“A person must not be identified by their sexual orientation”

A New York archbishop shut down a “gay mass” that was held regularly in a SoHo church.  His explanation why there must not be a distinct worship service for homosexuals–the one mass is for everyone–makes a further interesting point about human identity:

First among the principles of pastoral care is the innate dignity of every person and the respect in which they must be held. Also, of great importance, is the teaching of the Church that a person must not be identified by their sexual orientation. The moral teaching of the Church is that the proper use of our sexual faculty is within a marriage, between a man and a woman, open to the procreation and nurturing of new human life.

Comments David Mills:

That “must not be identified by their sexual orientation,” for example, also means “must not identify themselves by their sexual orientation,” which is to say, must not assume they can or must act upon their desires.

You are not first a homosexual, the archdiocese is saying to the people who attended that Mass. You are first and primarily a human being, and therefore someone called to chastity, and the proper expressions of your sexuality are defined and limited and do not include homosexual practice. Being homosexual is only the personal context in which you are called to be chaste, as being heterosexual is the context for most people. But it is not an identity that brings with it a way of life.

via First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

How does this help to frame the issue of homosexuality and pastoral care to gay people (that is, to human beings with same sex attraction)?  On the other hand, what is distinctly Catholic about this formulation?

Pain medication scandal

One of the biggest drug problems today is addiction to prescription pain medication like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet.  These are “opioids,” derived from natural or synthetic opium. They used to be prescribed for specific cases of acute pain, but back in the 1990s they began to be prescribed longer-term for chronic pain such as back problems.  Most people who get addicted–from celebrities like Rush Limbaugh to untold numbers of coal miners and other physical laborers–got their start from legitimate medical prescriptions for chronic pain.

Doctors started prescribing the opioids for chronic conditions because of research published in the New England Journal of Medicine and other key medical journals that said the drugs posted only “a minimal risk of addiction.”

But it’s coming out now that those scientific studies were not only sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies that sold the drug, but they also systematically failed to consider withdrawal symptoms in the patients they studied.  One participant in the studies now confesses that they were  “trying to create a narrative so that the primary care audience would . . . feel more comfortable about opioids.”

Investigative reporter Peter Whoriskey is digging out the details: Read Rising painkiller addiction shows damage from drugmakers’ role in shaping medical opinion – The Washington Post.

Opium is addictive!  Who knew?  Only 19th century literature fans who know their de Quincy and their Coleridge.  Scientific studies that maintain the contrary should have provoked suspicion.

I think pharmaceutical companies have been unfairly demonized–they are even showing up as stock villains in television and films–since their products do great good.  New drugs require huge investments and the federal approval process demands expensive testing.  Who else can pay for that?  That drug companies paid for a study does not necessarily invalidate it.  Still, scientific research is not always as objective as it appears.  The appearance of commercial bias here, though, in drugs that have become so widely prescribed and that can do so much harm is disturbing.

What all is in the Fiscal Cliff bill

The Fiscal Cliff bill did more than extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone except those who make $450,000.  Here is a useful summary of what’s in the new law:

— Tax rates will permanently rise to Clinton-era levels for families with income above $450,000 and individuals above $400,000. All income below the threshold will permanently be taxed at Bush-era rates.

— The tax on capital gains and dividends will be permanently set at 20 percent for those with income above the $450,000/$400,000 threshold. It will remain at 15 percent for everyone else. (Clinton-era rates were 20 percent for capital gains and taxed dividends as ordinary income, with a top rate of 39.6 percent.)

— The estate tax will be set at 40 percent for those at the $450,000/$400,000 threshold, with a $5 million exemption. That threshold will be indexed to inflation, as a concession to Republicans and some Democrats in rural areas like Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mt.).

— The sequester will be delayed for two months. Half of the delay will be offset by discretionary cuts, split between defense and non-defense. The other half will be offset by revenue raised by the voluntary transfer of traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs, which would tax retirement savings when they’re moved over.

— The pay freeze on members of Congress, which Obama had lifted this week, will be re-imposed.

— The 2009 expansion of tax breaks for low-income Americans: the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit will be extended for five years.

— The Alternative Minimum Tax will be permanently patched to avoid raising taxes on the middle-class.

— The deal will not address the debt-ceiling, and the payroll tax holiday will be allowed to expire.

— Two limits on tax exemptions and deductions for higher-income Americans will be reimposed: Personal Exemption Phaseout (PEP) will be set at $250,000 and the itemized deduction limitation (Pease) kicks in at $300,000.

—The full package of temporary business tax breaks — benefiting everything from R&D and wind energy to race-car track owners — will be extended for another year.

— Scheduled cuts to doctors under Medicare would be avoided for a year through spending cuts that haven’t been specified.

— Federal unemployment insurance will be extended for another year, benefiting those unemployed for longer than 26 weeks. This $30 billion provision won’t be offset.

— A nine-month farm bill fix will be attached to the deal, Sen. Debbie Stabenow told reporters, averting the newly dubbed milk cliff.

via Wonkbook: Everything you need to know about the fiscal cliff deal.

Congress scrambles back up the cliff

Congress stayed up late last night and at 10:35 p.m. voted 257 to 167 to approve the Fiscal Cliff compromise.  And the good thing is that since taxes automatically went up for everyone when the day began, with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, Congressmen could keep their no-tax-hike pledges because their action was now a tax cut; that is, for everyone except those who make over $450,000. Also, people making over $250,000 may no longer claim the personal exemptions on their tax forms, so their taxes will go up slightly, allowing President Obama to keep his campaign promise.

The bill that had already been approved by the Senate also extended the Farm Bill, backing us away from the Dairy Cliff that would have doubled milk milk prices.  The automatic spending cuts that were scheduled to go into effect when the Bush tax rates expired were postponed for two months.  Nor does it raise the debt ceiling.  Nor does it do much for the deficit.  So the battles and brinkmanship will continue.

via Congress approves ‘fiscal cliff’ measure – The Washington Post.

Should we abolish the Constitution?

Louis Michael Seidman, a Georgetown professor of Constitutional Law, no less, argues in the New York Times that we should do away with the Constitution.

Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.

As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is. Imagine that after careful study a government official — say, the president or one of the party leaders in Congress — reaches a considered judgment that a particular course of action is best for the country. Suddenly, someone bursts into the room with new information: a group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves might have disagreed with this course of action. Is it even remotely rational that the official should change his or her mind because of this divination? . . .

This is not to say that we should disobey all constitutional commands. Freedom of speech and religion, equal protection of the laws and protections against governmental deprivation of life, liberty or property are important, whether or not they are in the Constitution. We should continue to follow those requirements out of respect, not obligation.

Nor should we have a debate about, for instance, how long the president’s term should last or whether Congress should consist of two houses. Some matters are better left settled, even if not in exactly the way we favor. Nor, finally, should we have an all-powerful president free to do whatever he wants. Even without constitutional fealty, the president would still be checked by Congress and by the states. There is even something to be said for an elite body like the Supreme Court with the power to impose its views of political morality on the country.

What would change is not the existence of these institutions, but the basis on which they claim legitimacy. The president would have to justify military action against Iran solely on the merits, without shutting down the debate with a claim of unchallengeable constitutional power as commander in chief. Congress might well retain the power of the purse, but this power would have to be defended on contemporary policy grounds, not abstruse constitutional doctrine. The Supreme Court could stop pretending that its decisions protecting same-sex intimacy or limiting affirmative action were rooted in constitutional text.

The deep-seated fear that such disobedience would unravel our social fabric is mere superstition. As we have seen, the country has successfully survived numerous examples of constitutional infidelity. And as we see now, the failure of the Congress and the White House to agree has already destabilized the country. Countries like Britain and New Zealand have systems of parliamentary supremacy and no written constitution, but are held together by longstanding traditions, accepted modes of procedure and engaged citizens. We, too, could draw on these resources.

What has preserved our political stability is not a poetic piece of parchment, but entrenched institutions and habits of thought and, most important, the sense that we are one nation and must work out our differences.

via Let’s Give Up on the Constitution – NYTimes.com.

But why would we even have a Congress, a Senate, a President, and a Supreme Court and how would we know how long their terms are without a foundational, authoritative plan of government?  How would we protect free speech without some kind of supreme law?  Which would be a constitution?  Yes, Great Britain and members of the Commonwealth do without a written constitution, instead following an unwritten collection of traditional principles.  But for that to work, you would need to have a respect for tradition, which Prof. Steidman, with its dismissal of the “white propertied men” of the 18th century, is hardly encouraging.

Besides, as pointed out by David T. Koyzis (to whom I tip my hat for putting me onto this piece) respect for the Constitution and the consequent rule of law that it makes possible is one of the “enduring traditions and habits of thought” that Seidman wants to replace it with.  (First Thoughts of December 31 has posted three critiques of Seidman’s column.)

Obamacare supports gun rights

So will the NRA rally support for Obamacare?

The words were tucked deep into the sprawling text of President Obama’s signature health-care overhaul. Under the headline “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights” was a brief provision restricting the ability of doctors to gather data about their patients’ gun use — a largely overlooked but significant challenge to a movement in American medicine to treat firearms as a matter of public health.

The language, pushed by the National Rifle Association in the final weeks of the 2010 debate over health care and discovered only in recent days by some lawmakers and medical groups, is drawing criticism in the wake of this month’s schoolhouse massacre of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Conn. Some public health advocates, worried that the measure will hinder research and medical care, are calling on the White House to amend the language as it prepares to launch a gun-control initiative in January.

NRA officials say they requested the provision out of concern that insurance companies could use such data to raise premiums on gun owners. The measure’s supporters in the Senate say they did not intend to interfere with the work of doctors or researchers.

via NRA fingerprints in landmark health-care law – The Washington Post.

For me, the telling part of this story is “discovered only in recent days.”  Has NOBODY read the 124-page  bill all the way through?  What else might be in there?  (If you want to give it a go at reading the thing, here is the bill.)


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