Monday, June 30, 2014

BYOBC: These are not the battles you're looking for

I'm not going to go into any great depth about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision today, since the topic has been beaten to death, but I do want to offer a few words.

My antipathy toward the conservative social agenda, as well as organized religion and the silliness of doing anything "for religious reasons," is old news to most people who know me. Conservatives have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century on the social front, and much of the reason for that is due to the influence of religion, which--particularly for the Christian majority--gets a lot of unearned privilege and consideration within the law, and within society, in many instances that it shouldn't. Today's decision is not one of those instances.

It is my firm belief that in today's SCOTUS ruling, rights were protected, not denied. Nobody will be denied access to birth control based upon today's decision. Everyone will still have exactly the same access to birth control as they did yesterday. And just like yesterday, they will have to procure it themselves, just as they do with any other product, commodity, or service. The only thing today's ruling says is that Hobby Lobby, as well as any other employer, does not have to pay for it for you. That's it. Not compelling your employer to pay for your birth control does not equate to your being denied access to birth control, anymore than not compelling them to pay for your cable denies you access to HBO.

Do I think that it's silly of Hobby Lobby to refuse to cover it, when the cost is infinitesimal as compared to most other medical services? Of course. As I mentioned above, I think religious reasons are about the dumbest reason for doing (or not doing) anything. But when it comes to the government compelling an individual or business to purchase anything, I believe that that is wrong on principle, and the objections of the party being compelled, no matter how ridiculous or objectionable, are irrelevant. (As such, obviously, I also object to Obamacare's individual mandate.)

People who are upset about today's SCOTUS ruling are missing the far more egregious facets of this issue that they should be upset about instead. Namely, the fact that employers are involved in providing health insurance at all (thus your benefits under a particular policy are tied to that employer--this is a relic of WWII that should be done away with), and the fact that several forms of birth control, including the pill, are still prescription only when they should be available over the counter. The Obama administration had the opportunity to address these glaring issues, as well as others, with Obamacare, but failed to do so.

There are many battles that need to be fought with regard to the American health care system, the reproductive rights of women under the law, and the legal protections and exemptions afforded to organized religion in the US, but this was not one of them. If anything, it was a distraction from discussions that need to be had about more important things.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems

The political class always has its hand out. Somehow, we can never seem to get the very few things we actually want out of government--like decent roads and decent schools--and when someone thinks to ask why, the answer is always "not enough money." Notice how the reaction of the political establishment is always to find some new tax revenue source, not to cut existing spending? The focus is always on getting more revenue, not on how the current revenue is being spent. The overtaxed citizens of my old home state of California hear this cry regularly: "We need this new tax for the schools! Without it, the kids will have no supplies and the school buildings will collapse around their ears! Forget that California already spends in excess of $30,000 per student per year, and that most of that money is being spent on union salaries and benefits, and unnecessary administrative overhead, it's for the children!"

The song is the same for the roads. Enter this recent piece on NBC detailing the latest scheme of some state governments to wring still more money out of their populace. Somehow, despite some states' extortionist gas taxes and vehicle registration fees (like California), they just can't seem to make ends meet with road and bridge upkeep. Bullshit.

We do not need yet another tax to cover the upkeep of roads and bridges. We already have the revenue to cover that, in the form of vehicle registration and gas taxes. The problem is not that we don't have the revenue, it's that the revenue that was supposed to be allocated for that purpose has been hijacked to be pissed away elsewhere. The politicos prod us to keep trying to fill the budget bucket with water, assuring us that we're almost there, while they try to distract us from the hole they've punched in the bottom--a hole that leads into their pockets and those of their union and business cronies.

And what is to stop this new revenue stream from meeting the same fate as the gas tax revenue and the registration fee revenue? How long before this money, too, is appropriated for some other purpose, and they're back to coming up with yet another tax scheme, trying to sell us the same story that roads and bridges will go to hell without it? It's like we have a deadbeat roommate who keeps telling us he can't come up with his half of the rent, asking us to float him for a month, and when we do, he comes home with a new PS4. How much longer are we going to continue to fall for this same sleight of hand routine? Enough is enough.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Do you "get" America?

Just a short one this time. I've been way to busy and tired to blog lately! Hopefully that will be changing very soon!


It's a mixed bag, but I have found in my online discussions that, on the whole, foreigners--particularly the ones who have never lived in the US--don't totally "get" us. While they tend to be far more educated about our history and political system than most of the US natives I talk to (pathetic and shameful for us), they don't necessarily understand our attitude and mentality in more than a superficial or stereotypical way. There is just something about being steeped in our mindset, our notions about individuality, and our freedom culture that you can't glean from a book, I suppose. I truly think that this is a big part of the confusion that people overseas have vis-a-vis our second amendment rights.

I will say that the foreigners who do "get" us really get us. They tend to be people who have actually lived here for a while. The example that comes to mind is Christopher Hitchens. His drift from hardcore Marxist socialist toward more classically American values* was mystifying to many of his fellow Brits, but entirely predictable to most Americans, given the time that he lived here and the fact that he became a biographer of both Thomas Jefferson and Bill Clinton.

It really serves, I think, as a reminder of how unique the American experiment is, and how different the American tradition is, even among the democracies of the world.

* I won't say "conservatism," though that's what many of his horrified colleagues like Richard Dawkins thought when he came out publicly in support of the Iraq war. In reality, I would say his later-life views more closely mapped with classical liberalism.