Monday, June 11, 2012

It's the European economy, stupid

In Obama vs. Romney, Merkel holds the key cards

So the Greek and Spanish economies are bleeding out all over the floor of the Eurozone. Blood drips from not-yet-fatal Italian wounds, as well.

A recently announced deal to bail out Spanish banks has put off the reckoning for now, but the next round of European panic is probably a few days away, at most. Bank failures or default on debt payments by one of the southern European countries seem all but inevitable, so does a deepening of the current Eurozone recession. When that happens it will be bad news for the increasingly fragile American economy, which appears unlikely to gather much strength between now and the November election.

Everyone knows what that means: Mitt Romney will defeat Barack Obama.

Though the race may be tight, if the global economic slowdown is big enough, Romney’s coattails may lengthen enough to protect arrogant and na├»ve Republican members of the House of Representatives from the election-day judgment they deserve. Spared from defeat, the Tea Party will plunge ahead with the deconstruction of the federal government’s capacity to initiate, maintain, protect, invest, underwrite and regulate. And aided and abetted by Tea Party populists, Romney will implement his own limited agenda deregulating corporations, privatizing benefits, socializing risk and subsidizing the wealthy.

By the time that’s done, Romney will have crashed whatever remains of the American economy and will be a one-term president, himself. But, afterward, it will take decades of progressive policies to restore a stable and fair economy that rewards effort rather than wealth.

Because the health of the American economy and the outcome of the election in the United States very likely rides on what happens to the Eurozone, Obama has been lobbying European leaders to save the Eurozone by bailing out and stimulating the economies of the southern tier. In this matter, with the English wandering around in their own economic funk and French socialists praying for relevance, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel swings the most weight. And Merkel’s instincts seem conservative. She has been a champion of tough love and bitter restraint for the Greeks. And although the recent deal with Spanish banks was more generous and forgiving, Merkel will err on the side of caution. She will prefer to avoid any further moves that rely on stimulus.

As the fifth biggest economy in the world and an industrial powerhouse, Germany likely can survive even a partial collapse of the Eurozone. But the German economy, too, is weakening, forcing Merkel to consider whether it is worth it to be the only European economy left standing after the dust settles. Ultimately, the policy math might lead to the conclusion that continued bailouts for weaker economies will be the best thing for Germany. If so, the American recovery will stagger ahead, possibly even gain steam in time for a few good job-creating months immediately preceding the November election.

Everyone knows what that means: Barack Obama will defeat Mitt Romney.

Whatever a second term for Obama might mean, it will not mean permanent tax cuts for the rich, new and large subsidies for dirty energy or a resurgent Tea Party. But the big question is this: If European failure will tank the American economy and, with it, Obama’s chances for re-election, what kind of advice might Mitt Romney’s campaign give Angela Merkel on the subject of medicating sick European economies? Before you answer that question, consider that the Reagan campaign in 1980 was alleged to have done something similar, completely undermining Jimmy Carter's re-election chances.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Bishop Joke

Two bishops walk into a bar...

I haven't posted anything here since last November. I haven't posted on my other blog, Outdoor Poetry Season, since February. And didn't post on either blog all that much during the whole of 2011. On the one hand, about this morass of go-slow I've been in, I'm inclined to go easy on myself. I suspect long silences are a more frequent feature of the rhythms of my life than I've been inclined to recognize.

There is also this: For the last six months, I've focused my off-line efforts on creating, revising and finalizing the draft manuscript for the book of my poems that I intend to self-publish before my 65th birthday in August. The copy is now off to Ella Epton, my sister-in-law, for layout and design. By the time Ella is done with it, no amount of tiny revisions will save me from the embarrassments and mortifications that likely accompany publishing, self- or otherwise. Regardless, the book, to be titled Wild Once, and Captured, will be worth looking at if only to see the illustrations that Stacee Kalmanovsky, Ella's daughter, has produced to go with the poems.

Meanwhile, let me move on with an observation (or two) about the Catholic church and about American bishops by citing a recent article in the Wahington Post, "Nun's Vatican-condemned book shoots up on the bestseller list." According to the article, widespread news reports about official church hostility to Sister Margaret Farley's book drove it from approximately one hundred forty-two thousandth place on the Amazon best-seller list to 16th place in about 24 hours. I think it's safe to say that in resurrecting Sister Margaret's book, the Pope, and his agent, the Vatican-based Office for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, have performed a miracle.

[Interesting historical note: The Office for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith was originally established as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition in 1542. You could look it up here.]

Of course, this miracle amounts to almost nothing by comparison to the Catholic church's greatest single accomplishment, i.e., sustaining for two millennia, more or less, belief in the one god and spreading belief in the one god during that period to more than three billion people worldwide. We may debate the point--there are substantial faith differences between Christians, Moslems and Jews, but Jews, less than 10 million people at most times in history, would be no more than an idiosyncratic cult had Catholicism (the early Christian church) failed to spread and institutionalize the Word. Islam, which accounts for more than a billion believers, itself, required the spread of Christianity before Muhammad could rework its message in a way that would capture the imagination of desert people.

Which brings us to the American bishops, currently at war with Obama the Apostate (as I suppose he is fearsomely imagined in the bishop's very private--no women or uncloseted gay men--soirees). Bishops have been policing the boundaries of the faith, keeping a sharp eye out for heretics, since Irenaeus launched multiple attacks on the Gnostics in the second century CE. (Check out Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels for a detailed account of what was lost when a few men launched a movement that would secure church power in their hands and those of their designated successors over the next two thousand years).

The bishops have responded with an aggressive counterattack to the requirements in the new health care law that most faith-based organizations must provide access to a full range of reproductive services for women (e.g., abortion and contraception) if they provide health care to their employees, at all. The bishops are further exercised by Obama administration requirements that charitable organizations providing services to female victims of human trafficking must also provide them with access to a full range of reproductive services. The bishops claim that such requirements would force Catholics to violate their own consciences and that there are no acceptable work-arounds (such as partnering with other organizations that would be comfortable providing such services).

The political stance of the bishops may make a kind of sense in light of Catholicism's near-2000 year record of success in defining the basic worldview of billions of people, but in the modern world, where billions do not share the values and attitudes of this all-male cadre of celibates, it is nonsense. However they may elbow their way into the debate, ongoing success in narrowly defining and institutionalizing the beliefs of a few men who deliberately excluded women from the original club long before STDs, orbiting space junk, and human-caused climate change do not qualify club members for a political role in the high stakes world of the 21st Century. It should, perhaps, disqualify them.