Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Lame Duck, Pro-Life

The lame duck period of any politician’s career can be a revealing time. So long as a politician faces the prospect of re-election, there will always be suspicion that his actions are less a reflection of his true beliefs than they are of what he calculates will be to his political advantage. Once the specter of re-election is removed, however, a politician becomes more free to let his true convictions (or lack therefore) show forth. History provides numerous examples of this. And now we have another:

A last-minute Bush administration plan to grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds has provoked a torrent of objections, including a strenuous protest from the government agency that enforces job-discrimination laws.

The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

It would also prevent hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and drugstores from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to “assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity” financed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Continue reading

November 20, 2008 Posted by | Abortion, Election, Health Care, Politics | Leave a comment

Meet the New Boss

During his election campaign, Senator Obama promised that he would if elected bring real “change” to Washington, as opposed to his opponent, who would bring “more of the same.” Now that Mr. Obama is President-Elect, things are becoming somewhat murkier. Exhibit A. Intellegence Policy to Stay Largely Intact: Continue reading

November 14, 2008 Posted by | Election, Foreign Policy, Torture | Leave a comment

Prop. 8 Opposition Turns Ugly

Prayer had just finished when men and women stood up in pockets across the congregation, on the main floor and in the balcony. “Jesus was gay,” they shouted among other profanities and blasphemies as they rushed the stage. Some forced their way through rows of women and kids to try to hang a profane banner from the balcony while others began tossing fliers into the air. Two women made their way to the pulpit and began to kiss.

More. Nor, I’m afraid, can this just be written off as an isolated incident. As Natalie noted a few days ago, the success of Prop. 8 has stirred up a lot of anti-Mormon feeling, so much so that Bishop Weigand (who used to be Bishop for Salt Lake City) issued a statement defending the LDS church and calling on Catholics to “stand in solidarity with our Mormon brothers and sisters in support of traditional marriage – the union of one man and one woman – that has been the major building block of Western Civilization for millennia.” Last week at a rally to protest support of Prop. 8 by members of the LDS church, gay activities hurled racial epithets at blacks attending the rally (and who, ironically, were therefore on their side on the question of same-sex marriage) According to one account:

It was like being at a klan rally except the klansmen were wearing Abercrombie polos and Birkenstocks. YOU N*GGER, one man shouted at men. If your people want to call me a F*GGOT, I will call you a n*gger. Someone else said same thing to me on the next block near the temple…me and my friend were walking, he is also gay but Korean, and a young WeHo clone said after last night the n*ggers better not come to West Hollywood if they knew what was BEST for them.

And then there’s this:

(HT: Laudem Gloriae)

November 12, 2008 Posted by | Democracy, Election, Homosexuality, Marriage, Mormonism, Race | 1 Comment

And the Award For Most Restrained Post-Election Commentary Goes To…

From the blog of J. Bradford DeLong:

For the first time since the end of 1994, we can have normal politics and policymaking–can discuss what policies are best for America, and what America should be.

You see, from the end of 1994 to the end of 2000, the Republican congressional majority’s single fixed idea was that nothing should happen that could be portrayed as a success for Bill Clinton. And from the end of 2000 to today, the executive branch was controlled by a gang of malevolent, immoral, and destructive thugs that have disgraced the United States of America.

We can finally have normal politics and policymaking again. That’s not a tremendous accomplishment, is it?

It feels like one:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth… the holy city, new Jerusalem…. And there came unto me one of the seven angels… and talked with me…. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; Continue reading

November 7, 2008 Posted by | Election, Politics | Leave a comment

Obama vs. His Advisers on Health Care

Under the health care plan offered by Senator McCain, the tax deduction for employer provided health insurance would be dropped, and replaced with a $5000 tax credit for individuals. Writing for Forbes, Obama advisers Brad DeLong and David Cutler are unsurprisingly not fans of the McCain plan:

Republican presidential nominee John McCain believes that the central problem in health care is that people have too much insurance and, because of it, consume too much medical care. McCain seeks to reform the health care system by taxing and punishing businesses that offer employer-sponsored insurance. Once they are forced to drop coverage, he holds, their workers will find themselves in the non-group health insurance market, where they will buy less generous plans and go to the doctor less often. Modest tax credits would help some, but nowhere near all, of the uninsured afford coverage.

Not everyone, however, shares such a negative view of the plan’s major elements:

The most promising way to move forward in all three dimensions – coverage, cost, and long-run fiscal situation – is to replace the employer exclusion with a tax credit, a step that has been proposed many times before (e.g., Butler 1991 and Pauly and Hoff 2002). Firms would still be allowed to deduct the cost of their contributions to employee premiums, just as they can deduct wages and other expenses today for the purpose of calculating taxable income. But workers would now have to include employer contributions to health insurance in their earnings for the purpose of calculating taxes (precisely which taxes is discussed below). In exchange for, workers who purchased qualifying insurance would get a refundable tax credit. Qualifying insurance would be along the lines proposed by the President in his standard deduction for health insurance, including limits on out-of-pocket payments, coverage of a general range of medical care, and guaranteed renewability by the provider (Treasury 2008).

That was Jason Furman, Obama’s economic policy director. As the Wall Street Journal notes:

Mr. Furman used to portray the current system as regressive, inequitable and a subsidy for health plans that insulate consumers from the cost of their care, thus inflating health spending. When he was director of the Brooking Institution’s Hamilton Project, Mr. Furman outlined a health reform — again using tax credits — that took the “sensible approach” of “exposing individuals to the price of health care through greater cost sharing.”

When President Bush unveiled a health reform similar to Mr. McCain’s in 2007, Mr. Furman co-authored a Tax Policy Center paper that called it “innovative and a step in the right direction.”

Okay, so Obama’s top economic adviser favors some of the major elements of the McCain health plan. He’s got to be an anomaly, right? Well, not quite:

“Health insurance is not something that is made better by tying it to employment. As a result, essentially all economists believe that universal coverage should be done outside of employment.”

That passage comes from [David] Cutler’s 2004 book, “Your Money or Your Life,” which outlined a strategy for universal health care. Not surprisingly, Professor Cutler’s plan, like Mr. McCain’s, also applied subsidies such as “tax credits — people get a lower tax bill, or a refund from the government, to be used to purchase insurance.”

And here is a post from Brad DeLong’s blog, describing his ideal health plan. Like McCain, DeLong’s plan would contain “[n]o deduction for employer-paid health expenses.” DeLong would differ with McCain, however, in that instead of offering a tax credit, he would require 15% of a person’s income to go into an HSA (with another 5% going to the IRS as a tax increase), with government picking up the tab for medical expenses over that amount. As he explains it:

Why the 20%? Because I am very impressed by the use of technology to drive the cost reductions–which means the reductions in doctor and nurse time: the increases in the number of procedures that a given treatment unit can perform, and thus in the number of people whom we can, collectively, treat–in beneficial-but-optional areas like eye surgery and lenses. It does seem to matter that consumers are cost conscious and economize when they have financial skin in the game. This is the mother of all Health Savings Account proposals.

This isn’t the first time that Senator Obama’s campaign promises haven’t matched up with his adviser’s positions. One wonders, though, whether he has shifted his positions due to their advice nearly as much as they have shifted theirs in order to give it.

November 3, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Election, Health Care | Leave a comment

The First Amendment vs. The Chicago Way

John McCain is no friend of the First Amendment. McCain-Feingold, the legislation that bears his name, is only the latest in a long series of attempts to restrict political discussion and debate regarding elections (for some examples of the pernicious effect that campaign finance regulations have had, see here and here). It would be hard, given Senator McCain’s history, for another candidate to show greater disregard for freedom of speech.

Barack Obama, however, seems to be giving it his best try. In Wednesday’s Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby recounts some instances of the Obama campaign’s disturbing tendency to try to use government as a means of silencing criticism: Continue reading

October 31, 2008 Posted by | Democracy, Election, Law, Politics | 2 Comments

Is Barack Obama Corrupt?

It may seem like a provocative question, but as Robin Hanson points out, the conclusion that he is corrupt follows from some widely held beliefs about the role of money in politics:

What motivates campaign donations? Discussions of campaign finance reform are dominated by a private interest theory, that donations are in trade for favors. Here donations in support of interests besides yours are bad news; they says the candidate has implicitly promised to help those interests at your expense.

The main alternative is a public interest theory, which says we donate to signal private info about candidate quality. Under this theory people who get private info suggesting a candidate would be good at promoting the general public interest donate money to signal confidence.

Hanson then proceeds to note the large amount of contributions that Obama has received. And while some of these contributions have been from small donors (or from people who don’t exist), the bulk of it has come from traditional, large money donors: Continue reading

October 29, 2008 Posted by | Election | 1 Comment

Vacant Justice II

On Saturday, I talked about the likelihood that a President McCain or a President Obama would have the opportunity, if elected, to appoint Supreme Court Justices. Today I’d like to talk about the kind of justices they’d be likely to appoint. As with my previous post, I’ll be confining myself to considering whether such justices would be likely to overturn Roe v. Wade if given the chance (I focus on Roe not because I think other matters are unimportant, but because of the central role that the President’s ability to nominate Supreme Court Justices plays in many Catholics thinking on abortion and voting. For an analysis of whether overturning would actually reduce the abortion rate, see here).

I don’t think there’s much doubt that the Justices a President Obama would appoint to the Court would be pro-Roe. He has said as much, and previous experience with President Clinton’s nominees shows that Democrats tend to keep their word on such a pledge.

What about a President McCain? Continue reading

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Abortion, Election, Law | Leave a comment

Vacant Justice

When it comes to Supreme Court vacancies and abortion, there are two things to remember. First, not all vacancies are created equal. There are currently five clear pro-Roe votes on the Supreme Court (Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, and Kennedy), two clear anti-Roe votes (Scalia and Thomas), and two votes that are probably but not definitively anti-Roe (Roberts and Alito). To get an anti-Roe majority on the Court, it’s not sufficient for a President to appoint an anti-Roe justice. It must also be the case that the justice this anti-Roe justice is replacing is one of the five pro-Roe justices currently on the Court. So, for example, if Justice Scalia were to step down and the President were to appoint Judge Pryor (who is about as close to a certain anti-Roe vote as one could imagine) to replace him, this wouldn’t change the vote should a case reach the Supreme Court in which Roe was challenged. That doesn’t mean that a Supreme Court vacancy isn’t important if the justice being replaced is anti-Roe. Should a pro-Roe justice be appointed to replace an anti-Roe justice, this would make achieving an anti-Roe majority on the Court that much more difficult. Likewise, if a pro-Roe justice were to be replaced by another pro-Roe justice, this wouldn’t necessarily change the vote in any case involving Roe, but it would take that seat “off the table” in terms of building an anti-Roe majority for the next 30 years or so until that new pro-Roe justice got ready to retire.

The other important thing to note about Supreme Court vacancies is that they are not random events. A vacancy can occur because a given justice dies or is too ill to continue his service, or it can occur because the justice in question decides to retire. And whether a justice decides to retire at any given point will depend, in part, on whether he thinks he will be replaced on the Court by someone who broadly shares his views on the law. The more liberal a justice is, the less likely he will be to retire during a Republican administration (if he can help it). The more conservative a justice is, the less likely he will be to retire during a Democratic administration. Continue reading

October 25, 2008 Posted by | Abortion, Election, Law | 1 Comment

John XXIII Si, John Paul II No

Joe Biden on reconciling his Catholicism with his support for legal abortion (attempt #154):

We’ve always believed from the outset that abortion is wrong. But throughout the years, debated the degree to which it is wrong. There are always cases where it is never a first choice. It is always viewed as a dire decision. But throughout the church’s history, we’ve argued between whether or not it is wrong in every circumstance and the degree of wrong. Catholics have this notion, it’s almost a gradation.

We have mortal sins, venial sins, well, up until Pius IX, there were times when we said, ‘Look, there are circumstances in which it’s wrong but it is not damnation. Along came Pius IX in the 1860s and declared in fine doctrine, this was the first time that it occurred that it was absolute human life and being at the moment of conception.

It’s always been a debate. I take my religion very seriously.

To sum it up, as a Catholic, I’m a John XXIII guy, I’m not a Pope John Paul guy.

More. (HT: Jimmy Akin)

October 21, 2008 Posted by | Abortion, Catholicism, Election | Leave a comment