Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Will PA GOP Leaders Enable the Addict?

The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a budget in June that Governor Wolf vetoed.  Governor Wolf also rejected the GOP attempt at privatizing the state liquor stores and reforming state pensions.  So the Commonwealth has been operating with a "partial government shutdown" due to the budget impasse.  Further, the General Assembly passed an interim budget in September, in part to provide funding for the state's schools which have been squeezed in the budget impasse.  Governor Wolf vetoed it. Wolf is holding out for a collection of new and higher taxes, which according to him would balance the budget and provide needed additional funding for schools.

The House allowed a vote on Governor Wolf's $2.4 billion tax package this past week.  It failed and demonstrated there was no appetite by all of the Republicans and some of the Democrats for the tax increases.

So there has been much hang wringing and pleas for compromise by media and the political class.  Some have suggested the Republicans accept some kind of tax increase - could be Wolf's dream of additional taxes on the oil and gas industry, or a broadening of the sales tax - and that Wolf accept maybe the privatizing of state stores.  Let's give the GOP leadership credit for so far resisting a deal that would raise taxes.

However, GOP leaders are now floating the idea to raise revenue by expanding gambling in Pennsylvania.  The idea is that this would provide at least some of the additional revenue that Governor Wolf wants so badly.  Majority Leader Dave Reed said that a discussion is needed on what other revenues are on the table and "gaming options" should be in the discussion.  The pressure is getting to him.  When the GOP leadership starts talking about increasing revenues to solve the budget impasse they have accepted the Governor's premise that the problem is not enough revenue.  They are now arguing on his terms.

Gambling is seen as easy out.  It has been turned to before.  Gambling's role in financing government continues to grow.  We enacted a state lottery ($1 billion in revenue last year!) to support programs for the elderly.  We then had to keep up with our neighboring states' gambling attractions and support horse racing. So we opened up casino gambling ($1.2 billion in taxes last year!) - funds to go to property tax relief and many other wonderful causes.  Then to keep up with our neighboring states (yes, we heard this before) we had to expand casino gambling to include table games (an additional $96 million last year).  Then we legalized gambling in bars ($554,000 in diminishing returns).

Well, what's next? Well, there is Internet gambling, slot machines at off-track horse race betting parlors, slot machines at airports, and ... use your imagination.  All the revenue, of course, would be needed for the children, the "underfunded" schools, the elderly, the deteriorating bridges, the elderly, the poor, healthcare, job development, and ... use your imagination.

Most importantly, a new gambling based revenue stream would permit the GOP leadership to not have to raise taxes, and to offer new revenue to Governor Wolf and the media demanding a compromise.  It would also allow the leadership to dodge their responsibility to CUT SPENDING.  The General Assembly, with Republican majorities in both houses, needs to remain firm and let Governor Wolf know that if the budget is indeed unbalanced, as he claims, then spending will have to be reduced.

Furthermore, Pennsylvania does not need more state sanctioned gambling.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is addicted to gambling revenue.  It now cannot live without it.  What used to be enough now does not give the high it used to: more gambling; more tax revenue to feed the addict.  The GOP leadership would be enabling this addiction and taking the cowardly way out by solving this budget impasse with gambling revenue.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Trump is an Idiot

Excuse my French, but Donald Trump is an idiot.  I am astounded no politicians or media bigwigs call him out.  How can he continue to lead in the polls when his "policy statements" or answers to questions are simplistic nothingness?

I understand that a certain percentage of Republicans support him because he voices our disgust with the direction of the nation and the lack of leadership in the the party.  I understand his refusal to be politically correct is attractive.  This is not enought to be a serious candidate for President.

I also understand all the media attention.  The mainstream media loves the circus.  Trump attracts viewership as people tune in to see a live catastrophe. Who will he insult next?  What vulgar or embarrassing gaffe will he next utter?  Yet he has no shame and continues to bluster.

He clearly lacks any depth on policy, and where we do know his positions most of them are not conservative.  Come on people.  It is not enough to say things are bad and that other people are stupid (e.g., Rand Paul) and ugly (e.g., Carly Fiorina).  To borrow an old (commercial and) political line: where is the beef?

I give you two examples of his idiocy (for the sake of time...I'm sure you can think of many).  First on immigration.  He, in an around about way, states that our immigration policy is broken.  'Around about' because he expresses the frustration most of have that our borders are insecure and we paradoxically provide more incentives and benefits to illegal immigrants.  He crudely speaks of the caliber of immigrants.  Okay, I can live with the gist of his description of the problem, even if I think he is offensive. 

However, it is his solution that shows his idiocy.  He is going to build a wall.  Yes, most of us agree we should definitely construct some kind of physical barrier to control the illegal immigration.  Even many of the establishment Republicans give lip service to this. But Trump speaks as if this is a new idea and he wants to bring some credibility to the statement by saying, "That's what I do; build walls, And it will be a good wall. And the Mexicans will pay for it!"  (Claps and cheers.)

Uhh, the Mexicans will pay for it?  Why would they do that, Donald?  "Because I will make them, and it will be like no wall you ever saw.  Trump builds walls!" (Cheers and claps).  Really? We're going to accept that drivel from a candidate for President?  And just because you say it will be "good" I'm suppose to say, "well then that settles it? You got my vote."  Does anybody really know what he means by 'good'?  It is so simplistic to be meaningless.

The second example comes from a recent flap when he did not object to unflattering talk about Muslims and the claim that our President was a Muslim. "We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims," an unidentified man who spoke at a question-and-answer town hall event in Rochester, New Hampshire on September 17th. "You know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American."  Trump interrupted the man, chuckling, "We need this question..." 

"Anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us," the man continued. "That's my question: When can we get rid of them?"

Then comes Trump's idiotic "answer."  "We're going to be looking at a lot of different things.  You know, a lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening. We're going to be looking at that and many other things."  He then moves on to another question.

Now the media and some of his political competitors took him to task for not challenging the man's statement that the country's problem is Muslims, and that President Obama is a Muslim and not an American.  I understand where they are coming from, but a candidate is not required to go about correcting his audience or questioners. And some have also countered that he does not need to defend Obama's faith - Obama can do that.

What gets me is the total lack of a cogent answer.  One of Trump's beauty pageant contestants could come up with a better response.  "A lot of people are saying bad things are happening?"  That is the depth of his thinking on the issue? And his solution: "We're going to be looking at that and many other things."  Good, I'm glad that is settled.

I can't wait until we get past this juvenile phase and begin a serious debate with serious candidates.

Friday, September 4, 2015

County Clerk Jailed for Religious Belief

Well, it was inevitable, wasn't it?  The conflict between the new "right to marry" and freedom of religion has resulted in a County Clerk in Kentucky going to jail.  Kim Davis sits behind bars for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  I am not at all surprised.  I am a little surprised more government officials haven't exercised their religious conscience and refused to be part of redefining marriage.

In an earlier blog I defended businesses (such as a photographer who refused to photograph a gay wedding) who choose not to participate in an activity they believe is an affront to God.  I have said that a baker should be able to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay marriage if gay marriage is against his religious beliefs.  However, the baker would be guilty of discrimination for refusing to sell cookies to a individual who claimed to be a homosexual.  The difference is with the wedding cake he would be complicit in the celebration of the gay marriage.  Selling a cookie does not violate the baker's conscience nor require him to condone homosexuality.

Now we have an elected government official who believes that if she were to issue a marriage license she would be complicit in a wedding that she believes is against God's law.  Is it different than the photographer or baker exercising their freedom of religion?  No, not on the basis of free exercise of religion.  Does the clerk lose her religious liberty because she is a government official?  I don't think so.  Does her oath of office require her to act against her religiously held belief?

I don't think any oath of office requires a government official to act against their sincerely held religious beliefs.  Yes, holding a government office means that you work for the people.  However, "we the people" cannot require our officials to act against their religious beliefs, because we have recognized (in the 1st Amendment) that all people have a right to free exercise of their beliefs.  To require a government official to act against their religious belief violates who we are, according to the Constitution.

Christians facing persecution for their beliefs turn to the story in Acts (5:27- 29) where Peter and the apostles were brought before the authorities for teaching in Jesus' name in violation of the authorities prohibition.  Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men."  Christians have the responsibility NOT to obey authorities when such authorities require Christians to disobey God's explicit commandments.

How about the consequences?  Peter and the apostles were beaten by the authorities and told not to speak about Jesus anymore.  They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor in His name, and they kept on preaching. Most of them eventually were killed for their beliefs.  Christianity spread throughout the world.

When the State enshrines into law a sin God calls an abomination there will be inevitable consequences.  Kim Davis has been sent to jail (supposedly for a week).  I don't think it is right, but she knew there would be consequences.  (Another option she had was to resign her position.  To me that is an acceptable option, but to her conscience, and we must accept it, it was not.) We'll see where this now goes.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Don't Accept the Premise

For the last several weeks the Pennsylvania General Assembly has been in budget crisis mode.  This year is especially entertaining because the new governor is a Democrat and the Republicans hold both houses.  Governor Wolf campaigned on increasing education funding (which he falsely claimed was cut $1 billion by Governor Corbett) and is pushing the legislature to raise taxes to fund it.

Governor Wolf's plan calls for an increase of about $600 million in education funding.  He wants a severance tax on oil and gas producers to pay for education and some other goodies.  Therefore his staff and supporters attack any legislator opposed to increased education funding with "putting frackers before kids." Or they may use the more general attack "not caring about the education of our children."

What are the Republicans to do?  Do they want to stand for the evil frackers against our poor defenseless, uneducated children?  Horrors, no!  So the House has proposed $145 million in new funding for education.

I have been thinking about the premise these past weeks.  I wondered why no one was pushing back or refusing to accept the premise- the premise that we need to increase education funding.  We see this pattern all too often: the Democrats propose a new crisis is upon us and we need to fix it with new programs, higher taxes and increased spending.  The Republicans react to the proposal with some opposition and then offer their own ill-advised program but at a smaller scale.

A few days ago I heard a talk show host share a similar observation.  He asked why we do we accept the liberals' premise?  Why do we publicly debate on their terms?  It confirmed my thoughts about the debate on education funding in Pennsylvania.

What is a sufficient level of funding for education?  Will we ever be satisfied? We spend an average of $14,000 per student in Pennsylvania, one of the highest rates in the country.

Try this premise instead:  $14,000 per student is enough and we should strive to more efficient and effective with that amount.  Let's stop accepting liberals' premises and stand on our own principled beliefs.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

We are Different

A couple of days ago I read an article about the most recent unfairness.  Apparently there is a problem at the National Spelling Bee.  Indian Americans have won the last seven years in a row.  This has led some fringe people to take to social media with racists rants.  I guess, to our shame, we will always have that.

But that isn't the problem I am referring to. Some people are complaining that it just isn't right that Indian Americans should dominate.  It doesn't seem fair that others don't have a fair shot at the Spelling Bee Championship. There are subtle suggestions that the organizers should do something about this unfairness.  There must be a leveling of the field they imply. The organizers are tiptoeing around the issue for fear they will be called racists.

The writer of the article referenced the similar dominance of Kenyans in winning the Boston Marathon.  Year after year, in a huge field of contestants, the Kenyans cross the finish line ahead of other nationalities and races. What to do with this prickly (racial) subject?

First let me say that I believe we are all part of the human race.  I think the notion of races is an unfortunate categorization of beings that are made in the likeness of God.  We are all the same, made in His image (yet we are also the same in that we fall short and are sinners).

However, we are given various and different talents by our Maker.  This does not make us better or worse in value before God. We each have a responsibility to use the talents God gave us.  To some God has given physical beauty, and to some the talent to create beautiful art. To some He has given great intellect.  To some He has given the ability to dunk a basketball or hit a 99 mph fastball.  To some He has given gifts of hospitality or preaching or wisdom or humility.

We humans value these God given talents more or less, and in various times what is valued varies more or less.  Can you believe, for example, the Miami Marlins right fielder has a contract worth about $350 million ... for hitting the fastball a third of the time!? 

Please note that I am not diminishing human effort and hard work from the equation.  It is a very rare successful human being who does not add effort to God given talent.  The God given talent comes first, then we must cultivate it; train ourselves; work at it.  However, no matter how much I train I will not be able to dunk a basketball (God did not make me tall) or win a beauty contest (God did not make me an attractive female).

Is this fair? Wrong question. We must be content with the uniqueness God has created in us.

Back to the Spelling Bee.  I am not a tiny bit concerned that Indian Americans are winning.  Good for those winners. You know that they worked very hard for it.  I am not even concerned if God gave them an extra portion of the ability to memorize word spellings.  Is it possible that Indians as a race or people (I hate to use the construct "race" for the reasons I described above- the Bible uses the term "nations"  -but I will resort to race for sake of discussion ) have more ability for this sort of thing? Is it racist to say so publicly?

Why can't we accept that we ARE different? Even the so-called races may have more or less various talents.  Is it possible that Kenyans run faster because God made them that way?! We could make many more obvious observations (and sure, many exceptions). 

I know, you are thinking that if we accept that God made some peoples (or races) faster or smarter that means that some are slower and dumber as a whole.  So what?  It does not make them better or worse before God who is the Creator and giver of talents.  It should not make them more or less valuable as human beings to me and you.

We're suppose to be all about valuing diversity nowadays.  It is suppose to make us better people, better businesses, better communities.  Why can't we celebrate this diversity in talents?  We can even celebrate differences in races while valuing each human as made in the image of God.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

I Want to Discriminate

Here we are at another media-driven virtual mob.  From broadcast news to fringe blogs the nation seems hysterical over Indiana's temerity at passing legislation that affirms the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in regards to the free exercise of religion.  Of course this is very similar to legislation that Bill Clinton signed in the 90's and many other states have enacted.

Critics claim the legislation is an attack on the LGBT community and the new found right for same-sex couples to marry.  Funny, I don't read that in the law, and it does not do those things. Facts do not matter to a mob though.  Reason is in very short supply when, induced by liberal media, Big Business bullies and celebrities rush out to show how indignant they are with Indiana's hateful law.  Boycott Indiana!  Threaten them with shortage of skilled (re: "diverse") labor! Threaten to relocate businesses and remove the precious NCAA basketball tournament! States to ban official travel to Indiana!  Call the governor names and shame them all!

A somewhat more arguable point is that the legislation will permit individuals and businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians (and don't forget the bi-sexuals and transgenders).  Of course the law doesn't promote that or even address that.  It allows for the free exercise of religion, a right given by God and acknowledged in the 1st Amendment.

For people that bother to think through this latest "scandal," a perceived issue does exist.  It's the perceived conflict between civil rights and religious rights.  The thinking is that gay and lesbian rights are being threatened by the exercise of others' religious rights.  The liberal mind sees this as no contest; basically because religious rights are deemed illegitimate and probably just a cover for hateful intolerance anyway.  (I don't have time to address it here, but some faithful Christians would say gay and lesbian "rights" are illegitimate because no one has the "right" to disobey God's law.)

What compounds trying to comprehend the mob's accusations is that we have lost the real meaning of words.  "Discrimination" has become a heavily loaded battle word.  I'd say it is right up there with "intolerance" now as a bludgeon of the Left. The worst thing you can have happen is to be accused of discrimination and intolerance. Better to have contracted a deadly disease.

However, all of us discriminate everyday.  When you make a decision to use ketchup instead of mustard, or watch Channel 2 instead of 4 you are discriminating.  Discriminating is about choosing between various options or attributes.  It's about, according to Webster's, distinguishing between things.  We must, of course, consider the object and purpose of discrimination.

Discrimination can be an offense when it is based on something other than individual merit.  That is to favor one thing, or person, or be against a thing, or person, categorically instead of its, or their, intrinsic individual merit.  Ahhh, but what if I were to discriminate precisely because of individual merit?  What if I favor a tall person for my basketball team?  Yes, I am discriminating based on the merit of the individual and it happens all the time.  It is not offensive or immoral.  What if I exclude a gambling addict from being treasurer of my club?  I am discriminating based on the merit (or lack of praiseworthy quality) of the individual and would be making a wise, moral choice.

Indiana, and now Arkansas, are in the cross hairs of a virtual mob.  They have moved to ameliorate the mob (it won't work; it's a mob) by passing additional legislation that specifically says the Religious Restoration Act cannot be used by individuals or businesses to discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation.  You can understand their move with the heat they are taking, but I feel they are making a very big mistake.

What they are agreeing to is that the 1st Amendment's free exercise clause is no longer in effect.  Worse than that; they are passing legislation that makes a person or business criminal for acting on their religious beliefs.  Why bother with the Religious Restoration Act if you are going to pass another law that criminalizes actions of faithful people who in rare, but necessary, occasions discriminate against actions that offend their faith?

If, as a sincere practicing Christian, you believe certain behavior is considered sinful before God you should discriminate against it.  As a Christian you do not want to associate with actions God views as sinful.  You should apply the full, inoffensive meaning of "discriminate" in this case.  Thus a Christian baker would discriminate and refuse to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding! 

On the other hand, it would be an immoral and offensive discrimination to refuse to sell a lesbian a birthday cake.  How so?  Well, you would be discriminating based on category (someone who claims to be a lesbian) and not on an action that is compromising your religious beliefs.  I do not know of any religion that finds celebrating birthdays as sinful!  (After many birthdays they may become regretful.)  In reality, none of the cases that have made national news were cases where the business refused to serve gays because of their identity.  They all have been businesses (bakeries, florists, photographers) who could not be a participant in action they saw as against God's law (i.e., same-sex marriage). 

(To my gay friends, as a Bible-believer, I don't condone their behavior and they know this. I do not "categorically" reject them or discriminate them. And by the way, I am a sinner and they have not befriended me! However, if a gay friend asked me to their same-sex wedding I would decline, and if a heterosexual friend asked me to help him move in with his girl friend [so he can "live with her"] I would also decline.  I cannot participate in an activity that the Bible tells me God is against.  I can still love my friends and I can still be friendly to them, but I will discriminate - not against them - but against a behavior or activity.)

The businesses above rightly discriminated based on individual merit.  They rightly discriminated against activity that was contrary to their religious beliefs.  For that, in this formerly free land, they are criminalized.  The mob will not listen to any talk of reason (such as what it means to discriminate) or the free exercise of religion.  Government officials and many businesses are intimidated and are now compliant before the politically correct mob.

Christians saw this coming. It does not mean we have to be silent.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Question President Obama's Patriotism

It is politically incorrect to question someone's patriotism.  It seems no matter how bitter political opponents are they will not go there.  Think of recent national elections and when it got heated the offended party would exclaim with indignation, "are you questioning my patriotism?"  The answer always has been something like: "I am not doubting your patriotism, we just disagree on what is best for the country..."  Even when the suspect was Barack Obama, who seems to never miss an opportunity to criticize America, the retort was that we would never question his patriotism, just his ideas or his actions or his motivations.