In comments at the New York Times, we addressed media failures on Iraq, why the Catholic Church should return to social justice, using a carbon tax to invest in clean energy, and how Republicans loot government for private profit. (More)


iraq wmd lies

Winning Progressive offered an important proviso to Paul Krugman’s argument, in his column Marches of Folly, From Iraq to the Deficit that we should always view skeptically positions, such as WMDs in Iraq or deficit hysteria, that virtually “everyone” accepts as true:

Thank you for continuing to do what a lot of the media isn’t – using the 10th anniversary of the launching of the Iraq War to remind us how big of a mistake it was in human and economic terms, and how the people who brought us that war continue to be viewed as “serious” voices.

However, I would make a small, albeit important, amendment to your thesis. While we should always be skeptical and think for ourselves, the fact that virtually “everyone” supports a certain position does not necessarily mean it is suspect. Take, for example, climate change, which 98% of scientists believe is occurring and likely being caused by human behavior. The fact that virtually everyone authoritative on that topic accepts climate change as fact does not make that fact suspect.

Instead, where should be most cautious is when virtually “everyone” is in agreement on a position that favors powerful interests who have a lot to lose if that position is rejected. For the Iraq War, the falsehoods about WMDs were easily accepted because they served the interests of neocons and their buddies in the military contractor and oil industries. And for austerity and deficit hysteria, the interests of billionaires and big corporations who want lower taxes and privatization of government services are served. Ultimately, it is that combination of powerful interests and supposed unanimity that gets us into trouble.

In response to Ross Douthat’s column, What the Church Needs Now urging the Catholic Church to better live up to its authoritarian moral teachings, Winning Progressive argued that a focus on social justice would better serve both the Church and society:

You set up a dichotomy here, Mr. Douthat, that is neither necessary nor fully accurate.

The traditional Catholicism that you advocate has a deeply authoritarian bent – using the power of religion to tell people what they can and cannot do. This approach runs into problems, both because people often don’t like to be told what to do, and because far too often authoritarianism is far too often about telling other people – here, women, gays and lesbians, etc. – what to do.

You portray the other side as as essentially religious belief used as an excuse for a self centered worldview. And it is certainly true that much of the new age and self-help movements, mega-churches, etc. focus on personal enrichment or improvement with barely any mention of responsibility to others or society.

But these are not the only two options. Instead, a third option is a focus on compassion and finding happiness through improving the lot of society and helping others. To me, that approach is at the heart of secular humanism, which teaches that improving humanity, rather than focusing on an imaginary afterlife, is what matters. But the approach is also rooted in traditions of economic and social justice that run deep in Catholicism even as they have been ignored by the conservative leadership that has taken over the Church. Here’s hoping that Pope Francis will return the Church to those views.

In response to Tom Friedman’s column It’s Lose-Lose vs. Win-Win-Win-Win urging the implementation of a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, Winning Progressive argued that a portion of the revenue raised through such a tax should go towards funding renewable energy development:

Getting a price on carbon, either through a carbon tax or through a cap-and-trade system, is critical to beginning to address climate change. By finally requiring carbon intensive energy sources – coal, oil, and to a lesser extent natural gas – to internalize some of the costs that their carbon emissions are imposing on society, a price on carbon would help level the playing field between fossil fuels and cleaner sources of energy.

But the proceeds from the carbon price should be distributed differently than you propose. Yes, some should go towards decreasing other taxes and some should go towards reducing the deficit. But some of it should also go towards promoting a clean energy/low carbon future, through investments in increased efficiency and renewables, developing the energy storage technology needed to make renewables be able to meet baseload power needs, creating high-speed rail and improved mass transit systems to encourage people to switch from carbon intensive flying and driving, and investing in smarter denser development. And, more than 10% of the proceeds will likely be needed to help offset the impact of a carbon price on the poor, working, and middle classes.

Winning Progressive took umbrage with Bill Keller’s attempt, in his column Obama’s Fault, to blame President Obama for the sequester:

Mr. Keller, you are wildly off-base here.

First, President Obama has, time and again, offered exactly the kind of grand bargains that you claim to want. He has made balanced proposals that include spending cuts, revenue increases (from raising taxes to closing loopholes), and reform of earned benefits programs including chained CPI (even though Social Security doesn’t increase the deficit).

Second, President Obama cannot be blamed when it is the GOP that has shown repeatedly a willingness to both imperil our economy and credit rating (as they did with refusing a clean increase of the debt limit) and to reject anything the President offers. The GOP won’t agree to any fiscal deal that involves increasing revenue, so for President Obama to agree to a deal, he’d have to unilaterally disarm.

Third, ObamaCare is not an “expensive new entitlement.” In fact, it reduces the deficit by taking sensible steps to curb future Medicare spending without cutting benefits. The response of Republicans to those sensible steps was, of course, to demagogue them as cuts and mythical “death panels.”

President Obama is far from perfect and, if anything, he has been too lax in fighting back against the myth that deficits, rather than jobs and economic growth, are our most pressing issue. But to pretend that the sequester is his fault, rather than that of the GOP hostage takers, is sheer fantasy.

With regards to Paul Krugman’s column Mooching Off Medicaid, in which Professor Krugman explained how GOP Governors are proposing Medicaid privatization schemes that would cost more while also enriching their health insurance industry supporters, Winning Progressive explained that such attempts to use government to enrich private interests are nothing new for the fiscally irresponsible Republican Party:

The claim that Republicans have been about less government spending has been a lie for the past 30 years (though it is such an accepted “fact” that even the New York Times recently had an article claiming the Republicans are united in their desire to cut government spending on the front of its website). In reality, the GOP is about taking existing government functions and using the taxpayer dollars used to pay for them to instead subsidize private corporations.

Medicaid is one major example of this GOP effort to subsidize corporations, but it is far from the only. The federal student loan program is another. In 2010, President Obama and Congressional Democrats ended the policy by which the federal government, instead of loaning money directly, subsidized banks to the tune of $65 billion over 10 years, to provide those loans. Now, thanks to Democrats, that $65 billion instead goes towards providing more loans. But Republicans want to restore the banksters as subsidized middlemen.

The GOP’s efforts to voucherize Medicare is another example. Such an approach would shift health insurance to the more expensive private system by providing taxpayer-funded vouchers to attempt to purchase insurance from private companies.

We need to end this myth that today’s GOP cares about fiscal responsibility. They care about further enriching their already wealthy corporate friends.