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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

An interesting discussion

It is so nice when you can argue with somebody on the basis of their principles without compromising your own beliefs. Such a discussion happened this afternoon.

My wife and I were sitting at a long table in the café area of a supermarket (with a Starbucks inside, so the café was jointly used for both sets of customers), and a woman sitting a couple of seat-lengths away started a conversation.

She began by asking whether we were Christians, to which both of us replied in the negative; then “Are you Jewish?” getting this time a “Yes” from both of us. She then went on to say that her mother was Jewish, but she now “follows Christ.” To which I simply responded, “We don't.”

At this point I expected to get a long sermon on why one should follow Jesus' teachings, but fortunatey this did not happen. Instead the next thing that came from her mouth was “What do you think of all these homosexual laws?” Obviously that, rather than a defense of Christianity, was her main point. And I simply answered “Well, they deserve their rights.” Her response was “God created men and women.” And this really totally opened up the discussion to my own answer, which she, obviously, had no basis to refute: “God created, among all of us, those homosexuals you don't seem to like.” She was simply reduced to “If that's what you believe…” — and she fell silent.

I was actually expecting her to make some remarks about the Book of Leviticus — in which case I would point out that she probably violates a lot of those commandments too, like eating pork — But from this point on she had nothing more to say.

Basically, I believe there are two sorts of commandments: those that are universal, like those directing us to be ethical towards our fellow humans, and those for a specific time and place. God (or His prophets) could not tell a people who had neither clocks nor thermometers that they needed to cook pork at at least some minimum temperature for at least some minimum time, so He simply said not to ever eat it. And the anti-homosexual commandment — like the one against “spilling one's seed” — was in the same context as “Be fruitful and multiply” — to ensure that the Jewish population would grow in a world which was underpopulated. So I don't think God meant those commandments to be universal. I didn't, however, need to go into these principles in this discussion.

All in all, an interesting discussion.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Scott Walker as candidate

So now Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has announced his candidacy for the Presidential nomination for next year's election — not a surprise, really; it was expected by most people. And while a few months ago I would simply have added Gov. Walker to the list of candidates I could support if New Jersey Governor Chris Christie can't make it, now I have a little more to pause about regarding him.

Gov. Walker has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision. He's even proposed a constitutional amendment to revoke it. Now, he has not the slightest chance of actually getting such an amendment through — it would require 67 Senators to support it, and then 290 Representatives, and even if it got those, which is rather unlikely, 38 State legislatures would have to approve it — there is a chance that Gov. Walker, as President, would take some seriously anti-gay action. So this counts against him. On the other hand, I'm very happy with the way he's taken on Big Labor as Governor. I think we need people with that kind of courage. Organized Labor has far too much power.

So my feelings on Gov. Walker are quite mixed.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Religious freedom and gay marriage

According to a post by Rachel Lu on the Federalist website:

By decree of the great state of Oregon, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa must pay $135,000 to the lesbian couple whom they “mentally raped” by refusing to bake their wedding cake. This was expected, but the final judgment, handed down last Thursday, came with another twist. Aaron and Melissa Klein have also been given a “cease and desist” order, which effectively decrees they must refrain from stating their continued intention to abide by their moral beliefs.

Let’s be clear on why this is so sinister. There are times when speech rights conflict with other legitimate social goods. The public’s right to know can conflict with individual privacy rights. Sometimes threats to public safety warrant keeping secrets. There can be interesting debates about intellectual property rights. These cases can get tricky, and we should all understand that speech rights necessarily do have certain pragmatic limits.

None of those concerns apply here. The Kleins did not threaten public safety. They violated no one’s privacy or property rights. Rather, the Oregon labor commissioner, Brad Avakian, wanted to silence them because the content of their speech. Presumably he was angry that the Kleins’ defiant stance had earned them a potentially profitable reputation as heroes for religious freedom. They were meant to be humiliated and cowed; instead there was a real chance they would land on their feet. So they had to be gagged to prevent that from happening.

If the First Amendment doesn’t apply to a case like this, it is meaningless.

Now if this is true, the judge (or the labor commissioner, if he was able to get the cease and desist order without a judge's action) has gone too far. Yes, the bakers are a public accommodation, and refusing to grant service to the lesbian couple is an offense that deserves punishment. Even though the size of the award ($135,000) would seem excessive to me, the damage can be evaluated and if a court thinks it appropriate I would not quarrel with that. However, if the Kleins are forbidden even to speak out and state their religious beliefs, I agree with Rachel Lu that this is beyond the pale, in light of the First Amendment's freedom of speech and religion clauses. While I believe that freedom of religion does not justify a company refusing to serve an intending customer, it certainly must be the case that the owners of the company do have the right to state their religious beliefs. And the customers (as in the case of the jeweler in Canada) must decide whether they still want to use the firm's services.

I have said that Obergefell does not infringe on religious freedom. And insofar as it makes bakers like the Kleins serve people, I still believe this. But actions like that of the Oregon judge seem to make the issue of religious freedom come in, despite what I said.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

More comments on John Kasich

There's a column by a Cincinnati journalist entitled “How John Kasich could win.” And the more I learn about John Kasich, the more I like him as a Presidential choice. But he has one major problem. Certainly the author of that post knows a lot about Kasich; after all, he writes for a newspaper in Cincinnati, in a State where Kasich has been Governor for over 5½ years. But who, outside the State of Ohio, knows much about him? I had been aware of his work with Jack Kemp in 1997 to balance the Federal budget, but most people are not as politically aware as I am (and even I had to look up the information to determine that this was in 1997). To most people in 49 states, the name “John Kasich” draws a blank. In Ohio he's popular. He was first elected Governor in a squeaker of an election, in 2010; four years later, he won all but two of the 88 counties in Ohio in his re-election fight. His approval is even now at 60% in Ohio. (Chris Christie, who also won re-election big after a weak beginning, seems to have lost the support of a lot of New Jersey residents, though I do not know what happened between 2013 and now to cause this.) I would say that if Kasich can make himself and his accomplishments known to the public, he could be an excellent candidate for the presidency. The things which have led me to support Christie mostly apply to Kasich as well.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

A thoughtful article by a Senator

Ben Sasse is a Senator from Nebraska, but not one of the Senators one hears a lot about; I had barely heard of him. But a column he wrote on the online Web site of the National Review, entitled “The Three Republican Camps after King v. Burwell,” is so good that I need to display it.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s disappointing King v. Burwell decision, many are asking what comes next for those of us who have opposed Obamacare as a disastrous federalization of American health care.

I predict that the Republican party will quickly divide into three camps on health-care politics:

1. There are those who will want to throw in the towel. They will say it is time to move beyond the fight for repeal and admit that Obamacare is here to stay. They will condescendingly shake their heads at us unsophisticated conservatives, claiming that the only constructive path forward now is to make our peace with Obamacare, and to try to make it 12 percent less bad.

2. At the other extreme, there will be those who remind the first camp that no voter sent us to Washington to be slightly more efficient central planners than the Democrats. We are not here to sweep the floor of the Titanic by modestly adjusting Democrats’ unaffordable entitlement expansions. They will insist that we should invest 100 percent of our efforts in repealing Obamacare, and stop there. Even though the president would veto all repeal attempts (presuming such efforts could even clear the Senate), forcing such vetoes is necessary to remind voters where each party stands and thus why the 2016 presidential election is so crucial to America’s future.

3. Finally, there are those who — while remaining committed to full repeal — believe that there is no viable political pathway to repeal without simultaneously outlining our replacement plan. And then actually winning voters to support that vision. This group recognizes that it has a harder messaging job than the other two camps but believes that actually getting rid of Obamacare — rather than just romantically fighting lost causes — requires admitting that you cannot beat something with nothing. I propose that we name these three camps: the Fix-It Caucus; the Repeal-Only Caucus; and the Replacement Caucus.

Actually, I do not know of many Republicans that will join Sen. Sasse's “Fix-It Caucus.” But this is, of course, the direction that the Democrats are trying to push the Republicans to go.

To the Fix-It Caucus, I say: There is no way to sufficiently improve the command-and-control foundations of Obamacare, because it starts with the flawed (and unconstitutional) demand that Americans buy only the full-service insurance-and-redistribution products that Washington’s empowered bureaucrats compel us to buy. If the Beltway class’s Greek-style overspending is ever to be restrained, it will be accomplished only by giving the central planners even more power over rationing access and setting prices for drugs, devices, and procedures. The central planners’ answer to imperfect central planning is always more power for the central planners. Their answer is never more freedom. We ought not go down this road with the Washington-always-knows-best authors of Obamacare.

To the Repeal-Only Caucus, I agree that we should indeed use every available means — including reconciliation — to fully repeal Obamacare. But we must admit something else as well: American health care wasn’t healthy before Obamacare. And thus that even though the public disapproves of Obamacare (by an average of eight percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics), large portions even of Obamacare’s opponents are not persuaded by a repeal-only message. A family’s desire to be able to keep its health insurance when changing jobs or geography (a problem that Obamacare doesn’t make any better, by the way) is perfectly reasonable. We should acknowledge it and advance that cause.

So count me in the third camp.

And I would say the same for myself: “count me in the third camp.”

We must make the 2016 election a referendum on Obamacare vs. an understandable, common-sense, patient-centric alternative. We need a 2016 presidential nominee who can not only prosecute the case against Obamacare, but who will also enthusiastically champion the conservative cause of putting families in control of their own health futures. An exclusively negative set of talking points is a path to a dead end, both on Obamacare and in the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats have long held an advantage over Republicans on health care, mostly due to a perceived empathy problem in my party. But Obamacare has been such a train wreck that this Democratic advantage is mostly gone today. Obamacare is not popular. It’s going to be less popular than ever by Election Day 2016.

So here is the good news: The American people might finally be ready to listen to Republican ideas on health care. But they’re not looking for us to only say no to Obamacare — although that remains part of our task. They want us also to be for actual health-care reform that empowers families, expands choices, and comes with an honest budget.

We owe them that much this time.

Let’s remember how we got here: It was not simply that President Obama had a bad idea on health care and Democratic majorities in Congress. Obamacare arrived also because Republicans failed to persuade the public that we could address the avalanche of problems government had already created by decades of interfering with the health-care market. As a result, Obama filled the vacuum while Republicans appeared not to care. We cannot make that mistake again.

Beginning now, presidential contenders must present a constructive vision for health-care reform. It should be a minimum requirement that any candidate worthy of consideration must have a coherent plan for the voters. The primary election for Republicans is partly about what vision of a replacement for Obamacare we think our nominee can sell to voters in the general election — and then successfully implement in 2017. If Republicans fail to offer compelling alternatives to Obamacare in the 2016 campaign, we will lose — and we will deserve it.

The only point where I might differ from Sen. Sasse is that he says “The primary election for Republicans is partly about what vision of a replacement for Obamacare we think our nominee can sell to voters in the general election — and then successfully implement in 2017,” and I might say that “The primary election for Republicans is mostly about what vision of a replacement for Obamacare …” Obamacare is, I think, the #1 issue on which we need to fight the 2016 campaign.

The danger for Republicans over the next year is that the circular firing squad so dominates the conversation that the media latches on to a “There they go again, Republicans infighting” narrative, and then the third group — the Replacement Caucus — is never heard.

There’s an election here to be won, but there are no shortcuts. We have to do the hard work of making the case one voter at a time. Fixing Obamacare certainly is not the solution. And neither is being the “Party of No.” That will simply turn off the swing voters we need in order to put a conservative in the White House who can repeal and replace Obamacare.

We have an opportunity here, but let there be no more talk of waiting until some future date to produce the Republican health-care alternative. Now is the time.

Your move, 2016’ers.

I like what Sen. Sasse says. I would nearly totally agree with his points. And in particular, the Republicans need to come up with ideas for a better way to do health care.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Christie finally officially enters the race

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie just announced that he is officially a candidate for the nomination as President in the 2016 election. And to me, he is still the best candidate for the job, though his standing in the polls has taken a hit since I first started commenting on Christie with an eye on next year's election.

The best reason to support Gov. Christie is exemplified in a comment he made in April, a couple of months ago. A Girl Scout had asked him what he would change in Washington, and his reply was:

I think in Washington what's happened is everybody goes to their separate corners. They don't talk to each other anymore, they don't deal with each other anymore on a regular basis. They don't get to know each other. And so then if you have differences of opinion it’s much harder to hate if you don't know the person. And so I think one of the things that has to change in Washington, whether I run for president or I don't, is that the president and the Congress has [sic!] to work with each other more and has to get to know each better cause it’s harder to hate up close and that applies to anything, right, whether it’s politics, whether it’s your friends at school.

And in his announcement of candidacy, Gov. Christie struck a similar note:

Both parties have failed our country. Both parties have led us to believe that in America, a country built on compromise, that somehow compromise is a dirty word.

Christie's position — that the President needs to work with Congress and that Republicans need to work with Democrats if anything is to be accomplished — is identical to my own beliefs. His comments to this effect are my reasons that I still prefer him over all his rivals.

Now this does not mean I totally dislike Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Scott Walker, and such. Should they get the nomination, I would certainly support them over Hillary Clinton without hesitation. (There are other candidates, like Mike Huckabee, that I could not support; Huckabee in particular seems to be against almost everything I stand for!) But for now, and unless Christie's chances become so small that it is useless to support him, Chris Christie is my preferred candidate, and I repeat my earlier statements to that effect.