Monthly Archives: February 2012

Ron Paul at His Very Best Confronting Ben Bernake

If Rep. Ron Paul has accomplished anything in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns it would be the way he has educated the American public about monetary policy and the Federal Reserve. I’ve listened to on line lectures from the Cato Institute and read about monetary policy but more often than not its either over my head or bores me to tears. Paul manages translate the Fed’s policy and put into language people like me can understand and keep it interesting.

Today’s hearing where Paul questioned Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake is a case-in-point. My favorite part is when he asks Bernake if he does his own grocery shopping driving home the point about how his inflationary policies impact average people where it matters most (cost of groceries and fuel doesn’t go into determining the rate of inflation).

Rule of Thumb: If it Makes Santorum Sick, it’s Probably Good for Liberty

One of the more distressing things for me concerning this 2012 campaign is the religious test being imposed on some of the candidates by the voters and encouraged by other candidates. There are at least some voters who will not support Mitt Romney under any circumstances because he is a Mormon. Once upon a time, the idea of a Catholic being president was just as much of a scandal but today very few non-Catholics would consider this a deal breaker.

Ironically devout Catholic Rick Santorum, one candidate who benefits from fellow Catholic JFK’s election 52 years ago, says that when he heard JFK’s famous separation of church and state speech he “almost threw up.”

Here’s an excerpt from the speech that made Santorum almost hurl:

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured–perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again–not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me–but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners [sic] for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew–or a Quaker–or a Unitarian–or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim- -but tomorrow it may be you–until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

IMO this is JFK at his very best. This speech could just as easily apply to Mitt Romney; all he would have to do is replace the Catholic references with Mormon ones and it would have the same exact meaning. Kennedy had to give this speech because of the fear that he would impose his dogma on the country or bow to the Vatican. Now, 52 years later, we have another Catholic in Rick Santorum who has a very different attitude concerning his Catholic faith and how it relates to how he would govern.

It seems to me that if Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith is fair game, so is Rick Santorum’s Catholic faith. Does Santorum approve of how the Vatican has handled the pedophile priests? I think that’s a very fair question. Another good question might be why he apparently doesn’t agree with the Just War Theory (couldn’t it be argued that he’s just another cafeteria Catholic?).

I really couldn’t care less about the personal faiths for Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, or Barack Obama. They can believe in many gods or no gods if they neither pick my pocket* nor break my leg nor infringe on my freedoms by imposing his values on me. I do not get why this is so hard for some people to understand.

*A very real concern.

Penn Jillette, Seth McFarlane, And The “Stupid or Evil” Political Fallacy

Recently Chris has pointed out (here & here) the stupid/evil fallacy the left often uses* to paint the right. In short, the fallacy goes like this:

1) Republican policies are bad and designed purely to reward the current power structure.
2) If you are a Republican, you then must fall into one of two categories:
a) You’re stupid, and you’re being duped by the rulers of the party.
b) You’re one of the rulers of the party, and therefore evil.

Usually leftists assume the person they’re talking to — if their name isn’t Rove or Koch — falls into the “stupid” category. Interestingly, many of them actually think George W. Bush fell into the “stupid” category, being led around by Cheney, who was in the “evil” category.

Below, I’ve excerpted a passage from Penn Jillette’s book, God, No!**, where he touches on a similar fallacy. It’s more along the lines of the “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” fallacy, but the two are very closely related.

In the below, Penn was on Larry King with Seth McFarlane, discussing tax rates & the Tea Party:

Seth’s problem seemed to be that the Tea Party people were politically in favor of policies that Seth felt were against their own interests. This is a position I’ve heard others take before. Seth wasn’t hating the Tea Party people, he really wanted what he thought was best for them. His heart was in the right place. What bothered him so about the Tea Party was that they didn’t know what was best for their own damn selves. Seth is very talent and works hard, but he also seems to think he was lucky too. That seems reasonable. He had done well, and he didn’t need his taxes any lower. He wanted to pay his share, and he thought his share could be even higher. The Tea Party was pushing for things that would help Seth his own damn self and that were bad for the average Tea Party member. Seth explained that if the Tea Party got their way, Seth would, his own damn self, keep even more damn money. That really bugged him. He couldn’t dig that at all. How could tehse nuts possibly be pushing for things that weren’t in their own immediate self-interest? The Tea Party people were trying to stop the government from doing things that were financially good for the Tea Party individuals themselves. Seth didn’t want people who were much less well-off than he was pushing for things that were good for rich fucks like Seth. I understood taht Seth thought that anyone pushing for something politically not in their own financial self-interest was stupid and/or manipulated by big corproate rich-fuck money. This was my understanding of his position; those aren’t the words that he used. I might be unfairly lumping Seth in with other people I’ve heard talk about this. This is an argument I’ve heard a lot. It’s an argument some liberals I know seem comfortable with.

Huh?

As I see it, any person making this argument is kind of bragging taht his political position is so purely altruistic that it is against his own self-interest. He cares so much about other people, justice, and pure political ideology that he has the moral strength to argue for something that isn’t in his self-interest. I’ve heard a lot of rich Hollywood people make that argument. They seem very proud of it.

On the other hand, if a … I guess the word would be “peasant,” cares enough about other people, justice, and pure political ideology to argue for something that isn’t in his or her puny ignorant best interest, he or she is a manipulated idiot.

The only way this makes sense is if you think that rich people can argue against their own self-interest, but less rich people can’t. Seth, I love you, but this is the United States of America — one doesn’t have to be rich to be guided by what one thinks is right. Morality can trump self-interest in good people of all classes. If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for them. Me, well, I’d like my position to be moral and in my self-interest — and I think those aren’t that often mutually exclusive.

Seth and the Tea Party don’t disagree on doing the right thing, they disagree on what the right thing is. I just wish we could all remember that.

Assuming that your ideological opponents sincerely believe — and often have good reasons for believing — the views they espouse seems to be lost in modern political discourse. Perhaps I’m naive, but I find the best policy is always to assume my opponents are arguing in good faith. Only then can you show them why their policies are wrong, even if their goals are admirable. If you start out by impugning their goals, it’s nothing but a waste of words.
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Should We Force Women To Bear Disabled Children?

Rick Santorum believes that the Obama administration is in favor of some Gattaca-like dystopia, I suppose:

“One of the things that you don’t know about ObamaCare in one of the mandates is they require free prenatal testing,” Santorum began telling about 400 people here. “Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and, therefore, less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society. That too is part of ObamaCare — another hidden message as to what president Obama thinks of those who are less able than the elites who want to govern our country.”

Now, I’m in a weird position to discuss this, because I’m a bit of a pro-life libertarian, but at the same time I’m very libertarian about being pro-life. I think when it comes to my wife and I, I’m very strongly pro-life. But that said, I’m not sure I’m strong enough in the belief in being pro-life that I’d throw a woman or a doctor in a cage for aborting a pregnancy.

My wife and I have two kids, are expecting a third. For the first two, we deliberately declined the amniocentesis because we were willing to bear the child regardless of the results. It seemed that sticking a needle into my wife’s uterus is probably a silly risk to take [despite being a low-risk procedure] when we had no intention of letting the results change our behavior. With the third, it appears that medical technology has advanced to the point now where a blood test & ultrasound can now determine if there’s any major risk-factors, and luckily the results to date are that rather than being a 1 in 200 chance of having a baby with Down’s Syndrome, we’re happy to say that the odds are 1 in 11,000. It is nice to know that.

But do I want to force a woman to bear a child with Down’s? Do I think we should somehow cheer those women as being heroes, as folks like Santorum, who has a disabled child, and Palin, who has a disabled child, are cheered by the right? The responsibility of raising a child is huge, and it’s hard enough to do with a non-disabled child. Do we want to force that on people who are unwilling — or unable — to bear it?

This hits home for my wife and I. In October, we found out that our younger son was diagnosed with autism. We had some idea prior to this that something was amiss, as he wasn’t talking (nor showing much interest in starting, i.e. making the normal child “babble”). Autism is a scary diagnosis, especially with a 2 1/2 year old. With now 4 months of intensive speech therapy, at best we can say that we’re seeing improvement, but it’s slow going. Not a week goes by that my wife doesn’t ask me, “He’s going to talk eventually, right??” Well, I think he is, but we’re not seeing it happen so much yet. He has many of the characteristic behaviors — he’s very picky about environment and routine, not at all interested in interacting with other children [and will throw a fit when they encroach on his space]. Trying to get a haircut requires my wife and I to work together to hold him down in a seat as he screams and struggles while the lady at “Cool Cuts 4 Kids” tries not to cut his head, rather than his hair. At 2 1/2 years old, the first time he ever let me clip his fingernails was last Friday. And the worst thing of all is that he has no concept of language, so while you can sometimes soothe or explain what’s wrong to a 2 1/2 year old, nothing gets through. I believe it will be easier someday, due to all the work that we’re putting in now to intervene, but severe cases of autism sometimes never result in an adult who can function for themselves in society.

As I said, had my wife and I known this prior to his birth, we still would have had him. But had my wife and I known before she’d conceived that this was going to happen, I’m not ashamed to say we might have waited a month to avoid this outcome. I dearly love my son, and I can honestly say that he regularly brings great joy to my life. But it’s hard. It’s really hard. And I know that it’s going to be hard — that he’s going to face difficulties doing “normal” things — all his life. I wouldn’t tell prospective parents that I wish they have an autistic child. Every parent wants to have a child that they can mold into a success, emotionally and intellectually. This diagnosis is a disability that means that we’ll have to work that much harder to overcome. We want him to have all the success that my wife and I have had in life, and that his older brother [and his upcoming younger sibling] have in life. We know, as parents, that we and that he are going to have to work much harder than “typical” for him to achieve that success. We’re willing to take that on; but I can’t say it’s what we would have chosen, all things being equal.

Nor is it only an emotional and parental burden — it is financial. We’re lucky, as parents go. I have an excellent job with pretty good insurance, and a lot of what we’re doing is covered by my insurance or through non-profits funded by the State of CA. That said, I’m on an HSA-driven health care plan, so we’ve got a pretty sizable deductible, and we blew through it in 3 months of his therapy. All told, we’re talking about costs related to the diagnosis and associated other testing that would have cost close to $10K at “book” prices (obviously the insurance-negotiated rates are lower), and ongoing therapy that would cost at least $2K/month at “book” prices, and still at least $1K/month at insurance-negotiated prices. To give our son the level of care that we feel he needs without all the insurance might be possible, but would be extremely painful (likely requiring us to move out of our house to a cheaper rental, or for my wife to get a job outside the house, which we’d especially want to avoid as she needs to keep up with his care & therapy). And it would only be possible for us to do because I’m the exception, rather than the rule, when it comes to economics.

Rick Santorum suggests that Obama wants to “cull the disabled” as a cost-saving measure — it’s easy to say that when you have the level of wealth that Rick Santorum (and to a lesser extent, upper-middle-class folks like myself) have access to. When you don’t have access to the level of care that we can provide, you’re consigning your disabled children to a second-class life. I don’t think that’s a Republican value, nor do I think it’s a Christian value*, to bring people into this world and not be ready and able to give them the tools to succeed in life. Rick Santorum might say “well then you should be chaste and not produce a child” — but being ready and able to provide those tools for a normal child, and being ready and able to provide those tools to a disabled child, are two very different things. (*Full disclosure — I’m neither a Republican nor a Christian, so perhaps I can’t necessarily hold court on those two declarations)

When it comes to autism, unlike something like Down’s, though, the “typical” case can be “recovered”. It’s tough to describe, but I often say that autism is something that makes “normal” things a lot more difficult than they would be for non-disabled people. Most of these difficult things can be language-oriented, and we know that language development occurs in fury in the 0-3 year range. During this time, a child is developing mental pathways in the brain, and it’s much easier at these early years than later in life. One of the critical problems dealing with autism is that we don’t typically know a child is autistic until after he starts displaying speech delays, i.e. after the age of two. This means that the intervention after the age of two to get an autistic child to “catch up” to their more typical peers must be very intense — right now my son is in 8 hours of speech, OT, and ABA therapies every week, and we’re looking to get some of the hours increased. The goal is to slam those neural pathways into place through repetition, because they don’t come naturally.

What does this mean? It means that knowledge that a child is autistic prior to that child’s birth can be a signal to provide therapy for the autism at a much younger age. It means that instead of waiting for a delay to be prevalent, you’re working hard from day 1 to ensure a delay never develops. It still means there’s a lot more work than a typical child, as the neural pathways that the child would normally develop don’t happen on their own. But it means that you can be building those pathways earlier in life, and get better outcomes for those children — something that Rick Santorum and Barack Obama can agree is the goal.

Rick Santorum claims that Obama wants to provide this testing so those children will not be born. As much as I’m against Obamacare, I think Rick Santorum’s positions on abortion suggests that he cares a lot more about making sure those children are born than he cares about what life they’re born into. Those of us in the real world are trying to make good lives for our children — whether we choose to have them or choose not to because we cannot provide an adequate life — and prenatal testing gives valuable information whatever that choice might be.

Katy Bar the Door: Social Conservatives Want in Your Bedroom Too

Last week, I wrote a post about how the Left wants in the bedrooms of the people by mandating health insurance coverage for contraceptives. On the other extreme, we have Rick “every sperm is sacred” Santorum talking about the “dangers of contraceptives” and how non-procreative sex is somehow bad for society (as if concerns about “society” should trump the rights of the individual). I intended to write a full post devoted to making the opposite point (Does anyone really think that millions more unplanned births would actually be good for society?) and referencing a very interesting conclusion Steven Levitt made in a chapter his book Freakonomics called “It’s not Always a Wonderful Life.”

But I’m not going to do that. Santorum and his supporters’ antipathy for individuals making their own value judgments about sex has been documented on other blogs and I don’t know that I can really add much that hasn’t already been written. Having said that, I think Rick Moran at PJ Media nearly perfectly captures my concerns about Santorum and Social Conservatives more generally in his post: “The GOP’s Problem with Sex Could Cost Them in November.”

[Social Conservatives’] outdated, even primitive, critique of human sexuality that denies both the science and the cultural importance of sex and the sex act. Their main target appears to be women, and women’s sex lives, although the act of love itself is also to be placed in a strait jacket. No doubt the right will argue that their criticisms are only meant to help women, and nurture “healthy” attitudes toward sex. Nonsense. First of all, women don’t need that kind of help. They are capable of making their own choices without a bunch of ignorant busybodies telling them how to govern the most intimate and personal aspects of their lives.

Secondly, there is inherent in this critique a 19th century — or earlier — view of sex that seeks to keep the act of love within the confines of the marriage bed, and believes that physical intimacy should be primarily for one reason, and one reason only: procreation. At the very least, sex outside of marriage should be severely proscribed and limited to those who plan a long term relationship or eventual matrimony. Having sex because it’s fun, or because you’re bored, or because you crave physical intimacy, or for any other reason beyond traditional notions of “love” is grounds for disapprobation.

Certainly religion has much to do with this assault on sex. And if the extent of their critique stayed in the pews and pulpits of conservative churches, there would be no problem whatsoever. Christian denominations can tell their adherents how to live their lives, citing chapter and verse from the Bible, and nobody would care.

But when Republican politicians, and others associated with conservatism or the Republican Party, start echoing the various criticisms of contraception, of casual sex, of sex outside of marriage, the perception cannot be dismissed that the imprimatur of the entire party — and consequently, the government if they ever came to power — has been granted and that somebody, somewhere, might want to do something about it. As a voter making a political calculus on how to mark one’s ballot, the GOP is kidding itself if they don’t think this affects the decisions of millions of citizens.

Where do these people get off? Apparently they don’t…unless it’s for the purpose of procreation. No wonder they are so uptight!

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