Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Monday, December 3, 2012

"How Many Are Saved" by Father Robert Barron

Father Robert Barron's essay can be seen at the original site by going to this link: Robert Barron's column, 12/3/12

He poses a question that has come up in Little Rock Bible Study, which I facilitate at St. Anthony's of Padua on Tuesday nights. This is also a topic posed by the readings from Revelations at this time of the Church year. I think that Barron gives a very good answer; for a more scholarly article, which gets to about the same place, here is one from Avery Cardinal Dulles in First Things of February 2008: Who Can Be Saved? 

When I listen to someone like Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens attack Christianity on the basis of Hell's existence, I realize it would be practically impossible to engage them on the topic because what they confidently think they know is so off the mark, at least for Catholics. Find your target, gentlemen, and at least attack us for what we believe rather than what we don't!

Here is the Barron article, cut and pasted from the site linked above:

Dr. Ralph Martin, Professor of Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, has written an important book titled “Will Many Be Saved?” The text received a good deal of attention at the recent synod on the New Evangelization, and its opening pages are filled with endorsements from some of the leading figures in the Church today. Dr. Martin’s argument is straightforward enough: the attitude, much in evidence in the years following Vatican II, that virtually everyone will go to heaven has drastically undercut the Church’s evangelical efforts. Why then, if salvation is guaranteed to virtually everyone, would Catholics be filled with a passion to propagate the faith around the world with any urgency? Therefore, if the New Evangelization is to get off the ground, we have to recover a vivid sense of the reality of Hell, the possibility, even likelihood, of eternal damnation for the many who do not come to a lively faith in Christ.

Martin certainly has some theological heavyweights on his side. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas believed that the majority of human beings end up in Hell. And the official magisterium of the church has insisted on a number of occasions that missionary work is vital, lest millions wander down the wide path that leads to perdition. Moreover, these theological and magisterial positions are themselves grounded in the witness of Scripture. No one in the Bible speaks of Hell more often than Jesus himself. To give just a few examples, in Mark 16, the Lord says, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” And in John 5, he declares, “The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” And in a number of his parables – most notably the story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 – Jesus stresses the desperate urgency of the choice that his followers must make. 

To be sure, the conviction that Hell is a crowded place has been contested from the earliest days of the Church, and Martin fully acknowledges this. Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Maximus the Confessor all held to some form of universalism, that is to say, the belief that, at the end of the day, all people would be gathered to the Lord. And this view was revived during the era of exploration, when it became clear to European Christians that millions upon millions of people in Africa, Asia and the Americas would certainly be condemned if explicit faith in Christ was truly requisite for salvation. 

The universalist perspective received a further boost in the 20th century, especially through the work of two of the most influential Catholic thinkers of the time, Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Rahner held that every human being is endowed with what he termed a “supernatural existential,” which is to say, a fundamental orientation toward God. This spiritual potentiality is fully realized through explicit faith in Christ, but it can be realized to varying degrees even in those non-Christians who follow their consciences sincerely. The supernatural existential makes of everyone – to use Rahner’s controversial phrase – an “anonymous Christian” and provides the basis for hoping that universal salvation is possible. Basing his argument on the sheer extravagance of God’s saving act in Christ, Balthasar taught as well that we may reasonably hope that all people will be brought to heaven. A good part of Balthasar’s argument is grounded in the Church’s liturgy, which demands that we pray for the salvation of all. If we knew that Hell was indeed a crowded place, this type of prayer would be senseless. 

Now the heart of Martin’s book is a detailed study and critique of the theories of Rahner and Balthasar, and space prevents me from even sketching his complex argument. I will mention only one dimension of it, namely his analysis of Lumen Gentium paragraph 16. Both Balthasar and Rahner – as well as their myriad disciples – found justification in the first part of that paragraph, wherein the Vatican II fathers do indeed teach that non-Christians, even non-believers, can be saved as long as they “try in their actions to do God’s will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience.” However, Martin points out that the defenders of universal salvation have, almost without exception, overlooked the next section of that paragraph, in which the Council Fathers say these decidedly less comforting words: “But very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the world rather than the Creator…Hence to procure…the salvation of all these, the Church…takes zealous care to foster the missions.” A fair reading of the entire paragraph, therefore, would seem to yield the following: the unevangelized can be saved, but often (at saepius), they do not meet the requirements for salvation. They will, then, be damned without hearing the announcement of the Gospel and coming to an active faith. 

So who has it right in regard to this absolutely crucial question? Even as I deeply appreciate Martin’s scholarship and fully acknowledge that he scores important points against both Balthasar and Rahner, I found his central argument undermined by one of his own footnotes. In a note buried on page 284 of his text, Martin cites some “remarks” of Pope Benedict XVI that have contributed, in his judgment, to confusion on the point in question. He is referring to observations in sections 45-47 of the Pope’s 2007 encyclical "Spe Salvi," which can be summarized as follows: There are a relative handful of truly wicked people in whom the love of God and neighbor has been totally extinguished through sin, and there are a relative handful of people whose lives are utterly pure, completely given over to the demands of love. Those latter few will proceed, upon death, directly to heaven, and those former few will, upon death, enter the state that the Church calls Hell. But the Pope concludes that “the great majority of people” who, though sinners, still retain a fundamental ordering to God, can and will be brought to heaven after the necessary purification of Purgatory. Martin knows that the Pope stands athwart the position that he has taken throughout his study, for he says casually enough, “The argument of this book would suggest a need for clarification.”

Obviously, there is no easy answer to the question of who or how many will be saved, but one of the most theologically accomplished popes in history, writing at a very high level of authority, has declared that we oughtn't to hold that Hell is densely populated. To write this off as “remarks” that require “clarification” is precisely analogous to a liberal theologian saying the same thing about Paul VI’s teaching on artificial contraception in the encyclical "Humanae Vitae." It seems to me that Pope Benedict’s position – affirming the reality of Hell but seriously questioning whether that the vast majority of human beings end up there – is the most tenable and actually the most evangelically promising.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Susan Cain on Why It's OK to be Quiet--and Even Modest

Episode 1: Several years ago I walked into a Starbucks at the Sierra Vista Mall. The music was on especially loud, machines were grinding away, and then two young women walked in the door. Their eyes met the eyes of one of the women working behind the bar. They screamed. The woman behind the bar screamed. Then the two ran up to the bar and they all three screamed together for about two minutes. Then they settled into merely yelling. They were really happy, I think. This is not unusual behavior in California.

Episode 2: When my daughter was in junior high, I went with her as a sort of parent/helper/chaperone/camp councilor for the three or four days her school was at the camp. One of the girls in her class, who I knew from other activities as someone past "extroverted" by several turns of the nob, was in her element, because there was a sort of award at the end of camper with the most spirit. She was a megaphone on legs, and I never saw her inactive or non-vocal. Your could have given her a thousand decibel handicap, and she'd still have won the spirit award--which she did--with no close competitor. We encourage this stuff

Episode 3: Laura Ingraham, Rachel Madow, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, etc., etc., on any weeknight. Screaming. Interrupting other people who then scream louder.

If you are having trouble coping with the world of screamers, if it exhausts you, you might want to watch this amusing TED Talk by Susan Cain, who has just written a book on introversion entitled Quiet:




Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"

The Wiki bio of Marvin Gaye, a MoTown icon, who might have played for the Detroit Lions: Marvin Gaye


Tammi Terrell & Marvin Gaye

"Nightshift" by the Commodores (1985)

In 1985 the Commodores did a tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson, two famous R & B singers who had died the previous year. I heard this song again and again, as I studied Latin in the Cafeteria over the Michigan State bookstore. It is a haunting and beautiful song:


Friday, November 16, 2012

California Budget Surplus by 2014?

Given that I would like to retire in the foreseeable future, anything that makes the economic future of California brighter--especially PERS--is welcome news.

All over the internet and radio this week are budget projections that California will not run a deficit by 2014. Let's hope.

Here is an analysis of how fragile that prediction is:

Fragility of Projected Budget Surplus

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Views from the Edge of the Cliff



I plan to keep adding to this page as the drama proceeds. Here are the first two entries (11/10/12):
1. From "The Fiscal Cliff May Be Overblown" by Cyrus Sanati, CNN Money, Overblown
"Discussions around raising the marginal tax rate on the top 2% are simply just political fodder. Indeed, multiple studies, including ones by the CBO say that it would raise an insignificant amount of money (a negative for the Democratic view) but would also cause no real harm to the economy (a negative for the Republican view). In the end, if it takes changing the top 2% rate from 35% to 39.6% to end this whole fiscal cliff charade, you can bet it has already been agreed to.
As cynical as it may sound, it is simply irrational for either side to address the deficit in any meaningful way given how cheaply it is for Washington to borrow money. As we have seen in Europe, nations won't swallow the bitter pill of austerity unless the markets force them to. So while the equity markets are jittery about the fiscal cliff that is not enough for Congress or the President to present any real long-term compromise if the yields on Treasuries remain at near all-time lows. It will only be when it becomes too expensive to borrow that you will see the government act in any meaningful way to address the nation's long term fiscal issues, not a second before."
Sanati's column has the ring of truth. The real problem is the long-term debt, which will not be addressed until the arithmetic takes over, in California or the United States. 

2. The Budget Control Act of 2011 seems to do almost nothing in the way of addressing debts and deficits, although President Obama keeps saying that he's already cut spending by $1 trillion. See Wikipedia: Budget Control Act of 2011

Quoting the Wikipedia section on "Projected and known impacts" of the Act:

"The act will not actually reduce the overall U.S. debt over the 10-year period it is specified for, only slow down the existing rate of growth of the debt.[12] That is partly because the cuts due to the act will not reduce federal spending in absolute terms, but rather reduce the year-to-year increases in spending from what had previously been anticipated.[2] Even with the slowdown, both federal spending and the debt are still projected to grow faster than the U.S. economy, due to the cost curve effects of health care, which the act does not address.[12]"
"Most of the $900 billion in the first tranche of cuts occur in future years and so will not remove significant aggregate demand from the economy in the current and following year.[4] Only $25 billion in federal discretionary spending is required to be removed for 2012.[2] Regarding the across the board cuts, these could not take place until 2013 and so if triggered, a new Congress could vote to eliminate or deepen all or part of them. Some top Republicans were particularly concerned that any defense cuts could not go into effect until after 2013.[4]
Passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011 was not enough to avert, three days later, Standard & Poor's downgrading the nation's credit rating for the first time in the firm's history, from "AAA" (highest) to "AA+" (highest, with qualifications).[29] They said they were "pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics anytime soon."[29]

In short, like all long term budget deals or tax bills, this can be undone, at will, by any future Congress and only reduces the increase in deficits and debt growth. S & P projects U.S. debt to be at least $22.1 trillion in 10 years. At Current Rates we are scheduled to hit that amount in four years. See this pinball-like representation of U.S. Debt: U.S. Debt Clock

3. If Bill Kristol is OK with a tax raise on the wealthy, then who can be agin' it?


Speaking on Fox News Sunday, conservative commentator and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol went even farther than Cyrus Sanati (above).
"It won't kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires," he said. "It really won't, I don't think. I don't really understand why Republicans don't take Obama's offer…. Really? The Republican Party is going to fall on its sword to defend a bunch of millionaires, half of whom voted Democratic and half of whom live in Hollywood and are hostile?"

4. "We don't want to kick the can down the road."

Corker and Conrad with Chris Wallace: Democrats, Republicans seem more ready to compromise on deficit deal

Compromise already. If Republicans can actually get significant entitlement reform and more reductions in spending by going with Obama's tax rates, they ought to do it, even if they think it will slow job creation. It's better than a deadlock.

(11/13/12)

5. "The Hard Fiscal Facts," WSJ, 11/12/12  Link:  WSJ Editorial

Gleanings from this editorial, which is in favor of keeping the Bush tax cuts permanent (despite William Kristol):

1. In the fiscal year that ended on September 30, the federal government rolled up another $1.1 trillion deficit.
2. The four largest deficits in modern history accrued during the last four years, the Obama years. See the editorial for a table.
BUT
3. "Tax Revenue kept climbing, up 6.4% for the [last fiscal] year overall, and at $2.45 trillion it is now close to the historic high it reach in fiscal 2007 before the recession hit. Mr. Obama won't want you to know this, but this revenue increase is occurring under the Bush tax rates that he so desperately wants to raise in the name of getting what he says is merely 'a little more in taxes.' Individual income tax payments are now up $233 billion over the lat two years, or 26%."
4. "This healthy revenue increase comes despite measly economic growth of between 1% and 2%."
5. "Now let's look at outlays, which declined a bit in 2012. That small miracle was achieved thanks to a 4% fall in defense spending, a 24% fall in jobless benefits, and an 8.9% decline in Medicaid funding. Note, however, that federal spending remains at a new plateau of about $3.54 trillion, or some $800 billion more than the last pre-recession year of 2007. One way to think about this that most of the $830 billion stimulus of 2009 has now become part of the federal budget baseline. The 'emergency' spending of the stimulus has now become permanent, as we predicted it would."

Conclusion: we are close to gathering more revenue than we ever have, as was true during the Bush II years; we are just spending far more than we are taking in. And this was also true during Bush II's presidency: then,  tax cuts coincided with big revenue gains. We just spent way more than we took in.

6.
NPR's Fiscal Cliff Notes: Cliff Only Dents Deficit

These are very good. Go to this link and listen to them all: Fiscal Cliff Notes

I heard my first this morning in the car: "Fiscal Cliff Would Only Dent the Deficit"; this is only 3 minutes long: Fiscal Cliff wouldn't come close to dealing with deficit

(11/14/12)

7. New York Times, "Showing Backbone on Debt," November 13, 2012:


"Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, provided a bit of good news this afternoon to those worried about painful compromises ahead in the negotiations over the fiscal cliff. President Obama, he said, still wants $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue (over a decade) in any package to reduce the deficit.
That’s almost impossible to achieve without raising rates on high incomes. Reverting to Clinton-era rates on incomes greater than $250,000 would raise $1 trillion; the rest could come from capping deductions, the method Republicans prefer but which would be insufficient alone.
Of course that’s just an opening position; the White House presumably is willing to come down from that number in talks with Republicans. But it’s more than the $1 trillion or so the president wanted in his talks with Speaker John Boehner in 2010, and sends a strong signal that the talks will have to yield far more than modest changes in the amount that rich people can deduct."
The editorial goes on to lament Obama's advertised deficit cutting goal:
"Less heartening, Mr. Carney also cited an overall goal of reducing the deficit by $4 trillion, the same cut achieved in the Simpson-Bowles plan. There’s no need for the reduction to be that high. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has repeatedly pointed out, just $2 trillion in savings would stabilize the debt at about 73 percent of the economy, far less than the current (and growing) level of 82 percent. That would mean the debt would no longer grow faster than the economy, removing the threat of economic harm from a too-high debt burden, and giving policymakers time to deal with the real driver of long-term debt, health-care costs.
A deep, $4 trillion reduction is not necessary in part because Congress and Mr. Obama already cut $1.7 trillion from spending last year, in the various deals forced by House Republicans. Adding $2 trillion in new debt reduction on top of that would be a “notable achievement,” as the Center puts it, in a capital supposedly bound by gridlock."
The $1.6 trillion dollar additional revenue goal is twice that which Obama asked for last year, which has people speculating that Obama wants a "fiscal cliff" deal to fail. See $1.6 Trillion? Obama Doesn't Want a Deal
Obama's request does remind me of my favorite Dr. Evil Scene.  "Ah . . . Dr. Evil . . . $1.6 trillion isn't very much money . . .":

He should go for $100 trillion in new revenue.

Obama's Proposed Tax Rates in Historical Context

The only way to a sustainable budget requires extensive tax reform, reduction of "entitlements" and spending decreases in general, but I do not see Obama's tax proposals as unreasonable. They would produce overall lower marginal rates than under the Clinton years and slightly higher marginal rates than under the Bush years. I'd like to see a compromise in which Obama's tax proposals were accepted by Republicans and significant budget reductions accepted by the Democrats. Win/Win. We are so far in the hole that a $1 revenue increase tied to a $1 spending cut is necessary, and probably not a sufficient spending reduction.  But see Brian M. Riedl who would just leave the cuts in place, "Ten Myths About the Bush Tax Cuts," Heritage

Riedl's conclusion: "The 110th Congress will be serving when the first of 77 million baby boomers receive their first Social Security checks in 2008. The subsequent avalanche of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid costs for these baby boomers will be the greatest economic challenge of this era.


"This should be the budgetary focus of the 110th Congress rather than repealing Bush tax cuts or allowing them to expire. Repealing the tax cuts would not significantly increase revenues. It would, however, decrease investment, reduce work incentives, stifle entrepreneurialism, and reduce economic growth. Lawmakers should remember that America cannot tax itself to prosperity."
History of Federal Income Bottom and Top Bracket Rates

You can find out marginal federal income tax rates back to the year 2000 (Clinton, pre-Bush rates)
by going to Moneychimp: Federal Tax Brackets

In 2000, for a married couple filing jointly, these were the rates;


15%    0 and $26,250:
28%    $26,250 and $63,550:
31%   $63,550 and $132,600:
36%  $132,600 and $288,350:
39.6% $288,350+

Current marginal rates with the Bush tax cut in place are as follows, for a married couple filing jointly:


  • 10% on taxable income from $0 to $17,400, plus
  • 15% on taxable income over $17,400 to $70,700, plus
  • 25% on taxable income over $70,700 to $142,700, plus
  • 28% on taxable income over $142,700 to $217,450, plus
  • 33% on taxable income over $217,450 to $388,350, plus
  • 35% on taxable income over $388,350.
Under the Obama proposal for married filing jointly (see below):
10% $0 to $17,900
15%  $17,900 to $72,500 
25%  $72,500 to $146,350
28%  $146,350 to $223,050
33%  $223,050 to $247,000
36%  $247,000 to $398,350 
39.6%   $398,350+:
The following is from the Tax Foundation. See the whole article at The $250,000 Threshold: How does it work?
Under current policy, there are six taxable income brackets – 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%. Obama’s proposal would let part of the 33% tax bracket and all of the 35% tax bracket rise to Clinton-era tax rates: 36% and 39.6%[1][2]. The split in the 33% tax bracket (where the upper part goes up to 36%) is set to be the number calculated above: $247,000. (The same calculation for single filers comes out to $203,600). So the marginal tax rates on taxable income under each scenario are as follows:
Filing Status
Tax Cuts Expire (2013 projected parameters)
Current Policy (2013 projected parameters)
Obama Proposal (2013 projected parameters)
Single
$0 to $36,250:15%
$36,250 to $87,850: 28%
$87,850 to $183,200: 31%
$183,200 to $398,350: 36%
$398,350+: 39.6%

$0 to $8,950: 10%
$8,950 to $36,250: 15%
$36,250 to $87,850: 25%
$87,850 to $183,200: 28%
$183,200 to $398,350: 33%
$398,350+: 35%
$0 to $8,950: 10%
$8,950 to $36,250: 15%
$36,250 to $87,850: 25%
$87,850 to $183,200: 28%
$183,200 to $203,600: 33%
$203,600 to $398,350: 36%
$398,350+: 39.6%
MFJ
$0 to $60,550: 15%
$60,550 to $146,350: 28%
$146,350 to $223,050: 31%
$223,050 to $398,350: 36%
$398,350+: 39.6%
$0 to $17,900: 10%
$17,900 to $72,500: 15%
$72,500 to $146,350: 25%
$146,350 to $223,050: 28%
$223,050 to $398,350: 33%
$398,350+: 35%
$0 to $17,900: 10%
$17,900 to $72,500: 15%
$72,500 to $146,350: 25%
$146,350 to $223,050: 28%
$223,050 to $247,000: 33%
$247,000 to $398,350: 36%
$398,350+: 39.6%
As Luke Bernthal notes, in the comment below, we now have the lowest "highest marginal rate" since the Depression years:
Graph in PDF of highest marginal rates

The graph is interesting, but those super high marginal rates after World War II were also connected to a very different scheme of deductions, including an interest deduction for all interest (not just mortgage) and no alternative minimum tax. What would be very interesting would be a graph showing effective federal income tax rates back to the thirties. I cannot find that data, and I'm not sure it exists. For effective rates back to 1979, see the previous blog.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Current Tax Rates / Effective Federal Income Tax



As we get into the "fiscal cliff" Congressional contest, we are going to hear a lot about tax rates. Here are the current rates. Historically, the most relevant data with regard to revenue collection may be effective federal income tax rates, which stay surpisingly even, even though marginal rates have varied a lot.

Single Filing Status

[Tax Rate Schedule X, Internal Revenue Code section 1(c)]
  • 10% on taxable income from $0 to $8,700, plus
  • 15% on taxable income over $8,700 to $35,350, plus
  • 25% on taxable income over $35,350 to $85,650, plus
  • 28% on taxable income over $85,650 to $178,650, plus
  • 33% on taxable income over $178,650 to $388,350, plus
  • 35% on taxable income over $388,350.

Married Filing Jointly or Qualifying Widow(er) Filing Status

[Tax Rate Schedule Y-1, Internal Revenue Code section 1(a)]
  • 10% on taxable income from $0 to $17,400, plus
  • 15% on taxable income over $17,400 to $70,700, plus
  • 25% on taxable income over $70,700 to $142,700, plus
  • 28% on taxable income over $142,700 to $217,450, plus
  • 33% on taxable income over $217,450 to $388,350, plus
  • 35% on taxable income over $388,350.

Married Filing Separately Filing Status

[Tax Rate Schedule Y-2, Internal Revenue Code section 1(d)]
  • 10% on taxable income from $0 to $8,700, plus
  • 15% on taxable income over $8,700 to $35,350, plus
  • 25% on taxable income over $35,350 to $71,350, plus
  • 28% on taxable income over $71,350 to $108,725, plus
  • 33% on taxable income over $108,725 to $194,175, plus
  • 35% on taxable income over $194,175.

Head of Household Filing Status

[Tax Rate Schedule Z, Internal Revenue Code section 1(b)]
  • 10% on taxable income from $0 to $12,400, plus
  • 15% on taxable income over $12,400 to $47,350, plus
  • 25% on taxable income over $47,350 to $122,300, plus
  • 28% on taxable income over $122,300 to $198,050, plus
  • 33% on taxable income over $198,050 to $388,350, plus
  • 35% on taxable income over $388,350.
For historical effective federal tax rates, see the Tax Policy Center, which shows data back to 1979:


Shields and Brooks This Week: Fiscal Cliff


(Interesting exchange on "fiscal cliff" and raising taxes)

Shields fails to acknowledge that one of the big reasons why we had "fiscal sanity" during the Clinton years was that a Newt Gingrich led Republican House blocked a lot of federal spending. This, in addition to deficit reducing taxes, laid the foundation for the prosperity of the Bush II years.

What the United States needs to do is very simple. We need a small tax increase, but not so much to interfere with economic growth. We need to cut discretionary spending. We need big "entitlement" reforms in Social Security and Medicare / Medicaid. (We await the full financial impact of Obamacare.)

Result of last fiscal cliff deal: NY Times

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Election Results; Obama's Complete Victory Speech; Romney's Concession

(Obama's Complete Victory Speech)

(Romney's Complete Concession Speech)

Here is how the electoral map broke down:



This is how it went by county, giving a good sense of where people cling desperately to their religion and guns:



Election results are still being updated and so there is a lack of data on-line. See InTheCapital, 2012 Election Map

I have not yet found official figures on all the popular vote splits in the swing states. In Ohio it was about 50 to 48, according to the Toledo Blade,  President Captures Ohio. The national split was also 50 to 48. Florida has yet to declare a winner, even though the map above give the state of Obama. The popular vote is 49.9 to 49.3, with Obama in the lead but enough absentee and provisional ballots to be counted that Romney, for what its worth, could still win Florida.Florida Still Uncertain

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The UnAmerica


I grew up in a little Michigan town in the 1950s and 60s.  I remember going to the barbershop with my dad on a Friday night and watching Fess Parker playing Davy Crockett, on The Wonderful World of Disney. I suppose that more than anyone—John Wayne in his many westerns, Gregory Peck in Pork Chop Hill—Davy Crockett was my generation’s icon of what an American was supposed to be. Our fathers, who had fought the Second World War were living, breathing incarnations of that spirit. The astronauts we watched going into space were the most modern counterparts of what it meant to be an American pioneer. Courage, dedication, self-sacrifice, and a stoic attitude toward pain and difficulty were preached to us all. And then came the sixties, drugs, sex, and throwing it all up—for what? For what we are now going to get.

America has gone through several iterations: America from the Revolution to the Civil War, American from the Civil War to the Great Depression, America since the Second World War. And that could be parsed into finer categories: America since Vietnam. America after the Cold War. But tonight, with the reelection of Barack Obama we have entered an enormously different world, on par with the biggest changes in our national life—the UnAmerica America. It has the following characteristics:

1.     It is based not on an ethic of self-sacrifice for the common good, as the fathers of my generation practiced in the second world war, but on getting as much as you can from the government.
2.     It is based not on an ethic of self-reliance, but on claiming victimhood and demanding reparations.
3.     It is not based on traditional Judeo-Christian sexual ethics but on government subsidized birth control and abortion.
4.     It is an America with no sense of boundaries or reality when it comes to its own habits of consumption and desire. A 16 trillion dollar national debt? Why not a $22 trillion dollar debt? We’re likely to see it at the end of 4 more Obama years.
5.     It is an America that doesn’t lead the rest of the world but is inexorably going to withdraw from it as defense spending is cut in favor of “entitlements,” a word which speaks an entire history. This is going to be a very dangerous world.
6.     It is an America that has been taught to be ashamed of itself and its role in the world rather than proud.
7.     It is an America that hates the authority of religion and so wants to neuter it, by turning it into a private hobby, or by crushing it while regulating its social presence out of existence.
8.     It is an America largely without a fourth estate—a media—that even attempts unbiased investigative reporting.

In short, it is an America that wants stuff, feels it’s owed, and hates anything or anyone who would assert a limit. It is an America that is ripe for soft-core tyranny. This America did not happen over night. Its starting point began when I was a teenager. But we have never so thoroughly embraced it as we did in the presidential election of 2012.

For anyone who thought the first election of Barack Obama a fluke, that idea has been dispelled by returning to office a man who should have been easy to beat, after a disastrous four years of fiscal irresponsibility and arrogant disregard for anything like bipartisan politics. Those of us who were hopeful that Romney, a moderate Republican, would win, must now acknowledge that we live in a very different country than we were in even 10 years ago. What can we look forward to?

1.     A big recession in 2013 as businesses remain skeptical about investing in a country run by anti-business Democrats.
2.     At least $20 trillion in government debt.
3.     A deadlocked Congress as Obama proclaims any real compromise an unacceptable retreat.
4.     A declining military as spending cuts whittle away at its effectiveness.
5.     The disappearance of Catholic hospitals, as they refuse to provide workers with insurance covering birth control.
6.     Iran will get the bomb, causing a Middle East arms race. We will do nothing.
7.     American debt will be downgraded, interest rates on government debt will go up, feeding the overall debt, pushing the country toward insolvency.
8.     The trend to see the Constitution as outdated will grow; there will be a lot of talk about replacing it, and this will be the preliminary to actually doing so.
9.     Four years from now, the Republicans will still be blamed for it all, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they lose again.

Blacks, Latinos, and single women certainly put Obama over the top. See this Rolling Stone article, which lays out what powered this election: How Obama Won. The 67 to 31 split among single women, who for the first time in U.S. history outnumber married ones, was perhaps the most important demographic. To see the kind of country this group thinks they live in, and the kind of country they want, watch Sandra Fluke and Elizabeth Warren's DNC speeches, shrilly proclaiming what the government owes them.

I suppose historians will try to date the decline of America. Maybe they’ll pick 9/11. Maybe the Great Recession. But I pick tonight as the real date, because this is the day American trumped reason with “what’s in it for me?” and embraced decline. This is the day that America became a different country.

November 8

OK, after one day to cool down, I refuse to abandon all hope. Still, unless courageous steps are taken both in California and in the USA to make significant spending cuts, the day of reckoning is simply going to be even more painful. California's Proposition 30 passage gives the university system in California breathing space, but each of these tax increases erodes California's tax base as more and more people with money--individuals and businesses--leave the state for others where the tax burden is lighter. Combine an eroding tax base with the likelihood of a recession this year, and Prop. 30 may be only a temporary bandaid.

see Victor Davis Hanson's column which has a very perceptive analysis of Democrat strategy in this election, Groundhog Day in America: "In textbook community-organizing fashion, Obama won the election by brilliantly cobbling together factions with shrill warnings of supposed enemies everywhere. Young women were threatened by sexist Neanderthal males. Minorities were oppressed by neo-Confederate tea partiers. Greens were in danger from greedy smokestack polluters. Gays were bullied by homophobic Evangelicals. Illegal aliens were demonized by xenophobic nativists. And the 47 percent were at the mercy of the grasping 1 percent. Almost any American could fall into the category of either an Obama-aligned victim or a Romney-aligned oppressor."

Although the following analysis by Bill O'Reilly is spoiled by the shameless self-plug at the end, it's thought-provoking, and I think right when it comes to Hurricane Sandy:


Much of what O'Reilly has to say is remarkably close to the Rolling Stone article, above. What the Republican party has to get across, if it wants a future for itself and a better future for the country, is that government help for those who need it is impossible if the state is insolvent. That seems obvious, but many people--at least 50% of voters--seem welded to the idea that our ability to extract money from "the rich" is infinite.To Democratic friends who are committed to more income equality: set aside the moral issues this would raise and the government power it requires. Just consider whether it is even possible to generate enough revenue to keep up with our current trend of expenditure.

Dennis Miller echoes my lament:


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Anger and The Final Speeches of President Campaign





(Springfield, OH, November 2, 2012)


(Morrisville, PA, November 4, 2012)

One of the most interesting and most disturbing things about this campaign has been the anger level. In my estimation, the Democrats, from the convention on, have simply been angrier than the Republicans, and I think this also characterized the candidates. Sandra Fluke, Elizabeth Warren--the Republicans in their convention produced nothing close to that level of angry superiority. You can see that distinction in these speeches, especially in Obama's "vote for revenge" comment. This is corrosive. It is not effective leadership. The problem with anger is that it can become a drug that supports one's righteous indignation and vice versa--its a circle that's hard to break out of. I know this from my own experience, and it was on my mind last year as I blogged about Fresno State issues. 

One of the things that impressed me most about the campaign was Romney's temperance. I admire that about him, as I admire his charitable giving. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review of "Cloud Atlas"


I was looking for an innocuous movie to take my 86 year-old mother to. She’s a Bridges of Madison County kind of movie fan, but she’d already seen Trouble with the Curve, which was the closest thing to a mom-flick out there. So, when I checked the listings for the Birch Run Cinema and saw the ad for Cloud Atlas, I thought, aha, Tom Hanks . . . Jim Broadbent . . . Hugh Grant. It had innocuous written all over it. Plus, it looked interesting. So I said, let’s go. I knew I’d made a mistake long before the scene where the pretty South Korean replicant girls are being slaughtered and hung up, steer fashion, to be recycled. I think I got my first clue with the flogging of an African slave on some Pacific atoll. 

            But aside from the fact that you might not want to take your mother to see this movie, was it any good? Yes and no.

            Cloud Atlas is very ambitious and works extremely hard to be spiritual and profound. It interweaves six narrative lines set: 1) somewhere in the Pacific 1849; 2) in Cambridge around 1918 (if I remember right); 3) in 1973 San Francisco; 4) in present day London; 5) in a very far future Seoul; and 6) way way out in the future on an island—possibly the same one as in the 1849 line.  (I haven’t read the novel this movie is based on.) One of the assumptions of the movie is that reincarnation is part of the scheme of things, so the main actors appear again and again throughout the movie. The ethical point is that one’s crimes and acts of kindness resonate through time, affecting the future and possibly even the past—a very karmic thought and also a very Charles Williams kind of thought (read Descent into Hell).

            The issues dealt with are various forms of human exploitation, in plot order, as follows: slavery; persecution of homosexuals; evil oil companies rigging nuclear power plants to explode so you’ll buy more oil; a comic parody of the other plots wherein Jim Broadbent shines as a publisher whose vindictive brother has had him committed to an nursing home; slavery again, this time of human beings grown in vitro; finally, a tribe of nice, kind peaceful islanders being slaughtered by the descendents of the rock group, Kiss.

            The plot lines not only use the same actors—and identifying them is part of the fun—but the same situations of capture and escape. The point seems to be the same as in Ground Hog Day, where people have to bang their heads against the same ethical problems until them get the right—or don’t.

            Now, all this to me would be an intriguing recipe for a good movie. I like fantasy and I like big movies, so the 2 hour and 44 minute running time was not an initial problem. By far the best story lines were the present day Jim Broadbent bit, as the captured publisher, paying for past sins, and the future Seoul, in which the beautiful Chinese actress Xun Zhou just steals the show—and there are some great action sequences in that part, by the way.

            The evil oil company is such a cliché, it’s a failure of the imagination to run it again, but it gives one of my favorites, Hugo Weaving, plenty of chances to shoot at people and Halle Berry her best innings. James Sturges and David Gyasi have a good gamble in the first plot of a runaway slave and the lawyer who keeps him in his cabin as a stowaway. Ben Whishaw, who played a rather soppy John Keats in Bright Star is the star of the second plot line; he’s a gay composer who gets a piece of music “given” to him from beyond, and this becomes the “Cloud Atlas Sextet” which echoes through the movie as the underlying bit of celestial harmony that holds the world and the movie together. It’s supposed to be the most beautiful piece of music imaginable, but unfortunately, they have to keep playing it, and it isn’t. I liked the piece--better than average soundtrack here--but it ain’t Bach or Beethoven; still, the plot needs the music of the spheres, and what you can get away with proclaiming in a novel was more than could be reproduced for a movie.

            My reservations about Cloud Atlas are not serious, but here they are. First, Cloud Atlas busts a gut to be “important,” and going “big” is often a mistake in this regard. This movie goes big. Second, from my Catholic point of view, it just reinvents the wheel while sedulously steering clear of any Christian reference whatsoever. The main point of the movie is that self-sacrificing love is an objective force in the universe. Amen to that fair prayer, say I. There isn’t a more Christian thought in the world, but mainstream Hollywood is allergic to that recognition. It goes the expected syncretistic route. The bigger problem is that this movie didn’t make me feel the reality of the self-sacrificing behavior I saw on-screen. It was a bit comic bookish, a bit reheated. As W. H. Auden says in "Musee des Beaux Arts," there's always some horse in the background scratching his ass while the crucifixion takes place or Icarus plummets into the sea. This movie needed some ass scratching. The last plot line is close to a Mad Max movie, so that adds a second clichéd plot. The two plots that worked effectively were undercut by those that did not.

            On the other hand, I’m going to read the novel.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Chris Matthews' Devastating Critique of Obama and His Administration

The disillusion that Matthews expresses here seems to me to be utterly compelling in light of Bob Woodward's book, The Price of Politics.


What is scary about this clip is that it is from a year ago. There is nothing that Matthews says here that shouldn't completely explain the first presidential debate to him.

For me a vote in a presidential campaign is rooted as much in whether I trust or respect a candidate, and in the general direction they'd take the country, as in their policy arguments.

Although I don't think either candidate is being candid about what needs to be done to tackle our immense financial difficulties, I have two things against the Democrats in this regard that I think the Republicans will improve. First, the Democrats went on the most irresponsible, insane spending spree in history in the first two years of the Obama administration. It stimulated nothing and only made our situation far more dire. Second, they had a responsibility, as the party in power, to propose a plan to deal with the problem. Chris Matthews, in an astoundingly truthful clip, nails that they did not propose such a plan. I see no commitment or capacity in Barack Obama to do the immensely difficult work that reducing the deficit will require.

Neither does Chris Matthews.

Barack Obama went from being an unremarkable state legislator in Illinois to being President of the United States in four short years. An utterly undistinguished four years as a U. S. Senator, in which he seldom even voted for or against a bill, intervened. On this scant experience--and no experience as an executive--he was given the highest office in the land and arguably, the most powerful and important job in the world. He always hated legislative work and has been out of touch with Congress for his entire presidency. What were we thinking?

America is beginning to wake up from a mass delusion, and historians are going to be studying, for a long time, how desire, propelled by almost the entire mass media, could have so trumped realistic expectations or assessments of Barack Obama's abilities. He was bored as a U. S. Senator, which is, to me, astounding. He goes from being no one, to U. S. Senator, and the job isn't big enough for him. Now he's bored with being president. Maybe Emperor?


addendum: for application to foreign policy, see today's WSJ editorial by Dorothy Rabinowitz: "The Unreality of the Last Four Years": Rabinowitz, October 22, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Alexander Vilenkin Tufts Lecture

Alexander Vilenkin's Tufts lecture arguing that the universe had a beginning: