March 18, 2013

Shop Talk

Sam Smith - This Seventh Day Agnostic got started in a happier period when there were plenty of clerical types who found better things to do with their time than to blast gay marriage and abortion, cover up pedophilia, or serve as an apologist for Israeli apartheid. In the 1960s, ministers, rabbis and priests were among the most progressive folk around, a fact of which I was reminded  with news of the passing of Rev. Arnold Keller. As the Washington Post put it:

Rev. Keller served the Lutheran Church of the Reformation [on Capitol Hill in Washington] for 33 years over two separate assignments.

During his tenure, the congregation focused on global outreach and community ministries, including a tutoring service for youths living in a nearby housing project, a food pantry and efforts to restore homes for needy local families.

Rev. Keller helped start the church’s public-affairs ministry, which brought together hundreds of federal government employees to discuss political and theological issues. He also launched a health-care center at the church to serve the community.

...Rev. Keller’s family said he voiced early support within the Lutheran Church to welcome lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people as worshipers.
And there is a more personal reason to note the passing of Rev. Keller. His church provided a $2,000 contribution (about $12,000 today corrected for inflation) to help start the Capitol East Gazette, a neighborhood paper that became the citywide, and then national, DC Gazette and eventually the Progressive Review. 

Bet you never suspected a bunch of Lutherans got me going. . .

The rationalization of evil

Sam Smith- You don't need a lot of evil people for evil to spread. You just need evil's acceptance by people who think they're just going along with the flow. Especially when they're in the mass media. As John Ralston Saul put it:
"The Holocaust was the result of a perfectly rational argument -- given what reason had become -- that was self-justifying and hermetically sealed. There is, therefore, nothing surprising about the fact that the meeting called to decide on "the final solution" was a gathering mainly of senior ministerial representatives. Technocrats. Nor is it surprising that [the] Wansee Conference lasted only an hour -- one meeting among many for those present -- and turned entirely on the modalities for administering the solutions .... The massacre was indeed 'managed,' even 'well managed.' It had the clean efficiency of a Harvard case study "
We are far from the evil of the Wannsee Conference, but too many in power are thinking and acting in the way that eventually leads to such things. Increasingly, we are treating evil as normal or simply a fiscal or technical problem.

A case in point is Paul Ryan's budget. The mass media is ignoring or underplaying the evil effects involved. In fact, it's fair to say that Ryan's budget, if approved, would cause more Americans to die or become ill, starved or impoverished than any non-military legislation in time remembered.

The Tax Policy Center calculates that the poorest 20% of Americans will get a $60 tax cut. The top one percent will get $227,420.  And along with this the Ryan budget will rip tens of millions of Americans from healthcare, food stamps, and other forms of welfare as it takes 66% of its budget cuts from programs that aid the poor.

But how is the general public to understand the evil involved or Ryan's greed, selfishness and corrupted thinking, if the mass media treats it as so normal that a recent presidential poll found Ryan neck and neck with the likes of Biden and Cuomo in a state like Pennsylvania?

And there's little hope of a change when a publication like the Washington Post runs a column by Stephen Perlstein that argues:
Another reason for the correlation between income and life expectancy is that lower-income people lead less healthy lives - they are more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs, their diets are less healthy, they get less exercise and they don't take advantage of the health care that is available to them. This raises a different sort of moral question that conservatives are quick to raise and liberals prefer to ignore:
Why should the rest of the country be prevented from making a needed, common sense reform to its retirement program because some people refuse to take personal responsibility for their own health?  Where is the fairness in that?
Rising income inequality is a big problem, no doubt about it, but it seems to have encouraged some people to view every public policy issue primarily through a distributional or class prism....
Just about every policy you can think of has a disproportionate impact on certain classes, races, genders, regions, industries or age cohorts, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't adopt them. Sometimes what is "fairest" is doing what's best for the whole country.
When it's no longer considered fair for the country to do what it can for the most, we have become a society that looks on its less fortunate not only as "people who refuse to take responsibility" but as those to whom we owe nothing including their continued survival. Where will it stop?

There is no doubt that the evil is being spread by the likes of Paul Ryan. But the likes of Steven Perlstein, in making this evil seem rational, are doing as much damage if not more.

Ex Post non facto

Sam Smith: The Washington Post in arguing against the government printing money missed two key points:'

- At the present time, non-existent money is already being printed in huge amounts. It's called bank loans. The difference is that banks get to print the money but not the government. The government could just as easily print the money and consider it an interest free debt without causing inflation. It's not printing money that causes inflation, but letting the debt get out of hand.

- The government does not distinguish between money borrowed for capital expenses and that borrowed for operating expenses. This is one of the greatest flaws in the government budget system. For example, if you borrow $100,000 to buy a house you know that that's not the same thing as borrowing $100,000 for living expenses.  The same is true in government spending but we just ignore it. In fact, spending $1 billion on railroads has a  non-inflationary effect on the economy because the money spent is creating new money in the form of economic development.

Sam Smith, Great American Political Repair Manual, 1997 -

The total federal state, local and private debt in this country in 1996 was around $14 trillion. The actual money supply was just under $6 trillion. So what happened to the rest of the money?  Most of it doesn't exist and never did. We call this imaginary money debt. This debt is money that we (as individuals, companies and government)  have borrowed, primarily from private sources. As Bob Blain, a professor at Southern Illinois University, put it:
Most debt is not the result of people borrowing money; it is the result of people not being able to repay what they owed [to banks or individuals] at some earlier time. Instead of declaring them bankrupt, creditors just add more to their debt.
This new debt is called interest. Many people think the idea of  the government printing money is shameful, yet our laws permit private financial institutions to create money all the time. Every time you fail to pay off your credit card, you're letting a banker print some more money.  
You're not the first, of course. For example, when the Congress met in February 1790 to figure out how to pay off the Revolutionary War debt of $75 million, Alexander Hamilton strongly advocated issuing debt certificates and using them as money. Congressman James Jackson of Georgia warned that this would "settle upon our posterity a burden which [citizens] can neither bear nor relieve themselves from.  ... Though our present debt be but a few millions, in the course of a single century it may be multiplied to an extent we dare not think of."

 The privilege of creating and issuing money is not only the supreme prerogative of government, but is the government's greatest creative opportunity. By the adoption of these principles, the taxpayers will be saved immense sums of interest. 

An alternative to Congress borrowing money to pay off its debt would have been to have created the $75 million, using Congress's constitutional power to "coin money and regulate the value thereof." Instead Congress began a long tradition of borrowing the money that -- five trillion dollars of debt later -- many believe we can neither bear nor relieve ourselves from.

In the early 19th century, the little British Channel island of Guernsey faced a smaller but similar problem. Its sea walls were crumbling. its roads were too narrow, and it was already heavily in debt. There was little employment and people were leaving for elsewhere.
Instead of going still further into debt,  the island government simply issued 4,000 pounds in state notes to start repairs on the sea walls as well as for other needed public works. More issues followed and twenty years later the island had, in effect, printed nearly 50,000 pounds. Guernsey had more than doubled its money supply without inflation.
A report of the island's States Office in June 1946 notes that island leaders frequently commented that these public works could not have been carried out without the issues, that they had been accomplished without interest costs, and that as a result "the influx of visitors was increased, commerce was stimulated, and the prosperity of the Island vastly improved." By 1943, nearly a half million pounds worth of notes belonged to the public and was so valued that much of it was being hoarded in people's homes, awaiting  the island's liberation from the Germans.
About the same time that Guernsey started to fix its sea walls the town of Glasgow, Scotland, borrowed 60,000 pounds to build a fruit market. The Guernsey sea walls were repaid in ten years, the fruit market loan took 139 years. In the first part of the the 20th century, Glasgow paid over a quarter million pounds in interest alone on this ancient project.