Archive for the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Category

A Response to Thomas Sowell’s “Occupy and the Moral Infrastructure”

May 9, 2012

Thomas Sowell, writing for The National Review Online, claims the Obama administration has granted the Occupy movement immunity from the law and opened the gates to anarchy, barbarism, and civilizational collapse.

Read his article here.

My response:

Sowell, addressing The National Review Online‘s overwhelmingly Christian readership, complains that educators “indoctrinate their students with ‘non-judgmental’ attitudes.” I wonder if he is equally disappointed with the teachings of Jesus regarding judgment. (“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”) Or maybe there is a distinction that I am missing here. If he is correct about the Academy’s indoctrination of the young in non-judgmental attitudes, then maybe there is some hope after all.

Sowell claims the Fourteenth Amendment (guaranteeing equal protection to all citizens) has been “suspended”, or even “repealed” by authorities unwilling to “clamp down” on the Occupy movement. I would just point out that the 14th Amendment has been neither suspended nor repealed and, in any case, a repeal would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. I would also point out that authorities have not stood idly by when anyone’s safety was at risk.

Sowell doesn’t mention the First Amendment, which provides for “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” What does he think it is, chopped liver?

Sowell makes no distinction between peaceful and non-peaceful protest. Fortunately, many or most municipal governments have tried to maintain a balance between their sworn duty to protect citizens and the rights of citizens to protest. Closing down the entire Occupy movement as a response to the excesses of certain individuals would be like closing down the anti-abortion movement over an occasional shooting. Notice no shootings have yet occurred in the Occupy protests.

Sowell claims the Occupy movement’s aim is mob rule. This is patently untrue, and Sowell needs more than a broken plate-glass window in San Francisco to make his case. Not even the Occupy movement is certain of its aims.

Sowell thinks concentrated applications of pepper-spray are appropriate for dispersing students sitting on the ground with their arms interlocked. I think he should try getting doused with pepper-spray before recommending its use on seated protesters.

Sowell frames these events as a struggle between anarchy (barbarism, even!) and law and order. No shades of grey here. No nuance. But why should we expect nuance from The National Review? I imagine President Bashar al-Assad of Syria would take heart that some Americans see things the way he does.

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U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s Budget Proposal: Catholic Subsidiarity or Social Darwinism?

April 14, 2012

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum (Facebook page) prompts the following discussion by posting a link to an article from The California Catholic Daily of 4/12/12. The article, entitled “Subsidiarity is Really Federalism,” includes an interview in which U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, explains how his Catholic faith guided him in drafting his 2012 Budget proposal. Raph Martin is the first to respond:

Raph Martin He hasn’t studied his Catholic faith well enough!!! What he proposes is the contrary of the Church’s social teachings which is always concerned about the needs of the poor and needy. I would suggest he do a serious reading of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical On The Development of Peoples (Populorum Progression). What had at one time been viewed as the “third world” is now on the home front!

The Cornerstone Forum Thanks Raph. The goal of lifting the poor out of poverty and empowering them to live productive lives is one that is shared by serious liberals and conservatives. The issue on which they disagree is how best to do that. The results to date of the efforts of recent decades doesn’t constitute an indisputable case for the liberal approach. A full debate on these things, sans the stereotypes, is long overdue. Thanks again. My best.

Doughlas Remy Paul Ryan and other Catholic free-market fundamentalists have seized on the word “subsidiarity,” from Catholic social teaching, to further their own aim of transferring even more wealth to the one percent. This is not the kind of “wealth redistribution” that Jesus had in mind when he counseled the rich man to give all that he had to the poor. (Ryan must have got it backwards somehow.) And it is not what Pope Benedict XVI had in mind when he addressed the issue of poverty in his 2009 encyclical (“Charity in Truth”) and later through the Pontifical Council’s document of October 2011 (“Toward Reform in the International Financial and Monetary System in the Context of Global Public Authority”).

Jesuit Thomas Reese described the 2011 document as “closer to the view of Occupy Wall Street than [to that of] anyone in the U.S. Congress.” Meanwhile, right-wing neoliberal Catholics Nicholas Hahn and George Weigel actually railed against Vatican document, questioning its authority and calling it “incompetent babble.”

The idea of “subsidiarity” doesn’t call for a dismantling of government services for the poor. It only claims that nothing should be done by higher authorities that could be done at lower levels of participation. There is certainly some wisdom in this idea, but the question in our era of globalization and macro-economics is how efficiently and effectively can local charities address the problems of poverty, hunger, and homelessness? And if they can address these problems, why aren’t they doing so? And should government programs be dismantled before local charities have proven themselves?

The Vatican document is very critical of neoliberalism (or market fundamentalism), as espoused by Paul Ryan, Weigel, Hahn, and others. It supports government regulation as a means of controlling greed.

Over 90 percent of government assistance for lower-income people consists of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid nursing-home care for seniors, school lunches, Head Start, preschool programs, environmental and financial regulations, Pell grants, and mortgage guarantees.

These are all losers in Paul Ryan’s budget. And who are the winners?

The winners are the dogs of greed and militarism. Ryan’s budget includes tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and for corporations, cuts Medicare and Medicaid spending, and does little to get military spending under control.

We know what the Vatican would think of Paul Ryan’s budget. And there can be little doubt about what Jesus would think.

Yes, it’s time for a conversation about this.

Ayn Rand

George Dunn Is this the same Paul Ryan who has publicly expressed his admiration for Ayn Rand and her gospel of selfishness? Do you share Ryan’s admiration for this avowed foe of Christianity?

Doughlas Remy @George: Thanks for bring this up. It’s dynamite. The Ryan-Rand connection totally overshadows the Ryan-Jesus connection in every way. Jesus was obviously NOT an important part of Ryan’s moral development.

He says, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” [um…not Jesus?]

For anyone not familiar with Rand, one of her central tenets is that financially successful people are inherently superior and that government should not redistribute any of their wealth to the poor, who are, I guess, inherently inferior. Jesus, of course, constantly exhorts his followers to aid the poor.

As one measure of how important Rand is to Ryan, he requires his staffers to read her novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

I read it myself many years ago and always thought of it as the antithesis of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.

Any thoughts, Gil?

Doughlas Remy I highly recommend the following article from The New Republic: “Ayn Rand and the Invincible Cult of Selfishness on the American Right.”

Raph Martin The 1%ers, it seems to me, don’t have a clue about people struggling to exist without food, shelter, a job, health care, survival, and basic ordinary needs. Add to their tampering with ecology and the rape of the earth for oil, natural gas, water rights in addition to its ongoing pollution by groups that only see dollar signs as a measure of progress and turn away from the basic needs of the billions of poor people living on this planet. Where’s the vision for a sustainable environment and society? Cutting expenditures to and from the needy poor as Ryan proposes we do- while mouthing Catholic social justice ethics under the rubric of “subsidiarity” shows how far he is from Jesus’ radical vision to “love one another.” Catholics need to be wary of the Paul Ryans of our society who align themselves with power politics, militarists, and the corporate world and then try to silence their critics-yes, even by quoting scripture and claiming Catholic theologians on their side. (Ayn Rand resurrected?) Let’s take a lesson from history: Many German Catholics, rather than critique their bishops when Hitler came to power, followed the lead of their bishops who didn’t see Nazism as a challenge to the Church. They chose to “save their souls” rather than “lose them” and showed Catholicism as aligned with the state rather than the gospel. It seems to me that once again Jesus’ message got lost in the transition.

Brian Graham I see no way to reconcile Ryan’s peculiarly self-serving views with Pope Benedict’s magnificent call to a profound cultural renewal based on charity, holistic understanding and “a new humanistic synthesis” in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. I trust linking this article was meant to facilitate a robust discussion about the relationship between Catholic faith and politics, rather than an endorsement of this particular point of view. To me, Ryan’s comments suggest he has not given serious consideration to the Encyclical at all. He vainly attempts to build a Catholic argument to support his political views, but one has to completely overlook the encyclicals in order to get there. No thanks.

Doughlas Remy Religious leaders have slammed Ryan for using his Catholic faith to justify cutting programs that help the poor:

It’s the height of hypocrisy for Rep. Ryan to claim that his approach to the budget is shaped by Catholic teaching and values,” said Fr. John Baumann, S.J., founder of PICO National Network. […] “A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.”

Read the full article here.

The Cornerstone Forum Ayn Rand? If only we could adjudicate the question of how to help those who cannot help themselves by critiquing a third-rate, crackpot, Libertarian novelist who has been read by a tiny fraction of one percent of our fellow citizens, even if one of these was Paul Ryan. Have you read Ayn Rand? Neither have I, for the same reasons you and hundreds of millions of others haven’t. How much more convenient it must be to go on and on about Ayn Rand than to face the realities with which Paul Ryan has been grappling for the last few years. Who wants to take a long hard look at the actual effect on the poor of the liberal programs designed to help them or the tsunami of debt that will soon bankrupt those programs? Ryan, to his credit, has tried to address these issues.

My point was – and is – that Paul Ryan has introduced into our political vocabulary arguably the most salient word in the lexicon of Catholic social teaching, and that this should be celebrated. To have an argument about what subsidiarity is and how it should work is a huge step in the right direction. I’m all for that argument, even though I have no special contribution to make to it. But to jump at the chance to pillory the man who is trying to incorporate the concept of subsidiarity into our political discourse because of his taste in literature hardly helps. The more we can argue about subsidiarity, the better.

The question – not the theological question, of course, which is a bigger question, but the public policy question – is how to empower those who stuck in poverty to become economically productive members of the middle class? When it comes to that challenge, getting one’s knickers all twisted about Ayn Rand is as useless as anything I can imagine. I haven’t read Paul Ryan’s budget proposals; I haven’t time to do so; it’s not what I’m called to do, but he’s actually trying to address some problems that won’t go away, and all he is getting for his efforts is carping from those who find it easier to criticize his proposals than to come up ones of their own.

“Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others,” Benedict XVI wrote in Caritas in Veritate. “By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state.” The pope insisted in that same encyclical that the effort to help the poor “is always designed to achieve their emancipation, because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility.”

Here, then, are a few more terms we need: emancipation, freedom, participation and responsibility. My wife volunteers at a center for the homeless. When she hands someone in need a meal or clothes, both she and they recognize that an act of generosity has taken place, and both she and they feel grateful for having been present when it did. The principle of subsidiarity insists that not every exchange can take place on so personal a level, but that efforts should be made to have them take place at the most intimate and local level possible.

In my opinion, moreover, and in light of the manifest inadequacy and unsustainability of current entitlement programs, those whose responsibility it is to help the poor need to address things like the actual statistics about the effect on the poor of public policies which – despite the good intentions of their advocates – incentivize the disintegration of the family – from which flows almost all the intractable social, moral, economic, and political problems of our society. We need to take a long, hard look at the social science data on the correlation between second or third generation welfare dependency and high school drop out rates, substance abuse, delinquency, criminality, out of wedlock births, the paucity of employable skills, and so on. Most of the kneejerk reaction to real efforts to do something that both works and that our currently bankrupt society can actually afford seems to assume that there is nothing wrong with the status quo that can’t be fixed by throwing more money at it – someone else’s money. Tragically, that is not so. It has failed many of those it was intended to help, and if nothing is done to change their plight, they will suffer further degradation when the money runs out, as it soon will. Serious adults are trying to find a better approach. It’s not as if the looming collapse of the European social welfare state isn’t providing a glimpse of where things are headed if we fail to find more workable solutions.

All this is just a little PS. Greetings to any who might want to keep at it, but I’m finished.

George Dunn Ryan’s affiliation with the Ayn Rand cult is merely a matter of his “taste in literature”? Would you regard it as equally trivial if he expressed the same deep admiration for Friedrich Nietzsche or credited Nietzsche as the inspiration for his entry into politics? Surely Rand’s rabid hatred for the Christian virtues exceeds anything found in Nietzsche, whose critique of Christianity was nuanced and qualified. Don’t you see that? Oh, that’s right. You haven’t read her! Well, as someone who has, I can assure you that her philosophy is vile in ways that must turn the stomach of anyone who loves the gospel. Read her yourself, Gil, and see what I mean. Then think about the fact that her “philosophy” is the real inspiration for the economic programs you so naively laud.

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Wisdom from MLK Jr. for the Occupy Movement

December 2, 2011

From Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature” (Viking, 2011), p. 479:

King immediately appreciated that Gandhi’s theory of non-violent resistance was not a moralistic affirmation of love, as nonviolence had been in the teachings of Jesus. Instead, it was a set of hardheaded tactics to prevail over an adversary by outwitting him rather than trying to annihilate him. A taboo on violence, King inferred, prevents a movement from being corrupted by thugs and firebrands who are drawn to adventure and mayhem. It preserves morale and focus among followers when the movement suffers early defeats. By removing any pretext for legitimate retaliation by the enemy, it stays on the positive side of the moral ledger in the eyes of third parties, while luring the enemy onto the negative side. For the same reason, it divides the enemy, paring away supporters who find it increasingly uncomfortable to identify themselves with one-sided violence. All the while it can press its agenda by making a nuisance of itself with sit-ins, strikes, and demonstrations. The tactic obviously won’t work with all enemies, but it can work with some.

Robert Reich: The REAL Public Nuisance

November 30, 2011