Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Flat Tax

Yesterday was tax deadline day and Bill Whittle, the "virtual president," observed the occasion by making a succinct case for a flat tax. God bless him:
One of the key points in this video, in my opinion, was the statistic on how much of the tax burden is born by the top 1%, top 5%, and everyone else. When half the country pays no income tax they really have no investment in the country. That's not a good situation - for them or for the country.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Other Shoe Is About to Drop

Betsy McCaughey is an expert on health care issues who has been highly critical of Obamacare. In a column in the New York Post she warns that the worst is yet to come. Insurance companies will be rolling out their new policies in June and McCaughey predicts that it will not be pretty. She highlights four big problems that will emerge over the coming year: Premium defaults, premium increases, loss of on-the-job coverage, and loss of cancer care coverage. Here's a summary of each of her points:

Premium Defaults: Twenty percent of the alleged 7.5 million people who have signed up in the exchanges have not paid their first premium and aren't covered, but that's not the worst of it:
The bigger question is how many will keep paying premiums. That’s got the American Medical Association, a chief ObamaCare booster, so worried that it’s sending warnings to its members.

Why the concern? First-time insurance purchasers, especially those living paycheck to paycheck, will be shocked by ObamaCare’s high deductibles, about $3,000 for the silver plan (the most commonly selected) and $5,000 for the bronze plan (the most affordable).

Basically, you’ll have to pay thousands out of pocket for appointments, tests and prescriptions until you reach your deductible.

Rather than pay thousands out of pocket for care while also paying premiums, some will quit paying premiums.

That’s why the AMA is worried. Section 1412 of the health law gives consumers a 90-day “grace period” before their subsidized plan is canceled for nonpayment. But insurers only have to keep paying doctors and hospitals for 30 days. The next 60 days of care are on the care provider. The AMA says “it could pose a significant financial risk for medical practices.”
Not only will the deductibles be a shock to consumers, so will the premium hikes which come out in June:
Overall, consumers had to pay far more for individual plans this year. In some states (Delaware and New Hampshire), rates went up 90 percent or even 100 percent, according to a newly released Morgan Stanley analysis.

And insurance executives already are warning about double- or triple-digit hikes for next year. “I do think it’s likely premium-rate shocks are coming,” said Chet Burrell, CEO of Care First BlueCross BlueShield. Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, one of the first to raise the alarm, said increases “could go as high as 100 percent.”
Meanwhile, 25 million to 30 million Americans could lose coverage in the coming months:
For the same reasons that millions of policies in the individual market were canceled last year, employers who buy plans in the small-group market will have a hard time renewing their old plans this year. Many will have to choose between providing the more costly ObamaCare benefit package or dropping coverage altogether.

Count on employers with low-wage work forces (such as retailers, hoteliers and restaurateurs) to push employees and their families into the exchanges.
And if you have cancer your access to good treatment will be restricted:
Cancer is the leading cause of death in America and our No. 1 health fear. But access to the nation’s top cancer centers is becoming a hot-button issue, as ObamaCare enrollees are finding how few choices of hospitals and doctors they have.

Many plans exclude all specialty cancer hospitals, even though research shows that women with ovarian cancer, for example, live a year longer when they are treated at high-volume cancer hospitals instead of local facilities. But insurers say they’d have to raise premiums for exchange plans even higher if this growing outrage over access to cancer centers forces them to broaden their networks.
If McCaughey's analysis turns out to be correct, it's hard to see how Mr. Obama's signature achievement, Obamacare, will not go down in history as a national calamity.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Academic Justice

A recent column by New York Times columnist Russ Douthat calls our attention to an article written last February by a Harvard senior for the university paper The Crimson. The student's name is Sandra Korn and she illustrates perfectly the left-wing progressive mindset.

Ms Korn thinks academic freedom is a bad thing and should be replaced in academia by what she calls "academic justice," which, given her description of it, is the exact opposite of both "academic" and "justice." In Ms Korn's view "justice" pretty much means "agreeing with her." Here's her introduction:
In July 1971, Harvard psychology professor Richard J. Herrnstein penned an article for Atlantic Monthly titled “I.Q.” in which he endorsed the theories of UC Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen, who had claimed that intelligence is almost entirely hereditary and varies by race. Herrnstein further argued that because intelligence was hereditary, social programs intended to establish a more egalitarian society were futile—he wrote that “social standing [is] based to some extent on inherited differences among people.”

When he returned to campus for fall semester 1971, Herrnstein was met by angry student activists. Harvard-Radcliffe Students for a Democratic Society protested his introductory psychology class with a bullhorn and leaflets. They tied up Herrnstein’s lectures with pointed questions about scientific racism. SDS even called for Harvard to fire Herrnstein, along with another of his colleagues, sociologist Christopher Jencks.

Did SDS activists at Harvard infringe on Herrnstein’s academic freedom? The answer might be that yes, they did—but that’s not the most important question to ask. Student and faculty obsession with the doctrine of “academic freedom” often seems to bump against something I think much more important: academic justice.
We might pause at this point to ask this question: What if an unpopular view like Herrnstein's happens to be true? Truth seems not to matter to academic brownshirts like Ms Korn. Nor does it seem to occur to her that she might not be in possession of the truth herself and might have something to learn from someone who has actually been around a few decades longer than she has. This is all obfuscation, however, to progressives like Ms Korn. Herrnstein and those like him shouldn't be allowed to promote their views in the university because left-wing progressives find those views deplorable. She states:
If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.
Has it occurred to Ms Korn that preventing people from pursuing the truth is also a form of oppression? Isn't it oppressive to deprive people of the freedom to voice their opinions? Is not Ms Korn herself "justifying oppression" of a different sort? All of which raises a further question. What if, per impossible, the university were to consider the views of Ms Korn to be insidiously harmful to the values Americans cherish? Would the university be warranted in shutting her up? Would silencing her be an act of academic justice?
The power to enforce academic justice comes from students, faculty, and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to do....Only those who care about justice can take the moral upper hand.

It is tempting to decry frustrating restrictions on academic research as violations of academic freedom. Yet I would encourage student and worker organizers to instead use a framework of justice. After all, if we give up our obsessive reliance on the doctrine of academic freedom, we can consider more thoughtfully what is just.
Well, since Ms Korn is concerned about the "moral upper hand" let's ask this question: At a secular institution like Harvard, run, no doubt, by secular progressives like Ms Korn, what exactly is the "moral upper hand"? Indeed, what is her conception of justice? Secularists like to throw around words like "morality" and "justice" while simultaneously dismissing the idea that these terms actually mean anything.

When we peel away progressive rhetoric what we find is that "moral" is whatever the left thinks is just, and "justice" is whatever leftist cause happens to be in fashion on any given day. Beyond this the words mean nothing. They have no objective significance because they have no objective ground.

Only a justice rooted in a transcendent, perfectly good, moral authority - the God of Christian theism, for example - can carry any obligation to observe its strictures. If God is disregarded, as the left generally insists he be, then justice is reduced to nothing more than a term that packs a rhetorical wallop, but actually refers to nothing more than one's subjective preferences.

A well-known twentieth century progressive, the Russian dictator and mass murderer Vladimir Lenin, put it this way: "We repudiate all morality (i.e. concepts of justice) that proceeds from supernatural ideas....[Justice] is entirely subordinate to the interests of class war. Everything is [just] that is necessary to the annihilation of the old exploiting social order and for uniting the proletariat."

To which Ms Korn presumably lends her enthusiastic assent.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

All Cultures Are Not Equal

I was away most of the last couple of days so I thought I'd run a piece from the archives that dovetails with a couple of recent posts. This one's from December 27, 2010:

Paul Marshall is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. He studies the persecution of Christians and has a very sobering piece at National Review Online on the atrocities many Christian believers are forced to suffer around the globe. One wonders why there's not an international outcry against the sort of brutal oppression he recounts. It certainly doesn't seem to have triggered the same sort of response that, say, the deaths of a half dozen terrorists at the hands of Israelis attempting to enforce an embargo would trigger.

I copy Marshall's full essay here because it just seems too important to interrupt by having the reader go to the link. I hope he and NRO don't mind. Please read it all:
Herod has his current imitators. In 1991, China’s state-run press noted the role of the churches in undercutting Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, adding that if China did “not want such a scene to be repeated in its land, it must strangle the baby while it is still in the manger.” Al-Qaeda has declared that all Middle Eastern Christians should be killed, and many Christians in Iraq have canceled their Christmas celebrations lest they be targeted.

Others, while less explicit, have similar ends. Iran has passed a death sentence on Yousef Nadarkhani, pastor of the Full Gospel Church of Iran congregation in the northern city of Rasht. Nadarkhani became a Christian 16 years ago and was arrested on October 12, 2009, after protesting a government decision that his son must study the Koran. On Sept. 21 and 22, 2010, the Eleventh Chamber of the Assizes Court of Gilan Province said that he was guilty of apostasy and sentenced him to death for leaving Islam. (Apostasy is not a crime under any Iranian statute — the judges simply referred to the opinions of Iranian legal scholars).

Another Iranian Christian pastor, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, may face a similar fate. He was arrested on June 6, 2010, and is still being held even though his detention order expired in October.

In Afghanistan, after a TV program showed video of indigenous Christians worshiping last May, many Christians were forced to flee, and as many as 25 were arrested. One of those arrested was Said Musa, a father of six young children, who had converted to Christianity eight years previous. He had stepped on a landmine while serving in the Afghan Army and now has a prosthetic leg. Musa had worked for the Red Cross/Red Crescent for 15 years, fitting patients for prosthetic limbs — it was after going to their office in Kabul on May 31 to request leave that he was arrested.

The prosecutor, Din Mohammad Quraishi, said Musa was accused of conversion to another religion. In early June, the deputy secretary of the Afghan parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, said that “those Afghans that appeared on this video film should be executed in public.” The authorities forced Musa to renounce Christianity on television, but he has continued to say he is a Christian. In the first months of his detention, he suffered sexual abuse, beatings, mockery, and sleep deprivation because of his faith. He appeared, shackled, before a judge on November 27. No Afghan lawyer will defend him and, in early December, authorities denied him access to a foreign lawyer.

Another Afghan Christian, Shoib Assadullah, was arrested on October 21, 2010, for giving a copy of the New Testament to a man, and is being held in Mazar-e-Sharif. As with Musa, no Afghan lawyer has agreed to defend him, and both will probably face charges of apostasy, a crime that is punishable by death under the government’s version of sharia. As the State Department’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report notes, religious freedom in Afghanistan has diminished “particularly for Christian groups and individuals.”

One of the most ignored stories of 2010 has been the campaign by the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab militia in Somalia to kill all Somali Christians on the grounds that they are apostates. They have even beheaded Christians’ children. In one of the latest incidents, 17-year-old girl Nurta Mohamed Farah fled her village of Bardher in the Gedo Region after her parents shackled her to a tree and tortured her for leaving Islam. She went to the Galgadud Region to live with relatives, but shortly after, she was shot in the head and the chest and died.

Not content with killing people, on December 16, al-Shabab destroyed a Christian library they found in a derelict farm in the Luuq district — Christians often bury their Bibles and other books to escape detection. International Christian Concern reports that al-Shabab brought Bibles, Christian books, and audio/video materials to the city center and burned them after noon prayers.

At Christmas, we should remember these churches, each of which continues to grow, and remember these prisoners and others like them. Assadullah emphasizes that he “wants others to know that he is not frightened, and that his faith is strong.” Musa writes that “because the Holy Spirit always with me my situation is not bad until now. I see after what the plan of God is with me.”
It's a symptom of intellectual insecurity, I suppose, that people are so threatened by another belief system, one that does them no harm and has certainly done them much good, that they'll seek to kill those who adhere to it. It's a symptom not only of stupidity but also of savagery and barbarism.

Perhaps the best reason for pulling our troops and aid out of Afghanistan, indeed the toughest question that I've seen posed by advocates of getting out now, is Why should American soldiers be fighting and dying for people like these? That's a hard one to answer.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hirsi Ali and Liberal Core Values

By now you've probably heard about the contretemps surrounding Brandeis University's decision, under President Frederick Lawrence, to rescind its offer of an honorary doctorate degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. For those who may not know, Ali was a Somali girl who suffered a clitorectomy when she was young and was later married off against her will to a cousin living in Canada. En route to Canada via Germany, she took a train to the Netherlands and stayed. Eventually she ran for parliament and won.

She and another member of parliament, Theo van Gogh, great grandson of the famous artist, spoke out strongly against Islamic hatred and violence. Van Gogh was murdered in the street by a Muslim man who stuck a note in van Gogh's chest with a knife threatening Ali with the same fate. Here's Mark Steyn writing about her a number of years ago:
She lives under armed guard and was forced to abandon the Netherlands because quite a lot of people want to kill her. And not in the desultory behead-the-enemies-of-Islam you-will-die-infidel pro forma death-threats-R-us way that many of us have perforce gotten used to in recent years: her great friend and professional collaborator was murdered in the streets of Amsterdam by a man who shot him eight times, attempted to decapitate him, and then drove into his chest two knives, pinning to what was left of him a five-page note pledging to do the same to her.

What would you do in those circumstances? Would you be [going out in public] with a price on your head? Or would you duck out of sight, lie low, change your name, move to New Zealand, and hope one day to get your life back? After the threats against the Comedy Central show South Park the other week, Ms. Hirsi Ali turned up on CNN to say that the best defence against Islamic intimidation is for us all to stand together and thereby "share the risk." But, around the world, every single translator of her books has insisted on total anonymity. When push comes to shove, very few are willing to share the risk.
Ali resigned from parliament when it was discovered that she had made false statements when she originally entered the country. Under constant threat of death for her outspoken criticisms of Islam and her apostasy (she became an atheist) she fled to the U.S. where she's accompanied by bodyguards twenty four hours a day. Still, despite the threats, she speaks out. She's a woman of incredible courage, a courage that dwarfs the pusillanimous administration of Brandeis University which sniffs that she doesn't reflect their "core values" because she once called Islam a “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”

Here's an example of the sort of thing Ali has been inveighing against. It's an illustration of what's happening to Christians throughout the Muslim world. This young Saudi girl, according to the source, had her eye and lips sewn shut because she had the impertinence to declare out loud in the presence of her Muslim employer, that Jesus was her savior.
Because Ali has had the courage to publicly condemn atrocities like this, and the beliefs which motivate them, Brandeis has decided that she is at odds with their "core values." One wonders what sort of values these might be with which Ali is in conflict.

You can find more commentary on Brandeis' decision to withdraw its offer to award Ali an honorary degree here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The 77% Factoid

On Tuesday of this week President Obama delivered himself of a claim that he's made several times in the past. He asserted that,
Today, the average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns…in 2014, that’s an embarrassment. It is wrong.
He obviously intended to give the impression that there's a fundamental injustice in how men and women are compensated in the American workplace, but surely he knows better.

The Washington Post's fact checker Glenn Kessler explains. Here are a few excerpts:
June O’Neill, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who has been a critic of the 77-cent statistic, has noted that the wage gap is affected by a number of factors, including that the average woman has less work experience than the average man and that more of the weeks worked by women are part-time rather than full-time. Women also tend to leave the work force for periods in order to raise children, seek jobs that may have more flexible hours but lower pay and choose careers that tend to have lower pay.

When such differences are accounted for, much of the hourly wage gap dwindled, to about 5 cents on the dollar.

Indeed, BLS data show that women who do not get married have virtually no wage gap; they earn 96 cents for every dollar a man makes.
One study, for example, found that nine of the ten most remunerative college majors were dominated by men while nine of the ten least remunerative majors were dominated by women.

Not only does wittingly citing bogus statistics do nothing to engender confidence in the President's integrity it also made him look derisible when it was discovered that the wage disparity between men and women working in the White House is greater than it is in Washington as a whole:
McClatchy newspapers did the math and reported that when the same standards that generated the 77-cent figure were applied to White House salaries, women overall at the White House make 91 cents for every dollar men make. White House spokesman Jay Carney protested that the review “looked at the aggregate of everyone on staff, and that includes from the most junior levels to the most senior.” But that’s exactly what the Census Department does.
Kessler concludes that,
Unless women stop getting married and having children, and start abandoning careers in childhood education for naval architecture, this huge gap in wages will almost certainly persist. Democrats thus can keep bringing it up every two years.
There's a gap, but it's hardly the embarrassment the President claims it is. Indeed, the embarrassment is that despite having been repeatedly corrected on this factoid he persists in trotting it out. One might be forgiven for thinking that the dissimulation is a deliberate attempt to mislead the American people in order to give the Democrats an issue upon which they can hang their hat in November.

It's just a shame that Mr. Obama can't find an issue about which he can tell the truth and have it work to his political advantage. Apparently there aren't many of those out there.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mozilla Offers a Glimpse of the Future

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary has written a fine piece highlighting the hypocrisy of the left concerning the Brandon Eich firing at Mozilla. Here are some highlights:
Though some are a bit shame-faced to do so, some liberals have decided that punishing individuals for their personal politics is OK because those who hold opinions contrary to their own are not only wrong but so hateful that their mere presence undermines the efforts of those associated with them.

That this is rank hypocrisy is so obvious that it barely needs to be said. If, say, a liberal business executive were to be ousted from a similar position at a Fortune 500 company because a lot of the shareholders or executives at the business didn’t like the fact that he or she was a supporter of gay marriage or had donated to prominent liberal candidates for office, you can bet your stock portfolio and your mortgage payment that the mainstream media and every left-wing pundit in creation would be anointing such a person for sainthood rather than twisting themselves into pretzels in order to justify Eich’s defenestration, as so many have already done.

That Mozilla’s employees and board members actually think it is consistent with American values or even “freedom of speech” (in the words of the company’s disingenuous announcement of Eich’s departure) to hound out of their midst someone who, though a supporter of gay rights in other respects, may disagree with them about marriage or support conservative candidates says something awful about such a group.

But if that’s how they feel, then it’s their right to do so even as many on the outside of their cozy left-wing bubble enclave jeer at a version of “inclusiveness” that demands ideological conformity.
Elsewhere in his piece Tobin notes that the argument has been advanced that Mozilla is a "special case," that it has a special culture, and that the employees at Mozilla are not acting thuggishly by burning at the stake, so to speak, a man whose political and religious views are not consonant with their own.

But then what of Hobby Lobby which is being coerced by the government to pay for insurance coverage for abortifacients against the convictions of those who own the company? Why are liberals not willing to grant Hobby Lobby the same exemptions they're willing to grant to Mozilla?
By claiming, as they now do, that the special culture of Mozilla requires it to root out all unbelievers in gay marriage or supporters of conservatives, but deny that Hobby Lobby has the right to protect its particular culture or the beliefs of its owners, liberals are ... engaging in hypocrisy. It would be nice if liberals were sufficiently self-aware of their inconsistency to cause them to “recant” and grant Hobby Lobby—which has an individual business culture just as special as the one at Mozilla—the same respect it demands for the Torquemadas who rule the roost in the high-tech sector. But I’m not expecting that to happen. The real problem here isn’t hypocrisy but a liberal mindset that views conservatives as not merely wrong, but evil.
A friend sent me a couple of quotes that he thought, and I agree, to be apropos this current controversy. The first is from Rene Girard who says that it is in Christianity that the drive for human sacrifice — endemic in all the paganisms, and reborn in modern ideologies — is extinguished. For it is in Christianity that God sacrifices Himself for men, instead of men sacrificing each other for their gods.

There certainly is a yearning for human sacrifice to the gods of political correctness in the modern secular left. Just ask Phil Robertson, Dan Cathy, or Brandon Eich.

The second quote is from the novelist Flannery O'Connor: “In the absence of faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chambers.”

Indeed, one gets the uncomfortable feeling, reading some of the commentary surrounding the Eich case, that it's not the left's moral scruples which constrain them from putting dissenters into reeducation camps and gas chambers but merely their lack, at least for the moment, of sufficient political power to do what they wish they could do.

I think both Girard and O'Connor are right. Society is like an island built out of the raw materials of a Christian worldview in the midst of a sea of barbarism, cruelty, and intolerance. When the dikes are torn down, and the sea rushes in then civilized behavior, including compassion and respect for others, will be swept away. George Orwell famously described what that future will be like in his novel 1984:
There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.