Friday, December 26, 2008

Greed has pushed political credibility and financial trust into freefall

Recent scandals in America reveal a value system that puts the wealth of a few before the welfare of many.

By Gary Younge

December 24 / 25, 2008 "The Guardian" - December 22 2008 -- - 'What an ideology is, is a conceptual framework with the way people deal with reality," Alan Greenspan told the Congressional House oversight and government reform committee on 23 October. "Everyone has one. You have to - to exist, you need an ideology. The question is whether it is accurate or not." As the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, from 1987 to 2006, Greenspan stood at the helm of US monetary policy during the time conditions for the current meltdown were being created.

"And what I'm saying to you," he continued, "is, yes, I found a flaw. I don't know how significant or permanent it is, but I've been very distressed by that fact ... [I found a] flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works."

Greenspan's ideology was unfettered, free-market capitalism. Its understanding of how the world works was rooted in self-interest. It was a value system that placed the private before the public, the individual before the collective, and the wealth of the few before the welfare of the many.

So pervasive was this worldview that, after a while, it was not even understood to be a view at all. It was just the hard-nosed reality against which only lunatics and leftists raged. "Unlike many economists," Bob Woodward wrote of Alan Greenspan in his book Maestro (the title speaks volumes), "he has never been rule driven or theory driven. The data drive." They drove a sleek black limousine over the edge of a steep cliff. And since the invisible hand of the market ostensibly guided everything, there was no one who could really be held accountable or responsible for anything. The buck didn't stop anywhere. Indeed, for those who were already wealthy, the bucks just kept rolling in.

But the flaw in Greenspan's ideology did not just govern finance - it infected all spheres of human relations, including politics. "This process has become a great deal about money. A lot of money," said Tom Vilsack (whom Barack Obama has just picked as his agriculture secretary), as he withdrew from the Democratic primaries almost a full year before a vote had been cast. "So it is money, and only money, that is the reason why we are leaving today."

A poll released by Judicial Watch the day before Greenspan testified revealed that almost two-thirds of Americans "strongly agree" with the statement that political corruption played a big role in the US's recent financial crisis. A further 19% said they "somewhat agree".

The two most prominent scandals in recent weeks illustrate how the line between what is unethical and what is illegal in politics, and what is reckless and what is fraudulent in finance, has been so blurred as to have erased much in the way of meaningful distinction. Credibility in public life, like Greenspan's ideology and the stock prices it relied on, is in free-fall.

The first scandal is the demise of Bernard Madoff, who was arrested after he confessed to defrauding investors of about $50bn in an elaborate, global Ponzi scheme. Madoff's alleged transgression went beyond just the financial. A pillar of the Jewish and financial communities, he traded on trust.

"In an era of faceless organisations owned by other equally faceless organisations," said his firm's website. "Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities LLC harks back to an earlier era in the financial world: the owner's name is on the door." Investors had to be recommended by friends - the exclusivity made it attractive - and the returns were constantly excellent. Madoff paid out about 15% a year, regardless of what the market was doing. In Palm Beach, Florida, people joined the Country Club and the golf club just so they could meet him. They virtually begged him to take their money. The roll call of the swindled is illustrious: Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, author and humanitarian Elie Wiesel, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, and the New York Daily News' publisher, Mortimer Zuckerman. It was as though America's rich and famous had succumbed to a huge online scam.

The level of returns seemed too good to be true, and it was. But the sense of entitlement the wealthy have to even more wealth is just too entrenched to bother with truth. In a heartbeat, generations of savings and entire charities have been extinguished.

The second scandal concerns the foul-mouthed Democratic governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, who has the right to appoint a successor to the Senate seat left vacant by Obama. He was arrested after federal wiretaps allegedly revealed he was poised to sell the seat to the highest bidder. The day after the election, as at least half of the nation basked in the warm glow of Obama's victory, Blagojevich, it seems, was trying to line his pockets. He told one aide: "I've got this thing and it's fucking golden, and, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for fucking nothing. I'm not gonna do it."

Suggestions that both men must have been seized by psychological disorders do not seem outlandish. Particularly Blagojevich, who has been under at least a dozen federal investigations since 2005 and knew he was being wiretapped. But far more worrying is the greater likelihood that they are entirely sane and rational. Blagojevich may be crude and sociopathic, and Madoff socially manipulative. Their actions may have violated the letter of the law. But they were consistent with the spirit of the ideology that has governed American life for at least a generation.

Blagojevich did not invent the notion that wealth and political influence go hand in hand. Had he been more patient, the lobbying deals and board memberships that routinely come after political office would have come his way. And anyone seeking a seat would have to show they could pay their way. Indeed, the New York governor, David Patterson, seems set to hand over Hillary Clinton's Senate seat to Caroline Kennedy at least in part because Kennedy can raise vast sums of money for a run in 2010. Unlike Blagojevich, Patterson is not looking to benefit from it personally. But no one is expecting him to end up in the poorhouse when his term is done.

As for Madoff, if the Securities and Exchange Commission, the financial services watchdog, had been doing its job, it could have prevented him from committing this crime. But if he had done it by the book, an analogous situation could have occurred that would have left his investors almost as broke. His fraud was exposed after some investors sought to withdraw more capital than he could produce. That is essentially the same as the bank runs we have seen over the last few months. But while Madoff is under house arrest, the bankers are about to reap huge bonuses.

When a political system where you have to pay to play meets a financial system run like a giant Ponzi scheme, widespread criminality, corruption and calamity are the only feasible outcomes. The only remaining questions then are what society is prepared to excuse, accountants are able to write off or lawyers are able to defend. "It is easier to rob by setting up a bank," argued the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, "than by holding up a bank clerk."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

’Tis the Season for Porn

Cultural poison.

By Mona Charen
National Review on-line
December 19, 2008, original HERE...

I will be called names for writing this column. It always happens. Raise the issue of the pornification of the culture and its fanatical devotees will come gunning for you. If they hope to be intimidating, they’ve forgotten what delete keys are for.

It’s Christmastime and the Fox News Channel, the most conservative of the major media outlets, is running an ad for PajamaGrams, “the only gift guaranteed to get your wife or girlfriend to take her clothes off.” The ads feature soft porn images of women disrobing and tossing slips and bras to the floor. The ads run at all times of the day and night. Thus do we usher in the season supposedly devoted to the Prince of Peace and the Festival of Lights.

We all know how far the pornification has gotten. A mainstream movie apparently treats the subject as cute and fun (Zack and Miri Make a Porno) and it runs at the multiplex next to Four Christmases and Madagascar. Hotels offer pornographic movies and omit the titles from the final bill. Victoria’s Secret graces every mall — and its windows resemble the red light district of Amsterdam. Viagra and its imitators are hawked ceaselessly. Television, music videos, and supermarket checkout magazines contain the kinds of suggestive words and images that would once have been labeled soft porn.

We know this. But what is less well understood is the world of hard-core porn that was once the province of dingy “adults only” stores in the harsher parts of town but is now available to everyone at the click of a mouse.

Last week the Witherspoon Institute convened a conference on pornography at Princeton University and invited scholars from a variety of fields to contribute. The statistics are mind-numbing. Pamela Paul, author of Pornified, reported that “Americans rent upwards of 800 million pornographic videos and DVDs per year. About one in five rented videos is porn. … Men look at pornography online more than they look at any other subject. And 66 percent of 18-34 year old men visit a pornographic site every month.”

They are not, Paul and others explained, looking at Playboy magazine-like images of naked women. Instead, they are descending into darker and darker realms where sadism, fetishes, and every imaginable oddity are proffered. Sex and violence are offered together. Women are presented in a degraded — not to say disgusting — fashion.

Surely only people with peculiar sexual tastes are drawn to this sort of thing, right? Not exactly. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself, noted that pornography use actually changes the brains of consumers. Like other addictions, pornography use breeds tolerance and the need for more intensity to get the desired result. He quoted Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, in which a college kid asks casually, “Anybody got porn?” He is told that there are magazines on the third floor. He responds, “I’ve built up a tolerance to magazines … I need videos.” Tolerance is the medically correct term, Doidge notes, which is why pornography becomes more and more graphic.

The men (and they are overwhelmingly men) who become hooked on this bilge are often miserable about it. They know that it affects their capacity to love and be loved by real women. As Doidge explained, “Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and a release from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is an addiction, tolerance, and an eventual decrease in pleasure. Paradoxically, the male patients I worked with often craved pornography but didn’t like it.” Hugh Hefner, the godfather of mainstream porn, apparently does not have normal sex with his many girlfriends. Despite the presence of up to seven comely young women in his bed at a time, he uses porn for sexual satisfaction. Think about that.

Internet pornography truly is, as one researcher put it, “a hidden public health hazard.” It isn’t cute or funny. Relationships are crashing, women are suffering in silence, and men and boys are becoming entrapped by it. The Witherspoon Institute has done a valuable thing by starting a more public conversation about this cultural poi

Guest Opinion: Why Marriage is Inherently Heterosexual

By Patrick Lee

Public Discourse: Ethics, Law and the Common Good
A recent story in Newsweek claimed that the only reasons for opposing same-sex “marriage” are religious. This is not true.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Public Discourse), original HERE... - In the December 15th edition of Newsweek, both Jon Meacham in his editor’s note and religion editor Lisa Miller in her front-page article mock arguments from scripture. At the same time, they invoke that same Bible’s authority for a “more general” message of “inclusivity,” in order to lobby for making gay marriage a sacrament. Meacham and Miller paint all opposition to the radical re-definition of marriage as hateful bigotry, comparing it to racism, and labeling appeals to the authority of the Bible against homosexual “marriage” and homosexual acts as fundamentalism. Indeed Meacham goes further: it is “the worst kind of fundamentalism.” How much worse than suicide-bombings and beheadings he does not make clear.

Others can dissect the theological and factual howlers in these essays. Here I want to correct the assumption made by Meacham and Miller that the case against same-sex “marriage” must be a Biblical one. Instead, both by faith and by reason one can see that genuine marriage must be heterosexual, that sexual acts outside of marriage are immoral, and that the state, therefore, should not declare any same-sex unions “marriages,” nor actively encourage sexual acts outside of marriage.

Consider some facts.

In every society we find the following type of community: men and women committed to sharing their lives together, in the sort of community that would be naturally fulfilled by their conceiving, bearing, and raising children together. This is marriage. That such a community does exist in every society is indisputable.

In every culture men and women are attracted to each other, wish to commit to each other in a stable relationship, and perform sexual acts that might result in children. Hence every society encourages men and women—ideally, before they perform such sexual acts—to form the sort of community that will be a suitable environment both for the flourishing of their romantic love and for the flourishing of whatever children they may produce: marriage.

Sound philosophical reflection helps us identify what is going on here. The marital communion of the spouses is both good in itself (and so not a mere means to bearing and raising children) and at the same time intrinsically fulfilled by bearing and raising children together. Genuine marriage is sexual in nature and includes a bodily union: without sexual intercourse the marriage has not been consummated, that is, completed. But this sexual relationship is intrinsically linked, indeed, fulfilled, by the procreation, bearing, and raising of children.

By contrast, co-habiting same-sex couples form one relationship. If later they decide to collaborate in raising an adopted child, they form a new and distinct relationship, since there is no intrinsic link between their sexual relationship, on the one hand, and their cooperation to raise a child, on the other. Unique to marriage is the fact that the bodily, emotional, and volitional relationship between the man and the woman is intrinsically oriented to being prolonged and fulfilled by their becoming a family. It is the same community that begins between the spouses on their wedding day, and may be prolonged and enlarged by becoming a family later on.

Advocates of same-sex “marriage” often argue that since marriage is a community oriented to raising children, and same-sex couples sometimes do raise children, such couples should qualify as marriages. But if having the purpose of raising children were sufficient to qualify as marriage, then orphanages, and some groups of religious women or men, could also be labeled as “marriages,” which is absurd. Likewise, other arrangements are sometimes called “marriage,” but in reality these are different types of relationship. For example, men and women often cohabit and view children as an optional extra or as burdens to be avoided. Or two or more individuals sometimes form alliances for the sake of raising children (for example two sisters, or several celibate religious men or women). But neither of these relationships are marriages: they have distinct purposes or goals.

Other advocates of same-sex “marriage” view marriage as only an emotional relationship, and the sexual acts as extrinsic symbols of that emotional connection. Since same-sex couples can intend their sexual acts to symbolize their love or affection, these unions (they contend) qualify as marriages. But, as just noted, genuine marriage is in fact a multi-leveled relationship that encompasses the bodily, emotional, volitional, and intellectual aspects of the spouses.

In genuine marriage the bodily sexual acts are part of the marital union, not just extrinsic symbols. In sexual intercourse between a man and a woman (whether married or not), a real bodily union is established. Human beings are organisms, albeit of a particular type. In most actions—digesting, sensing, walking, and so on—individual male or female organisms are complete units. However, with respect to reproduction, the male and the female are incomplete. In reproductive activity the bodily parts of the male and the bodily parts of the female participate in a single action, coitus, which is oriented to procreation (though not every act of coitus actually reproduces), so that the subject of the action is the male and the female as a unit. Sexual intercourse is a unitary action in which the male and the female complete one another, and become really biologically one, a single organism. In marital intercourse, this bodily unity is an aspect of, a constitutive part of, the couple’s more comprehensive, marital communion.

When a couple have mutually consented to marriage—the kind of union that would be fulfilled by bearing and raising children together—then the biological unity realized in their sexual intercourse embodies that community. In sexual intercourse they unite (become one) precisely in that respect in which marriage is defined and naturally fulfilled. They have consented to a communion procreative in kind, so their acts that are procreative in kind embody their communion. In that way the loving sexual intercourse of a husband and wife realizes a basic aspect of human flourishing: the good of marital union.

Given the above considerations, it is clear that the charge that the denial of same-sex “marriage” is unjust discrimination, or hateful bigotry, is a canard. In order to be genuinely married, a couple—any couple—must: (a.) commit themselves to the type of personal union that would be fulfilled by bearing and raising children together; and (b.) perform the conduct by which they become biologically one, conduct that, with the addition of conditions extrinsic to that conduct, might result in procreation (and even if those extrinsic conditions do not obtain, as in infertile couples, their act has still biologically united them). (a.) and (b.) together constitute the beginning of a marriage and are necessary for consummated marriage. Any couple who is unable to fulfill those conditions is unable to marry. Not only same-sex couples, but opposite-sex couples who are too young to form a commitment and opposite-sex couples who (because of impotence) cannot consummate their union are unable to marry.

Along these same lines, we can also understand by reason that sexual acts outside marriage—including therefore homosexual acts—are immoral. Within marriage, sexual acts embody (consummate or renew) the marriage. By contrast, in non-marital sexual acts, either the participants do not become biologically one, or they have not committed to sharing their lives in a way that can be embodied by a sexual act. People build up friendships or personal communions by pursuing together a common good. In marital intercourse the common good is their marriage, embodied (consummated or renewed) in that sexual act.

But if a sexual act does not embody marriage, it does not embody any other community (sexual acts do not embody sports communities, scholarly communities, or generic friendships), and no genuine good is realized in the sexual act. (Pleasure alone cannot be the common good of their act, since pleasure is a genuine good only if it is attached to a condition or activity that is already genuinely fulfilling. Their experience of embodying union when they are not actually doing so is not a genuine good but is illusory.) Thus, in nonmarital sexual acts, the couple (or, in cases of polyamory, the group) instrumentalize their sexuality (their bodies-as-sexual) for the sake of a mere experience—either the experience of pleasure or the illusory experience of the bodily-personal union without its reality.

What does all of this mean for public policy? In a well-ordered society, the state should give legal recognition to real marriage, promote it, protect it, and privilege it over other sexual arrangements—as a good for the spouses and the children their union may form. The state has an essential interest in the health of marriage. Generally speaking, children will receive the best and most loving care if they are raised by their biological parents, who have formed a community aimed at providing the most suitable environment for any children they may help bring into being. Almost always, children can count on their mothers to care for them when they are young; the institution of marriage is dedicated to ensuring, as much as possible, that fathers also will fulfill their responsibilities to the children they help procreate, and to the mothers of their children. Furthermore, where the institution of marriage is strong, people’s sexual passions and energies—frequently difficult to control, often leading to self-centeredness and exploitation—are channeled toward intelligible goods, namely, marriage and family.

If the state declares same-sex unions to be equivalent to marriage, it will profoundly obscure the nature of marriage. In effect, it will send the message that marriage is centrally about the romantic attachment and sexual relationship of adults to each other rather than about a relationship which by its nature is oriented to and suited for becoming family. Doing that would almost certainly further weaken the institution of marriage.

These points are open for all to see, whatever faith one has, or if one has no faith at all. To pretend that only religious “fundamentalists” oppose the radical re-definition of marriage advanced by same-sex “marriage” advocates is doubly distorting: first, the biblical and theological cases are not fundamentalist; second, there are reasoned arguments that do not presuppose faith against that proposal as well.


Patrick Lee has provided an excellent review and discussion of the Traditional (Aristotelian/Thomistic) view of marriage grounded as it is and must be in the Natural Moral Law--the so-called "ought must be determined by the "is" despite the protestations of some "New Natural Lawyers."

Unfortunately, in light of the generalized "dumbing-down" of the American populace, his piece will likely be ignored in favor of the reigning Western gestalt--rank Utilitarianism. For more on this topic see my prior article: