Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Today, I Finished Reading Ezekiel

Thus saith the LORD:

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, what is this proverb you have in the land of Israel: ‘The days go by and every vision comes to nothing’? Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am going to put an end to this proverb, and they will no longer quote it in Israel.’ Say to them, ‘The days are near when every vision will be fulfilled.’”

- Ezekiel 12:21-23

Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city. While they were killing and I was left alone, I fell facedown, crying out, “Ah, Sovereign LORD! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?”

- Ezekiel 9:7-8

So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.

- Ezekiel 24:18

“All who had spread terror in the land of the living are slain, fallen by the sword. The punishment for their sins rested on their bones, though the terror of these warriors had stalked through the land of the living.”

- Ezekiel 32:23, 27

“Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you.”

- Ezekiel 35:6

“So I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD. Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign LORD.’”

- Ezekiel 16:62-63

He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

- Ezekiel 37:2-3

There was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them.

- Ezekiel 37:7-8

Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. The glory of the LORD entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple.

- Ezekiel 43:1-2, 4-5

Then the man brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, the one facing east, and it was shut. The LORD said to me, “This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered through it."

- Ezekiel 44:1-2

The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east.

As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep.

He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep.

He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist.

He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross.

He asked me, "Son of man, do you see this?"

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the desert, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the Dead Sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”

- Ezekiel 47:1, 3-10, 12

Friday, March 26, 2010

Our Conservative Healthcare Reform

The fact that (nominally) serious conservatives are calling the healthcare reform bill “socialism” or “socialized medicine,” and that many people are still taking them seriously, shows that the U.S. is in dire need of a crash course in political ideologies.

Socialism in its orthodox form is summed up in Karl Marx’s dictum, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” All means of production are owned by the people (read: the state), everyone works for the state, and the state provides for the needs of all the people. Socialism-lite, as practiced in many European countries, saddles its citizens with enormous tax rates, and provides them with everything they need for a “dignified” life – healthcare, college education, daycare, and so on and so forth – essentially restricting the free market to nonessentials.

What Obama’s bill does is require each American citizen to buy insurance from a private insurance company (except those on government plans like Medicaid and Medicare, and those who get insurance from their employers.) Those who can’t afford it receive money from the government to buy their private insurance plans. In turn, insurance companies are required to accept and cover all customers, regardless of preexisting medical conditions, and spend 80% of premium money on treatments for customers. Competition still exists. Choice still exists. Supply and demand still function. Doctors are still paid by customers, through insurance companies.

That is not socialism. That is a regulated and subsidized free market. Karl Marx is screaming from his grave right now. This bill is a huge victory for the bourgeoisie.

I long ago accepted the premise that in a country as rich as the United States, everyone should have access to education, food, shelter, and medicine. For me, access to healthcare, one of the most basic human needs, is a starting point for participation in a free society and a free market, not something you should be afraid of losing if you don’t perform. If you don’t agree, then I guess we’re just stuck. I don’t know what to say to someone who believes human life should be subject to the struggle of the fittest. Not to disparage your beliefs, of course, but the value of every human life is what we in the undergrad-philosophy business call a “presupposition” – you either accept it or you don’t.

But if you do believe that universal healthcare coverage is a good goal, there are two ways we can go about it: have the government take over healthcare and become everyone’s doctor (like in Canada and Britain), or have the government provide everyone the means to access the private healthcare market. President Obama and the Democrats have done the latter. American conservatives have reacted like he’s collectivizing our farms and relocating our peasants.

The only reasonable conclusion one can draw is that the conservatives and Republicans really are “the party of ‘No!’” Either they do not plan to do anything about the fact that tens of millions of Americans have no access to healthcare, or they are determined to bring down President Obama’s agenda, and damn the consequences.

David Frum, whom I consider to be one of the finest conservative writers, was fired from his job at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, after writing a column about the healthcare bill’s passage. Here’s what he said:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.


This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.
(I urge you to read the whole column. It's excellent.)

After Frum was fired, another conservative exile, Bruce Bartlett, wrote this about him:

Since, he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI "scholars" on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.

Here’s the reality: the Democrats fought the Republicans tooth-and-nail to pass the most conservative universal healthcare program in the western world. Let us rejoice and be merry.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Healthcare Reform Passes...and I’m Glad

Tonight, my roommate Neal and I watched the House of Representatives vote in favor of the healthcare reform bill. Both Neal and I usually call ourselves conservatives. But we both cheered when the bill passed by narrow margins.

The debate over this bill has provoked more intense opposition from American conservatives than anything else I can remember. Not a single Republican in either house of Congress voted for it. Not a single one.

The lack of congressional bipartisanship I blame on the failure of the Democratic leadership to include Republicans in the drafting of this bill, or to add even the most sensible Republican-supported provisions to the bill (e.g.: medical tort reform). Nevertheless, the unprecedented government subsidization and regulation of the healthcare industry introduced by this bill is basically the antithesis of American conservatism. So how can I, a self-described conservative, be happy about it?

My political views have shifted and, I hope, grown over the past couple of years. I used to be a conservative in the sense that I supported the entire political agenda labeled “conservative” in American political discourse. I now describe myself as a conservative because I believe in limited government, and I am skeptical of grand ideas and solutions. But I would like to think that my commitment to a just society, where all are free to pursue their God-given potential, trumps my grumpy-old-man tendencies.

Which brings us to healthcare.

As inappropriately devoted followers of this blog may know, I am currently trying to read through all the prophets. Yesterday, by complete chance (except there’s no such thing), my reading progress brought me to Ezekiel 34:

“Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?...You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. ...You have ruled them harshly and brutally.”

I would never describe access to healthcare as a “human right,” as Nancy Pelosi did in her floor speech last night. If certain human rights are available only to those living in well-functioning industrialized societies, then the entire category called “human rights” is cheapened. But healthcare is absolutely a human need, just like food, water, and shelter. In our society, healthcare is much harder to get than any of those things. Only millionaires can safely afford to pay for their own healthcare. Everyone else needs an insurance plan. These plans are costly, getting costlier, and available only to the relatively healthy. And government safety nets like Medicaid fail the poor with alarming regularity. The weakest in our society have the hardest time filling the most basic of human needs. There’s nothing level about that playing field, nothing “free” about a market like that – or just.

There are many problems with this bill. But because of its passage, 30 million people who had no access to healthcare will now have that access. We can work out the other problems later. For now, let’s give thanks that all of our (many) future healthcare debates will occur in a country where everyone is able to participate in the healthcare market.

And, for your entertainment and for the historical record, here is a collection of healthcare-related Facebook statuses my friends posted last night and today:

Boehner for President 2012. There, I said it.

sick to his stomach. USA is one step closer to socialism...

...House passes the Health Care Bill!

Healthcare Reform: The process wasn't pretty... but I'm glad that it passed...

National Health Care: The compassion of the IRS and the efficiency of the USPS


Well, now that healthcare has destroyed America, the gays can't any more. I'm sure they are glad to have that responsibility off their shoulders.

According to google, in the last hour, searches for impeach Obama have dramatically increased, just an interesting fact.

Thank you Congress and President Obama, now I will have health care, as well as millions of others, proud to be an equal American!!

hey yo, change is needed. any kind, really.

waiting for the apocalypse

get in line for health care.

2014 can't come soon enough for some people: ______ and ______, I'm looking at you. :) Finally, an end to health insurance discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.

"Democrats hope that once the voters see the new healthcare law taking effect they will learn to like it" -BBC news

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Irony, Thy Name is Sean Penn

"Every day, this elected leader [Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez] is called a dictator here, and we just accept it, and accept it. And this is mainstream media. There should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies."

- Sean Penn, March 11, 2010

"In May 2007, the state took control of the frequency and equipment of the nation’s oldest television station, RCTV. ...Although the constitution provides for freedom of the press, the media climate is permeated by intimidation, sometimes including physical attacks, and strong antimedia rhetoric by the government is common. During 2008, the local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Public Sphere reported 52 cases of aggression and 47 cases of intimidation among the total of 186 violations of free expression it registered during the year. This included several incidents in which armed progovernment groups assaulted the offices of opposition outlets...The 2004 Law on Social Responsibility of Radio and Television gives the government the authority to control the content of radio and television programs."

- Freedom House report on Venezuela, 2009

Freedom of speech?  Sure.  For the proletariat.  And by proletariat, we mean, "those who know what's best for the proletariat."

Why?  Got a problem with that?

Diamond Column: How Much Debt is Too Much?

Republican Senator Jim Bunning is our country’s latest political villain. Last week, Bunning single-handedly blocked a bill in the Senate that would have extended unemployment benefits and health benefits for jobless Americans. Bunning argued that the bill would add $10 billion to the deficit, and refused to allow it to pass until Congress made other cuts to pay for it. By the time Bunning was convinced to back down, tens of thousands of Americans had already seen their benefit payments interrupted.

So he’s kind of a jerk. But he does have a point.

The late Senator Everett Dirksen is said to have joked, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

This year, the government will spend $1.6 trillion more than it takes in. Senator Pat Murray wants to add $1.5 billion to that – to pay for a summer jobs program for teenagers. What’s the big deal? It’d only increase the deficit we already have by 0.1%.

How’s this for “real money”? The public debt of the United States stands at over $12 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that we will add $6 trillion to that in the next decade. By 2020, the entire national debt will equal two-thirds of our gross domestic product. And if you count the benefits the government has promised to pay to future retirees, then our national debt already stands at $56.4 trillion. That’s more dollars than there are miles between the solar system and the nearest star.

Facing this monster, Bunning’s cry “Enough is enough!” seems a little more reasonable. Sure, he picked the wrong battle. But no one else in our government seems to be taking this seriously. “We’ll deal with it after the recession is over,” they say. Just like President Bush said, “We’ll deal with it after the war on terror is over.” Just like Reagan said, “We’ll deal with it when we win the Cold War.”

What happens when these numbers get so ridiculous that people lose their faith in the credibility of the U.S. government, and stop lending to us and investing in us? When the lack of favorable lenders means we can’t shove our debt off into the future anymore, and it all comes crashing down at once?

Now is the time for our politicians to start talking about solutions, like new forms of taxation, limits on benefits, and getting rid of subsidies to big business. Fixing this problem will take a lot more courage than grandstanding on the Senate floor, but that’s the kind of leadership this country needs right now.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My politics

Until I can come up with a more systematic 11-point scheme:

God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the “gods”:

“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

“They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

“I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.”

Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.

- Psalm 82