Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is Abortion Worse than Slavery?


“Abortion is worse than slavery.” So said a pastor I interviewed this summer for an article on Black pro-life groups. Does that statement make any sense?

Perhaps. You have to subscribe to a certain set of assumptions. If you believe that a fetus has the same intrinsic worth as a fully developed human being, then an abortion constitutes murder. Millions of pregnancies have been aborted since Roe vs. Wade (along with many before then). Even slaves got the right to live, while an aborted fetus is denied that right.

Now, you could argue that it would have been better for a slave to be aborted than to live an awful life in slavery. But that slave might have some hope of one day being free. No fetus can ever have hope for anything.

By contrast, if you think the fetus is just a clump of cells that has no worth until it’s born, then there’s no way abortion rises to the level of slavery. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with having an abortion then; it’d be just like getting knee surgery in terms of moral weight.

Where it gets thorny is if you think the fetus has some rights, but not as many as a fully developed human being. These people often say they want abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare.” Though they might not agree they are killing a baby, many would say that at the very least abortion prevents a potential human life from occurring. Since millions of fetuses have been aborted, it seems abortion would have to be judged a great moral evil from this perspective.

One difference would be between potential mothers and slave masters. While it is true that some women terminate their pregnancies with nary a thought, most really struggle with their decisions. A lot of times, they might think they have no way to financially support a child, or an insufficient network to help them raise it. Slave masters on the other hand were often deliberately cruel and used slavery not out of any necessity, but out of a desire to maximize personal gain.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bill Clinton on Gay Marriage


Bill Clinton now supports gay marriage. This comes as a stark turnabout, as Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act back in the 1990s, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman according to the federal government.

What brought about the change? Clinton has said he evolved over time. That is no doubt true. He has probably met more gay people, and reflected more on the issue as he’s grown older. But it’s hard to overlook the political aspect. Clinton is no longer in office anymore. He doesn’t have to deal with a political backlash for supporting gay marriage. He’s free to say whatever he wants. Coming out in support of gay marriage in 1996 would have dealt his reelection a crippling blow.

Will Clinton’s personal endorsement help the cause of gay marriage? I doubt it. Clinton was hated by conservative evangelicals, who have been at the forefront of the movement to ban gay marriage. So his word will hardly carry any weight with them. Perhaps, Clinton will help convince socially conservative Democrats to reevaluate their opinions on gay marriage, but I’m not sure he can sway them.

More to the point, I don’t think people are paying that much attention to gay issues right now. Most people are focused on the economy and healthcare. The fact that Bill Clinton just endorsed gay marriage might not have really registered with them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Iranian Nuclear Ambitions


Iran has now admitted to having a secret nuclear facility. Western leaders like Brown, Sarkozy, and Obama are demanding access.

The disclosure of the facility leaves open the possibility that Iran is closer to a nuclear bomb than previously thought. That means previous National Intelligence Estimates could well have been wrong—not a pleasant thought.

So what can the west do from here? The case for sanctions could be strengthened. Western European countries should all be aboard. Russia and China now face direct, compelling evidence that Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb. I think they will be more likely to buy into sanctions now, although there’s no guarantee.

If sanctions don’t work, or are vetoed by Russia and China, then things get really interesting. The US may have to consider military action. That wouldn’t go over well in the Middle East, and Obama could squander much of the goodwill he has won in Muslim countries by bombing Iran.

If the US doesn’t act, then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu certainly will. The existence of this facility, and the possible imminence of the Iranian nuclear threat may cause him to launch strikes before the end of the year, before the results of sanctions could be in.

Whatever happens, there is a good chance that Iran will be dealt with in a serious way before the end of the year.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Reconciliation and Healthcare Reform


Frustrated Democrats have been talking for some time about using reconciliation to get healthcare reform through. Under this relatively obscure parliamentary tactic, Democrats would just need 51 votes to pass reform. They could afford to lose wavering moderates like Evan Bayh or Kent Conrad.

Republican Senators have warned of bad consequences if Democrats use reconciliation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) warned of a “severe reaction.” Republicans might try and shut down the government. But that could end badly for them. Medicare and Social Security checks wouldn’t go out to senior citizens—a crucial voting constituency. In 1995, when Republicans led by Newt Gingrich shut down government during a budget battle, the public perceived that Republicans had overreached.

What should be most worrisome for Democrats is the potential political fallout. Using reconciliation would come across as a huge power grab to a large number of Americans. It might remind Americans of instances of Republican overreach during the Bush years when Republicans wanted to intervene in the Teri Schiavo case. That could mean political repercussions at the ballot box in next year’s midterm elections.

Passing healthcare reform through reconciliation might also make it impossible to win over Republicans in the general population. Now they will feel that healthcare reform is the product of bitter partisans on the other side. In the long term, some support across party lines is necessary to keep universal healthcare politically viable. So ideally, Democrats should try to craft a bipartisan bill.

I don’t worry too much that use of reconciliation will set a bad precedent. As McConnell himself has conceded, Republicans used reconciliation from time to time to pass tax cuts. True, healthcare is a bigger issue. But the point is that there was already precedent for using reconciliation to achieve policy aims before the healthcare battle. When Republicans are again in power, they would have considered reconciliation regardless.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Gadson Review's Healthcare Plan


I’m not in Congress, and so no one cares what my healthcare proposals are. But I’ve decided to share a plan that I think would solve at least some of the problems.

In 2005, the average family spent $10,728 on premiums; for individuals, it was $3,991. This amount is set to soar through the roof in upcoming years, and the consequences will be devastating, as I detailed here.

I would do away with employer health insurance, and offer everyone enough money to purchase a private catastrophic plan. These are typically much cheaper than the typical comprehensive plan. You can usually find such a plan for around $1200.  The government would subsidize the poor and working class, up to the full cost of the plan if necessary.

When stringent regulations are applied, no one would ever have to go bankrupt because they need an expensive cancer treatment. The government could make sure deductibles aren’t too high. It could also help the poor and working classes out by paying part or all of the deductible before the catastrophic care kicks in.

That leaves the problem of preventative care. For that, we would give out means-tested vouchers for routine care such as checkups and tooth cleanings. The subsidies should be generous—perhaps $1,000 or so—to make sure no one skimps on necessary preventative care. Any unspent amount could be diverted to a health savings account, so people could keep the money in reserve for the next year in case they need more. People would also be allowed to save their own money in this account.

This plan would incentivize consumers to shop around for good deals on checkups and exams, as they could keep unspent money, which would help with healthcare inflation. It would also be good economic policy. No longer would employers be saddled with high healthcare costs. My plan would cost around $2200 assuming that people stay healthy which is more than a $1500 savings over status quo.

A business would either use the money saved to expand the business and hire more people, or give it to workers in the form of higher wages. Prospective employers choosing between countries will have an easier time choosing to set up shop in the US.

Moreover, everyone would have access to care, and no one would be financially ruined by healthcare costs. Liberals and conservatives would both be able to support a plan that does these things.

Now, the fact that plan does away with employer based coverage could run into opposition from unions and employees. But I think we could explain that the plan means higher wages, and a stronger economy for them. What they really have to be convinced of, is that their care will get no worse. But the regulated catastrophic plans make sure they won’t go bankrupt, and the vouchers make sure they can get the routine care they need.

Another problem would be what sorts of procedures the vouchers pay for. Would they pay for abortion? Birth control? These sorts of things would cause controversy which could prevent the plan from being enacted, so perhaps such procedures and medical items would have to be left out. Many feminists would be upset. But here’s a question they should answer: Because women can’t get an abortion from a healthcare plan, should we also say they can’t get a check-up or a cavity filled?

What do you think of my plan? Take the poll.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Should Women Be Allowed to Fight in Combat?


I saw an interesting article on this topic last week. Whether women should fight in combat is an issue that Australia is currently debating.

I fail to see the problem. There are usually a few objections raised. First, women are usually not as strong as men, so doing combat would presumably be more difficult. Second, men could develop romantic attachments to female soldiers which inhibit a unit’s effectiveness. Third, women who are captured could be raped.

It’s true that women are usually not as strong as men. So the army need not have a 50-50 gender split. But there are strong women who want to fight. If they can lift an artillery shell, carry and shoot a rifle while carrying 100 pounds on their backs, I say let them fight.

And sure men and women could develop romantic attachments occasionally. But there could be regulations against having a romantic relationship with someone in the same unit. Also, it seems that strong friendships could cloud a soldier’s judgment as much as a romance. Romance will occasionally happen, but how much will it really hinder a unit?

Lastly, I’m not sure the potential for rape is enough to ban women from combat roles. All sorts of horrible things can happen to a man in captivity. He can be tortured or killed. Is that better or worse than being raped? Moreover it seems paternalistic if not a little sexist to say a woman shouldn’t even be able to have the option of taking on this risk when we let men take on equivalent risks.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is Racism Driving Opposition to Obama?


As President Obama’s popularity has suffered some Democrats have said that race is what motivates the mounting opposition to Obama.

Charlie Rangel and Jimmy Carter are probably the most senior Democrats to make such an accusation. Is it true that race is what’s behind the tea parties and town hall protests?

I don’t think so. Before going on though, let’s be clear: there’s still racism in America and some whites who can’t deal with the idea of a black President. But I think it’s a small minority.

Let’s consider the healthcare protests. It’s true that Obama is struggling mightily to achieve universal healthcare. He has been tarred as a socialist and a liar. But remember that white Presidents have struggled when taking on healthcare. Bill Clinton saw his efforts to reform healthcare blow up in his face in the 1990s. The same is true for every Democrat since Truman. Were opponents all racist then?

Some were. But most opposed universal healthcare because they thought government would run healthcare poorly, because it would cost too much, or because they just disagreed with the idea that it’s government’s responsibility to help people with healthcare.

Now healthcare protesters might be wrong. But that doesn’t make them racist.

To read some excellent coverage of this issue, go here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Will Republicans Take Over Congress?


The President and the Democrat’s declining approval ratings make many Republicans think that they can make a strong comeback in next year’s election. Polls in the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey—where the Republicans are poised to take Democrat seats seem to bear them out.

Comparisons have been made to the 1994 Republican Revolution when Newt Gingrich led Republicans to control of the House for the first time in decades. And there is indeed a comparison to be made. A Democratic President had seen his efforts to bring about universal healthcare blow up in his face. Democrats were seen as overreaching.

But the similarities could end there. Obama and Democrats have indeed suffered setbacks as they have tried to sell universal healthcare. But the proposals aren’t dead—much as some conservatives might like them to be. There will be a push to achieve reforms again this fall. If the Democrats succeed in pushing through a popular reform package, they will reap political benefits.

Still, there is no denying that Republicans have a good chance to pick up some seats. The economy is slowly improving, but it’s still doing poorly. Voters tend to punish incumbents when the economy isn’t doing well. Just ask Jimmy Carter and George Bush. So if people are still worried about the economy, Republicans should win some seats.

Also, remember that there are plenty of Democrats from conservative districts. In fact, there are 49 House districts which voted for McCain at the Presidential level, but a Democrat to represent them in Congress. It would be hard to hold all of these seats under normal circumstances. In a tough economy it will be harder.

So I think no matter what, Republicans will win some seats next year. Whether they control congress on November 5, 2010 remains up in the air.

What do you think?

Friday, September 18, 2009

How Do You Interpret the Bible?


Previously on this blog, I used a judicial framework to look at why God (if we grant that he exists) would send people to hell. Today I want to use two of the major frameworks we use to interpret the constitution and see how they would apply to interpreting the Bible.

Living Bible

Under this framework, every generation would be free to reinterpret the Bible to adapt to changing societal mores. But that potentially leaves us ignoring pretty much the whole Old Testament, and much of the New Testament. Here are some examples of things that are incompatible with modern views:

“You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” (Leviticus 18:22)

“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:9).


All of these Biblical commands were transmitted in some cultural context. A living Biblical framework then, allows us to reevaluate the Bible in our cultural context. The problem of course if that a living Biblical framework leaves the temptation to get rid of any command we don’t want to follow. We can say “sure the Bible says don’t divorce, but that was a long time ago, times are completely different now.”

Originalism

This framework has the advantage of relative simplicity. The Bible says what it means, and isn’t for us to tinker with. We should interpret the Biblical commands the same way the generation that received them would. Of course, there is no way to change it. With a constitution, we could amend it. I can just imagine some church getting together to eliminate some of the Ten Commandments. I wonder how God would take that.

Anyway, one might think that a Biblical originalist would have to defend everything in the Old Testament, including stoning rebellious children. But I think you can say that we should read the Old Testament in light of the New Testamament in the same way that we might read the bill of rights in light of reconstruction and the 14th and 15th amendments.

In the New Testament, when an adulteress was about to be stoned, Christ said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” This is particularly interesting.

Christ isn’t saying that adultery isn’t a sin anymore. And he’s not even saying that an adulterer doesn’t deserve death. What he’s saying is that no human is qualified to dish out such a punishment. A Christian could be an “originalist” and not follow much of the Old Testament. It seems that a Jew who read Old Testament as an orginalist would be obligated to follow all 613 Jewish laws—as indeed orthodox Jews do.

What do you think is the best way to interpret the Bible?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Religious Freedom in Peril?


An important case on religious freedom was decided recently. Amanda Kurkowski is an evangelical Christian being home-schooled by her mother. A court ordered her to attend a public school because she “would be best served by exposure to different points of view at a time in her life when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief and behavior and cooperation in order to select, as a young adult, which of those systems will best suit her own needs.”

I find this decision problematic. The court says the girl should have exposure to different points of view. Fine. I’d like that too. But should a court order her to do so? Let’s consider a different situation. Let’s say that instead of being an evangelical, Amanda was a yuppie liberal atheist who said she knew for certain that the Bible was full of fairy tales. Would we consider it acceptable for a Judge to say she had to attend a Christian school to gain exposure to different points of view? I don’t think so.

We would say it was an issue of separation of church and state. The state can’t force one particular religious viewpoint on a girl. It can’t mandate that she be put in an environment where she would be proselytized. But just as surely, the state can’t force someone not to be a fundamentalist evangelical. And that seems what the court is doing to some degree.

This decision does nothing to tamp down the culture wars. Conservative evangelicals will feel like targets and react accordingly. Radical secularism hostile to religion is on the march, they will say. Decisions like this make it harder to say they’re wrong.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Howard Dean and the Potential Liberal Revolt


Howard Dean may have come to prominence based on his opposition to the Iraq war in 2004, but now he has another issue: healthcare. He is now on record threatening primary challenges against any Democrat who refuses to support a public option.

I don’t see how this does any good for Democrats. The Democrats resisting the public option are conservative ones from conservative districts which voted for McCain last year.

That means two things. First, a primary challenge is likely to be unsuccessful since the Democratic primary electorate is presumably more conservative. So Blue Dogs will come through the primary and be resentful toward the progressive wing of the party as well as the leadership.

Second, it makes it more likely that these conservative Democrats will lose. They will lose valuable time and money that could better be spent shoring up general election support in their districts. At first blush that may seem like a good thing to progressives; just desserts for refusing to support a public option. But in place of conservative Democrats will be conservative Republicans who refuse to support any of the Democratic agenda. The Blue dogs might only be with you 75% of the time, but that’s better than 5% or 10%.

The interesting bit comes if Dean is thinking about challenging President Obama if he backs away from the public option. It’s unusual for someone to challenge a sitting President of his own party, but it has happened before, most notably in 1976 (when Reagan challenged Ford) and 1980 (when Ted Kennedy challenged Carter). Neither of those instances ended well. Both incumbent Presidents lost that year, and it’s not a stretch to think that long, bruising primary battles didn’t help.

That’s not to say that Dean will be able to mount as serious a challenge as Kennedy or Reagan. I’m not sure the demographics are there. He might get support from some yuppie liberal types who are willing to throw caution to the winds. But I see Blacks, Hispanics, and labor being firmly in President Obama’s corner. And that is a broad enough coalition to be re-nominated. And even the progressive wing of the party will likely find Dean an unrealistic option.

Also, remember that Obama has two years to fix any fissures in the party. The only way a primary would be feasible is if the left wing is still miffed in 2011. And there’s no guarantee of that happening. Plenty of things could happen to make progressives rally around Obama before election time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Virtues and Vices of Federalism


The US is renowned worldwide for its unique federalist system. But is it a good system? Let’s consider its virtues and its vices.

Virtues

1. Allowing for government closer to the people

Instead of having a bureaucrat in far away Washington DC make decisions, we can have a bureaucrat maybe an hour away making important decisions on taxes and education, as well as other issues that affect us. Of course this doesn’t get us around having bureaucracy, but it could make the bureaucracy that we need to have more responsive.

2. People can self-select into unique cultures

If you’re an evangelical who hates abortion and secularism, you can move to a socially conservative state. If you’re a feminist who hates the Religious Right by contrast, you can go to a liberal state. The upshot of this is that decisions about difficult cultural issues could be left to states. That means national officials could focus more on other concerns.

Vices

1. Inefficient

Having 50 states make separate decisions can yield weird outcomes. For example, on education, we now have a patchwork of different standards. Imagine if during the past economic crisis, we’d had 50 different stimulus packages and bank bailouts? Concerted response would have been an impossibility.

2. Allows for trampling on rights

Tyranny of the majority is more likely to happen in one individual state than in the nation as a whole. In order to erode rights nationally, there has to be a diverse coalition. You have to amend the constitution, which is a difficult process. But in a state where say 90% of the residents are white, and 10% black and a history of racial tension, it’d be easier to erode the rights of that black minority with one referendum vote.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What Burke Has To Teach Liberals


Edmund Burke was an influential conservative thinker, but his lessons are particularly useful for Democrats trying to push healthcare reform. There is value in bringing about a universal scheme gradually. Actually, that’s probably the only way it can happen.

Universal coverage with a strong public option will be hard to achieve at one time, particularly now. Americans believe that a “government take-over” will take away their choices and worsen their care. People will not stand for such a swift change.

So what reformers can probably accomplish is to expand coverage and reforms of the private insurance market. Reforms which prevent companies from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions and allow consumers to buy across state lines for example will be popular. Democrats can also probably achieve subsidies for poor and working class families to buy insurance.

But then costs will still be a huge problem for businesses, families, and the government. So maybe in ten years when families are facing the prospect of losing their private insurance because it’s become prohibitively expensive, the government will have an easier time selling a public option as a way to keep costs under control for families. Reformers are trying to do that now, but the vast majority of Americans still have health insurance, and are satisfied with their coverage. I have a hunch they won’t be in ten years though.

So the struggle for universal healthcare will be a long one. Medicare and Medicaid were the first efforts in the 1960s. That was followed by programs like SCHIP in the 1990s. And sometime in the next decade or so, I think we’ll have universal healthcare with a government option. That just might not happen today. Burke would counsel patience.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11


Today is the 8th anniversary of September 11. It’s difficult to believe that so many years have passed already. So much has happened: the war in Iraq, hurricane Katrina, the “Dean scream,” the election of our first black President.

I still remember where I was when we learned of the attack—in my eighth grade math class. I remember the little girls crying in the school assembly when they were told. I remember the long lines at the gas pump as people thought that somehow oil supplies would disrupted. I remember the kids going around at Halloween in firefighter costumes. And I remember the anthrax scares and the people buying duck tape for God knows what reason.

What I remember most of all is the national unity in the aftermath. American flags were to be seen everywhere. “God bless America” replaced many of the usual hymns at Sunday morning church services.

But now, all that’s gone. Even the national unity. For most of us, 9/11 is just a distant memory. Families of the victims will never forget. And neither should we. We still live in a world with terrorists who will stop at nothing to kill us. And we are blessed to live in an America whose ideals are worth defending.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

We Need Bipartisan Health Reform...If Possible


A lot of Democrats are so frustrated by the difficulty they’ve faced in passing healthcare reform. So they’re willing to write a bill, and use reconciliation to get it through, thereby eliminating any need for bipartisanship. Bad idea.

First, something as big as healthcare reform should have bipartisan support. Not only among Republican members of congress, but among Republican voters in the general electorate. I’d hate to see so big a reform be a party line vote.

There’s also a strategic reason. Democrats won’t be in the majority forever. Perhaps, not even in four years. Already, there are Republicans promising to undo whatever Obama does. If Democrats can get healthcare through on a party-line vote now, then Republicans could potentially achieve repeal on a similar party-line vote. The Republican base would enthusiastically back it.

Now perhaps the Republicans in Congress won’t support any meaningful reform—a real possibility. In that case, Democrats should try and craft a bill that appeals to as many Republicans as possible among the general population. If healthcare reform has some support among regular Republicans, then the Republican leadership would have a hard time repealing it. Some Republicans would join with independents and Democrats to demand that the reforms stay.

Programs like social security and Medicare have never been repealed exactly because they retain bipartisan support. The social security act passed with 77 votes, and Medicare passed with 70 votes. President Bush saw his standing suffer in the polls in 2005 when he tried to tinker with social security; even many Republicans refused to go along with him for fear of angering constituents.

So if at all possible, Democrats should try and get a bipartisan bill for their own good, the good of their country, and the good of healthcare reform.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Miss California Sues For Religious Discrimination


Ms. California Carrie Prejean is suing for religious discrimination. She says pageant officials forced her to resign because of her religious beliefs. Prejean said she opposed gay marriage, and on the Today show said that she’d rather be “Biblically correct than politically correct.” Is it a legitimate lawsuit?

It seems that religious beliefs wouldn’t necessarily allow a pageant winner to espouse any belief. For example, if Prejean had defended slavery and Jim Crow and said that the Bible justified it, the pageant could have fired her, and no one would buy the argument of religious discrimination. But that’s also because everyone agrees that slavery and segregation are wrong. No such consensus exists on gay marriage, so more people might be inclined to buy her argument. In fact, if Proposition 8 was any indication, a majority of Californians agree with Prejean.

None of this answers the question of whether Prejean lost her job because of her faith. I think it’s more likely that she lost her job because the powers to be thought she was bringing the California pageant bad publicity. Given that, I’m pretty sure the organizers would have fired an atheist who said gays shouldn’t be married. The tough part comes if Prejean felt that she either had to lie, or betray her faith when asked her thoughts on gay marriage.

Short term, I’m sure some conservatives, and maybe even some moderates and the odd liberal will line up in support of Prejean. I don’t really expect her lawsuit to go anywhere. Do you think she was the victim of religious discrimination?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Obama's Indoctrinating Your Children...Be Very Afraid!


I got to read Obama’s speech to the nation’s students yesterday. And I have to say, I don’t understand all of the hoopla. Obama will say that school is important and that kids should stay in school. Here are excerpts:

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

If that’s what passes for indoctrination these days, then I’m all for it.

So what could people really be worried about? Some conservatives probably fear that Obama will get good publicity. Schoolchildren will see him in a favorable light, and just maybe grow up to be Democrats. But I doubt this. Will a kid who’s six years old decide to support universal healthcare with a public option and cap and trade because the President told him to study hard? No.

Maybe the mere act of seeing Obama will make kids support him. But if parents are worried about that, they shouldn’t have let their kids watch his inaugural address or state of the union. Besides, apolitical kids are unlikely to be swayed to volunteer for the Obama 2012 campaign now

The only answer I can find is that some conservative commentators are interested in fomenting a controversy to the detriment of President Obama. Maybe if people can be persuaded that he’s going to indoctrinate their children or convert them to Islam, they’ll be less likely to support Obama’s ambitious domestic goals. But even that wouldn’t hurt Obama. People who believe he’s trying to convert them to Islam aren’t supporting him at present any way.

At the end of the day, there’s simply no harm in having one’s children hear Obama speak. No child will be hurt in any way. And some kids will undoubtedly be inspired to work harder in school. Isn’t that a good thing?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Why The US Doesn't Have Universal Healthcare


Healthcare reform may not happen this year. If it does, it’s likely to be a watered down version that displeases most Democrats. Why is universal healthcare so difficult to achieve?

Ever since the New Deal, Democrats have been trying. Truman, Carter, and Clinton all saw their efforts fail. Even the talented and charismatic Obama is having trouble.

I think there are two main reasons Democrats struggle. The first is that most people are satisfied with their private insurance. Now, none of this is to say that people should be satisfied with their healthcare. Many of the people who are currently satisfied aren’t sick, and so haven’t had to fight with an insurance company to make sure their treatment is covered. So we’ll see how satisfied they really are if they get cancer, and need expensive treatment that would bankrupt them if the insurance company succeeds in denying care to save money.

Second, most Americans are shielded from the true cost of their healthcare. This is because Americans tend to get insurance from their jobs. They think they’re getting free doctor visits, medications, and surgeries. In reality, high healthcare costs lower workers’ wages and cut down on the amount of capital a business has to invest. The upshot of this is that reform based on lowering costs doesn’t resonate with many Americans, because they don’t see in their personal lives that cost is a problem.

So that leaves most Americans feeling that there’s nothing in health reform for them. In fact, they could easily feel that healthcare reform will make life worse for them. They’ll have to pay higher taxes, and change doctors, they reason.

What will it take to make people embrace change in the system? In the next few years, healthcare costs are set to go through the roof. That will make providing health insurance prohibitively expensive for many companies. If workers want coverage, they’ll either have to purchase an individual plan, or switch to a much less expansive employer-based one with higher deductibles and co-pays.

When more people have to pay for their own insurance, or go without, they’ll be more inclined to see rising costs as a problem that has to be addressed. Then universal healthcare can be sold as a middle class entitlement, which is easier to pass, and harder to repeal.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Is Bob McDonnell's Thesis a Legitimate Issue?


Bob McDonnell looks set to be elected Governor of Virginia in November. That is, if a thesis he wrote in 1989 doesn’t get in the way. Here are some highlights:
• He described working women and feminists as “detrimental” to the family
• He said government policy should favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.”
• He described as “illogical” a 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples.


The controversy surrounding the thesis raises three interesting questions:

1. Is it legitimate to use a 20 year-old thesis against someone?

It could be depending on the circumstances. If he held exactly the same views as he did then when he wrote the thesis, then using the thesis is legitimate. But I worry about the trend towards digging up all papers by a political candidate. This was done to Michelle Obama last year too. While I disagree with everything written by McDonnell, I’m not sure that I want everything ever written by a politician dredged up during a campaign. This is particularly true when there is a record in office for the politician to be judged on. If this were 1990, and McDonnell had never held any political office, then I’d have an easier time seeing the thesis as relevant.

2. Have McDonnell’s views evolved?

McDonnell himself has said so. I’m willing to give him the benefit of a doubt here. He had a daughter fight in Iraq. His other daughter is coordinating youth outreach for Virginian’s Republican Party. His wife has run businesses. He obviously does not now have anything against women working outside the home. Or at least he is hiding it with his family. As for the Supreme Court decision legalizing contraceptives for unmarried couples, I haven’t seen any indication he’s changed his view on that.

3. Does his explanation make sense?

He has called the whole thing an “academic exercise.” There is perhaps a subtle implication here that he wrote such a thesis to appeal to professors at ultra-conservative Regent University. But what does it say that McDonnell would write a thesis just to try and get the highest grade possible? It says that he is willing to say things he doesn’t believe to pander and advance himself, a quality many voters say they dislike. So either he really believed these things, or he was pretending to hold views he really didn't to get a good grade.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dance Shoes From Zappos.com

Want to grace the dance floor like David Gregory? Then you’ve got to have a good pair of dance shoes. Zappos.com wants you to buy your shoes from them. Should you?

Zappos.com offers all kinds of different options for both men and women of various sizes. People who want to do ballet, ballroom, or salsa will find a different shoe type for them. Gymnastic shoes are even offered. I really like the huge variety of shoes available on the website. It seems like there’s a shoe for every kind of dancer. The site also offers free shipping, which is a nice touch.

Shopping on the website is convenient as well. You can search for what kind of shoe you want by name, price, and popularity. So if you have to buy shoes on a budget, you can search for shoes by lowest price. Or if you want to show off to all of your friends, you can easily find the most popular dance shoes, and buy them.

To buy shoes from zappos.com, go here.

How Will Healthcare Reform Affect Dems Politically?


Healthcare reform is floundering right now, although Democrats are showing no signs of ending their efforts to change the system. I want to consider what will happen politically under various scenarios.

Scenario 1: The Democrats get everything through including a public option

This is looking to be the least likely scenario at the moment. But it would be good for President Obama. He would be able to run in 2012 with a signature achievement rivaling anything FDR or LBJ did. In the short term, there could be some harm to congressional Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections. Blue dog Democrats from conservative districts might have trouble defending a $1 trillion bill and a public option. But on net, I think this scenario would be good for Democrats.

Scenario 2: The Democrats get nothing through

This scenario is hazy. Bill Clinton had his healthcare plan torpedoed in 1994. The Republican revolution ensued. But Clinton also went on to win reelection in 1996. So it’s hard to extrapolate what will happen. Perhaps the Democrats will experience no losses. Conservative Democrats will not have an expensive bill to defend. Democrats from liberal districts will get reelected anyway. Memories are short, and Obama would have two years to recover his political standing. So if I were a Republican strategist, I wouldn’t assume that stopping healthcare reform will be good politically.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that Obama would look incompetent if healthcare reform fails. He has a large majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Republican strategists would try to make Obama out to be the second coming of Jimmy Carter.

Scenario 3: Some kind of compromise. No public option.

This scenario is difficult to evaluate too. I have a feeling that a compromise would offer somewhat expanded coverage, individual mandates, and no real way to control costs. So taxes would rise, debt would go up, and young people would have to spend more of their money on insurance. Conservative Democrats would be hurt by the high costs and rising debt. Liberal Democrats would be fine, although their constituents would be unhappy not to see a public option. But Democrats would be able to say they got something through. In fact, in the short term, a reform that expands coverage and keeps the government out of the health insurance might prove relatively popular to centrists. People would feel like something was done for the uninsured while at the same time, they get to keep their plan. But by 2012, when people see the rising debt, and some voters chafe under mandates, the plan could be a liability. That could hurt President Obama in his reelection campaign.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I Respect Jesus, But...


“Jesus was a great man, and a great moral teacher. I just don’t believe that he was the son of God or anything like that.” I’ve heard this refrain many times. But I wonder if it makes any sense.

To admire Christ’s moral teachings, you have to be familiar with the New Testament on at least some level. But the second you read that, you come into contact with his claims of divinity. Here’s just a sample of such claims:

When asked directly whether he was the son of God, he said “I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven,’” (Mark 14:62).

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)


Jesus clearly thought that he was the son of God, and found his Godhood to be an important part of his identity.

So how can you respect a man who claims to be God, but you think isn’t? Wouldn’t such a man be a braggart? Or a liar? Or a lunatic? If you found some philosophy professor, who you thought had good moral teachings, who also claimed to be God, wouldn’t you find such a man delusional?

Now you could argue that the claims about divinity came after Jesus died from the authors of the gospels. But if you believe that, why couldn’t they have also made up the good moral teachings? It seems strange to believe the disciples were lying about Christ’s divinity, but then trust them 100% to accurately relay his moral teachings.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Frittering Millions of Dollars Away


A teenage lottery winner in England is in the news for wasting away her winnings. She won $3.2 million at age 16. Among the highlights: she spent $400,000 on crack cocaine. Now she says “winning the lottery has ruined my life. I wish I had never won.” Since squandering the money, she has attempted suicide three times. Now she works three jobs just to make ends meet. Read a full description of her woes here.

$3.2 million is a lot of money to waste. Is there a way to prevent that from happening? Maybe governments could require lottery winners to meet with a financial planner after they win. That way they could at least go through the motions of planning out a future, and using the newly acquire wealth for long-term benefit. The person in this case could have been set for the rest of her life, and probably done the same for any potential children.

Of course, the whole situation is a product of our have-it-now consumer driven culture. People regularly charge the latest gadgets or purses on their credit cards. Most kids—and many adults—just haven’t learned good values like delayed gratification, and thinking long term with money. They weren’t responsible when they had no money. And they won’t be responsible when they DO have money.

Do you feel sorry for her?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why Does God Send People to Hell?



How does a loving God send people to hell (assuming there is a God)? This is a question I’ve been pondering lately. I want to use a judicial framework in this post to get at why there’s such a thing as a hell. Let’s look at the reasons we punish people.

1. Retribution

In the criminal justice system, we punish people for their misdeeds because there was something intrinsically wrong with their action. Now, we might be tempted to think there’s nothing so bad that an eternity spent in hell is a proportionate punishment. But that is from our view as humans, not God’s. Reading through the Bible, you find that God has really a low threshold for what constitutes a sin (at least in human eyes). Christ says that “whosoever looks at woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Divorce is also referred to as adultery. If you have any doubt about how tough God’s standards are, read through the Ten Commandments. Have you ever lied, disobeyed your parents, or been jealous? Remember that God is perfect and sinless. That means that a sinner can’t go to heaven based on his works. In other words, sinners don’t deserve to go to heaven, and the only other place for them is hell.

2. Incapacitation

The logic here is similar to that above. A sinful soul would pollute heaven, which is supposed to be righteous and holy. Now an interesting wrinkle here is the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Perhaps every soul can be purified, and then go to heaven without polluting it.

3. Deterrence

Hell might be the best deterrent ever thought up. People contemplating doing immoral things will think long and hard. Is an eternity spent burning in hell really worth committing that murder or that theft? What about things people do in private such as committing adultery, lying, or sabotaging other people? The practical result of a hell could be to improve human behavior, and make for a better, more moral society.