A Vision for America, Part VI

Problems and Solutions

I have already noted some of the genuine problems we face as a people. Our entitlement programs are on the financial rocks. Prices at the pump are increasing. Our school systems are not making the grade. Many Americans, for a variety of reasons, are not receiving proper medical care. And our federal bank account is trillions of dollars in the red. Challenges like these require serious – and creative – solutions.

Unfortunately, there is nothing new in the left’s propositions. Our current president’s fiercest supporters are carpenters who know how to use hammers but have forgotten how to use screwdrivers and jigsaws. Consider healthcare. Politicians on both sides of the political spectrum agree that our current system isn’t perfect. But the left, alas, has hit upon yet another government-centered solution to our healthcare woes: Let’s appoint a panel of Washington-based experts to come up with ways to cut costs and increase access. Yes! That’s the ticket! But when has this ever worked in the past? When have the pronouncements of a bureaucratic body ever prompted a more efficient distribution of resources? A bureaucrat in Washington is not going to know how much it really costs for Dr. Simchat to run his rheumatology practice in Kansas. The only thing such a government official can do is set artificially “fair” price ceilings — and price ceilings generally lead to shortages.

There are other ways to reduce costs. For example, it is a documented fact that mandates drive up the price of health insurance. Motivated interest groups have urged politicians to write state laws obligating insurance companies to cover a whole host of tests, procedures, and services, and many are purely elective. A number of states, for example, mandate coverage of in-vitro fertilization, an expensive procedure that results in no real medical benefit. Now, individually, each of these mandates has a minimal impact on health insurance premiums, but together, they add up. Perhaps it is time to loosen some of these regulations. As it stands, many localities are asking everyone to purchase a medical Cadillac when many would be happy with a sensible Toyota. In particular, there are many young, healthy Americans out there who have elected not to purchase health insurance for a very rational reason: they can already pay for their routine medical care out of pocket and therefore don’t consider a health plan with an expensive premium to be worth the bother. For these Americans, a catastrophic-only plan should be an option.

(To be continued…)

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Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, VIII

When you drive up to a red light, you’re supposed to stop until the light turns green. That’s the general law of the land. Yet on a daily basis, I run red lights without getting ticketed. Why? Because there is an exception to the rule: you can run a red light if you are turning right.

The fact that there is an exception to the red light rule does not invalidate the rule in general. The fact that I can turn right on red doesn’t mean I should feel free to run red lights in all circumstances. Similarly, the fact that there are couples out there who are infertile does not automatically invalidate the Catholic Church’s conservative position on contraception. But try explaining that to a Facebook acquaintance of mine who is all too ready to accuse us Catholics (and our allies) of believing things we don’t actually believe. As he states:

“It’s about controlling women, about the Puritanical urge to make sure no one has sex except to make babies, even if you don’t want any.”

To which one of his friends replies:

“IF they get their way, they’ll eventually try to outlaw ANY sex that’s not for making babies–which means people who can’t have babies will have to live like monks.”

As I stated above, these two statements are so patently false that I don’t even know where to begin. But let’s start by explaining what the Church actually teaches about sex. You see, I have read a fair amount of the late (and Blessed) John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” and no where do I see it stated that sex has just a procreative function. Actually, the Holy Father acknowledges two vital functions of sex – the procreative and the unitive – and states that both must work in concert. It is just as much a sin, in other words, to have sex for the sole purpose of creating an heir, say, as it is to have contracepted intercourse. The first case ignores the unitive; the second case ignores the procreative.

Obedient Catholics can have sex without having babies, but it involves cooperating with God’s plan instead of imposing your own will upon it. Consider the infertile married couple. The fact that their sex results in no issue does not in fact make their sex a sin because it is not their fault that they are infertile. That is what God has decreed for them. Similarly, an elderly couple is still allowed to have sex despite the wife’s menopause because, again, menopause is a part of God’s plan for female human beings. And then there is Natural Family Planning. God has designed the female human body in such a way that each woman has both fertile and infertile periods, and NFP allows a Catholic couple to follow this cycle to either prevent or enable pregnancy. In each of these three cases, the couples are still open to God and His desires for us. That’s the true key. This idea that the Church simply wants us to pump out rugrats is a monumental distortion of her teachings.

(And by the way, to head off the usual objection, NFP is effective provided you receive training from a licensed specialist and are motivated to follow God’s program. Science has pushed NFP far beyond the oft ridiculed “rhythm method.”)

In my estimation, it is highly, highly unlikely that the Catholic Church and her allies will go so far as to “outlaw sex that’s not for making babies” even if they do gain the power to do so. In addition to all the exceptions to the rules noted above, the Church explicitly teaches that we Catholics must work within the larger civil society, and if that means making compromises, we must make compromises. I think the Church understands the extent to which the sexual revolution has taken hold in our culture, and I think she understands that we will never be able to put the genie entirely back in the bottle. Will the Church do everything she can to mitigate the effects of that revolution? Yes. But that is not the same as demanding that we outlaw non-procreative sex, and all honest people know it.

And while we’re on the subject, what are we to make of the effects of the sexual revolution? My Facebook acquaintance clearly considers it axiomatic that sex is more fun when it has no limits. But is that actually the case? No. As the social science reveals, married couples have more fun, perhaps because they feel more secure in their relationships. It is also quite clear that “free love” has been disastrous for our children. Children both desire and need stable families, and they are less likely to have them so long as we adults ignore our responsibilities to selfishly pursue our own transient pleasures.

And as for the issue of control, my rejoinder is this: Who’s controlling whom? As far as I’m concerned, you leftists are the most controlling people on the planet when it comes to sex. If you are an unborn human being? Sorry, but we only care about your mother’s freedom to have sex without consequences. Your rights don’t matter. If you are an OB/GYN who doesn’t approve of abortion? Sorry, but we don’t care about your personal beliefs. We will force you to perform a procedure with which you don’t agree. If you are a Catholic pharmacist who doesn’t wish to sell the birth control pill? Too bad. We leftists have decreed that women have an absolute right to get birth control at every pharmacy in the U.S. regardless of what individual pharmacists think about the matter. If you are a pastor who doesn’t believe in gay marriage? You are a bigot, and you have no right to decide which marriages your church will and will not endorse. If you are a Catholic adoption agency who places children only with heterosexual married couples? We leftists will use the power of the state to compel you to place children with gay couples. Who exactly is anti-liberty here when all is said and done? If these leftists were actually frank with themselves, they would realize that they are just as eager to impose their peculiar sexual morality on everyone else as they accuse us Christians of being. Their talk of “rights” and “freedom” is pure bunk.

Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, VII

I’ve got a few doozies to slam today.

First of all, remember the professor who continued to insist that Wisconsin’s education system is one of the best in the nation because of its powerful unions despite my pointing out that the statistics he was citing were deeply, deeply flawed? Well, here’s what he has to say about the 2012 presidential race:

“Who in their right mind would want to be the GOP nominee in 2012? They should wait until they have an open field in 2016.”

I See What You Did ThereTM. You believe Obama – your Messiah – should be granted a second term without a fight, so you’re doing your best now to demoralize his opponents.

Yes, why would anyone seek to run against Obama? Could it be because of the high gas prices which are a direct result of Obama’s energy policies? Could it be because of the “economic recovery” which is, as far as most people can see, anemic at best? Could it be that people finally – finally – want the chance to elect a president who won’t run up the balance on our national credit card?

V., I love your taste in science fiction and superhero pulp, but you can be an unaccountably arrogant ass when it comes to politics. Sure, the current GOP field hasn’t impressed me so far. Personally, I think somebody should kidnap Chris Christie’s kids and set “running for president” as the ransom. (I kid! I kid!) But it is still too early to declare Obama’s victory a foregone conclusion.

*****

Next up, I have another Facebook friend who’s been doing an excellent job revealing his total ignorance in re: Christianity.

In one recent post, for example, he mocked Harold Camping (who deserves to be mocked, truth be told) and in the process called him a priest. When one of his other friends tried to politely correct his blunder, he replied:

“Priest, preacher. It’s all pretty much the same thing.”

No, it isn’t. Stop being an asshat. There is a world of doctrinal difference between the Harold Campings of the world and the Catholic Church. We Catholics don’t believe in a secret Rapture, for one. While I was going through RCIA a few years ago, my spiritual advisor, Father D., was pretty clear about this fact. He stated unequivocally that “when Jesus comes again, the whole world is going to know it.” He also noted that Jesus Himself discouraged guessing when it came to the date and time of His coming. As Jesus teaches in Matthew 24:

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Unfortunately for my blood pressure, my friend didn’t stop at blurring the lines between crack-pot fringe Christians and the rest of us. He also posted a link to a HuffPo article which declares that Christians – evangelical Christians in particular – actually hate Jesus. Well, I’m going to go to bat for my evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ and take apart the claims said article makes one by one:

Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture.

Here, the writers of my friend’s cited article make the classic liberal/leftist mistake of confusing “mercy and forgiveness” with “leniency.” Allow me to explain the difference this way: I know someone – someone very close to me – who was sexually abused by her father. This person was raised a Christian, has taken Jesus’ teachings to heart, and has therefore forgiven both of her parents. She still maintains contact with her mother and sends her father birthday and Christmas gifts — and when her father fell seriously ill a few years ago, she spent several weeks in her hometown taking care of him and serving as a knowledgeable intermediary between her mother and her father’s doctors. And yet – and yet – there is still no way in hell that she would ever let a young woman like me spend time alone with her father because she knows that’s not prudent.

Yes — Jesus teaches that the victim of a crime should forgive her victimizer. But Jesus absolutely does not say that the state should therefore refrain from protecting the public from further victimization. That cannot be what Jesus meant because the real-world consequences of lax law enforcement are manifestly disastrous. Some people do need to be put away for a long, long time for their own good as well as ours.

And by the way, did you notice that these anti-Christian writers don’t bother to define what they mean by “draconian sentencing,” “punitive punishment,” or “torture”? Did you notice too that they don’t provide any real evidence that evangelicals support these three things? The Pew survey they cite certainly doesn’t indicate anything of the kind.

Moving on:

Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world.

The fact that a person owns a gun does not make that person more violent, you idiots. Guns are simply tools. While they can be used in a criminal and violent manner, they can just as easily be used for one’s daily subsistence or self defense. The first American colonists would not have survived in the New World without their weapons; the same goes for the pioneers who headed west in the nineteenth century. And I think it’s arguable that in many contexts today, owning a gun is still an eminently wise choice. In a failing urban neighborhood where the police may be hesitant to intervene, a gun can mean the difference between being brutally murdered and staying alive.

As for the activities of the American military, again, I think it is stupid in the extreme to declare categorically that war is in violation of Jesus’ teachings. Peace should always be our first choice — and if a conflict should commence despite our best efforts, we should make war justly. But if a state holds to an ideological brand of pacifism, it is in essence failing to discharge its primary responsibility: the protection of its citizens. Jesus surely did not mean that we should leave ourselves and our children vulnerable to the predators and monsters who populate our fallen world in relative abundance. Individuals can martyr themselves for “peace” if they choose, but they have absolutely no right to make that decision for everyone else. Crimeny! I thought you guys were against forcing one’s religious beliefs on others.

Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor.

Typical leftwing pseudo-Christian drivel. Jesus did not teach that the rich should be condemned. He did note that personal wealth can be a stumbling block when it comes to one’s salvation, but that is not because wealth itself is evil. Rather, wealth can often lead a person to forget that his or her good fortune ultimately comes from God — and consequently, such a person may neglect to give God His due. Idolatry is the issue here, not mere affluence.

And as for giving one’s money to the poor, where is the proof that evangelicals don’t do this? Because when I look around, I see a lot of evidence to the contrary. When evangelical Christians head out on their various missions, they don’t just spread the Gospel; they also try to help the people they encounter. They bring clothes and food with them; they help build houses and dig wells; they set up schools; etc., etc., etc.

And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor — especially poor children.

They hate anything that smacks of “socialism,” even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training — anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do.

For the 1,549,163rd time: Jesus did urge us to care for the vulnerable among us. But nowhere in the Bible does Jesus say, “Amen, amen, I say to you, if you do not support a large welfare state, you will not enter the Kingdom of God.” Indeed, He offers no policy prescriptions of any kind; He leaves the specifics entirely to us because He respects our free will. It is one of the lowest forms of political bullying to declare that because conservative evangelical Christians don’t unreservedly embrace federal poverty programs, that means they are ignoring Jesus’ preferential option for the poor. That is such bull****, and every honest American knows it.

See, what the left is trying to do here is shut down any sincere disagreement over which poverty programs work and which don’t — whether a large federal bureaucracy can competently handle all the needs of the disadvantaged among us or whether smaller, more local entities would be better suited to the task. And even though many leftists don’t even believe that Jesus is the Son of God and despise those who do, they are perfectly willing to stoop to the despicable tactic of using Jesus as a bludgeon to cow the Christian Right.

Sigh. I think I’m going to have to deploy my blurred out middle finger once again:


If you spend your life bloviating about a religion you clearly don’t understand, you are an ass.
Sit on this and rotate.

The Federal Budget, Part V

Before I move on to my final principle of fiscally responsible governance, allow me to summarize the guidelines which have been discussed so far:

  • Subsidiarity. Many public goods can be achieved at the local level without getting the federal government involved. Thus, when evaluating the merits of a particular federal program, we should always ask ourselves whether it would be wiser to allow a community group or local government to assume responsibility instead.
  • Accountability. Each and every government bureaucracy must be required to demonstrate – on a regular basis – that it is getting results — and that it is doing so at the minimum ethical cost. It is irresponsible in the extreme to shield some federal programs from this kind of scrutiny on the basis of their intended missions.
  • An Absence of Favoritism. The federal government should refrain from awarding subsidies to politically active businesses. These subsidies and special favors have wide ranging effects on the economy which, in many cases, disproportionately hurt the poor (corn subsidies being the most egregious example).

Now let’s add to this list the principle of sustainability:

  • Sustainability. When designing a new government program – or when evaluating an old one – we have a moral duty to ensure that, barring complete civilizational collapse, future generations will be able to enjoy, at the very least, the standard of living that we enjoy. This means that we have to be flexible enough to accept reform when circumstances change.

Obviously, this last principle is especially relevant when we’re discussing things like Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, welfare, public pensions, etc. As I stated in the first post of this series, I believe the federal government does have a responsibility to maintain a minimum social safety net — but it certainly won’t be able to do so if our politicians continue to insist upon pissing money away instead of exercising their common sense.

When the Social Security program was first created in 1935, the average life expectancy was about 60 years for men and 64 years for women. Indeed, many people failed to reach the age at which they would begin to receive Social Security benefits. But as we all know, that is no longer true today. Thanks to medical advancements, many Americans are living until they are 80 and beyond. Thus, many receive Social Security benefits for fifteen to twenty years before they finally pass on. Moreover, we are just about to experience a huge spike in Social Security pay-outs as the “Baby Boom” cohort finally reaches retirement age.

The upshot? While we Americans are fecund enough that we are not quite in the same boat as the rest of the developed world, we are still facing a genuine entitlement crisis. Those of us who are in our 20’s and 30’s and are aware of what is happening are pretty damned skeptical that we will see a single cent of the funds we are currently pouring into Social Security if the program isn’t reformed now. At the very least, the retirement age needs to be incrementally raised to a level that is more commensurate with the current life expectancy.

Additionally, our social programs need to be streamlined across the board. Just as there is a lot of duplication and redundancy in, say, the NOAA, our safety net is remarkably inefficient. The GAO recently reported, for example, that there are 80 separate programs within the government just to help the poor see to their transportation needs. Good gravy! Think about how much we must be wasting paying for the office space and staff expenses! We must find some way to gradually consolidate these entities so our nation doesn’t collapse under the weight of her own debt:

Thanks, Iowahawk. You’re a genius.

Throughout this series, I don’t think I’ve ever proposed a change in policy that is unreasonably harsh. No — the only radicals in this debate are the leftists who would have us ignore intergenerational justice in favor of keeping the spending party going for those of us who happen to be walking about. Such policies may sound wonderful to voters in the short term, but given that money does not grow on trees – not even in Obama’s rainbow and unicorn garden – they will almost certainly end up screwing our children. We shouldn’t cede the moral high ground to the Democrats’ prodigality.

The Federal Budget, Part IV

In this, the penultimate post of this series, I’d like to start by discussing prices. Why do the medications for my severe rheumatoid arthritis (with the exception of the prednisone) cost so much? Why is Spam so darn cheap? Well, contrary to popular belief, a price is not a construct that is artificially imposed on an item to satisfy the greed of today’s capitalist robber barons. Rather, a price reflects either the inherent cost of producing a product or the consequences of government policy — or sometimes both.

In an entirely free and unmanipulated market, prices are determined in large part by supply and demand. If many people are clamoring to own a particular item and that item is in short supply (perhaps because it is expensive to produce or extract), its price will rise. If a product floods the market and is not snapped up by buyers, its price will decrease. Prices, in effect, are supposed to communicate to the consumer the relative availability of various commodities. Prices are also supposed to allow ordinary consumers to wisely ration scarce resources. If there’s a massive failure of the annual orange crop and oranges suddenly start selling for $10 per unit, fewer people will buy oranges. Consequently, those who really, really want to have oranges (no matter the price) will have a chance to snatch them up.

Unfortunately, that is not the whole story when it comes to prices in the US, as the federal government has constructed a cloud-cuckoo land of subsidies, all of which favor some industries and corporations at the expense of others. The US government also increases the costs of production through regulations of various kinds, and not all of these regulations actually result in a net benefit for the consumer. And finally, Americans are often confronted with the sequelae of the policies of other nations. This is particularly true when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry. Nations with government-run healthcare systems set artificial ceilings to control the prices of various medications. As a result, American pharmaceutical companies are forced to pass the cost of their research and development to us. Awesome.


Thanks for increasing the price of my drugs, jerks!

Of course, we can’t control what voters do in other democratic nations. We can, however, control the things our own government does which distort our economy and thereby lead to government waste and a lower standard of living for the rest of us. My third principle for fiscally responsible governance thus reads: Don’t play favorites. Don’t hand out extra-special money-flavored lollipops to the corporations and agribusinesses whose lobbyists are most eager to shine your shoes with their tongues.

The left would like us all to think that this isn’t so, but the “corporate welfare” issue is a problem that cuts across party lines. Republicans and Democrats both love to reward corporations for behavior they find politically desirable. When Obama spoke in his most recent State of the Union address about the need to “invest” in things like “green” technology and high speed rail, he was talking about government subsidies. Few in the private business world believe that “green” technology and high speed rail are worthwhile risks at present; that’s why they are not yet in widespread use. But for our own good, Obama and his Democrat allies want to foist them upon us using our tax dollars. We shouldn’t let them. We shouldn’t let anyone – no matter their party affiliation – attempt to manipulate the natural pace of technological development. All that does is divert much needed resources away from other (more viable) industries.

The Federal Budget, Part III

Critical thinking is often sorely lacking in any discussion of the government’s money woes. As I discussed in the last post, many fail to recognize the ways in which we Americans can work for the public good without getting the federal government involved. Another thing that bothers me in these debates over the debt is the manner in which intentions tend to overshadow results. I like to call this phenomenon the Orphans, Puppies, and Kittens Effect; if a certain government program has a mission that sounds Christian and noble, you will be painted as a baby-eating, grandma-kicking monster if you subject said program’s books to scrutiny.


This is what the liberals and leftists in Washington want to do with your tax dollars – and don’t you dare question them! After all, they are full to the brim with good intentions.

A recent example: Back in December, internet leftists, encouraged by the likes of Jon Stewart, flew into a frothy rage over the GOP’s opposition to a bill that sought to put in place a program to provide medical care to 9/11 first responders. Many of my friends on Facebook were absolutely convinced that the Republicans just wanted to stiff our 9/11 heroes so that the government would have money to spare to give tax breaks to the GOP’s rich buddies. Of course, the true story was utterly different. As one dissenting senator explained:

One of the most significant concerns about this bill is its continued reliance on the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to administer 9/11 health programs. NIOSH has sent $475 million in grants to New York to pay for health care benefits. Yet to this day, NIOSH, the city of New York and the various health care providers who received grants have failed to tell Congress where that money has gone. For example, Mount Sinai Medical Center has received about $137 million from NIOSH since 2004. Until they can show where that money was spent, it is irresponsible to give them more.

The proponents of this bill say it terminates the current programs and replaces them with one program run by a single administrator. In reality, the new program administrator would still be NIOSH, the same agency that has inadequately administered the program. Without the basic facts about the programs NIOSH administered for the past eight years, it is hard to design an effective program for the future.

In other words, it wasn’t that the GOP wished to deny 9/11 first responders needed medical care. On the contrary, the Republicans only wished to ensure that the money would actually be spent on those first responders. Imagine that!

For my second principle of fiscally responsible governance, I’d like to propose the following: A program’s mission should not grant said program immunity. ALL federal programs should be reviewed on a regular basis and, if necessary, scrapped or reformed. I don’t care if you really, really love the goal of the Bureau for the Protection of Indigent Widows (not a real program, obviously, but there are many existing programs that are similar in intent). If our theoretical BPIW is spending a lot of money and yet can’t demonstrate that these funds are having a genuinely positive effect on the target group, it needs to be cut or restructured in some way. If our theoretical BPIW is inefficiently run, then we need to make it more efficient. We shouldn’t have sacred cows. And yes, this rule applies to the military as well. If a group of naval experts determines that a proposed new destroyer is flawed and ultimately unnecessary, then we need to trash that project too. I repeat: No sacred cows!

The Federal Budget, Part II

In the last post, I listed what I believed to be the top priorities of the federal government – and as you may have noticed, it was not an exhaustive list of every conceivable public good. That was deliberate. In my view, the federal government cannot – and should not – take responsibility for all of our needs and desires. That way lies fiscal insolvency.

Today, what I’d like to discuss is the concept of federalism. In reality, our government has at least four distinct levels:

  • Federal. Obviously, this is the government which meets and does business in DC.
  • State. There are fifty of these governments, and they all have their own treasuries.
  • County/Municipal. There are literally millions of these governments, and some of them are empowered to collect taxes.
  • Community/Individual. This is not a politically recognized level, but it does matter. We do need to take on the responsibility of governing ourselves in certain matters.

The mentality that I see among many on the left is a mentality that forgets that these four levels of government exist. At most, leftists will acknowledge the federal and the state governments, and they usually assume that if the top two levels don’t take care of something, it’s never going to get done. This is what SABR Matt might term a “failure of imagination.”

My first principle of fiscally responsible governance goes a little something like this: When reviewing an existing or proposed program at the federal level, our leaders should always ask, “Can this be done at a lower level of government? Does the federal government need to get involved?”

Now let’s apply this principle to some concrete examples. I’ll start with arts education for disadvantaged kids since SABR Matt brought it up in his reply to my last post. Can this be done at a lower level of government? Does the federal government need to get involved? My answer to both questions are yes and no respectively. Just for kicks, I googled “charitable groups that bring art to kids,” and at the top of the results page, the “Life Through Art Foundation” popped up. Co-founder and president Jeffery David Brooks has this to say about the genesis of LTAF:

Several years ago, I was teaching children’s theater when a fourteen year old girl stood up and began to recite Shakespeare. She performed Shakespeare with such passion, fire, and uninhibited confidence that I was blown away. I encouraged her to think about attending an arts school and decided that I would do whatever I could to help her achieve her artistic dreams. She recently graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy and is now attending the Royal Scottish Academy of Dramatic Arts on scholarship. Several thousand dollars, countless bottles of aspirin, and a handful of incredible volunteers later, my quest to help one child has blossomed into a dream to introduce the arts and provide meaningful experiences in the arts to as many children as we can reach.

This foundation has become my way of giving back what was once given to me and I have been fortunate enough to find people who share this dream. Whether it is painting, photography, music, acting, or the culinary arts, our goal is to aid young people in both their development as artists and as individuals. With the recent cutbacks in funding for community and school art programs throughout the country, it is particularly important that we do as much as we can to promote and support arts education. I believe that the gift of imagination is the greatest gift of all. With your help we can expand these artists’ minds to spark a new generation of creativity. Thank you for helping me realize my dreams and for opening the door for so many others.

Notice the sentence I took the liberty of emphasizing. Because the government is pulling out of arts education, Brooks feels more motivated to appeal to contributors and volunteers. Regardless of whether or not the government gets involved, arts education will happen for many young people because of this man’s individual initiative. (And by the way, as soon as I have $20 to spare, I’m going to buy one of his t-shirts because his cause is a worthy one – and because I believe in putting my money where my mouth is.)

Another example: The federal and state governments have been under a lot pressure recently to pass legislation designed to curb bullying and cyber-bullying. But can this be done at a lower level of government? Do the federal and state governments need to get involved? Again, my answers are yes and no. Bullying should be handled at the municipal and community levels by parents, principals, and local school boards. Parents have a responsibility to teach their children that bullying is unacceptable behavior; principals have a responsibility to enforce their schools’ codes of conduct; and local school boards have a responsibility to draft codes of conduct that are clear and consistent. We should encourage the fulfillment of these three responsibilities before we start passing upper-level unfunded mandates. Drafting state or federal anti-bullying laws may make legislators feel good, but it is really a waste of time and money.

In the social teaching of the Catholic Church, this idea that we should take advantage of our multi-layer government structure and kick some responsibilities downstairs goes by another name: subsidiarity. The principle of subsidiarity states that all acknowledged public goods should be achieved by the smallest entity capable of achieving them. Yes, in some cases, only the federal government has the resources and/or the constitutional authority necessary to accomplish a particular task, but we should not assume that this is true of everything under the sun.

Moreover, even in situations in which the federal government must take over, our leaders should ensure that they are not simply pitching money into the circular file. More on this later…

The Federal Budget, Part I

SABR Matt has requested that I begin outlining my plan for fiscal responsibility at the federal level, and so I shall attempt to do so (though, to be honest, I find such a task rather daunting).

I think the best way to start this series is to talk about the Constitution and the powers it grants to the federal government. Let’s take a look at Article I, Section 8, which lists the powers of the federal Congress:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;–And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Let me try to translate: Of the seventeen paragraphs detailing the specific powers of the Congress, seven are concerned with national defense, five are concerned with economic issues (like establishing bankruptcy laws, maintaining a common currency, awarding patents and copyrights, and regulating interstate and international trade), and two deal with the government’s revenue (i.e., its power to tax and borrow money). There are also mentions of the federal government’s power to decide who may become a citizen of the US, to maintain a postal system, to build roads, and to establish lower courts. The proper priorities of the federal government seem pretty clear here: see to our national defense and foreign policy first, then deal with matters of trade.

Of course, because the left is very slippery, especially when it comes to our trade, I think I also need to briefly explain the context in which the 1789 Constitution was written — in other words, I need to explain the why for the economic clauses in particular. Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government did not have the power to establish a consistent currency, nor could it stop the states from passing laws which infringed upon the right of other states to do business. This, as you might expect, created chaos in the US economy, as each state was inclined to look out for her own interests instead of the interests of the entire Confederation. (For example, the states could pass laws favoring their own ports at the expense of ports in other states.) One major intention of the Framers in writing the current Constitution was to ensure that within the boundaries of the US, the laws of doing business were consistent no matter your location. I doubt the Framers intended to give the federal government the power to tell us what we should and should not buy, and I’m pretty sure the Framers never imagined that the federal government would one day become the massive regulatory leviathan it is today.

Still, I’m a practical person. I recognize that we will never be able to completely roll back the federal government’s current regulatory power. As a matter of fact, in certain circumstances, I don’t think we should roll it back. There should be a basic workman’s compensation program in place. There should be some basic environmental regulations. I also believe that “general welfare” does apply to things like disaster relief and, yes, Social Security. Thus, if I were asked to create a list of absolutely non-negotiable responsibilities for the federal government, I think it would look a little something like this:

  • Funding our military. There are still people out there who hate us and would like to kill us. Per the Constitution, it is the federal government’s job to make sure that our military remains a robust fighting force.
  • Preparing for and responding to disasters. I believe this definitely falls under the heading of national defense.
  • Funding our diplomatic corps. Because war really should be our last resort.
  • Passing laws to prevent corruption and ensure that all business contracts are honored. This is pretty much a no-brainer. We need to be able to trust each other in order to engage in healthy economic transactions.
  • Passing reasonable laws to maintain our air, water, and soil quality and to conserve our natural resources. We do have a responsibility to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy a basically clean environment.
  • Passing reasonable laws to prevent the exploitation of workers. I’m certainly no fan of child labor.
  • Maintaining a functional interstate transportation system. Our national economy does depend a great deal on the ability to ship freight. ETA on May 4: Upon reflection, I think I’ll add “maintaining other infrastructure” to the list. Sanitation and electricity are also important.
  • Establishing some very basic educational standards. I’m not asking for absolute uniformity here, but our national economy also depends upon our ability to read, write, and cipher.
  • Maintaining a basic social safety net. We should make sure that our citizens are adequately clothed, housed and fed.
  • Passing any other laws which pertain to the specific powers enumerated in the Constitution.

Notice what’s missing here. The federal government does not have a non-negotiable responsibility to financially support our artistic class, for example. That is a luxury, and as such, it should not be treated as a top priority. (Translation: We need to cut the National Endowment for the Arts. If these artists can’t make it on their own or with the help of private patrons, too bad.)

Moreover, even the responsibilities I list above should have their limits. We should pull our military out of Europe, for example, as all we’re doing there is allowing the nations of Europe to ignore their own defense in favor of bloated welfare states; social welfare benefits should never exceed the benefits of a minimum wage job, as we should be incentivizing work, not dependency; retirement ages should be raised for younger Americans to ensure the solvency of Social Security; etc., etc. In the next posts, I will discuss some specific ways we can impose restrictions even on the necessary functions of our federal government.

Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, VI

One of my repeat offenders has struck again. This time, he is claiming that Virginia and the four other states who have disallowed collective bargaining for teachers also hover at the bottom of the pack when it comes to SAT scores. But the College Board’s position on state-by-state comparisons is pretty damned clear:

“The SAT is a strong indicator of trends in the college-bound population, but it should never be used alone for such comparisons because demographics and other nonschool factors can have a strong effect on scores.”

And indeed, when you look at each state’s report, you see significant differences in the testing population from state to state. Let’s look at the 2010 data for Wisconsin first:

Mean score: 1778 (R/W/M)
Number of test takers: 3,002
Ethnicity: 87% White or Asian
ESOL percentage: 8%
Percent with family income below $40 K: 11%
Percent who have a parent with a bachelor’s or higher: 83%

Now let’s look at the 2010 data for Virginia:

Mean score: 1521 (R/W/M)
Number of test takers: 59,031
Ethnicity: 67% White or Asian
ESOL percentage: 6% (Here in NOVA, I’m sure that percent is much higher.)
Percent with family income below $40 K: 19%
Percent who have a parent with a bachelor’s or higher: 61%

Virginia’s sample is 1866% larger than Wisconsin’s — and it is a documented fact that average SAT scores are inversely proportional to the number of students who are taking the test. Virginia’s students are also poorer, and their parents are less educated. And let’s not shrink from the reality that the achievement gap between white students and African-American students is going to have more of an impact on Virginia’s average score. Comparing Virginia’s test population to Wisconsin’s is not even comparing apples to oranges — it’s comparing apples to pianos. The College Board is right to declare such comparisons invalid.

Debating Abortion, Part III

Okay – now that I have some time, allow me to continue the argument begun in part II by discussing Maddox’s second and third criteria for sentience:

Self-Awareness

Picard has a pretty easy time demonstrating that Data is self-aware; all he has to do is ask the android a few questions and let Data’s eloquent responses speak for themselves. But what do you do with a pre-verbal infant — or an emergent talker? Again, a little creativity is required.

One common test of self-awareness is the mirror test. Smear a little make-up on a little kid’s nose and then put him in front of a mirror. Does he try to rub off the rouge? Researchers have found in repeated trials that children generally don’t react to the make-up until about the middle of the second year of life. This doesn’t mean, of course, that infants are completely without self-awareness; researchers have also found, for example, that a days-old baby is more likely to display the rooting reflex when another person touches him on the cheek than when he accidentally touches his own cheek, which suggests that even a newborn can tell the difference between his own body and the environment. Still, the fact that babies fail the mirror test indicates that self-awareness, like intelligence, evolves over time.

In the literature I’ve come across, several stages of self-awareness are recognized. First, there is self-environment differentiation, which is present to some extent at birth but becomes more and more sophisticated throughout the first year. Secondly, there is the development of one’s “body schema” – in other words, an internal map of one’s body – which is demonstrated by those children who pass the afore-described mirror test (18 months seems to be the age at which most researchers observe this ability in toddlers). Third, young children eventually come to recognize themselves at different points in time; in other words, they develop an enduring sense of self. This does not occur until a child is around three or four years of age.

Lastly – and perhaps most importantly of all – young children must learn to understand how others see them. The ability to lie, the ability to understand the actions of characters in story books, the ability to understand why another child may be upset — all of these depend upon the ability to separate one’s own mind from the minds of others (called “theory of mind” in many developmental psychology texts). A workable theory of mind is usually developed during the preschool years, but there are some adult autists walking around today who are still profoundly impaired when it comes to understanding the thoughts, motives, and emotions of others. Are these autists less than human?

After surveying all the information I have on self-awareness, I can only ask pro-abortion activists one question: If self-awareness is going to be our criterion for personhood, precisely where should we draw the line? Even if we declare an individual a self-aware “person” once he’s passed the mirror test, we still run into problems. Some animals can pass the mirror test, after all; should we protect dolphins and large apes and not protect human babies who are younger than the 18 month cut-off? Unless you’re a radical animal rights proponent (like Peter Singer), you should be appalled at the very suggestion.

Consciousness

I’ll be brief with this one, as I feel like I’m repeating myself.

Consciousness, like the previous two criteria, is quite variable. When we sleep, for example, we are largely unconscious. There are also many periods throughout our waking lives in which we are not completely “with it”. Have you ever made a decision to go to the grocery store, but found yourself heading into work instead a few minutes into your drive? In my family, we call that “automatic pilot,” and it appears to be a pretty universal phenomenon among human beings.

In order for “consciousness” (or “intelligence” or “self-awareness”) to serve as a criterion for “personhood,” it has to be clearly defined. And who’s going to do the defining? The powerful. And that’s pretty much the core problem with any definition of “personhood” offered up by the pro-abortion movement. G.K. Chesterton once argued that in order for a society to be truly democratic, it must take seriously the conclusions of previous generations. “Tradition,” he wrote, “means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” I would extend the inimitable Mr. Chesterton’s sentiment this way: The anti-abortion movement not only respects the opinions of our ancestors, but also gives a voice to those who are not yet born. Anti-abortion activists refuse to submit to the elitist oligarchs who self-servingly draw up definitions of “personhood” that favor only those who can speak for themselves.

I think I’ll also echo Louvois here and say that what pro-abortion activists are really questioning is whether an unborn baby has a soul. That’s something we’ll never really know for sure. But this doubt should be a reason to err on the side of life, not death.