Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is the Pope Catholic?

I'm guessing the Papal Conclave is having buyer's remorse right about about now.  Pope Francis continues his habit of making what could be kindly characterized as progressive statements or perhaps more harshly described as heresy.  The latest: in delivering an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences the pontiff appeared to endorse evolution and disputed that God was omnipotent or even divine.

While Pope Francis has been making secularists and religious liberals happy with his progressive ideas the conservatives have to be shocked.  Just two weeks ago a committee of bishops selected and convened by Pope Francis released a draft report that urged the church to recognize "positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation."  The church should with regards to homosexuals be "accepting and valuing their sexual orientation." This led to a revolt among conservative bishops.  The English version of the policy statement was then revised to express a more traditional view.

Before I get into the latest bombshells I should address the issue some of my Catholic friends are undoubtedly thinking at this point: Why don't you mind your own (Baptist) business?!  Well, you know I have already committed to discussing in this blog the two biggest conversational no-no's -religion and politics - and I am going to jolly-well continue to do so. And this latest Francis-ism is meaningful news for anyone concerned about Christian orthodoxy. 

There are many things I disagree with in Roman Catholicism.  I am an independent Baptist and I have arrived at my beliefs not by birth or by accident, but by faith and searching the scriptures. (And I acknowledge many Catholics and Protestants would claim the same thing.) I am also a student of church history and an observer of society.  I have respected the Catholic church and its leaders where it has resisted popular movements in society that it viewed were contrary to scripture.  The sanctity of life is a good example.  I have supported and gladly worked with Catholic friends in the Pro-Life movement. (I will also admit there are many times that Protestant leaders - yes, even ones that claim to Baptist - greatly disappoint me in their apparent rejection of biblical truth.) 

Now the pope comes out with some statements that take serious believers' breath away.  So we don't lose our breath and faint let's take them one by one.  First Pope Francis said, "When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so."  Well, it is "not so" that God is a magician and uses a magic wand.  Pope Francis got that right. Let's point out God uses His words.  He spoke the world into existence.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light." (Gen. 1:3)
For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. (Ps. 33:9)
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Heb. 11:3)
What is most worrisome about the the Pope's statement is the " to do everything. But that is not so."  Oh, I hope this got lost in translation!  God most certainly can do everything. Otherwise He would not be God.  This is, of course, described by theologians as omnipotence.  God's Word tells us:
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”(Matt. 19:26)
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? (Jer. 32:27)
Pope Francis continued his explanation on creation..."God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life."  Again, I would have to agree with part of his statement.  God brought everything to life. 
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. (Is 40:28)
But Pope Francis' statement that God is not divine - surely this must be misreported, or mistranslated?  Or it has to be named as heresy. Does it not?  Catholic doctrine surely teaches the divinity of God, and without a recognition that God is divine we have no religion.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  (Col. 1:16)

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, (2 Peter 1:3)

For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse. (Romans 1:20).

So back to why should a baptist care about Pope Francis' statements? I care when society disregards God's truth. Is it expected that people will reject Truth? Yes, but not by the fellow who is recognized as the leader of the Roman Catholic church!

It seems that fundamental principles are now daily rejected.  Truths are up for debate or they change with the fashions. Obvious good is now considered evil, and evil good.  When more truths - such as God's divinity and omnipotence - are rejected it is to our peril.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Unpatriotic Corporations and Hedge Fund Managers

Two news items concerning our beloved leader and business caught my eye today.  President Obama castigated big (formerly) U.S. corporations for "magically becoming Irish to exploit the "unpatriotic loophole" and pay less U.S taxes, according to one news item.  Some American companies have acquired facilities in Ireland and in a merger inversion have technically moved their headquarters there.  This allows them to dodge the highest business taxes in the world (good ole USA) and take advantage of some of the lowest in the world (Ireland's corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent).

No good American wants to see U.S. grown businesses move, even just their headquarters, overseas.  On that issue I will give President Obama the benefit of the doubt (I mean both the 'good American' and the businesses moving!)  However, in Obama's thinking these businesses need to be punished and dragged back to the U.S. so they can be taxed more.  This is a natural reflex on his part.  Corporations are evil, and profit-seeking is evil.  They must be treated as the enemy and controlled by the wise central government for the good of the citizens.

Let's consider Pennsylvania.  I have worked with some business organizations over the years in an attempt to reduce the heavy tax burden Pennsylvania-based businesses bear (e.g., we have the second-highest corporate net income tax of any state).  The truth is that businesses leave Pennsylvania to other states seeking a better tax (and regulatory) environment.  Some businesses that would likely move here for the trained workforce, natural resources, or beautiful winters (a-hem) do not because of the red flags of our tax rates.

I ask you how this is different on a global scale?  I can easily see the rationalization of a company in Pennsylvania deciding to move to South Carolina for a better tax and regulatory environment, and similarly it is easy to understand the thinking of corporations looking overseas.  If a corporation has a fiduciary responsibility to its stockholders shouldn't it consider the best tax environment - along with all the other factors?  Sure the corporation has other stakeholders including employees, communities, and customers to name a few.  In the end the financial decisions have to loom big for corporate management.

So Obama wants Congress to work at changing laws that permit these merger inversions or other avenues to bring back the tax revenue from these "unpatriotic" corporations.  Locked into his "corporations-are-greedy-enemies-of-the-state" mentality he naturally approaches the issue this way.

Hey, how about the solution we have lobbied for in Pennsylvania. LOWER THE TAXES!!  Does it make sense to further chase American businesses with more regulation and government strangleholds (a stick approach)? Or would it be better to offer a more conducive business environment so more businesses could thrive in America (the carrot approach)?

The other nugget I read quoted President Obama as saying corporate America CEO's don't have a right to complain about regulations and should show greater social responsibility.  "If you look at what's happened over the last four or five years, the folks who don't have a right to complain are the folks at the top," Obama told the Economist. He expanded on this perspective by saying, "Oftentimes, you'll hear some hedge fund manager say, 'Oh, he's just trying to stir class resentment.' No. Feel free to keep your house in the Hamptons and your corporate jet, et cetera. I'm not concerned about how you're living."

There was a time (during his elections) when Obama carefully guarded his anti-capitalist/ anti-business/class warfare heartfelt feelings.  No more. These statements show his blatant envy and grandiose self-empowerment.  One of Obama's regular rhetorical techniques is to clearly describe his own (bad) behavior as if coming from the lips of his enemies. Then he ridicules and holds up this thought as absurd.  In this case he tells the truth of his actions when he quotes the fictitious hedge fund manager (oh, the vilest, greediest of all capitalists): 'Oh, he's trying to stir up class resentment.'  Well, of course this is exactly what Obama is doing.  But we're suppose to dismiss this crazy notion because it is coming from the despised hedge fund manager.

And do you know what? The evil hedge fund manager has a house in the Hamptons - and you don't! It would be laughable - that Obama immediately engages in his own class resentment after trying to disabuse us of the notion - if he wasn't the President of these United States.  But catch this: the hedge fund manager can feel free to keep his house in the Hamptons.  President Obama is allowing him, for now anyway, to keep these ill-gotten fruits. How kind of our beloved leader.

Then President Obama offers the biggest, most obvious lie yet: "I'm not concerned about how you're living."  Are you kidding me!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Who Should Pay for Your Contraceptives?

I overheard a friend discuss the implications of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision.  She was relieved the court ruled in favor of religious liberty. However, she worried that this decision could be used by some cults to refuse to cover reasonable medical procedures.  She had heard that Jehovah Witnesses don't believe in blood transfusions.  "What if a business owner decides to not cover blood transfusions in healthcare coverage for his employees by claiming a religious exemption?"

This thought outraged my friend.  She wondered aloud if the court victory for Christians was worth the travesty this could be for employees' health insurance coverage.

Of course I was also relieved about the court's decision, though I was saddened that it was a 5-4 vote. Apparently four justices cannot understand the First Amendment (i.e., free exercise of religion) and the 1993 law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  Either they don't understand or they just want to defy the Constitution.

But my friend's misplaced outrage that some kooky employer would use this as a loophole to not provide reasonable health insurance to their employees was disheartening to me.  Do I think this could happen in this big country of ours?  Yes, I do.  Should we be concerned about it? No.

"Oh, there you go again, you heartless conservative," you may say.  Hold on. Let's take a step back from the minutiae of this case.  Here are the questions we should be asking ourselves:

  • Should the federal government be involved in specifying what health insurance benefits a private employer offers his employees?
    • Hint: nothing in the constitution gives the federal government this power, and we're talking about PRIVATE business!
  • Should private businesses be required by the federal government to subsidize citizens' sex lives?
    • Hint: you gotta be kidding me!
  • If private businesses opt out or can use a religious exemption from (in reality the Supreme Court ruling is for just some of the contraceptives) providing contraceptives in their health insurance plans should the federal government subsidize citizens' sex lives?
    • Hint: as usual, liberals want to show their compassion by spending your tax dollars!
  • Should the federal government require any business to provide abortifacients to its employees?
    • Hint: the federal government is prohibited from funding abortion due to the Hyde Amendment and cannot be allowed to force others to do it.  
  • Should someone who desires to use contraceptives buy it with their own money instead of acting as if it is their right to have it provided to them? (see image above)
    • Hint: of course!
We should not be outraged that some private business could use the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case to refuse to fund some particular health insurance coverage.  We SHOULD be outraged that the federal government is so intrusive into private business as to require any specific health insurance benefit.  This is not a power granted to the federal government by the constitution.  Our founders must be turning in their graves.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pennsylvania Needs You ... to Gamble More

Remember when the Governor and the General Assembly told us that opening up casinos in Pennsylvania would reduce our property taxes, save horse raising, expand school budgets, bring in tourism, keep our own gamblers from traveling out of state, help us compete with neighboring states, support local development, and cure cancer?  Well, in our continuing race to the bottom the General Assembly is now considering Internet poker and casino games.  This will help close up a big budget shortfall of $1.2 billion.

Like we do not have enough gambling already?  It is not bad enough that the state entices its citizens to "play to win" in multiple lotteries and is itself addicted to casino tax dollars?  Pennsylvania's 12 casinos generated $1.4 billion in state and local gambling taxes in 2013.  Over a billion dollars of losers' money!  Yet this is not enough to satisfy the ravenous appetite of our legislature.

We have two really big problems.  First is a state government that is desperate for tax revenue because it will not make tough cuts in spending.  The billion dollars raised from casino gambling that was suppose to CUT our taxes (and solve many of our ills) is not sufficient.  And did we not just see passage of a tax increase on our gasoline to help fix and build roads?  Then there is the year-after-year excuses about why we cannot reduce the country's highest corporate net income tax on businesses..."we just do not have the money in a very tight budget."  Stop spending so much!

The second problem is society's acceptance of what used to be called a vice, gambling, as a source for government funding.  When the mob runs a gambling operation it is evil and anti-social, but when the state runs it there is no harm?  I can make the case that state promoted gambling is worse.  Our government should lift up and edify good behavior, not be preying on its vulnerable citizens.

The General Assembly is reviewing a report that forecasts another pot of gold for the state if it permits internet gambling (and taxes the heck out of it).  This new found tax-money for Pennsylvania could be over $100 million a year.  (Not enough to put much of a a dent in the projected $1.2 billion deficit.)  The report also says we might squeeze out some more money from our casinos if we reduce pesky regulations like allowing cash advances with credit cards on the gaming floor or let players cash third party check and personal checks over $2,500 or reduce required state police presence.

Oh, and great news on internet gambling: It would have minimal effect on land-based casinos because it would attract a whole new market (of suckers).  IGaming caters to a younger, predominantly male demographic.  I guess not enough of our boys are showing up at casinos, but this way we can reach out to them on their smartphones for some poker!

Hey, I know!....let's use internet gambling money to reduce property taxes, fund education, provide medicine for grandma, and...We better do it soon because New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware are doing it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Full-time and in poverty

"In America no one should be working full time and be in poverty!" I have been reading this recently and have heard President Obama make the assertion.  It sounds laudatory and everyone seems to accept this premise.  (Following the assertion we usually have the bemoaning of income inequality in America and drum beating for raising the minimum wage.)

I need to object to the premise.  It is not pleasant and probably terribly incorrect, but somebody has to point this out.  Because someone works full-time does not necessarily mean that they create adequate value - for themselves or for others.  Because someone works full-time does necessarily mean that they produce enough value that warrants a paycheck above the poverty level. I know, I'm just heartless.

Suppose I worked full-time sweeping and cleaning my street. And suppose I was successful at getting my neighbors to pay for it.  The ten other families on our cul-de-sac each agreed to pay me $100 a month for this service.  It was hard work and I was committed to doing a good job. I worked sun-up to sundown 5 days a week to accomplish the task.  Well, I would make $1000 a month before taxes, $12,000 per year.  This is half the official poverty level for a family of four in America.  According to Obama this is unfair.

What is unfair? I chose the work. My neighbors agreed to pay me a wage for the job that was, if anything, probably MORE than the real value to them (perhaps my good looks and neighborly ways added to the value provided!). In other words, the value of the work I produced for my neighbors was worth only $12,000 a year.  I am in poverty, but there is no injustice committed.

The reality is that some tasks are less valuable than others. Some tasks that require very little skill pay very little money.  It could be that engaging in the task on a full-time basis is not going to produce enough income to raise one above the so-called poverty level even if it is done with great effort and honor.  And it IS fair to pay someone for the worth or value of the task performed, be it valued at $100 a month or $100 an hour.

By saying this I am not wishing poverty on anyone. I desire an America of great opportunity for everyone. I would like to see everyone get a good education, acquire at least adequate skills and be at least a productive citizens.  I would hope, in America, this opportunity would be available to all and that some with talent and effort would realize great success and wealth.

So what to do about people working full-time and not making enough to lift them out of poverty? Well, first it does not happen much anymore.  The so-called safety net in America encourages our citizens to not work and bring in way more than the poverty level.  But that is an issue for another time. 

The answer is not to bemoan the injustice.  Workers need to develop sufficient skills to produce enough value so that they earn more than the poverty level.  This goes back to God-given talents, education and effort.  Perhaps in my example above I give up my day off on Saturday and in addition to sweeping the streets I add mowing yards and with some training, landscaping. Maybe I then double my value to my neighbors and double my income and exceed the official poverty line.

Yes, I know this is a simple example and the real world is messy and difficult.  Helping people acquire skills to make themselves more valuable in the marketplace is difficult and it starts with our education system. Making unfounded platitudes which end up requiring me to pay for the false premise is the easy thing.  Save the cries of injustice; I'm not buying it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Not again! The Clamor for a Minimum Wage Hike

Here in Pennsylvania there are various voices from county courthouses to the General Assembly to the State Auditor General clamoring for a hike in the minimum wage.  On the national level President Obama has joined in the song.  He even joins in that part of the chorus that proclaims $10.10 is the equitable level.

Yes, believe it or not we are back to fighting this old, discredited idea from the liberal playbook.  I think it must be part of the liberal bylaws that this nutty government intrusion into the marketplace must be foisted on America every five or so years no matter what the economic conditions.  We hear  idiotic things like (e.g, from Auditor General DePasquale) making hourly wages greater than $7.25 would boost the state's economy and provide an alternative way to help the government's long-ailing bottom line.

I don't want to get side-tracked, but let's dismiss the idea of raising funds to help the poor state's bottom-line.  If it is "long-ailing" it is because it spends too much, not because it needs more money coming in.

Democrats in the state House introduced legislation last month that would increase minimum wages to $9 an hour and then one year later raise it to $10.10.  Obama would be proud.  Auditor General DePasquale argues that Pennsylvania needs to keep pace with Ohio and New Jersey, which are both boosting their minimum wages next year.  Keep pace? With what? Loss of jobs and wrecking already poor economies?  Oh, and shouldn't you being doing audits or something, Auditor General DePasquale?

Liberals will tell us the minimum wage rate of $7.25 hasn't been raised in "x" many years (insert the current time frame per the liberal bylaws), hasn't kept up with inflation, and you can't support a family at these meager wages. Blah, blah, blah.  Then we conservatives have to counter with the facts (don't you hate that): the minimum wage is not meant to support a family, most people earning it work part-time, are young, are unskilled, are just entering the workforce, are in training, etc.  We point out the number of years since it was last raised is irrelevant because it was a stupid thing to do back then, and why would we want to place another government imposed drag on a moribund economy at this time?

Economists in their right mind (I admit there ARE many who are not) say that if we make it difficult for a person to find a starting (i.e., minimum) wage job - because employers have to limit the number of hires at the new artificially high rate - then we have constructed an even greater hurdle for the person to enter the workforce, get the necessary training, and work their way up to a career-type of job.  It is true some people will be hired at the increased minimum wage, but many people who might have been hired will join the unemployed (or in Obama's America will join those who quit looking).

You know, the sad thing, I believe, is that most people advocating for raising the minimum wage know it will not help those they purport to care for in a kindly-government-knows-best sort of way.  They know it will likely hurt the overall economy and limit the number of unskilled jobs available.  It will make it look like they care.  And in the liberal playbook what better play to call?  They care and obviously anyone against raising the minimum wage doesn't care and just wants to keep the poor down.

It is very effective, politically. (Especially at the national level where the liberals have a great need to change the subject and get the Republicans back to defending against charges that they are mean and don't care!) Republicans are afraid to address the issue because they know they will be painted as selfish and uncaring, regardless of the real economic consequences of artificially setting wage rates.  Auditor General DePasquale (aren't you doing audits yet?) said, "I believe if it came up in the House or the Senate it would pass. I think it is a very hard thing to vote against."  He's probably right.  We know we can count on politicians to do the thing that feels good instead of the right thing.

A National Journal poll released recently found 71 percent of respondents nationwide supported boosting the federal minimum wage, with only 28 percent saying it could hurt the economy.  That's what happens when leaders fail to make the case with the facts and let the people pleasing and/or fear-mongering continue unchallenged.

I know, we get tired of arguing the same points against the same knuckle-headed ideas.  What is the alternative?  Just as every generation must fight again for their freedom, conservatives must be willing to counter the periodic feel-good nonsense from the Left with hard economic realities.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Religious Rights and Obamacare Battle Continues

The battle over certain mandates of Obamacare and freedom of religion continues across America. Last week the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and Erie Diocese won for their charitable arms an injunction against the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare.  In June Geneva College won a similar injunction.

Likewise, Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, has won its case with a federal appeals court.  The owners, that is, the majority stockholders in this corporation, the Green family, objected to Obamacare's mandate that they provide their employees insurance coverage for some contraceptives.

The Green family told the justices that because some contraceptive drugs and devices can prevent embryos from implanting in the womb they are tantamount to abortion.   So providing health insurance coverage for those forms of contraception would make the company and its owners complicit in the practice.

This is a very big deal.  If you personally find nothing wrong with contraceptives that is certainly your right.  (Not to cause a distraction in my own blog, but I question if you have a right under God to "contraceptives" that kill another human being, no matter how small.)  My understanding is the Catholic Church teaches against all forms of contraceptives while the other cases above object to "contraceptives" that act as abortifacients. The point is  - these groups object to this mandate in Obamacare due to their religious beliefs.  You may have your own view on the legitimacy of all kinds of contraceptives, but you must acknowledge that some people and organizations may have deeply held religious beliefs that make it impossible for them to accept this health insurance mandate.

What is interesting in the Hobby Lobby case is the claim that corporations have religious liberty.  The Supreme Court ruled in 2010 in Citizens United that corporations had free speech rights under the First Amendment.  The appeals court in the Hobby Lobby case used the same logic and said Hobby Lobby had the freedom of religion that would allow them to opt out of this Obamacare mandate.  Otherwise, Hobby Lobby's choices would be to act against its religious beliefs, not provide the insurance coverage and be subject to federal fines of $1.3 million per day (!), or drop insurance coverage that would lead to $26 million per year fine.

I really don't know what to make of the corporation argument.  I guess it seems reasonable.  I do strongly object to any organization (which consist of individuals with their own religious beliefs) - the Catholic Church, Geneva College, Hobby Lobby - or any individual from being coerced by the federal government into buying or supporting any good or service that goes against their religious beliefs.  (Ahhh, these are the times we live in - I just wrote a sentence that said the feds were coercing us to buy a good or service and my objection was based on religious freedom.  Should the feds be allowed under the constitution to coerce us to buy anything?  Huh, Justice Roberts?)  As I wrote previously in this blog, our religious liberty is under attack.

The Obama administration is appealing these cases and one or more will end up at the Supreme Court.  Obama must fight these objections to Obamacare all the way. After all, Obamacare is about government control.  Government knows what is best for us regardless whether we need the level of insurance coverage or even if we object on religious grounds.

Let's say the above organizations win and the courts rule that religious groups such as Catholic Charities, Geneva College, or even secular corporations can opt out of this contraceptive mandate? Great, but excuse me, that is not enough.

There are two problems.  First, there should not be an opt out when the mandate violates the First Amendment.  There should be a prohibition against the mandate. The federal government should not be allowed to issue exemptions on a matter that is protected by our inalienable rights enshrined in the First Amendment.  Second, what about individuals?  What if I, as an individual, buy health insurance in the open marketplace and I object to having to pay for a policy that includes contraceptive coverage?  Certainly the First Amendment applies first to individual citizens!  (Not to mention that I may object to certain other minimum requirements being forced on me by Obamacare such as coverage for drug addiction or alcohol abuse -partaking in any of these goes against my religious beliefs.)

No matter what your beliefs are about contraceptives, my friends, I hope you can see how Obamacare violates all of our religious freedom.  Let me know your thoughts.

UPDATE 11/26/13

Today the Supreme Court announced they will take up the Hobby Lobby case. While dozens of companies have sued the Obama administration over the mandate that most employers -- with the exception of churches and religious non-profits -- have to cover the full range of contraceptives in their health insurance plans, the Supreme Court will hear the most high-profile case I addressed above.  Along with Hobby Lobby they will also take up Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, a case filed by a Pennsylvania-based furniture company owned by a family of Mennonites. Observers believe that the cases will be heard together, likely in March 2014, with a decision expected in June.