The pope I don’t like

Pope Francis– awesome.  Art Pope– not so much.  Anyway, nice story about the latter in the Post recently.  I had a great conversation with the new NYT reporter on “the South” beat today (hopefully, that should result in my expertise in the NYT sometime in the future) and we discussed Pope, among many other things.  It is quite clear that this one man has a hugely disproporationate influence in NC politics.  That said, when one looks at the rather substantial intra-party squabble going on over the budget right now, it’s also clear that Pope is not quite the puppetmaster many of his detractors believe him to be.  Safe to say if he really was the all-powerful wizard behind the curtain, the Republican party would not be acting as it currently is (unless this is some super-smart devious plan to fool journalists and people like me).  Anyway, here’s some good stuff from the Post story:

There is no one in North Carolina, or likely in all of American politics, quite like Art Pope. He is not just a wealthy donor seeking to influence politics from the outside, nor just a government official shaping it from within. He is doing both at the same time — the culmination of a quarter-
century spent building a sphere of influence that has put him at the epicenter of North Carolina government and moved his state closer to the conservative vision he has long imagined.

“There are not many people as influential, because few people have invested the time and the money that he has on behalf of his state,” said Republican former governor James G. Martin, who tapped Pope, then 28, to be a lawyer in his administration in the 1980s.

From the outside, Pope’s family foundation has put more than $55 million into a robust network of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, building a state version of what his friends Charles and David Koch have helped create on a national level.

They even have the whole thing in graphic form:

Art Pope’s influence on North Carolina

 

The Pope on taxes

No, not the awesome one, but Art Pope, NC’s own Koch Brother and current Budget Director.  He had an op-ed in the N&O this week that was just breathtaking in its mendacity and lack of actual empirical support for any of its claims.  To wit:

Our tax code is now simpler, more uniform and fairer for everyone.

Tax reform began in 2011, when the General Assembly reduced the state sales tax rate by 17 percent, from a state rate of 5.75 percent to 4.75 percent. Tax reform continued in 2013, when McCrory and the legislature simplified the personal income tax – taking rates ranging from 6 percent to 7.75 percent to a single flat rate of 5.8 percent. They also passed a higher standard deduction starting in 2014 and a flat personal income tax rate of 5.75 percent in 2015.

Oh please!! There is nothing simpler about having fewer and lower marginal rates.  You calculate your taxable income and you pay based on your rates.  It’s that simple.  Whether your rate is 10% or 5% and having multiple marginal rates makes it not the least bit harder.  Fewer, lower rates, basically just means less taxes for rich people.  Surely Art Pope’s idea of “fairer for everyone” but not what most people would see as “fair.”

The truth is, everyone in North Carolina is benefiting from the tax reforms that began in 2011. Sales tax rates are lower, income tax rates are lower and the standard deduction is higher.

Of course, there’s myriad analyses that show that not everyone is benefiting.  And to think just a little more broadly than the incredibly narrow way that Pope is stuck in, I would argue that if you have kids in public school you are not benefiting.  If you care about the quality of education in NC at all, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the mentally ill, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the working poor, you are not benefiting.  If you care about a crumbling infrastructure– perhaps you’ve been known to drive on roads– you are not benefiting.  Okay, I’ll stop now.

If you want to follow Pope’s logic, just lower taxes to 0, we’ll all have way more take home pay, and everything will be grand.  Though, I think Hobbes had something to say about that.

The next time you buy clothes for your children, look at the receipt to see how much sales tax is charged and think of what you saved compared with the old state sales tax rate. Think of the long-term benefit in an economy that is still recovering and of employers, both corporations and mom and pop partnerships, keeping a bit more of the money they earned – money that can by reinvested to create more jobs and grow the economy.

Next time I pay $.40 less for a shirt I’ll be so glad that it won’t bother me at all that quality teachers are fleeing our state or that are universities are finding it harder than ever to compete for the top talent.

The evidence is clear. Tax reform is working, and nearly every North Carolinian is keeping more of the money earned, which is fundamental to building a stronger economy.

If the current evidence is clear, I’d hate to see ambiguous evidence.

And just to be clear, this transparent nonsense is from the single most politically influential person in the state.  Ugh.

Today in Pope Francis awesomeness

From Huffpo:

Mothersnon-mothersand celebrities alike have come to arms in the support of public breastfeeding, and now, so has the Pope.

In an interview with La Stompa, Pope Francis was asked about the state of hungry children in the world. In response, he suggested that people should recycle food and be less wasteful, and then told a story that was both a reminder of the resources we have, and a declaration that breastfeeding mothers shouldn’t be ashamed to feed their babies when they’re hungry. He explained:

At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few month s old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat! …

Although one could argue that the Pope’s statement was just explaining world hunger — not breastfeeding liberation — it does appear that all he wants is for babies to get fed. And he doesn’t care where. Judging by this photo taken last March, breastfeeding doesn’t look like it’s bothering His Holiness one bit.

New blog category needed? “Pope Francis is awesome”

Okay, I’m not actually going to start this category.  But, even though I shouldn’t be by now, I’m still amazed at how awesome this pope is.  The idea that such a true man of God could actually make it to the top of the hierarchy in today’s Catholic church is (depressingly) shocking.  His pronouncements today on the excesses of capitalism– in no uncertain terms– were just awesome.  Here’s some excerpts from Yglesias‘ post:

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape…

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system…

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.

This is not just taking on the excesses of capitalism, but a specific rhetoric of capitalism as espoused by right-wing parties in the US (and elsewhere).

And, yes, the Church has always been quite liberal on issues of economic justice, but the Atlantic’s Emma Green explains how this is genuinely a major break with the past:

In light of this long-standing tension between the Church and communism, Pope Francis’s aggressively anti-capitalist posture seems all the more remarkable.  The bishop of Rome hasn’t just condemned what he sees as a failed free-market—he’a condemned the ethic and ideology that underlie free-market economies. “The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase,” Francis writes. “In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

This is more than just a lecture about ethics; it’s a statement about who should control financial markets. At least right now, Francis says, the global economy needs more government control—an argument that would have been unthinkable for the pope just 50 years ago.

But, I’m going to go back to Yglesias on just why I think this is so important:

I remember very clearly having been an intern in Chuck Schumer’s office and attending with the senator, some of his staff, and a wide swathe of New York City political elites an event at St Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate the posthumous award of the Congressional Gold Medal to Archbishop John O’Connor. His successor, Archbishop Egan, delivered an address that went on at length about O’Connor’s charitable work, but on a public policy level addressed almost exclusively the Church’s support for banning abortion, for discriminating against gay and lesbian couples, and for school vouchers. That was a choice he made about what he thought it was important for people to hear about. Pope Francis is making a different kind of choice.

Exactly.  And Amen.  This continues Francis’ direct rebuke to those who think the mission of the church should be more to worry about the sexual behavior of others than for the care for the poor and oppresses, about which Jesus constantly preached.  Pope Francis’ Catholic church is one to which I am proud to belong.

I heart Pope Francis

I was optimistic when Pope Francis became pope, but damn has he far exceeded my wildest expectations.  I’m totally fine that I disagree with him on matters of contraception, abortion, and gay marriage because– unlike the vast majority of the Catholic hierarchy in recent years– he totally gets that these things are not at the core of the Christian faith, but peripheral issues (if you doubt that, just see what Jesus actually talks about in the gospels– it’s called social justice).  Here’s the NYT story on his latest interview:

Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church on Thursday with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics…

Francis told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

“We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

The pope’s interview did not change church doctrine or policies, but it instantly changed its tone…

The new pope’s words are likely to have repercussions in a church whose bishops and priests in many countries, including the United States, have often seemed to make combating abortion, gay marriage and contraception their top public policy priorities. Francis said that these teachings have to be presented in a larger context.

“I see the church as a field hospital after battle,” Francis said. “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”

Yep.  With all the poverty, suffering, and injustice still in the world today, it is truly unconscionable to focus so much attention on homosexuality as somehow the paramount moral issue of our times.

Meanwhile, I love this quote a formerly Catholic friend (formerly modifying the Catholic, :-) ) posted from the interview.

“If one has the answers to all the questions — that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. “

How did such a genuinely thoughtful, spiritual, and wise man ever get elected Pope from today’s Catholic hierarchy?  I have no idea, but I’ll take it.

Go Pope!

I cannot say I pay all that much attention to what Pope Francis has been up to, but most every time I hear something, it is heartening.  Clearly, a sharp break from his predecessor.  Here’s the latest:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE— Pope Francis opened the door Sunday to greater acceptance of gay priests inside the ranks of Roman Catholicism as he returned to the Vatican from his maiden trip overseas.

Fielding questions from reporters during the first news conference of his young papacy, the pontiff broached the delicate question of how he would respond to learning that a cleric in his ranks was gay, though not sexually active. For decades, the Vatican has regarded homosexuality as a “disorder,” and Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVIformally barred men with what the Vatican deemed “deep-seated” homosexuality from entering the priesthood.

“Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” the pontiff said, speaking in Italian. “You can’t marginalize these people.”

Never before had a pope spoken out in defense of gay priests in the Catholic ministry, said Vatican analysts. Past popes have traditionally treated homosexuality as an obstacle to priestly celibacy, and the Vatican has sent extensive instructions to Catholic seminaries on how to restrict gay candidates from the priesthood.

Pope Francis “is showing a deep respect for the human condition as it is instead of approaching things in a doctrinal way,” said Alberto Melloni, a church historian.

No, he’s not going to argue for the ordination of women any time soon or overturn the ban on “artificial” contraception, but he clearly has a strong and passionate commitment to social justice and helping the poor.  Given the pool of Catholic Cardinals at the time of his selection, this seems to be about as good a Pope as we could have hoped for.

More Pope

A few more thoughts on the Art Pope piece, which I still haven’t read in full, but did listen to Jane Mayer’s NPR interview.

1) There’s some real straw men in here.  Mayer focuses a lot on the case of conservative Democrat John Snow, who was brought down with the help of Pope’s money.   Of course, conservative Democrats were exactly those most vulnerable in 2010 because of their districts.  She gives several examples of the nasty and highly distorted mailers funded in part by Pope money.  Thing is, I’ve looked at a lot of campaign mail in my day, and these flyers– though appalling in their disregard for the truth– were simply politics as usual.   On a related note, a correspondent from the Locke foundation points out that almost none of Pope’s spending has anything to do with Citizens United.  I’m thinking that just makes a better journalistic hook.

2) The N&O’s Rob Christensen uses numbers to point out how the Mayer article really overstates the impact of Pope’s money (and in the interview, Mayer kept saying things like, “Pope and the foundations he’s associated with spent…”), which was quite useful, but Rob C ends with this:

Does Pope have the state in his back pocket as the cartoon caricature accompanying The New Yorker article suggests?

North Carolinians are a notoriously independent lot. I don’t believe the state is for sale, and I don’t think even a very rich man can buy it.

Really?  That’s sure a lot more faith in democracy than I’ve got.  North Carolinians are really independent so they can just ignore millions and millions spent to influence their political views?

3) I remembered that every spring when we head to the Brooks Avenue  Church of Christ spring carnival for Children with Special Needs and their Families the fabulous Easter Baskets they provide to all the kids, stuffed with toys, say “courtesy of Art Pope.”  Awesome. Good for him.  Thing is, though, he just helped elect a Republican legislature that dramatically cut funds to state programs that really help out these families.  Well, at least we’ve got our Easter baskets.

Go Francis!

There’s no official policy change here, but changes in tone matter.  A lot.  I honestly figured that even a liberal, tolerant Pope could not change things much because JPII and Benedict had elevated so many profoundly conservative bishops, but this latest pronouncement comes not just from the Pope himself, but a gathering of bishops:

VATICAN CITY — An important meeting of bishops at the Vatican used remarkably conciliatory language on Monday toward gay and divorced Catholics, signaling a possible easing of the church’s rigid attitudes on homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage.

The gathering of bishops from around the world called on pastors to recognize, among other things, the “positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation.”

The meeting, or synod, was called by Pope Francis to discuss issues related to the family in contemporary society. A report was given on Monday of the main considerations under debate in the first week of the two-week gathering.

The report appeared to reflect the more tolerant and inclusive direction Francis has sought to take the church since he was chosen to succeed the far more doctrinaire Benedict XVI more than 18 months ago…

Signaling the direction they are heading, the bishops called for a more merciful approach toward the faithful who stray from the Catholic ideal, citing the need for “courageous pastoral choices” to reflect the current plurality of relationships outside the traditional family model.

They urged pastors, for instance, to be more welcoming to gays, who have “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” And it called on pastors to treat divorced Catholics who have remarried civilly with respect, “avoiding any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against.”

Really interesting take on all this in the New Yorker:

The Catholic Church has survived for more than two thousand years by adapting shrewdly to the world’s changes while insisting that its message has remained the same. It has done so with great theological finesse, insisting, for example, on the difference between essential Church doctrine and doctrinal positions that are merely well-established traditions. Priestly celibacy, for example, was only clearly established in the Middle Ages—before that, and for centuries afterward, there were many married priests. Showing considerably less prudence, the current Pope’s predecessors tried to bind the Church tightly to a series of doctrinal prohibitions designed to be difficult, if not impossible, to undo. Pope John Paul II pronounced that the non-ordination of women was “definitive” and “irrevocable.” Traditions can become dogma, and breaking free of these strictures would be the doctrinal equivalent of one of Harry Houdini’s famous escape acts. Francis, if he wants to change them, must do so without actually appearing to have done so…

Pius IX, in his infamous “Syllabus of Errors,” published in 1864, listed a series of mistaken ideas held by the contemporary Church, ending with what he considered the greatest error of them all: “The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.” The principles he held onto included a defense of the institution of slavery and a rejection of democracy and freedom of speech. When the Church eventually abandoned those positions, was it because it was fashionable or because it was right? In a very different spirit, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary general of the synod, said last week, “The Christian religion is a history, not an ideology … And there is theological development, all theologians say this. All is not static; we walk in history. There is a door that has been closed up to now, but Pope Francis wants to open it.”

Not an easy task, and it’s not entirely clear exactly how far Francis intends to go, but however far it is from the status quo, more power to him.

Mega quick hits (part II)

1)  Before this Vox post I knew pretty much nothing about New Zealand’s government.  Sounds great.

2) How the Affordable Care Act is saving money.

3) To their credit, NC came up with a set of reasonable criteria to rank road projects on how worthy of funding they are.  Smart.  Alas, now a bunch low-ranked projects have been proposed to receive funding.  Not smart.

4) Is credit cart fraud almost a thing of the past?

5) Pope Francis‘ latest appointment of an American bishop is yet another great credit to his papcy.

6) I heard part of this great story on TAL today (will catch the whole thing on podcast soon), but I love how Michael Lewis calls it the Ray Rice video of Wall Street.

7) More from Oceania– fascinating tale of how environmentalism in Australia has been completely politically crushed.

8) When can you not trust a poll result?  When a Republican firm releases a poll looking bad for Republicans and a few hours later an “updated” poll is released showing it much less bad.

9) The magnetic field of the earth could flip soon.  Whoa.

10) Celiac disease is real.  But “gluten sensitivity”?  Not so much.  If you are not familiar with the nocebo effect, this is a great example.

11) The less our governor says, the better.  He’s got a serious penchant for going off on subjects where he really has no idea what he’s talking about.

12) The fact that all the water on earth is from outer space is so cool.  The fact that much of it is actually older than our solar system is even cooler.

13) Not surprisingly, the gender wage gap starts with how we teach our sons and daughters about money.

History as politics

When you define and explain history you are framing things in such a way as to favor particular political solutions for current problems.  That’s exactly what John Locke Foundaton (an Art Pope thinktank) president, John Hood, has done in an N&O Op-Ed.  His basic argument is that NC isn’t so special and the story that liberals tell and that despite our public investment in higher ed, technology, etc., our per capita economic growth is nothing special compared with our neighbors.  Therefore, it is time to unleash the policies of the present GOP lot in Raleigh.

Nobody knows more about the political history of NC than the N&O’s Rob Christensen and he says Hood is wrong:

Hood’s argument is that North Carolina’s reputation as a leader in the South is overblown, or as he puts it, the idea of North Carolina Exceptionalism is “a fairy tale.”

Hood bases his assertion on statistics showing that North Carolina’s GDP between 1963 and 2010 grew only at the average of the rest of the South, and behind the national average. When adjusted for population, Hood says, North Carolina looks worse.

So Hood’s implicit argument – although he didn’t quite belly up to the bar to say it – is that North Carolina was wasting its money in building one of the nation’s great university systems, one of the best community college systems and one of the most extensive road systems, and in trying to be a leader in the arts.

If you are arguing for fundamental change, you are obligated to make the case that what has gone before is not working.

Even better than Christensen, though, I think Thomas Mills really nails it:

And that’s the problem with John’s analysis. While we may not have significantly exceeded our neighbors’ GDP or per capita income, the benefits were distributed much more evenly. As Irwin notes, “The rubber-meets-road measure of whether the economy is working for the mass of Americans is median real income and related measures of how much money is making its way into their pockets and what they can buy with that money.”

Using those measures, we have consistently and substantially outpaced our neighbors. Our median income has been higher for decades until the economic crash. On almost every quality of life measure, our families have fared better. That’s because of the political choices our leaders have made…

So if the most important measure of prosperity is the rate of economic growth, then we’ve not done substantially better than our Southern neighbors. If the most important measures are the strength of the middle class and health and welfare of our citizens, we’ve done significantly better.

Yep.  I’ll take a great university system and higher quality of life and opportunities for the average citizen over rich people in my state being even richer.  Alas, our current “leaders” don’t see it this way.

Quick hits (part I)

1) An interesting critique of the recent low-carb vs. low-fat study.

2) A Wake County, NC evangelical Christian teacher compares working in her godless, secular, high school to being in a concentration camp.  My favorite part… it’s been known to turn sweet, Christian girls into lesbians!

3) Was not expecting to find great commentary on the leaked celebrity nude photos in Playboy (I’m there just for the cultural commentary!)

4) Research shows the benefits of exercise especially for kids with ADHD.  I’ve got to get my son to read this and actually move around during his free time at school instead of playing on the computer.

5) Nice profile of competitive races (including my friend and former student, Sarah Crawford) in Wake County, NC.

6) Assessing teachers with student surveys.  With the right survey questions I think this can be a useful tool.  Ideally, this will be used not primarily for assessment, but as useful data to help teachers improve.  Elizabeth Green argues that we need to focus far more effort on ways to help teachers improve their skills and it sounds like their is some real potential if intelligently using the student survey data.

7) Robert Reich says college is a “ludicrous” waste of money.  He’s wrong.  But he is right that we need to invest way more in community colleges.

8) More on the NC prosecutor responsible for the conviction of the two NC men recently exonerated from a 30+ year old murder convictions.  He still insists he was right and that the men are guilty.  Scary to think of the power this man has had over people’s lives.

9) Really enjoyed this essay from a mom who has identical twins with TSC (the disease my son, Alex, has).   On a scientific level, I found it quite interesting how differently this genetic disease manifested in her two identical twins.

10) Love this libertarian deconstruction of how the Chancellor of UC-Berkely doesn’t really get free speech at all.

11) Auto-pilot is dangerous because it lulls humans into complacency.

12) Really bothered by this story of a Pennsylvania mom who has been sent to prison for providing her daughter an abortion pill.  No way that should be the proper punishment under the circumstances described.

13) I didn’t actually make it all the way through this AO Scott essay on the death of adulthood in American culture, but I really did enjoy the parts I read (I enjoy most anything that discusses Don Draper, Tony Soprano, and Walter White under a single theme).

Quick hits (part I)

Another multi quick-hits weekend.  Enjoy.

1) Pope Francis’ list of tips for becoming a happier person.  Not bad.

2) Five myths about the border crisis.  Myth #1:

1. U.S. immigration policy is to blame for the surge of unaccompanied minors.

3) Hit the reset button on your brain?

Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.

If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.

Nope, don’t see this happening for me.

4) Speaking of which… fascinating experiment of what happens when a reporter literally “likes” every single post on FB.

5) A happy marriage without children.  Well, of course.  But you damn sure better really like your spouse.

6) Of course, if you do have kids, don’t go to prison.  Our inhumane system will make it absurdly expensive and difficult to stay in touch with them.

7) Also, careful with getting yourself on the sex offender registry.  Even the parent who helped initially push it says it is way over-used now.

8) Was a decrease in testosterone among early human males responsible for eventually leading to civilization?  Makes sense to me.  And some science to support the idea.

9) States with stand your ground laws have more homicides.  I’m shocked.  Shocked.

10) I’m often amazed at how my students’ typos just seem to jump off the page at me whereas my own remain virtually invisible.  Here’s the science behind why this is.  I strongly encourage my students to have a friend read their paper for this reason.  Quite clearly, few actually do (or they have lame friends).  While I’m at… many of them really need to be a lot more careful with their use of the thesaurus.  I don’t have any examples quite this extreme, but my students are using words they don’t actually understand all the time.

11) Great TNR piece from Jason Zengerle about how Civil Rights are going backwards in Alabama.

12)  Veal farmers are adopting more human methods.  On the downside for veal lovers (I never eat it), this apparently means it tastes less like veal and more like regular beef.

13) The Post has a piece on NC Senator Kay Hagan looking to benefit from the backlash against the Republican-led legislature.  I’ve already seen several ads on this theme.

14) Cool study shows that reading about discrimination against “Mudbloods” in Harry Potter can help make kids more tolerant.  Awesome.

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