Wayne LaPierre and the NRA are seriously deranged; it's one thing to roll out the same old talking points, but they have responded to the perceived threats to gun ownership (there is none) with a combination of hysteria, hyperbole and plain mean-spirited bullshit. Frankly, the idea of having trained armed guards patrolling schools doesn't bother me that much – they're called police. We don't have enough because the NRA's Republican allies have been devastating state and local government by cutting grants and not approving money for more cops. What the hell is wrong with these people? We originally closed the state and local mental health institutions because they were underfunded, understaffed, unprofessional hell holes. The response that we need to have a bunch of fully armed Paul Blart's running around school campuses because of mental health issues is seriously warped.
Now, it is true that if the government knows who has guns and where the guns are, they could conceivably confiscate them as part of the war on Christmas or something. They know who's got the cars and pickup trucks, right? The speedboats, the private planes…when someone like Antonin "Cicero" Scalia starts talking about how some regulation is obviously constitutional, the game is over and it's just a matter of time. So, saying the President's children are protected and therefore the President doesn't care about children if he takes away the right of every 18 year old junior high school dropout to have an AK47 with multiple banana clips taped together to channel his testosterone warped dreams is a combination of non-sequitur, madness and viciousness. Now, from what I've seen the two Obama daughters are pretty cool young women. Not as much fun as Huntsman's daughters would have been – I recall them drinking wine in some of their videos, which makes me wonder about the whole Mormon thing's pervasiveness at 1313 Mocking Bird Lane or wherever the Huntsman family hangs out – but they're obviously brighter than the Bush girls and Dad isn't a mean drunk. Or paint himself in the nude and send the paintings to his mother. They're nice kids. The reason that they have guards is the same reason that Michelle has guards; the same reason that Speaker Boehner has guards; the same reason that GW Bush has guards – they are high value targets for terrorists, nutcases and criminals. Individual high value targets…under threat.
The NRA is a sad organization, out of step with its members and really in thrall to the gun manufacturers and distributors. Sad, because there are a lot of things it could and should be doing and advocating. I'd like to see mandatory training, licensing, and refresher courses for example. Push that hard, and there will be an increase in ranges, shooting clubs and similar organizations. If you want to protect gun ownership, get the gun owners involved in shooting sports. And, plunking locals driving down the street doesn't count nor students on a campus.
The Debt Limit
Although he can't resist the digs at Social Security and Medicare that are intertwined with current Republican DNA, David Brooks has a generally excellent column in the February 12 edition of the Times. While I get a bit a bit irritable when some rich bastard – and Brooks is a wealthy man from a wealthy family – starts knocking entitlement programs, the thrust of the column is that the United States has always been about the future, not the present. We mortgaged the present, from the beginning, for the future. People forget when they babble about American exceptionalism that the whole "City on a Hill" thing by Winthrop was written when the hills were covered with beaver, muskrats, swamps and cranberry bogs….ok, Southey and Charleston were bogs, the hills were probably just trees…and muskrats…and Pequot Indians. The payback time for things like the Transcontinental Railroad, the Erie Canal, the Land Grant College, the TVA, the Hoover Dam and on and on and on should be measured in centuries. By forgetting that, we have shifted from mortgaging the future to pay for the present. Brooks knocks Medicare and Social Security – I suggest that the move from pensions to 401K plans did great things for current salaries for CEOs. The folks who pay into Social Security and Medicare think they are paying now for a future benefit.
Brooks also points out that business has a major role here. It's not just the government that needs to fund education, innovation, research and infrastructure. The entire Ayn Randian/ Milton Friedman (talk about a love that dares not speak its name) riff on greed and "shareholder value" has encouraged business to focus the efforts of executives on short term results. Banks used to lend primarily for investment in innovation and productivity; now, they are focused on lending for consumption and real estate.
I am personally not concerned this afternoon as to whether or not the President has the guts to cut spending. I'm concerned that he might not have the courage to spend more and use the bully pulpit of the presidency to force the House to approve more of it in the right places. The government acts primarily as a bank with an army, as Paul Krugman and other Times Op-Ed writers have described it. Most of what it does is transfer funds; the government borrows money to accomplish the things the government wants to do because the Congress has legislated it –spent the money – and the executive branch is trying to comply with Congress' guidance. I'm not certain how the geniuses on the right came up with the strategy of reneging on debts as a way of decreasing spending – ever miss a payment on a credit card? Is there a difference? Or have your credit rating drop a bit? If you miss payments or have a downgrade in your credit rating, you will not be able to borrow money at the sweetheart rates you were using before. Most of the various house of cards that collapsed in the early Bush years – ENRON, anyone – did so because the ratings agencies downgraded their debt and they couldn't borrow to pay current costs. There is probably a large firm someplace that doesn't borrow; but for the most part, it's small businesses with little inventory, no production and simple products. In other words, lemonade stands.
So, by screwing around with the debt limit, the Republican Party is saying "We were drunk! Now, we're crazy. We're still drunk, but we're crazy now…" Downgrading the good faith and credit of the United States is exactly what they shouldn't be doing. The debt limit is reached by doing things like paying Social Security, Veterans Benefits, fighting wars, having the FAA control the airports and so on. Be freaking serious – we have never had a real government shutdown. If the Federal Government did a real shutdown, and just closed it's doors on EVERYTHING! For a day or two, some people living the peaceful life of the Unabomber in cabins in the Montana Wilderness would be fine with it. Everyone else, not so much. The way the Federal Government gets the money to avoid shutting down is to borrow it and raise income to pay it. Makes sense to borrow money at low interest rates; makes no sense if you are a net borrower to jack up interest rates. Unless you're drunk and crazy…or, aligned with the enemies of the United States. Now, obviously they can't just raise money by borrowing – it has to be paid back. The way to pay it back is through taxes; since everyone hates taxes but most people love the services government provides, well, the best way is to spread the pain. Flat tax rates don't spread the pain equitably, because this is not North Korea. Some of us have a lot more, some of us have a lot less. In theory, if you take 20% from me and 20% from the guy begging for change on the on-ramp of the interstate and 20% from Donald Trump, that might be fair. Insane of course, because 20% of my income isn't that much and 20% of the income from the guy on the onramp isn't that much; 20% of Trump's income, on the other hand might be reasonable. That's tax policy and it's complex. What we do know is that when government uses progressive tax rates tied to the GDP and perceived requirements, it raises more money. What we also learned from George W. Bush is that there is no room with a big pile of money in it.
This is where the "living within our means" meme comparing government to families is absurd. As Krugman, Stieglitz and Keynes all pointed out (along with Friedman, Heller and Galbraith), there is a major difference of scale between government spending and borrowing and lending and what a family does. A family has an income to manage; the government has an economy. If I am the Vicuna industry, I depend on government subsidies to help my Vicunas go to college or wherever Vicunas go. If the government isn't able to fund Vicuna education and research anymore, well, my Vicunas will be screwed. We need to spend money in order to get the economy moving; get the engine turning over and it will generate more than enough to repeat the Clinton-Gingrich miracle of deficit reduction and surpluses, unless screwed up by the Republican House or the American disease of national attention deficit disorder.
The Papal Resignation
What did the Knights of Malta tell the Pope that caused His Holiness to take the "unprecedented" step of stepping down?
Was it a simple "you're fired"?
The Knights of Malta are one of the most feared and whispered-about secret societies in the world. Originally a gang of fanatical crusaders dedicated to perpetrating genocide in the Holy Land, the Knights apparently have not changed very much – at least if you believe Seymour Hersh. He says the Knights of Malta are a key part of "how eight or nine neoconservatives, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government." (Hersh is too polite to mention that they did it by way of the 9/11 inside job.)
Seymour Hersh explains:
"[The] attitude (toward the Iraq invasion) was, 'What's this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they're all worried about some looting?" Hersh was quoted as saying. "Don't they get it? We're gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody's gonna give a damn.' That's the attitude. We're gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That's an attitude that pervades, I'm here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command [JSOC]."
Kevin Barrett, Veterans Today, 2/12/2003
When I saw the other morning that Pope Benedict, aka "Benny the Rat" had decided to go somewhere else and do something different, I thought it made sense. The last time this happened, of course, a Pope's attempt at resignation resulted in the Babylonian Captivity, the farce of multiple Popes ultimately resolved by resignation and return to Italy by the French Pope while the Italian-Holy Roman Empire's pope headed off for retirement in a monastery. While nothing so dramatic prompted this, the resignation of one Pope because he felt incapable of doing the job followed by self imposed exile, imprisonment, death, and canonization. That debacle resulted in the Babylonian Captivity in Avignon, followed ultimately by another's resignation to end a schism. seems reasonable. Assume a modicum of sincerity on the part of men who spend their lives defending the institution. They're prepared to do whatever needs to be done in the best interests of the Church. Lots of them over the centuries have chosen to do other things than what was best for Catholicism, but they did so thinking that what was best for them was best for Catholicism, Christianity and God. John Paul II was an important symbol of the relevance of Catholicism; it made sense for him to serve until death. Benedict was a caretaker from the beginning, and when the shepherd can't defend the sheep or control them, it makes sense for him to go off to sit by the fire and think. Theologically, philosophically and intellectually.
So, when I glanced at this piece in Veterans Today, I felt my head spin around. As the responses piled up, I got twitchier. We do have some interesting mindsets represented by the readers of Vets, and I'm generally ok with that. We also have a widely diverse crew of writers who have a lot of different things to say. Some of us are insane; some of us are fixated on Israeli policy; some of us are scared of the Jews. The staff tries very hard to ensure that the critique stays focused on policy and verifiable history. Since I respect the right of folks to believe and say bizarre stuff like the earth is flat or that Stalin was a Jew, I tend to be perhaps an outlier. They get to write what they think, I get to I think they're crazy, and at times I'll say so. The author, Dr. Kevin Barrett, is an Islamic scholar, teacher, writer and nonprofit organizer. He is a frequent contributor to Veterans Today, and has his own blog at Truth Jihad. Although he's a persuasive advocate for his beliefs and positions, I generally don't agree with his analysis. I have my issues with this article; frankly, the idea of some combination of the Knights of Malta and the Turkish government unintentionally conspiring to blast God's Rottweiler out of the Papacy strikes me as too clever by half. Reality is not some deranged Da Vinci Code, nor some other variation on it.
First of all, Benedict and John Paul II were a powerful force largely because of their very strong intellects. Agree with them or not, they knew their stuff. I suspect that Benedict may have been showing some signs of some debilitating disease -- Alzheimer's? Dementia? Cardio-issues? -- or something spooked him. Remember, he served John Paul II until the end and to a certain extent acted in the way that Haig acted for Nixon, keeping his legacy safe while moderating behavior while watching his friend, mentor and leader drift off into something entirely less.
Next, what could make the Pope tired? Well, the revelation that the cover-up of priestly abuse in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles could have been the final straw; certainly, the sexual abuse issues and the serious challenges to the Magisterium within the Church might have led the old man to say the hell with this. Ireland, the US, the Nuns, the theologians...Challenges for a younger man. When the shepherd gets really tired of the flock, time to find a new shepherd while he goes off to doze by the fire, pet the Dauschund, sip some Maltiser and reflect.
While most public Papal audiences are pretty tame, if not lame, private ones can be different. The Knights of Malta are a military order to some extent, not unlike the Jesuits. Except, of course, the Knights are very wealthy; always have been, by the way, even after being kicked out of Malta by Napoleon. They were exceptional fighters in the Crusades, although they maintained the hospitals and caring far more than the Templars. Which is probably one reason why they were never thought of as easy pickings for greedy monarchs. Until they became more secularized, they were an extraordinarily potent Naval and Military force. It would be a mistake to think of them as something like the Knights of Columbus. At the same time, they aren't the KGB or the Mossad. What they are is incredibly rich, with lots of very wealthy members and patrons. The Church has been facing money issues for decades; an audience with the leadership of the Knights that had any working aspects would have tired anyone who isn't well-versed in international finance. The Knights of Malta also have a lot of diplomatic ties and influence in Africa and Latin America – places where the Church seeks more influence and power.
Cardinal Ratzinger wasn't all that excited about being selected as Pope, and he saw himself from the beginning as a caretaker. What happens next will be interesting; my own thought is that we're going to see some radical change -- either strongly reactionary or strongly revolutionary.
The Gospel of Barabbas is an interesting red herring. If you seriously think that the publication of a non-canonical gospel is going to undue Christianity, you're overestimating the impact of these things. The idea of Catholics moving toward something like Sharia especially in Europe or the US/Canada flies in the face of the move toward greater liberation on the parts of Catholics. This is especially true because, frankly, the Bible is not primary driver behind Catholicism theologically. It's one of three, of course -- the Bible, the traditions of the Church, and the Magisterium. A non-canonical text will be added to the historical and systematic theological studies as have the rest of them. Rather, I see that as a distraction, frankly.
An openly gay pope undoing In Humanae Vitae, Papal Infallibility, Celibacy and the prohibition on Homosexuality would be interesting indeed. An intellectual of the sort of power of John Paul and Benedict but with greater flexibility and openness would be fascinating. My guess -- either a total outsider or another caretaker. Of course, given the continuing power of conservatives in the College of Cardinals, who knows? We could see the re-institution of burning at the stakes for heretics.
One of my friends, Dr. Mary Hunt, has been cited by me before. Mary is a radical feminist Catholic theologian and has had a fascinating career. She is no fan of the institutional Catholic Church, and has devoted most of her life to an organization she and her partner founded in Bethesda, the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual. While I'm sure she'll be vaguely amused and equally troubled by Barnett's reading on this, I suspect she cluck knowingly that Michael is still hanging around with dubious companions. Like her. We were once dubious companions together. She is now a respected pillar of the religious and spiritual community. Me, I play guitar and write for blogs. Water's post on this story is clear, concise and worth considering. Mary was a Neo-Thomist philosophy student before Harvard Divinity tempted her to theology, and like me, she's still fond, I think, of Occam's razor. Don't multiply bloody entities…sometimes, a cigar and a retiring Pope are a cigar and retiring Pope.
This is WATER's statement.
Let an Inclusive Church Rise!
WATER welcomes the news of the Pope Benedict XVI's resignation and wishes him a peaceful and dignified future.
The Pope's conscience-based decision reflects an honest assessment of his diminished capacity and an enlightened view of the job. We support freedom of conscience in this and in all things, including reproductive and sexual choices.
The Pope demonstrated by his abdication that change is afoot in the Catholic community. Rather than business as usual in the election of his successor, we take this as an opportunity to develop new forms of participatory leadership reflecting the diversity and maturity of the Catholic community. Let an inclusive church rise!
If substantive structural changes in the church begin to emerge, history will record Pope Benedict XVI with more than an asterisk for having retired. Rather, he will be remembered for ending a period of patriarchal rule and making way for a new era of equality. This is our prayer. Read more.