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.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Give Me Liberty!

     Our founders cherished liberty.  Some cherished only God more.  All committed their lives for the concept and reality of liberty.  In the lead up to the Tea Party the men of Marlborough, Massachusetts declared:

      "Death is more eligible than slavery.  A free-born people are not required by the religion of Jesus  Christ to submit to tyranny, but may make use of such power as God has given them to recover and support their laws and liberties..."

    Thomas Jefferson, wrote the famous words in the Declaration of Independence - Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  These simple and profound words meant something to colonists seeking to overthrow a tyrant and declare their independence.  They understood that men were born free and granted liberty from God.  Government had, for most of man's existence, not been a friend and guardian of liberty but had been an enemy to it.

     Being students of history and having lived under tyranny, the founders proposed a limited government.  The power would rest with the people.  The government would acknowledge the God-given liberties of the people and owe its existence to the good will of the free people. These ideas of limited government and the acknowledgement of man's natural liberty were enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

    Why do I write this reminder of our history?  I cherish liberty.  I cherish liberty, but I see and feel its decline.  I am shocked at how cavalier many Americans are when their liberties are stolen by an ever growing government.  Can we actually claim to have a limited government today?  Not when we can't even choose which light bulbs we'd liked to purchase or we are told we must buy health insurance.

     Can I truly enjoy my liberty when the government seizes more and more of my hard income to the point where I only get to keep half of the next dollar I make?  To add insult to injury they take my taxes to support all kinds of excesses and immoralities even to the extent of the killing of the unborn.  If  I object then the government can use my taxes to support its agents to harass me, spy on me, and litigate me to death.

     The ever growing assault on our religious liberty should awaken Americans.  Religious institutions are being told they must hire unbelievers, supply them with contraceptives and abortifacients, and keep their "freedom of worship" in their houses of worship.  Correction, Mr. Obama.  It is freedom of religion, not freedom of worship! We must insist that our liberties be defended and we must not suffer any perversion of them.  I will express my freedom of religion any darn place I wish in this land of the "free!"


     I wrote of Thomas Jefferson's understanding of liberty above.  I will close with this statement of Jefferson's, found on his monument in D.C. . . .

     "God who gave us life gave us liberty.  Can the liberties of a nation be secured when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?  Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever."

     Give me liberty!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Do Your Duty or Resign AG Kane

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced Thursday afternoon (July 11, 2013) she will not defend the Commonwealth in a federal lawsuit filed this week by the ACLU challenging the Commonwealth's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  In 1996 the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed DOMA by overwhelming numbers and it was signed by Gov. Tom Ridge.  DOMA states that marriage in Pennsylvania is the union of one man and one woman.  Attorney General Kane called this law “wholly unconstitutional.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Tuesday on behalf of 23 Pennsylvania residents,  naming Kane and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett as defendants. Kane announced her position to reporters at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center. 

Attorney General Kane said she was obligated to drop the case “because I endorse equality and anti-discrimination laws...If there is a law that I feel that does not conform with the Pennsylvania state constitution and the U.S. Constitution, then I ethically cannot do that as a lawyer." Kane said that in a choice between defending the law and serving the public, “I choose you.”

Now the burden of defending the law falls on the governor’s general counsel. Corbett supports the law.  Pennsylvania General Counsel James D. Schultz issued a statement that [he and his colleagues] “are surprised that the Attorney General, contrary to her constitutional duty under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, has decided not to defend a Pennsylvania statute lawfully enacted by the General Assembly, merely because of her personal beliefs.”

Sorry, AG Kane.  You are derelict in your duty.  No grandstanding or political posturing can replace your duty.  You are bound by Pennsylvania law to defend its laws.  The Commonwealth Attorneys Act of 1980 (Ch2, Section 204 (3) reads: It shall be the duty of the Attorney General to uphold and defend the constitutionality of all statutes so as to prevent their suspension or abrogation in the absence of a controlling decision by a court of competent jurisdiction.

The Attorney General doesn't get to choose which laws she will defend or obey and which she can take a politically correct position on.  She is not to judge whether the General Assembly passed an unconstitutional law.  She has presumed the court's position before the case has even begun.  Her job, her duty, is to defend her client, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to the best of her ability.

What if tomorrow AG Kane decides not to defend another duly enacted law? Say she decides, in her judgment, voter registration laws are discriminatory. Or the next day she judges Act 122, which mandated that abortion clinics upgrade their facilities under the same guidelines that regulate surgical facilities, was unconstitutional?

You see, she does not have authority to judge the law or reflect on how it makes her feel.  Her OBLIGATION is not to drop the case as she says; her obligation is to DEFEND THE LAW.

This is serious. If Attorney General Kane cannot find it within herself to do her duty then she should resign.  If she does not resign then the House of Representatives should initiate the impeachment process (Article VI, Section 4) for her failure to carry out her constitutional duties and send her to the Senate to be tried (Article VI, Section 5).