Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Government Mandates

Some South Dakota state legislators are determined to make a point about Obamacare. They've introduced a bill that would require every adult in the state to buy a firearm for their own protection:
The bill, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2012, would give people six months to acquire a firearm after turning 21. The provision does not apply to people who are barred from owning a firearm. The measure is known as an act “to provide for an individual mandate to adult citizens to provide for the self-defense of themselves and others.”
The chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Hal Wick, knows it won't succeed but that's the point. The government has no business mandating that citizens buy something. This is the rational for the decision of Florida Federal Judge Roger Vinson who ruled Monday that the entire Health Care Reform law is unconstitutional because it contains as an essential provision a mandate that everyone purchase insurance.

Wick is quoted as saying: “Do I or the other co-sponsors believe that the State of South Dakota can require citizens to buy firearms? Of course not. But at the same time, we do not believe the federal government can order every citizen to buy health insurance.”

If Vinson's decision is overturned by the Supreme Court next year there'll be no limit to what the government can mandate that you buy or not buy. They could mandate that you buy a Bible or a Koran, whether you want one or not. They could require you buy a car whether you need one or not. They could insist that you only buy cars made by American manufacturers and refrain from purchasing from non-unionized foreign companies. After all, that would, it could be argued, be helpful to the economic health of the nation, or at least to the UAW.

It's an interesting fact that this very same argument was made in 2008 during the Democratic primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It was made as a criticism of Ms. Clinton's health care proposal, ironically enough, by....
Of course, that was then and this is now. Some politicians believe it's permissible to say anything if it helps you get elected.

Thanks to Hot Air for the video.


A terrorist has planted nuclear bombs in three cities in the United States. They are programmed to go off in just a few days. The terrorist has been captured and interrogated but refuses to divulge the whereabouts of the bombs. What do you do if you're the FBI? Your families are potential victims of the blasts. Time is running out. The terrorist remains obdurate.

This is the theme of a movie released last year titled Unthinkable. It raises difficult questions for both the one who believes that torture should never be used as well as the person who argues that there are situations, such as the one described, in which torture is justified.

If you are absolutely opposed to torture, as is an FBI agent in the film, the question for you is how many people are you prepared to see maimed and killed when their lives could possibly be saved if the terrorist is tortured? Would you think differently if you knew your spouse and children were in one of the target cities?

If, on the other hand, you're convinced that such a scenario justifies torturing the man to pull the needed information from him, how far would you be willing to go with such methods? In the film, the terrorist's wife and children are also threatened with torture in order to ratchet up the pressure on him to divulge the whereabouts of the bombs. Would such an "unthinkable" measure be justified if he refuses to cooperate? If not, why not? If so, how do you justify torturing innocents?

These are important questions given the fact that the film's premise is entirely plausible in our contemporary world and given President Obama's abjuration of all forms of torture in his Cairo speech shortly after his election. I should note, too, that the film adds complexities to the question that shake the certitude that many people bring to the debate. It certainly makes the position of those politicians who self-righteously grandstand before the public about this issue look pretty simplistic.

Unthinkable stars Samuel L. Jackson, Carrie-Anne Moss and Michael Sheen, and is tough to watch (R-rated for violence and language) so I don't recommend it for everyone. If you're squeamish take a pass on this one. If, however, the ethical questions mentioned above trouble and perplex you, you might want to try. I suggest that if you do, that you view it with people you disagree with on the issue. It'll be a great catalyst for conversation afterward. Be sure to select the extended version. It's important.

Those Stupid Republicans

Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly wants everyone to realize what a smart guy he is and what ignoramuses those Republicans are. In a recent column he recounts a response that a GOP congressman gave to a question from Bill Maher about evolution in order to roll his eyes at how stupid Republicans are:
"Real Time" host Bill Maher asked Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) a fairly straightforward question: "Do you believe in evolution?" Kingston not only rejected the foundation of modern biology, he explained it this way: "I believe I came from God, not from a monkey." He added, "If it happened over millions and millions of years, there should be lots of fossil evidence."

Seriously, that's what he said.

Let's pause to appreciate the fact that it's the 21st century -- and Jack Kingston is a 10-term congressman who helps oversee federal funding on the Food and Drug Administration.

As part of the same discussion, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell tried to ask Kingston about the overuse of antibiotics. The far-right congressman had no idea how the question related to evolution.

What an embarrassment.
Well, what's embarrassing is that someone who writes for a prestigious journal like The Washington Monthly and who obviously prides himself on his own intellectual sophistication would think that Maher's question was "straightforward".

What did Maher mean, exactly, when he asked Kingston if he "believes in" evolution? Was Maher referring to belief in the theory of evolution? If so, precisely which theory of evolution was he asking about? If he was just referring to evolution in general was he referring to naturalistic evolution? Macroevolution? Microevolution? Theistic evolution? Progressive evolution? What, exactly, was he asking the congressman?

The question as posed by Maher is not "straightforward" at all, but apparently Benen lacks the wit to realize this. He's too busy snickering at Kingston who, like probably 95% of the nation's population, doesn't really know much at all about evolutionary theory.

As for the relationship between the overuse of antibiotics and evolution, Mr. Benen thinks it a disgrace that the congressman was apparently non-plussed by the question, so I propose that he put the same query to, say, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama and see what sorts of answers he gets from them. Indeed, I'd like to hear his own answer to the question.

In fact, I'd like to hear Mr. Benen explain the nuances between the various permutations of evolutionary theory mentioned above. I'd also like to see if Mr. Benen can give a coherent defense of whatever form of evolution it is that he presumably believes in. Has Mr. Benen read any of the significant scientific works critical of the claim that natural processes can produce salutary genetic change such as Michael Behe's Edge of Evolution or Darwin's Black Box? Has he read Stephen Meyer's powerful critique (Signature in the Cell) of the evolutionist's claim that undirected forces and chance can produce biological information?

It's unfortunate that Representative Kingston didn't think to ask Maher what kind of evolution he was talking about and didn't think to ask him exactly how he was defining the term evolution, but his answer wasn't all that different, I'll bet, from what most congressmen would have given. It's just that Democrat congressmen are never asked questions like this because people like Maher wouldn't dream of embarrassing them and people like Benen wouldn't notice if he did.