American-Born Qaeda Leader Is Killed by U.S. Missile in Yemen –

American-Born Qaeda Leader Is Killed by U.S. Missile in Yemen –

The issue here is not whether Anwar al-Awlaki is a good or even a dangerous man. The issue is whether he is—sorry, was—a U.S. Citizen. The issue is not whether the Patriot Act grants the President authority to declare any person—citizen or not—a combatant in the war on terrorism, but whether any individual, President or not, has the constitutional authority to annul another citizen’s citizenship short of a full, public judicial proceeding.

I am not among those (themselves militant opponents of the U.S. Constitution) who fear that President Obama is laying the groundwork for a more comprehensive annulment of constitutionally protected rights and freedoms for still other U.S. citizens. However, I am among those who fear that the extra-judicial killing of Anwar al-Awlkaki, should it be unchallenged, does lay the groundwork for political leaders who have far less respect for the U.S. Constitution than President Obama.

The formerly slow erosion of constitutionally protected rights and freedoms has quickened. Where it once divided Americans it now unites them.

To revise Richard M. Nixon’s admission, “We are all now post-democrats.”

At Berkeley ‘Increase Diversity’ Bake Sale: Protests, Debates : The Two-Way : NPR

At the bake sale on Tuesday. Protesters to the right. Young Republicans and their supporters to the left.

At Berkeley ‘Increase Diversity’ Bake Sale: Protests, Debates : The Two-Way : NPR

One might have thought that students at the University of California flagship campus, Berkeley, might have a bit more going for them than this theatrical display of their profound lack of critical acumen.

I am not joking. Here is their research design. Take an identical set of baked goods and sell them at different prices depending on the race, ethnicity, and gender of the consumer.

And, what is this supposed to illustrate? It is supposed to illustrate the injustice of affirmative action.

Now, I want to give the Young Republicans who staged this display an opportunity to defend their research design.

Which of the following well-documented conclusions of scientific research do these Young Republicans dispute?

  1. social actors are deeply influenced by the social structures that shape their action orientations;
  2. social and economic structures limit the range of choices available to social actors;
  3. if equality is a value within a political community, facilitating equality will require different mechanisms for different individuals (e.g., delivering water to the central valley requires different operations than delivering water to the lakes of the upper Sierra. If we want both communities to enjoy water, we cannot implement the same delivery systems for these two different communities).
  4. because social actors are limited in different ways depending on the social and economic structures that shape them, different protocols will be implemented to meet these differing social and economic structures
  5. social actors are shaped not only by their current circumstances, but also by historical circumstances
  6. therefore it is reasonable to take historical circumstances into account when considering how to eliminate or reduce the limits placed on individual freedom

The long and short of it is that, were these Young Republicans to propose a research design such as that crudely advanced on the UC campus, their professors would be completely justified in awarding these students a failing grade, not because they are politically suspect, but because they display such a poor grasp of the most basic concepts of scientific research.

More to the point, the UC Regents should take better care in reviewing student applications to make sure that more than simply the ability to pay an outrageous tuition governs their decision-making. Perhaps we might also consider whether applicants have a grasp of the most basic principles of research-design.

Robert Lucas’s Dangerous Game of Chicken –

The Weekend Interview with Robert Lucas: Chicago Economics on Trial –

By now, nearly everyone has peaked at HJ Jenkins, Jr’s Wall Street Journal piece from this past weekend (09/24/11). But I am not sure that everyone has detected the Keynesian core of Lucas’s criticism of Paul Krugman.

Lucas, believe it or not, argues that there was not enough of a stimulus to convince investors to plow their capital back into production.

Did Lucas really say that? No. Not really. But, he came very close.

To be sure, the “reporter” Jenkins’ voice is at least as important in the article as Lucas’s, so it is more than a little difficult to separate the two.

Lucas’s advice reminds me of the high stakes, often fatal, game of chicken sometimes played by high school boys. Two drivers face one another two miles apart on a country road. They gun their engines and speed forward toward one another, in the same lane. The driver who flinches first loses. There are of course only one way for both players to win: if neither driver flinches.

Jenkins summary of Keynes is passable. “In a Keynesian world,” writes Jenkins, “when government gooses demand with a burst of deficit spending, the stick figures are supposed to get busy. Businesses are supposed to hire more and invest more. Consumers are supposed to consume more.”

“But,” he asks, “what if the stick figures don’t respond as the model prescribes?”

What if businesses react to what they see as a temporary and artificial burst in demand by working their existing workers and equipment harder—or by raising prices? What if businesses react to what they see as a temporary and artificial burst in demand by working their existing workers and equipment harder—or by raising prices? What if businesses and consumers respond to a public-sector borrowing binge by becoming fearful about the financial stability of government itself? What if they run out and join the tea party—the tea party being a real-world manifestation of consumers and employers not behaving in the presence of stimulus the way the Keynesian model says they should?

Perhaps this is just the WSJ doing what the WSJ does best, editorializing what it mistakes to be the news. But, let us assume for the moment that Jenkins is actually channeling Lucas. What then? Is there anything here (save the final sentence) that is not Keynesian at its core?

If capital is not convinced that there is a real opportunity for long-term economic growth, then it is not going to take the bait. Right? And if capital is convinced that it can make higher returns on financial markets than on capital goods, then there is no reason why they should trust that a trickle of G-change will turn the economy  around. Right? And, so, the logical, rational, problem is to figure out what will induce investors to plow their capital back into capital goods and jobs. Right?

But, it is precisely here that Jenkins loses track of his own Keynesian argument and falls back into the mantra of every WSJ reporter mistakes for thoughtful reflection: lower taxes on capital. And, yet, based on corporate tax and economic growth rates data, this clearly cannot be the answer. For, as Lucas himself helped to show, if taxes and economic growth are related, they are related in ways that are neither directly causal nor simple.


Even Lucas’s most damning condemnation—“I was caught by surprise by how far left the guy is and how much he’s hung onto it and, I would say, at considerable cost to his own standing”—turns out to have been leveled not against President Obama’s stimulus, which Lucas supported, but against investments in capital goods that do not have, nor are likely to have, a market. As Lucas himself puts it, “If you’ve overbuilt something, that’s not the problem, that’s the solution in a way. It’s too bad but it’s not a make-or-break issue, the housing bubble.”

His real criticism—did any of you get it?—is that Obama has no plan for convincing investors to invest capital in capital goods, jobs, and consumer goods. Obama, in other words, is insufficiently Keynesian. Rather than take the heat for a bold economic initiative, “the president keeps focusing on transitory things. He grudgingly says, ‘OK, we’ll keep the Bush tax cuts on for a couple years.’ That’s just the wrong thing to say. What I care about is what’s the tax rate going to be when my project begins to bear fruit?”

But, here, Lucas reveals his own unfounded bias. For the only investor who is concerned about the tax rate down the road is an investor who lacks a product that will command sufficient returns. What Lucas cares about, in other words, is not the returns on his investment, but the tax on his investment. He is still thinking under the presumption of liquidity for the indefinite future.

The question we might ask is whether there is any rate of return on investment, however large, that Lucas (or Jenkins) would feel warranted the rates of taxation that industry enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s, decades when investors were enjoying such handsome returns on their investments? If the answer is that there is no rate of return on investment that would warrant these rates of taxation, then Lucas is admitting that there is nothing that would provoke investors to plow their liquid assets back into capital goods, jobs, and consumer goods, absolutely nothing.

In which case, either investors are irrational or they believe that they can get even more by indefinitely subjecting the public to this dangerous game of chicken.

Rick Perry accuses some Republicans of having a heart—Rivals Deny Accusation


Rick Perry’s Stance on Immigration May Hurt His Chances –

I think it is outrageous to accuse any of the Republican candidates of having a heart. This was a complete blunder. The entire point of running for office as a Republican is to prove to the Republican base that you are not going to cave in to the whining, sniveling  poor, hungry, homeless, widows, or orphans. To do so would be patently un-Christian. Did Jesus go around helping the poor, hungry, homeless, widows and orphans? Did he not clearly teach that only those who lower taxes on millionaires and cut social welfare programs will enter God’s Kingdom?

Which is why I say: Republicans do not have a heart!

Fair Play and the Golden Rule: Riffing on Thorstein Veblen

Searching about for an account of modern capitalism that might enable him to justify the term “modern Christendom,” economic anthropologist Thorstein Veblen hit upon a correspondence between the Golden Rule and British Fair Play.

Throughout all the vicissitudes of cultural change, the golden rule of the peaceable savage has never lost the respect of occidental mankind, and its hold on men’s convictions is, perhaps, stronger now than at any earlier period of the modern time (“Christian Morals and the Competitive System,” International Journal of Ethics 1910:20(3) 182).

For readers not familiar with Veblen’s works, it is important to note that “the peaceable savage” to which he makes reference is any member of a wandering human community whose members are so dependent upon one another that the rules of reciprocity and rough equality dictate the limits of all social behavior. With any capital accumulation whatever, this peaceable community gives way to pecuniary relations and invidious distinctions grounded in conspicuous consumption and leisure. The “Golden Rule,” for Veblen, is a throw-back to archaic times, a throw-back sustained by a community whose members endure hardship and oppression for the sake of their Lord and who therefore anachronistically promote an ethic of reciprocity and equality.

No doubt “fair play” played well during the years leading up to the Great War and continued to play well through to its end. Yet, Veblen appears to mistake the symbolic cultural value this catch phrase commanded for the genuine article, which, at least in the United States and Great Britain, was strictly reserved for leisured sports, but enjoyed next to no traction whatever among the Carnegies, Rockefellers, and other scions of industry.

Perhaps like most economists, then as now, Veblen had come to believe in his own fairy tale, a fairy tale that made the four-fold catastrophe of war, depression, holocaust and atomic/fire bombs all the more frightening because all the more unanticipated.

Christian Non-Resistance and Graeco-Roman Culture

In his 1910 article “Christian Morals and the Competitive System” (International Journal of Ethics 20(2) 168-185), Thorstein Veblen claims, first, that the principle of non-resistance was a novelty among the world’s religions and cultures, but, then, that “Mankind, particularly the populace, within the confines of that Roman dominion within which the early diffusion of Christianity took place, was apparently in a frame of mind to accept such a principle of morality, or such a maxim of conduct” (174).

However, as Veblen must surely have known, non-resistance was extremely widespread among Semitic communities, providing the model upon which first century Christians based their interpretation of Jesus’s passivity before Pilate. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). In the mid- to late-50s CE, the Apostle Paul then applied this utterance more broadly to the first century community of faith. “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Cor. 1:22-24). In this “hidden” and “secret” wisdom, Paul finds the explanation for why “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are” (vv. 27-28). Nor were first century Christians alone in their conviction that God’s spirit and guidance could only take up residence and become visible and known in vessels emptied of their own will and power.

But it is Veblen’s second claim, that “mankind . . . was in a frame of mind to accept such a principle,” that calls for our particular attention, for it runs in the face of the actual resistance this principle encountered in the face of Roman power. Non-resistance deprived Rome of foot soldiers. It tested Rome’s ability to use fear as a means for compelling compliance. And so it filled Rome’s stadia with martyrs.

Yet, at least in one respect, Veblen’s claim might not be so off-base. In the context of empire, as the rolls of marginalized populations mushroomed, it may have struck the swelling ranks of poor, orphaned, and widowed that despair alone was a worthy companion. The Christian gospel—cynically, according to Friedrich Nietzsche—may have transformed this despair into hope through the very vehicle the Roman’s had intended for fear and compliance. By emulating the cross, martyrs could both participate in the death of their Lord and in His resurrection. Non-resistance, in other words, was seen as a vehicle for conquering the conqueror.

But, this is still a far cry from saying that “mankind” was in a frame to accept non-resistance. To the contrary, no sooner had the empire compromised and elided its enemy(in 324/5 CE), then the Church itself recanted the principle that Rome had most feared.

Fate of Troy Anthony Davis Hangs in the Balance as Supporters Seek Last-Minute Halt to Execution

When the Hebrew Sacred Text becomes a pretext for executing an innocent man, ours is no longer a nation governed by laws, but by an ideology of vengeance. Yes, six out of the nine non-uniformed eye-witnesses have withdrawn their testimony. Yes, no forensic evidence links Mr. Davis to the scene of the crime. Yes, one of the three remaining eye-witnesses was initially the prime suspect. But these facts overlook what blood-lust says about us and what it does to us.

Even if we assume that the value of one life is infinite, there is no rationale for doubling the value of the loss. Mr. Davis’s death cannot make up for the loss of the off-duty police officer who was killed. Mr. Davis’s death doubles the loss. But, as every school-boy knows, infinity squared is . . . infinity. Nothing is gained.

Assuming that the value of the life of the off-duty police officer is infinite, it does not follow that our knowledge is infinite. To the contrary, a review of a half-century of executions confirms that states have regularly put to death individuals who testimony and forensic evidence later proved had been innocent. In this case, the death of the accused at the hands of the fallible state only shows that the state can also commit a crime the consequences for which cannot be undone.

What does it say about us that we are willing to take a step of infinite consequence based on knowledge that is inevitably flawed? Or what effect does such a step have upon us?

We become in that instant a nation not of laws, but a nation of vengeance. However, “Vengeance is Mine. I will repay, saith the Lord.” This act by the State of Georgia is not only illegal. It is impious. And I truly believe that a just God will take vengeance upon a people who commits such an impious act in His name.

Fate of Troy Anthony Davis Hangs in the Balance as Supporters Seek Last-Minute Halt to Execution

The Apostle Paul’s Fateful Counsel: Romans 13:1-7

In the late 50s or early 60s CE, the Apostle Paul was alerted to the dangers facing Christians in Rome who believed that their allegiance to Christ required that they stop paying taxes and that they selectively obey Roman law. In response, the Apostle had the following counsel:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Over time, this counsel would invite a wide variety of interpretations. Originally of course Christians in Rome were only all too aware that the “higher powers” to whom the Apostle referred were the Emperor Nero and his henchmen and that the “dues” these henchmen collected were used for everything from military conquest to temple prostitution, from blood-thirsty games for the entertainment of Roman citizens to the support of Rome’s considerable pantheon of deities. Yet, by the sixteenth century Christians, both east and west, had recast Rome’s “higher powers” as “Christian magistrates,” godly men of faith and outspoken piety.

Upon reflection, the original understanding is at least as disturbing as the last. For it suggests that the first Christians were to obey men who in all respects were among the least godly, most profligate, and most blood-thirsty of their times. Even more, they were to contribute “dues” (i.e., taxes) to support their licentious pagan habits. Was the Apostle mad or simply uninformed?

He was, I will argue, neither. Like most educated first century Romans, the Apostle viewed “power” as a part of the natural order to which all human beings were subject. And as an educated Jew Paul interpreted this natural order in light of his God’s creative and sustaining power. Nero was a part of God’s creation, an agent whose own power must have ultimately derived from God’s own power. “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefor resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.”

And, yet, the Apostle was also aware of another, hidden and secret, wisdom revealed in the appearance, ministry, death, resurrection and risen life of Jesus the Christ in the community of faith. According to this hidden and secret wisdom, the laws of the natural order were being overturned. “For consider your calling,” the Apostle wrote to the Church in Corinth.

There were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are. . . . We speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (I Co. 1:26-28, 2:6-8).

Here the Apostle acknowledges a hidden wisdom completely out of step with the dominant natural understanding of power. God has chosen the weak, foolish, and base things—things without power—to bring to nothing the things that are. But, says the Apostle, do not try to teach this wisdom to the powerful, wise, and noble. They will not understand it. They do not see it. Yet, it is this secret wisdom that promises to be the undoing of the rulers of this age.

Throughout the first two centuries of Christianity, until Constantine and the Council of Nicaea fixed this relationship by obliterating the difference, Christians maneuvered between these two truths, between the natural theology reflected in Romans 13:1-7 and the secret and hidden wisdom reflected in I Corinthians 1-2.

Then in 324 Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome and in 325 he convened the Council of Nicaea, effectively obliterating the distinction between the Church and power. And, yet, this administrative and legal reform did not resolve the conflict between the Church and power.

Come join us at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley, to consider the complex evolving relationship between the Church and Power, from the Apostle Paul’s earliest letters to the latest declarations by right wing evangelical political candidates.

Where: St Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley

When: beginning September 25, 9 a.m. in the Church Library


What is Political Theology?

“Political Theology” was the term German political philosopher Carl Schmitt gave to theology that entered the political arena in nineteenth century western Europe. For our purposes, political theology refers to a movement inspired by nineteenth century Dutch Calvinism and then transplanted to the United States. This movement adopts the reformed (i.e., Calvinist) conviction that no sphere of life falls outside of God’s interest or control, but it then transforms this conviction into a full-blown post-democratic, extra-judicial ideology.

Beginning October 5, we will be reading and discussing Jeff Sharlet’s runaway best-sellers that touch upon this movement: The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power  (read an excerpt) and C Street (read an interview). The class will also conduct a screening of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s award-winning documentary Jesus Camp. For more information, contact Joseph W.H. Lough.

Coming this Fall to Saint Mark’s: The Church and Power

Beginning with the writings of Saint Paul from the 50s CE, this course invites students to explore the complex changing relationship between the Christian Church and “governing power.” Students will examine the writings of some of the best known Christian authors as they respond to the changing political, economic, social, and religious landscape from the early first century down to the twenty-first.

Please join Professor Joseph W.H. Lough, lecturer in Political Economy at UC Berkeley, as he guides us through this treacherous terrain.

Where: The Church Library, Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley

When: 9-9:50 a.m., Sundays, beginning September 25.