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This site will be going dormant while I concentrate on my other blog, The Moron Quotient.



Envy, Justice, and Mitt Romney

This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We must offer an alternative vision. I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by the resentment of success.
Mitt Romney, after winning the New Hampshire Primary

Mitt Romney has a simple explanation for the frustration of those who complain about the increasing gap between the rich and the poor in this country: they complain because they resent the success of the wealthy and are envious of their wealth. This very convenient narrative allows him to dismiss and ignore the chasm that separates the 0.1% from the 99.9%.

Fortunately, I have been blessed with doubt.

Such a blessing may be inconvenient; it is surely uncomfortable. But by testing everything–especially simple explanations for complex issues–and praying for wisdom and understanding, I may hope to retain that which is good: the truth.

What if the “the bitter politics of envy” or the “resentment of success” is really a question about economic justice?

Now, whenever I think of justice, I think of my dog.

Whenever I come home, my dog is there to greet me with the excitable joy of an anxious husky. No matter how bad my day has been, her wagging tail brushes my cares away. I spend a few minutes playing with her. I get down on my hands and knees and we chase each other around the couch; she shove me with her but, and I push her gently away. She drops down into a play-bow, and I run away. She chases me, and I wrestle her to the ground, roll her to her side, and rub her belly. For those few minutes, we are no longer “owner” and “pet.” Rather, we are two young pups at play. Of course, she is not always a good dog. Sometimes, our play gets a little rough, and she nips at my hand, biting a little too hard.

“No!” I say, in a stern voice. Play time comes to an abrupt end.

“Sit!” I command. She sits.

“Down!” She lies down. I command her to stay, and she remains in a down-stay for a few minutes while I ignore her. She is being punished.

At the end of her sentence, I call her to me. She walks slowly to me with her head hung low and her tail between her legs. I pet her and give her a hug and tell her she is a good dog. Her tail wags, and I give her a treat. We resume playing, and she never nips at me again.

My relationship with my dog helps me think about the three different aspects of justice. As I played with my dog, we played as equals. This is commutative justice–a reciprocal relationship among equals. But when she misbehaved, she was punished and corrected. This is retributive justice. But then, after the punishment, I re-established the bond between us. This is restorative justice. The bond between us has grown stronger because of respect, communication, and understanding. We have a right relationship between us. This is justice.

Perhaps this is why Mitt Romney’s statement makes me sad: He does not see the issue of income or wealth inequality as an issue of justice, and by doing so, he fails to enter into a right relationship (or any relationship) with the poor or their advocates. The cries for economic justice are dismissed as the bitter complaints of people not his equals: they are envious, they are resentful. Lacking the desire to succeed, they are flawed. It is a very binary world view: “I am successful, and they are envious.”

I must continually challenge myself to see things not in terms of right or wrong, or whether I agree or disagree. I must try to see the world–in all its beauty and ugliness, in all its joys and sorrows, in all its awesome wonders and mundane familiarity–in terms of relationship. And I must continuously ask myself, “Do I live in a right relationship with it?”

This is hard. It is hard because if I want to answer that question in the affirmative, then I cannot simply dismiss anything I disagree with or anything I find objectionable. It is also hard because I realize know what the answer is: “I don’t.” My relationship with the world should be one based on love, and it frustrates me that I do not love as I should.

As Pope Benedict XVI explained in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, “love becomes the criterion for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth or lack thereof . . . . Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God.” (Deus Caritas Est, paragraph 15)

When we hear people cry out out against the injustice and suffering inflicted upon those living in poverty, may we hear their cries with a loving heart, and not dismiss them as mere grousing. Rather, let us listen to them with a loving heart. And when we are confronted with ignorance and intolerance of our brothers and sisters, let us not turn our backs on them, but restore our relationship with them.

Let us all seek right relationships based on kindness, patience, endurance, and hope. And as we seek this, let us avoid jealousy and arrogance.

An Exciting Breakthrough (maybe, maybe not) in Survival

I left my desk to take a brief stroll, stretching my legs and resting my mind, when I habitually held the door open for someone walking behind me.

“Thank you,” she said. “That was very courteous of you.”

I paused. “Courtesy had nothing to do with it. I’m just trying to stay awake from my desk for as long as possible.”

Thus, a new rule to surviving the corporate world emerged: “Rule #23: Be courteous.”

Thinking Is Just a Waste of Time

Upon further reflection of Rule #13a and Rule #13b in Bob’s Guide to Corporate Survival, I have concluded that thinking, in general, is not a good thing. Thus, I have come up with Rule #13c: Just don’t think.

On Nature

Of all things, nature is the most beautiful. Serene and terrible, Nature is the blend of contradictions. She is a beloved companion, a bountiful provider; She can be a fearful foe, a tortuous master. But in whatever role She takes, Nature is beautiful and passionate.

Not so much unlike ourselves. Nature then is a mirror of who we, as a species, are. Are we compassionate neighbors? Rich benefactors? Or fearful overlords? The way we look at Nature, then, is a reflection of our values. What values prompt someone to approach Nature as a loving neighbor, full of compassion? What values prompts someone to approach Nature as a resource to be exploited?

Nature is humanity’s spouse, in a sense. Nature is our eternal companion given to us so that our pilgrimage would not be such a lonely one. If Nature is our spouse, how should we treat Her? With love and respect, cherishing every moment with her? Or do we abuse Her? Do we rape her?

If a spouse, then Nature has human goods that need to be nourished. Health is first and foremost. Do our policies promote the health of the environment? When we pollute the air and water, we poison the health of the environment. Would we poison our spouse? Would we poison ourselves. When our spouse is sick, would we not seek healing?

We see the beauty of our spouse. To us, our spouse is the most beautiful thing we see. So too, then Nature. She is stunningly beautiful. She is magnificent. We treasure that beauty. But when we disfigure Nature, we rob Her of that treasure.

Nature is strong and resilient. Her strength gives us strength. When our spouse thrives, do we not also? But strength is dependent on health. If Nature is sick, then she is weak, and the water we drink and the food we eat will make us sick; the air we breathe will choke us. For us to be strong, Nature must be strong. For Nature to be strong, Nature must be healthy.

Our spouse is rich and wealthy, and She shares her wealth abundantly. But do we covet her wealth? Who would steal from one’s spouse? But we do it everyday when we strip Nature of her wealth for our own material gain. “No blind god Plutus is, keen of sight, but only if he has Wisdom for a companion.” Plato wrote. But we are blinded by Plutus. We ignore our spouses beauty and granduer. We see only her riches, and we covet them. And in our greed, we lack wisdom.

We must act wisely with our Spouse. We must stand strong with her, and have the courage to protect her against those who would do her harm. Love requires nothing less. But love requires more, much more. To live in harmony with our spouse—to live justly, righteously, and peacefully—we must strive to understand, and to live in awe that someone would love us in return, despite all our faults and failings.

And this is the true beauty of Nature. That despite our abuse, our neglect, our destructive selfishness, she still provides for us. She still loves us. If we get to know Nature as our spouse, and if we act in a manner befitting a faithful spouse, then perhaps we will begin to make better decisions and offer better counsel regarding the way we treat Her.

We are lucky that we, as a species, have been given such a beautiful companion in Nature during our sojourn on earth. Let us then treat Nature as a beloved spouse. Let us vow to be true to Her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. Let us love Her and honor Her all the days of our lives.

The Final Words of Troy Davis

As quoted from ABC News:

“I’d like to address the MacPhail family,” Davis said, according to The Associated Press. “Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent.

“The incident that happened that night is not my fault,” he added. “I did not have a gun. All I can ask … is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth.

“I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight,” he said. “For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.”

I will have more thoughts on this later…

Good Idea or Bad Idea?

Is a Balanced Budget Amendment a good idea? That is, will it help really reduce the debt?

Proponents of such an amendment often point out that 49 states have some sort of legal requirement for a balanced budget (either in the form of a constitutional requirement or a statutory requirement) to support their argument. Perhaps a useful question to ask is, “How well have these balanced budget requirements worked for these states?”

Let us consider Illinois as an example. According to Article VIII, Section 2.b of the Illinois Constitution,

The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State. Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year.

Illinois’ total debt is currently over $120 billion. There are other examples:

From these examples, I am likely to infer that a Balanced Budget Amendment would not do anything to curb our spending on a national level.

Another question a person might ask regarding a Balanced Budget Amendment is, “How would such an amendment be enforced?” Would the President be impeached if he signed an unbalanced budget into law? Or, should the House of Representatives be held responsible? Should the Speaker of the House or the Chairman of the House Budget Committee face fines and/or imprisonment for violating the law of the land?

Perhaps we should again look at the states for guidance. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, requirements for an enforcement provision are not the norm (State Balanced Budget Provisions, p. 9). Alabama, according to the NCSL, has the most rigorous enforcement provisions: A treasurer who violates the provision is subject to a $5,000 fine and up to two years in prison, as well as impeachment. (Fortunately for Young Boozer, the State Treasurer of Alabama, it is not clear if this provision has been enforced–Alabama’s debt is currently at $26 billion.) So much for state guidance.

A final question must be asked, “Is a Balanced Budget Amendment really necessary?” I tend to concur with the  conclusion of the NCSL:

For the majority of states, however, the most important factor contributing to balanced budgets is not an enforcement mechanism or a provision specifying how a shortfall will be resolved. Rather, it is the tradition of balancing the budget that has created a forceful political rule to do so. Although states with enforcement provisions emphasize their importance, the expectation that state budgets will be balanced is the most important force in maintaining a balanced budget. (State Balanced Budget Provisions, p. 9).

Legislation reflects our societal values, but legislation is incapable forcing behavior (the noble experiment of the 18th Amendment provides a useful example).

Perhaps the motivation behind a Balanced Budget Amendment–to create sustainable budgets–is wise. However, I wonder if the reality of such an amendment would restrict the options of policymakers during periods of economic stress that are endemic to our economic system and only hurt the common good.

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