The single issue voter

I remember sitting in a journalism class at the University of New Orleans almost 30 years ago listening to an old hand from the Times Picayune regaling us with stories about his work at the paper. One that stood out to me was how the church excommunicated a politician for their stance on integration (and then physically blocked him from entering the church for his daughter’s wedding).

The exact details of what he said escape me and so I’m probably wrong on parts, but looking at Wikipedia, I think he may have been talking about the excommunication (and later, after a public retraction, reinstatement) of Leander Perez in 1962 who was the secretary of the Citizens Council of South Louisiana for aggressively opposing the integration of Catholic schools.

I mention this because I was reminded about this when reading the letters to the editor for my local paper. There seems to be some confusion about Biden, the Catholic running for president of these United States. Many people have written into the local paper over the last month and pointed to a single issue—abortion—as a reason no Christian should vote for Biden.

Biden certainly has his faults. A reader was gracious enough to give us a few of them in the Letters page recently. She isn’t wrong.

But as she said, Biden has had 47 years in politics and the issues she managed to find were a molehill compared with the mountain Trump has managed to accumulate during just four (4!) years in political office.

One question—why are some good Catholics willing to support Biden?—really got me to write.

Abortion is a real issue, but no matter if you think it should be outlawed or kept legal, it should not be the only reason a Christian uses to pick a candidate for president.

It is a fact that Biden supports abortion and the Catholic church is against abortion. But, thinking Catholics might also recall that in 2018 the Church reinforced its Culture of Life when it updated the catechism to include these words from a speech Pope Francis made: “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person“.

This thinking Catholic might also remember that, in 1989, Trump paid $85,000 for a full page ad in four New York papers calling for a return of the death penalty—something that just happened to coincide with the trial of the Central Park Five, black men who were ultimately exonerated despite Trump’s best efforts.

Thinking Catholics might also recall that the catechism of the Church says “Every form of social or cultural discrimination … on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated…”.

Then they may remember that Trump’s first appearance in the New York Times was on the front page in October 16, 1973 under the headline “Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack bias in City”.

Christians should use their faith to help them make decisions, but we would be wrong to dictate who any Christian (Catholic or otherwise) should vote for.

Photo: Choices are hard (Public Domain image from Commons)

The Universal Health Coverage Bogeyman

Universal Health Coverage is coming! Universal Health Coverage is coming! Get out your guns! There is an enormous amount of fear mongering going on around the issue of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). From the UHC advocates, we hear about scary medical bankruptcies. From the UHC opponents, we hear that this is just a way for the government to run our lives. In fact, that last article was sent to me by an old college friend. “Is this the health care bill you want?” she asked. (Peter Fleckenstein (aka “the fleckman”), the creator of this “analysis”, posted a complete copy on his blog.) Well, if its as bad as the tweet-filled weblog post makes it out to be, no, I don’t want it. A couple of points.

  1. Mr. Fleckenstein and many reactionaries harbor a deep suspicion of bogeymen such as ACORN and illegal aliens. These bogeyman don’t scare me. I will totally ignore those sections of the criticism. I don’t care if the government supplies health care for members of ACORN. And even illegal aliens are people who sometimes need health care. Which part of “Universal” did you not understand?
  2. The bill being referred to, HR 3200 — “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009” — is over 1000 pages long. I don’t have time or interest to read every page. What I do have time to do is fact-check statements about the bill that I find alarming. Good thing “the fleckman” provides direct pointers.
  3. This is the House bill. The Senate bills up for consideration aren’t finished. One doesn’t include a government-run plan — something that seems to be the biggest sticking point for many of the article’s complaints. I am personally more comfortable with the “co-op” idea of the Senate Finance Committee’s bill — it sounds similar to Germany’s version of UHC.

With that in mind, lets look at a few claims:

  1. There will be a government committee that decides what treatments or benefits you get. (Sec. 123) The actual text says: “Committee to recommend covered benefits and essential, enhanced, and premium plans.” There is a big difference between a recommendation and a decision. As far as I can tell, no one is going to stop you from paying for extra treatment if you want it.
  2. Your health care is rationed!!! (p 29 ln. 4-16) The actual text referenced here has nothing to do with rationing health care, but with how co-payments on the public option will be adjusted.
  3. Government will have “real-time” access to individual finances. (sec 163) This is a modification of the onerous HIPAA regulations. The addendum the bill puts in does, indeed talk about “[enabling] the real-time (or near real-time) determination of an individual’s financial responsibility”. But again, this isn’t mandating access to your individual finances. Instead, it seems to be saying that they want universal standards for determining a co-pay or your liability for a specific treatment or office visit instead of the current system — which involves multiple rounds to the insurance company.
  4. Government will have direct access to bank accounts. (sec 163) The actual text here: “enable electronic funds transfers [for] … health care payment and remittance advice”. This isn’t government access — this is the access for the health care provider. And enable processing isn’t the same as forcing individuals to surrender information.
  5. Government will tell doctors how much they can charge. (sec 225) Just like they set payment levels for Medicare and Medicaid. Doctors are not obligated to accept the government plan. If you want health care from a doctor who doesn’t accept the government option coverage, then you can get it, provided you can find a way to pay for it.
  6. Employers must enroll employees into the public plan. (sec 312(a)) This section is talking about how an employer can meet the government requirements. One of the requirements is “automatic enrollment”. Part (c)(2) of this section explicitly states that an employee may make “an affirmative election to opt out”. And the plan doesn’t have to be the government option. If the employer offers adequate private insurance, then they meet the criteria.
  7. States give up some of their State Sovereignty. The horse is long ago out of the barn. When my friend and I were in college in New Orleans, there were news stories about a drinking age being imposed on the Quarter. Previously, it was illegal to buy alcohol if you were under 18, but not to sell it to anyone under 21. This makes an incredibly hard law to enforce. The federal government, in order to bring Louisiana into compliance with the rest of the country’s drinking laws, threatened to withhold federal money for roads if the laws weren’t changed. You can argue that this infringes on a state’s sovereignty — but no one is forcing the state to take the money. If it wants it, it has to change. If it is willing to fund its own road system entirely, it can leave the laws as is. This is a pattern the federal government has repeatedly followed when dispensing federal money. It has withstood Supreme Court challenges on the basis that it infringes a state’s sovereignty. But the state, if it really wants to be sovereign, can opt-out of the federal money.

The fear-mongering continues, but I’ve got to get to bed. The pattern I see here is that Mr. Fleckenstein is skimming (understandably) the 1000+ pages of regulation looking for alarming phrases and not bothering with the context. He ignores other parts (like the religious conscience exception on p170) completely.

Radioactive content

I’m going to take this from “hot-button” to radioactive. Children deserve a resident father. Women do not deserve to have children simply because they want them. … There’s a difference between what adults want and what children need, and children’s needs trump adults’ wants.

(from Are Fathers Optional?)

In case you hadn’t caught the clue, I’m what most people would call a social conservative in almost the strictest sense of the word. When we make decisions that affect other people, we should consider their needs. When we’re thinking about bringing life into the world, we need to be especially sober. Twelve years ago, Dolly was created and cloning became something that people began to think about as a possibility. Articles were written about the possibility of men and women having themselves cloned so there would be mini-me‘s running around — blatant testaments to their parent’s vanity. Imagine! I could raise my genetic offspring without having to put up with a woman! seemed to be the gist of some of them. But I do not recall the obvious narcissism being discussed. Suppose it is possible in a few years to have a child who shares all my genetic characteristics without the bother of first developing a lasting relationship with someone else — or, for that matter, having much of any interaction with anyone else at all. The narcissism seems so obvious. Perhaps it is because we celebrate narcissism in our culture that this doesn’t bother us. Even many “christian” leaders seem to have discarded the idea that pride is the root of all sin and promoted their face and personality more than they’ve demonstrated humility. I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise that, here in America, men and women feel the right to pursue their desire to have children, without intending to have any sort of relationship with the child’s other parent. This is, after all, the land of individuality and self expression. Why not buy a child to raise as my own if I can? I don’t think it would be profitable to start legislating my morality — how far would an anti-pride/anti-narcissism ordinance get, and would I be the first one charged? When I read the statistics of how many people are being voluntarily raised by a single parent, whether that parent has 14 children or one, I feel like I am, as Father Stephen writes, standing on the edge of cultural disaster. We’ve been here before and we’ll move on. Life will continue despite a world that seems to be falling apart around us constantly, whether the immanent danger is climate change, abortion, or economic collapse. (Update: The quote that started this post used to include a bit about “stigmatizing women” who choose to have children without fathers. People ended up responding to that, thinking I was directing my ire to women in particular, instead of anything else I said, so, even though I liked the responses, I took it out. I want to make it clear that anyone, man or women, who sets out to have children by themselves, intentionally depriving them from the start of their other parent, is wrong.) Added: No one “deserves” to have children. No one has the right to have children. Parents have an obligation to provide the best household they can for their children. Going into parenting intending to short-change your children by eliminating one parent is not in their best interest and is an avoidable decision.

Are we ready to spend?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend money right now. In fact, for the past few of years, I’ve been relatively thrifty (compared with my previous, debt-building, ways). For a while, I imagined I was unique, that I was somehow getting ahead. But a couple of years ago, at the beginning of 2007, I started reading articles that said that people were starting to save more. A significant amount of people had begun to feel uneasy, it seems, about all the debt they were accruing and starting to save more. Of course, two years and a couple of stimulus bills later, people are feeling even more skeptical of debt. I don’t know about you, but debt is one of the scariest bits of the possibility of losing my job. How am I gonna handle this mortgage!?! I can hear my inner-breadwinner screaming. And with layoffs and unemployment growing at substantial rates, I’m sure many people are looking for ways to set aside something “just in case”. Certainly they aren’t likely to be building even more debt. Further, I’m in line with Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, more than our politicians, when he says:

… over the last period of time, the balance has really shifted. Instead of innovation and productivity driving growth, it’s really been unsustainable levels, particularly of private debt, that have been a key driver of economic growth. (emphasis mine)

He continues: “In my view, what we now have will be a fundamental economic reset.” A fundamental reset. Nudges to “free up cash” will mean I have more cash to put in the bank, to help stave off what seems like an inevitable doomsday scenario, not that I’m going to spend more just to get a newer, larger TV. So politicians don’t want to give us money, because we won’t spend it. Instead, they give it to banks and dying car companies. Strangely enough, it seems to me that, of the two, the car company is the best way to get money into the economy — especially if no one is buying cars — since the car company will have to spend, spend, spend just to stay afloat. The banks, it seems, can’t help but reward themselves with tax-payer-funded bonuses in obscene amounts. But what do I know? I’m just a freetard. I don’t have a degree in economics. And I certainly want to increase the liquid assets I hold right now and fill in the the debt hole I’ve managed to dig for myself. I can’t imagine others feel much differently. And giving bailouts of billions to banks will just aggravate that feeling, no matter how much they need or deserve it. Update: I love this bit from winterspeak: The US household has gone from an unsustainable level of negative saving to a sustainable level of positive saving, as we all knew it eventually would, and this is only triggering the Apocalypse because academic economists have no idea how money works.

The Good War

I’ve never been in the military, but this quote sums up my feelings several conversations I have going on. “We won the war, therefore we must have deserved to win.

My crucial memory, and the memory that really starts all of my other memories about the war is waking up in this pine forest my first morning in the war.  It was still dark, but just barely getting light and as it got light, I was astonished to see within 3 or 4 feet of me, several bodies, dead bodies, of German boys who had been killed, I think, the day before by the unit we were relieving. These boys were just exactly like me. And they were killed, their eyes were open, and their faces were as white as marble, greenish-white. And at that moment, when I saw what I was involved in, actually, for the first time — my training had never told me this — many of my adolescent illusions about reason, the governance of the world by reason, and common sense, and the idea of progress fell away all at once. And I realized, in that one moment, that I would never be again in that world of childhood innocence, where the world is run by reason and events contain a certain amount of justice.  I knew now that I was enmeshed in a world of injustice and unreason.  That I would have to learn how to survive in that world, or how to make sense of it, later on.

Paul Fussell Infantryman in US Army 1944-1945

Why I’m voting for Obama

I just got back from a 30 mile ride — which makes 110 miles so far for my first (hopefully) 200+ mile week.  As you can imagine, spending time alone on the bike gives me quite a bit of time to think.  I use the time to pray, plan my day or just think.  This past week, politics have been on my mind quite a bit. It all started at my grandfather’s funeral.  His death was not unexpected.  He had suffered a stroke the weekend before and died peacefully in his sleep during the week.  Still, as an impromptu reunion of my (fairly conservative) extended family during the final days leading up to a presidential election, we had some interesting conversations. Since they all know I worked on a campaign for a Democratic nominee for president when Bush was up for re-election, one of the first questions I’m asked is: “Who are you voting for?”  I’ve stepped out of the Protestant, Republican straight jacket, so I’m not quite as predictable politically.  (I get the feeling that I experienced a smidgen of what William F. Buckley’s son went through.) Just to be clear: back in 2000, I was rooting for McCain.  He was (is?) a man who stood up for what he believed in.  I was no fan of Gore and thought McCain was the best of the Republican lot.  But no matter.  That was during my “I don’t vote” phase. However, in the past eight years, I got to know McCain better.  And it seemed like McCain changed.  A former victim of torture, he went soft on torture.  In the debates, he specifically listed veteran’s benefits and war spending as one of the programs exempt from his idiotic “spending freeze”.  If we’re going to freeze spending, why exempt those?  It seems like blatant pandering to vets.  His ambition to be president is consuming him. And, in the past couple of weeks, it looked like his campaign ran away from him.  When he had previously said he would run a clean campaign, his running mate started accusing Obama of “pallin’ around with terrorists“.  And that’s another thing: while I think Palin was a smart choice to shore up the “base” of voters and make McCain 50 times more appealing to Evangelicals (my bother admitted McCain didn’t interest him until Palin was selected because she seems to be a devout member of the Assemblies of God church), I don’t think she is qualified.  She does look, as one person reported, “shockingly amateurish“. So those are reasons to vote against McCain.  I’m sure that if I wanted to (because, to be frank, I knew I was going to vote for Obama before many of these reasons came out) I could find just as many damning statements to make against Obama.  But that is part of what I don’t like about the campaign against Obama.  Much of it (“Nobama”, “Barack Hussain Obama”) seems childish and stupid.  Sure, that sort of stuff works for some people. But it isn’t attractive to me.  And just to be clear, if I was going to let someone’s associates scare me away (Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, ACORN), I wouldn’t have anyone to vote for (Keating Five, ACORN, William Timmons). What about the issues?  There was one consistent reason my family gave for voting against Obama: Abortion.  Make no mistake: I do not like Obama’s position.  But, suppose I thought I had to vote my concience on this issue alone.  Suppose I thought that I must vote for a pro-life candidate. Neither party, the Republicans nor the Democrats, has given me that choice.  McCain is not pro-life. But he’ll appoint conservative judges!  Doubtful.  McCain isn’t that conservative.  And trying to get a clearly pro-life judge through a Democratically controlled senate just isn’t going to happen, even if that was what McCain wanted to do. From my point of view, there isn’t much else to consider.  The economy? McCain is flailing around on the economy and doesn’t seem to have any ideas.  He admitted long ago that he doesn’t know anything about the economy.  Not that Obama is much better here.  Since the economy tanked under the Republicans, the Democratic nominee gets all the political benefit without any work. In the end, it does come down to personality.  Obama has more control over his temper.  He can inspire people.  He can think big while still being aware of budgetary constraints.  I doubt he’ll be able to cut taxes as much as he says on those making less than $250,000, but at least he is honest about saying that we do have to pay for programs by raising money somewhere. Other people can push their candidate better than I can.  I’m not looking for a savior in the political arena.  I’m not even looking for the person who best represents what I believe.  I’m not keeping track of promises, since, from a politician who has to push most of his ideas through two houses of congress, they’re meaningless. I’m looking for someone who can lead.  Someone who can inspire people.  Someone who can deal with people respectfully.  Someone with an actual chance of being elected. For now, that person appears to be Obama.

Not a Nuclear Bomb, Politics and Immigration

I was listening to the Indian Electronica podcast from a few months ago.  It was all very political, but one clip was from Arundhati Roy and was is spot on.  Commenting on the “anti-american” epithet that is thrown at anyone who disagrees with our government’s failed mission in Afghanistan (which still seems very widely supported) she says we are now told that we should support it to free Afghani women from their burqas.:

But what does the term “anti-American” mean? Does it mean you are anti-jazz? Or that you’re opposed to freedom of speech? That you don’t delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean that you don’t admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons? Does it mean that you hate all Americans? This sly conflation of America’s culture, music, literature, the breathtaking physical beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with criticism of the U.S. government’s foreign policy is an effective strategy. To be “anti-American” (or for that matter, anti-Indian or anti-Timbuktuan) is not just racist, it’s a failure of the imagination. An inability to see the world in terms other than those the establishment has set out for you. If you’re not a Bushie, you’re a Taliban. If you’re not Good, you’re Evil. If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists. Now that the initial aim of the war in Afghanistan – capturing Osama bin Laden (dead or alive) – seems to have run into bad weather, the goalposts have been moved. It’s being made out that the whole point of the war was to topple the Taliban regime and liberate Afghan women from their burqas, that the U.S. Marines are actually on a feminist mission. Think of it this way: In India there are some pretty reprehensible social practices against “untouchables,” against Christians and Muslims, against women. Pakistan and Bangladesh have even worse ways of dealing with minority communities and women. Should Delhi, Islamabad and Dhaka be destroyed? Is it possible to bomb bigotry out of India? Can we bomb our way to a feminist paradise?

(Googled up this Ms. Magazine article from the quote I remembered.  The article is slightly different from the quote I heard, but close enough.) In my mind, this same sort of thing is closely related to why Immigration has become an “issue” during this political season.  I’m really not sure what big threat immigrants pose to us, illegal or otherwise.  They’re here, as long as they don’t cause trouble and contribute to society, why are we worried?  All the arguments sound like a thin cover for Xenophobia to me.  Are we really worried about the amount of money we’re spending on illegals?  We could give each illegal immigrant a pony and we would spend less than we have spent killing Iraqis and deposing Saddam.