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      Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone magazine has written a heartfelt and insightful appreciation of the life and music of Christine McVie, who died last Wednesday, November 30.Following, with added images and links, are excerpts from Sheffield’s tribute that particularly caught my attention.Christine McVie always came on like the grown-up in the room, which admit […]
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    • “Your Perception Is a Choice” December 5, 2022
      My friend Iggy is dedicated to facilitating mind and body transformation – within his own life and the lives of others who are similarly interested in holistic personal growth and change. To this end, Iggy’s professional/vocational life involves providing a range of services, including mindset mentoring, naprapathic massage, and personal training in boxing, […]
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A Catholic Right Double Standard — Koch Style

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, DC recently set off a firestorm by accepting a $1 million grant for its new School of Business and Economics from the Charles Koch Foundation.  Progressive minded organizations such as Faith in Public Life called on CUA to return the money, noting how Charles Koch’s extreme libertarianism is far out of step with Catholic social teaching on economics.

Many on the Catholic Right responded by slamming Faith in Public Life  for being funded in part by philanthropist George Soros, who they point out is an atheist. But if George Soros’ belief (or in his case, non-belief) is in play, why isn’t the same standard applied to Charles Koch?

Movement conservatives — especially those on the Religious Right, are often quick to point out that the famous philanthropist, George Soros, is an atheist. It is as if that automatically renders him evil or has anything much to do with his social and political views. Soros is not evangelical about his atheism. Indeed, he was active in supporting movements that brought down the Soviet Union’s Eastern European empire – which was founded upon an overt hostility toward religion. The goal of ending Soviet hegemony was one Soros shared with conservatives including the late Pope John Paul II. I suspect that there are reasons other than atheism why conservatives hate Soros (more on that later).

So when Faith in Public Life organized a protest letter signed by Catholic educators that eloquently pointed out the hypocrisy of the Catholic University of America taking money from the Charles Koch Foundation, supporters of the new School of Business and Economics immediately changed the subject to the atheism of George Soros.

Consider this Bill Donohue excerpt from a December 18, 2013 Catholic League press release:

George Soros is an atheist billionaire who is no friend of the Catholic community. In fact, he funds causes that the Catholic Church works hard to oppose: abortion, euthanasia, drug legalization, and many other radical initiatives.

Those who signed the letter against Catholic University of America are the ones who need to explain why they would align themselves with the likes of George Soros. And if they like what he funds, they should have the guts to say so.

Another conservative web site, The Blaze, was more direct, asking in its title story, “Why Is Atheist George Soros Giving Money to a Faith Group?”. And as if to top himself, in a letter to the website LifeNews, Donohue described Faith in Public Life as an organization “…that lives off the bounty of the left-wing atheist billionaire, Mr. Soros.”

But if the Catholic Right is going to use George Soros’ atheism – as well as some of the causes he funds — as the barometer of his morality then the very same standard needs to be applied to another politically active billionaire, Charles Koch.

A thorough search of Charles Koch fails to turn up anything clear about his religious beliefs. Indeed, there is no record of a religious affiliation or of him publicly discussing faith at all. For all we know, he too may be an atheist. More importantly, like Soros, his religious views do not necessarily determine his overall morality. And yet a double standard is in play.

Let’s begin with Bill Donohue’s complaint that Soros funds causes “the Catholic Church works hard to oppose,” such as drug legalization. A simple Google search reveals that when it comes to drug legalization Charles Koch and George Soros appear be on the same page. When it comes to same-sex marriage – vehemently opposed by the Catholic Right — the Koch-funded Cato Institute has openly supported the idea. (Charles Koch was a founder of Cato).

And yet there is not a peep of protest from Donohue or LifeNews; there is no one on the Right calling into question Koch’s religious beliefs, let alone his inconsistencies with conservative Catholic dogma.

But when it comes to business and economics it is clear that Soros is the one more in line with Catholic social teaching. Indeed, his views overlap with those of Pope Francis more than those of Andrew Abela, the dean of the CUA business school.  Abela has ties to the very libertarian Acton Institute think tank. He is also a member of the Thomas Monaghan founded Legatus, an organization whose membership is limited to very conservative Catholic chief executives. It should be noted that Legatus lists five “non-negotiables” for voters; opposition to marriage equality was one of the five listed items.

So why is it that movement conservatives so dislike George Soros? I suspect it has less to do with religion and more with economics.

Soros is a proponent of regulating financial markets.  He is also a Keynesian who has made lots of money using the British economist’s theories. His concept of Reflexivity draws much from Keynes’s  belief that financial markets often act more irrationally than rationally.  This is heresy to libertarians like Charles Koch and his acolytes.

It is libertarian gospel that markets are rational and efficient and that regulation is counterproductive. They devoutly believe this in spite of the fact that science is proving them wrong and Keynes (and by extension, Soros) was correct. Soros is living proof against their claim that Keynesian capitalism does not work. That, in their view makes him a traitor to his class.

I have long contended that what truly concerns many in the Catholic Right is not religious morality, per se. Instead, inconsistencies such as I have described above points in a different direction: how their own faith can be bent to better serve the laissez-faire principles of economics that lead to inequality.

Indeed, all of the noise about George Soros is really just a distraction.

Soros does not require his grantees to be or to become atheists. Nor is there any evidence that the good people from a variety of religious traditions who work at Faith in Public Life (including Catholics) would have accepted the funds if they came with that string attached.  I’m sure the same is true of the recipients of grants from Charles Koch.  

What is important here is that Faith in Public Life is encouraging the broad tradition of Catholic social teaching on economics that Charles Koch and apparently the business school at CUA oppose.  If Donohue were a consistent defender of the Church he would join with Soros and Faith in Public Life, not denounce them.

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Catholic Right Rushes to Defend the Ayn Rand Federal Budget Plan

The GOP has been taking a beating of late over their budget plan to effectively end Medicare as we know it.  But Catholic Right operatives Deal Hudson and Robert Sirico quickly mobilized to provide some holy help.

For his part, Deal Hudson delegated the task to Grace-Marie Turner, president of the conservative Galen Institute, to pen a defense of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budgetary intentions at his new site, Catholic Advocate. Turner insisted that “Medicare Must Be Changed to Survive,” but nevertheless tried to downplay a key feature of the proposed change:  the use of vouchers in Ryan’s plan:

Ryan says that the outcry against his reform plan is “not just overheated – it is flat-out false.  Our budget – ‘The Path to Prosperity’ – strengthens the safety net by directing more assistance to those who need it most… Most important, it prevents the kind of debt-fueled economic crisis that would hit the poor the hardest.”

Under his plan, beginning in 2022, beneficiaries are guaranteed a choice among Medicare-approved private health options in a program like members of Congress have today and that one fourth of Medicare beneficiaries have voluntarily chosen – Medicare Advantage.

But Turner omits a critical difference between Ryan’s plan and the current Medicare format: Medicare Parts A and B, the standard government direct payment system, still now exists for those who don’t find a suitable private option.  Ryan and his defenders don’t tell us if they believe those private options will as generous if there is no government competition and less regulation.

This past April the Democracy in America column in The Economist magazine addressed the matter of vouchers.

But there is one thing about it that’s fairly clear, regardless of what’s in the details Mr Ryan will announce today:  Mr. Ryan’s plan ends the guarantee that all American seniors will have health insurance.  The Medicare system we’ve had in place for the past 45 years promises that once you reach 65, you will be covered by a government-financed health-insurance plan.  Mr. Ryan’s plan promises that once you reach 65, you will receive a voucher for an amount that he thinks ought to be enough for individuals to purchase a private health-insurance plan.  (Mr. Ryan insists that his plan doesn’t entail a “voucher”, but there is no meaningful distinction between getting a voucher with which to pay for insurance, and having the government send a payment to the insurer you choose.)  If that voucher isn’t worth enough for some particular senior to buy insurance, and that particular senior isn’t wealthy enough to top off the coverage, or is a bit forgetful and neglects to purchase insurance, there’s no guarantee that that person will be insured. It’s up to you; you carry the risk.

Mr. Ryan thinks this is a good thing, because individuals who are responsible for paying for their own health insurance will be strongly motivated to seek better insurance at a lower price.  I think this is a terrible thing, because the mechanism Mr. Ryan is using to incentivize people to seek better coverage for the price is to expose them to the risk that they will suffer from disease for which their insurance doesn’t cover them.

Soon afterward, Rev. Robert Sirico of the economically libertarian Acton Institute sought to rehabilitate Ryan’s dubious arbiter of capitalist morality, Ayn Rand.

In an essay titled Who Really Was John Galt, Anyway?, Sirico tried to take some of the controversy out of the Ryan’s praise of Rand by attempting to place her within the Catholic tradition she despised.  He claimed that Rand “saw herself operating within the Natural Law Tradition” and had a “…hunger for truth.”

But just when you think Sirico’s argument couldn’t get any thinner, he claims Ryan is a victim of a smear campaign “reminiscent of McCarthyism.”

But it is unwise and unnecessary to merely dismiss out of hand Rand’s ideas or the impact of her writings.  It is especially off-putting to see the left employ images of her to tar and feather political opponents in a dishonest way very much reminiscent of the McCarthyism they so frequently denounce.  They do not argue with Mr. Ryan-for their own ulterior motives, they merely associate him with an admittedly flawed and mean woman, and think they have done society a service.

Of course this is a strawman argument.  Ryan was not associated with Rand and no one has said he was.  Rather Ryan himself has said that he agreed with her ideas, in particular her “morality.”  That’s why Catholic writer Sean Michael Winters was spot-on when he tagged  Ryan’s plan as an “Ayn Rand Budget.”

To try to present the Ryan budget as conforming to Catholic Social teaching by misrepresenting the budget’s contents and selecting a few quotes from a single papal encyclical just doesn’t pass our test.

Perhaps what is most disturbing for us faith leaders is the cynical way in which those who have created this budget, and those who have come to town today to endorse it are trying to wrap it in the language of faith.  This is no faith-based budget.  This is the Ayn Rand budget. Let’s call it what it is.  We have been watching conservative political leaders, and pundits all touting their love for Ayn Rand over the past year.  This budget is completely faithful to her ethical vision, and what is that:

Ayn Rand says:  “I don’t approve of religion.”

Ayn Rand says:  “I have no faith at all.”

Ayn Rand says:  “I am against God.”

Ayn Rand says:   “Love only those who deserve it.”

Ayn Rand says:   “There is no reason I should be my brother’s keeper.”

Ayn Rand says:   “I promote an ethic of selfishness.”

But it is important to underscore that the Ryan budget is contrary to Catholic teaching not because Ayn Rand was an atheist. If anything, Rand’s virulent strain of neo-atheism also denigrates the character of most non-believers.  Ryan is out-of-step with Magisterium because Rand’s philosophy is unjust. For all Rand’s supposed reliance in Aristotelian ethics, she conveniently ignores his teachings on distributive justice.

Randian morality relies upon a belief that “creators” who pursue money are the only people who pursue excellence. It excludes the likes of  Jonas Salk, Mohandas Gandhi and Vince Lombardi — all of whom pursued excellence in ways that were not primarily focused upon making a buck.  Replacing the cross with the dollar sign, Rand’s definition of love is limited to the self, and forsakes any notion of common effort let alone the common good.

This is why Paul Ryan’s budget plan is at odds with Catholic principles: He too has replaced the cross with the dollar sign.