Fund Your Utopia Without Me.™

14 June 2014

Pic of the Day: Dim Dems' False Flag On Flag Day

Do Democrats even know what the flag of the United States of America looks like?

The New Republic: Hillary Clinton Was a Mediocre Secretary of State

From Issac Chotiner of The New Republic:

If you want to get a sense of how puny Clinton’s accomplishments at State were, you should read not her haters but her admirers. On Sunday in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof devoted a whole column to praising Clinton’s record, and yet was unable to list anything that wasn’t a broad generalization. Kristof began by noting that, “Clinton achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy—just not the traditional kind.” What was this legacy, you might ask? 

Clinton recognized that our future will be more about Asia than Europe, and she pushed hard to rebalance our relations. She didn’t fully deliver on this ‘pivot’—generally she was more successful at shaping agendas than delivering on them—but the basic instinct to turn our ship of state to face our Pacific future was sound and overdue. 

So Clinton “recognized” what is surely the single most noted thing in every discussion of American foreign policy, and even in Kritstof’s opinion wasn’t really able to do anything about it. What else? 

A couple of times I moderated panels during the United Nations General Assembly in which she talked passionately—and bewilderingly, for some of the audience—about civil society, women leaders and agricultural investments. Pinstriped foreign and prime ministers looked on, happy to be considered important enough to be invited. They listened with increasingly furrowed brows, as if absorbing an alien language, as Clinton brightly spoke about topics such as “the business case for focusing on gender in agricultural development.” 

This is all well and good but it isn’t much of a legacy. When he tries to turn to specifics, the best Kristof can come up with is that Clinton mentioned Muhammad Yunus in a speech. Kristof’s piece peters out after a few more moist, unspecific paragraphs. 

The reason I quote Kristof at length is because his case is essentially the same as that of her opponents, who claim that she served without much distinction. It’s true that she put an admirable focus on women’s rights, and played a role in isolating Iran. But the Afghanistan surge didn’t seem to have a huge effect; Syria policy has been a failure, even if the alternatives were all bleak; Iraq has collapsed since our departure (again, good alternatives did not clearly present themself); she was probably too cautious about the Egyptian people’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, although that didn’t keep him in power; she backed the Libyan campaign, which currently must count as a mixed bag; and she did a lot of what Kristof describes, in terms of trying to streamline and broaden American diplomacy, and repair our relationships with the world. Even if she had some relative successes in these areas, America’s global popularity has declined since she took the job.

Of course, Chotiner implores us not to judge the mediocre Hillary because it's not all her fault. 

Like Obama, it never is.

Reuters Poll: Obama’s Approval Ratings Falls Below 37%*400/Frowning+Obama1.jpg

What's worse?  Only 18.5% of Independents approve of the job he is doing...

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'Toon of the Day: Don't Forget Your Golf Clubs, Mr President!

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13 June 2014

Majority of Americans Do NOT Want Obama to Shut Down Guantanamo Bay

The majority of Americans don't want the president to close the terrorist holding facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Even a majority of Democrats...

By Francesca Chambers 

Most Americans do not want President Obama to shut down the United State's terrorist detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a poll released this afternoon.

Americans continue to be wary of releasing prisoners with terrorist ties like the ones swapped last month for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl or moving them to prisons in the U.S.

Two in three Americans told Gallup that they want president Obama to keep the 149 suspected terrorists being held at Gitmo under lock and key on foreign soil instead of shutting down the camp.
American have never wanted the president to close Guantanamo Bay, but the number against it has increased since the president promised to shut it down on the campaign trail

Closing Guantanamo Bay was one of the president's core campaign promises in the 2008 presidential election.

On his first full day in office, Obama stated that 'Guantanamo will be closed no later than one year from now.'

That never happened, in part, because the idea became politically unpopular and Congress clamped down on the president's authority to release and transfer detainees.

Americans have never wanted president Obama to close the prison and move the most dangerous inmates to prisons on U.S. soil, but the number in favor of keeping it open has sharply increased since the president brought attention to it by promising to shut it down.

In 2007 a simple majority, 51 percent, of Americans thought the U.S. should keep Guantanamo Bay open. By 2009 that number had jumped up to 65 percent, and since then, roughly 66 percent of Americans have said they don't want it to close. 

The majority of the president's own political party doesn't think he should close Guantanamo Bay. 

The percentage of self-proclaimed Democrats who believe Obama should close Gitmo has decreased 53 percent to 41 percent since 2009.

In Gallup's latest poll, 54 percent of self-proclaimed Democrats said Obama should not close the prison. 

Nevertheless, President Obama has pushed forward with his plan. 

Obama told Congress in his 2014 State of the Union address in January, 'With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism, not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.' 

Current law prohibits the president from transferring terrorists to U.S. prisons.

Additionally, the president is legally required to show that it is in the national interest of the country to release detainees and steps have been taken to 'substantially mitigate the risk of such individual engaging or reengaging in any terrorist or other hostile activity that threatens the United States' before they can be repatriated.

He is also required to give Congress 30 days notice before releasing detainees. 

Obama did not confer with Congress in the case of Bergdahl exchange, but the Obama administration has said they did not break the law because it only applies to prisoner releases, not trades.

This March 2013 picture shows the exterior of Camp Delta at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The president has said he wants to shut down the U.S. detention facilities there, but he lacks the power to do so

This March 2013 picture shows the exterior of Camp Delta at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The president has said he wants to shut down the U.S. detention facilities there, but he lacks the power to do so.

Even members of the president's own party don't want him to shut down Gitmor

Even members of the president's own party don't want him to shut down Gitmo.

As a result of the stringent restrictions placed on the president, only 17 Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been released in the last 13 months. That number includes the five Taliban fighters Obama traded last month.

One way the president may legally be able to release the terrorists being held at Guantanamo Bay is by ending the war in Afghanistan.

Legal scholars have argued that the U.S. is only authorized to keep the captured Taliban associates in prison as long as it is at war with the terrorist organisation.

President Obama announced two weeks ago that he would withdraw the majority of America's troops in Afghanistan by the end of the year, effectively ending the war there as far as the United States is concerned.

Administration officials recently told CNN that the president's first preference would be to work with Congress to shut down the terrorist detention camp rather than go it alone, however. 

And, according to a Politico article from earlier this year, the Obama administration believes that a third of the combatants being held at Guantanamo bay are too dangerous to release outright but are unsuitable for trial, further complicating the matter and making it unlikely the the president will fully close the camp at the end of this year.

12 June 2014

Ancient Hatreds Tearing Apart The Middle East: How 1,400-Year-Old Feud Between Shia And Sunni Muslims Flared Into Life With The Fall Of Dictators Like Gaddafi And Saddam... And Threatens To Swallow Iraq

Regional tensions: How religious and military divides shape the Middle East

Regional tensions: How religious and military divides shape the Middle East

By Michael Burleigh

At the heart of the terrifying meltdown in Iraq is the centuries-old hatred between two Muslim ideologies: Sunni and Shia.
The deadly power struggle between these two rival versions of the same faith has flared into life as Sunnis in the extremist terror group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) advance on Baghdad, where flailing prime minister Nouri al-Maliki - who is Shia - begged his parliament to declare a state of emergency.

It is a battle being watched with trepidation throughout the Middle East, where the escalation of the traditional Sunni/Shia conflict threatens governments and national borders.
Already, ISIS has effectively established its own nation state - or Islamic caliphate - which spreads across the north of Syria and Iraq, taking no heed of the border between the countries.

Threatening: Men pose with automatic rifles and a stationary machine gun, with the ISIS flag propped up behind them

Threatening: Men pose with automatic rifles and a stationary machine gun, with the ISIS flag propped up behind them

Its extraordinary success could not have been achieved without the tacit support of ordinary Sunni people in the areas it has conquered.

The Sunnis in Mosul regarded the Shia-dominated army from the south of the country as an occupying force and were only too pleased to see the back of them. 

True, these people are terrified of the brutal ideology of ISIS, which specialises in amputations and crucifixions for those who do not subscribe to its fundamentalist creed.

But for now, their hatred of al-Maliki’s authoritarian government, which treats them as a lower caste, outweighs those fears. 

To add to the tribal tensions in Iraq, the country’s north-eastern Kurdish population - who were persecuted by Saddam Hussein and gassed in their thousands - have established what is, in effect, their own independent state in the north of the country. 

Their force of 250,000 crack Peshmerga militia - who have just taken the oil-rich city of Kirkuk - could defeat ISIS, but they are in dispute with al-Maliki over oil revenues and are in no mood to help.

Warlike: The Kurdish Peshmerga armed forces, pictured yesterday in Kirkuk, Iraq, could defeat ISIS, but are in no mood to

Warlike: The Kurdish Peshmerga armed forces, pictured yesterday in Kirkuk, Iraq, could defeat ISIS, but are in no mood to

Warriors: The Kurdish people have managed to establish their own state - after years of persecution under Saddam Hussein

Warriors: The Kurdish people have managed to establish their own state - after years of persecution under Saddam Hussein

Meanwhile, across the Middle East, Sunni and Shia rivalries are festering like open sores. Of the world’s 1.6billion Muslims, the vast majority are Sunnis; Shias comprise 10 to 15 per cent - two hundred million people.

Egypt, Turkey, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are Sunni. In Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the ruling Sunni treat Shia as second-class citizens.

The Shia are concentrated in Iran, southern Iraq and Lebanon. And despite being in the minority in Syria, they are powerful there, too: President Bashar Assad’s ruling party belong to a Shia sect called the Alawites. 

Once you understand the Sunni/Shia divide, you can make sense of the rivalries in the Middle East. It explains why Sunni rebels - backed by the predominantly Sunni powers, ranging from Turkey to Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states - are determined to fight Assad’s Shia-dominated army to the death. 

And why Lebanese Hizbollah militias (Shia) are fighting for Assad, under the command of Revolutionary Guards officers from Iran (also Shia). 

The most extraordinary fact in all this is that the conflict goes back to the seventh century and centres on a dispute over who should succeed Islam’s founder Prophet Muhammad after he died in 632 AD.

The largest group (Sunnis) wanted traditional tribal elders to decide upon the best person; the name Sunni comes from Ahl al-Sunna, meaning the people of tradition. 

A minority (Shia) wanted a blood relative of the Prophet, and this clash grew violent when Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, became the fourth caliph - an office that fuses political and religious power. Shia derive their name from shiaat Ali or followers of Ali. 

ISIS fire heavy machine guns during fighting in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra - today the Islamic State has issued a triumphalist statement declaring that it would start implementing its strict version of Shariah law in Mosul and other regions it had overrun

ISIS fire heavy machine guns during fighting in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra - today the Islamic State has issued a triumphalist statement declaring that it would start implementing its strict version of Shariah law in Mosul and other regions it had overrun

Dozens of members of a police special forces battalion were paraded before a crowd in the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Thursday after they were captured by fighters who overran their base. Militants have set up military councils to run the towns they captured, residents said

Dozens of members of a police special forces battalion were paraded before a crowd in the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Thursday after they were captured by fighters who overran their base. Militants have set up military councils to run the towns they captured, residents said.

During the years of Empire, these divisions were muted as Sunni and Shia united against the colonial rulers, who took little account of tribal rivalry when they arbitrarily created new countries such as Iraq, a concoction dreamed up by Britain and France in 1921 after the fall of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Two former Turkish territories were handed to princes in the Hashemite family. Prince Feisal, a friend of Lawrence of Arabia, would become king of a new country called Iraq. His brother, Prince Abdullah, would rule Transjordan - now Jordan. 

Authoritarian rulers - Saddam Hussein, President Assad and Colonel Gaddafi in Libya - ruthlessly kept a lid on the religious rivalry. 

But with their removal, the divisions have exploded throughout the Middle East and beyond.

This is why extreme fundamentalist Sunnis who wish to restore the medieval caliphate are on the march.  

Given the chance, they would kill all Shia as heretics - along with Jews and Christians - and sweep away corrupt and ‘faithless’ rulers in the region, from Jordan’s King Abdullah to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. 

This explains why the very Gulf rulers who covertly back them - if only in an attempt to buy themselves peace and encourage them to leave their shores for jihadist missions abroad - are even more terrified than the rest of us.

Obama Released ISIS Leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi From US Custody In 2009

Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi

Via Telegraph: 

The FBI “most wanted” mugshot shows a tough, swarthy figure, his hair in a jailbird crew-cut. The $10 million price on his head, meanwhile, suggests that whoever released him from US custody four years ago may now be regretting it. 

Taken during his years as a detainee at the US-run Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, this is the only known photograph of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria. But while he may lack the photogenic qualities of his hero, Osama bin Laden, he is fast becoming the new poster-boy for the global jihadist movement. 

Well-organised and utterly ruthless, the ex-preacher is the driving force behind al-Qaeda’s resurgence throughout Syria and Iraq, putting it at the forefront of the war to topple President Bashar al-Assad and starting a fresh campaign of mayhem against the Western-backed government in Baghdad. 

Osama bin Laden, he is fast becoming the new poster-boy for the global jihadist movement. 

On Tuesday, his forces achieved their biggest coup in Iraq to date,seizing control of government buildings in Mosul, the country’s third biggest city. Coming on top of similar operations in January that planted the black jihadi flag in the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi, it gives al-Qaeda control of large swathes of the north and west of the country, and poses the biggest security crisis since the US pull-out two years ago.

But who is exactly is the man who is threatening to plunge Iraq back to its darkest days, and why has he become so effective? 

As with many of al-Qaeda’s leaders, precise details are sketchy. His FBI rap sheet offers little beyond the fact that he is aged around 42, and was born as Ibrahim Ali al-Badri in the city of Samarrah, which lies on a palm-lined bend in the Tigris north of Baghdad. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a nom de guerre, as is his other name, Abu Duaa, which translates roughly as “Father of the Summons”.

Some describe him as a farmer who was arrested by US forces during a mass sweep in 2005, who then became radicalised at Camp Bucca, where many al-Qaeda commanders were held. Others, though, believe he was a radical even during the largely secular era of Saddam Hussein, and became a prominent al-Qaeda player very shortly after the US invasion. 

“This guy was a Salafi (a follower of a fundamentalist brand of Islam), and Saddam’s regime would have kept a close eye on him,” said Dr Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“He was also in Camp Bucca for several years, which suggests he was already considered a serious threat when he went in there.” 

That theory seems backed by US intelligence reports from 2005, which describe him as al-Qaeda’s point man in Qaim, a fly-blown town in Iraq’s western desert.

“Abu Duaa was connected to the intimidation, torture and murder of local civilians in Qaim”, says a Pentagon document. “He would kidnap individuals or entire families, accuse them, pronounce sentence and then publicly execute them.” 

Why such a ferocious individual was deemed fit for release in 2009 is not known. One possible explanation is that he was one of thousands of suspected insurgents granted amnesty as the US began its draw down in Iraq. Another, though, is that rather like Keyser Söze, the enigmatic crimelord in the film The Usual Suspects, he may actually be several different people. 

Thanks, Obama.

The NHS Is Collapsing Under The Weight of Demand

The present generation must equip the NHS our grandparents built for the future‎, as portayed at the Olympics opening ceremony

The present generation must equip the NHS our grandparents built for the future‎, as portrayed at the Olympics opening ceremony

Over the last fortnight, the leaders of three important health sector organisations, NHS England, the NHS Confederation and the Foundation Trust Network publicly pointed some of them out - and we must heed their warnings. For all the good the NHS does, its 20th century infrastructure struggles to deliver 21st century healthcare and vulnerable people suffer unnecessarily. This does scant justice to the national health service our grandparents built; our generation must urgently equip it for the future. ‎We can only do this if we get to grips with some hard realities.

Our society has changed immensely - and continues to change fast. Designed in the shadow of war to serve a smaller, younger, poorer and more stoic nation, today's system has wildly different demands placed upon it.

On establishing the NHS, Nye Bevan predicted that, after the first few years, the system would cost the taxpayer less because the population would become healthier. He could not have been more wrong. Its total annual budget has risen over a hundredfold from £437 million in 1948 (equivalent to about £9 billion today) to over £110 billion today, around 10 per cent of GDP. And people are arguably not healthier but unhealthy in different ways. Britain has the fattest young adults in Europe, for example, with over 29 per cent of women under 25 classified as being obese. Obesity, depression and dementia are all on the rise. Life expectancy has also risen by about ten years over the last 60 years so we see much more chronic disease, notably diabetes. Providing chronic care costs over 80 per cent of the NHS budget and some experts suggest that Type 2 diabetes alone will account for 25 per cent of its budget by 2025.

Over the decade I worked as a GP, during which I held tens of thousands of appointments, I observed a marked shift in patients' expectations and behaviour. I remember an 87-year-old man coming to see me dressed in his best suit, sporting military medals. He apologised for “wasting my time” before saying that he had crushing chest pain. I called an ambulance. Shortly afterwards, a 21-year-old woman arrived in her pyjamas, complaining of a sore throat. More generally, there are also increasing numbers of patients who make unhealthy lifestyle choices, and the baby-boomer generation, used to easier lives than their war-scarred parents, is coping less well with the pain of osteoarthritis, debilitating effects of stroke and other problems of ageing. On a mass scale, these social changes are boosting demand for, and cost of, health services.

At the same time, there have been remarkable advances in medical technology, surgery and drug therapy. All are welcome; but all have dramatically increased healthcare costs. New cancer drugs are particularly expensive, sometimes costing more than £50,000 per patient per year. A system like the NHS, which works on the principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number” cannot cope and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has already been forced to limit the availability of costly drugs.

Overall, the NHS needs to catch up with the changes in medicine and in our society. The chairs of the NHS Confederation and the Foundation Trust Network warned that "change to clinical services is coming – through effectively planned change or through unplanned and chaotic failure.” We can do better than this: this country could have the best healthcare in the world and preserve the important principle of access for all. This is why I became a doctor and one of the reasons I became an MP. But if we are to achieve this, there are four things we have to do.

The first is that we have to try to reduce demand for healthcare. Today's NHS cannot deal with the rising demand, so its survival depends on managing it. Among other things, our system needs to encourage more individual responsibility and to empower people to make wise choices.‎

Secondly, the NHS's ageing physical structures cannot be sustained. We need a plan for hospitals which deliver first class care across the country. In practice, this means building regional centres of excellence: hospitals with the best specialists and facilities located to serve at least 600,000 people. In tandem, it means enhancing community facilities in every urban centre to deliver chronic care close to people’s homes. Advances in telemedicine could push some of this into the home, but most of it will stay in the community - in GP surgeries and 'cottage' hospitals. Such a plan would cut the number of ‘acute’ hospitals and increase the number of ‘community’ hospitals.

Thirdly, we must change how we pay for healthcare to meet future demand. The NHS is not alone in facing a tough financial climate and other countries offer a range of options to test. Norway charges patients to see their GP and for routine tests. Germany has a compulsory social insurance scheme. France uses a means test. In Denmark patients are charged (at cost) for their drugs once a modest annual budget has been spent; only the terminally ill are excluded. We need to be open-minded.

Finally, if our health service is to last for at least another generation, then we need a new vision to take us into the future backed by a long-term plan which does not get blown off course by short term political cycles. Successive governments have tried to tackle some of the issues but avoid crucial change when it proves too complicated, big or potentially unpopular. We are dealing with politically unpalatable realities. So we need a constructive, informed, honest national debate which decides what the NHS is for, limits the state's responsibilities and helps to foster alternatives for people who do not want to be bound by them. We also need to build a political consensus and require an expert and cross-party group to work out how we bring our healthcare system up to date to deliver the best services for the country in ways we can afford.

No single political party, professional body, set of experts or interest group has all the answers - but each has some, and every person in this country has a part to play. For my part, I believe our country is uniquely privileged. We have inherited a first-class healthcare system and we live more comfortable lives than ever before. We must become better custodians of our legacy. To those who say this means: “Don’t touch the NHS”, I would answer that we do not have a choice. If we shirk responsibility and let our antiquated system collapse under the weight of demand, the vulnerable will suffer. I want us to secure our national health for future generations. But the health service of the future will not be the same as that of today. There is life after the current NHS - and it should be better. 

Dr Phillip Lee is a practising GP and Conservative MP for Bracknell. Since his election in 2010, he has introduced a Bill to Parliament calling for the introduction of annual individual healthcare summaries itemised to list the breakdown of costs for an individual's care. He is standing for election as Health Select Committee Chairman.


The Collapse of Communism

As we commemorate the end of the Evil Empire, we remember its victims and pledge: Never again.

Catholics Against Capitalism

They try to fulfill the Lord’s command to feed His sheep — with rhetoric.


Something strange happened in Washington last week: A panel of Catholic intellectuals and clergy, led by His Eminence Oscar Andrés Maradiaga, was convened to denounce a political philosophy under the headline “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case against Libertarianism.” The conference was mainly about free-market economics rather than libertarianism per se, and it was an excellent reminder that the hierarchy of the Church has no special grace to pronounce upon matters of specific economic organization. The best that can be said of the clergy’s corporate approach to economic thinking is that it is intellectually incoherent, which is lucky inasmuch as the depths of its illiteracy become more dramatic and destructive as it approaches coherence. 

The Catholic clergy is hardly alone in this. There is something about the intellectually cloistered lives of religious professionals that prevents them from engaging in anything but the most superficial way with the 21st-century economy. Consider Tricycle, the American Buddhist review, which periodically publishes hilariously insipid economic observations — e.g., the bracingly uninformed writing of Professor Stuart Smithers of the University of Puget Sound religion department, whose review of Conscious Capitalism by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Raj Sisodia contains within it a perfect distillation of fashionable economic antithought. Like Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, he writes about the “structural” problems of capitalism, but gives no evidence at all that he even understands what that structure is. Unfortunately, relatively few do. 

“As Marx pointed out,” Professor Smithers writes, “capital is full of contradictions. Capital not only creates wealth, value, and jobs — it also destroys wealth, value, and jobs. Those ‘wondrous technologies’ also manifest as wrathful deities, efficiently eliminating or reducing the need for labor.” The implicit economic hypothesis here is that producing a certain amount of goods more efficiently — in this case, with less labor — makes the world worse off. (Why not use spoons?) The reality is the opposite, and that is not a matter of opinion, perspective, or ideology — it is a material reality, the denial of which is the intellectual equivalent of insisting on a geocentric or turtles-all-the-way-down model of the universe.

The increasingly global and specialized division of labor and the resulting chains of production — i.e., modern capitalism, the unprecedented worldwide project of voluntary human cooperation that is the unique defining feature of our time — is what cut the global poverty rate in half in 20 years. It was not Buddhist mindfulness or Catholic homilies that did that. In the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens, neither of those great religious traditions, nor anything else that human beings ever came up with, made a dent in the poverty rate. Capitalism did. One of the great ironies of our times is that so many of the descendents of the old Catholic immigrant working class have found themselves attracted to an American Buddhism that, with its love of ornate titles, its costumes, its fascination with apostolic succession, and its increasingly coddled professional clergy, is a 21st-century expression of Buddhism apparently committed to transforming itself — plus ça change! — into 15th-century Catholicism. Perhaps it should not be entirely surprising that it has embraced the same intellectual errors.

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga and likeminded thinkers, stuck as they are in the hopelessly 19th-century distributist model of economic analysis, apparently are incapable of thinking through the implications of their own dogma. The question of how certain goods are “distributed” in society is a second-order question at best; by definition prior to it is the question of whether there is anything to distribute. To put it in Christian terms, all of the great givers in Scripture — the Good Samaritan, the widow with her mite, Joseph of Arimathea — had something to give. If the Good Samaritan had been the Poor Samaritan, with no resources to dedicate to the stranger’s care, then the poor waylaid traveler would have been out of luck. All the good intentions that we may muster are not half so useful to a hungry person as a loaf of bread.

Those who put distribution at the top of their list of priorities both make the error of assuming the existence of some exogenous agency that oversees distribution (that being the Distribution Fairy) and entirely ignore the vital question of what gets produced and by whom. Poverty is the direct by-product of low levels of production; the United States and Singapore are fat and happy with $53,101 and $64,584 in per capita economic output, respectively; Zimbabwe, which endured the services of a government very much interested in the redistribution of capital, gets to divide up $788 per person per year, meaning that under circumstances of perfect mathematical equality life would still be miserable for everybody. Sweden can carve up its per capita pie however it likes, but it’s still going to be 22.5 percent smaller than the U.S. pie and less than two-thirds the size of Singapore’s tasty pastry. You cannot redistribute what you don’t have — and that holds true not only for countries but, finally, for the planet and the species, which of course is what globalization is all about. That men of the cloth, of all people, should be blind to what is really happening right now on the global economic scale is remarkable, ironic, and sad. Cure one or two people of blindness and you’re a saint; prevent blindness in millions and you’re Monsanto.

Unless His Eminence et al. have come up with a way to apply something akin to a literal loaves-and-fishes model to the global economy — and I’m going to go ahead and predict that that isn’t happening, no matter what color the alleged economist’s hat is — then production precedes consumption. “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said, but in the capitalist world, that simply is not true — there is no poverty in the capitalist world comparable to poverty in the early 18th century, much less to the poverty that was nearly universal in Jesus’ time. Our people are clothed, fed, and housed, and the few shocking exceptions, as with the case of the neglected mentally ill, are shocking because they are exceptions — and those are not economic failures but political failures.

Which brings us to our fundamental problem: The errors of the Catholic hierarchy regarding the economy are the product of errors in its thinking regarding the state. Catholic thinking about the role of the state has evolved precious little since “render unto Caesar,” even though there is, especially in the Christian world, a blessed shortage of Caesars just now, and has been for some time. The Catholic clergy still operate under the Romans 13 assumption that “the powers that be are ordained of God.” (Paul apparently forgot to add “ . . . and the Electoral College.”) From the old royalist Right to the redistributionist Left, there is an implicit and sometimes explicit belief that the state is a channel for moral expression, whether that expression takes the form of entrenching traditional ideals about family life or or collaborating with the state in the seizure and redistribution of wealth. (Probably worth keeping in mind the clergy’s historical track record here: The last economic idea that it got itself exercised about was Marxism.) But the state is in fact no such thing. It is a piece of social software, a technology, a tool with no more moral significance in and of itself than a hammer. Like a chainsaw, its uses depend on whose will is controlling it — sometimes you get the United Chainsaw Carvers Guild (which, no kidding, exists) and sometimes you get Patrick Bateman. Having failed to reckon with both the epistemic challenges to the various economic-planning orders they dream of (without understanding “how little they know about what they imagine they can design”) and the public-choice analysis of state action, Catholic economic thinkers conclude that they can invent a chainsaw that can cut through wood but not their legs. (Which keeps going wrong and wrong and wrong.) Enthralled by the power of selecting among the millions of choices about what the state should do, they never consider the relatively restricted and plebiean question of what the state actually can do.

This is true even among the so-called conservatives. Consider John Paul II writing on the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum:

If Pope Leo XIII calls upon the State to remedy the condition of the poor in accordance with justice, he does so because of his timely awareness that the State has the duty of watching over the common good and of ensuring that every sector of social life, not excluding the economic one, contributes to achieving that good, while respecting the rightful autonomy of each sector. This should not however lead us to think that Pope Leo expected the State to solve every social problem. On the contrary, he frequently insists on necessary limits to the State’s intervention and on its instrumental character, inasmuch as the individual, the family and society are prior to the State, and inasmuch as the State exists in order to protect their rights and not stifle them.

But the state in fact has no way of knowing to any practical effect what the common good even is or how its policies might affect priorities relating to it. The “common good” may seem like a relatively straightforward thing when your theater of operations is the general moral intuition of a saint, but it’s something else when you’re working with 20,000 pages of Affordable Care Act regulations — and that, not refined sentiment, is the realm in which the state operates. Meanwhile, he also expects the state to determine just wages and union work rules, to administer unemployment insurance, to calculate the economic consequences of immigration, and a hundred other things that the state has no capacity for doing. Like Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga and others, he assumes that the state will act in the cause of justice for the poor rather than being the most ruthless and pitiless exploiter of the poor, as history, including the history of this country, very strongly suggests that it will be. “The relevance of these reflections for our own day is inescapable,” the sainted epistolist writes, saying perhaps rather more than he meant to. Put not your trust in princes. Expecting them to deal rationally — to say nothing of morally — with systems of incomprehensible complexity is an error.

“The case against libertarianism”? As usual, the most important part of the question goes unstated and unanswered: “Compared with what?” You can have free trade or you can have trade managed by politicians; you can have free markets or you can have capital managed by politicians; you can have real prices or you can have shortages, waste, and chaos; you can have a society in which people are free — free, among other things, to follow the Gospel to a higher kind of freedom — or you can have . . . something else.Can you be Catholic and libertarian?” the Washington Post asks. I suppose that it depends on how you intend to fulfill the Lord’s command to feed His sheep — with rhetoric or with bread — and how much faith you put in the proposition that “deep within his conscience, man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey.” And it must depend very heavily upon how you feel about the peaceful, cooperative, egalitarian, collaborative, poverty-pulverizing economy that we built when Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga wasn’t looking, the billions it has saved from poverty, and the billions more that it will save. Can you be Catholic and celebrate that? How could you be Catholic and do anything else?

I myself first felt the pull of the Church in a very, very poor place — India, as it happens — that was at the time engaged in the humane project of making itself a considerably less poor place, largely by ignoring the advice of the Hindu versions of Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga. I am grateful to our clergy, and if my criticism herein seems unduly uncharitable to these princes of the Church, it is only because their backward views on capitalism are doing real, material, irreversible damage to the world and especially to the lives of poor people, who are most in need of what only capitalism has to offer. His Eminence may not entirely understand it, but the banks and boardrooms are full of men and women doing more in real terms for the least of these than he is — more, in fact, than he would even understand how to do — and what he proposes mainly is to stand in their way. For God’s sake, stop it.

Related Reading:   American Catholicism’s Pact With the Devil