Monday, December 18, 2017

Dimwitted Trump Nominee Withdraws Nomination After Being Shamed By His Own Idiocy

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Dimwitted Trump Nominee Withdraws Nomination After Being Shamed By His Own Idiocy

"The Final Version of the G.O.P. Tax Bill Is a Corrupt, Cruel, Budget-Busting Hairball" New Yorker

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The Final Version of the G.O.P. Tax Bill Is a Corrupt, Cruel, Budget-Busting Hairball
The New Yorker

"The Final Version of the G.O.P. Tax Bill Is a Corrupt, Cruel, Budget-Busting Hairball" 

Grant the Republican Party leaders one thing: their tactics in passing their hugely unpopular tax bill have been consistent—consistently evasive. A few weeks ago, the Senate version of the bill was passed in the middle of the night. This weekend, the final iteration of the legislation was made public on Friday evening—a traditional dumping ground for bad news. The Republicans intend to hold votes on the bill early next week in both houses of Congress, and it seems certain to pass.

It is hardly surprising that Republicans don’t want to give anyone too much time to look closely at their latest handiwork. The final tax bill is the product of a conference committee that was tasked with reconciling the different bills passed in the House and the Senate. Almost eleven hundred pages long, the final bill is just as regressive and fiscally irresponsible as either of the two earlier bills, and it is arguably more so. At its center is a huge tax cut for corporations and unincorporated business partnerships—such as the ones that Donald Trump owns—while arrayed around the edges are all sorts of carve-outs and giveaways to favored industries and interest groups.

For individual households, the bill contains some tax cuts and expanded family credits. But these provisions are temporary, and they are also partially offset by changes to the rules about deductions. Because the deduction for state and local taxes will be limited to ten thousand dollars a year, for instance, some upper-middle-class households in states like California and New York could end up paying more to the federal government.

Nowhere to be found in the bill are three elements that House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and their colleagues originally promised to deliver when they urged the American public to embrace tax reform: revenue neutrality, simplicity, and fairness. The final bill is a corrupt, budget-busting hairball.
According to its authors, the bill will increase the budget deficit by about $1.5 trillion over ten years. That’s a lot of money, obviously, but it’s an underestimate. If you adjust the numbers for a series of accounting gimmicks, such as expiration provisions that are unlikely to go into effect, the real cost seems likely to come out at more than two trillion dollars.

To insure that the final bill would have enough votes in both chambers, the conference committee larded the bill with various additional handouts. They reduced the top rate of income tax to thirty-seven per cent, compared to 38.5 per cent in the Senate bill. 
(Currently, the effective top rate is close to forty-one per cent.) And they did a big favor to large businesses by getting rid of the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax, which many of them could have ended up paying because their tax rates under the new system will be so low.

The principle of simplifying the tax code met the same fate as the principle of fiscal responsibility: it was jettisoned. Originally, the White House proposed reducing the number of tax brackets from seven to three. The final bill contains seven brackets: ten per cent, twelve per cent, twenty-two per cent, twenty-four per cent, thirty-two per cent, thirty-five per cent, and thirty-seven per cent. On the business side, the revised treatment of pass-through income is so complicated that most tax experts don’t yet fully understand it. One thing we doknow is that it will create big incentives for highly paid employees to turn themselves into independent contractors or L.L.C.s, which qualify for the new low business tax rates.

As for fairness, that principle was junked a long time ago. The final bill reflects the same principle as the previous two G.O.P. bills: Dom Perignon for the plutocrats, cheap swill for the masses. The bill is also cruel. In abolishing the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to purchase health insurance, it will make individual plans even more costly and more difficult to obtain, especially for sick people. This isn’t just a tax bill. It is a backdoor effort to overturn the principle of universal access to health care.

As reporters went through the bill on Friday evening, they discovered various quirks, giveaways, and clawbacks, which appeared to reflect last-minute lobbying and rushed rewriting. Businesses owned by trusts were given a break, and so were architectural and engineering firms. On the personal side, the bill was found to contain a substantial marriage penalty: the maximum deduction of ten thousand dollars for state and local taxes is the same for individual filers and couples. That’s bad news for people who are wed—though the blow will be cushioned for those married couples who own sports franchises. 

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday night that the bill “preserves the ability to use tax-exempt bonds for professional sports stadium bonds—a priority for Mr. Trump, a GOP aide said.”
Another provision, which wasn’t in the House or Senate bills, allows real-estate developers who own buildings through L.L.C.s, as Trump does, to deduct twenty per cent of the income that these properties generate. To qualify for the break, the properties have to be newish ones that haven’t been fully depreciated. “This helps people who have held property for a while, like Donald Trump,” David Kamin, a law professor at New York University, told David Sirota and Josh Keefe, of the International Business Times.

Another beneficiary of this provision may well be Senator Bob Corker, of Tennessee, who is also a real-estate investor. Corker had been the only Republican to vote against the Senate version of the tax bill, but on Friday he announced that he’d changed his mind, and that “after great thought and consideration, I believe this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss.” Corker didn’t mention his personal interests, but Sirota and Keefe did. “Federal records reviewed by IBT show that Corker has millions of dollars of ownership stakes in real-estate-related LLCs that could also benefit” from the final bill, they reported.

Magic Mushrooms

"Universal Resurrection," Franciscan Father Richard Rohr

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Alan: As a child in the 1950s, the Mercy Sisters at St. Thomas the Apostle grammar school in Irondequoit, New York were clear: "The church does not teach that any human soul resides in Hell. In fact, we must pray for the salvation of everyone, even Hitler." 

Universal Resurrection
Monday, December 18, 2017

For Christians, Jesus Christ is the ultimate symbol of the universal pattern of union with the divine“When Christ is revealed, and he is your life, you will be revealed in all your glory with him” (Colossians 3:4). God’s clear goal and direction for humanity is mutual indwelling, where “the mystery is Christ within you, your hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Henceforth we know our true and lasting life in the new “force field” that Paul calls the Body of Christ, not in any individual or private perfection. If it is private, then it is not perfection. We live no longer, but Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20). This is a knowing so grand that only the Whole Body can fully experience it. We simply participate.
After his resurrection, Jesus tells the disciples, “I am not a ghost! I have flesh and bones, as you can see” (Luke 24:39). To Thomas, Jesus says, “Put your finger in my wounds!” (John 20:27). In other words, “I am human!”—which means to be wounded and yet resurrected at the same time. Jesus returns to his physical body unlimited by space or time, without any regret or recrimination. This is the utterly counterintuitive message of the Risen Jesus.
Jesus reveals the purpose and fullness of humanity, which is “that we are able to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), even in this wounded and wounding world. Through our “divine adoption,” we share in Jesus’ inheritance as “heirs of the same promise” (Galatians 3:29). Our code word for that is heaven. As Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions, and I have gone ahead to prepare a place for you. . . . I shall return to take you with me so that you may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
I do believe in the “bodily” resurrection of Jesus or my basic premise of body and spirit being one (incarnation) does not stand! I am quite traditional and orthodox here. Resurrection does not only mean an eternal reward in the future. “As now, so later!” Resurrection is the Incarnation taken to its full and logical conclusion. What we choose now, we will indeed be. It is our own decision (which is why almost all the world religions posit some idea called “hell”). We must protect the idea of human freedom, because love can only exist in the realm of freedom. God wants love partners, not robots or clients.
Alan: Human freedom is a useful (and perhaps "necessary") fiction. 

But it is also a "conditioned reality." 
Perhaps the most surprising outcome of Trump's election is proof that people -- particularly "good Christians" -- can be conditioned to believe anything, and with each step deeper into perdition these "good people" are not motivated by a conscious choice to embrace evil but a conviction -- often a conviction arising from their fundamental religious beliefs -- that Trump is, in fact, their personal savior and the savior of the nation. 

We are all stuck where we are stuck. 

And "coming unstuck" is a slow, tedious, painful process. 
"Free Will" is nowhere near as free as orthodox Christian theology holds. 
The nearly universal obsessions-and-compulsions that compromise "Free Will" are real and they afflict us all.

They even afflict -- I will say "particularly afflict" -- "the most orthodox," people who are obsessively compelled to defend "Free Will" and other canonized orthodoxies that do not "hold up" without psycho-spiritual contortionism and intellectual arabesques that put Harrison Bergeron to shame. 

I encourage you to observe the following set of mental calesthenics required by Pope Innocent III's conciliar pronouncement anathematizing the use of bows and arrows. 

More fundamentally, if "good Christians" can rationalize the election of Donald Trump, they (we?) can rationalize any god-damned thing.

For brevity's sake, I will not probe individual human beings' "genetic pre-predisposition to evil" as manifest in psychopaths time-out-of-mind, a fact that is coming-to-light only now as a result of modern psychological research which is one reason why many "orthodox" Christians spurn science. 

The strange case of Phineas Gage is also telling. 

Shades Of Phineas Gage: Brazilian Worker Survives Iron Bar Piercing Skull

The "absolutism" of "the orthodox" cannot admit the contradiction of traditional beliefs. For if they did, their "existential crisis" as "true believers" would not only require surrender of literal/absulutist "truth" but would eliminate the comfort absolutism affords. 

Here is the bargain Christian traditionalists make: "If I play by the rules, if I sign off on the WHOLE dogmatic package, my "personal salvation" is assured. 

For most people -- particularly those who believe that eternal torment is a real possibiity -- self-interested "salvation assurance" is Life's prime directive. It is not love. Not service. Not mercy, compassion or forgiveness. Not even the words Jesus speaks in the four canonical gospels.

What matters most is that "I" can rest assured that I've been spared "The Lake of Unquenchable Fire.

This central fixation on one's own salvation is an extremely subtle form of egotism. Such ferocious self-interest trumps Truth by clinging to tradition, not only for tradition's sake but because tradition provides the continuity-of-teaching that "proves them right" and thus insures their personal salvation.

Jesus Rails Against Human Traditions Of "Our Great Leaders Who Lived Long Ago" 

Pope Francis: There Are Two Ways Of Having Faith: We Can Fear To Lose The Saved," Or...

In defense of Free Will -- conditioned as it is -- recall Robert Browning's act of faith in core fiction: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for?" 

Faith is essential to human wellbeing, even when it requires belief in falsehood. 
I hasten to add that if "essential falsehood" does not work toward "universal salvation," the result of radically self-interested fiction tends toward cruelty-in-individuals and submission-to-autocrats in The Body Politic

"The Hard, Central Truth Of Contemporary Conservatism"

Often, Stinginess And Cruelty Are Christianity's Paradoxical Effects

Finally, it is crucial to be conscious of our necessary fictions while embracing them as mythic means to real ends. 
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Heaven is first of all now and therefore surely later. If God loves and accepts us now in our broken state, why would the divine policy change after our death? It is the same God and we are the same humans. For many of the early Eastern Fathers of the Church and for the mystics, salvation was not a question of if but when. How soon are you ready to allow God to show infinite love to you? Many do seem to wait until the very end. Some of the Church Fathers said that once we see the Infinite Mercy, we wouldn’t be able to resist it. (That is what Catholics actually meant by our strangely formulated belief in purgatory.)
Universal restoration or apokatastasis (see Acts 3:21) was recognized by many in the Eastern Church, but Western Christianity, both Roman and Protestant, paid little attention. We interpreted the New Testament largely in terms of individual and private salvation, which is hardly salvation. Only a very, very few win by our stingy criteria. We still wait for “the new heaven and the new earth” promised by Isaiah (65:17) and again at the very end of the Bible (Revelation 21:1).

"Christian Conservatism: "The Saved," "The Damned," "The Rich," "The Poor"


Gateway to Silence:
Going home to Love


Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 85-86; and
Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2007), 212.

Everyone Has Figured Out How Susceptible Trump Is To Flattery, Except Trump

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Everyone Has Figured Out How Susceptible Trump Is To Flattery, Except Trump

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"The Ten Best Ads Of 2017." (Don't Miss "The Talk.")

Great Graphic: The World's 8 Richest People Own As Much As Humanity's Lowest Half

Visualizing A Disturbing Truth: The World's 8 Richest People Own As Much As The World's Underbelly 3.6 Billion People

"Plutocracy Triumphant"
Cartoon Compendium

Compendium Of Best Pax Posts: Plutocracy, Economic Inequality & Collapse Of Conservatism

"Politics And Economics: The 101 Courses You Wish You Had"

Pope Francis: Quotations On Finance, Economics, Capitalism And Inequality

Teddy Roosevelt: "Malefactors Of Great Wealth... Are Curses To The Country"

Why Are Americans So Poorly Paid. This One Chart Will Even Shame The 1%

Inequality: Joseph Stiglitz Brilliant Reflection On Obama's State Of The Union Address

"Of The 1%, By The 1%, For The 1%,"
Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz

It's Not About Income. "It's About Net Worth, Stupid!"

American Plutocracy: Who's Punished And Who's Not

G.K. Chesterton: "The Anarchy of The Rich"
G.K. Chesterton and Warren Buffett's Class War