The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, June 30, 2012

"As Much As They Can Afford"

I don't want to play "gotcha" here, but I think this statement by Mitt Romney is rather telling:
I think this is a land of opportunity for every single person, every single citizen of this great nation. And I want to make sure that we keep America a place of opportunity, where everyone has a fair shot. They get as much education as they can afford and with their time they’re able to get and if they have a willingness to work hard and the right values, they ought to be able to provide for their family and have a shot of realizing their dreams.
Here, watch for yourself:

Now, the annual cost for a college education has skyrocketed since the dimly remembered past when I attended; using the sums in "constant 2008-9 dollars", four year institutions (both private and public) have increased from an average of $ 8,672 per year in 1981-1982 (three years before I started) to $20,986 in 2009-2010. For private institutions alone, the cost increase is even more dramatic, from $13,861 in 1981-1982 to $32,475 in '09-'10. (Public institutions have jacked up the costs enormously, as well, although they started from a much lower initial price--from $6,320 to $14,870; not as bad, clearly, but a steeply ascending trend as well.)

Meanwhile, a 2011 Study from the Georgetown Center on Education and Workforcehas concluded that "over the past thirty years, the demand for college educated workers has outpaced supply, resulting in economic output below potential and growing economic inequality." Moreover, a related 2012 study found that while holders of bachelors degrees face an unemployment rate of 8.9%, those with only a high school degree face an unemployment rate of 22.9%, and high school drop-outs 31.5%. The new study contends that the prior study's findings hold, but that the tightening job market has reduced employability for students whose majors do not translate into usable career skills. One solution propounded by the new study: graduate school.

More cost, more debt.

Against this backdrop, Romney's statement that people should get "as much education as they can afford" reflects a complacency that is unjustified in a prospective President, however understandable it may be in a billionaire who was himself a child of privilege. Romney's invocations of the American Dream strike less as a call to action than as a narcotic anesthetizing the amputation of that dream.

Education really is the silver bullet. We deserve better.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Did You Evah?

So, in today's decision in National Federation of Business v. Sebelius, the Supreme Court managed to surprise most Court watchers. The Court upheld the Affordable Care Act 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts providing the fifth vote.

Go figure.

There actually was no single rationale on the part of the majority; Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor found that the ACA was a valid exercise of congressional authority under the Commerce Clause, pretty much for the reasons I have previously discussed. Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas and Alito strongly disagreed, essentially opting to overturn the New Deal.

Justice Roberts? Well, on this point he voted with the conservatives, sort of. He wrote that
To an economist, perhaps, there is no difference between activity and inactivity; both have measurable economic effects on commerce. But the distinction between doing something and doing nothing would not have been lost on the framers, who were practical statesmen, not metaphysical philosophers.
This reading takes a rather perverse reading of Wickard v. Filburn, which explicitly found that
It is said, however, that this Act, forcing some farmers into the market to buy what they could provide for themselves, is an unfair promotion of the markets and prices of specializing wheat growers. It is of the essence of regulation that it lays a restraining hand on the self-interest of the regulated, and that advantages from the regulation commonly fall to others. The conflicts of economic interest between the regulated and those who advantage by it are wisely left under our system to resolution by the Congress under its more flexible and responsible legislative process.
So, Bad day at Black Rock, right?

Well, in the sense that there is a nascent majority--the dissenters did not join the section of Justice Roberts' opinion effectively limiting Wickard to its facts, so I wouldn't go so far as to say there's a holding, yet--ready to draw a bright-line distinction between activity (which can be regulated) and inactivity (which cannot be), yes. Bad news, indeed for congressional power--albeit not the worst, as this sort of bright line could be legislated around, unlike some other formulations of the scope of the Clause the Court has adopted in the past.

But not bad news for the ACA. Because the taxing power argument made by the Department of Justice, and especially the oft-derided Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, was adopted by Chief Justice Roberts, and by the 4 more liberal members of the Court (sorry, folks; I met Brennan; these four ain't liberal). Game, set, and match.

Well, not entirely, the ability of the federal government to impose conditions on receipt of other funds to incentivize states to participate (here Medicaid funds which would be reduced to states declining to participate in the Medicaid expansion portion of the Act) has been torpedoed. Whether this becomes a principle of general applicability remains to be seen, but I should think it will.

Of course, I didn't get this constellation of facts right, so, what do I know?

Still, imagine the chaos in Washington society (assuming, contra Sally Quinn, that such a thing yet exists) at the spectacle of "swing vote" Kennedy moving hard and fast to the right, while Roberts saves President Obama's signature legislative accomplishment.

Well, did you ev-ah?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Scalia's Dissent in the Arizona Immigration Case captured by Peter O'Toole:

End of term is tomorrow. What will befall?

See you in the morning...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Next to Last of the Summer Whine

Today turned out not to be GOPerdammerung at the Supreme Court; if anything, it was a bit of a respite. So, Miller v. Alabama, for example, found unconstitutional a statutory scheme which required the imposition of a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole for juveniles found guilty of homicide. Southern Union Co. v. United States extended the right to a jury trial as to all acts which enhance punishment to encompass fines--a ruling in favor of big business, and so one which fits one narrative about the Roberts Court, but one can hardly cavil at anything that expands the right of the accused to trial by jury.

The bad news of today's rulings, American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, was hardly surprising; the Court refused to find that Citizens United did not bar state laws forbidding corporate expenditures on behalf of candidates, even where, as here, the state had a history of corporate corruption in elections (a fact not present in Citizens United). The result is deplorable--even more so that the original decision, in that the very entities that create corporations are unable to regulate them, but hardly surprising. (This might have been one of the few divergences between the First Amendment as written ("Congress shall... make no law abridging...") and as incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment; on the other hand, I'm not sure opening a path to a federalism approach to the First Amendment is a good idea, especially with this lot).

Arizona v. United States found most of the Arizona immigration law sections challenged by the Obama Administration preempted by federal law; as Scotusblog helpfully summarizes:
The four provisions struck down include:

(1) Section 2(B), which requires state and local police to check the immigration status of persons about whom they have a reasonable suspicion of being undocumented;

(2) Section 3, which would have made it a crime not to complete or carry an “alien registration document” (and is directly contrary to the Court’s decision in Hines v. Davidowitz

(3) Section 5(C), which criminalizes the conduct of undocumented employees and goes well beyond the civil sanctions that U.S. immigration law allows to be imposed on employers of undocumented workers; and

(4) Section 6, which allows for a warrantless arrest if the “officer has probable cause to believe [that a person] has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States” under federal immigration law.
The infamous "show me your papers" section, which "requires state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if there is reason to suspect that the individual might be an illegal immigrant." That section was found not to be unconstitutional on its face--if it is subsequently demonstrated to be applied in a discriminatory fashion, the Court ruled, it too could fall. On balance, this case turned out better than expected, as far as I am concerned.

The bench statement of dissent by Justice Scalia in the Arizona case is epic; both comic and tragic at the same time. The comedy is that the Justice who has just this month published a learned text arguing that "[t]he descent into social rancor over judicial decisions is largely traceable to nontextual means of interpretation, which erode society's confidence in a rule of law that evidently has no agreed-on meaning," makes a stunningly nontextual argument for upholding Arizona's law in its entirely:
As is often the case, discussion of the dry legalities that are the proper object of our attention suppresses the very human realities that gave rise to the suit. Arizona bears the brunt of the country’s illegal immigration problem. Its citizens feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy. Federal officials have been unable to remedy the problem, and indeed have recently shown that they are unwilling to do so.
(Full text here.)

Scalia asks the rhetorical question, "Are the sovereign states at the mercy of the federal Executive's refusal to enforce the Nation's immigration laws?" Um, yah. Just like the other federal laws. That's why it's called preemption, Nino. Where did the states get the right to deputize themselves junior G-men and supersede the DOJ's exercise of prosecutorial and investigatory discretion? And no, that's not just a sneer. Let me put it more properly: Whether or not Arizona is a sovereign state in the Articles of Confederation sense (Really? Articles of Confederation? How did they survive the ratification of the Constitution? And I seem to remember some minor unpleasantness in the mid-Nineteenth Century that addressed the nature of state sovereignty, as well as the duty of the Executive to kill vampires), certainly the United States is a sovereign. And where, as here, Congress has occupied the field, the text--Article VI, sec. 2, provides the answer:
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
So the comedy is that Mr. Textualist is riding his emotions and scrapping the text in a flow of anti-immigrant fervor. The tragedy is the very same fact. Scalia was once very, very much better than this. In flashes, he still can be. But now his emotionally-driven performances undermine the values he has articulated his whole career, and do so at a time when textualism should, this liberal agrees, be the lodestar of constitutional interpretation. But since Scalia doesn't apply his own rule when his personal passions are engaged--why, who should take him or his arguments for textualism seriously?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Get it out of your system...

After the Knox case, and with the ACA decision coming down any moment...

Yes, I think that covers it nicely.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Accountability in Philadelphia

I was, some years ago, a criminal defense attorney working at the Legal Aid Society in its Criminal Appeals Bureau. I have never taken pleasure in a conviction, because it's all too easy for me to imagine the pain of the defendant, whether guilty or not.

So I do not exult in the conviction of Msgr. William Lynn, of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on one count of endangerment of children. The Monsignor is, no doubt, a man who sincerely dedicated his life to God and to the Church, and one who has, I am sure, done a great deal of good in his life. We are none of us reducible to our worst acts.

However, one of the functions of the criminal justice system is to set the baseline of what society will and what it will not accept as permissible behavior by its citizens, and Msgr. Lynn's conviction reflects secular society's re-affirmance that senior clergy have a duty to their fellow citizens as citizens, and not merely to the Church, in cases of abuse by their subordinates. The Roman Catholic Church has, since the Middle Ages, denied such a duty, and insisted upon the immunity from prosecution of the offending clergy, let alone his enablers. The verdict has brought home to the clergy that society at large deems acting upon that canon law concept as beyond the line of acceptable behavior. In my opinion, society is under an imperative duty to do so.

The Times notes that Msgr. Lynn is "the first senior official of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States to be convicted of covering up child sexual abuses by priests under his supervision." Msgr. Lynn was acquitted of one count of child endangerment, and of conspiracy, in addition to the count of child endangerment of which he stands convicted. The Philadelphia Inquirer explains the charge on which Lynn was convicted:
Lynn was accused of recommending that Brennan and another priest, Edward Avery, be allowed to live or work in parishes in the 1990s despite signs that they might abuse minors.

Defendant Brennan, 48, was accused of child endangerment and attempting to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Avery pleaded guilty before the trial to sexually assaulting the 10-year-old altar boy in 1999 and is serving 2-1/2 to 5 years in state prison.


Both prosecutors and defense attorneys seized on what they called "a smoking gun" in the case: a list Lynn compiled in 1994 naming 37 archdiocesan priests, including some still working in parishes, who had been diagnosed as pedophiles, had admitted or were suspected of abusing children or teens. Some remained in active ministry for years after the list was drawn up.

One of the priests on the list was Avery, who had been classified as "guilty of sexual misconduct" in 1994 but was allowed to live and celebrate Mass at a Northeast Philadelphia parish where he later assaulted an altar boy.

Lynn had long acknowledged creating the list, but he and church lawyers said they didn't know where it was.

Prosecutors intimated that church leaders wanted the research because they were girding up for a wave of lawsuits by abuse victims.

Weeks before trial, a new team of church attorneys turned over a copy of the missing document, which they said had been locked in safe in church offices. They also gave prosecutors a handwritten memo from a now deceased church official that suggested Bevilacqua ordered the list shredded.
From the Times:
The prosecutors presented a flood of evidence, legal experts said, that the archdiocese had concealed abuse accusations and that Monsignor Lynn had not acted strongly to keep suspected molesters away from children, let alone to report them to law enforcement.

But the 13 days of jury deliberations and mixed verdict showed the difficulty of placing criminal blame on one church official when there was evidence that others, starting with the cardinal at the time, had worked to prevent bad publicity and lawsuits. The jurors also wrestled with the definition of conspiracy, at one point asking the judge to define “agree,” and with the question of criminal intent on the part of Monsignor Lynn, who presented himself as an affable man who tried his best.
“The guilty verdict sends a strong and clear message that shielding and enabling predator priests is a heinous crime that threatens families, communities and children, and must be punished as such,” said Barbara Dorris, of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Perhaps; statute of limitations questions have bedeviled many cases, and will continue to do so.

But this conviction signals that the players in the criminal justice system may no longer be willing to be quiescent in the face of obfuscation, and that enabling of criminal activity will meet the same response whether the perpetrator wears a tie or a clerical collar. Let us hope so, and let us hope that the harm done to victims of abuse can find some measure of healing in the recognition of the wrongs done to them.

Judicial Activism Redux

Yesterday's decision by the United States Supreme Court in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000,567 U.S. __ (2012) is worrisome not so much for its resolution of the issue presented in the case, but for the Supreme Court yet again (as in Citizens United) reaching out to decide an issue not raised by the parties or the courts below, in their case, yet another ramification of the Roberts Court's valorization of the rule that payment of money should be the equivalent of pure speech under the First Amendment, and not activity with an expressive component (which can be regulated as long as the regulation is non-discriminatory, and not aimed at the expressive component). The giving of money achieved this talismanic status denied other expressive acts in Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

After deciding the issue raised by the parties--finding that under the First Amendment, when a union imposes a special assessment or dues increase levied to meet expenses that were not disclosed when the regular assessment was set, it must provide a fresh notice, and an adequate chance to opt out, which it clearly had not--the Court went on to find that the First Amendment also required that the union may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent. (Slip Op. at 22). In other words, the long-standing procedure of notice with an opportunity for nonmembers to "opt out"is unconstitutional; nonmembers must opt in.

As Justice Sotomayor wrote--while agreeing that the union failed to provide the necessary chance to opt out, under prior precedent--the objecting nonmembers "did not argue that the Constitution requires an opt-in system of fee collection in the context of special assessments of dues increases, or indeed, in any context. Not surprisingly, Respondents did not address such a prospect." (Sotomayor, J., concurring opinion at 3). Justice Sotomayor points out that this violates the Court's own rules, its precedents as to what issues are properly before the Court, and "the fundamental premise of our adversary system that appellate courts do not sit as self-directed boards of legal enquiry and research, but essentially as arbiters of legal questions presented and argued by the parties before them," a proposition which she quotes a 2011 opinion by Justice Alito, and cites two older opinions by Justice Scalia--the author of yesterday's majority opinion, and one of its 5 adherents. (Conc. at 3-4). She points out that the very evil warned against by those prior opinions--the unfairness of a party losing a case in a ground which it never had an opportunity to be heard on--is the result of this decision, which brushed aside a series of cases upholding "opt out" approaches in the compelled speech context. (Id; see also conc. at 1-2).

I remember when I was a law student, I assisted one of my mentors, Vivian Berger, in a death penalty case before the Rehnquist Court. A new case, on an issue never raised by the State, came out before oral argument, and became the basis for the Court's ruling, which reinstated the death penalty. Frustrating and unjust though that was--failure by the counsel of the defendant in such cases to raise an issue is virtually always deemed "procedural default" and insulates the sentence from even meritorious claims--at least the Court gave Vivian a chance to address the issue on which the case was decided in oral argument. That didn't happen here; as the transcript of oral argument shows, the only mention of "opt in" comes in a throwaway line from Justice Kennedy, disparaging an answer from union counsel as "so confusing that the Court should probably consider whether an opt-in requirement is--is preferable." (Tr. p. 47). Neither party, nor any member of the bench--including Justice Kennedy--takes the remark as a serious statement of policy; it's a one-liner, and everyone moves on, after counsel clarifies his answer which gave rise to Justice Kennedy's dissatisfaction. Such, in the Roberts Court, is how constitutional rules are born.

But there is worse to come. After setting out the "compelled speech" doctrine, the the majority (Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas & Kennedy) writes:
When a State establishes an "agency shop" that exacts compulsory union fees as a condition of public employment, "[t]he dissenting employee is forced to support financially an organization with whose principles and demands he may disagree." Ellis, 466 U. S., at 455. Because a public-sector union takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences, see Tr. of Oral Arg. 48–49, the compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a “significant impingement on First Amendment rights.” Ellis, supra, at 455. Our cases to date have tolerated this "impingement," and we do not revisit today whether the Court’s former cases have given adequate recognition to the critical First Amendment rights at stake.
Slip Op at 10 (emphasis added).

Well, that sets up the next constitutional challenge for ALEC quite nicely doesn't it?


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fortnight For Favoritism

Tomorrow begins the so-called "Fortnight for Freedom." I have written elsewhere of the logical inconsistencies in the USCCB's analysis, the studied avoidance of the myriad precedents from 1879 through the present which have disavowed and rejected the interpretation of the First Amendment advanced by the bishops in their claim that all religiously-affiliated institutions, and businesses headed by persons of faith, should be exempt from the contraception mandate and should not be denied government contracts even when they decline to fulfill conditions of the contracts which conflict with the tenets of their faith.

In the Religious Liberty FAQs, however, the USCCB goes a step further than it did in the documents I analyzed previously, and engages in argumentation which is remarkably misleading. It contends that the "the 'Free Exercise Clause'[] generally protects citizens and institutions from government interference with the exercise of their religious beliefs. It sometimes mandates the accommodation of religious practices when such practices conflict with federal, state, or local laws."

The FAQ subsequently (after outlining the USCCB view of the contraceptive controversy, the theological basis for religious liberty, and the Catholic Church's heroes of religious liberty) asserts that "[t]he HHS mandate fundamentally alters the fragile balance between government and religious groups created by the framers of our Constitution. The same First Amendment that protects religious freedom protects freedom of the press. We wouldn’t stand for the State telling newspapers or news programs what to write or whom to interview."

All of this, of course, conveys a strong impression that the Obama Administration's position is inconsistent with the rulings of the Supreme Court and the understanding of the First Amendment duty to accommodate which has prevailed since the days of the Framers of the Constitution--whom they approvingly cite. However, as Justice Scalia summarized the cases finding a duty to accommodate religion in the face of a neutral, generally applicable statute:
The only decisions in which we have held that the First Amendment bars application of a neutral, generally applicable law to religiously motivated action have involved not the Free Exercise Clause alone, but the Free Exercise Clause in conjunction with other constitutional protections, such as freedom of speech and of the press, see Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. at 304, 307 (invalidating a licensing system for religious and charitable solicitations under which the administrator had discretion to deny a license to any cause he deemed nonreligious); Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 (1943) (invalidating a flat tax on solicitation as applied to the dissemination of religious ideas); Follett v. McCormick, 321 U.S. 573 (1944) (same), or the right of parents, acknowledged in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925), to direct the education of their children, see Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) (invalidating compulsory school attendance laws as applied to Amish parents who refused on religious grounds to send their children to school).
(494 U.S. 872, 881(1990)).

Absent such a "hybrid right", Justice Scalia wrote,"the [contrary] rule to which we have adhered ever since Reynolds [v. U.S.] [98 U.S. 145 (1879)] plainly controls." Id. at 882. The bishops have not made a claim of a "hybrid right," nor have they addressed the governing case law; as I demonstrated in my earlier post, the bishops either ignore Supreme Court decisions contrary to their interpretation, or address marginal cases as if they established the norm.

It's not unlike their including, among the "heroes of religious freedom" St. Thomas More, the "patron saint of religious freedom." Now, I love "A Man for All Seasons" too, but Thomas More was not a champion of religious freedom for anyone but Roman Catholics; as even More admirer Steven D. Smith acknowledges,
More [wrote in a letter] that he is content to leave every man to his own conscience and that they should leave him to his. But in fact, in his various offices, and especially as Lord Chancellor, More actively persecuted and prosecuted Protestant dissenters and in some cases approved their execution. As [biographer] Peter Ackroyd explains, "his opponents were genuinely following their consciences," but More "truly believed that Lutherans to be 'daemonum satellites' ('agents of the demons'), who must, if necessary, be destroyed by burning."
More did not merely do what his office demanded; he pursued the heretics zealously, exceeding both the efforts of his predecessor Wolsey and the king's own wishes. On occasion, he attempted to apprehend a wayward preacher toward whom the king was well disposed, hoping to act quickly before the king's leniency might step in to save the hapless heretic.
Steven D. Smith, "Interrogating Thomas More: The Conundrums of Conscience,"1 Univ. St. Thomas L.J. 580, 596-597, 598 (2003).

It simply will not do to position Sir Thomas More as a champion of religious liberty, other than as a champion of religious liberty for his own church. History has its claims, and one can--and I think, should--admire More's courage in the face of death, his faith, and his integrity, while acknowledging his moral failure in denying to others the same autonomy he rightly claimed for himself. Which may, in fact, make him the perfect patron of the Fortnight For Freedom.

Edited to add citation for Reynolds and link.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pre-Father's Day

I'd just like to note that my own father, whose predominant characteristic as a parent has always been patience, had the good grace to laugh when, one year, having seen Groucho Marx on Johnny Carson, I handed over the requisite tie and then sang this:

My parents really deserve some kind of a medal.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What Lies Beneath

David Brooks is normally one of my least favorite columnists. But today's column seems to be an exercise of partial truth-telling on Brooks's part, albeit the truth is an ugly one:
I guess I’d say Republicans don’t have an illness; they have a viewpoint. Let me describe it this way: In the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower reconciled Republicans to the 20th-century welfare state. Between Ike and George W. Bush, Republican leaders basically accepted that model.


America’s economic stagnation is just more gradual. In the decades after World War II, the U.S. economy grew by well over 3 percent a year, on average. But, since then, it has failed to keep pace with changing realities. The average growth was a paltry 1.7 percent annually between 2000 and 2009. It averaged 0.6 percent growth between 2009 and 2011. Wages have failed to keep up with productivity. Family net worth is back at the same level it was at 20 years ago.


The welfare model favors security over risk, comfort over effort, stability over innovation. Money that could go to schools and innovation must now go to pensions and health care. This model, which once offered insurance from the disasters inherent in capitalism, has now become a giant machine for redistributing money from the future to the elderly.
I think Brooks is accurately reflecting the GOP world view here, and I think it opens up a vista into the cognitive dissonance that typifies it, even as he tries to make it sound reasonable.

First, note the years of decline picked by Brooks: 2000-2009. Years of Republican dominance, in which GOP majorities in Congress, set the agenda, making decisions as a result of which, as Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has compellingly argued, "our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush." (Stiglitz's detailed analysis is worth reading).

In other words, Republicans blame the "welfare state" (didn't know we had one after welfare reform) for the consequences of Republican decisions taken under Republican leadership.

Their prescription: Having cut taxes on the wealthy to their lowest level since Eisenhower was president, we should cut them to the level of the Hoover years, while raising them on low-income working families. Also, we should lower government spending to 16% of GDP, "by 2050 under Ryan’s budget path, a target specifically included in the Ryan budget resolution. This would be the lowest level since 1950, when Medicare, Medicaid, most federal funding for education, highways, and environmental protection, and various other significant federal activities did not exist." As the CBPP further explains, "[t]he Ryan budget would start down this path immediately, with severe cuts in non-defense discretionary programs over the next ten years. It would cut funding for these programs by nearly $1.2 trillion below the austere funding caps that Congress enactedlast August (by 2021, funding would be more than 22 percent below what it would be under the cap) — and by $800 billion below the level to which non-defense discretionary funding would be shrunk if sequestration were allowed to take effect." (Their italics, not mine).

What would fill the gap created by this disinvesting the GOP argues for in services, infrastructure, the elderly, health care, and, y'know, pretty much everything the government does?


The wonderful magic of the Invisible Hand.

In essence, the GOP is advocating a doubling down on the policy decisions, based on a theology of markets, not on empirical analysis or real world experience, of the Second Bush Administration, with the avowed goal of shrinking government to its size and scope in the Lochner Era. To do this, Republicans need to persuade us that the New Deal and post-World War II reforms, which fueled the creation of the strongest middle class in America's history, are disastrous, using as evidence the harm that eventuated on their own watch.

I don't mean to suggest that the Great Recession is entirely the fault of the GOP; there's plenty of blame to go around as Democrats caught the deregulation bug in the 1990s, and both parties didn't conduct follow-up oversight as to the amount of risk in the system. And the bad decision-making by private actors, business and consumer alike, was the sine qua non for the crash. But ultimately, the GOP fostered policies which greatly sapped our ability to respond to the crash while furthering deregulation as if it were a good in itself, and not a tool which is appropriate in instances where regulation exercises a smothering effect of economic growth. And, ultimately, it wasn't FDR or Ike, or JFK or LBJ--or even Richard Nixon--who crashed the economy. It was us, under GOP principles, playing in the casino with the nest egg.

(Edited for clarity)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Everybody Knows?

A very good friend of mine and I will get to see Leonard Cohen in December. Here are three very different Leonard Cohen songs,each of which resonates powerfully with me.

Critique? Satire? Indictment?

Chilling. A true indictment of an entire world view.

Ah, now this is something like--a cosmic jest, a mystical incantation of--what?

Simple and splendid.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Blow, Gabriel Blow

So, I recently read Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (2007), and was impressed by Matthew Avery Sutton's depiction of the Mother of Televangelism.

Sutton's thesis is that her mix of politics, pizazz and "old-time religion" created the template of the modern religious right, a development which I as a good liberal Anglo-Catholic cannot help but deplore as inimical to both Church and State. But that ideological conflict is one that can wait for another day. Like William Jennings Bryan, who was both populist champion of the rights of labor, and narrow minded theocrat, McPherson's legacy is far more complicated than her charismatic, show-businessy style, her *ahem* deviations from the norms she preached. There needs to be reckoned her genuine thoughtfulness to the poor, especially unwed mothers, who sought shelter from her Foursquare Gospel Church. McPherson was far more complicated than we'd like to have her--neither an Elmer Gantry-style charlatan, nor a saint.

There's a lesson for me, at least, in that. We are none of us merely our ideological commitments. We are all more complicated than that--I know (online) a theologically conservative deacon whose devotion to his prison ministry is profoundly impressive, and number among my friends a number of people whose politics I vigorously disagree with, but whose faith, generosity of spirit, and, even more specifically, whose hard work for various causes and commitments to better the world is nothing short of inspiring. It's all too easy for me to focus on the disagreement and not celebrate the common life. I err when I do that.

McPherson also, by way of Cole Porter and P.G. Wodehouse, provided Patti LuPone with one of the great diva turns in musical theater, which I saw her perform about a year before she did this performance in front of the First President Bush:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Book Gloat

When I have a successful day at a used bookshop, I usually trail home with a bag or two of books, which I then paw over, describing to La C each's individual excellence, and why I am pleased to have found it.

I thought it might make for an amusing blog post in this political silly season to share "the book gloat" (as we call it) here.

So, first, after a long day of helping La C with her feral cat colony as a subset of Neighborhood Cats (seriously worthy cause alert!), and knowing that we had shopping and then another feral cat project to do, I pointed out that I was owed a book browse. La Caterina agreed, and we repaired to P.S. Bookshop, which I frequented before their move, but which I had not visited since the visit last year of my now-sisiter-in-law. It was more than time to go--almost a full year, plenty of time for new stock to accumulate.

I walked away with:

John T. McNeill's A History of the Cure of Souls (1952): First English edition,Very good condition, dust jacket, inscribed by the author "to Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, good scholar and good neighbor, with high esteem from John T. McNeill." A nice association copy of a well-respected early account of spiritual direction through the ages, which one of the Amazon reviewers, the spiritual director and author Robert Kellemen, describes as"a magisterial mapping of the landscape of two millennium of soul care and spiritual direction."

Gilbert Highet's collection of essays, "A Clerk of Oxenford" (1954), a collection of light essays from the well-regarded classicist whom I know best from his translation of Werner Jaeger's Padeia. A first edition, good shape (dust jacket only fair, but present).

Kenneth Craycraft's The American Myth of Religious Freedom (1999)(review copy, with publisher's materials). In very good shape, no dj. A provocative and interesting analysis of what the Framers of the Constitution were really about with the religion clauses of the First Amendment, by a theologian. Judgment reserved on the merits of the work; we'll see.

Gilbert King's The Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (2012) (review copy; with publisher's materials). Almost like new. An account of a pre-Brown Thurgood Marshall's involvement with an appalling instance of lynch law.

John Farrell's Attorney for the Damned (2012) (review copy; no materials). The latest biography of the inspiration for an unknown number of legal careers--including, in no small part, mine.

and, finally,

The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History (1952) both volumes, no dj, reprint. Just what I need to contextualize the disparate areas of medieval law and life I have studied with
those which I have not.

A delightful haul, and books which I will read and enjoy. More tan once, I suspect; I'm a big re-reader.

Friday, June 8, 2012

That's How the Light Gets In

So, for those who have followed this blog for a while (and bless you for that!) you may remember that back in 2008, I began a discernment process for the vocational diaconate.

I have been accepted as a postulant.

When I began this process, I remember expressing my concern that my own imperfections might unfit me for ministry--my parish discernment committee suggested that my first spiritual autobiography read like an effort to point out all the reasons I should not be ordained. But four years later, I've learned that Leonard Cohen does more than write great songs; here's a bit of wisdom that I've come to cherish, since a classmate of mine reminded me of it.

So, we move forward, into the next phase of the journey. And, as ever, the good Doctor can be relied on for encouragement.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New Beginnings: A Foster's farewell

Well, Harry has now gone to his new home, after a little over a week in our care. He's been a pleasure to get to know; immensely lovable, starting off rather timid, but soon becoming at home with us, and playing with us both for hours at a time. (I'm home today, and while I watched The Invasion of Time in bed, Harry alternately gnawed my index finger, pretended my hand was prey, and, best of all, curled up in the crook of my arm and lolled back like a rag doll for a nice long snooze. Harry liked Leela, but repeatedly swiped away Borusa on the touch screen, proving himself a fine judge of character).

Harry is a very lucky kitten--just a little over 6 weeks the vet estimates--very healthy, and going to a home where I know he will be loved and well cared for. It's even a success for his feral Mama, whom we've decided to name "Mathilda," after the mother of another famous ginger named Harry, was visibly wasting away trying to feed him. In just the 10 days since we abstracted Harry, she's put on weight and regrown lost fur. Time to get her to a vet, fixed and returned to the habitat.

So in all, a successful operation. Harry goes from feral cat with the short life that entails in this City to pampered house cat, our cats get their territory and primacy back, and la Caterina and I can get some bloody sleep.

But, all that said, I will miss the little devil. After all, wouldn't you?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

We're Just Wild About Harry!

So, posting has been light because la Caterina found something in the garden:

Harry (so we have named him) is about 6 weeks old. He was timid at first, but has turned out to be adaptable, friendly and affectionate. Best of all, we took him to the vet today, and he has been given a clean bill of health.

No, this isn't a bleg--we've found him a home already, and he'll be going in a couple of days. So we enjoy his company while we can, grateful that we've been able to help another living creature, and we've been graced with his presence in our lives.