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    • Inequality is Unnatural
      I’ve been reading UltraSociety, by Peter Turchin. Turchin’s a biologist turned to mathematical models of human society, and he’s done interesting work, not all of which I agree with (or agree is quite as radical as he claims.) But one of the points he makes in UltraSociety, which has been made by many archeologists and […]
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The U.S. government further nationalizes over religion, liberalism takes another hit

(Cross-posted from Heidi Li’s Potpourri)

The proper relationship between markets and governments in a liberal state is a debatable one. Adam Smith, generally understood to be one of the major progenitors of modern laisezz faire economic-political theory, did not advocate for the absence of the government intervention in economic affairs. Indeed he felt that the state, via law, would be required to create efficient markets because, in the era in which he wrote, professions and financial institutions were dominated by private parties who had not achieved that domination through economic division of labor and competition – the hallmarks of the Smithean classical economic theory. Rather, professions and financial institutions were dominated by guilds and churches, among other groups, who had achieved their economic position not by virtue of serving the economic interests of the community well, but as a side-effect or perk of attaining power in other ways. Smith’s economic theory qualifies as liberal not because it advocates minimal government intervention in economic affairs, but because of its egalitarianism: Smith argued that in order to create equal opportunity for individuals pursuing their economic self-interest (which he believed would have the fortuitious effect of creating an overall efficient wealth creating economy), power had to be removed from the special interest groups of his day (the guilds, the churches, etc.) that denied that equal opportunity on grounds that had nothing to do with economic interests (e.g. excluding some people from some sorts of jobs on the grounds of the religion) or with simply shoring up economic self interest that was not being exercised within a system likely to maximize overall wealth creation.

Today, President Obama has signed an executive order creating “a revamped White House office for religion-based and neighborhood programs, expanding aninitiative started by the Bush administration that provides government
support — and financing — to religious and charitable organizations that deliver social services.” (See this New York Times article, also reprinted after the jump in this post for all quotations).

This is precisely the inverse of a Smithean approach to government and the economy. Wholly apart from questions related to the constitutionality of the expanded office and its powers, this inversion must be noted on grounds of its illiberalism. What the expanded office does is to advantage certain groups – faith-based ones – not on grounds of the likelihood of their contributing to efficient wealth production, but on the grounds that the President believes they are “good” and will do “good”:

“No matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone,” Mr. Obama said. “There is a force for good greater than government.”

Whether or not one agrees with President Obama’s metaphysics (if by forces for good he is referencing supernatural beings) or his confidence in the beneficence of organized religious groups (including, see article, The Church of Scientiology) has nothing to do with the illiberalism of the government funding religious groups to expand their resources for “to lift up those who have fallen on hard times,” as President Obama put it.

If one of the tasks for our society is to aid those who have fallen on hard times, we have two established, liberal ways to accomplish that task. We can entrust the job to the market, assuming that entrepeneurs will find a way to serve their own economic interest while helping others. Indeed, many mega-churches can be understood as doing just just this: they participate in the supply-and-demand cycle for charitable services, often advantaged by all sorts of tax-exemptions, not just on income but on property owned. Or we can choose to add social safety nets officiated over by civil servants acting directly on behalf of the state.

The Time article notes: “In announcing the expansion of the religion office, Mr. Obama did not settle the biggest question: Can religious groups that receive federal money for social service programs hire only those who share their faith?”

Sometimes a conspicuous lack of an answer tells us more than any answer could. The fact that this question – whether faith-based organizations who receive direct government funding to engage in economic activity may discriminate on the basis in their own hiring practices – has not been giving a resounding no tells us that there is not even aspiration to liberalism in this effort to further meld government and religion in this country. Recall, Smith specifically objected to the negative that churches had on the creation of efficient provision of goods and services because churches imposed noneconomically relevant criteria who could participate in the provision of those goods and services. President Obama’s new office flies in the face of this point.

Perhaps this is why his executive order was signed stealthily, “away from the view of television cameras or an audience”?

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Conflucians Say: First, do no harm

“I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.”

It’s from the Hippocratic oath that doctors swear before they begin to practice.  If only Barack Obama were required to recite it.  But he’s not even a doctor.  He’s merely a med student with a stack of text books and a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies.  Lord help us. Maybe we can just ask him not to touch anything.

Join us tonight at 10PM EST for Conflucians Say when we will talk about what cookies are most likely to result in the best stimulus package from your Republican colleagues.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hospitalized for Pancreatic Cancer

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Our thoughts and prayers are with this outstanding Supreme Court Justice as she recovers from surgery.

It appears the cancer was caught early, which should increase her chances of survival. Her loss would be staggering in its implications.

Here are some great quotes from Justice Ginsburg that show her brilliance, her steadfast commitment to the Constitution and her always passionate advocacy for social justice.

All respect for the office of the presidency aside, I assumed that the obvious and unadulterated decline of freedom and constitutional sovereignty, not to mention the efforts to curb the power of judicial review, spoke for itself.

It is not women’s liberation, it is women’s and men’s liberation.

So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.

The state controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality.

Be well, Justice Ginsburg.

Caption this Photo

Caption This Phot0!

Caption This Photo!

Awww….poor widdle Obama-wama.   I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.  All this president-ing stuff can really bring out teh tiredz.   Especially when you suck at it.

Obama losing the stimulus message war

For instance, Obama hosted at the White House nearly a dozen corporate executives who support his recovery package on the same day the House passed its version of the legislation on a party line vote.

As a consequence, the support for the legislation from a host of cutting edge technology CEOs was buried amid coverage of the lack of a single House Republican vote in favor of it.

Emulating Ronald Reagan isn’t working out when you’re still under on-the-job-training.  But hey, Obama still can copy good ole Dubya; he’s got the built-in ears, massive ego and appropriating tax dollars to fund the Fundigelicals going for him!

Obama planned to sign an executive order later in the day creating the White House Office on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It would expand and refocus the faith-based office founded by former President George W. Bush.

Dobson, Meeks and McClurkin are just dancing with joy!  Praise Hey-sooz!

Obama said the organization will not favor any one religious group over another, will work with communities and will act “without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state.”

Just because the Faith-Based offices were given more office space and more $$$ DOES. NOT. IMPLY. that Church and State are converging.  Nope.

The president will also appoint Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who headed religious outreach for Obama’s Senate office and later his campaign, to lead the partnerships office and name 25 religious and secular leaders to a new advisory board.

Because 2o something year olds who worked on Obama’s campaign are always the voice of experience, judgement and wisdom.

Obama’s advisers want to be certain tax dollars sent to the faith-based social service groups are used for secular purposes, such as feeding the hungry or housing the homeless, and not for religious evangelism. The administration doesn’t want to be perceived as managing the groups yet does want transparency and accountability.

Transparency and accountability?  From the Obama Administration?  Like the same transparency and accountability over here?

But the Obama team also made its own mistakes. The president’s troubled cabinet nominees added to the cacophony that at times drowned out the White House economic messages in the past two weeks.  And it seems more apparent each day that the nascent Obama Administration isn’t fully prepared for the task at hand.

You mean, like, you hafta have, like, experience to do the job of president-ing?

The president’s decision to push through a massive stimulus bill, while perhaps unavoidable, is forcing the much-vaunted Chicago crowd to adapt at lightning speed to its more skillful adversaries on Capitol Hill, while at the same time taking a crash course on harnessing the full power of bully pulpit

Poor widdle babies.  Tsk, Tsk.  Here’s my suggestion to President Obama:

RESIGN. You made history as the first African-American president and you’re making history again by outdoing Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, hell, even Warren Harding  in the incompetence department.  Let your Secretary of State assume the charge you are so ill-prepared to execute.

Since what you’re really good at is talking empty platitudes from a podium and making lots of misguided people give you money, why don’t you start your own church?  Hey, it worked Reverend Moon!

Hmmm…moon, hey, I got it!  Here’s an idea from  Hillbuzz to inspire you:

bho-space

Cuz being the most powerful man on Earth is so played out.

Obama Speaketh!

obamasayznothin

Teh Precious must be tired or his Teleprompter is broken cuz he just mailed his latest (Greatest Speech EVAH!) speech to the WaPo:

By now, it’s clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression. Millions of jobs that Americans relied on just a year ago are gone; millions more of the nest eggs families worked so hard to build have vanished. People everywhere are worried about what tomorrow will bring.

What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives — action that’s swift, bold and wise enough for us to climb out of this crisis.

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Thursday: We are so screwed

Remember this from the convention last year?  The scripted dog and pony show that Obama’s and Nancy’s people put together to deprive voters of their right to self determination?  Nancy gets a role at the end when she gives biggest FU to Hillary and liberal voters who might have objected.

Do I blame Nancy Pelosi for the stimulus package problems?  Um, yeah.  I kinda do.  Last primary season, Obama was her guy.  She was even committed to scuttle Hillary as his VP pick because she was concerned that *her* baggage would make *him* unelectable.  Now, the party is coming apart at the seams.  She’s got Blue Dogs lead by Steny Hoyer on her right complaining that they didn’t get enough bi-partisan input into the stimulus bill.  WTF?  I’m sorry, but did you ever heard of such a thing when REPUBLICANS were in charge?  Republicans would never have thrown a temper tantrum because their Democratic colleagues didn’t get a chance to monkeywrench a bill.

But Nancy’s biggest sin was in not standing up to the Wall Street Boyz last year during the election season.  The money pouring into Obama’s coffers must have looked like Niagra Falls.  An awesome, gobstopping sight.  With all that cash and the fellating media, it must have seemed like she could rule the world!  Finally, a weak executive, completely beholden to her.  All she had to do was suspend every single principle she had in order to get him elected.  So what if it split the party right down the middle and the real winner “lost”?  The upcoming economic crisis would unite us all.

Then, her protege takes office and turns out to be just another fricking Blue Dog.  Nope, didn’t see that comin’.  Maybe she thought all that post-partisan shtick was just campaign rhetoric.  But not only is he not listening to what she’s telling him, he may be actively undermining her.  Well, what did Nancy expect after one of the most misogynistic campaigns in history?  He’s going to suddenly be Mr. Feminism?  Whoops!  Only the braindead editors at Ms. think that.

Barry has been contacting the Blue Dogs and telling them to resist Nancy.  Oh, sure, they’re backing off of that claim now.  (Obama is busily putting out fires of his own.)  But the story has legs.  PBO has to help his friends, the bankers, and he needs the Blue Dogs to add critical mass to the Republicans to get it done.  On top of his scheming with the Dogs, he appointed Sen. Judd Gregg to head up Commerce after Richardson bowed out.  Now, why the heck would you appoint a Republican, dedicated to privatizing Social Security, to a position of power where he might actually get to accomplish dismantling the ark of the covenant of the Democratic party?  Wasn’t it enough that the bankers spent our 401K’s and ruined the economy?  Must they get their greedy little hands on our social safety net insurance policy too?

But, wait!  There’s more.

Paul Krugman says we’re headed for a deflation trap.As my tiny, pea brain sciency mind understands economics, I think this means:

1.) A bubble bursts.  Lots of people lose money.
2.) There is a lot of inventory in the general economy but no one is buying anything.
3.) Companies lower prices to sell off inventory.
4.) Lower prices lead to less money coming in to the company.
5.) Companies with less money can’t retain staff, forcing them to lay off.
6.) Laid-off workers have less money to spend.
7.) No one is buying anything or making anything.  Very little economic growth going on.

Social Security was created in part to combat the deflationary cycle.  It gave money to seniors who lost their money and pensions in the crash and subsequent Depression.  Elderly people were living on charity and at the poorhouse.  They had no money to spend to stimulate much of anything.  Social Security got money into the hands of seniors and back into the economy.  I think it had that Keynesian multiplier effect that Dakinikat talks about.  And David Broder is creaming his jeans that Gregg is going to be in charge of “reforming” it.  Joy!

Where’s the plan?  Why is this most eloquent, most intelligent, bestest judgement in the whole world president so slow to get his act together?  This is a crisis of monumental proportions and the fixit bill he is proposing has no unifying theme.  It’s a total compromise with Republicans and the banking industry, getting away with murder once again, while we get stuck with the bill.  And now the media is in jumping back into bed with the Republicans to make it seem like a tax break here and there for the least among us is a sign of moral weakness.

Here’s where Nancy Pelosi could use a united party behind her.  Of course, it would be better if the party actually stuck to its principles and crafted a bill with heart, soul and a goal.  But here we are looking at a turkey.  It’s a patched up wreck mashed together by a guy who thought that Democratic stuff was negotiable.  We’re not going to help him pass this thing if it doesn’t represent the Reality Based Community.

As Krugman said the other day, there is no middle ground.  Either there are steps that must be followed that will get us out of this mess or we might as well cave to Republicans.  How sad is it that with overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate we can’t act like the good guys?

Who is to blame if not the Speaker?

She let the wolves in sheep’s clothing into the fold.  She *forced* more than half of her own party to capitulate to the lesser half in the name of “Unity”.  She allowed the party’s foundations to be eroded by Obama’s “post partisan” propaganda.  This is the result.

Elections have consequences.

ORLY?

we-told-you-so1

Over at Hullabaloo d-day sez:

It seems to me that the Obama team let their foot off of the accelerator. There was a lot of talk during the transition about how economists and elites of all political ideologies knew something major had to be done, and they must have thought they would just coast to a quick victory on this plan.

[…]

You have to do more than win an election. You have to win the argument. You have to tell people why your ideas are more worthy of their vote than the opponent’s ideas.

But he gave a speech!  Didja check his website?

Hope!  Change!