Letter to The Editor: CPC Funding

Another one of my letters has been picked up the fantastic local N&0:

http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article158801149.html

What follows is the original, unedited version.


It is with great sadness I write in response to “Anti-abortion groups get big boost in state budget” from June 24th. While the battle over the future of healthcare has been raging on at all levels of government, it is of great concern to see constitutional protected access to healthcare undermined by a state legislature so extreme as to be elected only with unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps.

The details of this manuever – funding dubious organizations that fashion themselves “pregnancy resource centers” and have been consistently found to lie and deceive women to deprive them of medically honest guidance^123 – are beside the point. What matters is who extreme it is. Only 3 in 10 Americans believe abortion should be illegal in all cases^4. And I can’t but believe still fewer feel women navigating pregnancy should be endangered by medical misinformation campaigns, much less at the expense of the tax payer.

This is not us.

Personally, as a Catholic and American I believe in a responsibility to care for one another. Funding for healthcare is one of the best ways to do that. But this – pillaging healthcare to fund, well, quite the opposite – is disappointing, but more importantly, dangerous.

===

1. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2010/08/07/deception_used_in_counselling_women_against_abortion.html

2. http://www.contraceptionjournal.org/article/S0010-7824(12)00415-5/fulltext

3. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/13625187.2011.570883?journalCode=iejc20

4. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/03/about-seven-in-ten-americans-oppose-overturning-roe-v-wade/

To Win Again, Catholics Must Stop Being the Donald Trump Religion

On March 27, Thomas Groome wrote for the New York Times that “To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party” and presented his argument as an Irish Catholic and professor of theology. As a Catholic myself – not Irish, though my beloved grandmother is – I found the piece to be unrepresentative.

First, Groome states that Catholics and especially white Catholics have traditionally supported the Democratic Party out of a shared commitment to issues of social justice. Curiously, in a piece intended to pin the blame on Democrats for stressing issues of reproductive healthcare – a critical aspect of social justice – he does note that Catholic support has shifted to the GOP just as American bishops deemphasized social issues and engaged in the culture wars.

I hardly think that the behavior of bishops is the responsibility or the business of the Democratic Party. And even if it was, the Democrat’s unwavering commitment to social justice in the face of Catholic institutional lack thereof is a reason to support Democrats, not oppose them.

Secondly, Groome states that “But for many traditional Catholic voters, Mrs. Clinton’s unqualified support for abortion rights… were tipping points.”

This statement does not, I believe, match the facts.

According to Pew surveys from 2011 to 2013, 59% of white Catholics believe abortion should be legal in some cases, and 53% in most or all cases^1. These same white Catholics support Trump by a margin of 23 points – 60% to 37%^2. Meanwhile, 48% of Hispanic Catholics believe abortion should be legal in some cases, 43% in all or most cases^1, and Hispanic Catholics backed Clinton by 41 points – 67% to 26%.

That is, abortion legality polled 22 points better than Clinton among white Catholics, and Clinton polled 19 points better than abortion legality among Hispanic Catholics.

Of note, Groome states that “at least 60 percent of Americans — and most likely a higher percentage of Catholics — oppose abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.” which is interesting because both because he provides no evidence of this claim and because I immediately found evidence contradicting this claim in the studies above. He uses this claim to support his belief that Clinton fell into a “trap” of “largely ignor[ing] the possibility of a middle ground between making all abortions legal or prohibiting them entirely” when, in fact, a majority of white Catholics such as himself support abortion access in most or all cases.

Thirdly, Groome believes Democrats should not advocate for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, an amendment that denies healthcare dollars to economically disadvantaged women and especially women of color on the basis that these dollars may be used for abortion services.

I always found it curious for a Catholic to make such an issue of federal funding for abortion when United States tax dollars have funded torture programs^3, war crimes^4, capital punishment^5, and other programs that fly in the face of Catholic morality yet were explictly advocated by Trump^678. To that end, I encourage Groome and other Catholics to consider the words of Jesus Christ with respect to taxation in Mark 12:17^9:

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

As Catholics, we have been specifically instructed that paying taxes to our government is lawful and, in the words of Mark, when we act otherwise it is hypocrisy in the eyes of Jesus (Mark 12:15^9)

Personally, I support the repeal of the Hyde Amendment because I am Catholic and because my faith obligates me to stand with the women, the economically disadvantaged, and people of traditionally underpriveleged backgrounds.

I think there has been a great propensity among individuals with strong opinions about a particular issue to consider the 2016 presidential a referendum on that specific issue. Usually, individuals use the election as evidence that their opinion is correct. I believe that is what Groome is doing here, just as others have on issues from regulation of banks to “law and order” to systemic racism. But we abandon the broader context of this election at our own peril. In close elections, everything matters, but in this special case, with so much evidence to the contrary, I feel it much more likely that Clinton would not have been better served with a different stance on abortion and, instead, I hope my fellow Catholics can come to appreciate that importance of her message of social justice in elections to come.

Groome’s Column: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/27/opinion/to-win-again-democrats-must-stop-being-the-abortion-party.html

My sources:

1. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/09/19/majority-of-u-s-catholics-opinions-run-counter-to-church-on-contraception-homosexuality/

2. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/how-the-faithful-voted-a-preliminary-2016-analysis/

3. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/09/world/cia-torture-report-key-points.html

4. https://theintercept.com/2017/01/10/the-crimes-of-seal-team-6/

5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/05/01/everything-you-need-to-know-about-executions-in-the-united-states/

6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/white-house-draft-order-calls-for-review-on-use-of-cia-black-sites-overseas/2017/01/25/e4318970-e310-11e6-a547-5fb9411d332c_story.html

7. http://www.politico.com/story/2015/12/trump-kill-isil-families-216343

8. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/14/us/politics/death-penalty-takes-on-new-dimension-in-2016-campaign.html

9. http://biblehub.com/mark/12-17.htm

Adventures in Veganism: Grilled Tease

It may come as a shock to me that cheese is not vegan since my last food post was nachos, but here we are.

I’ve been working on a grilled peanut butter sandwich for a while.  Sometimes I add jelly, as I did today.  Similar to nachos, this is more supposed to be high calorie with more than zero grams of protein.  Unlike nachos, it is not necessarily easy or fast to make, or necessarily cheap though it’s very easy to run up very high calorie counts given that it’s basically going to be fried.

Ingredients:

  • Bread
  • Peanut Butter
  • Jelly
  • Oil

Instruments:

  • Butter Knife for Peanut Butter
  • Spoon for Jelly
  • Frying Pan
  • Spatula

That’s definitely too much.  Alas

Step 1:  Butter It Up:

Before:

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After:

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I think it’s important to cover to the edges of the bread on both pieces to get the quasi-grilled cheese type spread as the peanut butter heats and melts.  Also, this seals in the jelly if you choose to add it which makes things much less of a mess.

I don’t do this on raw peanut butter & jelly, but grilled tease is worth it.

Step 2:  Add Jelly (optional):

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The idea is to form a pocket of jelley encapsulated in peanut butter.  This protects the integrity of the bread’s texture.

Step 3:  Seal the Deal

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Make sure there are no jelly leaks.

Step 4:  There Be Oil

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I added about two tablespoons of oil to the plate and mopped it up with both sides of the bread.  I also added a tiny bit to the pan.

Step 5:  Light this Candle

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I preheated the pan as aggressively as possible.  I also included trace oil.  I let it go until I hear the sizzlin’ quiet down but your mileage may vary.

Step 6:  Rinse and Repeat

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Step 7:  Flip Out

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Step 8:  Tease those Taste Buds!
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Universal Basic Thought Experiment

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I totally just stole this image from Gawker.

I fundamentally believe that we are already living in a post-scarcity economy and that the only problems that remain unsolved are distribution.  This is a contestable claim.  So here’s my thought experiment.

Could a reasonable tax code finance universal basic income?

I take my ceiling for tax levels on income brackets to be the WWII levels.  You could probably push them a bit higher, but I’m going to set a hard limit there to ensure reasonability.

Try and guess what it is.

I won’t tell you yet.

Ok did you guess?

Really?

Write it down, I don’t want you to change your answer.

Drum roll please?

It was 94% on $200,000 per year or higher.  To be fair, that’s about 2.7 million adjusted but this basically means I can run tax rates up as high as I want and, with intelligent economic policy, I can still pull out of the Great Depression.  And if you think wartime is unfair, it stayed at 91% for 18 years after the surrender of Japan.  Source.

History.

With regards to UBI, I’m just going to mail every household in the United States checks that would set them at exactly poverty level.  Poverty level isn’t exactly where you want to be, but this is theoretical anyway.

Well, how much would that cost?

According to the US Census Bureau, there were 118.68 million households in the US in 2011.  We’re using 2011 numbers for everything for reasons we’ll get into in a bit.  I like round numbers, so let’s call that 119.  Source.

In 2015, base household poverty line was $10,890 for a single person.  Each additional person raised it by $3,820.  Source.

In 2015, the US population was 312 million.  Obviously it changed throughout the year.  Whatever.  Source.

So there will be 119 million base households as $10,890, and (312 – 119 = 193) million additional people at $3,820 each.

That comes out to $2,033,170,000,000 or almost exactly $2 trillion.  Incidentally, this is good news because I already know off-hand that the US Federal budget was $2.7 trillion sometime when I was in high school, I believe in 2009.  Well let’s see what it was like in 2011.

Now, I tend to think one of the reasons that UBI is great is that, rather than paying people to do nothing, it would effectively be paying people to have time to do people stuff, like volunteering and parenting.  It’s hard to know exactly what portion of the Federal government is going to jobs programs and what isn’t, especially as one tangles with the military industrial complex, so for now I’m just going to pull all social programs that aren’t related to goods purchased in the open market, such as healthcare and public education.  I bet you can cut a lot more than that, but whatever.

Just digging through the numbers, there’s an interesting little chart on Wikipedia about social spending in 2011.  What a total coincidence we were doing this for 2011.  Source.  Mirror.

Just a reminder, I’m pitching this as a federal program.

So taking a look at federal spending on social programs, we have about 2.3 trillion.  But roughly 290 million is on Medicaid, 60 million for education, and 575 million for Medicare.  We don’t really want to cut any of those things – maybe some early childhood could be cut since more parents might be home, but that’s splitting hairs.  That leaves us at approximately 1375 million in spending that would be freed up.  Which means to switch to UBI would cost an additional 625 million over current social programs.  You don’t really seem to save a lot at state level because most of that spending is education and healthcare anyway.

Now let’s play a fun game.  In 2011, the Bush Era Tax Cuts – one of the leading drivers of the recession and income inequality according to many experts – were still in effect.  If we roll those back, we capture an additional tax income on earners making more than $400,000 (exact) annually.  So how much would we have to raise taxes?

It turns out I just independently re-developed Occupy here, since the cut-off to be top 1% of earners in 2011 was $389,000 which isn’t so far off.  Especially since those households would be getting a check for at least $10,890 so it’s actually only $110 off.  Source.

This quote is the one we’re looking for:

As a group, the top 1% earned nearly 19% of all adjusted gross income reported in 2011…

Now we just need to find gross income in 2011. A smidge over $15.7 trillion it turns out.  Source.

Well this is easy now.  15.7 * .19 * (n/100) = .675 gives us exactly the percentage increase in taxes – over the historically low 35% – top earners would have to pay to finance UBI.

It’s 22.6%.  That gives us a top income tax bracket level of 57.6% which is, incidentally, lower than taxes ever were on that bracket in the fifty years from 1932 to 1982.  Moreover, it is more than 12% lower than any year from 1936 to 1982.

Note that this rate hike is valid only if we do deficit neutral with no other changes to spending.  You could gamble UBI would stimulate the economy and cut the tax rate a little closer, drop some jobs programs in defense, save a ton of money because you don’t really need minimum wage in the classical sense in this environment and probably save some expenses in distribution, but I think that’s all besides that point.

It’s also worth noting that top earners already pay considerably lower than their bracket level because it’s cheaper to high professional tax evaders than do their civic duty and, in at least one case, they hate America, so I’m not really concerned about this hurting anyone’s feelings.

Calling (Out) Senator Burr

I believe in the free press.

This is not the free press.

Since I don’t really have much to do other than watch my once sacred democratic institutions bleed out for the next however-many years (other than, like, my job), I thought I’d call Senator Burr and exercise my constitutionally protected right to complain to congressional staffers.  Or as the Senator likes to say on his website:

Please call my Washington office at (202) 224-3154 or my Winston-Salem office at (800) 685-8916.

If you don’t like talking on the phone, take heart.  Hashtag activism provides similar feelings of accomplishment:

http://www.facebook.com/SenatorRichardBurr

https://twitter.com/SenatorBurr


I sent the following Letter the Editor to the Charlotte Observer which I follow for state level news. 

Like many Americans, I was deeply disappointed after the November 8th election as I fear America may have unwittingly elevated an authoritarian figure to the presidency.  I hope I am wrong.

One of the signs of authoritarianism is erosion of democratic institutions such as free press.  The President-Elect has made his opinions known about the free press and it now appears senators may be following suit.

Just one week after the election, a reporter I respect and admire (Burgess Everett with Politico) tweeted the following:

“.@SenatorBurr is walking around with photos of reporters he won’t talk to. I’m on it.”

I found this a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.  I called Senator Burr’s office at (202) 224-3154 to express my concerns and would encourage my fellow citizens to do the same.


I sent the following letter to the Herald-Sun and the News & Observer which I primarily follow for culture and local politics in Durham and Raleigh respectively, and to the Daily Tarheel because I believe this is a pressing issue for my fellow students especially (I changed citizen to student in that version).

Like many Americans, I was deeply disappointed after the November 8th election. These feelings of disappointment are normal and are a necessary part of the democratic process. However, this election remains unique among the elections in my 24 year lifetime in that my concerns are not with differences of policy. There is room for disagreement on what government should do in democracy, but not for some types of disagreement on what government should be. What I mean to say is that I fear Americans may have unwittingly elevated an authoritarian figure to the presidency. I hope I am wrong.

One of the signs of authoritarianism is erosion of democratic institutions such as free press. The President-Elect has made his opinions known about the free press and it now appears senators may be following suit.

Just one week after the election, a reporter I respect and admire (Burgess Everett with Politico) tweeted the following:

“.@SenatorBurr is walking around with photos of reporters he won’t talk to. I’m on it.”

I found this a flagrant violation of the First Amendment. I called Senator Burr’s office at (202) 224-3154 to express my concerns and would encourage my fellow citizens to do the same.

 


 

UPDATE 16 November

We have a new tweet in this saga.

And I’ve heard back from the Observer and the Herald-Sun.  The Observer will be running a heavily edited version of my letter:

Begin letter:

One of the signs of authoritarianism is erosion of democratic institutions such as free press. The president-elect has made his opinions known about the free press and it now appears senators may be following suit.

Just one week after the election, a reporter I respect and admire – Burgess Everett who covers Congress for Politico – tweeted the following:

“@SenatorBurr is walking around with photos of reporters he won’t talk to. I’m on it.”

If true, I find this a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.

End letter.

I believe the Herald-Sun will run by letter verbatim but I only spoke with them over the phone.   They may edit for whatever they want to.

Both should be going out in the 17 November papers.


 

UPDATE 17 November

My letter has been published in the Daily Tarheel.

My letter has also been published in the Observer.  It is titled “I worry about Burr targeting a free press” and you may have to scroll down a bit to see it.


 

 

Against the Triumph of Evil

I stumbled across a rather saddening hashtag in the midst of this most troubling of election seasons:  #WomenDontReport.  Now I don’t really that much about these new-fangled hashtag technologies (or anything really) and, since I’m not a woman, don’t have a personal story to tell.  But I feel like I do have a pretty good feel for why women don’t report sexual misconduct.  You see, when women report many men do, well, nothing.

Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.  John Stuart Mill

While I, tragically, can pitch no panacea for sexual misconduct I do hope that I can at least make something of an appeal as a man for other men to make it a bit safer for women to speak out.

As an aside, it is not lost on me that sexual misconduct extends beyond men mistreating women.  But this behaviour and its normalization is specifically what I am addressing here.

Let me regale you then with the story of the four Donald Trumps I have met on Earth and a little more than nothing.


The first time I met Donald Trump, I had just completed my first year at University and I landed a cushy internship at a major consumer electronics company not far from my hometown.  I was one of some six interns that year and pleasantly, despite some troubling statistics, three were young women.  It was my first experience working in an office and I still enjoyed the pleasant illusion that sexism and misogyny had abruptly ceased existing first in 1920 and then again in 1972.

Donald Trump was a friendly older gentleman assigned to be my mentor through the course of internship.  He treated me with courtesy and respect and we developed something of a camaraderie while working together and I learned a great deal from him.  One day, while doing an event with the other six interns he stopped by to give me a status update.

When I got back to my desk, I saw he sent me a message that read, and I remember it exactly:

“I don’t know what it is about those intern girls, but they really bring out the uncie purvie in me.”

I cannot recall exactly how I reacted, but I did let him know I thought that was inappropriate and would appreciate it if he stopped.  I was a truly surreal experience.  And it was the first time I did more than nothing.


I met Donald Trump again at a networking event while I was on the Orion program with Lockheed Martin.  Again, there were interns about and in hindsight I realized that there were much fewer women than men as positions required more years of study.  A group of us were talking to a charming man in his early fifties the Air Force about some upcoming contracts.  A snippet of the conversation went something like this:

Air Force:  “If you want to know more about , you can ask that hot little thing over thing over there”

Me:  “Are you allowed to say that?”

Then he began to mansplain as us interns grew increasingly uncomfortable.  As soon as we extricated ourselves from the conversation, one of my friends mentioned that he had been horrible uncomfortable and wanted to leave but didn’t want to say anything.

I reached out to this friend for comment:

Yeah I definitely remember that, your recollection seems about right. I remember when he was defending his comment he claimed that his remark wasn’t offensive because “if someone called me hot, I wouldn’t be offended”. I also remember that there was a female Lockheed Martin intern in that same conversation group and that he singled her out during his mansplaining, which made us all particularly uncomfortable.

I contacted an ethics officer at Lockheed Martin when I got to work the next day to talk about what happened.  The officer thought that challenging Donald Trump, even though he was  Lockheed Martin customer, was in line with company policy but that they couldn’t take things any further since he wasn’t an employee.  Were but those in control of government to have the courage of their contractors.


The third Donald Trump was the biggest surprise.  Unlike the other men, he was much younger and just turned 30 the day this was published.  Unlike the other men, he was on camera talent albeit for the small but growing world of competitive gaming.  Unlike the other men, he had attended what had historically been one of the nation’s foremost women’s colleges.  But anyone, apparently, can be Donald Trump.

One day, while watching a talk show he took a moment to talk about how much he detested people that thought he should be careful about using the term “rape” to describe winning.

After mulling over my disgust for a few days I thought I would try and do something about it.  So I wrote him a letter and we had a bit of a conversation.


The fourth Donald Trump is a phenomenon unto himself.  He endangers every aspect of civil society.  He demeans women as a way of life and has the audacity to imply that all men do the same.

We do not.  I do not.

And everyone needs to know that however many men behave as he does, their behaviour can not and should not be excused as just the behaviour of men but needs to be called what it is:

Sickening.  Indefensible.  Despicable.  Vile.  Unacceptable and Offensive.  Misogynistic, Coercive, Abusive, and Dehumanizing.

And the more people that say so the better.

Free Speech at UChicago

Fellow UChicago Alan Levinovitz alum recently wrote a piece for everybody’s* favorite news source The Atlantic about everybody’s* favorite University’s “Freedom of Expression” policy (which is, of course, also everybody’s* favorite).

*definitely not everybody, though the updated policy was upvoted to the front page of reddit, everybody’s* favorite content aggregator, which makes it immutable truth.

Levinovitz is also a religious studies professor.  I am not a professor, though I aspire to be one someday in the relatively less controversial field of Computer Science.  However, like all UChicago students, I took some classes that touched on religion as part of The Core (not this one).  One of my top three (er, only three) friends was a religious study major, and I happen to be part of everybody’s* favorite religion (then non-denominational Christian, now Catholic).

Without commenting directly on the new policy, I’d rather lay out a few interactions on campus about religion that would probably fall under the range of discomfort for students that have more social inhibitions (that is, everybody*).  In doing so, I hope to highlight specific examples of what Levinovitz has described in abstract.

During Orientation Week, as part of programming intended to showcase the diverse viewpoints of the student body, I participated, along with the rest of my house in an exercise (not the physical kind) in which we lined along a wall in accordance with our opinions of various controversial issues.  While I forget any other specific examples, one was support for same-sex marriage.  With full knowledge of the minority status of my opinion, I joined a few other students on the “not-support” side of the room.  While I anticipated the same sideways glances I get when taking controversial opinions, I didn’t anticipate a classmate erupting into a fit of rage and screaming at everyone on my side of the room, forcing us to quickly move onto a different topic (dog-person vs. cat-person or something pointless).  I don’t know how many other students decided to never share their actual opinions on this topic again (or had already decided to just go along with the recent majority), but I do know that, for me, the experience immediately shattered my hopes that I’d finally found a community where I could have a meaningful discussion on this issue.  I never bothered trying to discuss it with anyone again, though I have, unlike some other students, remained honest about my opinions when asked.

A few months later, as part of a discussion on religion in a core class, a student asserted that all religion is innately immoral and, moreover, that only atheism is moral (and also requires no faith).  Again, I recognized this as a somewhat common opinion.  However, this opinion is not one that stands up to the levels of rigor I expect for scope of its type at a University of this stature.  Only myself and a Jewish classmate felt comfortable commenting that perhaps agnosticism was a more neutral viewpoint in the absence of faith and that perhaps religion was not innately immoral.  Even the instructor asserted a degree of support for this approximately New Atheist viewpoint. Following this class, four of my classmates in a formerly close-knit class of 19 neither spoke nor made eye-contact with me again.  Personally, I felt like my work was (probably unintentionally) graded much more harshly after this conversation but I’ll never know if my quality of work declined or I somehow rubbed the instructor the wrong way.  Some time later I saw one of the students from that class that hadn’t spoken up participating in a Christian student group of sorts and had to wonder if this student had been silenced by fear of retaliation.

During my final year at University, I enrolled in a uniquely poorly taught economics class that met at the same time as a uniquely well taught Bible history class taken by my friend in religious studies.  I semi-regularly snuck out of my boring class into her exciting one and over time we were able to have some deeply meaningful discussions about the nature of divinity, the meaning of life, sexuality, and a range of other controversial topics.  While I believe these days she is still an atheist, I at least learned a lot from our friendship (I hope it was mutual).   While I would have preferred a similar experience in any number of other settings, these memories serve as an important reminder that UChicago contains within it many students capable of respectful and valuable discourse.  Insofar as it may in a top down fashion, it even provides places for this discourse to happen.  I hope this new policy helps push the school in this more education direction.

While not the point of this post, I would like to also voice my unequivocal support for the communities and individuals that value safe spaces and trigger warnings and hope that meaningful accommodations can be made to foster discussion from their perspectives.