Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sticker shock with Obamacare - rising health care costs, lost insurance coverage, and cutting workers' hours.

Daniel Kessler in the Wall Street Journal is sounding a reoccurring refrain -- Obamacare will increasingly cause untold problems with our nation's health care and financial systems.
In recent weeks, there have been increasing expressions of concern from surprising quarters about the implementation of ObamaCare. Montana Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat, called it a "train wreck." A Democratic colleague, West Virginia's Sen. Jay Rockefeller, described the massive Affordable Care Act as "beyond comprehension." Henry Chao, the government's chief technical officer in charge of putting in place the insurance exchanges mandated by the law, was quoted in the Congressional Quarterly as saying "I'm pretty nervous . . . Let's just make sure it's not a third-world experience."
These individuals are worried for good reason. The unpopular health-care law's rollout is going to be rough. It will also administer several price (and other) shocks to tens of millions of Americans.
Start with people who have individual and small-group health insurance. These policies are most affected by ObamaCare's community-rating regulations, which require insurers to accept everyone but limit or ban them from varying premiums based on age or health. The law also mandates "essential" benefits that are far more generous than those currently offered. 
 People are going to pay more.
According to consultants from Oliver Wyman (who wrote on the issue in the January issue of Contingencies, the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries), around six million of the 19 million people with individual health policies are going to have to pay more—and this even after accounting for the government subsidies offered under the law. For example, single adults age 21-29 earning 300% to 400% of the federal poverty level will be hit with an increase of 46% even after premium assistance from tax credits...

Higher premiums are just the beginning, because virtually all existing policies in the individual market and the vast majority in the small-group market do not cover all of the "essential" benefits mandated by the law. Policies without premium increases will have to change, probably by shifting to more restrictive networks of doctors and hospitals. Even if only one third of these policies are affected, this amounts to more than five million people. 
 More people will lose their insurance.
In addition, according to Congressional Budget Office projections in July and September 2012, three million people will lose their insurance altogether in 2014 due to the law, and six million will have to pay the individual-mandate tax penalty in 2016 because they don't want or won't be able to afford coverage, even with the subsidies.
 And people will lose their jobs and see their hours cut.
None of this counts the people whose employment opportunities will suffer because of disincentives under ObamaCare. Some, whose employers have to pay a tax penalty because their policies do not carry sufficiently generous insurance, will see their wages fall. Others will lose their jobs or see their hours reduced.

Anecdotal evidence already suggests that these disincentives will really matter in the job market, as full-time jobs are converted to part time. Why would employers do this? Because they aren't subject to a tax penalty for employees who work less than 30 hours per week.

There is some debate over how large these effects will be, and how long they will take to manifest. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on a category of workers who will almost surely be involuntarily underemployed as a result of health reform: the 10 million part-timers who now work 30-34 hours per week.

These workers are particularly vulnerable. Reducing their hours to 29 avoids the employer tax penalty, with relatively little disruption to the workplace. Fewer than one million of them, according to calculations based on the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, get covered by ObamaCare-compliant insurance from their employer.
 Should we be surprised?  Not at all.  Government wasn't created to provide health insurance.  That's the domain of families and individuals, not government bureaucrats.

Friday, April 26, 2013

State Funding, Teen Challenge, and God need not apply.

On Friday, April 19th there was a very eye opening debate in the Minnesota state Senate over whether the state should cut off funding to Teen Challenge the most effective drug and treatment program in the state and a biblical, Christian based organization. 

During the debate, the organization was attacked for their Christian beliefs.  Senator Dibble attacked them for being anti-gay because they support the biblical understanding of marriage and sexual behavior.  Senator Bonoff said they had hateful materials on their website.

Basically the message is if your organization is motivated by Christian convictions, you are ineligible to work with the state.  But if you have secularist ideas and philosophy, you're welcome and embraced by the dispensers of our tax payer dollars. 

They'd rather fund unsuccessful programs than, goodness knows, fund a program which works and is Christian based.  A form of religious discrimination you might say.

The debate has clear implications over efforts to redefine marriage.  If marriage is redefined, groups which subscribe to man, woman marriage will be excluded from a wide range of government programs and initiatives totally unrelated to marriage.  "Go the back of the bus" you proverbially might say or rather "get off the bus."  And will it stop with Christian programs?  At what point will it extend to individuals who have Christian, biblical belief systems?

You can listen to the floor debate here.  It's about an hour long discussion.  It's on Friday, April 19th and starts at the 57 minute mark.

Positive benefits of delaying kindergarten.

While the push at the Minnesota state legislature is to get kids into institutional education at earlier and earlier ages, 3 and 4, here's a WCCO news story and Rand Corporation study suggesting delaying kindergarten has significant educational benefits.

Here's a link to the WCCO story.
Is five too young for kindergarten?

Some parents now think six is the magic age for starting school, especially for boys.

Take Edina.

More than half the boys there with summer birthdays don’t go to kindergarten until they are six years old.

The same holds true for only 20 percent of the girls.

In kindergarten classes at Edina’s Highlands Elementary there is often more than a year difference in students’ ages.

Veteran teacher Katie Oberle says emotional readiness is the most important factor parents should consider when deciding when to send a child to school. She said,

“It’s sharing, it’s being able to follow directions, it’s being able to communicate,” she said.

As for why parents make the call for boys and not girls, Oberle says boys, as a group, often trail in key areas.

“Boys tend to be…a little less mature, but it mostly tends to be in their verbal language skills,” Oberle says.

Studies on the topic differ.

A 2006 University of California study says children who are older in kindergarten do better. They are placed in more advanced classes, and that advantage just builds as they get older.
 According to the Rand Corporation study:
Entering Kindergarten Later Significantly Boosts Test Scores at Entry

To understand the cognitive effects of entering kindergarten later, Datar looked at academic achievement as measured by math and reading test scores on standardized tests. The results indicate that delaying kindergarten entrance is associated with a significant increase in math and reading scores at kindergarten entry. A one-year delay in kindergarten entrance increases math and reading scores by 6 points and more than 5 points, respectively. Also, the findings suggest that previous studies that failed to account for the selection bias underestimate the effect of delaying kindergarten age.

Benefits Do Not Fade and Are Even Greater for Disadvantaged Children

As noted earlier, there is concern that any positive benefits may not persist and that forcing disadvantaged children to wait a year may thus be counter-productive. However, as the figure shows, these concerns seem unfounded.
Scores on standardized tests administered at two time points — once at the start of kindergarten and again at the end of first grade — were examined. The dots reflect the mean score for children entering at either age 5 or 6; as discussed earlier, we see that children entering later do better. The x’s reflect the gain in the test score across the two assessment periods. We find that the initial advantage not only persists but in fact increases by half a point in math and by a point in reading during the first two years in school. This suggests that delaying kindergarten entrance has a positive effect on test score gains in the early school years.
The figure also shows that the benefits of delaying kindergarten are even greater for children from poor families. Delaying kindergarten entrance from age 5 to age 6 increases the math and reading test score gains among poor children — the distance between the dots and the x’s. This is most notable in looking at math score gains — poor children entering at age 5 have almost no gain, while those entering at age 6 have a noticeable gain — but it is also true for reading scores. By contrast, both younger and older entrants from families that are not poor gain the same amount across testing periods.
Other studies, writings I've seen suggest that the academic benefits of delaying kindergarten disappear by the 3rd grade.  That's similar to the academic results of kids who attend preschool programs and all day kindergarten compared to students who don't.  It's a wash by the third grade as well.  If that's the case, then the added cost savings of students not attending kindergarten is a net plus.  I suspect another benefit is kids who delay kindergarten are better able to cope with the negative influences they encounter in an institutional learning setting.  (Other studies point to the more aggressive, anti-social behavior the more time kids spend in preschool programs.) 

The Minnesota legislature, in it's one size fits all approach to education, is pouring millions into incentivizing parents to put their children into preschool and all day kindergarten.  They may just be moving in the direction an increasing number of parents prefer not to go.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Genderless Marriage: Just or Unjust law?

In the debate over whether to redefine marriage I haven't heard much discussion over the justness of redefining marriage. An interesting place to look for the answer is the words of the leader of the civil rights movement Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I came across his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."  While in jail, he penned his famous letter discussing segregation laws and the nature of laws, their justness and unjustness.

He wrote:
One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all." 
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.
How does this apply to marriage?  First, it's clear that marriage according to God's law, is one man and one woman.  Therefore, to redefine marriage and force people to recognize, endorse, and support it would be unjust.

So Minnesota legislators need to realize what they are being asked to do.  They aren't "eliminating discrimination"  and promoting "marriage equality", instead they are instituting an unjust law.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Slate writer: "Marriage is elastic" and polygamy is just fine.

What's next if gay "marriage" becomes the law of the land. No doubt a big push for polygamy. At least that's what this writer at Slate thinks and she's just fine with it.

In a story entitled: Legalize Polygamy! No. I am not kidding she writes:
Recently, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council reintroduced a tired refrain: Legalized gay marriage could lead to other legal forms of marriage disaster, such as polygamy. Rick Santorum, Bill O’Reilly, and other social conservatives have made similar claims. It’s hardly a new prediction—we’ve been hearing it for years. Gay marriage is a slippery slope! A gateway drug! If we legalize it, then what’s next? Legalized polygamy?
We can only hope.
She goes on to describe polygamy as the "constitutional, feminist, and sex-positive choice."  And of course, she believes it will "help protect, empower, and strengthen women, children, and families."  Where have we heard that before?
Yes, really. While the Supreme Court and the rest of us are all focused on the human right of marriage equality, let’s not forget that the fight doesn’t end with same-sex marriage. We need to legalize polygamy, too. Legalized polygamy in the United States is the constitutional, feminist, and sex-positive choice. More importantly, it would actually help protect, empower, and strengthen women, children, and families.
  And she says because so many people are doing it anyway, why not legalize it.
It’s also hard to argue with the constitutional freedom of religious expression that legalized polygamy would preserve. Most polygamous families are motivated by religious faith, such as fundamentalist Mormonism or Islam, and as long as all parties involved are adults, legally able to sign marriage contracts, there is no constitutional reason why they shouldn’t be able to express that faith in their marriages. Legalized polygamous marriage would also be good for immigrant families, some of whom have legally polygamous marriages in their home countries that get ripped apart during the immigration process. (It’s impossible to estimate exactly how many polygamous families live here, since they live their religious and sexual identities in secret. Academics suggest there are 50,000 to 100,000 people engaged in Muslim polygamy in the U.S., and there are thousands of fundamentalist Mormon polygamist families as well.)
Her views boil down to a radical individualism and a false understanding of marriage which she views as elastic.
The definition of marriage is plastic. Just like heterosexual marriage is no better or worse than homosexual marriage, marriage between two consenting adults is not inherently more or less “correct” than marriage among three (or four, or six) consenting adults. Though polygamists are a minority—a tiny minority, in fact—freedom has no value unless it extends to even the smallest and most marginalized groups among us. So let’s fight for marriage equality until it extends to every same-sex couple in the United States—and then let’s keep fighting. We’re not done yet.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

President Obama and arm twisting or lack thereof.

I thought this article in the New York Times has an interesting take on President Obama.  He's not usually willing to resort to arm twisting to achieve his political goals.  I suspect those around him are at times but it strikes me his temperament isn't there.  Reason, logic are what he gravitates towards.  The result?  A less effective presidency.  I think that will be the order of the day through the rest of his presidency unless Democrats regain control of the House.

On the other hand, he could position himself to make substantial changes if he's willing to work with Republicans to get control of our deficits, debt and entitlements.  But that would mean crossing his base and his own inclinations.  However, presidents also want a legacy and that will only be achieved by significant accomplishments.  I doubt that Obamacare will stand the test of time.  It looks to be unworkable and will have to be significantly changed or discarded.
...After more than four years in the Oval Office, the president has rarely demonstrated an appetite for ruthless politics that instills fear in lawmakers. That raises a broader question: If he cannot translate the support of 90 percent of the public for background checks into a victory on Capitol Hill, what can he expect to accomplish legislatively for his remaining three and a half years in office?

Robert Dallek, a historian and biographer of President Lyndon B. Johnson, said Mr. Obama seems “inclined to believe that sweet reason is what you need to use with people in high office.” That contrasts with Johnson’s belief that “what you need to do is to back people up against a wall,” Mr. Dallek said.

“Obama has this more reasoned temperament,” he said. “It may well be that it’s not the prescription for making gains. It raises questions about his powers of persuasion.”

Some supporters said the imperative of the moment requires more force from Mr. Obama. “He needs to turn up the heat every way he can and every chance he gets because it’s not political points or poll numbers that are at stake but lives,” said Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat who has sponsored a gun control bill in the House.

The White House on Monday defended the president’s efforts on the gun legislation, saying he had made a vigorous effort to lobby wavering senators. “He made numerous phone calls and had numerous meetings,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary. “And his entire team here engaged in this process completely and thoroughly.”

But the president has long struggled to master his relationship with Congress. During his first two and a half years in office, he favored what aides called an inside approach, working quietly in back rooms to convince lawmakers of the logic of his positions. That worked better when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, and he passed legislation to expand health care, regulate Wall Street and spend hundreds of billions of dollars to stimulate the economy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"The Secularist Delusion and Christian Dualism" and Rep. Tim Faust

Representative Tim Faust made some very interesting comments about marriage, gay "marriage", and the Bible.  They were doubling interesting because Tim is an ELCA Lutheran pastor.

Rep. Tim Faust thinks marriage between man and a woman is merely a religious institution and therefore probably shouldn't be protected in state law.  The fact that many people, constituents and others are defending marriage with Bible arguments causes him further angst.
Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, has been one of the most watched members of the House on the marriage issue. He’s an undecided DFLer from a largely rural area that voted overwhelmingly for an amendment in November that would have banned same-sex marriage in the state Constitution.
A week ago, Faust had told a group of gay marriage opponents that he was unsure how he would vote.

On Thursday, Faust said for the first time that he is leaning toward legalizing same-sex marriage — even if many of his constituents disagree.

Faust stood to the side of the rally Thursday, unprotected from the sleet and rain. He said nearly all the arguments against same-sex marriage are biblical but noted that many devoted people view it the other way.

“Then the question becomes, do we have the right to impose our religious belief on others?” Faust asked. “If the reason we are arguing we shouldn’t be doing this is because of religious beliefs, it’s pretty hard to make that argument.”
 His thinking epitomizes the dualistic thinking which is ubiquitous today in the church.  This world is what we make of it.  What God says isn't really relevant to how we live our lives as a community, a society.  Religion and faith are merely private matters. What's especially sad is Tim is a Lutheran pastor.  A pastor who believes, or seems to believe, what God says about marriage doesn't apply to our public life.  Why?  Because that would mean imposing our religious beliefs on others.

If religious beliefs are merely private affairs then our concern for the poor, sexual trafficking, slavery, protecting the unborn, and so forth are really off limits for Christians and others whose faith informs their lives.  It means Christians and others should simply stay home and say nothing about the issues of the day and how we order should our public life.

John Stonestreet touches on this in a video commentary entitled "Worldiness: Secular Delusion and Christian Dualism".  He talks about practical atheism which is the view that God may exist but is irrelevant to everyday life.  Secularism which is where faith is a personal, private experience matter.  And Christian dualism is the belief among some Christians that God and what he says is not relevant to our public life.  The problem is God doesn't see it that way.  He says He's the Lord of all.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A revealing headline: "Minnesota House DFL tax plan goes after drinkers, smokers, high earners"

The above headline is from a Star Tribune news story on Monday.  It struck me that the easiest way to raise taxes is to go over the fewest number of people so there's less political push back.  In this case, as the headline suggests, that includes consumers of alcohol, cigarettes and those with higher incomes.
A new House DFL tax plan would raise $2.6 billion by tapping high earners, smokers and, in the newest wrinkle, drinkers.
The plan would place a temporary surcharge on the wealthiest wage-earners, catapulting Minnesota’s income tax rate to third-highest in the nation. At the same time, state taxes on beer, wine and hard liquor would double.

The alcohol tax, which hasn’t risen in more than 20 years, would increase by 7 cents a beer, 47 cents per bottle of wine and $1.58 cents per bottle of hard liquor.
 Ironically, Speaker Thissen says higher taxes means a "stronger and more prosperous future."  The only problem is the government isn't a wealth creator.  More government doesn't mean more growth.  In fact it's the exact opposite.
“Minnesota residents have paid the price for too long for irresponsibility budgeting,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said in releasing the tax proposal on Monday. “It’s time we turn the page on that past and look toward a stronger and more prosperous future.”...
The amount and breadth of proposed tax increases is amazing.
While much of the proposal had dribbled out in recent weeks, the dramatic alcohol tax hike is a new component that is drawing furious criticism from Republicans. Democrats are looking to raise an additional $350 million every two years from a tax that hasn’t been raised since the mid-1980s. As Thissen pointed out, for someone who drinks a beer a day, the new tax would cost about $25 a year.

House Republicans say the mashup of taxes goes far beyond the DFLers’ campaign pledge to erase a state deficit by raising income taxes on the wealthy...

House DFLers would raise income on the top 1.1 percent of the state’s taxpayers. For married couples that would kick in at taxable income above $400,000. That’s a scaled-down version of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s plan, which would raise income taxes for the top 2 percent of wage-earners.

But House DFLers would tack on a two-year, 4 percent income tax surcharge on taxable income above $500,000 a year. Revenues from the surcharge would help pay off the remaining $808 million the state borrowed from public schools and would allow the state to offer tax breaks to businesses for new equipment purchases. Dayton and Senate Democrats have not embraced the House tax plan, but Thissen said he believes most Minnesotans will support it.

The proposal includes direct property tax relief for 1 million homeowners and renters, along with money to help the city of Rochester with a massive, 20-year expansion of the Mayo Clinic. The House also sets aside money to aid expansions of 3M’s Maplewood campus and the Mall of America.
Sin taxes would go up

The proposal raises nearly $790 million from the so-called sin taxes.

Cigarettes would go up $1.60 per pack, taking total taxes to $2.83 for a pack of cigarettes.

“There is overwhelming evidence that tobacco and alcohol consumption cost the state billions of dollars,” Thissen said. “These user taxes will allow the state to recover some of those costs.”

The House proposal carves out a tax credit for small craft brewers that produce less than 200,000 gallons a year and wineries that produce less than 100,000 gallons a year.
 Of course Republicans are having a field day going after these proposed tax increases.
“I think Democrats in the House need to start a new reality TV show called Taxes Gone Wild,” said state Rep. Greg Davids, a Preston Republican and former taxes committee chairman. “There’s a tax increase for everybody, the rich, the middle income, the poorest of the poor. It’s an outrageous proposal.”

Rep. Pat Garofalo said this is proof the Democrats are not able to control spending. “This is why you don’t let the Democrats have total control over the state of Minnesota,” said Garofalo, R-Farmington. “There’s no adult supervision to stop these crazy things.”
The problem with going after the wealthy is they are often the small business owners and businessmen who create jobs and generate economic growth.  Eventually, some of them will decide it's just not worth doing business in Minnesota.

I'm afraid those in power can't say no to many of their special interest groups.  One of the consequences of this is it means a significant shift of resources from families to the government.

Monday, April 15, 2013

All time low approval for federal government - a case of promising too much and delivering too little?

A Pew Research Center Poll finds public approval of federal government at a record low.  As you can see in the graph below, only 28% of the public views the federal government favorably down 5 percentage points from last year.

On the other hand people view their state and local governemnts more favorably,  57% and 63% respectively, though down from 66% and 68% in 1997.

4-15-13 #1

Now a majority of Democrats view the federal government less favorably, dropping from 51% last year to 41% this year.  Republicans dropped from 20% to 13%.

At the state and local levels, Republicans and Democrats aren't that far a part in how their view government.

4-15-13 #2

I suspect the problem is people expect the federal government to solve all our problems.  A case of unrealistic expectations brought on by overpromising by politicians.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

My, how Social Security has changed and become so costly and unsustainable.

How Social Security has changed from the days of FDR it's creator. That's pointed out in this column by Robert Samuelson.  He thinks FDR wouldn't be supportive of all that Society Security has become today.
Would Franklin Roosevelt approve of Social Security? The question seems absurd. After all, Social Security is considered the New Deal’s signature achievement. It distributes nearly $800 billion a year to 56 million retirees, survivors and disabled beneficiaries. On average, retired workers and spouses receive $1,839 a month — money vital to the well-being of millions. Roosevelt would surely be proud of this, and yet he might also have reservations. Social Security has evolved into something he never intended and actively opposed.

It has become what was then called “the dole” and is now known as “welfare.” This forgotten history clarifies why America’s budget problems are so intractable.
FDR didn't support the "pay as you go" of  today's workers paying for today's retirees.
When Roosevelt proposed Social Security in 1935, he envisioned a contributory pension plan. Workers’ payroll taxes (“contributions”) would be saved and used to pay their retirement benefits. Initially, before workers had time to pay into the system, there would be temporary subsidies. But Roosevelt rejected Social Security as a “pay-as-you-go” system that channeled the taxes of today’s workers to pay today’s retirees. That, he believed, would saddle future generations with huge debts — or higher taxes — as the number of retirees expanded.

Discovering that the original draft wasn’t a contributory pension, Roosevelt ordered it rewritten and complained to Frances Perkins, his labor secretary: “This is the same old dole under another name. It is almost dishonest to build up an accumulated deficit for the Congress . . . to meet.”
That changed however in the 1940s and 50s.  
But Roosevelt’s vision didn’t prevail. In the 1940s and early 1950s, Congress gradually switched Social Security to a pay-as-you-go system. Interestingly, a coalition of liberals and conservatives pushed the change. Liberals wanted higher benefits, which — with few retirees then — existing taxes could support. Conservatives disliked the huge surpluses the government would accumulate under a contributory plan.

All this is well-told in Sylvester Schieber’s “The Predictable Surprise: The Unraveling of the U.S. Retirement System.” Schieber probably knows more about American retirement programs than anyone. He has advised the Social Security system, consulted with private firms and written widely on the subject. His book shows how today’s “entitlement” psychology dates to Social Security’s muddled beginnings.
He notes that Americans falsely think they have a right to social security benefits because they earned it.  It's their money they're getting back.
Millions of Americans believe (falsely) that their payroll taxes have been segregated to pay for their benefits and that, therefore, they “earned” these benefits. To reduce them would be to take something that is rightfully theirs. Indeed, Roosevelt — believing he had created a contributory program — said exactly that:

“We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect their pensions. . . . No damn politician can ever scrap my Social Security program.”

What we have is a vast welfare program grafted onto the rhetoric and psychology of a contributory pension. The result is entitlement. Unsurprisingly, AARP’s advertising slogan is “You’ve earned a say” on Social Security. The trouble is that contributions weren’t saved. They went to past beneficiaries. The $2.6 trillion in the Social Security trust fund at year-end 2010 sounds like a lot but equals slightly more than three years of benefits.
The problem is the current system isn't sustainable.
With favorable demographics, contradictions were bearable. Early Social Security beneficiaries received huge windfalls. A one-earner couple with average wages retiring at 65 in 1960 received lifetime benefits equal to nearly 14 times their payroll taxes, even if those taxes had been saved and invested (which they weren’t), calculate Eugene Steuerle and Stephanie Rennane of the Urban Institute.

But now, demographics are unfriendly. In 1960, there were five workers per recipient; today, there are three, and by 2025 the ratio will approach two. Roosevelt’s fear has materialized. Paying all benefits requires higher taxes, cuts in other programs or large deficits. Indeed, the burden has increased, because it now includes Medicare, which is also viewed as an entitlement.

Although new recipients have paid payroll taxes higher and longer than their predecessors, their benefits still exceed taxes paid even assuming (again, fictitiously) that they had been invested. A two-earner couple with average wages retiring in 2010 would receive lifetime Social Security and Medicare benefits worth $906,000 compared with taxes of $704,000, estimate Steuerle and Rennane.

By all rights, we should ask: Who among the elderly need benefits? How much? At what age? If Social Security and Medicare were considered “welfare” — something the nation does for its collective good — these questions would be easier. We would tailor programs to meet national needs. But entitlements are viewed as a higher-order moral claim, owed individuals based on past performance. So a huge part of government spending moves off-limits to intelligent discussion.

We can only imagine how Roosevelt would view this. He consistently advocated a fully funded Social Security and used his second veto on a 1942 tax bill that delayed higher payroll taxes. But Congress overrode the veto, and Roosevelt was preoccupied by World War II.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Obamacare, rising health care costs and possible political fallout in Minnesota.

I had an interesting conversation with a lobbyist at the Minnesota legislature.  He's been around a long time.  He thinks we're heading for a health care crisis with skyrocketing health care costs brought on to a significant degree by Obamacare which is now hitting the states through the mandated establishment of health care exchanges.  I then came across this news clip on the nervousness of democrats on the national level.

The lobbyist said it was a big mistake for democrats in Minnesota to drive Minnesota's health care exchange through the legislature without a single republican vote.  If health costs start going up and up and they invariably will, (What massive intervention in the economy by the government doesn't drive up costs.), then the electorate will be looking for someone to blame.  The prime target for voter frustration will be those in power and most directly responsible for major changes in our health care system.  In Minnesota that involves the health care exchanges.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Obama Administration wants to increase taxes on charitable gifts by the wealthy.

The Obama Administration is targeting the charitable deduction once again.
Wanting to limit it to 28%. President Obama’s long-awaited budget proposal, to be released today, does not come right out and say that intends to reduce contributions to charity—but that is almost certainly what would happen were it to become law. Here’s why. The White House has effectively doubled down on a tax change it has been pushing for four years that would limit the value of the charitable tax deduction. The Administration has, since 2009, pushed unsuccessfully to allow only 28 cents on a dollar donated to charity to be deducted—even though the top tax rate for the wealthy donors who make most use of the deduction has been 35 percent. In the budget released today, the President again proposes to cap the charitable deduction at 28 percent—despite the fact that the top rate on the highest earners has increased to 39.6 percent. Think of it this way: the White House proposal would raise the cost of giving to charity from 60 cents per dollar to 72 cents per dollar. That’s a 20 percent increase in what can be called the “charity tax.”

When one taxes something more, of course, one gets less of it—and it’s likely that the current $168 billion in itemized charitable giving would decline. Indeed, Indiana University’s Center for Philanthropy has previously estimated that capping the charitable tax deduction’s value at 28 percent—even when the top income tax rate was 35 percent—would lower giving by 1.3 percent, or some $2.18 billion in 2010. The new proposal would likely take an even bigger bite from giving. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the reduction in giving could be as high as $9 billion a year.
All of this is driven by the government and her advocates insatiable appetite and desire for more government spending.  And the easiest target for more revenue is the wealthy because they are few in number and hence have fewer votes.  It's all done under the "tax fairness" mantra.
For the Obama White House, this is a matter of tax fairness—in keeping with the Administration’s overall proposal to cap the deductibility of other significant tax expenditures, notably the home mortgage interest deduction and the deduction for state and local taxes. These, like charitable donations, are typically used to the greatest extent by the most wealthy taxpayers who, the Administration has reminded us time and again, should, in its view, pay their “fair share.”

To whom to the children belong, the state, society or parents?

That question was spiked by a promo of a MSNBC show.   Columnist Rich Lowry notes:
The TV cable-news network MSNBC runs sermonettes from its anchors during ad breaks. They’re like public-service announcements illuminating the progressive mind — and perhaps none has ever been as revealing and remarkable as the one cut by weekend host Melissa Harris-Perry.

Harris-Perry set out to explain what is, by her lights, the failure to invest adequately in public education. She located the source of the problem in the insidious idea of parental responsibility for children.

"We’ve always had kind of a private notion of children,” she said, in the tone of an anthropologist explaining a strange practice she discovered when out doing far-flung fieldwork. “Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility.” So long as this retrograde conception prevails, according to Harris-Perry, we’ll never spend enough money on children. “We have to break through,” she urged, “our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families.”
 He notes this wasn't a passing comments but something preplanned by the speaker and MSNBC.
Her statement wasn’t an aside on live TV. The spot was shot, produced and aired without, apparently, raising any alarm bells. No one raised his or her hand and said, “Should we really broadcast something that sounds so outlandish?”
 This really points out the different worldview, mindset of the left and the right. 
The foundation of the Harris-Perry view is that society is a large-scale kibbutz. The title of Hillary Clinton’s best-seller in the 1990s expressed the same point in comforting folk wisdom: “It Takes a Village.”

As the ultimate private institution, the family is a stubborn obstacle to the great collective effort. Insofar as people invest in their own families, they’re holding out on the state and unacceptably privileging their own kids over the children of others. These parents are selfish, small-minded and backward. “Once it’s everybody’s responsibility,” Harris-Perry said of child-rearing, “and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.”

This impulse is based on a profound fallacy and a profound truth. The fallacy is that anyone can care about someone else’s children as much as his own. Ex-Sen. Phil Gramm liked to illustrate the hollowness of professions to the contrary with a story. He told a woman, “My educational policies are based on the fact that I care more about my children than you do.” She said, “No, you don’t.” Gramm replied, “OK: What are their names?”

The truth is that parents are one of society’s most incorrigible sources of inequality. If you have two of them who stay married and are invested in your upbringing, you’ve hit life’s lottery. You’ll reap untold benefits denied to children who aren’t so lucky. That the family is so essential to the well-being of children has to be a constant source of frustration to the egalitarian statist, a reminder of the limits of his power.

If the left wants to equalize the investments in children that matter most, it should promote intact families and engaged parents, even if it means embracing shockingly old-fashioned private child-rearing.
The worldview difference is worked out daily at our state legislature, especially this session.  The push for more and more early childhood and all day kindergarten is a case in point.  The goal is to get three and four years in families making less than $40,000 into preschool programs.  The rationale?  They come from bad, dysfunctional  families and need experts to raise them, get them ready for kindergarten and beyond.

The problems with this approach?  Fundamentally, parents raise kids not day care centers.  The facts prove this out. Any positive academic benefits are disappear after a couple of years.  And one study by Berkley and Stanford researchers found that the more time spent in preschool the more aggressive and anti-social behaviors developed and the less excited about learning they became. 

Certainly some kids come from royally messed up homes.  And it breaks one's heart to see this.  But the answer isn't the state taking over the parenting of kids.  What the state can do is promote marriage and intact families.  We never or very seldom hear a word about this at our state legislature.

The state can empower families with school choice options to choose the best education for their kids which includes private, religious and home education.

Stop trying to redefine moms and dads out of kids lives and protect the integrity of marriage by reforming unilateral divorce laws.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A respectful, even admiring recollection of Margaret Thatcher by Tom Brokaw.

With the death of Margaret Thatcher, there are lots of stories out on her life. I was impressed by this piece written by Tom Brokaw who's certainly not a conservative.
When Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were leading their countries in new directions during their respective terms in office, it was the strongest transatlantic partnership since the second world war – for, however much they differed in style, they shared the same vision.

She was the feisty prime minister, a strong-willed and articulate contrarian. He was equally strong-willed, but in the more accommodating cloak of an Irish-American storyteller who was perfectly cast as president. For the movie, think Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (or the magical Meryl Streep for both roles).

Together, Baroness Thatcher and Ronald Reagan championed fewer government entitlements, less regulation, a more robust free market economy, British and American exceptionalism, and a foreign policy that had, as its unofficial motto, "might is right".

They were a formidable pair, each reinforcing the other at every opportunity. President Reagan was so fond of her I sometimes thought he was tempted to give her a White House telephone extension.

It seems to me their most enduring joint legacy was the handling of Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet Union was beginning to unravel. When Prime Minister Thatcher said of Gorbachev, "We can do business together," it gave President Reagan some cover with the American right wing which was deeply suspicious of doing deals with Moscow.

When Reagan left office, Thatcher had a cordial but different relationship with his successor, George HW Bush. She was sharply critical of the decision not to pursue Saddam Hussein all the way to Baghdad during the first Gulf war.

She also differed with the new president on whether Germany should be re-united following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her argument against re-unification put her on the wrong side of history.

Ironically, a unified Germany is now headed by a woman, Angela Merkel, who shares Thatcher's economic philosophy and who, like Prime Minister Thatcher, once worked as a chemist in a laboratory.

Personally, as a journalist, I will miss Baroness Thatcher's powerful presence. One of my fondest memories was an annual invitation I shared with three of my prominent colleagues during her visits to New York. We'd be aligned across from her at a breakfast table for a vigorous discussion of the issues of the day.

One by one, she would whack our preambles, as if we were a line-up of soft-boiled eggs meant to be eaten, not indulged.

A good overview of the Supreme Court's gay "marriage" cases and their possible outcome.

Here's a good summary by Emily Belz of World magazine and where things are at with gay "marriage" and the Supreme Court and where to from here.
In the national debate gay marriage advocates appear triumphant, even though the Supreme Court justices strongly indicated they don’t intend to issue the sweeping ruling that gay advocates want. Despite the political pressure, the justices don’t appear ready to say that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, but instead in the arguments they sought to  narrow how they decide the questions before them. 
 She notes that 
The high court seemed ready to let that battle in the ballot boxes continue, which is what traditional marriage supporters had advocated. Both the DOMA and Prop 8 cases are exceedingly complex, and the court has many options for resolving them. The justices could issue broad rulings, issue narrow rulings, or dismiss the cases on technicalities like standing or jurisdiction.

If the court does decide the cases on their merits, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the key vote who has written the court’s two major gay-rights opinions, seemed unwilling to go as far as the challengers to Prop 8 and DOMA want: that gay marriage is a constitutional right. During arguments he said gay marriage advocates were asking the court to go into “uncharted waters,” and he wasn’t sure which metaphor those waters led to: a “wonderful destination” or a “cliff.” 

The one thing that apparently held Kennedy back was the lack of social science evidence of the effect of gay marriage on children. In the Prop 8 arguments he noted, “We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more.”  
 And the final result?  Continued battling it out in the states.  
If the justices do what it looks like Kennedy may want them to do—ban the federal government from defining marriage and give that power to individual states—the political future is not necessarily inevitably and nationally victorious for gay marriage advocates. As of now, 41 states have defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and nine have legalized same-sex marriage. Despite polls shifting in favor of same-sex marriage, states remain that will probably maintain traditional marriage laws for the foreseeable future.

The morning of the DOMA arguments, several Supreme Court litigators sat in the court’s cafeteria drinking coffee and parsing the arguments. One had printed out the transcript from the previous day’s arguments, which he thumbed through as his colleagues brought up points. They made educated predictions, but landed ultimately where the most novice Supreme Court observer is: They have no idea what the court will do when it rules on the cases this summer. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

What do the Soviets and gay "marriage" have in common? Bad ideology.

Here's a sobering commentary on the attacks on marriage in the former Soviet Union.  A book which points this out is  Orlando Figes’ The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia.

John Stonestreet notes:
There’s a lot more we can learn from Figes’ book as well. For example, we can learn the folly of trying to redefine the family to suit our ideological purposes.

According to Figes, for many Bolsheviks, the “fundamental goal” of the revolution was the creation of a “new kind of human being” who only lived for the “common good.” Of course, the “common good” was defined as “service to the [Communist] Party and its cause.”

Creating this “new human being” required “blowing up the shell of private life” that was the source of competing loyalties and obligations. This conviction put the family in the Bolsheviks cross-hairs. For them, it was an “article of faith” that the traditional family—or the “bourgeois” family as they called it—was the “stronghold” of “religion, superstition, ignorance, and prejudice.”

So the Bolsheviks did everything in their power to undermine it, starting with “[removing] the influence of the Church in marriage and divorce.” They re-wrote the law to make divorce easy and gave cohabiting couples the same rights as married ones. Abortion was readily available.

The result was a “huge increase in casual marriage and the highest rate of divorce in the world.” Sexual morals were loosened and familial and communal ties were weakened. The “birth rate declined disastrously,” which left the USSR short both of laborers and soldiers. Child abandonment became a “mass phenomenon.” The Communist Party was then left trying to clean up after the mess that its war on the traditional family had created.

Well, less than twenty years after declaring war on the family, the party did an abrupt about-face. Suddenly marriage was promoted as “glamorous” and wedding rings, which had been banned as “Christian relics,” became available. Divorce laws were tightened and abortion was outlawed. The “good” Stalinist was expected to be “monogamous” and “devoted to his family.” And some comrades were expelled from the Communist Party for being bad fathers or husbands.

Obviously, the Communists weren’t acting out of a new-found respect for tradition, much less religion. Theirs was a pragmatic response to hard-learned experience. Creating good Soviet citizens, they found, required strong families.

Reading about the USSR’s reversal on the family, it’s difficult not to draw parallels with our own time. Now, let me state this up front: comparing Stalinist Russia with contemporary America and the rest of the West is ridiculous. In virtually every way that matters, they’re diametrically opposed.

While Soviet attacks on marriage were emanating from an authoritarian ideology, the push for gay "marriage" another ideology - the believe that individuals are autonomy, accountable to only the standard they want to create.  In commonality is the absence of a Creator who designed the world.

But that said, today we ourselves are in the midst of a kind of social experiment involving the traditional family. And while the goals are different, the elements of that experiment resemble the one Figes described. “No-fault” divorce has given the US the highest divorce rate of any Western society. Increasingly, cohabiting couples are treated the same as married ones. While child abandonment is rare, increasing numbers of children are born out-of-wedlock, all-but-abandoned by their fathers. And of course, selective abortion due to disability or gender is common practice.

The personal and social costs of this experimentation are well-documented, but they’re also ignored or at least downplayed. Why? Ideology. In this instance, it’s an ideology whose “article of faith” teaches that personal freedom and autonomy are the highest goods. Any appeal to the common good or to the traditional family’s role in promoting the common good is regarded as an imposition and even worse, as “bigotry.”

But that won’t stop the troubles we’re creating for ourselves. We can only hope that an about-face is in our not-too-distant future. Then we can all roll up our sleeves and begin cleaning up the mess.
You see this belief in the traditional family is not just a tenet of our religion. It’s reality rooted in the way God made the world.
 Attacks on marriage and sexual mores will lead to what de Tocqueville called "soft despotism".  Wikipedia has a good description of "soft despotism'.
Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people. Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. Soft despotism breeds fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the general populace. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that this trend was avoided in America only by the "habits of the heart" of its 19th-century populace.
That's exactly what we will see happen in the West and increasingly in the US.  As marriage and family breakdown it leads to calls for the state to regulate more and more aspects of our daily lives.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Problems in Minneapolis: Crime, Poverty and Bad Government Policies

Here's an interesting article on Minneapolis and its higher than average poverty and crime rates.  The author links it to bad government policies, e.g. redistributionist policies.
The city of Minneapolis, Minnesota—whose population is composed of 63.8% whites, 10.5% Hispanics, and 18.6% African Americans—has been governed exclusively by mayors from the Democratic Farmer Labor Party, the state affiliate of the Democratic Party, since 1978.

As of 2011, the poverty rate in Minneapolis was 23.5%, more than one-and-a-half times the national figure of 15%. This differential is consistent with a longstanding, well-documented trend: Virtually all of America’s poorest cities have been led politically by Democrats for many years, even decades. In 2010, for example, not even one of the ten poorest large cities in the U.S. had elected a Republican mayor since the 1980s. In fact, 8 of the 10 cities had been led exclusively by Democrats for more than half a century.
The author says the way liberals lock themselves into power is they create a political base by creating dependency on government programs which in turn causes the economic and crime problems.
The common thread running through each of these economically decrepit cities is a phenomenon that Harvard scholars Edward Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer famously dubbed “The Curley Effect,” after its prototype, James Michael Curley, who served four non-consecutive terms as mayor of Boston between 1914 and 1950. This phenomenon, Glaeser and Shleifer explain, is the strategy of “increasing the relative size of one’s political base through distortionary, wealth-reducing policies.” Forbes magazine puts it this way: “A politician or a political party can achieve long-term dominance by tipping the balance of votes in their direction through the implementation of policies that strangle and stifle economic growth. Counterintuitively, making a city poorer leads to political success for the engineers of that impoverishment.”

This typically occurs when Democratic administrations adopt policies that redistribute wealth from the prosperous to the poor, causing the latter to become economically dependent upon their political patrons, and thus to become a permanently pro-Democrat voting bloc. At the same time, these redistributive policies cause the people harmed by them (i.e., those from whom wealth is extracted) to emigrate to other cities and states, thereby further solidifying the political power of Curleyist practitioners.

The beneficiaries of Curleyist redistributionism invariably become unable to perceive the connection between left-wing policies and their negative consequences. Instead, they view Democrats as the noble, last line of defense that stands between them and total destitution. As a result, their loyalty to Democrats persists, undiminished, regardless of how bad conditions may get—chiefly because they interpret the failures of leftist policies as evidence that those policies simply did not go far enough, probably as a result of conservative obstructionism. Thus do residents of Democrat-controlled cesspools of poverty and crime continue, in perpetuity, to elect Democrats to political office.
Before the shift in power in Minneapolis to leftward politicans and policies, the city had lower poverty rates than the national average.  Now it's the opposite.
Prior to the permanent Democratic takeover of Minneapolis in 1978, the city’s poverty rate had been consistently lower than the national average. Then, through most of the 1980s, the ripples of the Reagan economic boom delivered a positive effect to cities nationwide, including Minneapolis. Indeed, Minneapolis added some 3,000 new jobs to its downtown area each year from 1981-87. In 1983, only 8% of the city’s metropolitan-area population lived below the poverty level, as compared to approximately 15% nationally.

But by 1988, Minneapolis’s left-wing Democratic mayor, Donald Fraser, had grown troubled by the stark contrast between those sections of his city that were thriving economically, and a number of African-American neighborhoods where crime, teenage pregnancy, and welfare dependency were widespread. Fraser believed that the proper remedy for these pathologies would be to implement a host of taxpayer-funded, government-administered social-welfare programs. “What is needed,” said the mayor, “is a more thoughtful discussion, a rethinking of the city, of welfare support, and it should begin right here.” Specifically, Fraser held that federal and local agencies needed to focus more of their attention and financial resources on the economic and social problems confronting unwed mothers and their children. His successors as mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton and R.T.Rybak, have shared this same perspective—a mindset that has fueled the decades-long trend of ever-increasing wealth redistribution and government subsidies for the poor, not only in Minneapolis but across the United States.
To pay for government programs and the resulting dependency, property taxes have gone up.  Only 15 cities have higher property burden than Minneapolis.
By no means is financial hardship in Minneapolis limited solely to low-income residents. Indeed, the city’s homeowners pay higher property taxes than their counterparts in most other metropolitan municipalities. One study of 142 metro areas found that only 15 of them bore a heavier property-tax burden than Minneapolis as of 2010, and that was before Minneapolis raised its property taxes by 4.7% in 2011.
And then there is the crime problem.  While things have improved, Minneapolis is still higher than the national average.
Just as Minneapolis residents face significant economic challenges, so must they deal with the city’s sizable crime problem. In the early 1990s, crime began trending downward in much of the U.S. for various reasons, including the decline of the crack cocaine epidemic, more aggressive policing strategies, and harsher punishments for criminal behavior. New York City, under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and police commissioner William Bratton, led the way in this regard with their CompStat crime-tracking system and their use of the so-called “broken-windows” approach to crime-prevention. In comparison to other cities, Minneapolis was slow to adopt the new law-enforcement and criminal-justice strategies and thus lagged behind the national trend for several years. But once the city changed its ways (e.g., by incorporating CompStat) in the late 1990s, it likewise experienced a noteworthy reduction in crime.

Notwithstanding this positive downward trend, however, crime rates in Minneapolis remain far higher than statewide and national figures alike. For example, in 2010 the violent crime rate for Minneapolis exceeded the corresponding Minnesota rate by 346.55%, and the overall U.S. rate by 161.03%. Similarly, the property crime rate in Minneapolis surpassed the Minnesota rate by 84.44%, and the national rate by 61.27%.

In a particularly ugly development, Minneapolis in recent times has been the scene of numerous incidents involving “flash mob” violence, usually by large groups of black assailants targeting white victims. For example, on March 17, 2012, a gang of some 20 young men inflicted serious brain injuries on one young man, just an hour after a large group of assailants had beaten an out-of-town couple in that same location. Six days later, without provocation, 15 to 20 suspects attacked and beat three cyclists, leaving one of the victims with a broken jaw. As Sergeant Steve McCarty of the Minneapolis Police Department observed: “It’s just mainly to create mayhem, assault people and just whatever they can do. It’s a weird mentality I don’t think a lot of people can fathom or understand. Just to victimize people.” And a few days after that, four Minneapolis juveniles assaulted two men in quick succession, rendering one of the victims unconscious and inflicting serious injuries (including a broken arm) on the other.

It has long been commonplace for Democrat-led cities to have much-higher-than-average crime rates. As of 2011, for instance, America’s ten most dangerous cities were all strongholds of Democratic political leadership. Minneapolis’s experience, therefore, is par for the course.
Yesterday, I testified at a state House hearing on a bill which would massively expand early childhood programs in the state.  Basically, the state is trying to get the poor's three and four year old kids into government subsidized preschool programs. In other words, take over parenting responsibilities from the poor.  In attendance was the above mentioned former mayor of Minneapolis Donald Fraser. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Millennials and Marriage

Are the younger generation more open to gay "marriage"?  Certainly if you look at these polling results.
Support for same-sex "marriage" is split significantly along generational lines, with opposition to marriage redefinition remaining strong among older generations and only millennials mustering majority support, according to a recent poll.

A Pew Research Forum this month found that 70 percent of those born after 1981 favor marriage redefinition. No other generation crossed the threshold of 50 percent.

Support for preserving marriage tracked largely with age. The second greatest support for marriage redefinition was among Generation X, those born between 1965-1980, with 49 percent.

America's largest population bloc, Baby Boomers, trailed far behind, with only 38 percent in favor of homosexual “marriages.”

Their views are not so different from their parents, the Silent Generation. Less than one-third of those born before 1945 would redefine marriage.

Overall, opposition to same-sex “marriage” actually increased since last year, by one percent.

Forty-nine percent of whites and 38 percent of blacks approve of homosexual matrimony. Hispanic views were not reported separately.

The polling company did not report the level of opposition to same-sex “marriage.”
Does this mean the battle is lost?  Absolutely not.  Marriage advocates just haven't effectively and consistently made their case to the public on what marriage truly is.  What its nature, purpose and importance are.

I analogize it to the abortion issue where the younger generation is more pro-life than the older generation.  That's because pro-life advocates started making an effective case to the public on what abortion is and why it's so destructive to human life and flourishing.  As for marriage, it's been redefined, a process going on for generations, as simply a strong emotional attachment.  Can it be turned around overnight?  No, but eventually it can be and will be because it's the foundation of God's created social order.  Truth ultimately prevails.  The question for us and our generation and society is will we be on the right side of truth or the wrong side.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

110 million STDs in US in 2008. A yawner for the public it seems.

The CDC has reported that there were a mind boggling 110 million cases of venereal disease in the US in 2008. This costs a chunk of change and immeasurable personal consequences.  Will this info impact sexual behavior?  I doubt it.
According to new data released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 19.7 million new venereal infections in the United States in 2008, bringing the total number of existing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the U.S. at that time to 110,197,000.

The 19.7 million new STIs in 2008 vastly outpaced the new jobs and college graduates created in the United States that year or any other year on record, according to government data. The competition was not close.

The STI study referenced by the CDC estimated that 50 percent of the new infections in 2008 occurred among people in the 15-to-24 age bracket. In fact, of the 19,738,800 total new STIs in the United States in 2008, 9,782,650 were among Americans in the 15-to-24 age bracket.

“CDC’s new estimates show that there are about 20 million new infections in the United States each year, costing the American healthcare system nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs alone,” said a CDC fact sheet.

...The most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States in 2008 was human papillomavirus (HPV), which caused 14,100,000 estimated infections that year.

After HPV, in order of magnitude, according to the study, new STIs in the U.S. in 2008 included 2,860,000 new Chlamydia infections; 1,090,000 new Trichomoniasis infections; 820,000 new Gonorrhea infections; 776,000 new Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2) infections; 55,400 new syphilis infections; 41,400 new HIV infections; and 19,000 new Hepatitis B infections.

The total of 110,197,000 existing STIs in the United States in 2008 included 79,100,000 HPV infections, 24,100,000 HSV-2 infections; 3,710,000 Trichomoniasis infections; 1,579,000 Chlamydia infections; 908,000 HIV infections; 422,000 Hepatitis B infections; 270,000 Gonorrhea infections; and 117,000 Syphilis infections.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The decline of marriage, the family, and society. The confused debate over gay "marriage".

Marriage and the family are in a state of significant decline.  Some argue it's evolving, e.g. the push for gay "marriage".  In fact it's in a state of significant of decline which means trouble for the individual and society.

Mark Steyn pulls back the curtain, if you will, in this column to highlight the illusions we're operating under.
Gay marriage? It came up at dinner Down Under this time last year, and the prominent Aussie politician on my right said matter-of-factly, “It’s not about expanding marriage, it’s about destroying marriage.”

That would be the most obvious explanation as to why the same societal groups who assured us in the Seventies that marriage was either (a) a “meaningless piece of paper” or (b) institutionalized rape are now insisting it’s a universal human right. They’ve figured out what, say, terrorist-turned-educator Bill Ayers did — that, when it comes to destroying core civilizational institutions, trying to blow them up is less effective than hollowing them out from within.

On the other hand, there are those who argue it’s a victory for the powerful undertow of bourgeois values over the surface ripples of sexual transgressiveness: Gays will now be as drearily suburban as the rest of us. A couple of years back, I saw a picture in the paper of two chubby old queens tying the knot at City Hall in Vancouver, and the thought occurred that Western liberalism had finally succeeded in boring all the fun out of homosexuality.

Which of these alternative scenarios — the demolition of marriage or the taming of the gay — will come to pass? Most likely, both. In the upper echelons of society, our elites practice what they don’t preach. Scrupulously nonjudgmental about everything except traditional Christian morality, they nevertheless lead lives in which, as Charles Murray documents in his book Coming Apart, marriage is still expected to be a lifelong commitment. It is easy to see moneyed gay newlyweds moving into such enclaves, and making a go of it. As the Most Reverend Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, said just before his enthronement the other day, “You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship.” “Stunning”: What a fabulous endorsement! But, amongst the type of gay couple that gets to dine with the Archbishop of Canterbury, he’s probably right.
I think this effort at redefinition will demolish marriage but I don't think it means gays will want to become more like heterosexuals.  For most homosexuals, marriage redefinition isn't fundamentally about access to marriage and all the benefits that come with it.  They could get that through a civil union regime.  No, it's societal endorsement.  In fact, most gays won't get married if they could.  See the data from jurisdictions which already have gay "marriage".

And he makes the case that procreative arguments used to defend marriage don't go anywhere, because heterosexuals don't believe in marriage and its purposes either.

Lower down the socioeconomic scale, the quality gets more variable. One reason why conservative appeals to protect the sacred procreative essence of marriage have gone nowhere is because Americans are rapidly joining the Scandinavians in doing most of their procreating without benefit of clergy. Seventy percent of black babies are born out of wedlock, so are 53 percent of Hispanics (the “natural conservative constituency” du jour, according to every lavishly remunerated Republican consultant), and 70 percent of the offspring of poor white women. Over half the babies born to mothers under 30 are now “illegitimate” (to use a quaintly judgmental formulation). For the first three-and-a-half centuries of American settlement the bastardy rate (to be even quainter) was a flat line in the basement of the graph, stuck at 2 or 3 percent all the way to the eve of the Sixties. Today over 40 percent of American births are “non-marital,” which is significantly higher than Canada or Germany. “Stunning” upscale gays will join what’s left of the American family holed up in a chichi Green Zone, while beyond the perimeter the vast mounds of human rubble pile up remorselessly. The conservative defense of marriage rings hollow because for millions of families across this land the American marriage is hollow.

If the Right’s case has been disfigured by delusion, the Left’s has been marked by a pitiful parochialism. At the Supreme Court this week, Ted Olson, the former solicitor general, was one of many to invoke comparisons with Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case that struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage. But such laws were never more than a localized American perversion of marriage. In almost all other common-law jurisdictions, from the British West Indies to Australia, there was no such prohibition. Indeed, under the Raj, it’s estimated that one in three British men in the Indian subcontinent took a local wife. “Miscegenation” is a 19th-century American neologism. When the Supreme Court struck down laws on interracial marriage, it was not embarking on a wild unprecedented experiment but merely restoring the United States to the community of civilized nations within its own legal tradition. Ted Olson is a smart guy, but he sounded like Mary-Kate and Ashley’s third twin in his happy-face banalities last week.

Yet, beyond the Court, liberal appeals to “fairness” are always the easiest to make. Because, for too much of its history, this country was disfigured by halfwit rules about who can sit where on public transportation and at lunch counters, the default position of most Americans today is that everyone should have the right to sit anywhere: If a man self-identifies as a woman and wants to sit on the ladies’ toilet, where’s the harm? If a woman wants to be a soldier and sit in a foxhole in the Hindu Kush, sure, let her. If a mediocre high-school student wants to sit in a college class, that’s only fair. American “rights” have taken on the same vapid character as grade-school sports: Everyone must be allowed to participate, and everyone is entitled to the same participation ribbon.

Underneath all this apparent “fairness” is a lot of unfairness. Entire new categories of crime have arisen in the wake of familial collapse, like the legions of adolescent daughters abused by Mom’s latest live-in boyfriend. Millions of children are now raised in transient households that make not just economic opportunity but even elementary character-formation all but impossible. In the absence of an agreed moral language to address this brave new world, Americans retreat to comforting euphemisms like “blended families,” notwithstanding that the familial Cuisinart seems to atomize at least as often as it blends.

Meanwhile, social mobility declines: Doctors who once married their nurses now marry their fellow doctors; lawyers who once married their secretaries now contract with fellow super-lawyers, like dynastic unions in medieval Europe. Underneath the self-insulating elite, millions of Americans are downwardly mobile: The family farmers and mill workers, the pioneers who hacked their way into the wilderness and built a township, could afford marriage and children; indeed, it was an economic benefit. For their descendants doing minimum-wage service jobs about to be rendered obsolete by technology, functioning families are a tougher act, and children an economic burden. The gays looked at contemporary marriage and called the traditionalists’ bluff.

Modern Family works well on TV, less so in the rusting double-wides of decrepit mill towns where, very quickly, the accumulated social capital of two centuries is drained, and too much is too wrecked. In Europe, where dependency, decadence, and demographic decline are extinguishing some of the oldest nations on earth, a successor population is already in place in the restive Muslim housing projects. With their vibrant multicultural attitudes to feminism and homosexuality, there might even be a great sitcom in it: Pre-Modern Family — and, ultimately, post-Modern.
And he points to fiscal conservatives who support gay "marriage" so we can get onto the really important issues the debt and Obamacare.  Here again he notes they just don't get it.  More family breakup means more big government.
“Fiscal conservatives” recoil from this kind of talk like homophobes at a bathhouse: The sooner some judge somewhere takes gay marriage off the table the sooner the right can go back to talking about debt and Obamacare without being dismissed as uptight theocratic bigots. But it doesn’t work like that. Most of the social liberalism comes with quite a price tag. The most reliable constituency for Big Government is single women, for whom the state is a girl’s best friend, the sugar daddy whose checks never bounce. A society in which a majority of births are out of wedlock cannot be other than a Big Government welfare society. Ruining a nation’s finances is one thing; debauching its human capital is far harder to fix.
What's ultimately at stake from a societal standpoint is summed up in his last sentence.  Debasing our human capital is far more significant and difficult to recover from than messed up finances.