the war took a turn.  Nixon’s overstep trying to bring Ellsberg down played a role in Nixon’s own downfall. (Kissinger’s advice to Nixon, revealed in the Nixon tapes and captured in this film, was for me shocking. Kissinger told Nixon in no uncertain terms, Nixon should seek to de-escalate and end the war honorably to avoid being seen by the world as “a butcher.” Nixon escalated the war.)

This latest addition to the video page is an excellent rendition of this history. Howard Zinn, Richard Falk, Daniel Ellsberg, Anthony Russo, and a slew of interviews by many others involved in the work being conducted at Rand, in the government, or close to the participants in the leak tell the story of Ellsberg’s defection from the calculated brutality of cold war analytics that supported the deaths of tens of thousands of American soldiers and uncountable Vietnamese civilians to dedicated peace activist. It is a tale with deep relevance to our present state of affairs with our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the proliferation of deception, torture, profiteering, and official state lies.

I think one thing the people will conclude when they’ve read it is that they have not asked enough, they have not expected enough or demanded enough in the way of fullness, in the way of responsibility, from their public servants. Make that known and I think that our Constitution will continue to function better than it has been in the past. (Daniel Ellsberg in a nationally broadcast interview with Dick Cavett)

 

The courage we need is not the courage, the fortitude, to be obedient in the service of an unjust war, to help conceal lies… … it is the courage at last to face honestly the truth and the reality of what we are doing in the world and act responsibly to change it. (Daniel Ellsberg)

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…

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.”

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