Saturday, June 30, 2012

The evil Obamacare taxes

The intellectual godfather of the individual mandate, the Heritage Foundation, has a breakdown of all the taxes associated with Obamacare.  There are three main areas where most of the taxes are assessed; taxes on providers, taxes on the rich, and the individual/employer mandate.  All told, Heritage estimates that Obamacare will mean $503 billion in increased taxes from now through 2019.

Today I'd like to look at the taxes on providers, including health insurance companies ($60 billion by 2019), pharmaceuticals ($27 billion) and medical device manufacturers ($20 billion).  These organizations pay about 20% of all the taxes raised by Obamacare.  Yet, most of these companies supported passage.  Why would they do that?

These companies will see a huge surge in demand as a result of Obamacare.  More people with insurance means more customers for insurance companies, as well as more people able to afford pharmaceuticals and medical devices.  Should the companies be allowed to keep the entirety of the windfall resulting from Obamacare (and not from their own initiative or invention), or should they pay a portion of the added profits in taxes?  Even with the added taxes, these companies will benefit as a result of Obamacare.  They earn lots more in income, and part of that income goes to pay for the programs that led to their getting more income.  And there's the not-insignificant benefit that more American citizens will be able to have the drugs and devices they need to be healthy and productive.  It's a win all the way around.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Other paths to legality besides the military

Romney made some news today by misstating his own position on which illegal immigrants would be allowed to stay legally.  While his previously stated position was that he supported allowing illegals who serve in the military to earn a green card, he also stated that illegals with advanced degrees should be allowed to stay.  Of course this is a misstatement and nothing more.

But it's worth discussing why he might think that the only path to legality is the military.  There's this strange tendency to view serving in the military as the greatest good that a citizen can do, and it's just not always the case.  Why is it that Peace Corp volunteers, who face a death rate similar to members of the Air Force deployed to Iraq, never are asked to stand and be recognized at public events?  Why don't teachers get a national holiday?

How did Romney determine that only via military service could one earn a green card?  Does anyone really think that he sat down and did an honest appraisal of the benefits to the country that are derived from military service versus other methods of service to determine which ones should earn citizenship?  Or did he do a political calculation of which would get him elected?  Ask yourself, truly, which you think he did.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nice to know Roberts agrees with me

I posted about an hour before the the ruling was announced lamenting that the mandate appeared to be on its way to defeat on a technicality, that although the mandate functions exactly like a tax, it wasn't written as such and would therefore be eliminated.  But Chief Justice Roberts decided "fuck it, I'll vote for it anyway under the taxing power, even though it wasn't written that way."

So good on him.

ObamaCare lives!!!

Darn near the entirety of the Affordable Care Act was upheld.  Needless to say, I'm unbelievably excited.

The only part of the Act which was not entirely upheld was the Medicaid expansion.  Under the original act, states who refused to expand their Medicaid rolls to cover everyone up to 133% of the poverty level would risk losing all their Medicaid funding they get from the government, which is billions of dollars for most states.  Today's ruling says that if they refuse to expand, they would only lose the additional funds granted under the act, not their existing Medicaid funding.

So it will be fascinating, FASCINATING, to see if governors/legislatures in deep red states choose to accept funding to expand their rolls.  The federal government would pay 90+% of the costs of the expansion, so it's essentially a shitload of free money being offered to each state, since people not covered by Medicaid would likely result in increased costs for everyone because hospitals would eat the cost of the uninsureds' care.  But if the red  state leaders accept the funding, they would run a very serious risk of being defeated in a GOP primary by a Tea Party true believer.

Have I mentioned that I'm happy?

More thoughts tonight; I guess I gotta go back to work.

Just keep in mind

No one would doubt the constitutionality of the mandate if it were done as a tax incentive instead of as a tax penalty. The government gives tax incentives for all kinds of things, like mortgage interest or college or hiring veterans. The heart of the conservative case is at best a technicality, as the exact same mandate, in real terms as they affect citizens, would certainly be constitutional. They're prepared to overrule the legislature (which supposed proponents of judicial restraint should be reluctant to do) on a major pies of legislation on a technicality.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Distraction of the day

I'm trying to avoid thinking/worrying about Obamacare all night, as the decision will almost certainly come tomorrow just after 10am Eastern.  If you're looking for a distraction, here's a report from Fortune, which is hardly a liberal rag, which attacks the conservative perception of Fast and Furious, a "scandal" in which guns were supposedly allowed by the ATF to flow into Mexico so that Obama could take away our guns, or whatever.  The report states that the ATF wanted to seize the guns, contrary to the Republican talking points on the issue, but was prevented from doing so by toothless gun laws as well as a desire to not appear to be overzealous, a charge the ATF has faced since Waco.

It's a long report, but it's worth a read.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Huge day on Thursday

It looks like the Supreme Court will announce its ruling on Obamacare on Thursday, the last day of its session.  They might decide to add extra days to the session, if Chief Justice Roberts, or whoever is writing the opinion, needs more time, and they could even push it back to October or further, but it's almost certainly going to happen Thursday.  So it's time to assess my hopes and expectations for the decision.

I think the mandate and guaranteed issue (i.e., no more exclusions for pre-existing conditions) are probably gone, and I'm not devastated by that, assuming the rest of the law survives.  If the Medicaid expansion, health insurance exchanges, and subsidies to lower the cost of insurance are upheld, that's a lot of good, which will result in millions more people with insurance.  Without a mandate bringing more people into the insurance market, and without guaranteed issue, many people will still be excluded from the market, but it would not be the worst outcome, and certainly an improvement over the situation prior to reform.

But I really do hope the entire thing is upheld.  It would be silly if we were to find ourselves living in a world where the government can take whatever percentage of your income they want to take, spend it on whatever it wants, send you to war, execute American citizens abroad and yet not be able to impose a fine of a few hundred bucks if you put yourself in a position where you might force the system to pay millions of dollars on your behalf.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Supreme Court term limits

Why does it matter to our entire system of government that Anthony Kennedy is 76, or that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 79 and has a history of cancer?  Whether either is able to continue breathing for the next four years will likely determine the future of abortion, gay marriage, campaign finance and any number of other issues, as another Roberts/Alito Justice replacing Ginsburg or a Kagan/Sotomayor replacing Kennedy would shift the balance of power on the Court.

Why not have a Supreme Court term of something like 10 or 15 years, after which they ride off into the sunset?  The pressure to nominate someone young and healthy prevents older but more-qualified judges from  reaching the Court.  I suppose one could argue that you wouldn't want a tremendous justice's potentially-longer term to be wasted by kicking them out after a decade or so, but the same argument could be made for Presidents, who are put out to pasture after 8.  And it's not (so far as I'm aware, anyway) like the current Justices have such far-and-away better legal minds than other judges.

It's important that Justices not be eligible for appointment to another term, as that would politicize the Court. But taking biology out of the picture by limiting Justices' stay on the bench would make for a better Court.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Voters' rights and responsibilities to know the candidates

The President of the United States is uniquely positioned to have tremendous influence over billions of people. He can send soldiers and nuclear weapons anywhere in the world. He can form a one-man super-filibuster which requires 2/3 of both houses of Congress to override. He (according to current practice, anyway) can order the execution of anyone outside the US. So how is it that both parties have gotten uncomfortably close to putting people (John Edwards and Sarah Palin) who appear to be psychologically disturbed a heartbeat away from the office?

Given the tremendous power entrusted to one individual, voters need to know, and be allowed to know, important details of the candidates' lives.  If Barack Obama wants to keep his finger on the button, it's bullshit that voters aren't allowed to know about his college years, which (presumably) were important to his formation as a person.  It's similarly unacceptable that Romney's religion is off-limits, or that the allegation that he forcibly cut the hair off of a classmate in high school was minimally discussed.  These facts about the men who seek to lead the free world are vitally important, as the peculiarities of their personalities change the course of history.

So it was with great dismay that I read a Gallup poll which shows that only 34% of voters can correctly identify the President as a Christian.  This fact is both frequently in the news and extremely important to Obama's job.  It matters if the guy with his finger on the button believes that his side is destined by God to emerge victorious, just like it matters if he is a Marxist or if he's a bully.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Only 34% know Obama's a Christian

I'm working on a longer post, but it's not done. The impetus for it is a new poll from Gallup which reveals that only 34% of voters can correctly identify Obama as a Christian. I'll be discussing that this is completely unacceptable.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Obama fights back

Tremendous statement by the President today regarding immigration reform specifically and the state of affairs in the Republican Party more generally in a speech before the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.  The highlight for me:

Now, once again, the problem is not the lack of technical solutions.  We know what the solutions are to this challenge.  Just six years ago, an unlikely trio -- John McCain, Ted Kennedy, President Bush -- came together to champion comprehensive immigration reform.  (Applause.)  I, along with a lot of Democrats, were proud to join 23 Senate Republicans in voting for it.  Today, those same Republicans have been driven away from the table by a small faction of their own party.  It’s created the same kind of stalemate on immigration reform that we’re seeing on a whole range of other economic issues.

Republican opposition to Obama is based on this image of him as a dangerous radical leftist, which statements like this help destroy.  How can he be a socialist if he'd have been at home in the Republican Party of the not-too-distant past?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Good ol' DEA

Coming to you this evening from our new abode in Bath, which means miniscule post today, as we just got done unloading our cars.  So here's yesterday's testimony from the DEA administrator where she refuses to say if heroin is worse for someone than marijuana.  She dodges that and similar questions 11 times in three minutes.  This is supposed to be an area of expertise for her.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Excellent summary of Obamacare

Over on Reddit, there's a great summary of all the parts and pieces of Obamacare, including what's already in place and what else happens when. The next comment is how one would explain Obamacare to a 5 year old. Both are worth a read, but the simplified one is especially good. Sorry for the short post; in the process of moving.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Romney/Rubio game exposed

Poor access today (moving out of the Pittsburgh house), so not much to post.  Most important story of the day, I think, is an ABC News report that Marco Rubio has never really being vetted by the Romney team as a possible VP choice.  Romney, apparently trying to preserve a deal with Rubio to build him up with a few months of VP speculation, announced that he is indeed thoroughly vetting Rubio.  Seems like a bizarre approach, allowing one to be goaded into revealing details of one's VP vetting process.  Next let's start a rumor that Mitt Romney isn't vetting Paul Ryan.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Romney doesn't even have a secret plan

In '08, John McCain assured us all that he had a secret plan to catch Osama bin Laden.  He couldn't tell us what it was, of course, but he had one.  This time around, when it comes to immigration, the Republican nominee doesn't even bother claiming to have a secret plan.  In an interview released today by that liberal mouthpiece Fox News, Romney was asked if he would reverse Obama's order that young illegal immigrants be allowed to say.  Instead of reiterating his previous "self-deportation" strategy, which might not play well in a general election, Romney indeed appears to be trying to say that even he himself can't know how he'll come down on the issue until after the election.

What a ridiculous position to take, given that his previous position made even Newt Gingrich say holy shit, that's rough.  He is figuratively (I actually had typed literally;  near miss, man... near miss) trying to Etch-a-Sketch his way out of a hard-right position he took during the primary.  Who could have ever seen this coming?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Romney doubles down on intransigence

In a move to reassure conservatives who worried that Romney might try to "etch-a-sketch" his way out of his hard-line pledge to reject any new taxes, even if every $1 was offset by $10 in spending cuts, today Romney reiterated his pledge to never raise taxes ever no matter what never.

What a simplistic and childish view of governance!  Sometimes politicians have to vote for/sign things they don't like.  It's what you have to do in a system of government like ours, because otherwise, the whole thing doesn't work (for reference, see the last 4 years).  No bill of any substance is ever going to be completely devoid of any little item one might find distasteful, but if a bill is on-balance a good thing and the best that you can get based on others' opinions, it's your responsibility to vote for it.

No one ever asks Romney the follow-up question: when WOULD you agree to raise taxes?  If Harry Reid offered to pass the Paul Ryan budget cuts in exchange for a shiny nickel from every millionaire in the country, would Romney tell him to pound sand?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Does Obama's immigration decision matter?

(Disclaimer: I'm not Latino, and I'm embarrassed to say I don't know anyone who's Latino, so the following is entirely conjecture)

President Obama issued an executive order which ends deportation of young illegal immigrants if they were brought here by their families and have graduated high school or served in the military.  While I wholeheartedly agree with the order, I wonder how much of an impact it will have on the election.  Of course, all the people directly affected by the order are unable to vote, so he won't gain an electoral advantage from them.  He is presumably counting on Latino citizens to be more likely to vote for him, but I don't know how much of an effect the order will have for them.

I would be amazingly pissed to be a Latino citizen in Arizona or another state where I'd have to worry about being pulled over for being brown.  Given the limited nature of the executive order (only young immigrants who graduated or served in the military), it won't keep cowboy police officers from continuing to hassle minorities, because there are still lots of illegal immigrants not covered by the order.  Citizens might know illegals affected by the policy, so Obama would get some benefit from that, but it doesn't seem like the order will have enough of an effect on people's day-to-day lives to move a lot of votes.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Obama makes a big decision

After months/years of arguing for a DREAM Act which would allow the children of immigrants to stay in the country, Obama decided that he didn't need Congress to make it happen.  It's a latndmark move.  More complete thoughts tomorrow, but I was at the Indians game all night, so...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

An infrastructure deficit

We hear every day about the federal budget deficit.  It's huge, and of course it should be considered carefully with every decision the government makes.

But dollars in minus dollars out is not the only deficit we're running.  There is also a growing deficit of needed infrastructure improvements and repairs, and it will continue to grow whether we add it to our actual balance sheet now or in the future.  We will have to pay to repair/replace a crumbling bridge at some point, whether it's today or in 20 years.  It will inevitably hit the real debt at some point (unless one wants to argue for private ownership of roads, which is a conversation I'd be happy to have), and our infrastructure will keep crumbling and getting more expensive to fix the longer we wait.

Given that the Treasury can borrow money at historically low rates, and also that there are lots of people looking for work, why would we not choose to borrow now and make the upgrades now?  Assuming the benefit to the economy of having better infrastructure outweighs the interest rate (which, to remind you, is historically low and will only get higher), it's a win-win.  You get "stimulus" now without a real change in the long-term debt, since money for infrastructure improvements will have to be spent eventually anyway.

The same kind of argument applies to education, research and the like.  Yes, we can save money today by cutting investments in the future.  But what do we do, then, in the future?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sports as the original reality show

Another reason you should definitely start following at least one sports team is that each team is an excellent reality show (assuming you can find some redeeming quality in the actual sport, of which I've suggested one possibility).  Consider:

1.  The best reality shows are the ones where the participants truly act like themselves.  If producers are too controlling or too heavy-handed with editing, the proceedings become artificial to the point of defeating the whole point of a reality show.  With sports in an era of Twitter and 24 hour sports channels, athletes' true colors have a way of shining through.

Players are constantly getting themselves in trouble by making stupid racist jokes or openly discussing their plans to illegally drink underage.  More importantly, the nature of intense competition with millions of dollars and each player's historical legacy on the line tends to bring out one's true feelings to the surface.  A player who isn't actually devoted to the team will eventually loaf it to first base or not hustle back on defense.  Players who hate each other will eventually have a public blow-up, possibly even leading them to attack each other on the field.

2.  There is unbelievable historical continuity to sports.  Arsenal (a soccer team based in London) has been in operation since 1886.  "The Simpsons" has been around not even a fifth as long.  It would be like watching Survivor, only if your great-grandfather watched Survivor if he was a boy and taught your grandfather to love it, who taught your mother, who taught you.

3.  My lovely bride frequently likes to gently antagonize sports fans with a mock-slogan of "the sports team from my area is superior to the sports team from your area".  But the geographic element of following a sports team can make it special.  It's like following a TV show which you can watch live if you're willing to drive 20 minutes into the city.  Pittsburgh and Columbus practically shut down when the Steelers or Buckeyes are playing, and that kind of collective action breeds community.

4.  Eventually, assuming you don't follow any of the same teams I do, your team will win a championship.  It would, I imagine, be a tremendous payoff that has the show has been leading up to for 30 years.  And, if you choose a local team, you'd share the payoff with just about everyone at your office/school/etc.

5.  The unexpected can happen at any time.  For example, tonight, on a random mid-week night in the doldrums of the middle of a 162 game regular season, a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants named Matt Cain threw the 22nd perfect game in major league history.  There have been hundreds of thousands of games played, and only 22 of them have featured a pitcher throwing a perfect game (no hits or walks given up, no errors, no batters hit by a pitch).  Amazing.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Not all would be lost on Obamacare

Several huge health insurance companies announced recently that they would continue some aspects of Obamacare even if the law is overturned.  United Healthcare, Humana and Aetna will continue to allow people stay on their parents' insurance up to age 26, will not re-institute lifetime benefit limits, and not charge co-pays for some preventative services.

Which is all great.  Good for United, Humana and Aetna!

It's also, however, good for Republicans.  By continuing these popular pieces of Obamacare even if the law goes away, the political cost for Republicans favoring complete repeal goes down.  Of course, I'd rather millions of people get insurance as a result of these reforms than allowing Democrats to score some political points.  But I continue to think that Obama's doomed if the Affordable Care Act is even partially overturned.  I just don't think it'd be possible to recover if he loses his signature accomplishment.  The ruling should come down on June 25th or 28th, apparently.  So stay tuned.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A seizure's a great excuse

Over the weekend, Commerce Secretary John Bryson ran into two cars while driving in LA.  The official claim is that he had a seizure which made him unable to control his car.

Regardless of what really happened in Bryson's case, as far as I'm aware it would be just about impossible to refute a seizure claim.  If he had alcohol or vicodin in his system he might be screwed, but otherwise, he'd likely get away without any other trouble.  Some people with a seizure disorder have abnormal EEGs and MRIs and such, but some don't.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The benefits of Christian charity

I grew up in the Lutheran church.  In practical/physical terms, I think one of the most harmful teachings I've ever heard is the concept of sola fide, or that believers gain justification by faith alone in God's grace alone.  It's not that I think it's a false doctrine.  But for that "false positives" portion of the church referenced previously, sola fide justifies their laziness.  They feel free to ignore the calls to action in the Bible (and, to be fair to Luther, in his full description description of sola fide) as long as they say "Lord, Lord".  As discussed by Kirkegaard, however, it is clear that true belief carries with it a different approach to life, which is evident by the fruits of one's actions.  Churches looking to keep non-believers in the pews, however, would want to emphasize the easy, faith-only portion of sola fide, since emphasizing the part about actually having to give up anything might turn people off.

I spent much of college as a "seeker", though I kinda hated the term.  While I was never much of a believer, I always identified with passages like 1 John 3:17 and the Golden Rule.  I read a lot of Jim Wallis and Ron Sider trying to find a place for myself in the church that matched with my more utilitarian leanings.  During that phase of my life, I found myself often frustrated by the lack of discussion of charity in the church.  Such a discussion might have prolonged my seeking, and might have even changed the outcome.

Given that there over 2.3 billion Christians in the world, one would expect the world to look dramatically different than it does.  Like everyone else, Christians are imperfect and fallible.  It's not that there has to be a perfect world for Christians to be able to think of themselves as good people.  But current conditions despite 1 in 3 living people being nominally Christian makes clear that many are not in fact true believers.  Although not a believer myself, I think the world would benefit from more true Christians.  I'm enough of a utilitarian to not care if a jug of water and a sack of grain to a starving person is accompanied with a Bible.

Emphasizing the more difficult portions of the Bible would also help change the perception of the church among many.  Much of the current popular perception of the church comes from its views on social issues.  By accentuating charitable action, the church could change its leading faces from the fundamentalist pro-lifer to the life-giving missionary.  If they lose some false positives along the way, so be it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Religion ain't for the timid, so why do religious organizations want them?

Because of the "poor diagnostic test" formed by systemic coercive factors, a few of which were discussed here previously, which keep non-believers in the church despite lack of true belief or desire for true belief, there are lots of people in the pews who really have no business being there.  As described by Jesus in Matthew 7, it's quite possible that many of those calling "Lord, Lord" today are not in fact true believers, so it stands to reason that with lower barriers to exiting, more people will leave the church.  With relatively recent technological and social changes, many of the barriers to exiting religion discussed previously are losing their effectiveness.  A life outside the church is more of an option than it has ever been, and it continues to be more and more viable every day.

So Christianity in American has a decision.  It can try to appeal to the non-believers in the pews with bells and whistles like coffee shops, modern music and an easy message of heaven and prosperity, trying to hold onto as many of its "flock" as it can.  Or it can focus on building a strong core of true believers by strengthening its message of love and self-sacrifice.  With a presumably-continuing loss of the previously-discussed barriers to leaving the church, the former option would lead to a long but inevitable decline.  Instead of numerous powerful competitive advantages, a church trying to continually reshape itself to appeal to a modern audience's sensibilities would face a distinctly sharp disadvantage, in the sense of competing with other forms of entertainment for non-believers, by having to include the Bible in its "shows".

That modern Christian music sucks is a clear and obvious fact.  But the question is: why does it so clearly suck?  It has to do with Christian musicians being hobbled by having to stick to a particular message.  While other bands can sing about sex or world peace or food, Christian bands have to focus on one particular thing every song on every album.  Similarly, Christian church services make for bad entertainment for a non-believing audience.  Joel Osteen's massive self-help sessions are hobbled by the necessity of including that darn book.

All the bells and whistles of a typical church service are necessary to keep non-believing butts in the seats.  For people who are there out of pure habit, or to keep their mother happy, or for any reason other than belief or seeking belief in the religion, the accoutrements of a church service make the obligation of an hour a week a bit more palatable.  A weak, milquetoast message of easy Christianity can also make it easier to sit in church bored, but it's not going to keep people coming back as the barriers to leaving get lower and lower.

As exiting religions becomes easier, the church can no longer hope to hold onto its apathetic, non-believing elements.  Rather than futilely weakening its message and losing some true believers in the process, the church would be better off to focus on the actual themes of the Bible, which makes it clear that it's hard to be a Christian.  The average non-believer in the pews doesn't want to hear that.  Preachers and bishops who depend on those non-believers putting money in the collection plate to pay for their salaries and pensions might not be particularly motivated to tell them that.

The last time in Western history it wasn't easier to go to church than to not was before Emperor Constantine's conversion 1700 years ago.  Up to that point, you had to really want to be a Christian to do it., and church members were fiercely devoted to biblical principles of charity and non-violence.  Once religion became the default option in society, the church was weakened by the presence of non-believers who wouldn't countenance such self-sacrifice.  As the dominance of the church gradually recedes, these non-believing elements will leave one way or the other.  It's up to the church to decide if it will wither away while weakening itself in a vain attempt to hold onto them, or it can return to pre-Constantinian principles, inviting anyone who doesn't truly agree with biblical teaching to leave but also developing and holding onto true believers.  Biblical teachings can either be a disadvantage in a doomed effort to hold onto non-believers or an advantage in developing a strong Christian community.

Friday, June 8, 2012

More what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules

Since it's a fairly important topic, I'm not going to muddle my way through the end of my thoughts on religion just to meet some artificial deadline I foolishly set for myself.  So I'm going to take one more day to finish it.  I'm sure we'll all survive.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Our cheap politics

Over at, which is generally a good liberal source and is highly recommended by yours truly, they're freaking out about a finding that there will likely have been around $125 million in political spending since last year for the state's recently-concluded recall elections.  The author decries this as somehow a sign that we're all fucked or something and that money in politics is out of control.

Proctor and Gamble will spend way, way more money on advertising this year than Obama and Romney.  It takes P&G just under two weeks to spend $125 million on ads, and that's for soap and makeup and shit.  The problem with our system is not the amount of money in politics.  It's that people let their views be influenced by ads they see on TV which they know to be biased.  Government is important, and we absolutely should be spending billions of dollars figuring out who will lead us.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I'm kinda OK with Citizens United

In the wake of Scott Walker's survival in his recall fight, it's clear that Citizens United has changed the political landscape tremendously.  Walker was helped by a huge spending advantage compared to his Democratic challenger.  But despite the advantage that Republican/conservative candidates gain with unlimited campaign spending, it seems clear to me that political speech is protected by the First Amendment.

What else is the First Amendment for if not to allow one to say that the President/Senator/Dog Catcher is a liar and a scoundrel?

It's true that campaign finance can have a deleterious effect on good governance.  But there are ways for voters to limit money-caused damage without slapping a gag on political speech that isn't carried on CNN, MSNBC or Fox.  I'm all for public disclosure of donations, as well as disclosures of who politicians meet with and who benefits from the laws they support.  But allowing Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow to say anything they want while the rest of us have to zip it isn't democratic or American.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Chilling warning from George Soros

Over the weekend, George Soros, a billionaire investor known for success in the currency market, gave a speech at an economics conference in which he gave Europe 3 months to solve its banking and sovereign debt crises or face the end of the European Union.  The whole thing is definitely worth a read, but the short version is that the political window for a grand solution is closing.  As the economic disaster in Greece continues to unfold, Greeks will become increasingly unlikely to elect a government which will jump through all the hoops the rest of Europe has set up for them in exchange for help paying its debts.  Germany will also become less willing to give that help as their economy, which is heavily dependent on exports sent to other European countries, stagnates due to the worsening markets for its products.  He doesn't give a specific rationale for his 3 month prediction, but the speech is otherwise excellent.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Be Kato

Despite my misgivings vis-a-vis religion, at least one church teaching gives me an almost-daily benefit.  When I was going through my confirmation class, the OJ trial was at its peak.  As you might imagine, the trial came up when we were discussing the commandment to not bear false witness against one's neighbor.  In the explanation of this commandment in Luther's Small Catechism, it says to explain one's neighbor's actions in the kindest way.  This essentially means to give others the benefit of the doubt.

The model for this approach was Kato Kaelin, OJ's house-guest.  Compelled to testify in the case, Kato clearly sought to give the least-incriminating version of events he could without getting himself thrown in jail for perjury.

I use this just about every day with minor stressful events, like when I'm stuck between some slow driver on Medina Line.  I try to come up with a reason for why they are driving so slowly, like they're old or they were just in an accident.  By the time I'm in a position to see if my theory might be true, I'm in the process of passing them anyway, so I can't really get ticked off even if I see they're on their phone.

In aggregate, there are many areas of Christian ethics which I think would result in a better world if they were more widely followed.  In the thrilling conclusion to the series, I'll propose that the church can improve itself and the world by focusing on building a strong core of true believers, rather than focusing on keeping butts in the seats.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Self-interest and identity

(This started as a response to a comment regarding yesterday's look at a carbon tax, but I decided to make a full post out of it)

Much of conservative/libertarian America holds up as its ideal a sort of John Galt type of independent entrepreneur.  If left free of government interference, the open market will reward smart, hardworking people with wealth and security.  In this worldview, every negative thing that happens is the result of politics and the government, and Washington is the only thing standing between themselves and their own personal prosperity.

For people with this mindset, voting for the Tea Party is not against their self-interest, as they view themselves as future members of the 1% if only bureaucrats would get out of their way.  Self-interest has not been abandoned by the Tea Party; the identity of Tea Partiers is inextricably linked with self-interest.  Tea Party -> Laissez-Faire Capitalism -> Self-interest.

A carbon tax utilizes the Right's fetish for property rights to drive home an environmental message.  When I pollute, I damage your standard of living by making you breath noxious fumes and make your kid more likely to have asthma.  You deserve to be compensated for that damage, just as you would deserve compensation if I wrecked your car or took your lunch money.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Carbon taxes and property rights

In a free market made up of individuals, environmental protection makes little sense for each individual, even if they would generally be willing to spend more to live in a cleaner world.  The environmental benefit gained by an individual as a result of their decision to buy, for example, a low-emissions vehicle is infinitesimal, as their car is only one out of millions, and the pollution generated by one's own car is carried away by the wind.  While the benefit of the individual's purchase is not limited to the individual, the cost to the individual is direct and personal.   Deciding to buy a polluting car makes no difference to one's own environment, but it can save tons of money.

Given this unlinking of cost and benefit, environmental improvement on a macro scale is impossible.  It just never makes sense for an individual to act responsibly.  Each polluting decision makes sense for the individuals involved, but taken in aggregate, we all are worse off.

One way to fix this situation is to outlaw certain decisions.  However, voters tend to not take too kindly to this approach, and it often makes for bad policy.  Another way to help line up individual and collective goals is to figure out a way to factor the cost of the pollution into the economics of the purchase.  This can be accomplished via a tax on the pollution.  It forces the individual to compensate the owners (everyone) of the resource (the environment) which is damaged by the individual's action.  This idea is the basis of civil law; if I damage your property, I have to compensate you for it.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bad day today

Bad jobs report today, possibly indicating another worldwide recession.  Obama's reduced to blaming Congress.  It's not an easy argument to make.  I'm much more pessimistic today than I was yesterday.

Sorry for the short post.  Working on the religion series as well as packing up our house in Pittsburgh for the move back to Ohio.