Monday, December 28, 2009

Twas the Night Before Christmas

When all through the House,
Act'lly it was the Senate, sorry for the rouse;
With congress in session for the first time in years
The parties were separate, sitting only with peers
Healthcare was the debate, as long it had been,
Still no common ground, no mutual win;
Conservatives scoffed at everything brought,
Democrats trimmed away things that they sought;
Amid cries of "redneck" or "you lame communist"
Nobody would bend, to what others wished.
In the end there was a vote, along party lines
The bill "IT HAS PASSED" despite all the whines.

So, obviously I'm not lyrically gifted, but considering the season, I thought I'd try for a little parody. Maybe it comes from my complete disgust of popular media's relentless moaning over healthcare reform. Regardless, I think a couple of things need to be made clear - an insane number of people do not have healthcare coverage; the current healthcare system is not effective because it leaves too many people without coverage; healthcare premiums continue to increase, while the coverage continues to decrease; access to medical care is a RIGHT; all rights are tethered to responsibilities.

According to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), more than 45 million people will be without health insurance in 2009. I'll be upfront about "estimates" and that I think one can manipulate statistics readily to tell a story, however, this can only be done to a point. So let's say for arguments sake that the CBO has inadvertently doubled the amount of people without health insurance so that there are actually only 22.5 million without it. That's only 8 times the population of the state of Utah, so a much more palatable number. Be it 22 million, or 45 million, that's a ridiculous amount of people to have no coverage. Luckily we are able to help some of them with medicare and medicaid.

Oh, I forgot to mention, about 10 million of those people are actually children, so it's hard for me to swallow the argument that those without coverage are lazy bottom-feeders that are looking for a free ride.

Of those of us that still are able to pay for some kind of a plan, the rates continue to rise, while the coverage falls. I'm not just citing ostensibly biased surveys, but my own personal experience. My rates for a private plan (from IHC) increased every year from 2002-2007, after which we moved to an employer-based plan that also increased its yearly premium from 2007 to the present. What concerns me is not just the increase (inflation explains part of it), but the necessity for rates to go up so dramatically (>130%). Translating that means that if you spent $100 ten years ago, then this year you would be upwards of $230 with less coverage.

I am extremely disappointed that universal healthcare has been dropped from the current proposal. The majority of developed countries (by majority I mean 97%) already have some form of universal coverage in place. This is my favorite map. Glad that we are on par with Africa and Southeast Asia. The entire European Union has adopted various forms of universal healthcare because they agree that medical access is a right of each of their citizens. Don't confuse my support of universal healthcare with the pretense that all these systems are without flaw. I case-by-case analysis of each form would be fantastic, and beneficial in developing a system for the United States. Why must we re-invent the wheel?

I digress. The point is that as a population moves away from despondency and poverty, the trend is for an understanding that all citizens (as part of the "life" clause) deserve healthcare. If private industry could guarantee that, I would advocate the system. Fortunately governments "were instituted of God for the benefit of man". Unfortunately, I don't think that equal coverage or access can be guaranteed on a State level, but will require the intervention of the Federal government. Hence the current reform.

Lastly, a few good things I like in the current bill (which is difficult to read, but should at least be read by EVERY individual, D or R or I, voting on the bill) -

- establish strict federal standards for insurance companies
- limitations on the amount of profit per premium dollar
- insures can not deny coverage because of a person's medical condition
- higher premiums can not be charged based on gender or health status
- companies can not rescind coverage when a person gets sick or disabled

It's a start.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Liberalism and Agency

Of all the reasons given for why a person can't be a good Mormon and liberal, the one used most often is that liberalism takes away free agency. This is the one conservative Mormon activists tend to favor. I attempted to refute this argument in my post "Agency and Democracy," wherein I argued that as long as we live in a democracy where we are allowed to vote, we retain our agency. I also pointed out that conservatives have taken a lot of my money and used it for things with which I disagreed, such as torture, the Iraq War, illegal wiretaps, and tax cuts for the wealthy, thereby highlighting the hypocrisy of this accusation.

I continue to encounter the liberals-as-anti-agency accusation, though, and so have thought a little more about it and want to take a different angle. The conservative Mormon activist argument, by the way, is that liberals want to take away our agency by raising taxes to pay for government programs. The person, then, has less agency because she has less money in the bank.

This argument says way more about the conservatives that put it forward than the liberals they are accusing. What it says is that they only think of agency in economic terms, whereas the idea of agency in scriptures and religion is in entirely clothed moral terms. Our eternal progress is dependent on our using our agency to make good decisions morally, not good decisions with our temporal wealth. Do we treat our families well? Do we honor our covenants? Do we live Christ-like lives? The use of our agency in these important areas has nothing to do with taxes, government regulation, or any other temporal, man-made, economic consideration.

Under a system where capitalism is regulated in order to level the playing field just enough to get people out of poverty and have health security, we are still able to exercise our agency completely, fully, unfettered. We are still able to make those most important decisions that will enable us to receive the gift of eternal life.

To suggest that liberals deprive individuals of the full range of their free agency based purely on economic motives reveals, in my mind, a fundamental misunderstanding of the principle of agency and the very purpose of this life. It is time we (including myself, of course) spent less time worried about our money and temporal possessions and more time worried about living Christ-centered lives.

I have no problem with an argument about taxes, social programs, and government regulation in terms of public policy, there is legitimate room for debate there, but I cannot see merit in opposing liberal ideology in terms of deprivation of free agency.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


The authors of the Mormon Left have been a little distracted and busy as of late. It may not be the most glamorous or popular blog on the internets, but if anyone would like to send articles/essays/opinions for us to post, please feel free to send them to the email address on the right of the page and we'll see about adding some new and exciting voices our repertoire. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An Offense Against Religious Freedom and Tolerance

Switzerland recently voted to ban the construction of Muslim minarets. They reasoned that the minarets are symbols of a radical religion bent on violence and terrorism. I guess the money quote from that article is this:
"The minaret is a sign of political power and demand, comparable with whole-body covering by the burqa, tolerance of forced marriage and genital mutilation of girls," the sponsors said. They said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared mosques to Islam's military barracks and called "the minarets our bayonets."
I've got to say that this is incredibly disturbing to me and represents a line of thinking that could be used against any religion in the future. The Swiss have taken a religion with a billion peaceful adherents and boiled them all down to intolerant genital mutilators and taken away their right to practice their religion.

Using this line of reasoning, we could ban any new construction of Catholic cathedrals because they are a sign of political power, comparable to pedophilia and the Crusades, and are just training grounds for future child molesters.

We could do the same with Mormon temples or any other religious place of worship. No religion is free from mistakes or radicals, but the same is true of just about any other institution. Democracies have institutionalized slavery and war. Charities have funded fraud and embezzlement. We are not suggesting banning the construction of new government buildings or stopping the creation of new charities. But it is much easier to go after religions, because they are based on faith, which public policy has a hard time grasping.

And the threat to religions comes from both sides of the political spectrum. The attack on Islam in Switzerland came from the extreme right. The extreme right here in America has a similar view of Islam and would similarly love to wipe the religion out. There was also the harsh treatment of Mormonism by the conservative right fundamentalists precipitated by the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. Likewise, the extreme left has an uneasy relationship with religion because it (the extreme left) is trending more and more secular and does not care for fixed moralism. So on one extreme side you have the desire to exterminate all religions except for the one (usually fundamental Protestantism) that you believe is most correct, and on the other you have the desire to exterminate all religions equally.

Of course neither is right. And while I don't believe that our freedom of religion is under attack, and I don't feel like, as a Mormon or a believer in general, that I am a second-class citizen, it is fairly clear how the extremists would make it happen like they did in Switzerland to Muslims. I don't think it is too alarmist to suggest, then, that we should be on the lookout for offenses against our freedom of religion in America, like that in Switzerland.

But part of this falls on the religious, as well, to behave in such a way that makes it easy for us to retain our freedoms. The religious, and Mormons in particular, should be acutely aware of how any hint of religious in-fighting, an attempt to legislate our beliefs, moral superiority, or intolerance of other beliefs systems (including atheism) can open the door, fairly or unfairly, to limiting religious freedom.