Category: Politics

Authenticity1Last week former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani set off a firestorm of debate and criticism by openly questioning whether President Obama “loves America.”

I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

It would be easy to completely dismiss Giuliani’s comments as dumb, uncharitable, and partisan because the comment was dumb, uncharitable, and partisan. But I believe the mayor has an intuitive sense about something that he can’t articulate, and probably doesn’t understand.

The reality is that Obama and Giuliani both love America. Obama and Giuliani are both patriots. Yet their idea of what love of country means and what patriotism requires of them are likely to be significantly different. To understand this difference let’s look back to a comment from 2007.

As candidate for president in 2007, Barack Obama was questioned about why he did not wear a flag pin on his lapel. His explanation was that he had done so once but he believed it had become a substitute for “true patriotism” since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
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stutzman-flowersChristian florist Barronelle Stutzman was sued last year for refusing to sell flowers for the purpose of a same-sex wedding. Last week, a Benton County Superior Court Judge ruled against her, stating that her religious beliefs do not “excuse compliance with the law.” The 70-year-old grandmother now stands to lose everything: her business, her home, and her livelihood.

Next came a settlement offer from the attorney general of Washington, who proceeded to dangle dollars in an attempt to tease Stutzman into submission. The offer: Reject your religious beliefs and agree to accommodate such requests, and life can go on as before (after paying $2,000 in penalties, that is).

Stutzman promptly refused, and did so quite stridently via letter. Joe Carter has already pointed to that response, but given the key themes and tensions that continue to define these battles, the following paragraph by Stutzman bears repeating:

Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.

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Blog author: jballor
Thursday, February 19, 2015
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Graeme Wood’s excellent piece in The Atlantic has justly been making the rounds for the past week or so. It is well worth reading with a number of insights and points that strike at the heart of the contemporary conflict between modernity and religious violence. I commend “What ISIS Really Wants” to your reading. (Rasha al Aqeedi’s “Caliphatalism,” which looks more closely at the situation in Mosul, makes a great companion read.)
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In the following clip from the PovertyCure series, Doug Seebeck explains how U.S. agricultural subsidies have significant negative consequences both at home and abroad — misaligning human action, distorting market signals, and diminishing opportunities for the least of these.

Haiti used to be self-sufficient in rice. Now they get all their rice from the U.S. This is what we do to Africa. We subsidize our agriculture. We overproduce. Then we ship it as aid with a handshake, and we put them out of business. We disempower them. But you’re also putting the U.S. small farmer out of business. And it gets bigger and bigger and you’re squeezing out free enterprise….

How do I best love my neighbor in this rapidly integrating world…so that everybody has the ability to have what I have? It doesn’t mean we give it away. It means allowing them to succeed.

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Are you now or have you ever been a Randian?

Are you now or have you ever been a Randian?

Over at The Stream, John Zmirak takes on a new McCarthyism which he says smears small-government Catholics as libertarian heretics. He compares the “outrageous instances of red-baiting” during the 1950s to the current practice by some leftist Catholics who tar conservative opponents indiscriminately as devotees of Ayn Rand, whether or not they have actual evidence of such sympathies. Zmirak:

The idea of a detailed, consistent, morally binding body of economic and political policies imposed by the Church on believers on pain of sin is nonsense on red velvet stilts. Elsewhere I argue the point at some length without going to an opposite extreme. Broad principles that inform our life and our politics, such as the dignity of the individual and the family, solidarity, subsidiarity and all the rest? Absolutely. A political platform? Absolutely not.

Nor has the Church ever made such a claim. Most Catholics with any knowledge of history have learned to forgive and forget individual outrageous statements by popes from the past, fully aware that the charism of infallibility is narrowly defined and almost never invoked — twice at least, eight times at most, and never on issues of economics or politics. Catholics are not obliged to support book-burning just because Gregory XVI did.

Rand-baiting is being used today as red-baiting was in the past, by those who support a deeply immoral institution, to silence those who object to it by equating them with extremists. What is that deeply immoral institution? The bloated, secularist, immoral and coercive governments that rule over most Western countries, including the United States.

Read “‘Rand-Baiters’ Target Conservative Catholics” by John Zmirak at The Stream.

criminal-jailThere are two types of ideas that dominate current public discourse—the contrarian and the counterintuitive. A contrarian idea is one that, whether correct or incorrect, opposes or rejects popular opinion or goes against current practice. A counterintuitive idea is one that is contrary to intuition or to common-sense expectation but is nevertheless correct. Getting the two mixed up can have a detrimental effect on society.

Take, for example, the increasingly popular contrarian-posing-as-counterintuitive idea that locking up more criminal offenders isn’t making people any safer. As the Washington Post‘s Emily Badger writes,

As economists would put it, there are diminishing returns to incarceration. Lock up one criminal in town, and crime will decline. Lock away two, and it will probably decline further. But each criminal in prison yields a smaller and smaller impact outside of it — until finally, there’s no new impact at all. Now we’re effectively imprisoning more and more people with no benefit to public safety.

The first four sentences are perfectly reasonable, but the last sentence draws the wrong conclusion. Let’s create a simple model to show why that reasoning is flawed.
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244-BudgetCover-FY2016What is the President’s budget?

Technically, it’s only a budget request—a proposal telling Congress how much money the President believes should be spent on the various Cabinet-level federal functions, like agriculture, defense, education, etc. (A PDF of the 150 page document can be found here.)

Why does the President submit a budget to Congress?

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires that the President of the United States submit to Congress, on or before the first Monday in February of each year, a detailed budget request for the coming federal fiscal year, which begins on October 1.

What is the function of the President’s budget request?

The President’s annual budget request serves three functions:
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When is a ban not a ban? One answer might be when it is based on moral suasion rather than legal coercion. (I would also accept: When it’s a Target.)

In this piece over at the Federalist, Georgi Boorman takes up the prudence of a petition to get Target to remove smutty material and paraphernalia related to Fifty Shades from its shelves.

Boorman rightly points to the limitations of this kind of cultural posturing. Perhaps this petition illustrates more of a domination mentality than authentic cultural engagement, and Boorman’s right to offer many more hopeful options for engaging the kinds of cultural corruption that this case provides evidence of. I also tend to favor the more direct, personal, and relational methods of engagement to petitions, charters, public statements, and open letters, and there’s a lot of wisdom offered in Boorman’s piece.

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sotuI have a can’t miss prediction: tonight, when President Obama gives his seventh State of the Union address, he will describe the state of the union as “strong.” (I’ve made this prediction on this blog the past two years, so I’m hoping for a trifecta of prescience tonight.)

Admittedly, predicting that the state of our union will be described as “strong” is about as safe a bet as you can make when it comes to politics. Over the last hundred years presidents have described the State of the Union (SOTU) in various ways — Good (Truman), Sound (Carter), Not Good (Ford). But it was Ronald Reagan who started the “strong” trend in 1983 by referring to the SOTU as “Strong, but the economy is troubled.” Since 1983, “strong” has been used to refer to the SOTU in 27 addresses.

Here is how the state of the Union has been described over the past hundred years:
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Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 19, 2015
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Earlier this year, UCLA made available for the first time the audio of a speech from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. given just over a month after the march from Selma to Montgomery. On April 27, 1965, King addressed a number of topics, including debate surrounding the Voting Rights Act.

At one point in the speech, King stops to address a number of “myths” that are often heard and circulated, and one of these is of perennial interest, as it has to do with the interaction between positive law, morality, and culture. We often hear, for instance, that law is downstream from culture, and this is true enough. Thus King admits (starting at around the 33:35 mark) that there is some truth in this kind of view as far as it goes. But this does not mean that there is no place for legislation.

As King puts it,

It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be changed. And so there is a need for strong legislation constantly to grapple with the problems we face.

MLK UCLA
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