Monday, November 23, 2009

The Daily Herald Shanks Its Health Care Manifesto

It's time to head back into the Utah County psyche and contemplate the gymnastics of logic and and reasoning of the Daily Herald. With the Senate voting to allow full debate over the health care reform bill, conservatives are apocalyptic. In a robust showing of a lack of undemocratic principles, every single Senate Republican voted against allowing debate of the bill. They don't even want the bill debated. The Daily Herald tackled the health care reform discussion with: Outright Fraud in the Health Bill.

So what is this outright fraud to which the Herald is opposed?
Consider the literal bill itself: the Senate version is numbered HR 3590, a tag that normally refers to a House Resolution. Confused? Harry Reid and his minions gutted an already passed House bill and crammed their own scheme into it.
Why? Because if the bill is OK'd by the Senate, it would go back to the House as if it were the original bill, already passed. That could bypass a conference committee and speed its passage.
It's outright fraud.
The Merriam Webster definition of fraud: "an act of deceiving or misrepresenting." This is such a common tactic in legislation that it barely warrants a sliver of a thought, and it certainly, under no detonation or connotation of the word, amounts to fraud. No one is disguising anything from anybody. If the lowly Daily Herald can spend two minutes surfing the web to come up with this open-for-all-to-see tactic, then it isn't fraud. Daily Herald: look words up before using them. Moving on:
Now consider the costs. The Democrats and some in the media will say the bill cuts costs. Baloney. Any "cuts" are achieved by shifting costs into other bills, or pushing them down the road a few years.
Now, I understand that the Daily Herald has a team of crack economists crunching numbers and sussing details, but lets turn to the fair and balanced Fox News to rebut this:
The Senate bill, which includes a government-run insurance plan that would allow states to opt out, would extend health care coverage to more than 94 percent of the population, or 31 million additional Americans. It also would cut the federal deficit by $127 billion over the first 10 years and as much as $650 billion over the next 10 years, according to the analysis by the nonpartisan CBO.
It will cut the federal deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars. Hundreds of billions. Over the next twenty years. Why is this so hard to accept? Why does this blind spot exist in the collective conservative field of vision? This is a bill that will extend coverage to nearly all Americans and cut costs. Extend coverage. Cut costs. The Daily Herald is either lying to its readers or has a basic reading comprehension disability. Which is more charitable to assume? Anyway:
You will become a statistic, an unwelcome expense for a flat-broke U.S. government.
This is oddly placed off by itself with no further reasoning or explanation. One thing I will miss about our current system, though, is the way my insurance provider treats me like a true human being. How I am called regularly just to see how I'm doing and to ask if they can do anything for me. How they send cards and flowers for major life events. How they don't run actuarial tables to determine if I am eligible for certain rates or coverage at all. Oh, and the government is not broke, and this bill will save us hundreds of billions of dollars.
Health-care rationing has been pooh-poohed. Well, a government panel announced this week that women younger than 50 or older than 75 should no longer should get routine mammograms. Why? The panel says the mammograms are not necessary -- an interesting change, and coincidental. It also saves boatloads of money.
This is a harbinger of how you can expect the government to whittle away at your health options once bureaucrats run things.
First, a recommendation based on scientific studies from a non-partisan panel is not rationing or whittling away your health options. Go and have as many mammograms as you'd like, no one will stop you. But if you want to use your resources wisely, you may consider following this recommendation. Second, it is an interesting change, and is in no way coincidental of anything. This is a study that has been going on for years and is in no way linked to the health care reform bill. Third, of course it saves money, with very few risks to women. The entire health care system is built on inefficiencies and bloated costs, so we should be applauding when a careful, thoughtful study of the system comes up with ways to save money while not endangering our health. But, whatever, Daily Herald, if you can only see rage in regards to all things government, continue on and don't let facts get in the way.

The principle concern from conservatives, it seems to me, is that the government is going to start forcing health care decisions on Americans. But we have Medicaid, Medicare, and the health insurance system that all federal government employees use that show otherwise. There is simply no evidence, beyond the bad feelings conservatives are getting about a public option, that any of this will occur. The Herald points to none, in any case.

The Herald then quotes the dean of the Harvard Medical School, who opposes the current bill. There are dozens and dozens of equally impressive people who support it. The AMA endorsed it, for instance. Quoting one smart person does not end the debate.

Then there is some talk of a Republican health care bill which no one has ever heard of, which, get this:
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the Republican House alternative would lower Americans' insurance premiums, while also cutting the federal deficit by $68 billion.
Thank goodness we have the Republicans to introduce a bill which would save Americans hundreds of billions of dollars less than the current bill. Nicely done. And thank you to the Herald for ignoring the CBO when its studies are inconvenient, citing when its studies are convenient, and undercutting your entire argument. The Republican bill would do the following:
It would let people shop for the best values by allowing companies to sell policies across state lines. It would put the brakes on runaway malpractice awards and bolster the private insurance market while encouraging employers to offer cheaper policies for people who follow healthier lifestyles. It would expand Health Savings Accounts.
Bottom line: give people more control in a free market while reining in costs.
Malpractice costs make up less than two percent of health care costs. Maybe tort reform is something to consider, but to make it the basis of health care reform is like walking into a room full of murderers and asking the teenage shoplifter to please leave because he's making you uncomfortable.

Encouraging employers to offer cheaper policies? I laughed out loud when I read that. Problem solved, America! We're going to encourage employers to offer cheaper policies! That is sure to fix the problem. Please, employers? I mean, come on, health insurance is expensive. Please lower costs?

Finally, the underregulation of the insurance companies to begin with was what created the crisis we're facing right now. Insurance companies have proven themselves to be completely irresponsible and manipulative, so I don't think giving them more freedom is the answer. They need tight regulation and Americans need true choices, which includes the ability to opt into Medicare before age 65. This will lower costs and cover nearly all Americans. This is the Democratic plan, and it represents real progress in America's health care.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Trying Terrorists in Civil Court

The latest evidence proffered by conservative ideologues that Pres. Obama is anti-American and that America is being ruined is the announcement that certain detainees from Guantanamo Bay will be tried in civil courts for the 9/11 attacks. Chief among them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of 9/11.

The reasons for conservative outrage go like this, I think:

1. These men do not deserve the privilege of the American court system. To try them in our court system would be to defile that system.

2. It is dangerous to bring these terrorists to American soil because it would invite further terrorist attacks.

3. The government would have to give up its secrets in court in order to prosecute them effectively.

4. It would be a media circus and too great a strain on our court system.

As to number one, I agree. He does not deserve due process of law. Neither did Timothy McVeigh or Jeffrey Dahmer. These types of men do not deserve the rights and privileges of due process of law. But in America this is how we do it. In America we are a nation of laws, due process, objectivity, and justice. We have a Constitution to protect us from mob rule and decisionmaking based on emotion, hatred, half-truths, rumors, and the like. It is fundamentally American, and the right thing to do, to drag these terrorists through the court system and show the world that America does things the Right Way.

Number two is, I believe, a scare tactic. There have been no other terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11, despite the fact that they have tried. We are more alert now than ever, and I believe that we are safer now than ever. I don't believe that we are more at risk having these few terrorists locked up in America than we did having them locked up 100 miles south of Florida in Cuba.

Number three is probably not going to happen to begin with, but reveals something about ourselves in any case. The government has a long standing exemption from regular discovery rules for national security secrets. They will not give away information that could be used to harm America, our troops, or our citizens. But really what we are worried about is the embarrassing stuff that could come out as a result of this trial. The torture, the poor conditions, the poor decisionmaking, and all the other skeletons in our closet regarding how we have prosecuted the war on terror.

Part of the reason I support this move by the Obama Administration is because it will lead to more openness about how we've been doing things and it will shed some light on some of our actions that we should not be proud of. Hopefully we'll come out of this a stronger nation with more desire to be just, open, and supportive of human rights than before. They will convict these terrorists no matter how embarrassing some of the details may be, so I hope we end up doing a little soul-searching along the way.

Number four is trivial and doesn't matter to me. It will be a media circus. It will strain the courts. Compared to how important it is to get this right, and show America to be just and strong and confident, those concerns mean little.

It has been well documented (I get my information from Glenn Greenwald: see here, here, here, and here, who in turn gets his information from the Pentagon, Gen. McChrystal, and others) that the imprisonment of Muslims suspected of terrorism without any sort of due process of law is a key recruiting tool for Islamic extremists. The mistreatment of extremists in our custody is driving more extremism. We have to put a stop to this, and it is within our power to do so. Muslim extremists, it is true, will never "like" us, but that is besides the point. We don't need friends, we just need to take the edge off that seething anger that drives manageable dislike to terrorism.

Trying these extremists in civil court, including KSM, is the right thing to do both for ourselves internally as a nation and our security worldwide.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Church Supports Nondiscrimination Ordinances

The Salt Lake City Council passed two nondiscrimination ordinances which make it illegal for landlords and employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The Church sent Michael Otterson, the director of its public affairs office, to make a statement supporting the ordinances.

This will no doubt come as a shock to many members of the Church who have taken a hard-line stand against homosexuals, especially after Prop 8. Perusing the internets and the comment sections on the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, I found three reactions to this news:

1) Good for the Church. This shows that they are not bigots or anti-homosexual, only that they are trying to protect marriage between a man and a woman.

No surprise, this is where I fit in. I am happy that the Church made this effort to affirm the basic dignity and rights of all people, no matter their sexual orientation. I may not have thought Prop 8 was a great idea, but I absolutely understand the desire to protect the institution of marriage. God purposely created the traditional family as the means to best prepare us for eternal life. Protecting the LGBT community against bigotry and discrimination in no way harms or undercuts this belief.

2) This is just a public relations stunt. Where was the Church during the Common Ground Initiative debates? Why should we believe the Church is committed to gay rights after the bigotry that was the Prop 8 campaign? This is merely a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done to secure equal rights for gays.

I don't think it is dissonant for the Church to have supported Prop 8 while at the same time support these nondiscrimination ordinances. The one was a direct change of the definition of marriage, the other is a basic affirmation of human dignity and human rights. The Church, doctrinally, will never change its belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and that homosexual acts are a sin, but that does not mean that they will not support rights for gay people that fall short of marriage. It is of no use for the LGBT community to get upset over it.

3) The people running to the right of the Church. They see this as just another assault on traditional marriage and will not accept any rights for homosexuals. The epitome of this is the Sutherland Institute which vigorously opposed the ordinances and put out this message yesterday:

The LDS Church, like all religions in Utah, has a vital role to play in making Utah a better place to live, work, and raise a family. Sutherland’s important role is to help elected officials craft sound, principle-based public policy toward that same end. We recognize the growing differences between religious and secular cultures within Salt Lake City and commend the LDS Church for its earnest desire to keep cultural and political tensions to a minimum.

As a public relations opportunity, the LDS Church’s statement before the Salt Lake City Council may assuage the minds and soften the hearts of advocates of “gay rights” in Utah. As a policy statement, it is problematic. The approved ordinances before the Salt Lake City Council are unsound in principle, clarity, and effect.

We have learned from California and other states that the meaning of marriage will die by a thousand cuts. Each new inclusion in the law of such vague terms as “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” represents a mounting threat to the meaning of marriage. Of course, each one, singly and in isolation, does no violence to the meaning of marriage. However, the legal debate is far ahead of such parochial analysis. Unfortunately, homosexual activists seeking to redefine the meaning of marriage – as well as activist courts seeking to do the same – do not view these types of ordinances singly or in isolation but as a pattern of public opinion to justify radical changes to law as we saw in California.

As we have stated previously, we hold that the approved ordinances are vague, dangerously broad, and unjust to the parties they seek to regulate.

We, once again, call on the Utah State Legislature to overturn these local ordinances on the basis of sound public policy.

The Sutherland Institute is a Utah-based conservative think tank, made up mostly of LDS members, whose agenda is primarily to stop any progress to humanize immigrants and homosexuals, and to support the radical de-governmentization of society. I imagine it is very uncomfortable for its many LDS members to realize that the Church is taking a decidely more centrist view on its core issues of immigration and gay rights. I don't think it is wrong to disagree with the Church's stance on these ordinances, it's just that so many people try to pin their politics to what they perceive are the Church's politics of the Republican Party that it must be astonishing when they don't line up completely.

I am not suggesting that I think the Church, as an institution, practices liberal politics. Just like don't think it practices conservative politics. My feeling is that the guiding principles the Church espouses when it comes to involvement in political debates are to: 1) defend our beliefs and 2) show Christlike love to all. If that means opposing gay marriage but supporting gay rights, then so be it. If that means requiring all members to obey the law but turning the other way when it comes to illegal immigrants, so be it.

We get so caught up in our understanding of American politics that we, and I'm absolutely including myself here, try to pigeon-hole the Church into one American political ideology or the other. It should be clear by now that this is a mistake, and that God works so far above these human-created distinctions that it is embarrassing to even put them in the same sentence.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fort Hood Memorial Service Roll Call

I don't have anything interesting or new to say about the tragedy at Fort Hood. Of course our hearts go out to the family and friends and fellow soldiers of the murdered. I usually won't just copy a video or link and leave it at that, but I found this so moving that I wanted to share it:

The silence for the few moments after the names of the murdered are called is so poignant it speaks louder and clearer, I think, than anything anyone could say.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Health Care Reform Passes in House, America Dies

America has survived the Revolutionary War, traitors, the Alien and Sedition Acts, the first ever peaceful exchange of political power between opposing political parties, the War of 1812, slavery, the first death of a sitting president, the Trail of Tears, the Missouri Compromise, Dred Scott, the Civil War, the suspension of habeas corpus, the assassination of our greatest president, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, the disputed election of 1876, the corruption of the Gilded Age, the assassinations of a couple more presidents, the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Espionage and Sedition Acts, Eugene Debbs, the Great Depression, the New Deal, J. Edgar Hoover, Pearl Harbor, World War II, the Smith Act, Japanese Internment camps, FDR court packing, desegregation, McCarthyism, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of JFK, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Great Society, the Vietnam War, Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Cold War, two Iraq Wars, impeachment of the president, 9/11, and an administration that tortured and started unprovoked wars and illegally wiretapped and spied on American citizens. Just to name a few.

We have been attacked and mauled from without and from within. We have suppressed and brutalized minorities. We have allowed our most basic civil liberties to be trampled during almost every war we've ever fought. We have been so divided we've started an internal war.

Through it all, however, America has remained the greatest nation on Earth and triumphed again and again. It is tempting to call it destiny, looking back, but it is also because of the strength and resiliency of the American people. It is because of the genius of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. It is because, deep down, Americans have a sense of justness and fairness and liberty that no other nation has ever achieved.

But it's all over, folks. We may have endured those difficult times, but we've encountered something greater than them all: The 111th House of Representatives has passed health care reform. This is the end of America. Liberty itself is now dead. The Constitution has been broken. Democracy is failing.

Nothing in our 233-year history could have prepared us for this. The rest of the world may have watched the Civil War unfold and predicted the end of the Great Experiment, but if they could have seen health care reform they would have viewed that war as a mere pittance in comparison. We may be a nation that is strong and resilient and jealous of our liberties and freedoms, but when one house of Congress passes a bill reforming a broken health care system and allowing all Americans essentially to opt in to Medicare before the age of 65, well, that is too much for even the most freedom-loving people.

So goodnight, fair America. You were a beacon of justice and liberty for so long. We will always remember you with fondness. But every great nation must pass away eventually. Because of health care reform.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Green China

China has made significant political, economic, and environmental progress since the Tian'anmen Square incident of 1989. One major reason that incident was so important is because of the amount, and type, of media coverage it received. I feel that it was truly the turning point of modern China; a moment of shame that sparked the realization that the rest of the world was watching China, and despite their best efforts, the government couldn't keep the wool in place.

China remains a socialist country according to its behavior, and as stated in Article 1 of the Chinese constitution. As such, perhaps many people's deep rooted belief that anything related to "socialism" keeps us cautiously sinophobic. I do agree that there are countless examples of misuse of power in China, including, but not limited to, the suppression of personal freedoms and freedom of the press - for example, government blocking of facebook, twitter, youtube, etc. However, I suggest that we can still benefit by inspecting some aspects of China's policy that are on the right track, and may be even more progressive than our own.

China is a world powerhouse, if not soon The powerhouse. It is one of the commercial mainstays of the world, and its industrial output continues to exceed our own. But economic policy and progress aside, I am fascinated by the push in China to "go green."

Two major areas have started to emerge as fundamental changes in government regulation. The first is the transportation industry, the second is the power industry. China announced last year that several automakers were exploring the production of electric cars, with two manufactures to date already reaching the goal. Interestingly, the government has already committed to subsidizing the purchase of clean cars to be used in a number of cities "by public transport operators, taxi companies and postal and sanitary services."

But this is in the future, right?

I visited the city of Xi'an this summer (famous for the Terracotta soldiers). All scooters are, by law, electric powered which cuts down on both exhaust and noise pollution. All taxi cabs, by law, have been converted to run on natural gas. In fact, there is an initiative to increase the development of Xi'an as the "port" city to the vast resources of western China, and government oversight is trying to ensure the growth and expansion of the city happens with a green foundation by awarding contracts to companies that are "green." Which brings us to the second aspect of government intervention to push the green envelope.

A few years ago, the Three Gorges Dam was completed and the hydroelectric generators started up, bringing energy desperately needed to the region. Although this particular dam is riddled with controversy, it is a step in the right direction, and with the passage of a Renewable Energy Law in 2005, other hydroelectric power stations will follow.

China has also recently begun to investigate wind power. A new coalition was announced in October that partners workers and investors both in the US and in China to develop and manufacture large scale wind farms. The deal does include spending some of the money set aside by the economic stimulus plan, and the project will create jobs locally in Texas as well as in China. I think this is a great direction for our two countries - to pursue a common goal that will benefit citizens of each.

China is also exploring other forms of renewable energy including biomass, solar, and geothermal (of which they are already number one in the world).

But when do these advancements reach the general public?

It already has. In my travels in China, I have recently noticed every (literally) rooftop being decorated with the same object - a solar-powered water heater. These units do not power any electrical outlets, but they do capture the sun's power to heat enough water for all daily use, including showers, washing clothes and dishes, and cooking. Amazingly, these units are very cheap (about $170), and are available in even the most rural of settings.

"Green" is a hot topic, and although the US leads the world in talking about the problem, countries like China openly discussing the problems, and are using government intervention to solve it. We have done some good things, but this is still one aspect where I think government policies and oversight may be the only way to guarantee success.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Extreme Right-Wing Strategy Fails, At Least This Once

I think it is dangerous to put too much stock into these really off-year elections. There are so few that the national infortainment machine puts excess weight on each. The governorships in Virginia and New Jersey went from Democrat to Republican. Independents in those states that voted for Pres. Obama, and who, in exit polls, still supported the president, voted for the Republican governor. Not a great sign for Democrats, but really a small sample size.

The other race that, for me at least, was the most interesting was the special election in NY-23. In that race you started out with Democrat Bill Owens, Republican Dede Scozzafava, and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. Scozzafava is a moderate, which conservative ideologues and purists did not appreciate, to the point that they drove her right out of the race. Palin, Bachmann, Fred Thompson, Dick Armey, and the unholy trio of Beck-Limbaugh-Hannity all publicly supported the extreme conservative Hoffman over their party's moderate candidate. Scozzafava dropped out and urged her supporters to vote for the Democrat, Bill Owens.

Like I said, it is dangerous to put too much weight on single races like this, but this really felt like a war between the purity v. big-tent conservatives to see who would take control of the party. And the purity group won. They are pushing moderates out left and right. They are anointing extreme right-wingers to lead the party.

So what happened in that race, to the seat that has been solidly Republican since the Civil War? The Democrat won.

An ideologically pure, kick-out-the-extremists political party cannot be a national power, whether conservative or liberal. If the Republican party is intent on purging itself of moderates then it will continue to fail like it has for the past few years. I understand that some people in the party want to stick to their extreme-right agenda. They should be perfectly free to do so. But that does not mean they should alienate other moderate conservatives from their party. There is room for both. The Democrats are now the party that attracts moderate voices because they are a "big-tent" party. Just look at how much power the Blue Dogs have. There is no corresponding moderate bloc of Congresspeople among Republicans.

So we should not put too much emphasis on these few races, but that doesn't mean we can't learn something from them. And one thing we can learn is that pure ideology at the expense of more widespread appeal is a strategy for failure.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Unity Despite Political Differences

BYU recently held its "Religion and Politics: The Philosophical Problem and Its Contemporary Implications" symposium. All I can glean so far is what the Deseret News reported, the goal of which seemed to be to lump as many different thoughts from different people into one short column as possible. So I haven't gotten too much information yet and I'm hoping a transcript becomes available soon.

One point I wanted to hit on was from BYU political science professor Ralph Hancock who is paraphrased as saying that we, as Mormons, have three choices when it comes to politics: "claim to be a part of the mainstream, beg tolerance or work to change the mainstream." I take this to mean that if we join the mainstream we do so at the risk of our own principles and beliefs. If we beg tolerance we maintain our integrity but do nothing to become a positive force for good in the nation. That leaves us with the option of going out and trying to change the mainstream.

He went on to say:
We cannot shrink from the challenge of inflecting the majority in as wholesome a direction as might be possible. Neutrality is a lure; it's a trap. There cannot and will not be such a thing. Our task ought to be: make as many of the best kinds of friends as we can to affect the best direction of our … public discourse.
The question, I guess, is whether there is only one way, politically, to be a positive influence on the "mainstream." Do we have to stand together as members of the Church on every political issue to make a positive difference? I've noticed ever since I starting writing this blog how divisive politics is, even among members of the Church. Check out the comments section to newspapers that mix religion and politics to see just how nasty and inhuman and unChristian we can be towards each other over politics. Then remember this commandment: "I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine."

It would be nice, for me, if every member of the Church adopted my politics and was one with me. Unfortunately, I don't believe this was the commandment. I also don't believe that this commandment requires that members of the Church all espouse the same politics. Remember, our Church leaders have expressly encouraged political plurality. What we want is to be unified in love and respect for each other, and unified on "points of doctrine."

So when we flex our political muscles as members of the Church I don't think we all need to be flexing the same muscle in unison. I think we can disagree on politics and still remain "one." I also think there can be issues that members of the Church from all political persuasions can stand behind. Freedom of religion comes to mind. Otherwise it is up to us as individuals to understand the points of doctrine, live them, and then decide on our own how to best influence the "mainstream" to change for the better. I don't think there is a single, simple way to accomplish this goal, and it probably affirmatively requires voices from many different points of view.

But we are Mormons first, and liberals and conservatives somewhere further down the list. We have to stand together as members of the Church before we can stand with our separate political parties. This Church has never been affiliated with one political party over any other, and I'm not sure why there is a desire to do so now.