Archive for the ‘Environmental Issues’ Category

Right Wing Mythology

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

My normal tack — when seeing a political cartoon like this that is so clearly off-base — is to “Fact-Check” it.

For example, the cartoon might lead you to believe that there was no unemployment compensation in 1950 — but unemployment compensation began in in 1935.

It’s not clear under what program the rich banker is paying for the unhygienic poor man’s mortgage either now or then. Federal housing policy offers tax subsidies to anyone paying a mortgage — which means the man on the right probably receives a bigger subsidy.

The health care point is likewise odd. In the 1950s, there was no Medicaid for the very poor. But everyone who received health insurance from their employer received a tax subsidy [pdf] both then and now.

In terms of subsidizing car ownership — federal and state policies began encouraging car ownership in the 1950s — from zoning laws requiring large amounts of parking to bailouts given to the auto industry to the construction of the federal highway system. The artificially low price of gasoline is another subsidy — as the cost of pollution and of a foreign policy of ensuring stability in the Middle East is borne by the public at large and not factored into the price. As everyone pays for pollution cleanup and foreign policy, this is a redistribution of wealth from those who minimize their use of gas to those who use more than the average. However, the complaint of cartoonist seems to be a tax subsidy given to those who purchase hybrid cars that use less gasoline. Which — though significantly less than the various other subsidies — is apparently the real obscenity.

And of course, the biggest thing the cartoonist is missing between the man on the right in 1950 and the man on the right in 2010: In 1950, the top marginal tax rate was 91%. In 2010, it was 35%. And that 35% doesn’t include all of the tax subsidies that surely would be used to lower the rich man’s tax rate — from tax subsidies for his employer-provided health insurance to any interest on mortgages or student loans or the myriad of other exemptions someone with a good accountant can find. And of course any profits from investments would be taxed at a lower rate– of 15%. Which is why today, the billionaire Warren Buffett pays a lower percentage of his income in taxes than does his secretary.

All of this makes the cartoon all the more revealing — not of the facts, which it does not reflect — but of right-wing mythology. Why does the cartoonist choose 1950 — rather than a time such when his points would have been true such as 1920 or 1890? The answer is simply that no one wants to go back those eras. Those were periods of economic growth, but inherently unstable times — an instability created by the enormous inequality between the top-most and the bottom-most parts of society. Those periods of history are remembered for the top and the bottom. The 1950s though was the era of the great middle class — robust, strong, stable. In the contemporary conservative mythology, the era personifies the American values of family and hard work. Much of the conservative intelligensia’s opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the sexual revolution, the feminist movement, and the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s came because they saw these movements as a threat to the stability of this status quo.

But the right wing was supported by forces equally opposed to the status quo — who sought a change every bit as dramatic as the radicals of the 1960s sought. Rather than free love, they sought free trade and deregulation. Rather than rights for gays and women, they sought favors for the financial industry. Rather than civil rights for people, they sought corporate rights to influence the political process. Rather than the naive dream of destroying bigotry, they sought the more practical dream of destroying the labor unions.

Since these twin political revolutions, the stability and the strong middle class of the 1950s are remembered with fondness — by mythologists of both the left and right. The conservative argument used to be that radicalism of Civil Rights for women, blacks, gays, and other minorities was what caused the unraveling of this mythological utopia. It has now evolved to blaming the government for redistributing too much to the poor and holding back business with taxes and regulation. The only problem with this story is that the past 60 years have seen a government retreat — with regulations being repealed and failing to keep up with changing times, with taxes having been more than halved, with the rich getting more and more of the wealth and power in the country and the poor less and less.

Which is how you can get a political cartoon such as this — harking back to a flatly false view of an era lost that never was.

Krauthammer’s Newest Big Lie

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

There is something at once fascinating and repellent about Charles Krauthammer. But for now, I just wanted to mention his piece from last Friday on “the New Socialism” which is the name he is trying to popularize for the attempt to combat global warming.

This piece demonstrates what makes Krauthammer such an essential figure on the right, why the National Review in a recent cover story called him  “a brilliant critic of President Obama: a persistent, fearless, profound critic…the critic-in-chief.” What makes him essential is that he is a master of “the Big Lie” – the propaganda tactic of creating a story so audaciously untrue that few will believe it is entirely fiction (as “people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one…”) What makes Krauthammer an especially influential pundit though is his debater’s sense of his opponents’ political weak points. At his most effective, he couples these parries at his opponents’ actual weak points in a fictional narrative that gives an explanation of everything.

Krauthammer’s new thesis, his new “Big Lie,” describes the secret agenda behind the attempt to stop global warming: a giant socialist conspiracy to “raid [...] the Western treasuries” by imposing “taxes on hardworking citizens of the democracies to fill the treasuries of Third World kleptocracies” with “a dose of post-colonial reparations thrown in.”  It’s a bit unclear who is the author of this giant conspiracy: The scientists who study global warming? The leaders of the developed world? The lazy third-world-cadillac-welfare-queen kleptocrats? The sushi-eating, coastal elites? Krauthammer – as is his wont – proposes his theory without providing such details. He is a brilliant intellectual, not a reporter! And this lack of a reporters’ fact-checking is what makes him so adept at creating his Big Lies.

A reporter would tell you that there is a struggle in Copenhagan between the developed counties and those trying to catch up. As carbon emissions are closely related to a people’s standard of living (given current technology) bringing people out of poverty increases carbon emissions. Developing countries are concerned that in capping their emissions, they are condemning their people to continued poverty and binding themselves from improving the lives of their citizens. Developing countries are extremely unhappy with some of the deals being worked on – and in fact 77 of them walked out of the conference earlier this week. They were outraged when a draft agreement among the developed countries was leaked that would have capped the emissions of developing countries at 1.44 tons of carbon per year per person while allowing a limit of 2.67 tons of carbon per person for the developed world nations. Another proposal by the developed countries – the “Western” “democracies” Krathammer claims will be victims – involved the richer nations paying the poor nations to remain poor offsetting their own continued pollution. This proposal is stupid – though it’s difficult to see how it qualifies as “global socialism.” What is clear from reports from Copenhagan is that the developed countries are the ones calling the shots – and that they are trying their best to protect their populations, even at the expense of the developing ones.

Big Lies don’t do well under scrutiny. They are powerful because they are compelling, because they bring together disparate ideas, and like conspiracy theories create a compelling resolution of bothersome sources of cognitive dissonance.

Global Warming: A conspiracy perpetuated by the sushi-eating, coastal elites known as polar bears.

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Of course, such anti-polar bear sentiment doesn’t exist beyond The Colbert Report and satire of global warming denialists.

Oh, wait. I forgot about Sarah Palin, populist tribune of all that is good, who has taken a vehemently anti-polar bear stance, writing in yesterday’s Washington Post:

As governor of Alaska, I took a stand against politicized science when I sued the [Bush administration] over its decision to list the polar bear as an endangered species…

The NYT and WaPo bet their reputations on contrasting approaches to climate emails.

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

James Fallows:

Not to overdramatize, but: in a way the papers are betting their reputations with these articles. The Times, that climate change is simply a matter of science versus ignorance; the Post, that this is best treated as another “-Gate” style flap where it’s hard to get to the bottom of the story.

Nancy Pelosi’s Essential Leadership

Monday, November 9th, 2009

At this point, whatever you think of Nancy Pelosi’s policies – or her personality – you have to admit this: she’s ruthlessly pragmatic, knows how to wield her power effectively, has excellent political instincts, and is one of the more effective Speakers of the House in recent memory. In an interview with Ezra Klein, Pelosi described her legislative philosophy:

“You get the votes,” she said, balling one hand into a fist, “and you take the vote,” and she punched her other hand. “Because you never know what can happen.”

Pelosi’s 11th hour compromise Saturday night – accepting the Stupak amendment – proved she was willing to do what it took to get the health care “bill that no one loved but almost everyone still believed in” passed. The Stupak amendment brought two key constituencies on board: the Catholic bishops and pro-life Democrats. As Minority Leader Boehner prepared to use legislative maneuvers to scuttle the bill on the grounds it would make everyone in the health insurance exchange pay “an abortion premium” – Pelosi’s acceptance of the Stupak amendment lead Cardinal Francis George, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to call Boehner to make sure “the GOP didn’t play any games,” blocking health care reform on the pretense of a pro-life position. At the same time, the Stupak amendment also allowed the bill’s sole Republican supporter to sign on, Congressman Anh Cao. The fallout among the pro-choice Democrats has been severe – but Pelosi must assume it’s manageable. Given the fact that this provision will likely be stripped from the final version of the bill, it seems a small price to pay to pass this historic legislation.

At the same time, Klein points out that Pelosi’s decision to push cap and trade legislation through months ago looks prescient today:

I’m not saying that cap and trade has great odds this year, but whatever chance it does have is a function of Pelosi passing it back in June. She got the votes, and she took the vote.

The House has now passed two bills tackling two major issues that have been growing worse for the past two decades but Washington has been unable to address due to partisan gridlock. Obama deserves much of the credit. But Nancy Pelosi has proven to be a formidable pol – and it is her leadership most of all that has gotten this legislation as far as it has.

Now, all eyes turn to the Senate – for both health care and cap and trade. In the coming months we will find out whether or not Washington is able to deal with either of these issues, or to once again put them off, drawing closer to the moment that is too late. But in the meantime, Nancy Pelosi has done her job.

[Image by Public Citizen licensed under Creative Commons.]

Limbaugh claims Obama is a radical leftist because he supports programs Republicans proposed a generation ago.

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Charles Krauthammer, and other right wingers have begun to converge on a unified theory of Obama – a systematic critique of who he is, what he stands for, and what he is trying to do. Part of this theory – one of the core themes being developed – is that Obama is the most far left American leader ever. Rush Limbaugh expresses this as well as anyone – and I’ve spliced together two clips from his interview this past Sunday with Fox News. (Full interview here.)

Let’s take two of these quotes out for a moment:

We’ve never seen such radical leadership at such a high level of power…

I don’t know of any Republican who would try to take over one sixth of the U.S. economy. I don’t know one Republican who would put forth this…this…irresponsible cap and trade bill. I don’t know one Republican who would actually do that.

To understand why this is such a bizarre thing to say you need to look at some history.  It illustrates what I mean when I call the Republican Party and the right wing – and much of our public debate as it attempts to find the middle ground between the right and left – unhinged. Take a minute to look at the history of the policy proposals regarding the two examples Limbaugh cites – health care and cap and trade.

Health Care

The plans moving through Congress now have an historical precedent in most of their aspects in the two serious Republican attempts to reform health care after LBJ’s introduction of Medicare and Medicaid – Richard Nixon’s health care proposal in 1974 and the Dole-Chafee bill in 1993. Between the two bills, they contained a technocratic institution to reign in health care spending by looking at medical practices – similar to the IMAC that Sarah Palin called a death panel (Richard Nixon’s proposal); an individual mandate, an extension of Medicaid eligibility (the Dole-Chafee plan); an end to insurance industry abuses – for example, banning people with preexisting conditions, subsidies or vouchers for individuals who couldn’t afford health insurance to purchase it, and the creation of a standard minimum level of benefits for health insurance plans (both plans.)

Those who developed the base model that of health care reform now – used these models as the base onto which they grafted a health insurance exchange and a public option. They combined market forces with decentralized decision-making – the exchange on which private companies would offer health insurance – with a more top-down centralized approach – the public option which would compete with the private companies. Clearly, though the plan is distinctly liberal, it was developed by people who have a deep appreciation for some of the central conservative critiques of government planning and New Deal/Great Society-style liberalism. The plan is also clever politically – as a great majority of the American people, in their wisdom, see great value in having a choice between public option and a private one. Michael F. Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute accidentally justified the rationale behind this popular sentiment:

Any payment system creates perverse incentives…which is why we need competition between different payment systems to temper the excesses of each.

Unlike the Dole-Chafee bill which sought to undermine the current system with the hope that something else would develop, the plans working through Congress now are more conservative as they seek to preserve the status quo while introducing an alternative model that people could opt into if it works.

You wonder how far to the right the Republican Party Rush imagines is if he claims he doesn’t know any Republican who would propose anything like this.

How about Mitt Romney, Bob Dole (who incidentally endorsed a version of the bill currently moving forward), Richard Nixon?

The one thing that makes this plan distinctly liberal is the public option. Yet, if anyone believes that after dropping it, the Republicans would support a health care bill, they haven’t been paying attention.

(For more on the similarities on health care, see this post from yesterday.)

Cap and Trade

On climate change, the story is even more dramatic.

Cap and trade started out as a hair-brained scheme to solve the problem of acid rain thought up by a Reagan administration lawyer, C. Boyden Gray. Environmentalists and liberals hated the idea. They saw it as a license to pollute, a “morally bankrupt” “license to kill,” or more reasonably as a “scheme for polluters to buy their way our of fixing the problem.” They preferred the more “command-and-control” approach of top-down regulation. Regulators resisted the idea – as it forced them to surrender “regulatory power to the marketplace.” Industry opposed it, claiming it “was going to shut the economy down.”

But George H. W. Bush thought that free market principles could realign the incentives to fix this problem – and he wanted to placate the Canadians who were bearing the brunt of the acid rain.

So he pushed through a cap and trade scheme to eliminate acid rain over these strong objections. It beat all expectations. Eventually environmentalists came around and industry continued to thrive. This Republican success on solving a major environmental issue without top-down regulation made cap and trade a popular, bipartisan idea. Eventually, Bill Clinton saw it as a way to tackle global warming. But as a significant minority of Republicans continued to question whether or not global warming was real and whether or not it was man-made (along with every other scientifically moot question that industries raised) any possible deal was postponed. Still, as late as 2008, the Senate had strong bipartisan support for a cap and trade program – with Joe Lieberman and John McCain taking the lead. Now McCain is a major opponent of the cap and trade legislation, complaining about the lack of support for nuclear reactors in the bill as a reason to oppose it. This when as late as a year ago, he reiterated his statements of the past eight years in saying that global warming demanded “urgent attention” – that we must “act quickly” to “dramatically reduce our carbon emissions” with a “cap-and-trade” program.

As I said regarding health care, if anyone thinks that McCain will come around to support this legislation that is so similar to what he supported as essential a year ago if the Democrats just tossed some more money into nuclear energy, then you haven’t been paying attention. McCain will likely start calling it a “power grab” and a “government takeover” of the world, echoing Cheney and Krauthammer by the time the bill is up for a vote.

Conclusion

In both cases, Republicans proposed ideas based on core conservative principles – on a respect for the free market, on avoiding rapid change, on avoiding top-down regulation. And now Democrats led by Barack Obama have taken up these proposals – amending them somewhat to take into account liberal ideas such as a distrust of large corporations and a concern for community goods – hoping to pass bipartisan legislation.

What they are met with instead is screams of “Socialism!” and “Government takeover!” and “Unprecedented!” “Attacks on liberty!” and “Why do you hate America?”

Health Care Reform To Stimulate the Entrepreneurship

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal editorial page makes the same argument many Obama critics have been making – beginning with Rush Limbaugh who attempted to blame the financial collapse on the fear markets had at the prospect of an Obama victory in the 2008 election to the present, as Gigot attempts to blame any lingering effects of this financial collapse – and its economic aftereffects – on fear of “the Obama agenda.”

But neither Gigot nor Limbaugh nor any other right-wingers seem to give any consideration to those drags on risk-taking that our current status quo creates.

Gigot apparently thinks that raising taxes on a handful of powerful individuals has a greater effect on reducing risk-taking than the prospect of global warming, than the lack of a health care safety net has on potential entrepreneurs.

The difference between Gigot and myself is that Gigot is concerned that this handful of powerful people will be less likely to take risks with their vast sums of money – along with a dozen or so major corporations having less ability to generate major profits by externalizing costs for pollution and health care to the society at large. If a corporation has to pay for the damage it causes, then it is – by Gigot’s standards – less free. This is true only in the sense that a tyrant is less free than an ordinary citizen because he is no longer able to impose his way upon others.

If one wants to stimulate the economy by encouraging small businesses and entrepreneurship, there are few better ways to do it than to pass some sort of health care reform that makes it cheaper and more available outside of large employers. As Daniel Gross, financial columnist for Newsweek and Slate, explains:

An affordable national health care policy, which could allow people to quit their jobs and launch businesses without worrying about the crippling costs of premiums or medical costs, might be a better spur to risk-taking than targeted small-business loans.

I say this as a former small business owner and entrepreneur myself. One of my biggest concerns in working outside of an established business was that I was not able to get my health care through my job – which meant astronomical monthly premiums for a service I did not use – but which I could not be sure I would not badly need.

Gigot and other right-wingers are not focused on small business and entrepreneurs – although they does invoke them as a fig leaf for political reasons. If they were they could see the advantage of a public health care option. Instead of defending the free market, Gigot and other right-wingers seek to defend a corrupt status quo in which decisions are made by a princely few rather than being made in the competition and varied decision-making bodies of a free market. Health care reform – if done right, with a public option – will remove a major obstacle to individuals taking their own risks, starting their own businesses; it will be a small step to diversifying decision-making and creating a more free market.

Gigot – by taking the dogmatic position he does – proves he is not serious about protecting the free market; he is only interested in protecting the interests of his cronies among the monied elite.

The Detroit Investment Group

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Jon Stewart pointed out against last night how non-constructive the political debate regarding the bailout of the Big Three Automakers has been:

Clearly, politicians are applying a double standard. But I think the hypocrisy is worse than Stewart suggests – because the product financial companies are supposed to be creating is profit with the risks associated thoroughly managed and quantified. Their product has proved to be far more defective than the cars produced by the Big Three, as the financial products have not just malfunctioned, but acted as a virus spreading the failures around to everyone.

Stewart previously pointed out how the first story regarding the bailout of the Big Three focused almost exclusively on the method of transportation used by the CEOs of the auto companies to get to hearing instead of any substantive issues. The real controversy has barely been discussed:

Corporations, whose primary purpose is to amass wealth by any means available for their owners (and who always manage to simultaneously amass wealth for the managers) cannot be trusted with public money. There is no public purpose to such profit-making. The public value of a corporation comes from it’s incidental activities – the means by which it is able to amass it’s profits. By bailing out General Motors, the government would be giving it’s money away for no public purpose. But the government does serve a public purpose by keeping General Motors’ factories churning out cars – by keeping people employed, by providing stability, by keeping the economy going and producing usable items.

Within that distinction lies the difference between outrageous abuse of taxpayer funds and a valid public purpose. The more difficult question is how to avoid the abuse while serving the purpose. [edited slightly from my original]

Which is why I think a bailout should be postponed – to attempt to find the least worst of all the options – rather than to cause great problems with hasty solutions. If the automakers won’t survive without an instant cash infusion though, the government needs to step in one way or another.

Michael Moore described his common sensical solution to this whole mess earlier this week:

1. Transporting Americans is and should be one of the most important functions our government must address. And because we are facing a massive economic, energy and environmental crisis, the new president and Congress must do what Franklin Roosevelt did when he was faced with a crisis (and ordered the auto industry to stop building cars and instead build tanks and planes): The Big 3 are, from this point forward, to build only cars that are not primarily dependent on oil and, more importantly to build trains, buses, subways and light rail (a corresponding public works project across the country will build the rail lines and tracks). This will not only save jobs, but create millions of new ones.

2. You could buy ALL the common shares of stock in General Motors for less than $3 billion. Why should we give GM $18 billion or $25 billion or anything? Take the money and buy the company! (You’re going to demand collateral anyway if you give them the “loan,” and because we know they will default on that loan, you’re going to own the company in the end as it is. So why wait? Just buy them out now.)

3. None of us want government officials running a car company, but there are some very smart transportation geniuses who could be hired to do this. We need a Marshall Plan to switch us off oil-dependent vehicles and get us into the 21st century.

Moore’s solution seems like what was done with the railroad industry in the 1970s – when it was taken over by the government, revamped, and then privatized again. I think Moore’s almost got it right. But not quite. Moore’s solution seems very 20th century – like India’s Five Year Plans or other centralized, government-sponsored attempts to solve large problems. Instead, I think Moore could take a lesson from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the philosopher, economist, and former hedge fund manager who has been explaining the underlying weakness of our financial markets since he made a killing in the 1987 crash. Taleb understands that if you put a bunch of geniuses in charge, you might get something great. But as he points out, the truly game-changing developments happen by accident. The computer, lasers, the internet – all of these innovations have accidentally changed the world in a way that could not be anticipated. He refers to this type of game-changing development as a Black Swan.

And a Black Swan is exactly what Michael Moore, Barack Obama, and the rest of us know we need to jump start the green energy industry. The best way to catch a Black Swan in Taleb’s parlance is to tinker.

In that spirit I propose to create a government-affiliated entity, the Detroit Investment Group (DIG).1  DIG would be a modern-day government intervention in the market that would take inspiration from the Tennessee Valley Authority (especially it’s regional focus), the Manhattan Project (it’s think tank aspect), NASA’s moon shot (in the specificity of it’s goal and it’s timeline), and the Department of Defense (in how it creates incentives for inventors to create new technologies with the promise of contracts.)

Government intervention is necessary as the marketplace has failed to invest in the long-term development of green energy. This tendency of the market to focus on short-term profits over long-term projects has certainly been revealed to be a significant flaw in our current economic structure, as, for one common example, corporate managers seek instant profits which lead to huge bonuses and leave before the long-term effects of their actions hit. Not knowing how to fix this tendency to focus exclusively on the short-term, a government agency can create incentives within the market to focus on long-term issues that are essential to our nation’s security and stability. This would be the purpose of DIG – to supplement the market rather than to impose it’s own hierarchical structure.

DIG would be given goals and rules rather than a typical bureaucratic organization. It’s goals would:

  1. To spur the creation of new green technologies and a green energy industry in America; and
  2. To rejuvenate Detroit and the surrounding areas.

To accomplish both of these goals, DIG would make Detroit the place to go for green industry – the way Silicon Valley is for computer technology. DIG would not have a specific method of encouraging green industry – but would use an infusion of cash and people to tinker and innovate and generate solutions. It would need quite a number of tools to spur this growth and innovation:

It would need the authority:

  • To offer government contracts to license green technologies or buy green products;
  • To sponsor a think tank of top experts in various fields to come up with technologies;
  • To offer prizes for creating products that meet certain benchmarks or accomplish certain ancillary goals;
  • To have input into a cap-and-trade program not managed by DIG;
  • To buy companies with worthwhile technologies or resources (including General Motors for example) and continue to operate them.

The point is – DIG would try everything. It’s task would not be to follow certain procedures, but to achieve it’s goals. It would be structured in such a way as to create market incentives and to centralize planning – on two alternate tracks – and let each influence the other. If this problem is fixable, then DIG would unleash the money and human resources to find the fix – and it would be agnostic about the ideology of it’s solution.

It is, in short,  a very Obama-esque approach to the problem.

  1. Dig.gov is not being used by any government agency at the moment. []

Nuclear versus Wind

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Alex Tabarrokat Marginal Revolution points out the downside to wind power at those times when “the market value of the power is zero or negative.” He points out a story of how wind farmers in Texas were actually paying the council in Texas that regulates the electric grid to take their electricity so that they would be eligible for tax credits. 

Certainly this is ridiculous – but I don’t think the only conclusion to take from this is that we need nuclear power plants. Tabarrok acknowledges that the reason the market value of power is so long in certain locations is the poor state of our energy infrastructure – which loses a large amount of energy that is transported over long distances. He writes that nuclear plants would be as clean as and less expensive than “costly and inefficient transport networks.”

But he doesn’t deal with the issue of nuclear waste – which makes nuclear power far from clean. He doesn’t discuss – and you can see why as this is just a short blog post – the positives of having a more flexible energy infrastructure.

Whether nuclear is the only feasible option comes down to two questions Tabarrok doesn’t address:

  • What is the cost of upgrading our energy infrastructure?
    This New York Times piece by Matthew L. Wald doesn’t make it seem as if the problem requires new technology as much as an upgrade of a very old system: “The basic problem is that many transmission lines, and the connections between them, are simply too small for the amount of power companies would like to squeeze through them. The difficulty is most acute for long-distance transmission, but shows up at times even over distances of a few hundred miles.”
  • Do you have a long-term strategy for dealing with the radioactive pollution generated by nuclear reactors?
    To date, I don’t think there are any good solutions to this.

A third question might concern the safety of nuclear power plants. But I think this threat – whether of a meltdown due to terrorism or error – is largely overstated.

Pope Endorses Barack Obama in UN Speech

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Pope Benedict @ the United Nations

Not quite. But close.

Addressing the United Nations on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of reducing income inequality; of increasing international cooperation; of respecting the law; of having solidarity with the poor and weak; of opposing (unnecessary)1 war; of “giving attention and encouragement to even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation;” of creating “structures capable of harmonizing the day-to-day unfolding of the lives of people;” of the “protection of the environment…and the climate.” And like Barack Obama, though many conservative Catholics are loathe to admit, the previous pope, Pope John Paul II even specifically opposed the invasion of Iraq.

In the past eight years, the Republican party has come to stand for the right of the president to torture prisoners; for rising inequality and acceptance of corporate fraud; for elevating the executive above the Rule of Law and the other constitutionally co-equal branches of government; for ignoring the climate crisis; for refusing to give aid to the poor and weak because of potential “moral hazards” while bailing out big corporations; for preventive war; for refusing to engage in dialogue with our enemies. Pope Benedict’s speech was a direct challenge to the worldview and policies of the Bush administration and an articulation of basic moral principles and basic responsibilities of the state.

Within these principles articulated by the pope, we can easily find the mainstream Democratic agenda, a rejection of the radical policies of George W. Bush, and more specifically, an endorsement of the school of politics that Barack Obama stands for: talking with our enemies; avoiding unnecessary wars and violence; respecting the Rule of Law; reducing income inequality; promoting access to health care; and protecting the environment.

This is the Democratic agenda.

The Pope explained that it is the responsibility of “every generation [to] engag[e] anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs…motivated by hope.” I would call that a pretty good encapsulation of Obama’s appeal – that he represents a new generation striving to find the best way to manage the world and our nation “motivated by hope”.

Jonah Goldberg may call it fascism; Steve Marlsberg may call such efforts to reduce inequality and allow citizens access to basic needs Communism; Rush Limbaugh may call efforts to focus on the real threat of Al Qaeda in the Pakistani/Afghani border “cut-and-run.” But those who listened to Pope Benedict’s address to the United Nations can see that he stands with those the so-called “conservatives” have labeled fascists, communists, and cowards – and the pope understood that the basic moral values he stood for are the essence of what he called “freedom.”

(more…)

  1. I inserted unnecessary here although Pope Benedict did not. Although the pope spoke in this speech of avoiding war, I presume he speaks of this in the context of the “just war” theory that has been accepted by him and the rest of the Catholic Church in the past. []