Sunday, October 17, 2010

Barack Obama, Small Spender

Repost of something I put on Morgan Philpot's site, replying to this story:

There is a lot of myth to the "big spending Obama/big spending Democrats" meme. 
TARP was a holdover from the Bush era, and the funds we loaned out are thankfully mostly being paid back with interest.  Admittedly, it had more support from congressional Democrats than congressional Republicans.

The stimulus bill mostly went to 1) tax cuts designed to garner Republican support (which never came), and 2) shoring up state and local government budgets, so that they wouldn't have to lay off teachers, policemen, firefighters, etc., which would have caused unemployment to skyrocket and worsened the recession.  Only a small fraction was left over for infrastructure investments.  Read Paul Krugman's column, "Hey, Small Spender" for details.

Health Care Reform is a big-ticket item, but as the expensive parts don't kick in until 2014, it has absolutely nothing to do with the current deficit levels.  Also, HCR generates a lot of direct and indirect savings that will offset the costs of the program.  It will reduce Medicare costs, promote efficiency by getting medical records online, and give insurance companies less incentive to develop giant bureaucracies designed to stand between you and your doctor.  According to the CBO estimate (which Republicans consider the gold standard when the numbers work out in their favor) Health Care Reform will knock $130B off the deficit over the next decade, and $1.2T off it in the subsequent decade.

The biggest area of government spending growth hasn't been in new programs, but in expansions of the existing programs that are helping people through these rough economic times:  unemployment insurance, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.  These programs are designed to help people who are in trouble, so it's no surprise that they would go up when more people needed them.  Again, reference Krugman; see his blog from Oct. 16.

On a related note, why is Philpot criticizing Matheson for raising the ceiling on the national debt?  The national debt is a long-term problem that requires a long-term solution.  "Solving" it by just letting it hit the ceiling is like solving the problem of "my car is going the wrong direction" by slamming it into a brick wall.  Consider what would happen to the economy if the government hit a financial crisis where it had to suddenly cut millions of workers from its payroll.  [It would also require a sudden, dramatic scaling back of vital government services that people actually want, like food, water, and occupational safety, education, scientific research, oversight of industry, etc. -B]

I was a soldier training at Fort Sam Houston, TX in 1995, when Newt Gingritch and Co. shut down the government in order to try and get Clinton to agree to spending cuts in Medicare.  One day I woke up, took my weekly stroll out to the base library, and found the doors locked.  At that point, I was a hard-core Rush Limbaugh fan.  But Newt had taken away my books.  The books I was using to make myself a smarter, better-informed citizen and soldier.  I would gladly have agreed to a massive tax increase to get my books back.  :)

That anecdote represents one of the least-consequential aspects of a government shutdown, the sort of shutdown that candidate Philpot is demanding when he criticizes Matheson for raising the ceiling on the debt.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer battles the pink menace

I try to stay away from "Mormon stuff" these days.  But sometimes the temptation is just too much. Sometimes I hear that siren song, that sexy, gravelly voice beckoning from over that distant pulpit, saying things that are so hurtful, so distant from human decency, that unnatural desires swell within me, and I have to... blog the living daylights out of some old geezer.

In about a half hour, there is a protest near Temple Square in reaction to some things Boyd Packer said during General Conference last week.   A bunch of my friends are attending, and I'm with them in spirit if not in person.  I think that a protest is just what this situation calls for.  Why?  Because when tens of millions of people all over the world -- including by my estimation about 5600* gay LDS teens -- look to you for spiritual and moral guidance, you sort of have a responsibility to not damage them.

When you elevate a few abstract principles, such as "God will not tempt you more than you can bear," or "the Church does not change its moral positions" above the experiences of those who struggle valiantly to be true to themselves and also to the Church, you cause them agony.  Because you have never had to try and deny some fundamental part of yourself to be a part of your faith, you assume that it must be easy.  The lack of empathy and imagination, coming from someone I myself once revered as a spiritual leader, is saddening (if not surprising).

There is hope on the horizon.  Young Latter-day Saints views on homosexuality are, if not exactly progressive, then at least nuanced.  I know a handful who are even accepting of the idea of gay marriage.  They see that those who want to commit their lives to each other should be allowed to do so, and that laws that separate people from those they care about most are inhumane.

So my message to the young LDS people, gay or straight, who listened to Packer's speech and found themselves concerned is this:  Despite Packer's claims, the Mormon Church changes.  Not quickly, not painlessly, not without struggle and courage.  But one day the leaders wake up and find the ground beneath their feet has moved.  They find that their membership expects that blacks will be granted the priesthood soon, that women no longer expect to submit to their husbands or sacrifice their careers for their children, that the survivalist mentality they brought across the plains has been replaced by more cosmopolitan aspirations, and that most of their members were actually relieved to set aside the practice of polygamy.

The Church has long been the master of changing its mind and then pretending that the new way is the way it was always intended to be.  Just ask any bishop being confronted with an angrily highlighted copy of the Journal of Discourses: sometimes, even across the pulpit, LDS leaders speak their own opinions, not those of God.

I believe -- no, I am convinced -- that what he said last week has nothing of the inspiration of God, and everything of the cranky griping of an old man who doesn't understand the world anymore, and therefore thinks it's all going to hell.  I'm also willing to bet that, before I see my 70th birthday, the Mormons will be sealing men to other men and women to other women "for time and all eternity," and the words of President Packer will be viewed as an odd relic of an earlier, more barbaric time in Church history.

Full transcript (stolen from here):

We raise an alarm and warn members of the Church to wake up and understand what’s going on. Parents be alert, ever watchful, that this wickedness might threaten your family circle. We teach a standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes and counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the Gospel must be wrong. In the Book of Mormon we learn that “wickedness never was happiness.” Some suppose that they were “pre-set” and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and the unnatural. Not so. Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Father.

Paul promised, “God will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” You can if you will, break the habits and conquer the addiction and come away from that which is not worthy of any member of the church. As Alma cautioned, we must “watch and pray continually.” Isaiah warned, “Wo unto them that call evil good and good evil, that put darkness for light and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

Years ago, I visited a school in Albuquerque. The teacher told me about a youngster who brought a kitten to class. As you can imagine, that disrupted everything. She had him hold up the kitten in front of the children. It went well until one of the children asked, “Is it a boy kitty or a girl kitty?” Not wanting to get into that lesson, the teacher said, “It doesn’t matter, it’s just a kitty.” But they persisted. Finally one boy raised his hand and said, “I know how you can tell.” Resigned to face it, the teacher said, “How can you tell?” And the student answered, “You can vote on it.”

You may laugh at the story. But, if we’re not alert, there are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change lives that would legalize immorality. As if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God’s laws of nature. A law against nature would be impossible to enforce. For instance, what good would the law against – a vote against – the law of gravity do?

There are both moral and physical laws irrevocably decreed in Heaven before the foundation of the world that cannot be changed. History demonstrates over and over again that moral standards cannot be changed by battle and cannot be changed by ballot. To legalize that which is basically wrong or evil will not prevent the pain and penalties that will follow as surely as night follows day.

Regardless of the opposition, we are determined to stay on course. We will hold to the principles and laws and ordinances of the Gospel. If they are misunderstood, either innocently or willfully, so be it. We cannot change, we will not change the moral standards. We quickly lose our way when we disobey the laws of God.

* Oh, fine. 14,000,000 Mormons, 20% activity rate, 10% of which are teens, and (lowballing it) 5% of those are gay, and 40% of those were watching Conference. The math is very rough.