Bishop Sorondo: China best implements Catholic social doctrine

Bishop Sorondo
Vatican Bishop and chancellor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, speaks during a master conference in the framework of the XII International Meeting of Economists, on March 1, 2010 in Havana. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo is chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. While the non-socialist Pope John Paul II established the Academy in 1994, it has taken a clear turn to the left since then, especially since Francis has been Pope.

For example, readers may recall that Bernie Sanders spoke at a Vatican conference in April 2016, during the Democratic primary.

It was Bishop Sorondo who invited him.

In addition to Sanders, the conference included speakers such as:

  • President Evo Morales of Bolivia;
  • President Rafael Correa of Ecuador; and
  • Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, who wrote the book “Challenge of Inequality“.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that one who feels comfortable in the company of prominent socialists would appreciate the policies of a socialist country.

And yet, one would hardly expect a Catholic bishop to praise the policies of a nominally-Communist government as being aligned with Catholic teaching.

The Catholic Herald reports:

The chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences praised the ‘extraordinary’ Communist state.

“Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” a senior Vatican official has said.

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, praised the Communist state as “extraordinary”, saying: “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs”. Instead, there is a “positive national conscience”.

The bishop told the Spanish-language edition of Vatican Insider that in China “the economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States, something Americans themselves would say.”

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo said that China was implementing Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ better than many other countries and praised it for defending Paris Climate Accord. “In that, it is assuming a moral leadership that others have abandoned”, he added.

He accused US president Donald Trump of being “manipulated” by global oil firms, and said that, as opposed to those who follow “liberal thought”, the Chinese are working for the greater good of the planet.

On the surface, Bishop Sorondo’s claims are a noxious combination of being laughable and pathetic. For example:

  • Notwithstanding Sorondo’s naïve claim, the New York Times reported in 2015 that illegal drug use is quite prominent among Chinese youth;
  • Chinese debt, at all levels of society, are at frightening heights. For example, a recent analysis suggests that “Total Non-Financial Credit” in China is in excess of 328% of GDP. In other words, China is pursuing Keynesian policies similar to other Western countries, including the U.S.
  • With regard to climate change, Climate Action Tracker currently rates China’s plans to meet its commitments under the Paris Climate Accord as “highly insufficient”.

Finally, Sorondo’s premise about who is working “for the greater good” is telling. Like a good Marxist, both classical and cultural, what matters to him is not the effects of people’s actions (notwithstanding the tremendous reduction in poverty since the Industrial Age over 200 years ago), but the reason why a person acts.

At the same time, perhaps there’s another reason why a bishop would sing the praises of an otherwise obnoxious country:

The Vatican and China have been holding talks in recent years over the status of the ‘underground’ Church and the appointment of bishops. In November, the Vatican Museums also organised joint exhibitions with China in what was called “diplomacy of art”.

As part of the diplomacy efforts, Bishop Sánchez Sorondo visited the country. “What I found was an extraordinary China,” he said. “What people don’t realise is that the central value in China is work, work, work. There’s no other way, fundamentally it is like St Paul said: he who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.”

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo concluded by saying that China is “developing well” and now has “many points of agreement” with the Vatican.

“You cannot think that the China of today is the China of [the time of] John Paul II, or Cold War Russia,” he said.

In other words, Catholic leaders need to pretend that they like the officials running policies that have forced countless abortions (thereby leading to tens of millions of bachelors), closely monitors local internet activity, and lead “anti-corruption” campaigns to clear out enemies of those in power. However, even while saying the right things, it appears that the Vatican is close to rolling over and allowing China to designate local bishops. In fact, the New York Times reports that the Vatican has asked two “underground” bishops to step aside in order for “individuals approved by the country’s authoritarian government” to take their places.

Never mind that the Vatican had previously excommunicated the two government-appointed bishops for being consecrated illicitly.

Like a good schoolboy, Bishop Sorondo is saying what he has to say so that the Vatican can establishes relations with China.

But is the cost worth it?

AP: Pope Francis knew about Chilean sex abuse victims

Chilean sex abuse
Marie Collins, a member of the pope’s sex-abuse commission, hands a letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley detailing the abuse of Juan Carlos Cruz and a cover-up by Chilean church authorities, at the Domus Santa Marta on April 12, 2015. (AP)

Before discussing the Associated Press’s report (of which I learned thanks to Rod Dreher), it would be helpful to provide some context.

In mid-January, Pope Francis visited Chile and Peru. His visit to Chile was going to be a particularly sensitive visit, seeing that almost 80 members of Chilean clergy have been accused of sexually abusing children.

Chile’s church earned wide respect during the regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet because it spoke out against the military’s human rights abuses, but it began a downward spiral in 2010 when victims of a charismatic, politically connected priest came forward with allegations that he had kissed and fondled them.
Local church leaders had ignored the complaints against the Rev. Fernando Karadima for years, but they were forced to open an official investigation after the victims went public and Chilean prosecutors started investigating. The Vatican in 2011 sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for his crimes, but the church leadership hasn’t won back Chileans’ trust for having covered up Karadima’s crimes for so long.

“The Karadima case created a ferocious wound,” said Chile’s ambassador to the Holy See, Mariano Fernandez Amunategui. He and others inside the Vatican speak openly of a Chilean church “in crisis” as a result, a remarkable admission of the scandal’s toll on a church that wielded such political clout that it helped stave off laws legalizing divorce and abortion until recently.

Chileans’ disenchantment has even affected their views of the pope himself. A recent survey by Latinobarometro, a respected regional polling firm, found that Chile had a lower esteem for history’s first Latin American pope than 18 other Central and South American countries. Even among Chilean Catholics, only 42 percent approve of the job Francis is doing, compared to a regional average of 68 percent.

Unfortunately, any chance Francis may have had in healing wounds created by the scandal was gutted with remarks that directly questioned the integrity of sexual abuse victims themselves.

Pope Francis accused victims of Chile’s most notorious pedophile of slander Thursday, an astonishing end to a visit meant to help heal the wounds of a sex abuse scandal that has cost the Catholic Church its credibility in the country.

Francis said that until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, such accusations against Barros are “all calumny.”

The pope’s remarks drew shock from Chileans and immediate rebuke from victims and their advocates. They noted the accusers were deemed credible enough by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for his crimes in 2011. A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop criminal charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes wasn’t lacking.

“As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all,” tweeted Barros’ most vocal accuser, Juan Carlos Cruz. “These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”

The Karadima scandal dominated Francis’ visit to Chile and the overall issue of sex abuse and church cover-up was likely to factor into his three-day trip to Peru that began late Thursday.

Karadima’s victims reported to church authorities as early as 2002 that he would kiss and fondle them in the swank Santiago parish he ran, but officials refused to believe them. Only when the victims went public with their accusations in 2010 did the Vatican launch an investigation that led to Karadima being removed from ministry.

The emeritus archbishop of Santiago subsequently apologized for having refused to believe the victims from the start.

Francis’s move to send an expert to Chile “to investigate a bishop accused by victims of covering up for the country’s most notorious pedophile priest” did nothing to mitigate the outrage his remarks made.

With that background, let us now turn to a potential bombshell of a report by the Associated Press:

Pope Francis received a victim’s letter in 2015 that graphically detailed sexual abuse at the hands of a priest and a cover-up by Chilean church authorities, contradicting the pope’s recent insistence that no victims had come forward, the letter’s author and members of Francis’ own sex- abuse commission have told The Associated Press.

The fact that Francis received the eight-page letter, obtained by the AP, challenges his insistence that he has “zero tolerance” for sex abuse and cover-ups. It also calls into question his stated empathy with abuse survivors, compounding the most serious crisis of his five-year papacy.

The scandal exploded last month when Francis’ trip to South America was marred by protests over his vigorous defense of Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused by victims of covering up the abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima. During the trip, Francis callously dismissed accusations against Barros as “slander,” seemingly unaware that victims had placed him at the scene of Karadima’s crimes.

On the plane home, confronted by reporters, the pope said: “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”

But members of the pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors say that in April 2015, they sent a delegation to Rome specifically to hand-deliver a letter to the pope about Barros. The letter from Juan Carlos Cruz detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling he says he suffered at Karadima’s hands, which he said Barros and others witnessed and ignored.

Four members of the commission met with Francis’ top abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, explained their objections to Francis’ recent appointment of Barros as a bishop in southern Chile, and gave him the letter to deliver to Francis.

“When we gave him (O’Malley) the letter for the pope, he assured us he would give it to the pope and speak of the concerns,” then-commission member Marie Collins told the AP. “And at a later date, he assured us that that had been done.”

Neither the Vatican nor O’Malley responded to multiple requests for comment.

In the letter to the pope, Cruz begs for Francis to listen to him and make good on his pledge of “zero tolerance.”

“Holy Father, it’s bad enough that we suffered such tremendous pain and anguish from the sexual and psychological abuse, but the terrible mistreatment we received from our pastors is almost worse,” he wrote.

Cruz goes on to detail in explicit terms the homo-eroticized nature of the circle of priests and young boys around Karadima, the charismatic preacher whose El Bosque community in the well-to-do Santiago neighborhood of Providencia produced dozens of priestly vocations and five bishops, including Barros.

He described how Karadima would kiss Barros and fondle his genitals, and do the same with younger priests and teens, and how young priests and seminarians would fight to sit next to Karadima at the table to receive his affections.

“More difficult and tough was when we were in Karadima’s room and Juan Barros — if he wasn’t kissing Karadima — would watch when Karadima would touch us — the minors — and make us kiss him, saying: ‘Put your mouth near mine and stick out your tongue.’ He would stick his out and kiss us with his tongue,” Cruz told the pope. “Juan Barros was a witness to all this innumerable times, not just with me but with others as well.”

“Juan Barros covered up everything that I have told you,” he added.

Barros has repeatedly denied witnessing any abuse or covering it up. “I never knew anything about, nor ever imagined, the serious abuses which that priest committed against the victims,” he told the AP recently. “I have never approved of nor participated in such serious, dishonest acts, and I have never been convicted by any tribunal of such things.”

For the Osorno faithful who have opposed Barros as their bishop, the issue isn’t so much a legal matter requiring proof or evidence, as Barros was a young priest at the time and not in a position of authority over Karadima. It’s more that if Barros didn’t “see” what was happening around him and doesn’t find it problematic for a priest to kiss and fondle young boys, he shouldn’t be in charge of a diocese where he is responsible for detecting inappropriate sexual behavior, reporting it to police and protecting children from pedophiles like his mentor.

This appears to be clear evidence that he lied about whether victims had come forward to the Vatican to present evidence of abuse. As Rod Dreher observed, to be caught in such a lie fifteen years after the Boston sex abuse scandal is outrageous, and reflects “depraved indifference” on the Vatican’s behalf.

These are damning allegations that Pope Francis needs to confront. Immediately.

Neo-Feudalism? After restricting the use of cash, India extends welfare to the poor.

Neo-feudalism

Last month, this blog reported that Indians continue to prefer using cash to digital money, despite government efforts against cash.

Now the government has announced plans to increase welfare benefits to the poor. According to The Wall Street Journal:

India announced plans to do more to lift up the lives of the poor, particularly farmers, in its annual budget, the last for Prime Minister Narendra Modi before national elections next year.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said Thursday that New Delhi would guarantee that farmers are paid at least 1.5 times the cost of their crops as part of a program to double farmer incomes by 2022.

“This budget is farmer friendly, common citizen friendly, business environment friendly and development friendly,” said a tweet from Mr. Modi’s official prime-minister account.

The government said it would require banks to lend more to farming businesses and ramp up spending on building homes and improving roads in rural areas.

Mr. Jaitley also announced an ambitious health plan for the poor, under which the government would shoulder up to 500,000 rupees (about $8,000) a year in medical expenses for 100 million poor families.

He reiterated that the government doesn’t consider cryptocurrencies legal tender and that it would take measures to eliminate their use in financing illegitimate activities or as part of the payment system. The government would, however, explore using blockchain technology to promote a digital economy, Mr. Jaitley said.

On the surface, the combination of welfare payments, loans, and health care appear to be designed to “lift up the lives” of the poor. However, such programs rarely do anything other than incentive recipients to stay on welfare for the rest of their lives. Add in the cryptocurrency restrictions, and one could almost be forgiven into thinking that that’s exactly what the Indian government wants to accomplish.

I wonder if this is what Neo-Feudalism would look like, in which the indigent are tied to the state rather than the manor?

Martin Wolf: The liberal international order is sick

Liberal international order

In light of the World Economic Forum kicking off in Davos, Switzerland, Martin Wolf penned an interesting column in The Financial Times in which he discusses the state of the liberal international order.

Rather than go through the specifics of his column, what struck me was not only the dialectic that he drew between the liberal international order and national authoritarianism, but the naivete with which he draws it.

Wolf quotes a professor to characterize the liberal international order this way:

[T]he “US and its partners built a multi-faceted and sprawling international order, organised around economic openness, multilateral institutions, security co-operation and democratic solidarity”. This system won the cold war. That victory, in turn, promoted a global shift towards democratic politics and free-market economics.

Wolf later characterizes the liberal international order as being “rooted in democratic politics” and “the best way to reconcile global co-operation with domestic legitimacy”.

While he believes in such an order, he calls it sick, and Trump’s election, Brexit, and the rise of authoritarian regimes in Turkey and Hungary, are symptoms of that illness. In particular, Wolf points to a study by Freedom House, indicating that Trump shows sympathy for autocrats abroad and violates norms of democratic governance.

I just find the premises behind what the liberal international order is, and the criticisms of the supposedly rising authoritarianism, somewhat baffling.

First, there is the false dichotomy between democracy and authoritarianism. Just because 51 percent of voters decide to take money from the other 49 percent, that does not make the theft legitimate. In far too many instances, interest groups uses democracy to gain resources at the expense of others. Because votes could be used to justify theft, why democracy should be viewed as the highest expression of political action is beyond me.

Second, much like the European Union appears to mostly benefit Germany, the post World War II international order, not surprisingly, mostly benefits the United States. While a whole bunch of countries appear to be in all of these multilateral institutions, the key figure in all of them is Uncle Sam. While participating countries certainly benefit from American largesse, this global framework benefits liberal internationalist policymakers, multinational companies, and the military-industrial complex, all while American taxpayers foot the bill.

Third, to call the current trade system “free trade” is laughable. What we not have is managed trade, primarily through organizations like the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, and multilateral trade agreements, like NAFTA. Truly free trade would not require the extensive legal and regulatory infrastructure currently in place. Therefore, it should be no surprise if Brexiteers and Trump are able to make headway with communities who have been on the losing end of the managed trade regime.

That’s not to say that Trump actually understands economics. On the contrary, he does not understand the key benefits of trade, particularly with foreigners. Nevertheless, his mercantalist worldview just happens to emphasize different beneficiaries when compared to those that globalists favor.

Finally, the assertion that only Trump has an affinity for authoritarian regimes is completely ignorant of American foreign policy since the end of World War II. The United States has had no problem dealing with nasty regimes, so long as their ideology did not look like those of our enemies at the time. All one has to do is consider the US’s relationship with Saudi Arabia to dispel that ridiculous notion.

In the end, Wolf may be onto something about the problems with the liberal international order. However, part of its problem may be the worldview its adherents have in the first place.

While lofty and abstract ideals may help hide otherwise selfish and ruthless interests, that does not mean that those holding such views are not responsible for the very problems in which they find themselves.

 

Live-blogging E.J. Dionne’s WaPo column

E.J. Dionne

Scanning through the mainstream media this morning (and pounding far too much coffee to keep myself awake as a result), I came across a gem of a headline. Today’s Washington Post published a column by E.J. Dionne entitled, “Don’t buy the spin. Government works.

Provocative, ain’t it? Let’s see if he makes a convincing case.

Government shutdown follies feed an ideologically loaded narrative that government is hopelessly incompetent and can never be counted on to do much that is useful.

I don’t know how I would put it to E.J., but it’s a little bit more than a mere narrative.

After looking back just the past sixteen years, what other conclusion should I come up with? Among other things:

  • The US’s foreign policy comprises nothing but failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; massive waves of Middle East migrants due to attacks in Syria, Iraq, and Libya; and insistently provoking Russia, China, and Iran for reasons only neocons can articulate;
  • The national debt that has grown from under $6 trillion to over $20 trillion;
  • The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has exploded from over $700 billion in 2003 to over $4.4 trillion today;
  • A regulatory state has grown so vast so quickly it has throttled America’s entrepreneurial spirit; and
  • Obamacare has single-handedly contributed to the near-collapse of America’s health-care industry.

However, such facts rarely interfere with a liberal’s desire to see government as some benevolent force in society.

President Trump and Republicans should bear the burden for Washington’s disarray because it was Trump’s erratic and uninformed negotiating style (along with his repeated flip-flopping) that made a rational deal impossible.

While I am the last person to defend Trump, he and Democrats are separated from an issue that is central to both of their bases: how to treat illegal immigrants who entered the country through Obama’s executive orders relating to DACA. Therefore, I’m not terribly interested in a partisan’s take on who is to blame on the impasse.

But even if he and his party are held responsible, episodes of this sort have the long-run effect of bolstering the standard conservative view of government as a lumbering beast whose “meddling” only fouls things up. The private sector is cast as virtuously efficient and best left alone.

Ah, one can practically see the straw being gathered up to create the construct that will ultimately be torn down. “The private sector is cast as virtuously efficient” puts a moral veneer to an economic argument. Under that argument, voluntary transactions are preferable to forced transactions, or transactions with conditions that outsiders impose. That’s because people engaged in voluntary transactions are more satisfied with their outcomes than if an outside party imposed conditions neither party had agreed to. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have entered into the deal in the first place. Such transactions are not virtuous so much as forced transactions cannot be virtuous.

The power of this anti-government bias is enhanced by our failure to revisit government’s successes. We don’t often call out those who wrongly predict that activist politicians and bureaucrats will bring on nothing but catastrophe.

What a bunch of malarkey.

The left’s constant criticism of Fox News and other conservative outlets includes chastising them for their predicting bad outcomes of proposed government policies.

Additionally, while it may be unreasonable to expect Dionne to have a long memory, there is a relatively famous (at least in Austrian economics circles) blog post by Keynesian economist Brad DeLong, in which he lambasted Robert Murphy’s expectation that quantitative easing would lead to significant price inflation, which did not occur (and Murphy later acknowledged as a mistake).

After all, if there is anything that can be relied upon, it is the left’s insatiable desire to use any opportunity to find rhetorical high ground so as to castigate non-leftists for their presumably immoral views.

To characterize leftists as not finding sufficient opportunities to confront anti-government bias is ridiculous.

This is why conservatives would like to lock the government rescues of General Motors and Chrysler under President Barack Obama in a memory hole. In the end, taxpayers invested some $80 billion in the effort and recouped all but approximately $10 billion of that. And that does not take into account the taxes paid by workers who might otherwise have been unemployed.

That’s certainly an interesting perspective.

If only it were true.

Notwithstanding Dionne’s characterization of recouping seven-eighths of the bailout as a success, his indignation fails to address:

  • Why taxpayer money should be used to bail out failed businesses at all;
  • TARP, through which hundreds of billions of taxpayer money was used to “rescue” banks, brokers, and mortgage financing companies that made over-sized bets on residential mortgages;
  • Whether protectionist policies incentivized American car companies to continue poor management practices; and
  • Why auto workers, let alone anyone else, should be forced to finance all of these bailouts through the taxes they paid.

The only way Dionne could make the auto bailout look effective is to ignore all of the above. And even that didn’t work, because the government still spent more than it received. Which is, you know, inefficient.

Remember that when this was debated, critics insisted the federal government could not possibly understand a complicated business, and that it would turn the auto companies into some kind of patronage dumping ground.

If the bailout happened, Mitt Romney famously wrote, “you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.” Rush Limbaugh accused Obama of trying to “take over” the American auto companies in order to turn them into “another industry doing his bidding.” Then-Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said the bailout would amount to throwing good money after bad. “Just giving them $25 billion doesn’t change anything,” he said in November 2008, citing the estimated upfront cost of saving the companies. “It just puts off for six months or so the day of reckoning.”

In fact, in the most capitalist of terms, the initiative worked spectacularly well. Auto sales rose for seven straight years beginning in 2010, before finally taking a small dip in 2017. On May 29, 2009, GM stock cratered to 75 cents a share — yes, 75 cents. The restructured company went public again in 2010 at $33 a share, and it was trading at around $43 a share on Friday. Fiat Chrysler, the merged company that came out of the government-led restructuring, debuted on the New York Stock Exchange at $9 a share in October 2014 and is now trading at around $24 a share.

Careful readers may notice that the first word in “Fiat Chrysler” is an Italian company. So the American government helped to subsidize the sale of an American car company to a foreign one.

Funny, I don’t see Dionne pointing this out.

As far as auto sales going up, that aspect of the business cycle would have occurred whether the car companies were bailed out or not. All that changed is who sold the cars.

Add in the spectacularly awful “Cash for Clunkers“, the government wasted an enormous amount of other people’s money to solve a problem that can only be resolved through the marketplace.

Although Obama organized the details of the rescue and took the heat for it, former President George W. Bush deserves some credit here. While he was initially reluctant to do so, Bush responded to Obama’s desire to keep the companies open. He eventually fronted GM and Chrysler some $25 billion from the funds that had been set aside for bank bailouts after the economic implosion.

Bush said in December 2008, “If we were to allow the free market to take its course now, it would almost certainly lead to disorderly bankruptcy.” For such a staunch capitalist, it was a candid — one might say courageous — admission that the market, operating on its own, would create chaos.

This just goes to show that the welfare state is not the purview of one particular party: Republicans know how to play the welfare game as much as the other one. The fact that Dionne is deferring to Bush on how the marketplace works shows that neither Dionne nor Bush understand economics.

And this bedlam would have taken a severe human and social toll, as the job losses from that “disorderly bankruptcy” would have hit not only the auto companies themselves but also their suppliers and other enterprises, large and small, that served them.

Dionne is confusing the symptoms of the bust as a cause. Because he has no understanding of economics, let alone the business cycle, he can’t see that even if the car companies and their suppliers had to go into bankruptcy, their assets would be re-allocated in a far more efficient and effective manner than what had been accumulated during the boom. There is no question that such a bust would be painful, but the result would be far more sustainable than what happened through the bailouts, which is kick the can down the road.

Instead, Michigan, along with other parts of the region, has staged an impressive comeback. The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate peaked at 14.9 percent in June 2009, fell to 5.1 percent by December 2016 and has continued to drop, to 4.6 percent last November. In Detroit itself, unemployment declined from 28.4 percent in June 2009 to 7.8 percent in November 2017.

If Michigan is doing as well as Dionne makes it out to be, why did the state vote for Trump during the last election? Granted, the margin of victory was incredibly small. However, people don’t vote for a maverick like Trump unless they are deeply unsatisfied with the state of things.

Besides, even if the entire drop in unemployment is attributable to the auto bailouts, which I doubt, what was cost of that drop in terms of employment that could have been retained in other parts of the country?

Dionne cannot even contemplate such a question, let alone address it.

Wages, it should be said, have not fully recovered from the Great Recession. The real median household income in Michigan stood at $57,910 in 2006, sank through 2010, when it hit $50,943, and was at $57,091 in 2016. So there’s still work to do. But imagine what the trends would look like if government had made the irreversible choice of letting GM and Chrysler go under.

I love the dramatic rhetoric closing this paragraph. Imagine the pain and suffering if those Republicans just let those companies die! Only evil people – EVIL!!!!! – would let such catastrophe to occur!

The primary problem behind the rhetoric is that all government does, at best, is redistribute the pain of a bust. After it had become clear that the enormous debts that had been incurred through residential mortgages could not be paid, people responded accordingly. Companies laid off workers, who, in turn, couldn’t buy cars.

American car companies couldn’t survive the downturn because of their high debt levels, high wages, and enormous pension obligations. All the bailouts did was prevent people from re-allocating resources to more productive purposes. The losses incurred by those companies were socialized through the supposed benevolence of politicians, with a little help from the American taxpayer.

This is indicative of the broader socialization of losses that occurred through the bailout of the banking industry. The taxpayer took on the losses, and executives kept their bonuses. Yet Dionne addresses none of this.

The last paragraph of his column is so atrocious, I need to focus on each sentence.

The price of our collective amnesia about the moments when public action kept capitalism from flying off the rails is very high.

Each transaction consists of exchanging money for a good or service. The money supply is directly affected by Federal Reserve policy, primarily through setting short-term interest rates. Regardless, if one-half of each transaction is impacted by a central planning agency, it does not make any sense to blame capitalism on the bust.

Once a crisis is over, extreme forms of deregulation return to fashion, and our political discourse falls lazily into cheap government bashing.

The Obama years saw an extensive expansion of regulation, particularly in the financial services sector. Must he be reminded about Dodd-Frank, let alone Obamacare? There was nothing deregulatory about those years. I can also assure him that any government bashing can be well-substantiated. In many ways, this is a throwaway sentence.

Speaking of throwaway sentences, Dionne closes his essay with this one.

That Trump and Congress make this easy is no excuse for forgetting why government is there.

Dionne’s essay is a cheap rehashing of tired liberal rhetoric extolling the virtues of some magical entity that can come out of nowhere and solve problems no one else can.

It ignores the simple fact that for government to spend money, it has to take it out of someone else’s pocket. It is inherently parasitical.

In other words, government doesn’t work.

That is why the best government for a well-ordered society is no government at all.

 

The burning effect of Flannery O’Conner’s fiction on Richard Beck

Flannery O'ConnerA while back, I wrote about Richard Beck’s fascinating series of blog posts that explored the development of demons in the Bible. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of Beck’s biblical exegesis, I appreciated his willingness to probe the relationship between a person’s spiritual state and his or her actions.

Recently, he has been writing about the effect Flannery O’Conner’s writings have had on his Christian outlook.

I have to confess, Flannery O’Connor has wrecked me. Over the last two years, I’ve read all her short stories and have read her two novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, twice. And I don’t read fiction.

Reading Flannery O’Connor has been a profound and destabilizing experience that I’m only just starting to reckon with. I’m still exploring the contours and jagged edges of the changes O’Connor has wrought within me. What have I rejected and turned my back on? What have I changed my mind about? How have my theological biases and prejudices been altered?

Am I still the same person, theologically and spiritually speaking, or have I changed in some significant way? Has my spiritual pilgrimage been enriched, or knocked off course? …

I guess the first thing I’d say is that Flannery O’Connor beat the liberal Christianity clean out of me. To speak as Flannery speaks, it might be more appropriate to say that Flannery burned the liberal Christianity clean out of me.

The acid bath, if you’re interested in undergoing it, was mainly a mixture of Wise BloodThe Violent Bear It Away, and the story “The Lame Shall Enter First.” Speaking only for myself, the liberal, enlightened humanism that informs and guides much within liberal Christianity just withered in these stories. I saw way too much of progressive Christianity in Hazel Motes’ “Church of Christ Without Christ” (Wise Blood), and in the enlightened humanism of the characters Rayber (The Violent Bear It Away) and Sheppard (“The Lame Shall Enter First”).

Because of Flannery O’Connor, I struggle to think of myself as a liberal, progressive Christian anymore. No doubt, I’ll continue to use that label to describe myself when it’s helpful to draw quick, rough contrasts between my views and conservative, evangelical views. I haven’t shifted toward conservatism in the religious, culture and political wars.

The only way I can describe what’s happened is this.

I’m not liberal or conservative, progressive or evangelical.

I am something stranger.

Figuring out just how strange, and it what ways, is now the adventure that I’m on.

Beck used his next post to clarify his thoughts.

Many liberal and progressive Christians struggle with doubts. The forces of secular disenchantment strongly affect liberal and progressive Christians.

Consequently, there is this impulse within progressive Christianity to make faith lighter, to believe less and less, to dilute faith.

As a progressive Christian, over the years I’ve contributed my fair share to this impulse, doing my best to sing the praises of doubt. But a few years ago, I began to grow concerned about this trajectory if left unchecked. I began to worry about my spiritual health, as well as the health of many other progressive Christians.

I am not the only one who has grown worried. After years of praising doubt and deconstruction, many progressive Christians have begun to speak about the need for a turn, a movement back toward reconstruction and a second naïveté.

To be clear, because the label “progressive Christianity” is messy and vague, I’m not speaking of progressive viewpoints, theologically or politically, but about the deconstructing, disenchanting, Enlightenment-driven impulse that runs through much of progressive Christianity. The impulse that keeps diluting faith, where you are believing less and less.

Reading Flannery O’Connor finally brought all these worries to a crisis point for me. I think it was Hazel Motes’ preaching about the “Church of Christ Without Christ” in Wise Blood that did it. “The Church of Christ Without Christ” sounded a lot like what I saw going on within progressive Christian circles, a Christianity that gets so watered down and diluted you don’t, in the end, believe anything at all.

The trouble with the incessant deconstruction at work within progressive Christianity is that, left unchecked, all it tends to produce are agnostic Democrats.

This realization hasn’t made me conservative. My voting hasn’t changed. Especially with Trump in office.

The effect hasn’t been political. It’s metaphysical. I’m simply tired and bored by a progressive Christianity that doesn’t believe in anything, at least anything beyond Jesus being a model exemplar of liberal humanism. I’m not angry or disgusted, I’m not rejecting progressive Christianity. Plus, everyone is at a different developmental stage. You might be just starting out on a necessary and vital season of deconstruction, especially from toxic forms of Christianity. You can’t be expected to be where I am right now. So for you, friends, I hope what I’ve written about doubts and deconstruction is a blessing to you as you start your journey.

All that to say, I remain very sympathetic to progressive Christianity.

But a Christianity that doesn’t believe in anything–a Christianity that dilutes and dilutes and dilutes until you have a “Church of Christ Without Christ”–that Christianity just doesn’t interest me anymore.

I’ve made a long and hard journey carrying my doubts, and now I’m just bored by them.

I am blown away by Beck’s candor and insights. It takes an immense amount of courage to write publicly that one’s strongly-held views have been withered away.

However, O’Conner seems to have that effect on people. She had no “chill”, as the kids say nowadays.

That lack of chill can be seen in a letter she once wrote:

“I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, A Charmed Life). She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn’t opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. The people who took me were Robert Lowell and his now wife, Elizabeth Hardwick. Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the ‘most portable’ person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

No wonder Beck’s Christianity withered from O’Conner’s prose. I could only imagine how Mrs. Broadwater survived her response.

I don’t know how Beck’s Christianity will evolve in light of his reading O’Conner. However, I am extremely hopeful. The fact that Beck feel like a “stranger” is an encouraging sign.

Could he be getting closer to the heart of Christianity, which, in O’Conner’s words, is her “center of existence”?

One can only pray and hope.

Another day in the American empire

American empire

While Washington D.C. is agog over the possibility of another government shutdown (whatever that means), American foreign policymakers appear to be unconcerned about that petty obstacle. The news is awash with foreign policy developments from around the world.

And never mind if the federal debt now exceeds U.S. annual GDP: there’s an empire to run!

Below is a survey of foreign policy stories that have been reported on just over the past few days.

Syria and Iraq

The U.S.’s involvement in Syria and Iraq continues to be disastrous. In 2017, U.S. and allied strikes may have killed up to 6,000 civilians in ISIS-controlled areas. However, notwithstanding ISIS’s significantly reduced presence in the region, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced American troops will remain in Syria. While he claims that “the conflict between the Syrian people and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has to be resolved through diplomatic means, and Assad has to step aside from power.”

While acknowledging that some Americans are skeptical of the continued military involvement in Syria, Tillerson said it’s vital for the U.S. be engaged in the area in order to continue fighting terrorist groups and the possibility of their resurgence.

“United States will maintain military presence in Syria, focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge,” Tillerson said. “Ungoverned spaces, especially in conflict zones, are breeding grounds for ISIS and other terrorist organizations. … The fight against ISIS is not over. … Similarly, we must persist in Syria to thwart al-Qaida, which still has substantial presence and base operations in northwest Syria.”

Tillerson said another major goal of the U.S. in Syria is to prevent Iran from growing its influence in the region, calling the country’s influence “malicious.”

So there you have it. American troops are going to allow Assad to peacefully step aside from power, confront ISIS, and prevent Iran’s influence from growing in the region. What could be simpler?

There are at least two major problems with Tillerson’s portrayal of the situation. First, in an interview with Scott Horton, Middle East correspondent Elijah Magnier argues that the American military has effectively become an “undeclared protector” of the Islamic State in the region. Second, the Trump administration quickly backtracked on its announced strategy in Syria in response to fierce objections by Turkey.

The U.S. military is swiftly backtracking from plans to build a 30,000-person border force in Syria after the proposal triggered a new diplomatic showdown with Turkey.

After earlier heralding the idea as a pillar of the Trump administration’s new Syrian strategy, U.S. officials on Thursday said the plan was poorly conceived and won’t proceed as previously outlined by the military.

The rapid reversal was a sign of the divisions in the Trump administration over how to move forward with its Syria strategy as the fight against Islamic State draws down.

“It’s unfortunate that the entire situation has been misportrayed, misdescribed, some people misspoke,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters late Wednesday night as he flew back to Washington after unveiling the administration’s new Syria policy in California. “We are not creating a border security force at all.”

Despite the U.S. reversal Turkish leaders said they remain skeptical of Washington’s Syria strategy.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Mr. Tillerson’s comments were insufficient and that Turkey would wait to see whether the U.S. continues training in Syria for Kurdish fighters that Ankara views as terrorists.

The Philippines

The Wall Street Journal reports on the U.S.’s increased counterterrorism efforts in the Philippines:

The U.S. military has launched a new counterterrorism mission in the Philippines, making operations there eligible for the same funding used to finance the long-running wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military officials said.

The decision by the Trump administration to elevate the U.S. mission to an Overseas Contingency Operation, or OCO, was made last September in response to a Philippines government request for more support to fight extremist groups, officials said. The U.S.-backed Philippine military in October ousted Islamic State-affiliated insurgents from a city on the southern island of Mindanao after a five-month battle, but faces an enormous rebuilding task.

Between 200 and 300 American troops are currently serving in advisory roles in the country and officials said that number is likely to remain unchanged for now. In addition to advisory troops, technical support and equipment, the mission is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance by drone.

So much for the thought that America’s …. challenging history on Mindanao, which began after the Spanish-American War, might temper its actions on that island.

Air Force to consider International Squadrons for Terror Targets

The American military’s increasing concern over the possibility of confronting Russia and China, however rational it may be, has forced it to consider how best to deploy assets in the most effective manner. To that end, The Wall Street Journal reports:

The U.S. Air Force is considering forming international squadrons of low-cost fighter planes to strike terrorist targets in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, allowing deployment of higher-tech jets to areas requiring their advanced capabilities.

A new unit employing relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf aircraft could free up cutting-edge U.S. and allied jet fighters for deterrence missions in Europe and Asia, and could help relieve a critical pilot shortage the U.S. Air Force faces, military and congressional officials say.

As the U.S. transitions its fighter fleet to new advanced stealth planes, like the F-22 and F-35, it is confronted with the difficult cost equation of using a fighter jet that costs $150 million to buy and $35,000 an hour to fly to destroy a terrorist camp of tattered tents.

Now, as Russia and China invest in their militaries and assert themselves more, the U.S. faces the additional problem of how and where to deploy limited numbers of stealthy warplanes to deter so-called peer competitors.

Ukraine

Meanwhile, the U.S.’s sock puppet government in Ukraine is making extremely dangerous moves that could led to a military confrontation with Russia.

As The Washington Post reports:

Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday passed a bill that is aimed at reintegrating the eastern territories currently controlled by Russian-backed separatists and goes as far as to declare support for taking them back by military force if necessary.

The bill describes the areas in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions as “temporarily occupied” by “aggressor country” Russia. President Petro Poroshenko welcomed the legislation, saying it would help restore control of the east by “political and diplomatic means.”

Russia warned, however, that it effectively kills the peace accords to which Ukraine is party and which were supposed to resolve the deadly conflict.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine, which erupted weeks after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014. The 2015 Minsk peace deal helped reduce the scope of hostilities, but clashes have continued and attempts at a political settlement have stalled.

The bill, passed by the Supreme Rada after days of raucous debate, contains no reference to the peace deal brokered by Russia, France and Germany that obliged Ukraine to offer a broad autonomy to the separatist regions and a sweeping amnesty to the rebels. Most Ukrainian political parties rejected that idea as a betrayal of national interests.

“We can’t embed diplomatic and political agreements that are prone to change into the Ukrainian legislation,” Ivan Vinnyk, a member of Poroshenko’s faction in parliament, said on Thursday while explaining why the Minsk deal was not mentioned.

In a terse statement issued after the vote, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the bill is nothing “but a preparation for a new war.” The ministry said the bill runs against Kiev’s commitments under the Minsk accord and further alienates Ukrainians living in separatist-held areas.

“Sadly, we are witnessing the making of a situation which is fraught with a dangerous escalation in Ukraine and [carrying] unpredictable consequences for global peace and security,” the Russian statement said.

Clearly, Ukraine’s military can not survive a conflict with Russia’s. The only reason its government has the nerve to make such a move is because it believes that, if war with Russia were to arise, the United States would support it militarily.

So much for the idea that Trump’s election would lead to improved relations with Russia.

These stories merely touch the tip of the imperial iceberg.

Given all of the moving parts, what could possibly go wrong?

Psychiatric association disavows Bandy Lee’s arm-chair diagnoses of Trump

Earlier this week, I reported on the questionable remarks to the media and members of Congress by Bandy Lee, a Yale psychiatrist who raised doubts Donald Trump’s mental fitness to serve as President. Lee also edited a book that included essays from 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts making the same argument.

In that article, I asked whether the American Psychiatric Association was going to address this situation, seeing that a member of theirs was using her profession as a cover for a soft coup.

Fortunately, the answer came swift and strong.

As the Washington Examiner reports:

The American Psychiatric Association urged members of its profession to uphold its decades-long principle that psychiatrists should never offer diagnostic opinions about people they haven’t personally examined, in light of President Trump’s impending medical exam and questions about his mental fitness.

“We at the APA call for an end to psychiatrists providing professional opinions in the media about public figures whom they have not examined, whether it be on cable news appearances, books, or in social media,” the group wrote. “Arm-chair psychiatry or the use of psychiatry as a political tool is the misuse of psychiatry and is unacceptable and unethical.”

The rebuke came Tuesday as politicians and members of the media were ratcheting up their rhetoric about Trump’s mental health. Earlier in the day, Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle unveiled legislation that would require presidential candidates to have a medical exam and publicly disclose the results before the general election. Joe Scarborough also has said on his MSNBC program “Morning Joe” that Trump has dementia, and more than a dozen lawmakers have discussed Trump with a Yale University psychiatrist who said that Trump was “going to unravel, and we are seeing the signs.” The psychiatrist, Dr. Brandy Lee, who has not examined Trump, edited The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, which includes testimonials from 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts.

But the association reminded its members that one of its core principles, known as the “Goldwater Rule,” has been in place since 1973 and states that psychiatrists should not publicly issue medical opinions about people they haven’t personally examined in a medical context.

“The Goldwater Rule … makes it unethical for a psychiatrist to render a professional opinion to the media about a public figure unless the psychiatrist has examined the person and has proper authorization to provide the statement,” Dr. Saul Levin, the group’s CEO and medical director, said in a statement. “APA stands behind this rule.”

While the APA’s statement didn’t call out Lee specifically, it is abundantly clear that the organization had Lee in mind. Further, Lee did not need to be reminded of the Goldwater Rule. CNN raised it with Lee, who came up with vague rationalizations to justify raising doubts about Trump’s mental capacity.

Interestingly, Trump addressed this issue head on by letting cameras into a meeting discussing immigration policy. As Politico reports:

For nearly an hour Tuesday, President Donald Trump presided over an unusually public negotiating session on the subject of immigration, running the meeting while TV cameras rolled in an apparent effort to knock down reports that he is less than a fully capable commander-in-chief.

Surrounded by 25 lawmakers inside the Cabinet Room, Trump held court over the meeting, alternately inviting Democrats and Republicans — by name — to address the bipartisan group. He ran point for 55 minutes over a relatively free-flowing discussion between lawmakers about the future of the DACA program, border security and the possibility of immigration reform.

This was a brilliant move. What better way for him to show whether he is mentally fit by opening up a meeting to show him at work.

In any event, it is encouraging to see the psychiatry profession decide to not get dragged into a soft coup.

Whether the media and other politicos decide to drop this idiotic issue is another question entirely.

I’ll take the under.

The Economist makes stuff up on states rights

states rights

It’s certainly understandable when foreigners don’t understand the different roles between the federal and state governments under the U.S. Constitution, especially when few Americans understand it themselves. However, perhaps charity isn’t the best attitude when dealing with a foreign magazine that really should know better.

For example, The Economist‘s latest issue includes an editorial about California’s new law liberalizing marijuana use. Unfortunately, the magazine’s understanding of states rights is simply a mess.

State activism is often confused with an argument that sounds similar but is fundamentally different. To many American ears, the notion that states should do their own thing has an echo of secession, the “states’ rights” defence of slavery made before the civil war and the resistance to federal civil-rights laws in the 1960s. To be clear: states do not have an innate right to resist federal laws, which is why California’s position on immigration enforcement, which comes close to non-compliance with the federal government, is mistaken. The federal government does often need to step in on questions of fundamental importance, such as who can vote in elections.

But in many areas, particularly in social policy, it makes sense for the states to have plenty of leeway. When mistakes are made, as they inevitably will be, the damage is limited to the state or city that did the experimenting. When new laws do succeed, they can be copied across the country.

What is absent from The Economist‘s analysis is any understanding about where the respective scopes of the federal and state governments.

In essence, the activities of the federal government under the Constitution is limited to Article 1, Section 8, which, according to Brion McClanahan, is essentially focused on common defense and commerce. States are otherwise free to address any issues outside of that scope. That would also include immigration. As McClanahan writes:

You see, immigration was long considered a State issue. Jefferson said as much in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. A State like Texas could, at least according to the original Constitution, build its own wall and craft its own strict rules on immigration and state citizenship. That includes voting. The Constitution is clear that States determine who can vote as long as the distinction is not made on the basis of race, sex, age over 18, and the requirement of a poll tax. They can prohibit aliens from voting.

In other words, whether the state can act on a particular issue has nothing to do with the sensitive feelings of those who don’t know American history, and everything to do whether the state has the legal authority to do so. A state has every right to “resist federal laws”, especially when they overstep the rights of its citizens. All the American civil war proved was that the North was military and economically more capable of overcoming the South’s desire to secede from the Union. Force does not negate an argument. States today have as much a right to nullify unconstitutional federal law, or secede from the United States, as they did when the Constitution was ratified in 1788.

The Economist clearly demonstrated that it understands none of this, notwithstanding its support for California’s liberalized pot laws. Unfortunately, given my previous rants about the magazine, this is not a surprise in the slightest.

Despite government and industry pressure, Indians prefer cash to digital money

In November 2016, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned the use of the country’s two largest bills, the 500 rupee (worth approx. $7.50) and the 1,000 rupee notes. People were allowed to exchange those notes into 500 and 2,000 rupee bills, but only at designated locations, and within a very limited amount of time.

According to the New York Times, the purpose of the ban was to “expose and penalize people holding huge amounts of cash they could not account for, primarily money on which taxes have not been paid.” However, the ban struck widespread panic among everyday Indians.

As Carmen Dorobăț writes in Mises Wire:

[T]he rupee ban has managed only to create chaos and desperation for millions of Indian citizens. They were left with no money to buy basic amenities, and saw their dearly earned savings being wiped out overnight. They queued in front of the banks and rushed to their ATMs, scrambling to exchange the worthless banknotes in the brief window of opportunity provided. Both banks and ATMs ran out of money, as India’s printing presses rushed to keep up by printing new lower-denomination currency.

But many Indians are so sick of corruption that they are willing, albeit grudgingly, to bear these hardships if the move should end it. They don’t know that it won’t: the move did little more than temporarily inconvenience the large money launderers and tax evaders, who have already found loopholes allowing them to profit from and minimize the effects of the government’s move—and that is a good thing.

India’s move to restrict the use of cash appears to be part of a larger war on cash by governments, primarily so that they can enhance their ability to track taxable income.

However, that doesn’t mean such measures will work. To get a sense of how effectivene India’s rapid ban was, all one has to do is read the New York Times‘s recent article on the matter. In short, despite the government’s actions, Indians still prefer using cash for their day-to-day purchases:

Signs and banners for Paytm, India’s biggest digital payments service, festoon Pooran Singh’s cellphone shop, where people drop in all day to add data or talk time to their prepaid phones.

Yet few of these people actually use Paytm at the store, which straddles two dusty streets in this sleepy north Indian city in which tractors jostle with cows for space on the narrow roads.

“People recharge in cash,” Mr. Singh said, after a young man handed him 20 rupees, about 32 cents, to top up his mother’s phone.

The scene in Mr. Singh’s shop underscores a persistent reality of India’s economy: People prefer cash for most routine transactions, despite intensive efforts by the government and global technology companies to lure them onto digital platforms.

India’s reluctance to give up paper money poses challenges for the firms that are vying to offer electronic payments, including local players like Paytm, which has received financing from the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, and American tech companies, like FacebookGoogle and PayPal.

Indeed, it is encouraging to see everyday Indians figure out ways to determine how best to pay for their needs, regardless of what the government says. India’s lack of success ought to give other governments pause when evaluating whether to enact similar measures.

Unfortunately, given the desperate need of governments to find new ways to find tax money, it is unrealistic to expect them to give up anytime soon.