February 12, 2016

An Alternative to Reducing Taxes to Encourage Repatriation of Profits

#change date

A popular idea floating around among both Democrats and Republicans is a temporary tax reduction to allow corporations to bring profits being held overseas back into the U.S. Politicians talk of the benefits of “repatriating” corporate profits. The theory is that, although the government would, at least in theory, “lose” tax money, it would at least collect more taxes than it would otherwise.

Child thief
The Guardian wrote about this idea a few months ago. Writer C. Robert Gibson likened it to catching a child stealing money from his parents and rewarding his bad behavior by letting him keep the money. I assume the analogy to reducing the corporate tax to allow repatriation is both obvious and compelling.

Incentives come in many guises. I’d like to propose a different scheme for encouraging the repatriation of corporate profits, one which doesn’t require a sacrifice by the federal government. It uses a stick, rather than a carrot.

Rather than encouraging repatriation by making it cheaper for corporations, why not make it cheaper now but more expensive later. Allow repatriation now under the existing tax regime, but raise the tax rate substantially 12 months from now. Make that increase permanent or, if not permanent, in effect for a long period—for 10 years, say. Given that corporate management has difficulty seeing beyond the next quarter, that should supply a persuasive  incentive for bringing money back into the U.S.

Why has no one proposed this? (Corporate lobbying may have something to do with it.)

February 7, 2016

Dislikability of Republican Presidential Candidates

Today, the morning after the final Republican debate before the New Hampshire primary, NPR interviewed Carly Fiorina, who had been excluded from the debate. The segment on Weekend Edition Sunday reminded me just how unpleasant I find the former HP CEO.

This realization got me thinking about ranking Republican candidates according to how likable (or not) they are. The idea seemed particularly meaningful, since one candidate, Ted Cruz, is notorious for being disliked. The more you know him, apparently, the less you like him. (See Frank Bruni’s New York Times column, “Anyone but Ted Cruz.” I’m not making this up.)

With these thoughts in mind, I’d like to propose a game: Rank the Republican hopefuls in terms of their “dislikability,” a measure of the degree to which a candidate inspires dislike. A person exhibiting a high degree of dislikability, I suggest, is even less attractive than someone who is merely unlikable. A dislikable person inspires active disgust, not merely indifference. Dislikability is independent of talent and beauty, though perhaps not of ethics.

As best as I can tell, here are the remaining Republican presidential candidates in alphabetical order:

Jeb Bush
Ben Carson
Chris Christie
Ted Cruz
Carly Fiorina
John Kasich
Marco Rubio
Donald Trump
My ranking is here. What is your ranking?

Update, 2/8/2016. Apparently, Jim Gilmore, a former governor of Virginia, is still running. Who knew?

Update, 2/12/2016. As of today, Jim Gilmore is out of the race. He hardly made a ripple in the political pond.

February 1, 2016

Political Thoughts (from the Last Election)

Donkey and elephant
In 2012, I was very concerned about the presidential campaign and about issues that seemed important at the time. On the other hand, I really didn’t want to be blogging about  every day’s political news. Therefore, in September 2012, I wrote, in a post titled “A Preëmptive Political Post,”
To save myself from all that future writing, I’ve decided to develop a kind of preëmptive post simply listing themes relevant (or maybe relevant) to the presidential campaign. Each of these themes could be expanded into a standalone essay, but I leave that, at least for now, to the imagination of the reader. Other bloggers are free to write their own essays on these themes. Who knows, I might even do that myself if I get really fired up. More likely, though, I will save my efforts for campaign issues we haven’t even heard about yet.
The post, which is little more than a list of political beliefs, has attracted more visitors than anything else I have written here. No one has ever left a comment on the essay, though, and I suspect that few visitors have ever became readers. Instead, I think I created perfect click bait, a post that includes so many politically relevant words that Google often presents it as a relevant search result.

I reread my 2012 post today and was struck that most of what I wrote is still relevant, and I have no reason to repudiate anything I wrote during the last presidential election. (This is something of a depressing thought.) To the degree that anything on my list seems less relevant now than then, it at least has some value as nostalgia.

I invite (real) readers to have a look at “A Preëmptive Political Post.” I do have one additional item to add that has special relevance to the 2016 presidential campaign. I do this just before Iowans go to their caucuses:
Lack of political experience is not a qualification for high political office.

A Reflection on Bishop McConnell’s Reflection on the Meeting of the Primates

Bishop of Pittsburgh Dorsey McConnell wrote “A Reflection on the Anglican Primates’ Meeting” January 16, the day after the Anglican primates concluded their meeting in Canterbury. That meeting, of course, declared that there should be restrictions imposed on The Episcopal Church for a period of three years. (I discussed what the primates did in my essays “Abuse of Anglican Power: Where Do We Go from Here?” and “Additional Thoughts on the Meeting of the Primates.”)

The curate’s egg
Bishop: “I'm afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr. Jones.”
Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”
When I first read the bishop’s message to his diocese, I had a hard time deciding what to make of it. I have continued to think about it, but I still cannot say that, on the whole, I am either pleased or displeased. McConnell’s missive is something of a curate’s egg, I’m afraid.

It is good to keep in mind that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is still rather conservative. Liberals played a crucial role in keeping the diocese in The Episcopal Church despite then bishop Robert Duncan’s leading many congregations out of it. Enough conservative clergy and laypeople remained, however, so that the diocese, while now in the Episcopal mainstream, is nearer the conservative bank than many of us in the diocese would like. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that Bishop McConnell has kept what remains of the diocese together and now presides over a diocese no longer actively hostile to The Episcopal Church. He wrote
The primates’ decision, along with the fact that the current leader of the ACNA was invited to participate for the duration of their deliberations, has opened old wounds for many of us: for lesbian and gay members of our diocesan family and the congregations who support them; for our more conservative sisters and brothers who have remained in TEC out of their love for the Church; for all of us who have spent painful years nurturing relationships across deep disagreements in order to hold the unity of the Body of Christ.
The bishop then insists that any wounds felt in the diocese are “the wounds of Christ crucified, …, the wounds of our own selves crucified to one another and to the world.” I’m not sure I know what this piece of clergy-speak means. I think he is saying that we are enduring the consequences of taking a principled stand, and I wish that he had said something like that.

McConnell goes on to say that we—the churches of the Anglican Communion, presumably—are stuck with one another:
What makes this moment so painful is that, even as we hurl threats of separation, or lay down conditions, or demand repentance from everyone but ourselves, we know we cannot get away from one another.
I have two problem with this. First, I don’t believe The Episcopal Church needs to repent of anything regarding its adoption of same-sex marriage. The decision of the General Convention was long in coming and prayerfully considered. We knew that the decision would upset some primates, but we thought that pleasing God was more important. What, exactly, is the bishop referring to when in the phrase “everyone but ourselves”?

Then, there is the matter of Anglican churches’ relationships to one another. Many in the Communion are intent on replacing the traditional bonds of affection with bonds of obligation. But we are stuck with one another only so long as we choose to be. McConnell implies that our connection to the wider Communion is indissoluble. He writes about “the unity of the Cross”—more clergy-speak. But aren’t our bonds of affection with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, say, stronger than those with the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion? I see no theological reason why our relationship to Anglican churches should be any more sacred than our relationship to other Christian bodies. (Readers objecting at this point that Anglican churches are interdependent, should read my essay “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence.”)

Bishop McConnell’s next paragraph acknowledges reality:
The world suggested by the primates’ decision appears to imagine another: a unity achieved or broken by the actions of ecclesial structures. Although I was initially encouraged by their stated desire to “walk together,” upon further reflection, it is difficult to imagine what this would look like in five or ten years. There is not the least sign that our General Convention would undo recent actions in regard to marriage, nor that the Church of Canada will change course, nor that the Churches of the Global South will in any way become more tolerant of these trends.
This is a clear acknowledgment that, certainly in three years’ time, nothing much will have changed, and the Communion will be right back where it started. But, suggests the bishop in more clergy-speak, we should carry on:
But the unity of the Cross is not something we achieve; it has been achieved for us. We need only live as if we knew it, through lives of sacrificial love even and especially toward those who believe they can do without us.
This is followed by something of a non sequitur:
The trend indicated by the primates’ actions suggests that the formal instruments of Anglican fellowship may become less important in the coming years.
This may well be true, but it surely isn’t obvious. The primates may have overplayed their hand and may be more widely recognized for the disruptive cabal that they are. Or, as seems more likely, they will have established another precedent leading to even more interference by Anglican churches in one another’s affairs. The Primates’ Meeting may be either less or more important in the future. What is certain is that Archbishop Justin Welby is willing to pander to the angry conservative element of the Anglican Communion for the sake of “unity.” In future years, he may well become known as the Neville Chamberlain of Anglicanism. God save us!

Bishop McConnell suggests, correctly, I think, that the more important aspect of the Communion is the collection of relationships between people, parishes, bishops, and dioceses across Anglican churches.

Alas, he seems to excuse the actions of the primates (and his own longstanding connections to Uganda through Pilgrim Africa) by saying that the churches of many of the primates “are beset by challenges we can scarcely imagine”—poverty, colonial oppression and post-colonial condescension, Islamic aggression, and the ravages of war. These challenges do exist, but they are no excuse for attacking The Episcopal Church as a way of distracting Africans from their local problems.

The bishop’s letter ends with this:
As we live this mission on the road, I believe that the common life we have built in this diocese will be shown as an effective and godly example for the whole Communion. Our diocesan community spans the theological breadth of Anglicanism and we hold that breadth as a treasure, not a weakness. We do so as our conscious expression of the faith once delivered to the saints and still held by us today. I trust that God will sow seeds of His reconciliation wherever our own story is told.
He almost strikes a proper tone for a 2016 Bishop of Pittsburgh, but he needs to be chided for the phrase “the faith once delivered to the saints.” This is a favorite phrase of the now disgraced Bishop Robert Duncan, who used it as shorthand for the conservative, moralistic theology that he held as the righteous alternative to the mainstream theology of The Episcopal Church.

I wrote about the phrase “faith once delivered to the saints” more than eight years ago in my blog post “The Faith Once Delivered.” Here’s how I ended that essay:
The next time you hear someone piously pontificate about “the faith once delivered to the saints,” remember that the proper response is to ask, “Yes, and what was that?” You might even cite Jude 1:19, which says about the false teachers, “It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions” (NRSV).
Perhaps Bishop McConnell should explain just what he meant and why he chose to use a phrase so dear to his predecessor.

January 26, 2016

LGBT, Etc.

We used to talk about gays. Then it was gays and lesbians. At some point, we switched to using abbreviations. For a long time, the most common term one encountered in print was the abbreviation LGBT—the letters were sometimes permuted—which adds bisexual and transgender people to the grouping. Not long ago, I began seeing LGBTQ. Some people claim that the Q stands for queer—I’m still not sure what that is—but others say it stands for questioning. The other day, I encountered LGBTQI. The I stands for intersex. It’s surprising that it took so long for that letter I to show up, since intersex people are the easiest variant of humanity to identify with total objectivity. But I digress.

Am I the only one who thinks this is getting ridiculous? We’re running out of letters, people.

I understand that (1) people are looking for a substantive that is concise, and (2) they don’t want to leave anybody who isn’t “normal” out. No doubt, there are people ready to add yet another letter to the standard abbreviation while arguing that they belong to a forgotten and persecuted group.

Isn’t it time to adopt a term that is once-and-for-all general and not simply an enumeration of every conceivable human variant? I suggest that we begin referring to sexual minorities. No one argues that the referents of LGBTQI constitute a majority of the population. Saying that one is part of a minority is not pejorative, it is merely descriptive. One can quibble about physical versus mental classifications—distinctions between sex and gender, perhaps—but sexual seems sufficiently generic, and sexual/gender minorities seems unnecessarily technical and verbally cumbersome. It is not, of course, as cumbersome as LGBTQI, an abbreviation with insufficient vowels to be transformed into a usable acronym.

I think that the term sexual minorities may come with political benefits. As the commonly used string of letters gets longer and longer, people who have a hard time getting past the male-female dichotomy become confused and increasingly skeptical of the implied claims. On the other hand, the U.S. has a history of expending rights to more and more groups. For many people, the idea of empowering minorities, whatever those minorities are, seems very American and just. (Admittedly, this is not true of everyone.)

The term sexual minorities thus seems euphonic, inclusive, and rhetorically powerful.

Any thoughts on the subject?

January 25, 2016

Additional Thoughts on the Meeting of the Primates

My friend Tobias Haller has written one of the more insightful descriptions of what happened in the Anglican Communion recently. Permit me to quote extensively and shamelessly from his essay “The Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politicks” (Episcopalians should get Tobias’s reference):
Compass rose from Haller blog
So what have we? On the one hand we have a body, founded in 1789 and in continuous existence since, with duly elected members called and assembled, which by its constitutional authority and in keeping with its governing law has adopted a policy which concerns no entity other than itself.

On the other hand we have a group, first assembled in 1978, meeting sporadically since, this time ’round in an irregularly convened ad hoc session; with at least one voting member improperly credentialed; having no constitutional authority whatsoever; described as recently as 2004 in The Windsor Report (¶ 104) as having until then “refused to acknowledge anything more than a consultative and advisory authority” for itself—now presuming an enhanced capacity to deem the imposition of consequences upon the aforementioned body over whom they have no authority, because of their policy change.

This must be what some people mean by “Godly order.” Seems relatively ungodly to me, and far from orderly. If this were the political realm, I’d call the latter a junta and their action an attempted coup.
(If almost none of the foregoing makes any sense to you, dear reader, you are likely not an Anglican and have no reason to continue reading.)

The Primates and the Covenant

Everything Tobias says is true; the primates had no authority to discipline The Episcopal Church. What happened in Canterbury was even more insidious than he suggests, however.

The Anglican Covenant, which has been adopted by only a few of the less prominent churches of the Anglican Communion and is widely viewed as a failed project, has been criticized mostly for its fourth section, “Our Covenanted Life Together.” Section 4.2, “The Maintenance of the Covenant and Dispute Resolution” sets out how churches can raise questions about the meaning of the Covenant  or “about the compatibility of an action by a covenanting Church with the Covenant.” The document specifies quasi-judicial procedures for resolving such issues. The diagrams below, taken from my 2010 post “Section 4 Decoded,” show the relationships and procedures specified in the Covenant for resolving questions or disputes. (Click on either diagram for a larger image.)


Issue Handling Specified by Section 4 of Anglican Covenant


Readers may also want to review my post “If it looks like a duck…” for additional analysis of the disciplinary procedures set out in the Covenant.

I do not mean for readers to study the above diagrams. What is important to note is that (1) the Standing Committee, in consultation with other bodies, is responsible for evaluating allegations by one church against another and for suggesting “relational consequences,” (2) the Primates’ Meeting (or the primates, meeting) have no such authority, and (3) the Covenant suggests that adjudicating disputes is a careful, deliberative process, not the product of the sort of ad hoc kangaroo court that began two weeks ago.

In other words, although most Anglican churches have not adopted the Covenant, including The Episcopal Church and its accusers, the absence of the pact has led to the use of a procedure even less fair than was called for in Section 4 of the Covenant, a procedure completely lacking in formal authority, justice, or transparency.

A number of churches whose primates attended the meeting in Canterbury have adopted the Covenant—see list here. Admittedly, the church against which charges were being leveled had not adopted the Covenant, but why did none of the primates of covenanted churches suggest that procedures more like those set out in the Covenant be used in deciding what was to be done with complaints against The Episcopal Church?

Nothing was legitimate about the recent meeting. The ACNA archbishop, Foley Beach, was invited by Justin Welby as an inducement to get some of the more radical primates to attend. Beach is not and Anglican primate and may never be one, but he was even allowed to vote at the meeting—on the agenda, at any rate. (See Foley statement here.) His invitation was only the first indication that Welby was willing to do anything for some illusory “unity” within the Communion. Welby’s willingness to let the primates set the agenda—an agenda certain to be dominated by the desire to punish The Episcopal Church—was another concession. Welby was even amenable to describing the meeting as other than an instance of the Primates’ Meeting in order to allow certain primates to save face, even though, logically, that suggested that the meeting had no legitimacy at all. Welby’s introductory message made it clear that the American church was in for a rough ride.

The most distressing outcome of the meeting of the primates is that it is self-validating. If the primates can do what they did with the aid and comfort of the Archbishop of Canterbury, it must have been a valid action, one that can be a template for dealing with conflict in the future. (Just wait until the Church of England finally allows same-sex marriage!) Interestingly, Welby refused to describe the actions against The Episcopal Church “sanctions.” Instead, they are “consequences,” a term used in the Covenant.

African primates have often complained that actions of The Episcopal Church reflect poorly on their churches in the eyes of homophobic Islamists. This problem is of their own making. They always had the option of claiming plausible deniability, that they had no control over the what other Anglican churches do. They have now lost that option by exercising—or asserting to be exercising—control over The Episcopal Church. They can now be blamed for the fact that The Episcopal Church will not recant, but will only continue on the path it has followed for decades.


Yes to Communion; No to Covenant

January 24, 2016

BBC: We Admit We’re Wrong, but So Are Others, So It’s OK

Regular readers will recall that I complained to the BBC about the use of the term “Anglican Church” where “Anglican Communion” is meant. (See “Complaint to the BBC.”) Since I submitted my complaint, I received two messages acknowledging my comment and telling me to be patient—the BBC considers all complaints thoughtfully.

Today I received the ultimate reply to my January 11 note to the BBC, which I reproduce here verbatim:
Dear Mr Deimel

Reference CAS-3655633-CH5BS0

Thanks for getting in touch regarding the use of the term ‘Anglican Church’.

We understand you feel this is incorrect usage and the BBC should refer to the ‘Anglican Communion’ instead.

We appreciate that the Anglican Communion is made up of a group of churches with links with the Archbishop of Canterbury however the term ‘Anglican Church’ is sometimes used and understood with the same meaning.

We appreciate your feedback regarding the correct usage. All complaints are sent to senior management and our programme makers every morning and we included your points in this overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensure your complaint is seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future reporting.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind regards

David Glenday

BBC Complaints

www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.
So, the BBC admits, at the very least, that its use of “Anglican Church” is imprecise. Its defense is that others also use this formulation.

Indeed, it is true that others use “Anglican Church” to refer to the Anglican Communion. In fact, Archbishops of Canterbury—certainly the incumbent and his predecessor—have used it and, I suspect, actually know better.

Use of “Anglican Church” to mean “Anglican Communion” is not just a personal preference or dialectical variation. Instead, it represents deliberate political manipulation through misleading language intended to encourage uniformity of belief throughout the Communion.

Referring to the Anglican Communion as a church subtly suggests that the component national and regional churches, along with a few extra-provincial dioceses, should act as a unified whole, sharing common doctrine and dogma. This is the sort of mistaken thinking that motivated the primates recently to demand that The Episcopal Church be punished.

But the Anglican Communion is not a church. It has been a fellowship of churches, and, at least for the moment, is not a worldwide church.

The BBC excuses its behavior as being no different from that of others. No doubt, its “senior management” feels comfortable following the lead of Justin Welby. It’s too bad that the BBC uses this excuse to eschew objectivity in favor of spewing propaganda.

No doubt, the BBC, like many English leaders, just cannot let the Empire go.