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“Christianity Vs Ideology”: Christian Conservatives Should Be Christians First And Conservatives Second

Many liberals have long suggested that it’s impossible to be a Christian and a conservative, because the love of the poor preached by Jesus Christ is incompatible with the economic and social policies promoted by conservatives. Christian conservatives, obviously, disagree. They would say that, at least on economic and social policy, Christian liberals and Christian conservatives agree about the ends — policy that promotes the common good with a preferential option for the poor — but disagree about the means. Jesus told us to love the poor. That is not at all the same thing as voting for programs that take money from one group of people to give it to another, whatever the merits.

As a Christian and a conservative, obviously I think that’s true.

But that’s not where the story ends. It’s where it starts.

To most non-Christians — and to many Christians — Christianity is primarily a set of doctrines. But for 2,000 years, Christianity has understood itself to be fundamentally an encounter with a specific person:Jesus Christ. And Christians accept as authoritative the Gospel account of Jesus Christ’s self-description as “the Truth.” Jesus didn’t say that his doctrine was the Truth. He said that he was the Truth.

Why is this important?

Because if you believe that the person of Jesus Christ is “the Truth,” then the corollary that logically follows is that everything that is not Jesus Christ is not “the Truth.”

To put it more practically: To be a Christian is to believe that all political ideologies are suspect. And wrong. It doesn’t mean that Christians should retreat from all political ideologies — as that would also be a political ideology, and also wrong. By all means, be a Christian liberal. Be a Christian conservative. But if you are a Christian liberal, if you are a Christian conservative, then by definition there will be tensions between your Christianity and your political ideology. It’s axiomatic. And if you are a Christian first and an ideologue second, you should confront those tensions instead of papering over them.

Let’s take my own tent of Christian conservatism, since this is about us.

Yes, it is absolutely possible to be a Christian and believe that limited government and free markets are the best ways to advance the prospects of the poor. But when conservatives portray the poor as moochers and divide the world into “Makers” and “Takers,” and hold up those “Takers” quite clearly as objects of contempt, the Christian has to recoil. And not just recoil, but cry injustice.

It’s fine to believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, but a Christian should look at how policies affect the poor first, rather than a byproduct of everything else. (And some Christian conservative politicians like Mike Lee, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio have started to look at that.)

Even if the solution isn’t a new government program, a Christian who is also a conservative should at the very least be concerned about an economy that too often seems to have a playing field tilted in favor of the winners.

A Christian who is also a conservative should also wince at cultural narratives, advanced by some conservatives, that constantly belittle, mock, or dismiss the perspectives of groups that have been historically or are marginalized.

A Christian who is a conservative should at the very least be concerned about how a country with the mightiest armed forces in the world uses its strengt abroad and at home.

In the Gospel, Jesus calls on his followers to be “signs of contradiction.” Christians should stand out of the pack and, frankly, be a little weird. By all means, Christians should enthusiastically join political parties and ideological schools. But they should also stand out inside them as Christians.


By: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, The Week, March 17, 2014

March 18, 2014 Posted by | Christianity, Conservatives | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fear Of Wages”: For Some People, It’s Always 1979

Four years ago, some of us watched with a mixture of incredulity and horror as elite discussion of economic policy went completely off the rails. Over the course of just a few months, influential people all over the Western world convinced themselves and each other that budget deficits were an existential threat, trumping any and all concern about mass unemployment. The result was a turn to fiscal austerity that deepened and prolonged the economic crisis, inflicting immense suffering.

And now it’s happening again. Suddenly, it seems as if all the serious people are telling each other that despite high unemployment there’s hardly any “slack” in labor markets — as evidenced by a supposed surge in wages — and that the Federal Reserve needs to start raising interest rates very soon to head off the danger of inflation.

To be fair, those making the case for monetary tightening are more thoughtful and less overtly political than the archons of austerity who drove the last wrong turn in policy. But the advice they’re giving could be just as destructive.

O.K., where is this coming from?

The starting point for this turn in elite opinion is the assertion that wages, after stagnating for years, have started to rise rapidly. And it’s true that one popular measure of wages has indeed picked up, with an especially large bump last month.

But that bump is probably a snow-related statistical illusion. As economists at Goldman Sachs have pointed out, average wages normally jump in bad weather — not because anyone’s wages actually rise, but because the workers idled by snow and storms tend to be less well-paid than those who aren’t affected.

Beyond that, we have multiple measures of wages, and only one of them is showing a notable uptick. It’s far from clear that the alleged wage acceleration is even happening.

And what’s wrong with rising wages, anyway? In the past, wage increases of around 4 percent a year — more than twice the current rate — have been consistent with low inflation. And there’s a very good case for raising the Fed’s inflation target, which would mean seeking faster wage growth, say 5 percent or 6 percent per year. Why? Because even the International Monetary Fund now warns against the dangers of “lowflation”: too low an inflation rate puts the economy at risk of Japanification, of getting caught in a trap of economic stagnation and intractable debt.

Over all, then, while it’s possible to argue that we’re running out of labor slack, it’s also possible to argue the opposite, and either way the prudent thing would surely be to wait: Wait until there’s solid evidence of rising wages, then wait some more until wage growth is at least back to precrisis levels and preferably higher.

Yet for some reason there’s a growing drumbeat of demands that we not wait, that we get ready to raise interest rates right away or at least very soon. What’s that about?

Part of the answer, I’d submit, is that for some people it’s always 1979. That is, they’re eternally vigilant against the danger of a runaway wage-price spiral, and somehow they haven’t noticed that nothing like that has happened for decades. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe it’s because a 1970s-style crisis fits their ideological preconceptions, but the phantom menace of stagflation still has an outsized influence on economic debate.

Then there’s sado-monetarism: the sense, all too common in banking circles, that inflicting pain is ipso facto good. There are some people and institutions — for example, the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements — that always want to see interest rates go up. Their rationale is ever-changing — it’s commodity prices; no, it’s financial stability; no, it’s wages — but the recommended policy is always the same.

Finally, although the current monetary debate isn’t as openly political as the previous fiscal debate, it’s hard to escape the suspicion that class interests are playing a role. A fair number of commentators seem oddly upset by the notion of workers getting raises, especially while returns to bondholders remain low. It’s almost as if they identify with the investor class, and feel uncomfortable with anything that brings us close to full employment, and thereby gives workers more bargaining power.

Whatever the underlying motives, tightening the monetary screws anytime soon would be a very, very bad idea. We are slowly, painfully, emerging from the worst slump since the Great Depression. It wouldn’t take much to abort the recovery, and, if that were to happen, we would almost certainly be Japanified, stuck in a trap that might last decades.

Is wage growth actually taking off? That’s far from clear. But if it is, we should see rising wages as a development to cheer and promote, not a threat to be squashed with tight money.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 13, 2014

March 16, 2014 Posted by | Austerity, Economic Recovery | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Winds Are Shifting”: How Corporate America Is Losing The Debate On Taxes

If there is one clear loser in President Obama’s budget this year, it’s U.S. multinationals.

With six new ideas designed to plug some major leaks in the tax code, the 2015 budget proposes a total of more than $276 billion in higher taxes on overseas earnings for U.S. multinationals over the next decade, about $120 billion more than last year’s budget. (A sample of the policy just to give you an idea of how deep in the guts the administration is going: “Create a new category of Subpart F income for transactions involving digital goods or services.”)

So much for the White House’s attempts to strike common ground with big company chief executives, who have been howling for years about paying too much in taxes with the federal corporate tax rate at 35 percent. The companies have also poured money into an endless parade of coalitions with names like ACT, RATE, WIN, TIE AND LIFT.

The trouble with the executives’ complaints is that many companies don’t pay nearly the 35 percent rate. GE, for instance, in its most recent annual filing said it paid an effective tax rate of 4.2 percent. (See this graphic we ran last year showing taxes paid by companies in the Dow 30.) These firms insist that the high rate is merely forcing them to find complex ways to lower their tax bills.  But with this budget, it’s clear the administration isn’t buying it.

“The problem is not an international tax system that unacceptably handicaps U.S. businesses,” said Ed Kleinbard, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law who has done extensive research on the way companies shuffle their income overseas to lower their tax bills. “Instead the problem is an international tax system both in the United States and other countries that U.S. multinational firms have demonstrated they are highly skilled at gaming.”

The president’s budget is the latest sign for corporate tax lobbyists that the winds are perhaps shifting against them. Last month’s tax reform plan from House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) also included a number of ideas unpopular with business, including a bank tax. His section on international tax reform was somewhat more generous to big firms, giving them a lower rate on overseas earnings with anti-abuse measures that Kleinbard says don’t go far enough.

Of course, expectations are low that either the president or Camp’s policies will ever make the leap to reality. But after spending hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbyists, corporate America is not exactly seeing its worldview reflected in these blue prints.


By: Jia Lynn Yang, WonkBlog, The Washington Post, March 5, 2014

March 10, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, Tax Code | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right’s New Clothes”: So Far, It’s Hard To Find Evidence Of Any Fundamental Rethinking

Are conservatives interested in new ideas, or are they merely infatuated with the idea of new ideas? Are they really reappraising their approach, or are they trying to adjust their image just enough to win elections?

One way to look at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference is as a face-off between the “No Surrender” cries of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and the “Let’s Try to Win” rhetoric of such politicians as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis). Seen in this light, Republicans truly are having the internal debate that Ryan called “messy,” “noisy” and “a little bit uncomfortable.”

But Ryan may have revealed more than he intended when he downplayed conservative divisions. “For the most part,” Ryan insisted, “these disagreements have not been over principles or even policies. They’ve been over tactics.”

In which case, this is not an argument over ideas at all, but a discussion of packaging.

Christie was quite direct on this point. “We don’t get to govern if we don’t win,” he said. “Let us come out of here resolved not only to stand for our principles. Let’s come out of this conference resolved to win elections again.”

To which Cruz had a ready reply: that Republicans are better off saying what they actually think. With Cruz, at least, you get the unvarnished right-wing gospel, preached without equivocation.

Cruz’s purity bumped his standing in the annual CPAC presidential straw poll up to 11 percent from 4 percent last year, and he took second place. But the hearts of the younger conservatives, the most visible part of the CPAC crowd, were with the unapologetic libertarianism of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Paul won the poll with 31 percent. Christie came in fourth at 8 percent. Ryan received just 3 percent.

No doubt there’s intellectual ferment among the right’s leading thinkers and some of its politicians, often reflected in the pages of the conservative journal National Affairs. Conservatives seem keen these days to acknowledge the need for some kind of social safety net. And while many on the right still deny or dismiss the problem of growing economic inequality, many are at least grappling with the crisis in upward mobility.

But so far, it’s hard to find evidence of any fundamental rethinking. Conservatives want to say that they’re devoted to more than the well-being of the wealthy, but their tax and regulatory policies remain focused on alleviating the burdens on the “job creators,” i.e., the rich. They say they want to do better by the poor, but the thrust of their budgets is to reduce assistance — sometime savagely, as in the case of food stamps — to those who need it.

Ryan no longer refers to social programs as a “hammock” for the idle, but he still wants to cut them. And he cited Eloise Anderson, a Wisconsin state official, to tell a story in his CPAC speech — it got more attention than he now wishes — about “a young boy from a very poor family” who “would get a free lunch from a government program.”

The young man “told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”

Ryan didn’t understand that this was a made-up story. After reporting by the Wonkette blog and The Post’s Glenn Kessler, Anderson admitted that she had never spoken to the boy. She picked up the story from a TV interview. Worse, she then twisted a tale first told by supporters of government nutrition assistance that had absolutely nothing to do with school lunch programs.

But what’s most troubling here is that it did not occur to Ryan to check the story because it apparently didn’t occur to him that most kids on free lunch programs have parents who do care about them. They just can’t afford to put a nutritious lunch in a brown paper bag every day.

Ryan was so eager to make an ideological statement about family structure that he was not bothered by the implicit insult he was issuing to actual families of children on the lunch program. A little more empathy could have saved Ryan a lot of trouble. He apologized for the factual error but not for the insult.

Ryan certainly doesn’t sound like Ted Cruz, and one can hope that the visits Ryan has been making to poor neighborhoods will eventually move him to reconsider his attitude toward government programs. But for now, I am inclined to respect Cruz for giving us his views straight and not pretending he’s manufacturing new ideas. If conservative rethinkers such as Ryan have more than rhetorical and tactical differences with Cruz, they have yet to prove it.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 9, 2014

March 10, 2014 Posted by | CPAC, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christie To CPAC, I’m One Of You”: An Invitation To Mainstream Voters, Forget Everything You Thought You Knew About Me

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) carefully cultivated “brand” includes a few key pillars. The first is that he’s a different kind of politician with no use for “politics as usual.” The second is that he’s a tough leader who won’t back down when conditions heat up. And finally, the blue-state Republican has tried to distance himself from much of the extremism that’s come to define contemporary conservatism.

Christie’s multiple, ongoing scandals have effectively destroyed the first pillar. Christie’s approach to governing has knocked down the second, too.

As for the third, the governor threw it out the window with his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) yesterday.

Before digging in, it’s worth appreciating the context. CPAC is generally considered the premier conservative event in the country held every year, and ambitious Republicans are always eager to curry favor with conference attendees. Last year, Christie wasn’t invited – he was deemed insufficiently conservative.

Yesterday, in his first appearance in the national spotlight since his scandals erupted, the governor did his best to make up for lost time. Benjy Sarlin helped capture Christie’s pitch:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may not always get along with the grassroots right, but he hates the press and thinks President Obama is a failure. Isn’t that enough?

When the governor is making the case for his presidential ambitions, he emphasizes how mainstream he is. When Christie is wooing CPAC, where “mainstream” is a basically a dirty word, he effectively tells the far-right activists that he and they are on the same team.

Mitt Romney’s transition from moderate Republican to conservative champion took a few years. Christie’s trying to play both roles at the same time, hoping audiences don’t notice the contradictions.

The governor’s CPAC message was practically an invitation to mainstream voters to forget everything they thought they knew about him. CPAC Christie wants to take away a woman’s right to choose. CPAC Christie hates the media (which, incidentally, has spent years fawning over the governor and giving him a national profile).

CPAC Christie loves the Koch brothers and considers them “great Americans.” CPAC Christie is certain the United States doesn’t have “an income inequality problem.”

CPAC Christie wants conservatives to believe Democrats are “intolerant” people who refuse to let anti-abortion speakers appear at their national convention (a bizarre claim that is plainly untrue). CPAC Christie got huge applause condemning President Obama for refusing to work with Republicans on debt reduction, which was a rather brazen lie given that Obama has made multiple attempts at a compromise, only to be rebuffed by GOP leaders who refuse to make concessions.

CPAC Christie, in other words, bears no meaningful resemblance to New Jersey Christie.

By most accounts, the governor was well received yesterday, which no doubt gave him a morale boost after months of struggling through several scandals. But in electoral terms, it was a Pyrrhic victory – by moving sharply to the right, Christie satisfied far-right activists and alienated everyone else simultaneously.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 7, 2014

March 8, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, CPAC | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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