Robert Thurman on the ATR Pledge

A Daily Caller article pointed me to a YouTube video by Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia University:

Today Thurman is probably best known for being Uma Thurman’s father. I became aware of him through his translations of Tibetan Buddhist works, many of them associated with the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, the school to which the Dalai Lama belongs. I don’t think Thurman’s grasp of the U.S. Constitution and the current political scene is quite as strong as his grasp of Tibetan Buddhism.

Thurman’s premise in the video is that Congressmen and Senators who sign the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) pledge cannot uphold both the ATR oath and their oath of office. The ATR pledge requires the person signing it to: 1) oppose increases in marginal income tax rates, and 2) oppose net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits unless they’re matched by corresponding tax rate reductions. The oath of office for Congressmen and Senators requires the oath taker to agree to do his or her job with no mental reservation or purpose of evasion. On this basis, Thurman believes the ATR pledge and the oath of office to be incompatible, and he goes so far as to call the ATR pledge “a seditious oath, a treasonous oath.” In other words, Thurman believes you can’t serve in the House or Senate unless you’re willing to raise taxes. Thurman attempts to broaden this by treating the ATR pledge as an endorsement of anything and everything ATR head Grover Norquist says or does (e.g. calling the federal government “the beast”), which is plainly not true if you read the pledge.

It’s interesting that Thurman isn’t clear on who a Congressman or Senator is supposed to represent, the people who elected him or the federal government. In some parts of the video it’s the former, in other parts the latter. Perhaps in Thurman’s mind they are one in the same, as was the case with the Democrat National Convention video that asserted, “government is the only thing that we all belong to.” In one part of the video he states that the members of the party who lose an election are supposed to be the “loyal opposition,” and to fulfill that role they must “serve the government.” That’s not true of the U.S. Congress, which was designed to deadlock in the absence of broad agreement or, as party politics became more important, a dominant faction. Even the contentious, do-nothing U.S. Senate, which hasn’t passed a budget in more than three and a half years, voted 98–0 last week to approve the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (which started back on October 1 – the Senate definitely isn’t timely).

Thurman recognizes at least some of the problems the country is facing – he lists unemployment and people in poverty – but it seems inconceivable to him that anyone would believe that the federal government is exacerbating these problems, not solving them. Moreover, if a Congressman or Senator believed this, Thurman would find him unfit for office. Thurman also mentions that the U.S. government is “enacting the provisions of the U.S. Constitution,” while many of us believe the federal government has been operating extra-constitutionally for a long time, at least since FDR’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court muzzled that institution’s objections to New Deal programs. Again, I suspect Thurman would find a Congressman or Senator who believes this to be unfit for office.

Thurman espouses some unusual economic theories, too. In part of the video he states, “we lose our credit rating by not raising the debt ceiling.” No, we’ve lost our credit rating because we continually issue new debt beyond our ability to repay it. The debt ceiling debates are a symptom of the underlying problem, not the cause. Thurman also asserts that Congressmen and Senators who signed the ATR pledge are “not serious about deficit reduction.” How can you say anyone is serious about deficit reduction when the federal government has run $1+ trillion deficits four years in a row? Where are Obama’s deficit reduction plans? He has none. He always promises to deliver them after the latest crisis is resolved, and then fails to produce them.

The Daily Caller article says Thurman will be producing more videos. I won’t be watching.

Links for 12-9-2012

  • The Augusta Chronicle investigated their county’s voter registration rolls and found “dozens of voters with ineligible addresses – some at vacant lots and others registered at business addresses.” The paper interviewed some of the people involved and learned they now live in other countries or outside the state of Georgia.

  • Lisa Fithian is training automotive union activists in Michigan to protest the right to work bills passed by the state legislature.

  • Nicholas Kristof wrote an article for The New York Times that states conservatives have a point about federal welfare programs trapping people, which is an extraordinary admission. He cites cases where parents are taking their children out of literacy classes so they will continue receiving Supplemental Security Income checks for them.

  • The judge that presided over GM’s bankruptcy is unhappy that GM failed to inform him about the deal that dumped GM’s liabilities on “old GM” and used federal bailout money to fund “new GM.” The trustees for “old GM” are suing over that deal, and the judge could reopen the GM bankruptcy and shift the liabilities to the “new GM,” pushing it back into bankruptcy.

  • Attacks on Britain’s National Health Service aren’t unusual, but an attack by a Liberal MP is rare. Ann Clwyd is unhappy with how her husband was treated by nurses at University Hospital of Wales as he was dying.

  • A 17 year old Tibetan girl, Bhenchen Kyi, reportedly self-immolated.

Links for 12-8-2012

  • Two consulting firms with ties to Romney campaign insiders cleaned up during the presidential campaign. FLS Connect collected $38.6 million from the Republican National Committee and $17.7 million from the Romney campaign. Targeted Victory collected $72 million from Romney Victory, Inc., $22 million from the Romney campaign, and $2.4 million from the Republican National Committee.

  • A Government Accountability Office investigation into the Pigford settlement concluded that it was designed to facilitate fraud.

  • More blogging from Lord Monckton, describing how he borrowed Burma’s microphone during the U.N. climate change conference and informed the delegates there’s been no global warming the past 16 years. His message was not well received.

  • Two more Tibtans self-immolated: Kunchok Phelgye and Pema Dorjee.

Links for 12-7-2012

  • Committee chairs in the House of Representatives normally have a lot say over who is on their committee. House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s refusal to comment on any involvement he had in removing conservatives Justin Amash and Tim Huelskamp from his committee speaks volumes. His office refers all questions on the matter to Boehner’s office.

  • Ross Kaminsky interviewed the aforementioned Justin Amash. Amash listed these reasons for voting against Paul Ryan’s budget, which may be what got him kicked off his committee: “Three main reasons. First, it didn’t comply with the Budget Control Act. The Act included reductions in government spending, which is where we get the sequester from… Spending levels were actually higher than the levels that Republicans and Democrats agreed to in the BCA, and therefore the budget included more spending than the law actually allows. Another reason was that the Committee refused to put military spending on the table as an area of the budget that would be reduced. And the third reason was that it doesn’t balance for nearly thirty years.”

  • The Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee says welfare spending per day per household in poverty is now higher than the median income per day – $168/day for the former, $137/day for the latter. Note that welfare benefits are not taxed, which contributes to the disincentive to work.

  • Jeb Bush: “I’m getting nervous to be called a centrist. Breaking out in a rash. I’ve been accused of that now three or four times today. I’m pretty damn conservative to be honest with you.” If being called a centrist causes him break out in a rash, he’d better start buying ointment by the crate.

  • Iranian oil tankers are spoofing their GPS coordinates to hide their activities.

Links for 12-6-2012

Links for 12-5-2012