Our Ruling Class is Always Able to Find Billions for Rich People

but suddenly is gimlet-eyed when it comes to a just wage for troops who are on food stamps and welfare, or unemployed to the tune of a million returning vets:

Escalating Military Pay Under Scrutiny of Budget Hawks

The other day, on my FB page, I happened to be scrolling down and ran across this little graphic, which made what I took to be the thoroughly common sense point that if we can find billions to pay for drones to target and murder women and children, we should be able to scrape together the cash to help a brain-damaged vet whose wife couldn’t handle it and ditched him after he returned from his fourth tour of duty permanently disabled. Trouble was, the graphic I happened to run across that made this elementary moral point was this:

So, putting the Epic in Epistemic Closure, the commentary from readers was, overwhelmingly, not “We need to treat our troops with justice and honor” but:

Too bad that John Stewart is an antichrist of the first order who must answer for equal crimes.


Wow: opposing Mitt Romney and supporting John Stewart. Who’s your patron St Thomas Amarxist? BTW I appreciated your stand-alone comment, but to try ti use the hypocritical self-contradictory Stewart for support is sublime.


I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment, Mark. John Stewart, however, is a partisan hack who would gladly say the exact opposite of this if it meant supporting his own party.

And so on for 150-200 comments. Almost instantly the actual point–that would be the injustice done our troops–was totally forgotten and the subject became–overwhelmingly–the grave danger that the graphic was somehow “giving credibility” to Jon Stewart and failing to maintain tribal purity.

About 99% of everything that is wrong with the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism is found right in that thread, beginning with its total obsession with Identity Politics (aka the Genetic Fallacy). The very suggestion that somebody who is Not of the Tribe could have something to say that is worth hearing was rejected without trial and the only thing under discussion was not the point being made but the person making it.

It’s not terribly mysterious how, in such a climate of petty power struggles, people like our troops get utterly forgotten. Indeed, as the thread progressed, one badly wounded vet with chronic health struggles attempted to actually bring the conversation back from the lunacy of “You quoted Jon Stewart! This information is ritually impure!” to describing his struggles with a state system rigged to screw vets. It was very painful reading. But some readers would not be deterred. They resolutely returned to the burning issue of quoting Jon Stewart as a tribal marker of my *real* agenda, as well as explaining that it’s all so complicated and there’s just no money for vets, etc. blah blah. But the main thing was Stewart. What mattered was not whether the central point was true. All that *really* mattered was that I had happened to use a graphic of Jon Stewart making the point.

How can a conservatism, more importantly how can a Catholic faith, that does this *possibly* hope to engage a world in which, incredibly, not everybody agrees with it about everything? In a healthy civil culture, you work together for the common good with people who are very different from you, affirming in common what can be affirmed. If a garden variety New York Jewish liberal says, “We should treat our troops justly and not screw them” a healthy conservative–and a healthy Catholic–recognizes that the New York Jewish liberal may not be too keen on the Catholic Church a lot of times (Stewart has made the Church the butt of his jokes many times, no denying that), but at least he’s right about this so God bless him for that. If Catholic conservatives cannot make common cause with a generally reasonable Lefty on something as bloody obviously true as “Don’t screw our troops over”, (because that might somehow mean the Lefty does not receive the maximum amount of tribal hatred that must be maintained at all times in order to retain ones’s bona fides as a True Catholic conservative), then how can we possibly hope to evangelize a world that is not confined to Fortress Catholicus? I don’t have any big answers. But it seems like a good start is “Reject Identity Politics and the Genetic Fallacy.”

Somebody in the thread claimed that Stewart was a Marxist (I don’t believe that for a second) and that this somehow put him beyond the pale of engagement. Pope Benedict is able to engage with all sorts of people of good will who hold ideas that are often quite antithetical to the Faith. These include Marxists, who are often far *more* hostile to the Church than Stewart is. I attempted, in vain, to point out that the Church has historically tried to engage with whatever is true from anything in human culture and pointed out that Thomas used the work of pagans and Muslims. The response, of course, was to completely miss the point and say, “So you are comparing Jon Stewart to Aristotle and Averroes?”

Um, no. I am saying that the Church does not practice the Genetic Fallacy. More importantly, the Church thinks that soldiers and their families should not be screwed out of a just wage or subjected to intolerable strains while monies are spent on enriching our Ruling Class–and is willing to work with anybody who thinks likewise to achieve a more just end for poor people being screwed by corrupt pols and corrupt cronies. Catholics should be able to affirm this elementary truth without the distraction of Identity Politics, which is undiluted folly-making poison.

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  • “So you are comparing Jon Stewart to Aristotle and Averroes?”

    Strange response. Personally, I compare Stewart to a liberal version of Rush Limbaugh, who is also capable of being right once in a while. Especially when, like Stewart, he scrutinizes the media (something that is easy to do).

    • I’m wondering if it was so hard for Shea to find a graphic of (as he put it) a “tribal member” saying very nearly the same thing? (and imagine the impact of the point, 2 opposing “sides” saying the same thing together)

      Although… does there seem to be a hint of irony in a post that mourns the loss of the ability to disagree, while complaining that pe0ple disagreed with him?

      Nah, must just be me.

  • Utterly fantastic.

    …But you see, Mark, we cannot allow heathens to be merciful. They make us look bad .

  • The GOP has made measures to get vets better access to the private medical system so that they are no longer utterly trapped in the VA system of socialized medicine. I support those efforts to privatize veteran care via Tricare. Such efforts generally require bipartisan support.
    When you have hard hawks filibustering an unnamed veterans bill, the general assumption on the right is that there was a poison pill put inside and that this is a political exercise of waving the bloody shirt of disabled vets and their care in order to neutralize a traditional position of GOP advantage in complete and utter disregard of the actual care of our vets. It might not be true all the time but it’s a fairly good bet that it is true in any vaguely worded, no bill number attached screed launched by a known partisan from the other party.
    This use of veterans as props is disgusting and almost impossible to directly assess without the bill number (which I did not notice). I have no idea whether the simpering idiot you pictured is in his stopped-clock-is-right-twice-a-day moment or not and I can’t figure that out for sure without the bill number that he’s referring to but doesn’t actually say. You see, that’s part of the cowardice of his “I am just a comedian” schtick when anybody tries to treat Stewart seriously and realistically. Comedy doesn’t have bill numbers.
    So people on the right reflexively play the odds on Jon Stewart and assume that it’s part of the other 23 hours and 58 minutes of the ordinary day. And they feel outraged and sandbagged for playing those odds when they are called on it by someone who is complicit in the schtick because Mark Shea isn’t giving out the bill number either.
    This is dirty politics. If you want to discuss a dastardly conservative hypocrisy, they can be found but you need to give out a bill number to identify the actual situation so that intelligent commentators can actually speak from knowledge instead of playing the odds. Playing dirty politics gets in the way of christian apologetics no matter which direction you do it.
    Please Mark, give a link to the underlying bill, give a link to the Congressional record, give something solid so that people can honestly peel back the political games and apply our consciences to the reality of the question and see which side in this situation is closer to Christ and who we should be aiming our justified ire at. This article is not the first time that you have given insufficient information to properly analyze a political question and then slammed people for filling in the blanks you left in a way you disagree with. May it please be the last.

    • sal magundi

      rather, mark has given the link, to the facebook page on which the posters trashed his choice of a mark stewart quote to illuminate a persistent problem. that was, quite obviously, the point of the post – the insularity of many in the church; not – the content of any bill.

      • You’ve managed to miss my point which is that given a lack of information in an arena where people regularly mislead, people rationally make guesses on what’s really going on. To chide people for these rational shortcuts is wrong and misses the point. Before it is right to chide the commenters insularity one must first demonstrate that the commenters are wrong, a point Mark skipped. He was wrong to skip it.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “screed launched by a known partisan” Yup, that pretty much describes your comment. Excellent job, by the way, in augmenting the point of the post.

      • MattyD

        LoL! Well said, Ivan.

      • Light fluff devoid of content but that makes so much more room for the smug. A slow golf clap for you. And you’ve even got your own LOL fan.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Flattery will get you nowhere.

  • Paulus Magnus

    The troops do receive a just wage however and it’s actually one of the better paying thanks to the stagnation of private sector wages the past few decades. The problem, and where food stamps tend to come into play, is that allowances are (usually) not considered and also a lot of troops are pretty piss-poor at managing money (not to mention things like contract marriages simply to get more money). But look at say a US Marine Corps private, six months of service, stationed at Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, CA. They receive $17,892 in basic pay (in 2012, 2013 is a 1.7% increase), free housing (BAH allowance if they were off-base is $1,386 with no dependents or $16,632 per year tax-free), full benefits (though the military is terrible on mental health), and an additional $348.44 per month, tax free, for food. $38,700 per year for a buck private doesn’t sound like an unjust wage to me. Sure, the actual cash is lower if they’re stuck in barracks, but free housing is a pretty good benefit, as are the free training, enlistment and retention bonuses, retirement plans, significantly better than civilian health benefits, hiring preference after separation, cheaper pricing and no sales tax at PX, etc.

    • Mark Shea

      I’ll be sure to let the ones on food stamps know they are getting a just wage. Also the million unemployed vets. And the wounded guy on he FB thread who was describing the way he (and his father) were both royally screwed over by the state.

      • Paulus Magnus

        There are sob stories everywhere, the military is no exception to that. Food stamps are a very small number of active duty military families (the most recent numbers, from 2003, have 2,300 active-duty members receiving food stamps [2010 had only 510 members on FSSA]; most military food stamp usage is actually NG/Reserve and recently separated prior to retirement; it’s also noted that of those active duty, eligibility is mainly due to living in government quarters and having “less pay” as a result; some were officers and that’s just blatant fraud).

        Yes, it’s sad that there’s a million unemployed vets; there’s an awful lot of unemployed folks and it isn’t surprising that a number will be veterans (many of whom did not receive skills transferrable to civilian life while in the service). There’s 22 million veterans, more than 90% of whom are men, and this recession disproportionately affected male dominated industries. One million unemployed veterans is actually significantly below the average unemployment rate and is close to the expected rate for full employment.

        But the specific claim was made that their pay did not meet the standards of a just wage and I do not see how that claim is justified loosely defining a just wage, in accordance with Rerum Novarum, as a wage sufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner.

        • Mark Shea

          “sob stories”. Yeah. That’s the sort winning approach that keeps the Thing that Used to be Conservatism in the wilderness for years to come. And deservedly so.

          • Paulus Magnus

            Not a member of that group I’m afraid and if you’d like a different rhetorical approach, I’d appreciate knowing what would be better. But “Look at how bad this person’s life is!” is a “sob story” but it is not justification, in and of itself, for claiming that wages are unjust. There are always times when something goes to shit and when there are 22 million who have served, you’re going to find more than a few of those who have had that happen to them (and I would note that there are definitely areas, such as disability classification and compensation and mental health where tremendous reform is needed; these are very distinct from whether the wages are just however). But a higher than average employment rate and 500 families out of 1.5 million serving on food stamps is a fairly absurd basis for claiming unjust wages. Heck, for that matter, you’re getting upset over a suggestion, not to cut the pay of military members, but that the rate of increase in pay be lowered.

            • MattyD

              Paulus, you make some important points, but I think you may be missing the forest for the trees. 1) If you concede that mental health treatment for veterans is shoddy, that is an injustice. Whether we classify that treatment as a “wage” or merely as “what is morally owed to them”, the moral implication is the same. IE, they are not receiving what is rightly owed to them. I would argue that the injustices go *far* beyond mental health treatment, but I cite that one because it’s one you already concede. 2) Since the expense needed to reasonably improve the care and employment for veterans is a tiny fraction of the cost of war that made them veterans, it raises fair questions about the integrity of those who oppose the benefits. In other words, the Stewart/Shea critique is, in broad strokes, entirely valid. 3) I think you may be mistaken about the veteran unemployment rate. True, one million unemployed out of 20+ million veterans is a low rate of unemployment. But remember, most of those 20+ million veterans are too old to seek work, not seeking work, and, therefore, not classified with the million unemployed. When we look at the unemployment rate of *working-age* veterans, I think the rate is slightly higher than the national average. If true, that, too, is an injustice, since a key selling point in military recruitment is that they will make you *more* marketable, not less. Overall, I’m not exactly disputing your facts. But it does seem to me that you spun those facts in a way that obfuscates our Christian responsibility.

          • tz

            In the Bible, the Wilderness refers to the desert. The thing that used to be conservativism needs to die a slow, torturous death from dehydration like Terri Schiavo, yet we can fly home and sign a petition for the courts to review the killing in progress like W did.

            Besides, the ingrates in our military take their meager earnings and send it to Ron Paul! Twice!. More than any other candidate combined. If they have the cash to waste on real liberty, they don’t need a raise (Irony and satire if it isn’t obvious).

  • sal magundi

    “But the main thing was Stewart. What mattered was not whether the central point was true. All that *really* mattered was that I had happened to use a graphic of Jon Stewart making the point.

    How can a conservatism, more importantly how can a Catholic faith, that does this *possibly* hope to engage a world in which, incredibly, not everybody agrees with it about everything?”

    it can’t (which i’m sure was your point) but this attitude is SO widespread that it will not in any of our lifetimes be able to. one of the smaller reasons i left was because catholicism was used by so so many merely as a tribal marker (and as a way to avoid self-examination and any sense of culpability about anything). “i subscribe to the claims made by the Roman Catholic Church, therefore i’m right and you’re risible.” you (mark) quite rightly see this attitude in The Thing That Used To Be Conservatism, and quite rightly in catholicism too.

    • Mark Shea

      I see it in some Catholics. I don’t see it in Catholicism because it forms no part of the teaching of the Church. I hope you will return to the Church, forgive the sins of those of us who have sinned against you, and keep plugging away at living the faith till we all live it better.

      • sal magundi

        oh i’d scarcely count myself so important as to dispense forgiveness. and you’re right, this attitude is not everywhere. but it’s widespread enough that i’ve concluded it really is in the church’s DNA, whether expressed (to continue the metaphor) in the teaching or not.

        • Mark Shea

          On the contrary, if you have have anything against anyone, says Jesus, you have to forgive. You have this against some Catholics, so for your own sake (not theirs, since they’ve never heard of you), you need to forgive. I don’t know why you would think indulgence of the genetic fallacy is in the Church’s DNA. It’s a common human failing. You won’t escape it outside the Catholic Church. You’ll just miss out on the good thing Christ offers in his Church, starting with the sacraments. I do hop you reconsider.

        • Dennis Mahon

          It’s not in “the church’s DNA”, it’s in Human DNA; there is no philosophy under the sun that cannot or has not been used by someone, somewhere, to justify the act of being a moral prig.

  • Melissa

    God bless you for making this point, Mark. I see this attitude everywhere. Most recently it was in the combox below a National Post article by Margaret Sommerville. Somebody came right out and said it: “Sommerville is a Catholic, and therefore she will blindly tow the Vatican line. You can therefore disregard everything she says.”

    How cowardly, to disregard what someone says simply because of who they are! If we continue to ignore those who are outside of our circle, we’ll only end up becoming an insular, inbred, angry, irrelevant bunch of people.

    Oh, and by the way, Mr. Magundi, please come back! You might not need us, but we need you!

  • Ironically, our government does not have the billions to fund its wars or its massive welfare state. Its all paid for with fictitious money. Its all just a matter of what our politicians really want. If they want to spend 800 million on a war in central Asia then the Federal Reserve will create the money out of thin air for them. With the official national debt at over 16 trillion and our unfunded liabilities at an estimated 121 trillion its only a matter of time before this all comes crashing down. Then all those “necessary” expenditures of the warfare/welfare state will disappear.

  • Nonymous

    It’s not hard, sheesh! Here’s the text of the bill: http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-s3457/text

    Here are two news stories about the bill being postponed in the Senate:



    As is typical of federal legislation, the bill includes provisions not relating to its subject, including repealing subtitle J of title IX of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 relating to research and development of ultra-deepwater and unconventional natural gas and petroleum resources; legislation regarding passports for people who owe taxes; and, continuous levies on payments to medicaid providers by amending the internal revenue code. In other words, I suspect, the bill has provisions favoring some big-money donors and punishing others but without the scorecard of big-money donors or a legislative-policy analyst on my staff, I can’t tell whether the Democrats or Republicans are winning this round of tax-break-and-subsidy infighting.

    So far as I can then tell (but remember I don’t have a legislative policy analyst on staff), the bill then allocates 1 billion dollars to federal agencies to establish programs that “help” by letting the agencies spend money on themselves. For example, the bill allows the billion to be spent on programs to study internet-access centers to to facilitate veterans’ online job searches, including the design of “one-stop” websites where veterans can find their own jobs The bill also requires the states to report to the federal government on their licensing provisions for certain blue-collar jobs, such as CDL licenses, nursing-assistant and paramedic licenses, together with information about how military training does or does not help veterans qualify for those licenses, and then authorizes the Department of Labor to share that information with the Defense Department to improve military training so that veterans can more easily qualify for those licenses. The bill also provides funding for states to employ disabled-veteran outreach specialists and veteran employment representatives, and funds to hire federal employees for off-base transition training programs.

    From what I can tell, the bill provides lots of jobs for AFSCME members, but no jobs for veterans. What I suspect is that everyone involved in the bill thinks that veterans’ blood is good lipstick to smear on the pig of federal money politics, but that veterans themselves are mere human drones, to be deployed endlessly until they break and we have to get new ones. The problem is believing that anyone who has the money and media access of a Senator or Representative (or professional comedian) thinks any differently. It’s a ruling class, and trying to sort it out into “on our side” and “on their side” factions is a mug’s game, like 18th century farmers taking sides about which Duke should confiscate their common lands.

    • Mark Shea

      Sounds about right. The point remains, our Ruling class can always find money to build a drone to blow up women and children. It always suddenly becomes chintzy when it comes to pay for our troops or their families. And it’s a fully bipartisan screwing.

      • Mark, read the debate on the bill. I just did. It turns out that Sen. Burr had an amendment to fix this bill so it would not violate the law (Jon Stewart didn’t let you know that) and had the Democrats allowed that amendment, it would have had zero opposition. But instead Sen. Reid filled the amendment tree, a technical dirty trick which means Republicans had to either violate the budget law and open the door for further violations or hold the line and act against a piece of legislation they apparently had few issues with substantively.

    • If you cannot leave the country, you are tied to the land and with the IRS regularly being in error a third of the time people seek its advice on tax matters, this is a serfdom bill and I will always oppose serfdom.

  • tz

    Momma’s don’t let your babies grow up to be… as W Nelson would sing

    I’m split. If they are called to torture, blow up rescuers, or mourners, what ought I think?

    Bradley Manning. V.s those who were just following orders abusing him.

  • obpoet

    Perhaps, like in ancient Rome, these military folks will wise up and say, I am not fighting for this corruption. And then the Visigoths will be at Washington’s threshold. But sadly, with the way Obama is running and ruining the economy, they may be forced to continue to enlist to put bread on the table, before they die for the unjust cause.

  • Joe

    If the rabid ideological football game that now passes for politics in this country doesn’t end soon, this nation is so over!

  • MattyD

    Great post, Mark. And we see, once again, that when it comes to *defending* the unjust treatment of veterans, many of us Catholics suddenly become budget experts and legislative policy analysts of enviable skill. But when it’s time to vote on war in the first place, that sort of budget analysis and keen policy inquiry is considered nonsense, foolish and unpatriotic. Sure, that level of blatant hypocrisy and war-worship is a common human trait. I’m just surprised it’s such a common trait among supposedly thoughtful Catholics.

  • Mercury

    “So you are comparing Jon Stewart to Aristotle and Averroes?”


    Anyway, I like John Stewart. I always found him to be incorrigibly liberal, but I think he’s an honest guy, and is willing to call out his own side, too. Also, he’s damn funny.

  • Sean O

    To your piece Shea, Amen. Should be obvious to clear headed individuals, but alas such are in short supply. Lots of stinking thinking about.

  • Ronald King

    If God is using John Stewart to make a point about supporting Vets it would be stupid to ignore or disregard what he is saying. I totally support what Mark has stated here. I am a vet and I and my family have been blessed through the benefits I received for education from the VA. I also think that we should have a draft again without any deferments.

  • Soft Batch

    I’ve been away from the blog for a few days and missed this conversation. I was stuck in a hotel room, which is pretty much the only time I’ll tune in to the Daily Show. By coincidence I watched this segement on the eve of your post:

    Skip to about 2:20. So yeah, I can understand why people react in this way to Stewart and forget about our troops. Would that we could focus on the important things, but I can understand why after viewing Stewart taunting home schoolers (without an inch of humor in his voice), fallen humans wouldn’t be the least bit interested in what he has to say about an important thing.