Republicans Prove Love of Jesus By Harming Poor

The Satanic Children's Big Book of ActivitiesWell, it seems that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is determined to protect “religious liberty.” Steve Benen reported that the great culture warrior has declared to school superintendents that he will not stand for them interfering with students’ “religious liberty.” And by “students” he means outsiders coming in and by “religious liberty” he means the ability of those outsiders to distribute Bibles. I’m sure he would be horrified if outsiders came in distributing the Quran or The Tibetan Book of the Dead or The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities (pdf). As Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Andrew Seidel noted, “Open forums are meant to privilege the religious majority.” Pruitt — in addition to pandering to his socially conservative base so he can help the fossil fuel industry — is only interested in pushing Christianity.

But just think about what a truly open discussion of religions would do in a country that is three-quarters Christian. You see, I know a little bit about different religions. And one of the conclusions that I’ve drawn is that they really aren’t all that different. That’s certainly true of the Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The recent Pew Research report on religion found that 78.4% of Americans were Christian, 1.7% were Jewish, and 0.6% were Muslim. So all else being equal — without rigging the contest with early childhood indoctrination — Christianity would lose a lot of followers and Judaism and Islam would gain a lot. This says nothing of Buddhism, which is objectively a less horrible religion. And let’s not forget America’s fasting growing faith, “Nothing in Particular”! (Really: currently at 12.1% and growing.)

As Benen noted, we have seen this all before. Pruitt may think that the US Constitution gives people the right to pass out Bibles at public schools, but that’s only true if other faiths are able to do it too. And you can bet that the Satanic Temple is going to be there passing out its literature. And the truth is that people like Pruitt are terrified of a fair fight. So if it is a question of allowing all faiths or no faiths to compete for the market of young minds, they will choose no faiths. Christianity is a musty old faith that even Pastor Carl Lentz can’t make cool. I don’t care how many Jehovah’s Witness artists render the Bible in pleasant colors, it’s still guys living in big fish, guys building big boats, and guys getting seduced by their their horny daughters. Oh, and the bearded one wandering around Palestine, supposedly able to do magic tricks, but never once doing a really cool one like making an elephant disappear.

I explained what’s going to happen just two months ago, School Board Not Open to Real Religious Debate. But what Scott Pruitt is doing has a long history — and not just in terms of these ridiculous stunts of trying to turn Christianity into an official state religion by arguing for “religious liberty.” What’s he is doing is making a symbolic point that in the end will only fail and cost his constituents money. I discussed this yesterday with regard to a totally different issue, Obamacare Hatred Is Destroying Red States. Yes, I’m sure that Oklahoma generally and the Oklahoma public schools specifically need all the money they’ve got, but what is that compared to Pruitt getting to beat his chest and pretend to be defender of religious liberty? Anyway, we all know who elected this corrupt and evil man.

Meanwhile, Benen reported that Tennessee narrowly stopped a new law that would have made the Bible the official state book. But of course, that isn’t about religion. They just think it’s a hell of a read! Of course, doing that would be the same kind of unconstitutional symbolic act that would only result in the state spending millions of dollars defending the law in court. This seems to be all that Republicans are cable of doing anymore. Is it possible we could just make a deal? We liberals will all agree that those Republicans really, really hate Obama and everything he stands for. And we will also agree that those Republicans think that Christianity is the One True Faith™. And in return, those Republicans would never again make totally stupid symbolic gestures that hurt their own constituents. But I know that will never happen. Costing yourself $37 billion each year is the only way that people will really, really know that you really, really hate Obama. And losing really, really costly really, really stupid lawsuits is the only way that people will know that you really, really love Jesus. And if it hurts the poor, so much the better! We all know Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. And that news is: no more food stamps or public education!”

Apology for Portrayal of Politicians

Monty Python's Flying Circus - DVD 10We would like to apologize for the way in which politicians are represented in this program. It was never our intention to imply that politicians are weak-kneed political time-servers who are concerned more with their personal vendettas and private power struggles than the problems of government, nor to suggest at any point that they sacrifice their credibility by denying free debate on vital matters in the mistaken impression that party unity comes before the well-being of the people they supposedly represent, nor to imply at any stage that they are squabbling little toadies without an ounce of concern for the vital social problems of today. Nor indeed do we intend viewers should consider them as crabby ulcerous little self seeking vermin with furry legs and an excessive addiction to alcohol and certain explicit sexual practices which some people might find offensive.

We are sorry if this impression has come across.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus
The War Against Pornography

Not All Republicans Want to Bomb Iran

Iran Nuclear Deal

War with Iran? You fly over, drop a few hundred bombs, problem solved. Am I right?! That’s worked out so well for us in the past, why wouldn’t it work well now? Lots of reasons, actually — as I will get to in a moment. But Tom Cotton thinks that a bombing campaign against Iran would take only “several days.” Ted Cruz begs to differ. According to him, it might take a whole week. But John Bolton is on board. He says that Cotton is “exactly right.” You see, as military historian and geopolitical expert Mike Huckabee said, this nuclear deal with Iran would “put the whole world in a very, very dangerous place.” Yes, negotiated deals make the world dangerous. Starting World War III just makes us safe.

Wait a minute! Who said anything about World War III? These guys just told us that it would be nothing but sending in aircraft to drop some bombs. Clean and simple. Over and out. And we know from experience that such rosy predictions always turn out great. Remember all the rose petals that our troops were greeted with? Remember how right Dick Cheney was when he said, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators”? Remember when he said the same thing that Tom Cotton and company are saying now, “I think it will go relatively quickly. Weeks rather than months”? How could anything go wrong this time?

We all know about white privilege. What we have here is America privilege. It is the delusion that America can do whatever it wants and no one will do anything about it. The idea that Iran would counter-attack just doesn’t occur to them. They don’t imagine that both Russia and China might be drawn in to defend Iran. Think that’s reaching? Consider this: Iran has already agreed on a negotiation framework that all the world is thrilled with except the American and Israeli right. So an attack on Iran would not be seen as an act of protection. It would be seen as what it would be: an act of aggression — and a worse one than the invasion of Iraq.

The National Interest has been writing a lot of good stuff about a potential attack on Iran. This is not some liberal rag. It focuses on realism — think Machiavelli — in international relations. It was founded by neoconservative Irving Kristol. The main thing is that it is not naive and it is not stupid. Last month, I discussed an article by Robert Farley, We Need to Think Before Bombing Iran. His major point was that we simply aren’t going to be able to bomb away Iran’s nuclear program. My point was that the unintended consequences were great.

Back in 2013 (and republished late last year, for obvious reasons), Geoffrey Kemp and John Allen Gay wrote, The High Cost of War With Iran. They brought up one point that has an interesting irony. One of the big claims about Iran is that it is the “biggest supporter of terrorism in the world.” Well, in the event of an American attack, Iran could step that up. As they noted, “[T]his will create uncertainty for any attacker—too violent to be peace, but not fully war. This state of affairs will put Iran on a more level footing with the United States…” Oh, and the massive America air campaign would only knock out the big parts of the nuclear program that we know about. And this would — Quelle surprise! — require further bombing campaigns in the future. Eventually, there would have to be a diplomatic solution — the kind of thing we are on the verge of now and that the hardliners in the US and Israel will never accept.

The authors also talk about how there is no actual evidence that Iran has a weapons program and getting a weapon wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. They would use it the way all other countries do: as a deterrent; they wouldn’t give it to terrorists (the idea that they would has always been ridiculous). But the meat of the article is how even a minor and short war with Iran would have enormous economic costs, “A $10 increase in the price per barrel of oil would take a billion dollars from American consumers in about five days.” For a Republican Party determined to cut food stamps, you would think they would care about such a major threat to the economy. What’s more, the hit to the Middle East oil supply would help out two other hated regimes of the conservatives: Russia and Venezuela. No mention is made of this, but that would provide Russia with all the more incentive to help out Iran in a war with the United States.

But these are just what military experts — backed up by actual military leaders — think. Despite what they say, people like Cotton and Cruz and Bolton and Huckabee don’t care about what the actual military says — unless it agrees with what they already want to do. But there are some conservatives who are being more reasonable. Shockingly, Bobby Jindal was more reasonable — claiming that he would want to hear from the military as to just how fast we could take down Iran. I don’t give him too much credit, because (1) he should already know; and (2) I’m sure he will change his position once he hears that the military isn’t keen on the strategy.

Carly Fiorina and John Kasich were both pretty gloomy on the prospect — more proof that they will never get the Republican nomination for president. The most sensible thing was said by Lindsey Graham, “I think a military attack on Iran opens up pandora’s box. You’ve got to assume the worst, not the best.” Is it possible?! Can a Republican actually learn? Well add Graham’s name to the list of Republican presidential nominees who are not serious. Of course, even the best of the Republicans just want to do nothing: no negotiations but no bombing. That’s a very bad solution. It only looks good compared to what most Republicans want.

Economics Doesn’t Build Like a Science

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman wrote about some research by the IMF that he finds very exciting, Crowding In and the Paradox of Thrift. What the research shows is that since the bursting of the housing bubble and the subsequent financial crisis, government borrowing has not “crowed out” private sector investment. In fact, it is just the opposite. When governments cut their spending, so did businesses. This does not come as a surprise to me, and despite Krugman’s excitement, it certainly doesn’t come as a surprise to him. This is, after all, exactly what Keynes showed was happening in the economy eighty years ago.

This is why economics isn’t a science — or at least a very good science. There is a major part of the field that seems to think that Keynes was proven wrong by Friedman and Lucas and all the rest. Apparently, that’s how they think science works. Someone has a theory that seems to work and then something goes wrong and shows the theory doesn’t work. So a whole new theory is developed and the old one is just discarded. This is not, not, not how science works. Let me try to explain with the help of the ideal gas law.

If you’ve ever taken a chemistry course, you’ve been introduced to the ideal gas law: PV = nRT. Put in more or less English: the pressure times the volume of a gas is equal to the total number of atoms times a constant times the temperature. This is only a theoretical law that applies to a perfect gas that doesn’t exist in the real world. But it still works remarkably well for real gases as long as the system isn’t changed too quickly. Regardless, if you’ve learned about the ideal gas law, you were doubtless first taught about Boyle’s law, which says that pressure times volume is a constant — that as volume increases, pressure decreases. And you were also taught about Charles’ law, which says that volume divided by temperature is a constant — that as temperature increases, so does volume.

When I was learning this stuff, I thought Boyle’s law and Charles’ law were stupid. They we built into the ideal gas law. Who needed them? Well, we need them because we need to understand how science works. Boyle’s law was discovered by Richard Towneley and Henry Power in 1661. Charles’ law was discovered in 1802 by Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac. The ideal gas law was first formalized in 1834 by Émile Clapeyron. The ideal gas law incorporates the two earlier laws. If you use the ideal gas law and hold temperature constant, you get Boyle’s law. If you use the ideal gas law and hold the volume constant, you get Charles’ law. If you did not, then the ideal gas law would be wrong.

Similarly, quantum mechanics and relativity reduce to classical mechanics under normal conditions. Statistical mechanics reduces to thermodynamics on the macro scale. This second example is particularly relevant to economics because the idea of microfoundations is so important to the field. But did the models with their microfoundations reduce to a regular old Keynesian model when a clear demand shock hit the economy? Well, some did. But if the field as a whole isn’t able to dismiss theories that don’t duplicate previous — correct but incomplete — models, what is the field doing? The real business cycle models seem to have been designed to explain the oil shocks of the 1970s. Good for them! But if a field comes up with a radical new theory for every new bit of data, it isn’t doing science.

So we find ourselves in an economic situation that Keynes would have found very familiar. Yet even a true Keynesian like Paul Krugman has to continue to go around and push research that shows what all the economic models should show. The economy is not performing up to its potential. There is already too much savings for the amount of investment that people want to do. If the government cuts spending, all it will do is reduce demand in the economy. This isn’t hard — I know because even I understand it. But a good part of the economics profession wants to discount this for ideological reasons. This isn’t science. I would call it theology, but that would be an insult to theologians who mostly do a better job than economists.

Morning Music: Aimee Mann

The Forgotten ArmI did not like the first ‘Til Tuesday (or Aimee Mann) album. I still think it is amazingly weak and have no idea why it managed to be their only album that took off. It was their second album, Welcome Home, that grabbed my attention. I first noticed “What About Love” and thought it was really good. But then I heard the title track and I knew that this was a really great pop band. I still remember a great — really long — line from the chorus of the song, “But anything I could have said I felt somehow that you already knew.” You don’t much hear that kind of profundity in pop music. I love the idea of a dying relationship where you want to say so much but you know it is pointless. Basically, you’d just be saying, “Love me!”

On that album was a song that I especially liked, “David Denies.” It is a woman not listening to the advice offered in “Welcome Home.” She is in a relationship with a man who is on the verge of going back to the woman who dumped him. One thing that is true of most songwriters is that they will rework the same notion in different songs. This is what Mann has done with a number of themes. And that is what she did with the “you are going back to that bitch who dumped you” theme in “David Denies.” Here is one version of it off her 2005 solo album, The Forgotten Arm, “She Really Wants You.” I don’t like it nearly as much, but it is still a fine song. Here she is performing it on Late Show With David Letterman:

Anniversary Post: Humanum genus

Pope Leo XIIIOn this day in 1884, Pope Leo XIII released the papal encyclical, Humanum genus. Oh, that Catholic Church! It is always angry about something. And at that time, it was angry about, well, democracy. Or more precisely, it was not keen on popular sovereignty — the idea that government has the right to rule because of a mandate by the people and not because God decided it. Or as Dennis puts it Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!” Pope Leo begged to differ.

It also isn’t keen on separation of church and state. So basically, the whole damned thing was very un-American. The funny thing is that now a good 35% of the country — almost exclusively protestants — would totally agree with Leo the Pope. Among conservatives, democracy itself is out of favor. And most of these ninnies think the Constitution itself — you know, that document that rather pointedly doesn’t mention God — is divinely inspired. I really do wonder what kind of American history these people learned. Or is it just anything to justify getting what they want?

Anyway, back to the Humanum Genus, most of it was presented as an attack on the Freemasons. That makes sense, because they were a secular force. And they were of what is fast becoming my favorite American religious group: those who just don’t care enough to have much of an opinion about God. They are much more sensible than atheists like me who spend a lot of time on it. I mean, I would save a lot of time if I just became a Catholic and went to Mass each Sunday.

The Pope was also concerned about public education. Basically, the Pope was concerned that the people would be self-reliant and not dependent upon the hierarchy that God himself set up. In other words, Pope Leo was the same as the power elite at any time: he was just complaining about trends that were threatening his power. I think people should give Pope Francis a little slack in that regard. But it’s a different time. At least in America, it isn’t the pope who is oppressing us. It is the corporate state. And just like the many Catholics in 1884 who loved the oppression of Humanum genus, so there are many today who love their modern subsistence wage economy.

Happy anniversary Humanum genus!