Monday, December 31, 2012

The truth about marriage and natural law and marriage redefinition in Illinois.

Is marriage a human construct or a relationship designed by God and rooted in our humanity?  That's the debate and question being raised in Illiniois where there are efforts underway to redefine marriage in that state's legislature.
Catholic Cardinal Francis George points out "Marriage comes to us from nature," Chicago's Cardinal Francis George said in a recent interview. "That's based on the complementarity of the two sexes in such a way that the love of a man and a woman joined in a marital union is open to life, and that's how families are created and society goes along. … It's not in our doctrine. It's not a matter of faith. It's a matter of reason and understanding the way nature operates."
 He points out it's not simply a doctrinal issue but one that's ultimately rooted in our humanity.

One argue we can decide for ourselves what marriage is and should be.
"On sexual ethics, nature is neutral," said Bernard Schlager, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. "We're moral beings. We may look to nature for some aspects of how we are in our lives, but we answer to a higher standard. Sexual behavior is an expression of human love."
 But if marriage is about procreation and the next generation and not just a relationship of friendship, then it's not neutral term.  It's an observable fact that you need a man and a woman to create a child.
Though some have argued that a basic tenet of natural law is equality, the Rev. Robert John Araujo, a law professor at Loyola University Chicago, said same-sex couples are not equal to heterosexual couples. Objective intelligence demonstrates that heterosexual couples have the capacity to populate the planet and same-gender couples do not, he said.

Some say natural law is still only a matter of interpretation.  While we certainly need to think and reason through the evidence, that doesn't negate the reality that there is a reality we can't simply wish a way.  And human history is littered with the debris of violating these laws of nature.  Look at the consequences of fatherless in the lives of children.  Those can't be wished away.
 Just like we can't avoid the consequences of ignoring the laws of gravity so we can't ignore the consequences of ignoring the laws of procreation, marriage and child rearing.  Even if the Illinois redefines marriage legally that doesn't change the reality of what marriage is or void the consequences of failing to abide by that reality.  If the legislature decided to start calling a cat a dog that wouldn't make it a dog.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The real financial cliff.

Another sobering reminder of the real financial cliff facing our nation.  From the Weekly Standard, an article by Christopher Demuth on what we'll be facing in the not too distant future. And the advise of some is to go faster off the financial cliff.
It is remarkable that, in our current straits, and with the demographic clock running out on the graduated reforms to our entitlement programs that nonpartisan think tanks have been propounding for decades, the government has shifted its stimulus machinery into overdrive. With the economy still shaky, we are warned, now is not the time to begin consolidating our debts! With interest rates so low, we would be fools not to borrow trillions more while the getting is good! With the states $7 trillion in debt and maxed out on private borrowing, Washington needs to be doing more not less! This is what a pathological fiscal system sounds like when debt stimulus no longer stimulates and its options are running out.

The fiscal cliff will be avoided, or not. We face two other challenges that are much more serious and nearly as immediate. The first is to begin contingency planning for the coming debt crisis​—​which may arrive as early as next year, when California is the first of our bankrupt states to apply for a massive uploading of debt to the federal government. The second is to establish institutions of public finance with a fair chance of disciplining rather than placating the populist pressures of contemporary politics, and of right-sizing our middle-class welfare state to acceptable levels of middle-class taxation.

These institutional tasks can hope to succeed only after we have developed a new public rhetoric of fairness. It should be a matter of acute national embarrassment that our leaders can pretend to be redistributing from wealthy to average citizens when, in fact, they are redistributing in far greater measure from the young and unborn. Our rhetoric must teach that, although government borrowing is appropriate for certain purposes, the routine redistribution of wealth from future generations to ourselves is undemocratic, corrupting, and ultimately impoverishing. We don’t need to wait for a deadline or a crisis to take this intellectual leap.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Response to school massacre. Response? And when?

With the horrific massacre of 26 children and adults in Connecticut on Friday a lot is being said.  I thought John Stonestreet had a good response from the Christian side of the table.  He points out the juxtaposition to Christmas.
In the wake of the Aurora theatre shooting, I noted here on “BreakPoint” that there is a time to speak and there is a time not to speak. For example, Job’s friends were wonderful in how they dealt with his tragedy until they opened their mouth.  When they started to speak, they—according to God’s indictment several chapters later—spoke words without knowledge by trying to offer specific reasons for the evil Job was enduring.

The Apostle Paul was quite clear on what we are to do immediately in the face of tragedy when he said, “Mourn with those who mourn.” As Christians, we do have many answers that the outside world lacks—about the source and depth of human evil and the hope of new life in Christ—and when it is appropriate, we ought not be silent.  But only when it is appropriate.

There will be time to seek answers about tragedy—to probe the why questions of events like these, but Friday was not that time.  And Twitter and Facebook are not that place. And yet, far too predictably, in the face of great grief, tragedy, and hurt—people with an axe to grind immediately began grinding. And our social media tools allow us to do it from much more loudly and anonymously, from a completely detached place.

And too many Christians joined the noise by grinding their political, religious, and moral axes too loudly and too early.
 There will be a time to speak.
Look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t speak. We should. And, I am certainly not saying we shouldn’t speak our convictions argue for truth, sin, morality, and redemption. We should in time. But immediately lobbing our political or theological verbal bombs via Twitter or Facebook like “This is what happens when you take prayer out of schools” or “It’s not a gun problem, it's a sin problem” or “Here’s another reason to abandon the public schools” is just not something Jesus would have us do.

Speaking comfort, grace, mourning and prayer on Friday? Yes! And Twitter and Facebook might be appropriate places for that. But pontificating and posturing? No. And especially, not for the Christian.

Why do I think this?  Because of the Incarnation that we celebrate next week. God became flesh. God, the creator of all people and all things, invaded the deep depravity and brokenness of this world and our hearts. He did not just hand us a book to read or proclaim moral truths for us to observe. He came Himself.

God made Himself known in Christ as the God willing to enter the suffering of His Creation. And, thirty some years later this same God walking around enters into the suffering of Mary and Martha before raising their brother Lazarus from the dead. He weeps with them.

There is a reason we’re told about the Life of Jesus Christ and not just about his birth and death. His life teaches us that those made new by Christ are asked to do more than just speak this truth at the world. We are asked to, like our Savior, embody truth in the world. Escape is never an option for a Christ-follower.

And, you and I will have plenty of opportunities in this broken world—and not just from afar via social media, but from our own backyard. We may need to comfort a friend whose child has been diagnosed with cancer or grieve with a neighbor who lost mother or father or child or do the shopping for a family member at the bedside of her dying husband or drive an elderly acquaintance back and forth for medical treatment.

Christians alone are able to offer a compelling hope to the world in the midst of great tragedy, but it’s done with more than words. Especially poorly timed words.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Medical Marijuana in trouble with new political realignment? Interesting.

With the DFL taking control of the legislature and the governor's office, I expect to see a lot of controversial issues come to the fore.  One is medical marijuana which had some traction in the legislature when it was previously controlled by the DFL but ultimately didn't go anywhere because then Governor Pawlenty opposed it.

Now fast forward to 2013.  It looks like it will now have problems with Governor Dayton who says he won't sign it if it doesn't have law enforcement support.

According to the Star Tribune,
Supporters of medical marijuana face a tough road in Minnesota where Gov. Mark Dayton has said he won't sign anything relaxing the state's drug laws without the backing of law enforcement officials, who are showing no signs of budging.

"Our position is unchanged. We do not support the legalization of marijuana for any purpose," said Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. "It's illegal on the federal level and we're not going to support any legislation that would put us in conflict with ... federal law."

Proponents say they plan to push for legalized medical marijuana in 2013 anyway, arguing that medical decisions should be left to doctors rather than police. They say the public mood is shifting in their favor. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and Colorado and Washington recently legalized marijuana possession for adults with small amounts of the drug.
 Proponents say it will be tightly regulated but there will be easy access.  My translation is most anybody who wants it can get it.  As in other states some doctors will sign off on it with very few questions asked. 
Tom Lehman, a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project, said Minnesota's proposal would have safeguards, including patient photo identification.

"We want it very tightly controlled. We want it very tightly regulated. And we want easy access at the same time," Lehman said. "There are no secret agendas here."
 But law enforcement isn't on board.
"As long as they oppose it, I just don't see any possibility that it will pass in Minnesota," said Charlie Weaver, former Department of Public Safety commissioner under Gov. Jesse Ventura and former chief of staff to Gov. Tim Pawlenty — who vetoed a medical marijuana bill in 2009, citing opposition from law enforcement.
 The record in other states shows it creates problems.
Law enforcement leaders say marijuana is an addictive gateway drug that is associated with violent crime and can lead to use of other illicit drugs. They also say states that have legalized marijuana have enforcement problems. They point to California, where federal authorities are cracking down on dispensaries. Flaherty says anyone there can get a buyer's card for just about any reason.
 Ultimately, medical marijuana is merely a stepping stone, in my opinion, to broader legalization.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Push for more gambling after stadium bill passed. No surprise. What will it mean? More and more gambling.

It looks like the money source for the new stadium, electronic pulltabs isn't very successful.  Only a handful of bars, 85 out of 6,000, have introduced the electronic pulltabs.
The sluggish pace of electronic pulltab sales has the state looking at fresh venues to entice gamblers -- including the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The devices are supposed to pay the state's share of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium. But so far, only 85 of the state's more than 6,000 bars have installed the devices. That has led to revenues that are 51 percent below projection, forcing the state to downgrade its revenue estimates by millions of dollars for the coming year.

Gov. Mark Dayton met with state gambling and revenue officials Wednesday for a briefing on e-pulltab sales. Charities have been slow to embrace the new technology, but Dayton predicted the problem will solve itself as the devices catch on and new vendors are licensed by the state...

"We kind of walked into it gingerly, because it's gambling and we're Minnesotans. Would we become another Las Vegas?" Vaughn said with a laugh. "But it's people sitting with iPods, playing games. ... It seems like it's going to work."
 From the governor's comments, it doesn't look like he'd be concerned if we did start looking more like a gambling center.
After his briefing, Dayton said he is not worried about the long-term prospects for Minnesota's pioneering effort on electronic pulltabs. The state is the first to use e-pulltabs to benefit charities and capital investment projects like the stadium.

"I don't think there is any reason to be concerned," Dayton said. "Any time a conceptual projection impacts with the real world, things change."

When the news of the lackluster forecast broke last week, Dayton briefly speculated that the devices could someday be installed in grocery stores.
I remember when the bill was being pushed, the charitable gambling folks didn't think it would work out, because the state was taking so much of the revenue.  Wasn't enough for the bars to make it profitable for them.  With that knowledge out there, why was the legislation still jammed through?  To get the Vikings stadium bill through the legislature.  They'd worry about redoing the stadium bill later.

I thought then and do now, that the stadium would lead to a push for a further expansion of gambling to make up the deficit.  Looks like that's just what is happening.

Republicans power grows in the states.

A bit old news, if you've already read it, but I found it very interesting that Republicans expanded their control of state governments to their biggest levels in 60 years.  They now control 24 state governments, meaning they hold the governor's office and both houses in their legislature.  Democrats control 13 state governments, including of course Minnesota.

You'd think from the loss of the presidency, Republicans were on their way out.  Steven Hayward describes it as a flanking maneuver on liberal Washington DC.  States have always been the incubator of new ideas.  Something that's needed more than ever with our federal government on the road to bankruptcy.

Hayward notes:

I’ve been meaning to bring up the following New York Times graphic since it was published last month, as it shows that Republicans are at their highest level of control of state governments in 60 years.  Not bad for a party supposedly in deep trouble and on death’s door.  (Notice, by the way, that Republicans controlled exactly zero states after the 1976 election.)

So while all eyes are on Washington and the fiscal cliff, outside of Washington a determined counterattack against liberalism is under way, and looks to have some good chances of success.  First, several states have announced they are going to refuse to set up Obamacare insurance exchanges, heeding Michael Greve’s always well thought out advice that states actively assert their constitutional prerogatives to “interpose” themselves between Washington and the people:
[S]tate interposition—meaning a refusal to cooperate in Medicaid or exchanges—may yet produce an Obamacare crash-and-burn within the President’s term in office. Moreover, and more importantly , it may produce a collapse on constitutional terms, provided someone can articulate them. . .
The Madisonian precept gains special force and constitutional dignity in the context of federal programs that require, or rather imperiously demand, the states’ active cooperation. A state failure to do the feds’ bidding is not an ugly outbreak of neo-Calhounism. The power to interpose comes from a form of government that the Constitution permits but, unmistakably, treats as deeply suspect: a government over governments. States have been complicit in that scheme for far too long. Saying “no” to a further extension—for partisan reasons, fiscal reasons, or no reason at all—is an implicit embrace of a constitutional proposition: the feds have their sphere, and we (the states) have ours. If the feds insist on their scheme, let them do so with their money and their officers: they have the power. If they want to work through us, we interpose. The Constitution contemplates it; allows it; and very nearly demands it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Powerful intellectual defense of marriage. Knocks out the equality argument used by same sex "marriage" supporters.

Here's a powerful, intellectual defense of marriage between a man and a woman.  It knocks down the "equality" slogan  used by proponents of same sex "marriage" and points out the consequences of redefining marriage.

The authors point out equality isn't the issue.
We can't move one inch toward an answer simply by appealing to equality. Every marriage policy draws lines, leaving out some types of relationships. Equality forbids arbitrary line-drawing. But we cannot know which lines are arbitrary without answering two questions: What is marriage, and why does it matter for policy?

The conjugal and revisionist views are two rival answers; neither is morally neutral. Each is supported by some religious and secular worldviews but rejected by others. Nothing in the Constitution bans or favors either. The Supreme Court therefore has no basis to impose either view of marriage. So voters must decide: Which view is right

As we argue in our book "What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense," marriage is a uniquely comprehensive union. It involves a union of hearts and minds; but also—and distinctively—a bodily union made possible by sexual-reproductive complementarity. Hence marriage is inherently extended and enriched by procreation and family life and objectively calls for similarly all-encompassing commitment, permanent and exclusive.
The insights about marriage aren't limited to Christian and Jewish thinkers but also those uninfluenced by their thinking, e.g. Aristotle, Plato and so forth.
These insights require no particular theology. Ancient thinkers untouched by Judaism or Christianity—including Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Musonius Rufus, Xenophanes and Plutarch—also distinguished conjugal unions from all others. Nor did animus against any group produce this conclusion, which arose everywhere quite apart from debates about same-sex unions. The conjugal view best fits our social practices and judgments about what marriage is.
Redefining marriage will lead to other, definite consequences.
After all, if two men can marry, or two women, then what sets marriage apart from other bonds must be emotional intensity or priority. But nothing about emotional union requires it to be permanent. Or limited to two. Or sexual, much less sexually exclusive. Or inherently oriented to family life and shaped by its demands. Yet as most people see, bonds that lack these features aren't marriages.

Far from being "slippery slope" predictions, these points show that the revisionist view gets marriage wrong: It conflates marriage and companionship, an obviously broader category. That conflation has consequences. Marriage law shapes behavior by promoting a vision of what marriage is and requires. Redefinition will deepen the social distortion of marriage—and consequent harms—begun by policies such as "no-fault" divorce. As marital norms make less sense, adherence to them erodes.
True compassion is found in man/woman marriage.
True compassion means extending authentic community to everyone, especially the marginalized, while using marriage law for the social goal that it serves best: to ensure that children know the committed love of the mother and father whose union brought them into being. Indeed, only that goal justifies regulating such intimate bonds in the first place.

Just as compassion for those attracted to the same sex doesn't require redefining marriage, neither does preserving the conjugal view mean blaming them for its erosion. What separated the various goods that conjugal marriage joins—sex, commitment, family life—was a sexual revolution among opposite-sex partners, with harmful rises in extramarital sex and nonmarital childbearing, pornography and easy divorce.
Redefining marriage will lead to more government and more government intrusion into people's lives.
That debate certainly isn't about legalizing (or criminalizing) anything. In all 50 states, two men or women may have a wedding and share a life. Their employers and religious communities may recognize their unions. At issue here is whether government will effectively coerce other actors in the public square to do the same.

Also at issue is government expansion. Marital norms serve children, spouses, and hence our whole economy, especially the poor. Family breakdown thrusts the state into roles for which it is ill-suited: provider and discipliner to the orphaned and neglected, and arbiter of custody and paternity disputes.

For all these reasons, conservatives would be ill-advised to abandon support for conjugal marriage even if it hadn't won more support than Mitt Romney in every state where marriage was on the ballot. And they remind us that redefinition of marriage isn't inevitable.

They certainly shouldn't be duped into surrender by the circular argument that they've already lost. The ash-heap of history is filled with "inevitabilities." Conservatives—triumphant against once-unstoppable social tides like Marxism—should know this best. "History" has no mind. The future isn't fixed. It's chosen. The Supreme Court should let the people choose; and we should choose marriage, conjugal marriage.
Losing the marriage amendment here in Minnesota was one battle of many to come.  The struggle to protect marriage goes deeper than our laws and constitution.  What's at stake is the soul of our culture.

George and his coauthors provide the intellectual firepower necessary to defend the truth of marriage.  The challenge for pro-marriage supporters is to translate these ideas into messages and stories which can move the hearts and minds of Minnesotans and the rest of the nation.  I believe that can and will be done.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The power of marriage and singleness, politically speaking.

Here's an interesting article on the impact of marriage and singleness in terms of political involvement.
There was a lot of talk about the numbers of women who voted for President Obama.  A closer look reveals marriage women voted for Governor Romney in similar numbers.  In other words, being married or single played role in how people voted.

You don’t hear nearly as much about the rise of single voters, despite the fact that they represent a much more significant trend. Only a few analysts, such as Ruy Teixera, James Carville, and Stanley Greenberg, have emphasized how important singletons were to President Obama’s reelection. Properly understood, there is far less of a “gender” gap in American politics than people think. Yes, President Obama won “women” by 11 points (55 percent to 44 percent). But Mitt Romney won married women by the exact same margin. To get a sense of how powerful the marriage effect is, not just for women but for men, too, look at the exit polls by marital status. Among nonmarried voters​—​people who are single and have never married, are living with a partner, or are divorced​—​Obama beat Romney 62-35. Among married voters Romney won the vote handily, 56-42.
 Marriage is more significant than gender in voting patterns.
Far more significant than the gender gap is the marriage gap. And what was made clear in the 2012 election was that the cohorts of unmarried women and men are now at historic highs​—​and are still increasing. This marriage gap​—​and its implications for our political, economic, and cultural future​—​is only dimly understood.
While one can look at marriage from a political perspective, it's certainly much more than this.
As Robert George put it after the election, limited government “cannot be maintained where the marriage culture collapses and families fail to form or easily dissolve. Where these things happen, the health, education, and welfare functions of the family will have to be undertaken by someone, or some institution, and that will sooner or later be the government.” Marriage is what makes the entire Western project​—​liberalism, the dignity of the human person, the free market, and the limited, democratic state​—​possible. George continues, “The two greatest institutions ever devised for lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to live in dignity are the market economy and the institution of marriage. These institutions will, in the end, stand or fall together.”

Instead of trying to bribe single America into voting Republican, Republicans might do better by making the argument​—​to all Americans​—​that marriage is a pillar of both freedom and liberalism. That it is an arrangement which ought to be celebrated, nurtured, and defended because its health is integral to the success of our grand national experiment. And that Julia and her boyfriend ought to go ahead and tie the knot. 
 The well-being of society is dependent on Americans' beliefs and practices regarding marriage.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Welfare spending versus typical family budget.

A while back I mentioned that if you added up the money spent on by welfare programs and divided it by the number of household classified as living in poverty it would come to over $60,000 per household.

Another way of looking at is the amount spent per day on households in poverty is $168 versus $137 spent by the median income family.  And of course the $168 amount isn't taxed.

Most poor families don't receive $168 a day.  A significant amount of that is eaten up by government bureaucracy which shows what happens when the government attempts to take over an activity outside it's area of competency.
The amount of money spent on welfare programs equals, when converted to cash payments, about "$168 per day for every household in poverty," the minority side of the Senate Budget Committee finds. Here's a chart detailing the committee's findings:

According to the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee, welfare spending per day per household in poverty is $168, which is higher than the $137 median income per day. When broken down per hour, welfare spending per hour per household in poverty is $30.60, which is higher than the $25.03 median income per hour.
"Based on data from the Congressional Research Service, cumulative spending on means-tested federal welfare programs, if converted into cash, would equal $167.65 per day per household living below the poverty level," writes the minority side of the Senate Budget Committee. "By comparison, the median household income in 2011 of $50,054 equals $137.13 per day. Additionally, spending on federal welfare benefits, if converted into cash payments, equals enough to provide $30.60 per hour, 40 hours per week, to each household living below poverty. The median household hourly wage is $25.03. After accounting for federal taxes, the median hourly wage drops to between $21.50 and $23.45, depending on a household’s deductions and filing status. State and local taxes further reduce the median household’s hourly earnings. By contrast, welfare benefits are not taxed."
The problem with the whole welfare, poverty debate is suggesting that welfare spending needs to be cut, results in immediate bludgeoning for being insensitive and not caring about the poor.  However, if this area of spending is not tackled, the cutbacks later maybe even more significant.  The above information is important because it points out the current spending levels suggest a socialism (equalization of incomes) versus truly helping the destitute and vulnerable goal.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Governor pushes discrimination with inclusion of domestic partner benefits in state contracts.

Now that the state legislature is no longer controlled by Republicans, Governor Dayton is intent on pushing domestic partner benefits for state employees.  While I haven't seen the contract language I presume it's predicated on a sexual relationship, e.g. just for gay and lesbians.  If so, he's clearly discriminating against other people who care for one another who aren't married.  This would include parent and adult child, siblings, non-homosexual friends who live in the same home, etc.  The goal isn't to address all people who might care for another person but push for recognition of only homosexual couples.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Disabilities treaty implicating parental rights, abortion, and US sovereignty defeated in US Senate

Efforts to pass a treaty dealing with disabilities was defeated in the US Senate by a 61 to 36 vote.  They needed 67 votes to pass it.  Concerns were raised over abortion, parental rights and US sovereignty.
The U.S. Senate has voted down a treaty that opponents warned could widen acceptance of abortion, deny the parents of special needs children their rights, and compromise U.S. sovereignty.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) failed to be ratified after a 61-38 vote.

“Today’s vote was a victory for human rights and for American sovereignty,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, an organization that testified against the treaty.

Article 25 of the CRPD called on nations to furnish the disabled “free or affordable health care…including in the area of sexual and reproductive health and population-based public health programmes.” Pro-life leaders warned that language could be interpreted to include abortion, as it has in the case of other UN treaties.

“The irony of including abortion in this treaty is that abortion especially targets the disabled in the womb,” Josh Craddock, international representative for Personhood USA, said in a statement e-mailed to “Persons with disabilities should not be exposed to violence and discrimination, either before or after birth.”
Whenever a UN treaty comes up for ratification I'm always concerned about the broader ramifications.  This proposed treaty is another case in point.

The reality of Obamacare. Layoffs, cut hours, dropping health insurance.

This story from one company highlights the inherent problems Obamacare is bringing on the business community and people's health care.  
When Mary Miller, CEO of Cincinnati’s Jancoa Janitorial Services, testified July 10 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, her message was clear: The federal healthcare law would force her and her husband “to choose between several impossible options in order to remain in business.” The options: either increase premiums for her 320 full-time employees, cease coverage and pay a more than $600,000 penalty, or downgrade workers to part-time status.

So far, the company hasn’t had layoffs and can operate until 2014 without incurring penalties. But other companies, especially larger companies, are taking preemptive steps to avoid the impact of the healthcare law. 

The law requires employers to provide health insurance for employees working more than 30 hours a week. So grocery retailer Kroger, with more than 350,000 employees, said it will limit part-time employees to 28 hours per week. Darden Restaurants—which employs 185,000 people at Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, and other chains—said it will experiment with “limiting the hours of some of its workers to avoid health care requirements under the Affordable Care Act.” John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, said the new law would cost Papa John’s between $5 million and $8 million annually. Customers and employees will bear most of these costs, he said.

Obamacare doesn’t just hit low-wage retail and fast-food employees. Medical device manufacturers, who typically hire high-wage, technically trained workers, also take a hit from the mandated medical device tax. Welch Allyn, a New York manufacturer of medical diagnostic equipment, announced in September it would lay off 275 employees, or roughly 10 percent of its workforce, over the next three years. The conservative group FreedomWorks said at least 10 medical device companies have announced more than 5,000 job cuts since passage of the Affordable Care Act. Boston Scientific plans 1,200 to 1,400 job cuts, but spokesman Steven Campanini told WORLD the job cuts are “not related to Obamacare. We are going through a re-structuring plan. We’re aligning our business to the markets we serve.” Campanini acknowledged, though, that Boston Scientific has worked to repeal the medical device tax, which he called an “innovation tax.”

And that may be the most significant long-term cost of Obamacare: that it stifles innovation and entrepreneurship. Jancoa’s Mary Miller said her company started a “Dream Manager” program that allowed her mostly low-wage employees to achieve long-term goals such as purchasing a home and starting a business. “Our mantra has been to take the ‘dead-end’ out of ‘dead-end jobs’ and let our employees grow.” Federal healthcare, she said, will likely force her to “put an end to our very successful Dream Manager program. Regrettably, for me and my employees, the new health care law is a ‘dream killer.’”

In the name of universal health care coverage, Obamacare intends to put the government further in charge of our health care system.  That will only mean higher costs and rationing.  It's not a pretty picture.  The answer?  Restoring a consumer centered health care system in which individuals are able to buy their own health care insurance in a fully operational, free market system.  And help the truly needy who can't afford health care.  Imbedding the government more fully in the health care system will only make matters worse.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Minnesota Lottery preying on Minnesotans.

The Minnesota Lottery is working to take more money from Minnesota's problem gamblers.  They're doing this by starting a pilot program placing lottery tickets at ATMs and gas pumps.  The reason this initiative targets problem gamblers is they disproportionately account for a large majority of sales.  It's estimated that 10% of gamblers account for 70 to 80% of video gambling/ lottery sales.
Lottery jackpots are growing bigger more quickly, and ticket sales are soaring all over the country.

Now Minnesota is the first state to make buying tickets even faster, at gas pumps and ATMs.

With a debit card, driver's license and cellphone number, buyers can try their luck at a touch screen. The system is being piloted at nine gas stations and 19 ATMs in the Twin Cities, allowing people to buy quick-pick Powerball and Mega Millions tickets without going inside to a counter. Since October, about $5,260 worth of Powerball tickets have been sold that way.

"People are always in a hurry nowadays," said Minnesota Lottery Executive Director Ed Van Petten. "The thought is it takes 10 to 15 seconds to go through the process, and I think people would say, 'Why not. I'll give it a shot.' "

Andrew Anderson, who works at the BP station at Calhoun Beach in Minneapolis, said in the days leading up to last week's record Powerball drawing, many patrons avoided convenience store counters.

"A lot of people just want to pay at the pump now," Anderson said....

Lottery buyers insert their debit card into the slot used to pay for gasoline. They then select a prompt to buy tickets, choose how many, and after entering a cellphone number and other identification information, a ticket is dispensed with their numbers. A $1 fee is charged for each transaction, and the minimum is three Powerball or five Mega Millions tickets. A text message also is sent to a cellphone with a link to the numbers....
The convenient way of buying a lottery ticket arrives when sales in Minnesota already are at an all-time high. Sales for the 2012 fiscal year, which ended June 30, topped $520 million, an increase of $15.6 million from the previous year.

Minnesota was one of at least two dozen states to post record sales over the past year.

For last week's big Powerball jackpot, 130,000 tickets a minute were being sold nationally — about six times the volume two weeks ago.

The large jackpots often cause sales to skyrocket, which means higher revenue for participating states....
Andrea Davis, 23, of Minneapolis, was one of them. She only occasionally buys lottery tickets, but the new technology may change that.

"I'd be more apt to buy one if I don't have to come inside," she said. "I usually pay with my debit card at the pump."
Traditionally, a problem gambler had to venture out to casino or go up to a window to buy tickets, now they can do it when they get cash from an ATM or buy gas.


Monday, December 3, 2012

It's the children, stupid.

The 1992 Clinton Campaign made famous the phrase, "It's the economy stupid". It was his theme for defeating President George Bush Sr.

I think a modified phrase, "It's the children stupid" applies to an analysis of the future well-being of our society.

I know folks on the left love to trumpet children to expand spending on social programs though many of the initiatives are often anti-children, e.g. pro-abortion policies and funding kill unborn children, birth control advocacy results in fewer children, and gay "marriage" intentionally denies what children need most - both their mom and their dad in their lives.

Ross Douthat conservative columnist with the New York Times has an interesting article on the declining birth rates in the US, "More Babies, Please."

First, the US's birth rate has geopolitical implications.
In the eternally recurring debates about whether some rival great power will knock the United States off its global perch, there has always been one excellent reason to bet on a second American century: We have more babies than the competition.

It’s a near-universal law that modernity reduces fertility. But compared with the swiftly aging nations of East Asia and Western Europe, the American birthrate has proved consistently resilient, hovering around the level required to keep a population stable or growing over the long run.

America’s demographic edge has a variety of sources: our famous religiosity, our vast interior and wide-open spaces (and the four-bedroom detached houses they make possible), our willingness to welcome immigrants (who tend to have higher birthrates than the native-born).
It implicates economic growth.

And it clearly is an edge. Today’s babies are tomorrow’s taxpayers and workers and entrepreneurs, and relatively youthful populations speed economic growth and keep spending commitments affordable. Thanks to our relative demographic dynamism, the America of 50 years hence may not only have more workers per retiree than countries like Japan and Germany, but also have more than emerging powers like China and Brazil.
 But now it's dropping dramatically.
If, that is, our dynamism persists. But that’s no longer a sure thing. American fertility plunged with the stock market in 2008, and it hasn’t recovered. Last week, the Pew Research Center reported that U.S. birthrates hit the lowest rate ever recorded in 2011, with just 63 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. (The rate was 71 per 1,000 in 1990.) For the first time in recent memory, Americans are having fewer babies than the French or British.

The plunge might be temporary. American fertility plummeted during the Great Depression, and more recent downturns have produced modest dips as well. This time, the birthrate has fallen fastest among foreign-born Americans, and particularly among Hispanics, who saw huge amounts of wealth evaporate with the housing bust. Many people may simply be postponing childbearing until better times return, and a few years of swift growth could produce a miniature baby boom.
 Immigrants won't fill the gap.
But deeper forces than the financial crisis may keep American fertility rates depressed. Foreign-born birthrates will probably gradually recover from their current nadir, but with fertility in decline across Mexico and Latin America, it isn’t clear that the United States can continue to rely heavily on immigrant birthrates to help drive population growth.

Among the native-born working class, meanwhile, there was a retreat from child rearing even before the Great Recession hit. For Americans without college degrees, economic instability and a shortage of marriageable men seem to be furthering two trends in tandem: more women are having children out of wedlock, and fewer are raising families at all.
 Then he discusses why it's happening.
Finally, there’s been a broader cultural shift away from a child-centric understanding of romance and marriage. In 1990, 65 percent of Americans told Pew that children were “very important” to a successful marriage; in 2007, just before the current baby bust, only 41 percent agreed. (That trend goes a long way toward explaining why gay marriage, which formally severs wedlock from sex differences and procreation, has gone from a nonstarter to a no-brainer for so many people.)
 What can be done to change it, by the government?  Some things but the problem goes much deeper.
Government’s power over fertility rates is limited, but not nonexistent. America has no real family policy to speak of at the moment, and the evidence from countries like Sweden and France suggests that reducing the ever-rising cost of having kids can help fertility rates rebound. Whether this means a more family-friendly tax code, a push for more flexible work hours, or an effort to reduce the cost of college, there’s clearly room for creative policy to make some difference.
  Then he points out that low birth rates are a symptom of -- decadence.
More broadly, a more secure economic foundation beneath working-class Americans would presumably help promote childbearing as well. Stable families are crucial to prosperity and mobility, but the reverse is also true, and policies that made it easier to climb the economic ladder would make it easier to raise a family as well.
Beneath these policy debates, though, lie cultural forces that no legislator can really hope to change. The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion — a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.
Such decadence need not be permanent, but neither can it be undone by political willpower alone. It can only be reversed by the slow accumulation of individual choices, which is how all social and cultural recoveries are ultimately made. 
 Strong words but it's important we face these developments square on.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Odds of winning the Powerball? 1 in 175 million. Struck by lightening? 1 in 5,000.

Getting hit by lightning or winning the lottery.  Which is more likely?  Not even close. 
It's true to say that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the Powerball. But that woefully understates the danger of lightning.

Tim Norfolk, a University of Akron mathematics professor who teaches a course on gambling, puts the odds of a lightning strike in a person's lifetime at 1 in 5,000. The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot: 1 in 175 million.

While weather is the go-to analogy for such astronomical odds, Norfolk suggests there are better ones.

For example, you'd have a slightly better chance of randomly picking the name of one specific female in the United States: 1 in 157 million, according to the latest census.
 A problem with all of this is you have the government enticing people to waste their money on this gambling.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

African American couple is challenging taxpayer funding of abortions in Minnesota.

Since 1995, Minnesota taxpayers have been paying for tens of thousands of abortions each year under the Doe v. Gomez Minnesota Supreme Court decision.

Below is the press release announcing the lawsuit.  The lawsuit claims the state is paying for too many abortions under even the Minnesota Supreme Court decision requiring theraupeutic abortions be paid for.  In addition, the lawsuit argues the Gomez ruling distinguishing between therapeutic and non-therapeutic abortions is unworkable.

The lawsuit also points out the disproportionate impact of the ruling on blacks.  40% of the abortions paid for by the state are on black women even though blacks constitute only 5% of Minnesota's population.  I'm told 60% of pregnancies in the black community end with an abortion.  Talk about the decimation of a racial community.  Look no further than abortion. 

The Minnesota Family Council has been working on this initiative for several years and is excited to see it moving forward.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and allied attorneys filed suit Tuesday on behalf of two African-American taxpayers in Minnesota who are challenging the unauthorized use of state funding for elective abortions.

Minnesota can only use public funds for abortions that are defined as medically necessary, but government reporting statistics clearly demonstrate that tax dollars have paid for thousands of elective abortions for indigent women, including a disproportionate number performed on African-Americans. More than 40 percent of publicly funded abortions were carried out on African-Americans even though they account for just over 5 percent of the state’s population.

 “The critical taxpayer dollars of Minnesotans should not be used for medically unnecessary abortions, nor should such funding be used to take the lives of more African-American babies than other babies,” said lead counsel Chuck Shreffler, one of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom.

“The reporting statistics are unambiguous,” added Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden, who is co-counsel in the case. “The state is indisputably funding medically unnecessary abortions in violation of state law, and 40 percent of the abortions are being executed on African-Americans even though they make up only 5 percent of the state’s population. This lawsuit intends to stop this from continuing.”

The complaint in the case, Walker v. Jesson, was filed in the Minnesota District Court for Ramsey County, Second Judicial District.

From 1999 through 2011, Minnesota taxpayers paid for 47,095 abortions performed on indigent women, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The data indicates that, at most, only 10,044 of these abortions were done for a “medically necessary” reason, meaning that the state paid for more than 37,000 unauthorized abortions. The statistics regarding the number of abortions performed on African-Americans also came from the Department of Health.

In the late 1970s, the Minnesota Legislature passed a statute limiting the abortions for which it would pay and prohibited taxpayer funding for elective abortions. In 1995, the Minnesota Supreme Court struck down the statute and ruled in Doe v. Gomez that the state cannot withhold state funding for medically necessary abortions. The ruling made clear, however, that “this court’s decision will not permit any woman eligible for medical assistance to obtain an abortion ‘on demand.’”

“The Department of Health statistics show that the state is going far beyond what the Minnesota Supreme Court required in that decision,” Shreffler explained.

The Minnesota Family Council, which advises state lawmakers on family-related matters and supports the lawsuit, says it believes the new facts provide the courts with a good reason to reconsider the public abortion funding mandate in Doe v. Gomez.

Many states are refusing to bail out Obamacare by creating their own state exchanges.

Here's an article in the Wall Street Journal pointing out the refusal of 18 states to create their own health care exchanges. Thus the responsibility falls to the federal government which doesn't have the bandwidth or expertise to set up health care exchanges.

It points out part of the mess Obamacare created.
ObamaCare is due to land in a mere 10 months—about 300 days—and the Administration is not even close to ready, so naturally the political and media classes are attacking the Governors and state legislators who decline to help out. Mostly Republicans, they’re facing a torrent of abuse in Washington and pressure from health lobbies at home.

But the real story is that Democrats are reaping the GOP buy-in they earned. Liberals wanted government to re-engineer the entire health-care system and rammed the Affordable Care Act through on a party-line vote, not stopping to wonder whether it would work. Now that implementation is proving to be harder than advertised, they’re blaming the states for not making their jobs easier.

Editorial board member Joe Rago on HHS's extended deadline for states to implement health exchanges under ObamaCare and why many Republicans governors are refusing to.

The current rumpus is over ObamaCare’s “exchanges,” the bureaucracies that will regulate the design and sale of insurance and where 30 million people (and likely far more) will sign up for subsidized coverage. States were supposed to tell the Health and Human Services Department if they were going to set up and run an exchange by October, but HHS delayed the deadline to November, and then again at the 11th hour to December.

Sixteen states have already said they won’t participate. Another 11 are undecided, while only 17 have committed to doing the work on their own. Six have opted for a “hybrid” federal-state model. That means HHS will probably be responsible for fallback federal exchanges in full or in part in as many as 25 or 30 states.

The opposition isn’t so much political as practical. Or rather, the vast logistical and technical undertaking to build an exchange helps explain why so many Governors resisted ObamaCare in the first place.

States have regulated the small business and individual insurance markets for decades (some well, others less so). Now they’re supposed to toss everything out for a complex Washington rewrite, which is still being rewritten. The exchanges will also help enforce the individual mandate and premium increases. They’ll also have to spend a ton of money. Ohio estimates it will cost $63 million to set up an exchange and $43 million to run annually, based on a KPMG study.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Poverty. When words lose their meaning.

Here's an interesting article by Robert Rector on the federal government's definition of poverty.  It distorts and corrupts what the word means.
The federal government now considers a family of four in New York City to be poor if its pre-tax income is below $37,900.Even with full medical coverage.

The calculation helps explain why newly revised Census Bureau figures hike the number of poor Americans to 49 million as of last year, further widening an already yawning gap between ordinary perceptions of poverty and how the government sees it.

This breathtaking number begs the question: What does it mean to be “poor” in the United States?
To the average American, the word “poverty” means significant material hardship and need. It means lack of a warm, dry home, recurring hunger and malnutrition, no medical care, worn-out clothes for the children. The mainstream media reinforce this view: The typical TV news story on poverty features a homeless family with kids living in the back of a van.

But poverty as the federal government defines it differs greatly from these images. Only 2 percent of the official poor are homeless. According to the government’s own data, the typical poor family lives in a house or apartment that’s not only in good repair but is larger than the homes of the average non-poor person in England, France or Germany.

The typical “poor” American experiences no material hardships, receives medical care whenever needed, has an ample diet and wasn’t hungry for even a single day the previous year. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the nutritional quality of the diets of poor children is identical to that of upper middle class kids.
In America, about 80 percent of poor families have air conditioning, nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV, half have a computer and a third have a wide-screen LCD or plasma TV.

All these government statistics were based on the Census Bureau’s old definition of poverty. The new definition, released last week, stretches that gap between common-sense and government perspectives even further.
A couple of consequences of distorting the understanding of poverty jump out at me.  First, it means more government transfers to people who aren't truly in need.  Second, it further expands the entitlement mentality in our nation

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's a mess. Obamacare.

This article Politico by the Independent Woman's Voice points out that while President Obama won the election and Obamacare will remain the law of the land, it didn't resolve the ongoing problems with the whole initiative.
Yet, research conducted by the polling company, inc./WomanTrend for Independent Women’s Voice (IWV) shows that health care was an important concern for Americans on Election Day. The president was reelected in spite of voters’ lingering distaste for Obamacare, and the health care issue will remain a critical issue for voters moving forward.

Just a quarter, or 26 percent of those surveyed by the polling company on Election Day supported implementing Obamacare completely. Even less than half (48 percent) of self-identified Democrats want full implementation, suggesting that the health care law remains a liability, even within the president’s party.

Forty-three percent of voters surveyed want Congress to either “just repeal the law” (30 percent) or move toward repeal, while pursuing other measures - including defunding, amending, and blocking - to prevent its implementation (13 percent). Another quarter (23 percent) favor amending the law, rather than full repeal.

 This opposition is also borne out by the significant resistance in a number of states which don't want to participate in it.   Lack of involvement in some aspects makes the funding mechanism even more tenuous.  As our financial/debt problems for the nation and federal government only accelerate in the next few years, it will make the problems associated with Obamacare worse.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Education like Health Care is in Trouble. Part of answer. More Competition.

A well known college drop out says there are enough jobs but not enough qualified people to fill them.  The problem is our education system.  Most people would give this comment a second thought except the source is Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, a multi-billionaire.
The tech billionaire and philanthropist singled out exclusive universities for caring more about their acceptance rates than the quality of the education they offer. Gates, who dropped out of Harvard University, said federal money should go to those who look to teach.

“Who takes the people with the low SAT and educates them very well?” Gates said. “That should be rewarded."

Gates also expressed concern about state funding for education, given that health care expenses are increasing.

“State budgets are pretty easy to describe: They are spending more on medical costs, and a lot of that is coming from reducing their education spending,” Gates said.
I think he sees a legitimate problem with education and growth of health care expenses.  We're spending tons of money but not getting back the return we want.

An important part of the answer?  Empowering consumers rather than just pouring more money into the status quo.
Gates argued that the high unemployment rate — 7.9 percent, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor statistics — is the result of deficiencies in the educational system, rather than an absence of available jobs.

There are currently three million more jobs than there are people with the degrees to fill them, and Gates said the American system needs to start supplying workers or risk losing these opportunities to other countries.

“Many people want jobs, and there are a lot of open jobs,” Gates said. “It is up to the education system to equilibrate that.”
Whether that's totally accurate, I don't know the answer to that.  But even if it is correct, the education system isn't THE answer.  Part of the solution but not the whole.  The breakdown of the family, loss of character are also key parts of the problem.

The day of reckoning is fast approaching, because the money is running out to throw at education, health care and other social problems.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Another consequence of government controlled health care? Doctors' shortage.

With the debate over Obamacare at least temporarily settled,  the problems with government run health care will only grow and worsen.  This story "Doc Shortage Could Crash Health Care" caught my eye as another example of a consequence - shortage of doctors.

Why would government run health care mean fewer doctors?  Simple.  Less attractive wages.
In a 2008 census by the AAMC and the American Medical Association, researchers found that the number of medical graduates choosing a career in family medicine dropped from 5,746 in 2002 to 4,210 in 2007 -- a drop of nearly 27 percent.

"It's pretty tough to convince medical students to go into primary care," said Dr. Lee Green, chair of Family Medicine at the University of Alberta, who was not involved with the study.

Green added that he believes this is because currently primary care specialties are not well paid, well treated or respected as compared to subspecialists.

"They have to think about their debt," he said. "There are also issues of how physicians are respected and how we portray primary care to medical students."

These problems loom even larger considering the aim of the Affordable Care Act to provide all Americans with health insurance -- and with it, more regular contact with a primary care doctor.
Perhaps the best known example of this approach has been Massachusetts, which since 2006 has mandated that every resident obtain health insurance and those that are below the federal poverty level gain free access to health care. But although the state has the second-highest ratio of primary care physicians to population of any state, they are struggling with access to primary care physicians.

Dr. Randy Wexler of The John Glenn Institute of Public Service and Policy said he has concerns that this trend could be reflected nationwide.
"Who is going to care for these people?" he said. "We are going to have problems just like Massachusetts. [They] are struggling with access problems; it takes one year to get into a primary care physician. Coverage does not equal access."

Some have already proposed solutions to this looming problem. One suggestion is that non-physician medical professionals, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, can pick up the slack. Doctors, however, said his may not be enough to fill the gap. 
What will be the response?  Higher taxes to pay these primary care doctors more?  Again wrong headed.  The answer?  Restore a basic free market system rather than command and control from the top via government regulations and mandates.  There are only two ways to control health care costs - consumers responding to market prices or rationing.  Obamacare will mean more rationing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Obama re-election is a wake up call to Catholics but also Evangelicals.

Here's a sobering article on the impact of the Obama Administration on the Catholic Church. George Weigel, author of authoritative biography on Pope John Paul II, points out the direct attacks posed by Obamacare and gay "marriage".
The immediate threat, of course, is the HHS (Health and Human Services) mandate requiring Catholic institutions and Catholic employers to include coverage of contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs in the health insurance offered to their employees. The legal challenges mounted against this obvious violation of the first freedom, religious freedom, may well be vindicated. But with Obamacare now seemingly set in concrete, the Church will face a host of such implementing “mandates” and it will be imperative to contest those that are morally unacceptable, time and time again. Authentically Catholic health care in America is now in mortal danger, and it is going to take a concerted effort to save it for future generations.

A further threat comes from the gay insurgency, which will press the administration to find some way to federalize the marriage issue and to compel acceptance of the chimera of “gay marriage.” Thus it seems important to accelerate a serious debate within American Catholicism on whether the Church ought not pre-emptively withdraw from the civil marriage business, its clergy declining to act as agents of government in witnessing marriages for purposes of state law.

If the Church were to take this dramatic step now, it would be acting prophetically: it would be challenging the state (and the culture) by underscoring that what the state means by “marriage” and what Catholics mean by “marriage” are radically different, and that what the state means by “marriage” is wrong. If, however, the Church is forced to take this step after “gay marriage” is the law of the land, Catholics will be pilloried as bad losers who’ve picked up their marbles and fled the game—and any witness-value to the Church’s withdrawal from the civil marriage business will be lost. Many thoughtful young priests are discussing this dramatic option among themselves; it’s time for the rest of the Church to join the conversation.
I would add his concerns confront not just Catholics but Evangelical Protestants and Orthodox believers as well.

He does point out one of the consequences of this looming crisis. It will force people who identify with the Gospel of Christ and the Scriptures, to get serious about their faith. That's what persecution always does and I suspect why it is often allowed to come.
As for the opportunity embedded in this crisis, it is nothing less than to be the Church of the New Evangelization, full-throttle. Shallow, tribal, institutional-maintenance Catholicism is utterly incapable of meeting the challenges that will now come at the Catholic Church from the most aggressively secular administration in American history. Only a robustly, unapologetically evangelical Catholicism, winsomely proposing and nobly living the truths about the human condition the Church teaches, will see us through the next four years. Radically converted Christian disciples, not one-hour-a-week Catholics whipsawed by an ever more toxic culture, are what this hour of crisis, in both senses of the term, demands.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Welfare state and massive budget deficits. "It's the Welfare State, Stupid!"

Here's a column, "It's the Welfare State, Stupid" by Robert Samuelson on the growing welfare state in the US and the implications of massive federal budget deficits.  Samuelson writes for the Washington Post and isn't necessarily viewed as a member of the conservative camp.  As a finance and economics man he simply realizes that we need to get to a balanced budget, so we don't bankrupt the nation.  One essential ingredient is cutting back government spending. A big area is welfare spending.
If you doubt there's an American welfare state, you should read the new study by demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, whose blizzard of numbers demonstrates otherwise. A welfare state transfers income from some people to other people to improve the recipients' well-being. In 1935, these transfers were less than 3 percent of the economy; now they're almost 20 percent. That's $7,200 a year for every American, calculates Eberstadt. He says that nearly 40 percent of these transfers aim to relieve poverty (through Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance and the like), while most of the rest goes to the elderly (mainly through Social Security and Medicare).

By all means, let's avoid the "fiscal cliff": the $500 billion in tax increases and federal spending cuts scheduled for early 2013 that, if they occurred, might trigger a recession. But let's recognize that we still need to bring the budget into long-term balance. This can't be done only by higher taxes on the rich, which seem inevitable. Nor can it be done by deep cuts in defense and domestic "discretionary" programs (from highways to schools), which are already happening. It requires controlling the welfare state. In 2011, "payments for individuals," including health care, constituted 65 percent of federal spending, up from 21 percent in 1955. That's the welfare state.
 A problem with the welfare programs is they become corrupted.  They stray from their original purpose.
Granting the welfare state's virtues -- the safety net alleviates poverty and cushions the effects of recessions -- it's time to pose some basic questions. Who deserves support? How much? How long? How much compassion can society afford?

Programs have strayed from their original purpose. Take Social Security. Created to prevent destitution among the elderly, it now subsidizes the comfortable. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story about a couple (he 66, she 70) touring the world. They've visited London, Paris, Florence and Buenos Aires. Their financial adviser sends them $6,000 a month from investments and proceeds from their home sale. They also receive Social Security. How much? They don't say. My hunch: between $25,000 and $50,000 a year. (I emailed the couple for details but received no reply.)

Is this what Franklin Roosevelt intended? Should Social Security be tilted more toward the less affluent? Good questions, but politicians rarely ask them. Anyone who does risks being attacked as hard-hearted.

Welfare programs tend to expand. Advocacy groups discover coverage "gaps." Economic downturns understandably sow sympathy for the needy. Arcane eligibility rules are liberalized. In 2010, a fifth of food stamp recipients had incomes exceeding twice the federal poverty line (about $45,000 for a family of four), estimates a study by David Armor and Sonia Sousa of George Mason University.
 And the dangers of welfare?  Samuelson references a scholar from the American Enterprise Institute.
Eberstadt, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, sees three dangers in the welfare state's unchecked growth.

First, it squeezes other government programs. This is already happening. President Obama's budget assumes that defense spending, as a share of the economy, falls 39 percent from 2011 to 2022. The Army is to drop by 80,000 soldiers, the Marines, 20,000. Domestic "discretionary" spending is cut even more, 45 percent. Research, education, transportation, law enforcement and other programs face pressures.

Second, it undermines work incentives. This, too, is occurring. Social Security's eligibility ages influence retirement. If eligibility were higher, people would work longer. Eberstadt thinks that relaxed disability requirements have lowered work effort. In 2011, about 4.5 percent of working-age adults (20-64) received Social Security disability benefits, up from 1.3 percent in 1970.

Finally, there's a moral cost. It encourages "gaming" the system to maximize benefits. It devalues the ethic of "earned success." There's tension between helping the truly needy and fostering dependence on government and helplessness.
 What needs to happen, according to Samuelson?
The welfare state's great contradiction -- the reason its politics are so messy -- is that what seems good for the individual is not, when multiplied by thousands or millions of cases, always good for society. Politicians appeal to individuals who vote, but in doing so may shortchange the nation. Most obviously: The welfare state's costs may depress economic growth.

The need is not to dismantle the welfare state but to modernize it gradually, preserving its virtues, minimizing its vices and not doing it abruptly so as to derail the recovery. But first we need to admit it exists.

Monday, November 5, 2012

And the winner for the presidency will be?

For someone who follows political issues and campaign numbers more than I should, I've found the race for presidency very interesting.  At Real Clear Politics website - the political junkie's favorite website - the polls consistently show Obama neck and neck with Romney in nationwide polls and slightly ahead on individual state based polls.  Going on that you might give Obama the edge.  However, a closer look suggests that might not be the case, given questions about polling methology and weighing voters disporporationately in favor of democrats.

Michael Barone, a serious student of campaigns and Washington politics for decades, thinks Romney will win because of the way polls show independent voters breaking disproportionately for him and voter enthusiasm is greater for Romney than Obama.

In a column he says,
Fundamentals usually prevail in American elections. That's bad news for Barack Obama. True, Americans want to think well of their presidents, and many think it would be bad if Americans were perceived as rejecting the first black president.

But it's also true that most voters oppose Obama's major policies and consider unsatisfactory the very sluggish economic recovery -- Friday's job report showed an unemployment uptick.

Also, both national and target state polls show that independents -- voters who don't identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans -- break for Romney.

That might not matter if Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 39 to 32 percent, as they did in the 2008 exit poll. But just about every indicator suggests that Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting -- and about their candidate -- than they were in 2008, and Democrats are less so.

That's been apparent in early or absentee voting, where Democrats trail their 2008 numbers in target states Virginia, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada.
 Here's an interview with him.  

His verdict?
Bottom line: Romney 315, Obama 223. That sounds high for Romney. But he could drop Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and still win the election. Fundamentals. 
Another interesting perspective is by Fred Barnes at Weekly Standard.  He points to enthusiasm, issues, and high propensity voters favoring Romney.

What's interesting is the political pundit class universally believes Obama will win.  I suspect they're looking at the polls and they naturally tilt towards their natural bias which is more liberal.  As Howard Kurtz, former Washington Post columnist, points out:
We still have to go through the ritual of holding the election on Tuesday, but the media’s forecasters have placed their bet, and the overwhelming consensus is that the president will win a second term.

As the candidates again raced to the swing states where the election will be decided, and as parts of New York and New Jersey remained crippled by Hurricane Sandy, the unmistakable message emanating from the press was that Mitt Romney had fallen short....
 But Kurtz also points out the consequences of them being wrong.
If Obama somehow manages to lose, it will be a stunning defeat for the nation’s first African-American president. But it will also be a crushing blow for the punditocracy that headed into Election Day filled with confidence that Obama had it in the bag. And Fox News won’t let the mainstream media hear the end of it.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Looming social crises - 40 percent of kids born out of wedlock and record low birth rates.

A recent story noted a CDC report showing record low birth rates and extremely high out of wedlock birth percentages.
The birth rate in the United States hit an all-time low in 2011, according to a report released this month by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The 2011 preliminary number of U.S. births was 3,953,593, 1 percent less (or 45,793 fewer) births than in 2010; the general fertility rate (63.3 per 1,000 women age 15-44 years) declined to the lowest rate ever reported for the United States,” said the report.

More than 40 percent of all babies born in the country last year, the report said, were born to unmarried women....

The percentage of American-born babies who were delivered by unmarried women actually declined slightly from 40.8 percent in 2010 to 40.7 percent in 2011.
In 2011, 1,606,087 babies were born to unmarried women and 2,347,506 were born to married women.
Although the percentage of babies born to unmarried women was highest among teens, the percentage of babies delivered by unmarried women of older ages increased from 2010 to 2011.

In 2010, 33.9 percent of the babies delivered by women 25-29 were delivered by unmarried women, and in 2011 that increased to 34.4 percent. In 2010, 21.1 percent of babies delivered by women 30-34 were delivered by unmarried women, and in 2011 that increased to 21.6 percent. In 2010, 19.6 percent of babies delivered by women 35-39 were delivered by unmarried mothers and in 2011 that increased to 21.1 percent. In 2010, 21.7 percent of babies delivered by women 40 and over were delivered by unmarried mothers and in 2011 that increased to 22.4 percent.
For many, it's no big deal.  But a closer look reveals it is a big deal.

Declining birth rates means a smaller population which will impact economic growth and the ability of government to sustain it's current expenditures.  This will impact social programs and everything else government does.  It also will also increase pressure for higher taxes.

Higher out of wedlock birth rates means a significant, negative impact on character formation in the next generation.  Lack of fathers means kids are more likely to engage in criminal activity, do poorly in school, and a host of social of other social pathologies.

I compare it to the effect termites have on a house.  It destroys the foundation out sight, until one day the house collapses.  Same with the breakdown of marriage and child rearing.  If we do nothing, society will break down and collapses.

Same sex "marriage" is relevant to this discussion. Redefining marriage means mothers and fathers are no longer important.  Fathers become superfluous.  The state, if a new, genderless definition is adopted, will no longer be in a position of encouraging the involvement of fathers in children's lives because this would be discriminatory against same sex, female households. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Billy Graham and the defense of life, marriage and religious freedom

Billy Graham is coming under criticism for calling on Christians to vote for biblical values of life, marriage and religious freedom and for candidates who uphold these values.  Why these three issues?  Because they are foundational, moral issues in society.

Here's a great response to Graham's critics written by Timothy George.
I was in Europe when I first heard of Billy Graham's "endorsement" of Mitt Romney. I was skeptical of this report because I knew that Graham was not in the habit of endorsing a particular candidate for any political office. When I saw a copy of Billy Graham's statement, it made a lot more sense. This is what he said:

On November 6, the day before my 94th birthday, our nation will hold one of the most critical elections in my lifetime. We are at a crossroads and there are profound moral issues at stake. I strongly urge you to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms. The Bible speaks clearly on these crucial issues. Please join me in praying for America, that we will turn our hearts back toward God.

Some have decried Graham's turning "political" in an election year. Others have claimed that the great evangelist in his senescence is a mere puppet of his son Franklin – a baseless claim that smacks of brazen ageism. That Graham met with Romney is no more surprising than the fact that he met with President Obama in 2010, another election year. Billy Graham is a national treasure and has met with every president since Harry Truman. Although he is a lifelong Democrat, Graham's relationships have always transcended politics. He preached the funeral of President Lyndon B. Johnson, and he led President George W. Bush to personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Graham's statement about the election reveals three things about him and the times in which we live. First, it is a message filled with the pathos of a person who has long outlived most of his contemporaries. The end of life approaches, and one's thoughts turn toward things that really matter, things of eternal moment. Billy Graham's most recent book, Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well (Thomas Nelson, 2011), is about heaven. Deathbed requests and words spoken near the end of life have a certain gravity. They command attention. Graham had something important to say, and we should do him the honor of listening to his words with respect and weighing them carefully.

Second, Graham reveals in his words a deep love and genuine concern for his country. Jesus (and Jeremiah before him) loved Jerusalem and wept over it. There are some tears in Billy Graham's lament about the turning point we face in our American republic today. Here is a man who has preached the gospel to more people than anyone else in history. His heart yearns for everyone everywhere to know and love Jesus Christ. But discipleship is also part of the Christian life. Graham is helping many believers who came to Christ through his ministry, as well as anyone else who will listen, to form their conscience about a crucial national decision in light of the lordship of Jesus Christ. And that is a good and godly thing for a minister of the gospel to do.

Third, Graham asks his readers to take a stand on three non-negotiable commitments of the Christian worldview: the sacredness of every human life including those children still waiting to be born; the dignity of marriage as God intended it to be, a lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman; and religious freedom, not only for Christians but for all persons, for individuals and institutions of faith alike.

The Manhattan Declaration, which deals with these three concerns, was born in the heart of Chuck Colson. He wisely saw that they were threshold issues without which a wider moral consensus on many other pressing matters could not be built. That America's greatest and most respected Christian evangelist has come to support these three principles in such a bold, nonpartisan way is an act of moral courage.

I write these words as an Independent who holds no loyalty to any political party and who has voted for candidates of both the red and the blue. Chuck Colson knew all too well that the kingdom of God cannot be equated with any partisan movement. He also knew that politics was not the answer to the deepest needs of our society.

But there are also times in human history when people of faith cannot in good conscience opt out of the political process. Wilberforce was a leader in Parliament and worked tirelessly to pass legislation that ended the British slave trade. Christians living in 1930s Germany were concerned about many issues other than anti-Semitism, but Bonhoeffer knew that following Jesus required taking a stand against that intrinsic evil. Martin Luther King, Jr. lobbied both Congress and the president to enact civil rights legislation. Today we face a similar moment with respect to the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious freedom. As Chuck Colson said as we released the Manhattan Declaration, "Enough is enough. The Church must take a stand."

Chuck'd be proud of Billy.

Billy Graham endorses Minnesota Marriage Protection Amendment

Billy Graham has come out in support of the Minnesota Marriage Protection Amendment.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the soon-to-be 95-year-old Graham mentioned his connections to the state and his hopes for how they vote next Tuesday.

"For more than 50 years, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was based in Minneapolis and we were blessed by the support of thousands of Minnesotans who helped us spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world," said Graham.

"As a former resident with strong personal and ministry ties to the North Star State, I pray that the good people of Minnesota will show their support for God's definition of marriage, between a man and a woman."...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Interesting and entertaining interview with Supreme Court Justice Scalia

Can anyone make the topic of constitutional interpretation interesting, for non-lawyers?  The person I'd put near the top of the list is US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who has written a 600 page book on the topic entitled, "Reading Law:  The Interpretation of Legal Texts".

Here's an interesting interview with him on the topic.  He's articulate, intelligence yet understandable, and witty.

A few years ago, I sent him a letter along with a book I was interested in him seeing.  I had heard him speak in person shortly before when he said he only read letters if there was money enclosed.  So I included $1 with a reminder of his statement.  He sent me back a letter with a witty sentence or two rejoinder coupled with a line in Latin.  His response fit my impression of him perfectly.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Another storm looming on the horizon. Only this one involves tax increases. "Taxmageddon".

People on the East Coast just went through a horrific storm.  Well, another enormous storm is looming on the horizon.  Only this one isn't an act of nature but of Congress. They are the massive tax increases due to kick in unless Congress acts.  The Heritage Foundation is calling it Taxmageddon.
A horrifying combination of expiring pro-growth tax policies from 2001 and 2003, the end of the once-temporary payroll tax cut, and just a few of Obamacare’s 18 new tax hikes, Taxmageddon will be the largest tax increase EVER to hit Americans. It’s nearly $500 billion in one year, starting January 1. That’s two months away.

The number $500 billion is rather large and abstract, so The Heritage Foundation has broken down the expected tax increases per person just for 2013:
  • Families with an average income of $70,662: tax increase of $4,138
  • Baby boomers with an average income of $95,099: tax increase of $4,223
  • Low-income workers with an average income of $24,757: tax increase of $1,207
  • Millennials with an average income of $23,917: tax increase of $1,099
  • Retirees with an average income of $42,553: tax increase of $857
Note the above taxes increases which will result - Family with $70,662 in income would see a $4,138 tax increase.  A consequence of not addressing it is the possibility of another recession.
And if that isn’t scary enough, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has forecasted another recession in the coming year. The last thing this country needs is another recession, after years of high unemployment and months of a sluggish, barely noticeable recovery.

The tax hikes will hit small businesses very hard—and not just any small businesses, but the ones that create jobs. As Heritage’s Curtis Dubay and Romina Boccia explain:
The businesses that would pay the higher tax rates proposed by President Obama earn almost all the income earned by small businesses that employ workers. According to President Obama’s own Treasury Department, these job creators earn 91 percent of the income earned by flow-through employer-businesses. These are the biggest, most successful small businesses. They employ more than half the private workforce, according to an Ernst and Young study. Raising their taxes would destroy more than 700,000 jobs.
The answer?  Made permanent the current tax code.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The deep, systemic social problems facing America will still be there after this election.

Here's an interview with Charles Murray, author of Coming Apart.  The book discusses the growing gulf between the lower and upper classes resulting from the breakdown of the family and specifically marriage.  Of course resulting from and causing this breakdown is the loss of basic moral virtues.
Ernest Hemingway said F. Scott Fitzgerald once told him, “The rich are different from you and me.” Hemingway said he responded, “Yes, they have more money.” Do you say they also have a different culture? In the old days the people who ran corporations or were in politics overwhelmingly grew up in farm homes or in homes where their fathers were factory workers or ran small stores or the rest of it. When they came to power they got more money than other people, but their culture was the same. Now the elites are different in kind. It’s not just that they have more money. They have a separate culture.
When did that change begin? In the 1960s America’s colleges started to get really efficient at finding the best talent everywhere in the country. In an elite neighborhood in 1960, about three-quarters of the couples in that neighborhood would have no college degrees, or only one. In the majority of couples, one was socialized through high school and only one was socialized through college, and probably not one of the elite colleges. Jump to 2010 and it’s different. Everyone in those elite neighborhoods is socialized through college in general, and elite colleges in particular. 
How are the two cultures different? Members of the new upper class these days get married in their late 20s or beyond, and don’t have kids until later. They read different books—in reading books at all they are apart from a great deal of the rest of the country. A lot of American popular culture is transmitted through TV, but if the elite have one at all they use it to watch DVDs of movies, or Downton Abbey, or Mad Men
Are evangelicals divided in that way? My sense is that evangelicals don’t have many of the problems I’m talking about—and I’m not saying that because I’m in front of a Patrick Henry College audience. There are, in being a devout evangelical, all sorts of things that will lead you to be engaged with people of all classes. Caring for the less fortunate is a fundamental tenet of Christian morality. People who are imbued with that are going to spend a lot of time, effort, and money, and personal attention trying to deal with the human problems around them. 
In general, though, we don’t know how the other half lives? If you grew up in the upper middle class in an affluent neighborhood, you are especially isolated from that world. You really don’t have a good idea of what it’s like to be the son or daughter of a truck driver.
Marriage is one of the key divides? Fifty years ago we were pretty much one nation across classes and the classic example of that is marriage. Divorce in the upper middle class has been going down since the 1980s, so those in the upper middle class are increasingly on their first marriage. Meanwhile, among 30- to 49-year-olds in the white working class, we’re down to 48 percent married. 
That has big implications. Single dads don’t really coach Little League teams very often. Single moms don’t have much time to go to PTA meetings. The community functions very differently, and the whole culture starts to collapse and change. We now have two cultures.
How many people see that as a problem? What’s scary to me is that a lot of upper-class members now are perfectly happy thinking of themselves as being in an upper class. A senior executive at a major New York ad agency lived in a modest house in 1960. Americans denied they were in the upper class, or in the lower class: We all wanted to be middle class. Now some people really don’t see why they should want to associate with Americans who aren’t as rich and well-educated as they are. They’re very happy being members of the upper class—that scares me.
Which comes first, the decline in church involvement or the decline in marriage? I can’t give you a simple answer. The fact of getting married often concentrates people’s attention on spiritual and religious matters—but religious belief is a big prompter for getting married. A loss of religiosity will be associated with lower marriage rates. It’s a feedback loop.
Sociologist Peter Berger’s most famous comment is that India is the most religious country in the world, Sweden the least, and America is a land of Indians ruled by Swedes. Have you flipped that? In part. When you go to the Harvard faculty the percentage of people who profess religion goes way, way down: very low religiosity at the very top. But in the upper middle class, while religiosity has declined, it hasn’t declined as much as it has in the white working class. The bottom has fallen out of religious observance in the white working class. This collapse of religiosity has profound implications for how working-class communities work: It’s a kind of growing social disorganization that goes to the heart of what in the past made America exceptionally vibrant in community life.
Why has the decline occurred? You had Darwin and evolution. Then you had Freud and the discovery of the unconscious. … It’s not that the intellectuals read Thomas Aquinas and said, “No, he’s wrong.” They basically said, “The Sunday school stories we grew up with are obviously wrong, and therefore there is nothing worthy in Christianity.”
You have provided the sociological equivalent of what theologian Francis Schaeffer talked about: living off the interest. Biblical belief leads to positive social developments, but you can’t keep living off the interest. At some point you’ve got to replenish the capital. We haven’t replenished the capital, and it also has all sorts of implications. We do not know whether a secular society can remain a virtuous society, because we’ve never had in the history of civilizations a society as secular as Western Europe is now. 
And in America? The Founders said emphatically that the Constitution they had created would not work for any but a religious and moral people. They saw religion as the foundation for morality, so the key requirement for the American experiment was self-government. I don’t mean self-government in terms of governmental institutions. I mean government of the self, by the self—and religion is the basis for that to happen. Insofar as that has declined, you have a classic case of living off the interest.
 We are sadly mistaken if we think the outcome of next week's election will solve these problems.  The question is whether the winners will see and understand the issues and move us in the direction of properly addressing them. Or at the very least not make them worse.