A plan to cut the deficit

It is said that Americans want the government to cut spending while also wanting the government to spend more for them.  We will now see how serious the demands to cut the deficit are.

The bipartisan commission appointed by the president to suggest how to trim government spending and get the budget into balance is working on the problem.  The two chairmen have released a report on their suggestions.  (This is not the final report of the commission.)  The two have come up with a plan to save $4 trillion through 2020.  It cuts the military, eliminates earmarks, drops federal subsidies for student loans, cuts Medicare, freezes federal salaries, cuts farm subsidies, and eliminates the option to draw social security until you are 68.  Supposedly, there is something in the proposal to anger everybody.

It will also raise some taxes.  It includes an intriguing reform of the income tax:

The proposed simplification of the tax code would repeal or modify a number of popular tax breaks — including the deductibility of mortgage interest payments — so that income tax rates could be reduced across the board. Under the plan, individual income tax rates would decline to as low as 8 percent on the lowest income bracket (now 10 percent) and to 23 percent on the highest bracket (now 35 percent). The corporate tax rate, now 35 percent, would also be reduced, to as low as 26 percent.

Even after reducing the rates, the overhaul of the tax code would still yield additional revenue to reduce annual deficits — a projected $80 billion in 2015.

via Panel Weighs Deep Cuts in Tax Breaks and Spending – NYTimes.com.

Take a look at the proposed cuts listed in these articles andhere. Or read the entire 50-page report.

Would you be willing to bite this bullet?

The Vocation of Military Service

In honor of Veterans’ Day and to salute those who served in the military, I would like to hear from those of you who are veterans.  How did military service impact your life?  What did it do for your character, personality, beliefs, etc.?  Those of you who have been in combat, did you come out of that traumatized or stronger or a bit of both or what?  (All of this has to do with the military as vocation.)

Christian persecution intensifies in Iraq

Islamic militants in Iraq have turned their attention to their Christian neighbors, declaring that Christians are legitimate targets and bombing Christian neighborhoods.  This follows a recent assault on a church during the worship service that killed more than 40.  From the BBC:

A series of bomb and mortar attacks targeting Christian areas has killed at least five people in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Six districts with strong Christian majorities were hit – more than 30 people have been injured.

The attacks come days after Islamist militants seized a Catholic cathedral and more than 40 were killed. . . .

“Two mortar shells and 10 home-made bombs targeted the homes of Christians in different neighbourhoods of Baghdad between 0600 and 0800 (0300 and 0500 GMT),” an unnamed official told AFP news agency.

An interior ministry source, quoted anonymously by Reuters, said the attacks were directly linked to the siege of the cathedral.

“These operations, which targeted Christians, came as a continuation of the attack that targeted the Salvation church,” the source said.

The BBC’s Jim Muir, in Baghdad, says it is unclear whether Christians were killed. However the intention is clear – to underline a threat from the so-called Islamic State for Iraq, an umbrella group linked to al-Qaeda, that all Christians in the country are now a legitimate target.

via BBC News – Christian areas targeted in deadly Baghdad attacks.

Is there a "mere Christianity"?

David Mills, editor of First Things, takes issue with the C. S. Lewis and his notion of “mere Christianity”; that is, that Christians of all traditions are in agreement on certain key teachings and that this constitutes a common orthodoxy for all Christians.  David is a Catholic, so of course he can’t accept that.  Here is part of his argument:

The problem is that image of the house with the rooms, illustrating what Lewis meant by “mere Christianity.” It appears in the preface to Mere Christianity. “I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else,” Lewis writes.

“It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. . . . It is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.”

It sounds irenic and ecumenical, but it is a Protestant image for a Protestant doctrine. It makes the Catholic Church a room like any other room. It is a way of saying that the differences between Protestants and Catholics would be solved very easily . . . if Catholics became Protestants.

These Catholics have to think of the Church as a denomination like any other, and they should stop putting on airs. From the Protestant point of view, the Catholic who insists that his church is the Church is a lot like the old codger in 4B coming round demanding the rent or imposing a curfew on the other apartments. He may be the oldest and wealthiest and most learned person in the building, but still, he’s just the old codger in 4B.

A Catholic, however, can’t remove membership in the Catholic Church from the things that are essential to the definition of Christian. Lewis’s idea of Mere Christianity is ruined as an ecumenical proposal from the start by his making it a theology and moral life lived in fellowship with the like-minded rather than an incorporation into a Body manifest in history. For the Catholic unity comes from shared membership in the Catholic Church, not from agreement on some distilled essence of Christianity.

He looks at his Protestant brothers as brothers not because he shares with them some essence of Christianity but because they are partly Catholics whether they like it or not. As the Second Vatican Council’s Unitatis Redintegratio declared, “men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect.” This includes even those who call the Church the whore of Babylon and the pope the antichrist.

The question is, what is the house? Lewis himself wrote of “the rules common to the whole house,” and therein raised the problem. For the Catholic, one of the house’s main rules is that you have to be a Catholic to live there. The Immaculate Conception of Mary is not a belief required in the Catholic room, while disbelief in it is required in the Protestant rooms; it is a belief required of all those who live under that roof. If someone doesn’t believe it, he can’t have a room in the house. He can set up a shelter in the yard (his communion is real but imperfect)—inside the pale, certainly, and not beyond it, but not in the house.

via No Mere Christianity | First Things.

It occurred to me that many Lutherans might have the same problem, with our insistence on agreement on all the articles of faith for full fellowship and our impatience with people who sort doctrines into essential and non-essential.  And yet, there are some things that all Christians agree on.  Furthermore, there is an ontological reality of all believers in the Gospel constituting the hidden Church as the Body of Christ.  So what do you think of this?  Is there a “mere Christianity,” and what are its possibilities and limitations?

Jacksonian foreign policy

Michael Gerson thinks that the country is going back to “a Jacksonian” foreign policy:

Even without a developed Tea Party foreign policy, the center of gravity on Capitol Hill is likely to shift in a Jacksonian direction. Historian Walter Russell Mead describes this potent, populist foreign policy tradition as “an instinct rather than an ideology.” Today’s Jacksonians believe in a strong military, assertively employed to defend American interests. They are skeptical of international law and international institutions, which are viewed as threats to American sovereignty and freedom of action. Jacksonians are generally dismissive of idealistic global objectives, such as a world free from nuclear weapons. Instead, they are heavily armed realists, convinced that America operates in an irredeemably hostile world. In particular, according to Mead, Jacksonians believe in wars that end with the unconditional surrender of an enemy, instead of “multilateral, limited warfare or peacekeeping operations.”

The Jacksonian ascendancy on Capitol Hill is likely to mean resistance to foreign assistance spending as well as undermining engagement with the United Nations. Who was foolish enough to schedule, immediately after the midterm election, a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in which Cuba, Iran and Venezuela scrutinized America’s human rights record? Even without such provocations, Jacksonians will urge more forceful policies against Cuba, Iran and Venezuela – along with Russia and China.

But the largest test case will be Afghanistan. Here Obama faces a rare challenge. His base of support for the Afghan war lies mainly in the opposing party, making Republican attitudes toward the war decisive. As Obama’s July 2011 deadline for beginning the withdrawal of American troops approaches, any hint of civilian-military divisions on strategy could dramatically erode Republican support. Jacksonians like to win wars. But if Obama appears reluctant, they could easily turn against a war the president does not seem determined to win.

No one cares about foreign policy – until a foreign policy crisis overwhelms every other issue. Or until a drifting, demasted foreign policy begins to offend the Jacksonian pride of the nation.

via Michael Gerson – Will the Tea Party shift American foreign policy?.

Would you agree with a Jacksonian foreign policy?  Or would you prefer isolationism, imperialism, or WHAT?

The other Republican victory

The Republicans also made big gains in our nation’s political infrastructure; that is, the important but often neglected state governments:

While the Republican gains in the House and Senate are grabbing the most headlines, the most significant results on Tuesday came in state legislatures where Republicans wiped the floor with Democrats.

Republicans picked up 680 seats in state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures — the most in the modern era. To put that number in perspective: In the 1994 GOP wave, Republicans picked up 472 seats. The previous record was in the post-Watergate election of 1974, when Democrats picked up 628 seats.

The GOP gained majorities in at least 14 state house chambers. They now have unified control — meaning both chambers — of 26 state legislatures.

That control is a particularly bad sign for Democrats as they go into the redistricting process. If the GOP is effective in gerrymandering districts in many of these states, it could eventually lead to the GOP actually expanding its majority in 2012.

via Devastation: GOP Picks Up 680 State Leg. Seats – Hotline On Call.