The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Obergefell has nothing to do with freedom of religion

It puzzles me that “social conservatives” are attacking the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision as a blow to religious freedom. The States, by this decision, are required to accept marriage of some couples that would be barred from marrying under many religions' rules, to be certain. But there are also religions whose clergy will willingly perform such marriages, and Obergefell gives them the freedom to do so. And I do not see any possibility that a priest, minister, or rabbi who believes it is against God's law to perform such marriages will be forced to do so. It will come under the same reading of the laws that allows a rabbi to refuse to perform an interfaith marriage, or a Catholic priest to refuse to marry a couple, one of whom is a divorcee.

The argument seems to involve people (not clergy, but ordinary businesses!) refusing to serve gay couples. And why should they be allowed to discriminate “for religious reasons” any more than a restaurant whose proprietor claims to believe that the Bible says that blacks are subhuman can refuse to serve them? A business open to the public must serve the whole public.

I am a strong supporter of religious freedom. I have to be, as a believer in a minority religion whose adherents have been victims of discrimination in the past. But I cannot see “religious freedom” being used as an excuse for discrimination. And it is this that we see being done by the opponents of same-sex marriage.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Is there any coherent argument against same-sex marriage? I don't see one!

There are a lot of comments I have seen by opponents of same-sex marriage in the light of the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and others that I had seen even before that, attacking the very idea of same-sex marriage, but none of these arguments makes very much sense. It is obviously the case that the people making the arguments against same-sex marriage are simply trying, lamely, to find ways that do not fall afoul of the First Amendment to say “my religion does not accept it; thus it's wrong.”

The most common, but stupidest, argument I have seen is “We are ‘redefining’ marriage, an institution that has remained unchanged for thousands of years.” First of all, I cannot accept that this is a “redefinition of marriage.” If we define marriage as “two persons who love each other agreeing to form a single household” (which to me seemns the fundamental purpose of a marriage), the definition has not changed. All that has changed is that the right to marry has been extended to couples that had not this right in the past. And as I have said in earlier posts, when the right to vote was extended to eighteen-year-olds, nobody considered this to be a “redefinition of voting”! So how can this be a “redefinition of marriage”?

In addition, marriage has been redefined in much more radical ways over the 200-plus-year history of this nation. In the 1700s, being married meant a woman gave up her right to own property, and in fact was considered the property of her husband. This has long since ceased to be the case; and I hope nobody wants to restore that “traditional” definition of marriage.

Some opponents of same-sex marriage make the point that “children who grow up with both their mother and their father in an intact family are most likely to develop into well-adjusted, productive citizens able to sustain and provide for themselves. In contrast, when marriages break down or disappear, economic troubles all too often surface.” But this is really totally irrelevant to the issue of same-sex marriage. A same-sex couple, to be sure, can only have children by adoption; it cannot create one. But the children that couple might adopt would have been given up for adoption in any case. The “family” into which they were born did not break up because the same-sex couple had married; it was broken in any case. And many anti-same-sex-marriage people (probably the overwhelming majority, in fact) are opposed to abortion and favor adoption as a solution. The only way one can reduce the number of children who do not “grow up with both their mother and their father in an intact family” would be to forbid giving up one's child for adoption. And I have not seen anyone favoring such a law.

But how about the argument that “children who have both a mother and a father are better adjusted than children in single-parent families”? This argument could only make sense if there were enough male-female married couples desiring to adopt to take care of all the adoptable children there are, and nobody, I think, believes this is the case. The alternative, for those children who were not adopted by a same-sex couple, is probably not to grow up in a family at all. And I am sure that children with two adoptive fathers or two adoptive mothers are still better off than children with no adoptive parents at all.

So what argument can an opponent of same-sex marriage make? I do not think there is any.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Supreme Court's decision on Obergefell

Immediately after the Supreme Court's ruling on King v. Burwell, which I had to grudgingly admit has to be accepted because the Court is the final arbiter, has come another ruling about which I am much happier. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has written the decision, as he has in just about every decision affecting gay rights. And as one would expect of a Kennedy decision, it was forthrightly in defense of gay couples' rights:

No longer may this liberty be denied. No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.

Both this decision and the previous one in King v. Burwell, of course, can be considered “liberal,” which clearly shows why I cannot really consider myself to be either “conservative” or “liberal.” I see the King decision as misguided, while the Obergefell decision as a positive step forward in granting rights to an often-denigrated group of people. So my reaction to these two “liberal” decisions is quite different.

I would like to say two things to people opposing this decision:

First of all, this decision does not — as many opponents claim — “redefine marriage.” Marriage is still the union of two people who love each other into a household. All that changed is that couples who were denied that right now have it. It no more changes the institution of marriage than extending the right to vote to 18-year-olds (when the minimum age had traditionally been 21) redefined the act of voting, and I see no difference between these as a simple extension of rights to those who did not previously have them.

And second, this decision does not infringe on anyone's religious freedom. A Catholic priest has not ever been required to officiate at the wedding of a divorced person, counter to his religion, nor has a Jewish rabbi ever been required to officiate at an interfaith wedding, and nobody will require either to perform a same-sex wedding if he believes his religion does not permit it. (Many rabbis, of course, do perform same-sex weddings, as well as interfaith ones; Jewish positions on both of these vary. But those who will not, may continue to refuse.) As to bakers, florists, etc., I wonder how many of them insist even now that the people to whom they provide services be legitimately married. Do they check the marriage licenses of the couples? If anyone wanted to order a wedding cake from a baker, would the baker refuse to provide one if the customer is not really getting married? I doubt it. The baker who opposes gay marriage on religious grounds is not facilitating the wedding of which he disapproves; he is just baking a cake in a design which is regular for wedding cakes and selling it to a couple of people that he doesn't consider should be married. I doubt that he would even check if a couple that happens to be too closely related, in violation of the Bible, ordered a wedding cake, or even if a man and woman who really do not seriously intend to marry do so.

Friday, June 26, 2015


Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled on King v. Burwell, and all I can say is that, since they are the final arbiter, their decision has to be accepted as law. Apparently, Chief Justice John Roberts has decided that the Court will not decide on the basis of what is actually written in the law, but rather on what the apparent intent of the majority of the members of Congress who voted to pass it was.

Since ruling the other way would have made “Obamacare” unworkable, the Court has kept it alive for now by its ruling. And this means that it certainly will be alive for the remaining year and a half of Barack Obama's term as President, since he will veto any attempt to revise it. Which makes the election of a Republican in next year's election even more important than it would have otherwise been.

This is not the worst decision ever made by the Court — that would probably be Plessy v. Ferguson or Dred Scott v. Sandford — but certainly, I think it is one of the bad ones. But this is a nation of laws, and the Supreme Court is the supreme interpreter of what the laws mean, so for now we have to live with it. And since it is not a Constitutional decision, but only a ruling on the meaning of an Act of Congress, it can eventually be changed by a new act; it doesn't require amending the Constitution, as the Fourteenth Amendment was the only way to counteract the Dred Scott decision.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The right not to bear arms

I rarely agree with columnist E.J. Dionne, of The Washington Post. But his column entitled “The Right to be Free From Guns,” dated June 25, 2015, is one I can heartily endorse:

Advocates of a saner approach to guns need a new strategy. We cannot go on like this, wringing our hands in frustration after every tragedy involving firearms. We said “Enough” after Sandy Hook. We thought the moment for action had come. Yet nothing happened. We are saying “Enough” after Charleston. But this time, we don't even expect anything to happen.

What's needed is a long-term national effort to change popular attitudes toward handgun ownership. And we need to insist on protecting the rights of Americans who do not want to be anywhere near guns.

None of this should mean letting Congress off the hook or giving up on what might be done now. So kudos to Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., for saying on Tuesday that they are looking for ways to bring back their proposal that would require background checks for gun sales. In 2013, it failed to get the needed 60 votes and won support from only three Republicans besides Toomey.

And it is really unfortunate that members of the Republican Party, with whom I agree on most issues, are so overwhelmingly on the wrong side of this issue.

Lest anyone doubt that gun-control measures can work, a study released earlier this month by the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University found that a 1995 Connecticut law requiring a permit or license contingent on passing a background check was associated with a 40 percent drop in gun homicides.

But as long as gun control is a cause linked to ideology and party — and as long as the National Rifle Association and its allies claim a monopoly on individual rights arguments — reasonable steps of this sort will be ground to death by the Washington Obstruction Machine.

That's why the nation needs a public-service offensive on behalf of the health and safety of us all. It could build on the Sandy Hook Promise and other civic endeavors. If you doubt it could succeed, consider how quickly opinion changed on the Confederate flag.

And now comes the meat of Dionne's column, the part I think is really important:

My friend Guy Molyneux, a progressive pollster, laid out how it could happen. “We need to build a social movement devoted to the simple proposition that owning handguns makes us less safe, not more,” he told me. “The evidence is overwhelming that having a gun in your home increases the risks of suicide, domestic violence and fatal accidents, and yet the number one reason given for gun purchases is ‘personal safety.’ We need a public health campaign on the dangers of gun ownership, similar to the successful efforts against smoking and drunk driving.”

The facts were on the side of those who battled the tobacco companies, and they are just as compelling here. When we talk about guns, we don't focus enough on the reality, reported in the 2015 Annual Review of Public Health, that nearly two-thirds of the deaths from firearms violence are suicides. Yes, people can try to kill themselves with pills, but there's no coming back from a gunshot to the head. Those in the throes of depression who have a gun nearby are more likely to act on their darkest impulses.

Nor do we talk enough about accidental deaths when children get their hands on guns, or what happens when a domestic argument escalates and a firearm is readily available. The message is plain and simple: Households that voluntarily say no to guns are safer.

“The best way to disarm the NRA rhetorically is to make the Second Amendment issue moot,” Molyneux said. “This is not about the government saying you cannot own a handgun. This is about society saying you should not have a gun, especially in a home with children.”

Molyneux says his approach “does not imply giving up on gun control legislation.” On the contrary, the best path to better laws is to foster a revolution in popular attitudes. And this approach would finally put the rights of non-gun owners at the center of the discussion.

“Those of us who want to live, shop, go to school and worship in gun-free spaces also have rights,” Molyneux says. “In what way is ‘freedom’ advanced by telling the owner of a bar or restaurant they cannot ban handguns in their own place of business, as many states now do? Today, it is the NRA that is the enemy of freedom, by seeking to impose its values on everyone else.”

The nation could ring out with the new slogans of liberty: “Not in my house.” “Not in our school.” “Not in my bar.” “Not in our church.” We'd be defending one of our most sacred rights: The right not to bear arms.

I think Dionne has a good point. I don't want to be forever risking the possibility that I might be hit by a stray bullet. (Once, when I was working in Alexandria, Va. — of course, Virginia is one of those states where the NRA point of view is particularly strong — a bullet, probably not fired at our building but faultily aimed, went through the window of my workplace. It is just fortunate that nobody was standing in the path of that bullet!)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

South Carolina — the good points

I posted a few days ago about South Carolina's unfortunate attitude toward guns and our shameful Second Amendment. But I think it would be remiss if I didn't point out some of the good things about South Carolina:

They have elected an African American to the United States Senate — the first in the Old Confederacy since Reconstruction. This in the State that started the Civil War — after all, South Carolina is where Fort Sumter was.

Their Governor may not be African American, but she is certainly not “white”; she is one of two State Governors whose ancestry derives from India (and the other one, Bobby Jindal, is interestingly also a Republican from one of the former Confederate States!)

It looks as though they will remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of their State Capitol, and one of the leaders of that move, interestingly, is the son of former Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond.

So let this not be a total condemnation of South Carolina; but it would be fervently desired that they renounce their gun culture.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

If I were a Supreme Court Justice, how would I rule on Obergefell?

I have several times thought about the question: If I were a Supreme Court Justice, how would I rule on Obergefell v. Hodges? And one part is easy. A marriage contracted in one State has always been considered as valid in all others oven where the other State would not perform the marriage. First cousins cannot marry in Ohio (one of the states involved in the Obergefell case!) but it was noted in a lower court's decision that first cousins' marriages in other States have been honored in Ohio. This is a general rule, and clearly derives from Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution:

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

The other question before the Court is more difficult. Does a State have to allow same-sex marriages to be performed? And the normal rule is that each State sets the rules there. One State may allow 13-year-olds to marry; another may set the minimum at 16, and the Constitution has always been held to permit such differences. The only case I know of where the Court has invalidated a State law restricting marriage is Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated anti-miscegenation laws. Is this a case like Loving? It would only be so if one answers Chief Justice John Roberts' question in the affirmative:

I’m not sure it’s necessary to get into sexual orientation to resolve this case. I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?

And based on Roberts' question, perhaps likening this case to Loving isn't so far-fetched. So perhaps if I were a Supreme Court Justice, I could rule that way. But I'm not sure. And we certainly do not know how the nine people who actually sit on the Court will rule.

Friday, June 19, 2015

South Carolina's gun culture and our unfortunate Second Amendment

Seldom do I agree with President Obama, but I think he was exactly on point with his comment:

We do know that once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. It is in our power to do something about it.

But unfortunately, South Carolina is a state where gun culture rides rampant. The news has come out that Dylann Roof's father actually gave him a gun as a 21st birthday present. And this seems to be the norm in South Carolina. I remember many years ago we had a neighbor, a woman who had grown up in South Carolina. And she gave a BB gun as a present to her then-nine-year-old son! (This was nearly 20 years ago; that son is now an Army military policeman, but at nine he hardly could be trusted with a gun, even a BB gun!) At one point, my wife was babysitting at that neighbor's apartment, and she was afraid he might put a BB in his younger brother's eye. She took the gun from him and put it up on a shelf too high for the boy to reach.

But in South Carolina, it seems that giving BB guns to 9-year-olds and real honest-to-God guns to 21-year-olds for birthday presents is a normal thing. And in states like that, there will be enough votes that we can never repeal the unfortunate Second Amendment, the worst blemish in our generally-admirable Constitution. So we need to find ways of getting around that amendment. I just wish I knew how.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Donald Trump, Presidential candidate

Donald Trump has declared his candidacy for the nomination for the Presidency in next year’s election. Nobody was sure he would, but I doubt that anyone is surprised that he has done so either.

I saw a part of his declaration speech on a television set where I was having lunch this morning. And my conclusion is that many of his ideas are good — and in agreement with my own — but I cannot see him as President because — exactly like our current President! — he seems not to understand the limitations of the Presidency in a system with a Constitution like our own.

He said that he would immediately kill President Obama's executive order on immigration, and, since it is an executive order, as President he would have that power. But he also said he would call the President of Ford — whom he says he knows, and I do not doubt that — and tell him that if he built a new plant in Mexico instead of Tennessee, he (Trump) would impose a 35% tariff on all cars and trucks built there. However, if he becomes President, he cannot unilaterally change our tariff laws. He needs to work with Congress on those. His ignorance of this simple Constitutional point is troublesome; this alone disqualifies him for the Presidency.

But another problem arises. Just suppose that Trump makes it to the nomination. Remember the 2012 election? A lot of people would not vote for Mitt Romney, even if they agreed that Barack Obama’s Presidency had, to that point, not been a positive factor, because they thought he was so rich that “he could not understand the concerns of the average American.” If they thought this of Romney, how much more would they think so of Trump?

Friday, June 12, 2015

If Rachel Dolezal Isn’t Black, How Is Caitlyn Jenner a Woman?

A rather nice article entitled “If Rachel Dolezal Isn’t Black, How Is Caitlyn Jenner A Woman?” by Sean Davis, dated June 12, 2015, has come to my attention:

Spokane NAACP president Rachel Dolezal, a professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University, was outed earlier this week by her parents as being white.

In what has to be one of the more bizarre news stories of 2015, Dolezal pretended for years to be black. Social media accounts posted pictures of a black man who she said was her father (he’s not). She regularly wrote about her black son Izaiah (he’s actually her adopted brother).

It also appears as though she repeatedly lied about being the victim of race-based hate crimes. She claims to have been the victim of at least nine separate hate crimes.

As you might expect, this story has gotten a lot of attention, namely because Dolezal isn’t black. She’s white. Very white. According to her parents, her heritage is primarily German and Czech. Naturally, people are a bit shocked that a white person would so brazenly pretend to be black for so many years.

There seems to be little argument, on both the Right and Left, that Dolezal appears to have some serious psychological issues to sort out. Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post tweeted that he agreed that she is “mentally disturbed“:

Jonathan Capehart @CapehartJ

After reading this, I have to agree ---> … …

He’s not alone. Just search for “dolezal crazy” or “dolezal nuts” on Twitter for a sampling of the near-universal opinion that she’s nuts. Try as I may, I can’t find any person of any notoriety defending Dolezal’s bravery or courage.

Which of course brings us to Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner.

Now he gets to the main point of his argument, and one with which I thoroughly agree:

How, exactly is what Dolezal did any different than what Jenner is currently doing? Rachel Dolezal is not black, and Caitlyn Jenner is not a woman (putting aside the basic biological facts of how sex-selection and chromosomes work, Jenner’s not even undergone the so-called sex change surgery; by all accounts, his equipment is still intact). Rachel Dolezal changing her wardrobe, her makeup, and her hair do not make her black. Pretty much everyone seems to agree on that, for obvious reasons. You don’t turn red into blue by magically declaring that red is now blue.

And yet, the Left and the media would have us believe that Bruce Jenner can become a woman by…changing his name, his wardrobe, his makeup, and his hair. How can you logically square the belief that Jenner is a hero while Dolezal is a mental case? Well, you can’t.

And it is interesting to see how many people do not see this, and argue as though there is a difference!

Take Jonathan Capehart, for example, who’s outraged by Dolezal’s con job:

Jonathan Capehart @CapehartJ

White person running chap of NAACP? No problem. White person pretending to be black and running chap of NAACP. BIG problem.

I agree with him. The whole thing is bonkers, and there’s something just not right about Dolezal’s long-running race hoax. So I asked Capehart if he’d be bothered if Jenner took over the Girl Scouts:

Sean Davis @seanmdav.


Would it be a big problem if Caitlyn Jenner ended up running the Girl Scouts?

Jonathan Capehart @CapehartJ

FTLOG, Caitlyn Jenner is not "pretending" to be a woman. Move along... …

Wait, wait? How can anyone with even the most tenuous grip on reality possibly argue that Jenner, who’s undergone zero surgery (not that that can change one’s chromosomes, which are entirely responsible for determining one’s sex), is not pretending to be a woman? How can you not see the glaring similarities between Jenner’s shtick and Dolezal’s? Nearly overnight, it would appear that the long-standing ideas of race as a social construct and gender as a biological construct have been flipped on their heads.

In a 2013 essay for The Atlantic, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates explained the social, not biological, foundation of race in the modern age:

Our notion of what constitutes “white” and what constitutes “black” is a product of social context. It is utterly impossible to look at the delineation of a “Southern race” and not see the Civil War, the creation of an “Irish race” and not think of Cromwell’s ethnic cleansing, the creation of a “Jewish race” and not see anti-Semitism. There is no fixed sense of “whiteness” or “blackness,” not even today.

He makes a great point. We know precisely the definition of male (an X and a Y chromosome) and female (two X chromosomes)–or at least we did before society lost its collective mind–but is it possible to give a precise, quantifiable definition of black or white? Coates argues that you can’t, because so much of it depends on the social and historical context of a given culture:

Race is no more dependent on skin color today than it was on “Frankishness” in Emerson’s day. Over history of race has taken geography, language, and vague impressions as its basis.

Which brings us right back to Rachel Dolezal. She’s no hero. She’s a fraud, and likely one in need of serious mental help. She deliberately lived out a charade. At least in this instance, society seems to recognize that you cannot change who you are merely by playing dress-up and declaring that white is now black.

There will be no reality shows for Rachel Dolezal. No prime-time interviews. No photo-shopped magazine covers. Nobody will declare that Dolezal is brave, courageous, or worthy of being placed on a pedestal as a heroine. She will not be lauded by ESPN during its annual gala. There will be no Arthur Ashe Courage Awards given to Rachel Dolezal.

This is America in 2015, and the Dolezal and Jenner cases teach a valuable lesson about media relations: if you want to be celebrated for identity fraud, stick with gender and leave the race card at home.

I have to agree with Sean Davis. Bruce Jenner's calling himself a “woman” and Rachel Dolezal's calling herself “black” are exactly the same thing. And I challenge anyone to demonstrate the difference to me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An on-point evaluation of President Obama

There used to be a newspaper published in Washington, D. C., The Washington Examiner, which I enjoyed reading. Some time ago, the paper ceased publication, except for an online presence that still continues. Recently I saw a column by Noemie Emery on the Examiner's site, which I found quite interesting. Her columns in the Examiner when it was in print often reflected my own thought, and I think this column also shows a great insight, so I would like to reprint it.

President Obama, wrote the Washington Post's Greg Jaffe in a recent story about the president's view of his country, articulates “his vision of a nation that can acknowledge and, learn from, its mistakes.” Would that this vision applied to himself.

Now comes the main point, one that I think characterizes this President above all things that have been written about him:

Not only does Obama never learn from mistakes, he doesn't think that he makes them, and he denies that they even exist. Any regrets for the way he passed healthcare? Not that you'd notice. Any regrets about leaving Iraq? Nope — he still thinks he “ended two wars,” which the other side keeps on fighting.

The conventional view of what has gone wrong — that Obama lacked experience, and that first-term senators should be viewed with suspicion — is undercut by the fact that he has had six years of experience, and failed to learn from it. At home and abroad, Obama makes mistakes over and over, with the same result, and takes nothing from them. He disses his friends, placates aggressors and seems surprised that aggressors advance and whole regions catch fire.

He refuses to bargain with Congress, insults opponents, imposes unpopular policies by fiat and seems surprised when his measures result in court challenges, when polarization increases, opposition solidifies, divisions harden and gridlock prevails. Deal-making is the essence of politics, but Obama finds it demeaning, so he resorts to brute force when he has the means to (as in the still-festering matter of healthcare). Alternatively, as with immigration, Obama resorts to executive actions that stir angry resistance and are frequently halted by courts.

This has gone on since 2009, but Dana Milbank noticed only when Obama began slighting Democrats, whereupon he began taking offense. “Rather than accept that they have a legitimate beef, he shows public contempt for them,” the Washington Post columnist complains, writing that Obama dissed fellow Democrats to friendly reporters as being short-sighted and dense. (Of course, he's done that for years to Republicans, but they seem not to matter.) If Franklin Roosevelt was described as having a commonplace intellect but a brilliantly tempered political character, Obama seems to be his ultimate opposite: A man with an intellect that delights the elite but a temperament that is counterproductive in matters of government. This combination seems to work much less well.

A comparison with his predecessors is instructive.

Presidents can sometimes repair their mistakes, but only after they realize they've made them, which is something Obama can't do. George W. Bush stayed with his failed Iraq strategy until a bloody year followed by a political bloodbath in the 2006 midterms forced him to change course dramatically. John Kennedy failed in the Bay of Pigs and then in his first face-to-face meeting with Nikita S. Khrushchev, when he compounded his first bad impression by seeming irresolute.

Sensing at once that he had made a grave error — “He savaged me,” Kennedy said later of the Russian leader — he doubled the draft, increased defense spending and took Dwight Eisenhower's advice to have his councilors argue their cases before him and each other (instead of one at a time and in isolation), which led to the peaceful solution of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

But admitting mistakes — and taking advice — are not the skill set of the current incumbent, who finds them demeaning. The learning curve of the 35th president between l961-63 had been exponential, while, as Josef Joffe recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “the 44th president's learning curve has been flat for six years.”

It's not lack of experience that hampers Obama; it's his refusal to learn a thing from it. That's the trait we can't have in the 45th president — and the one we must strive to avoid.

A valuable observation, and one with which I heartily concur.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

President Obama has no right to control what cases the Supreme Court considers!

According to a report by The Associated Press,

President Barack Obama says the U.S. Supreme Court probably shouldn't have taken up the latest challenges to his signature health care law.

Obama says there was no reason for the health program to end up in court, maintaining that “it's working.”

The high court is expected to decide soon whether Congress authorized federal subsidy payments regardless of where people live, or only for residents of states that created their own insurance marketplaces.

The decision could have far-reaching implications because millions would lose their insurance if the court said people who enrolled through the federal site couldn't get the subsidies.

Obama says it has been well-documented that Congress never intended to exclude people who went through the federal exchange.

Obama commented Monday in Elmau, Germany, at the conclusion of a summit.

The President seems to feel that any challenge to the way he does business to accomplish his goals is unjustified. Well the news for President Obama is that thuis is a government of laws. The President does not have the power to rewrite a law, just because it is worded in such a way that the President's goals atre not met, in order to make it work the way he wants it to.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Obamacare's failure

A column on the Real Clear Politics site, by Jack Kelly, dated June 7, 2015, entitled “Spare Us From Obamacare,” makes very interesting reading. So I reproduce it here.

The Affordable Care Act isn’t.

Some major health insurers seek eye popping rate increases for 2016 — such as 25 percent in Oregon, 30.4 percent in Maryland, 36.3 percent in Tennessee, 51.6 percent in New Mexico.

Insurance commissioners won’t approve all companies ask for. Rates will rise modestly in some states. But the odds are your premium will cost a lot more next year.

Premiums for non-group policies rose 24.4 percent more last year than they would have without Obamacare, said the National Bureau of Economic Research. Premiums in this market rose more after two years of Obamacare than in the eight years preceding, said eHealth Insurance, a private health exchange.

Despite subsidies for the industry of at least $16 billion, many insurers lose money. Far fewer individuals signed up for Obamacare than expected (and the administration claimed). Those who did are older and sicker.

“Only about 40 percent of those eligible eventually signed up after two full open-enrollments,” insurance expert Robert Laszewski told the Washington Examiner. “Carriers need more like 75 percent.”

Subsidies for insurance companies mask the true cost, said Stephen Parente, director of the Medical Industry Leadership Institute. Unless reauthorized in 2017, premiums for the cheapest plan could rise nearly 100 percent for individuals, 50 percent for families, he said.

That’s on top of sky-high deductibles. The average deductible for the cheapest Obamacare plan is about $5,180 for individuals, $10,500 for families — four times the IRS threshhold for a “high deductible” plan.

The column then cites an example of why Obamacare hardly qualifies as useful insurance:

Patricia Wanderlich, who suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2011, skipped the brain scan she should have every year because her Obamacare policy has a $6,000 deductible.

“To spend thousands of dollars just making sure (her aneurysm) hasn’t grown?” Ms. Wanderlich told The New York Times. “I don’t have that money.”

The column then goes on to cite some interesting statistics:

About 25 percent of non-elderly Americans with private insurance can’t afford to pay a mid-range deductible ($1,200 for individuals, $2,400 for families), The Wall Street Journal said in March.

People with a policy they can’t afford to use are no better off than the uninsured. Which may be why — despite the threat of fines — so few without insurance signed up for Obamacare.

About 75 percent of those who did are subsidized. Subsidies could end for people in 36 states if later this month the Supreme Court rules for plaintiffs in King v. Burwell.

We have, of course, already discussed this case, but the column makes a good reminder of what it entails:

As written, the ACA permits subsidies only for insurance purchased on exchanges “established by the state,” plaintiffs note.

That was a drafting error, politicians told New York Times reporter Robert Pear. Not true.

The words “established by the state” appear nine times in the ACA. No “drafting error” is repeated that often.

And finally, in summary:

Nearly every promise Democrats made has been broken. The average family pays more (some much more) for insurance, not $2,500 less. About 9 million Americans (so far) have learned they couldn’t keep the health plans they had if they wanted. Or some of their doctors.

Federal spending for health didn’t go down. It’s zoomed upward. So have emergency room visits. Overhead costs are exploding.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Obamacare will lower full-time employment by 2.3 million in 2021, compared with what might have been without reform.

The ACA has hurt millions more than it’s helped. The worst is yet to come. President Barack Obama delayed or altered (mostly illegally) unpopular provisions at least 50 times. If they’re implemented fully, up to 100 million who get insurance from their employers could have their policies canceled, the American Enterprise Institute has estimated.

As premiums and deductibles rise, and the job-killing employer mandate goes into effect, a “death spiral” — begun because so few healthy people have signed up — will accelerate. If the Supreme Court rules the ACA must be enforced as written, it would be a mercy killing.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Why so many?

There certainly seem to be a lot of Republicans contending for next year's nomination for the Presidency. Some people are expecting as many as twenty to declare, and already there are so many it's hard to keep track. While the polls seem to give the edge to either Scott Walker or Jeb Bush, a lot can happen between now and next year's convention. But why so many? I can't recall there ever being such a large field of contenders.

It's not that hard to figure out. Barack Obama has become one of the most unpopular Presidents in history. While a popular President can anoint a successor (witness the fact that Ronald Reagan was able to pull in enough voters to the Republican side to elect George H. W. Bush, even though Bush was not a very charismatic campaigner), an unpopular President serves to recruit votes to the opposite side. Many people will be voting Republican just to say we need a change from Obama. So a prospective Republican nominee has a good chance to win the Presidency in 2016.

And that's a good thing. It is really necessary to undo the damage that the years of Obama's Presidency have caused — to our economy, to our foreign standing, and in other ways. And certainly Hillary Clinton would not undo that damage; her proposals in the health care area, for example, out-Obama'd Obamacare. (As a candidate, Obama opposed — and Clinton proposed — some features that are the most objectionable in Obamacare, like the mandates.)

Friday, June 05, 2015

Michael Bloomberg? As a Democratic nominee?

On June 2, 2015, Michael Goodwin, of the New York Post, posted an article entitled, “NY Dems push Bloomberg to run for president.” It raises an interesting possibility; Michael Bloomberg, former Democrat, former Republican, (and former Mayor of New York), now an independent, is being considered by some as a possible Democratic nominee for President. He was a good mayor of New York City; he mostly carried forward the policies of Rudy Giuliani, who I would have liked to see as President, if you go back to look at my posts of a number of years ago. And Bloomberg's nomination as a Democrat is almost the only thing of which I could conceive that could get me to consider voting for a Democrat for the Presidency. But can Bloomberg be nominated?

I do not think so. First of all, the fact that he governed New York City as a Republican, and even after changing his registration to independent was re-elected mayor on the Republican line, would probably make him anathema to too many Democrats. Second, he's too centrist for most Democrats these days anyway. When those Democrats who oppose Hillary Clinton are attacking her for being insufficiently “progressive,” Michael Bloomberg certainly would fall short of their criteria. (Look at what happened to Arlen Specter, who thought the Republican Party had drifted too far right for him to win a primary in that party; he found that the Democratic Party had drifted too far leftward for him to win it either.)

So it's a nice dream. But Bloomberg has no chance of being nominated by the Democrats.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

What is a fair Congressional districting?

We haven't heard a lot about a Supreme Court case called Evenwel v. Abbott, but it raises an important question. What is a fair Congressional districting? Should Congressional districts have equal populations (the way they have been drawn ever since the “one-man, one-vote” decisions of the 1960s? Or should they have equal numbers of eligible voters? After all, if a district has half of its population composed of non-citizens, the remaining people have twice the voting power of the citizens in a district that has no non-citizens.

Making the districts equal in number of eligible voters seems logical, but it has political consequences. Because many of the districts that have large numbers of non-citizens are majority-Hispanic, and strongly Democratic. So redrawing districts to have equal numbers of eligible voters would make the House of Representatives more Republican (a result I would not mind, of course). But the question is, is that fair? I would say yes — after all, it is only citizens who vote, and so equality of numbers of eligible voters is more consistent with “one-man, one-vote.” But it is clear that the Constitution apportions seats by population, not by number of eligible voters, as the Fourteenth Amendment states:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.

Yet that same amendment also states:

But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.

If course, both the “male” and the “twenty-one” parts are presumed to be changed in consequence of the Nineteenth and Twenty-sixth amendments, but isn't it clear that citizenship is a qualification for voting? And a districting that gives some citizens more voting power than others, because their district has a lot of non-citizens, seems to go against the spirit of this part of the amendment.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

I'm sorry, but I just don't understand "transgender"

If you read my posts related to the subject, you realize that I'm all for equal rights for gay and lesbian people. But one group that is usually grouped with them I can't understand. When someone like Bruce Jenner says he is now a woman, and wants to be called “Caitlin,” it just puzzles me. I am certain that every cell in his body still has the same XY chromosome inventory it did when he was “Bruce.”

Now I think Mike Huckabee's comment, as reported by CNN, is a little nasty:

Mike Huckabee says there's a time he wishes he could've been transgender: When it was time to hit the high school showers.

If he “could have felt like a woman,” the Republican former Arkansas governor joked earlier this year, then he could have seen his female classmates without their clothes on.

“Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE,” Huckabee said.

“I'm pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today.’ You're laughing because it sounds so ridiculous doesn't it?”

I think Bruce Jenner must have more serious reasons than to be able to see naked women in a shower — after all, he's been married and fathered children! — but I cannot figure out what he hopes to gain by being considered a female. He cannot function as a biological female, bearing children and such; even if they cut off his genitalia they cannot implant functioning ovaries into him. If he wants to marry a man, there are a lot of states (not all 50 to be sure, but the majority, by now) which would let him do so, even as a man; I suspect the others would not, even if he calls himself a female. If he just prefers dressing like a woman and using make-up — as he does on that magazine cover, I think he's free to do so, though I think it's weird.

But I guess he'd still have the right to do so — not all crossdressers even want to be called female — and so I can't really understand what is in his head. And you will notice that (as in the case of Bradley Manning) I still refer to him as “him.”