Monday, December 2, 2013

Last Call For Papal Bull

Ross Douthat, conservative columnist for the NY Times and self-styled modern right-wing Catholic, has decided that Pope Francis's recent missive on the evils of trickle-down capitalism just doesn't apply to trickle-down capitalists like Ross Douthat.

That explanation rests, I think, on three ideas. First, that when it comes to lifting the poor out of poverty, global capitalism, faults and all, has a better track record by far than any other system or approach. 

Second, that Catholic social teaching, properly understood, emphasizes both solidarity and subsidiarity — that is, a small-c conservative preference for local efforts over national ones, voluntarism over bureaucracy. 

Third, that on recent evidence, the most expansive welfare states can crowd out what Christianity considers the most basic human goods — by lowering birthrates, discouraging private charity and restricting the church’s freedom to minister in subtle but increasingly consequential ways. 

This Catholic case for limited government, however, is not a case for the Ayn Randian temptation inherent to a capitalism-friendly politics. There is no Catholic warrant for valorizing entrepreneurs at the expense of ordinary workers, or for dismissing all regulation as unnecessary and all redistribution as immoral. 

And this is where Francis’s vision should matter to American Catholics who usually cast ballots for Republican politicians. The pope’s words shouldn’t inspire them to convert en masse to liberalism, or to worry that the throne of Peter has been seized by a Marxist anti-pope. But they should encourage a much greater integration of Catholic and conservative ideas than we’ve seen since “compassionate conservatism” collapsed, and inspire Catholics to ask more — often much more — of the Republican Party, on a range of policy issues

Translation:  Conservative Catholicism can never fail, it can only be failed.  Spare the rod and spoil the child beats I am my brother's keeper any day of the week, apparently.  We'll just have to double down on the beatings until morale improves and bootstraps are lifted by themselves.

That's pretty much the opposite of what Pope Francis is actually saying, but that's what Ross sees.  Funny how that just happens to be exactly the same social shaming formula we've seen from the fire and brimstone set for the last entire history of Christian religion.

General Austerity And Major Cutbacks Meet Private Sector

The NY Times editorial board has tossed a few at the austerity dartboard and has decided that the real problem with Pentagon waste is all those people.

Big-ticket weapons like aircraft carriers and the F-35 fighter jet have to be part of any conversation about cutting Pentagon spending to satisfy the mandatory budget reductions known as the sequester. But compensation for military personnel has to be on the table, too — even though no other defense issue is more politically volatile or emotionally fraught. 

After a decade of war, the very idea of cutting benefits to soldiers, sailors and Marines who put their lives on the line seems ungrateful. But America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is over or winding down, and the Pentagon is obliged to find nearly $1 trillion in savings over 10 years. Tough choices will be required in all parts of the budget. Compensation includes pay, retirement benefits, health care and housing allowances. It consumes about half the military budget, and it is increasing. 

In a speech last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that without serious savings in this area, “we risk becoming an unbalanced force, one that is well compensated but poorly trained and equipped, with limited readiness and capability.” Meanwhile, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told a hearing: “The cost of a soldier has doubled since 2001; it’s going to almost double again by 2025. We can’t go on like this, so we have to come up with [new] compensation packages.” 

That's really something to think that the largest part of the Pentagon budget is paying the troops, not the billions thrown into weapons programs.  Apparently, we still need the weapons programs, but the troops, well, not so much.

So if you're wondering where the outcry is when we've got 900,000 veterans on SNAP assistance for food and that's getting slashed, the answer is that our Iraq and Afghanistan vets and surviving Vietnam, Korea, and Gulf War vets don't all mean that much to the Great Austerian Movement.  They're government employees, after all.  And we've learned to treat them as the enemy.  Better to load up with private contractors to do the dirty work rather than a standing military force.

Welcome to Somebody Else's Problem Military.

Going Sane In The Ukraine

Things are getting rather interesting in Russia's neighbor to the west, as tens of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets of Kiev to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich over his too close relationship with Vladimir Putin's Russia.  The result?  A massive, bloody crackdown.

Eleven days of intensifying protests over Mr. Yanukovich’s refusal to sign political and free trade accords with the European Union have now directly shaken the president’s prospects of remaining in power. Cracks have begun to emerge in his political base: His chief of administration was reported to have resigned, and a few members of Parliament quit his party and decried the police violence.
Many Ukrainians see the agreements with Europe as crucial steps toward a brighter economic and political future, and as a way to break free from the grip of Russia and from Ukraine’s Soviet past. Now, the outcry over Mr. Yanukovich’s abandonment of the accords is pushing Russia into a corner.
The Kremlin, which has supported Mr. Yanukovich as a geopolitical ally for years despite its frequent annoyance with him, used aggressive pressure to persuade him not to sign the accords. Now the anger over Russia’s role has made it all but impossible for Mr. Yanukovich to take the alternative offered by the Kremlin — joining a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Any compromise with the protesters would have to revive the accords with Europe, and reduce Russia’s sway.
Even as Mr. Yanukovich was said to be considering declaring a state of emergency, parliamentary leaders began contemplating various ways to curtail his powers, rather than remove him from office entirely. Volodymy Rybak, the speaker of the Parliament, which is controlled by Mr. Yanukovich’s Party of Regions, on Sunday called for “round-table talks” to help resolve the crisis. Similar talks were conducted in 2004 to resolve the disputes that set off the Orange Revolution.
The steady escalation of the protests — and the threat of further violent crackdowns — has created a volatile situation that showed no sign of abating.

Yanukovich reneging on his trade deals with the EU was the bridge too far here, in what was already seen as a puppet regime for Putin.  The Ukrainian military brought in all kinds of hardware to clear the streets of Kiev over the weekend.  If all this seems familiar, you're recalling Ukraine's Orange Revolution nine years ago.  Then, Yanukovich was the man who stole the election.  Now, he is the man stealing Ukraine's future.

As of now, protesters are blockading Kiev's main government building, supposedly meaning Yanukovich is somewhere inside.  We'll see what happens, but it's going to get a lot worse on the streets of Kiev before they get better.


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