Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mandating Individual Responsibility

Recently the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the individual health insurance mandate in the President’s health care law was unconstitutional. And in the language he used to decry the ruling, the President revealed his understanding of personal responsibility.

The President, in response to the ruling, continues to call the insurance mandate the “individual responsibility” provision. But in mandating that everyone have health insurance, the President takes the position that the federal government can mandate that you take personal responsibility. Am I the only one who sees the irony in that?

Perhaps if the federal government had not gotten into the business of trying to taking care of us from birth to death in the first place years ago, we wouldn’t be going broke as a government or having to talk about entitlement reform. And perhaps we, along with private sector businesses and charitable organizations, would have been more responsible for ourselves and taken care of ourselves and our needs a bit better.

But, let’s be honest, it’s not all the government’s fault. It’s not all the President’s fault. It’s not all Congress’ fault. Everybody’s been trying to find somebody to blame for our current mess. Well, here are two culprits I’ve not heard anyone mention in recent weeks.

First, us. Yes, we, the people. We are the ones who elected the government leaders who led us down this path. We are the ones who didn’t pay enough attention to where this path would eventually lead us and kept electing people who continued down the path we’re on. If this is a government of and by and for the people, then we need to take a hard look at ourselves and consider the four fingers pointing back at us when we point one finger of blame at someone else.

Second, the church. Yes, the church. Sadly over the years I’ve gotten so many e-mails from Christians saying that it is the government’s job to care for the sick, the poor, the hungry, the widow and the orphan. While this can’t be said of every individual church, it seems to me that the church, as a whole, through its leaders, abdicated its responsibility in these areas to the government. And now we have to pay the piper—we need to pay our taxes to get us out of the governmental budget hole we’re in and increase our giving to the church (or even para-church ministries) so that it can do what it was charged in Scripture to do.

Perhaps we have met the enemy, and it is us.

No News; Know News

You can’t know the news when the news fails to report it. As best we can tell from our research, not one of the state’s major (or even larger) newspapers covered an important story about an assault on religious liberty by the federal government right here in Tennessee. Here’s the news you don’t know, and not knowing could hurt you. In fact, you could wind up in jail.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Postal Service went postal when it came to freedom of speech. For two weeks in 2010, Michael Choate, from Somerville, Tennessee, had stood on a public sidewalk 40 feet from the entrance to the Oakland, Tennessee, post office, handing out Christian pamphlets to passersby. But not anymore. A postal regulation prohibits anyone from engaging in conduct that “impedes or disturbs the general public from transacting business.” And the local postmaster, Terrena Moore, had Mr. Chaote arrested for creating a “disturbance.” Apparently some people were “annoyed” by the message and had complained. Thus, he was creating a “disturbance.”

While the charges were eventually dropped, Mr. Chaote sought assurances from the local postmaster that if he exercised his right to free speech on a public sidewalk in the future, he would not be arrested. Instead, he was told the regulation would continue to be interpreted the way it had been when he was arrested. So Mr. Choate sought assurances from the Postmaster General that the postal service would not allow the regulation to be interpreted in that way. Again, no assurance was given.

So in July of this year, the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit against the postal service on behalf of Mr. Choate for violation of his right to free speech. Apparently the local postmaster and the U.S. Postal Service must believe that the constitutional protection for free speech only applies if the speech doesn’t offend anyone’s sensibilities. Clearly this is a restriction based on the content of the speech, something the First Amendment forbids.

But if the postmaster’s interpretation and application of the regulation is correct, we’ll soon be living in a silent world. Someone is surely going to be offended by about anything that someone says.

In fact, I’m sure the Oakland postmaster would be offended by what I just said. So, please don’t print this out and distribute it on the sidewalk by the Oakland post office. You just could find yourself in jail.

(You can read the complaint itself or the ADF news release summarizing the case.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bert and Ernie: A Teachable Moment

Change.org has started a campaign to encourage the makers of the Muppets to have Bert and Ernie get married. It would be a teachable moment for young children that they think should not be wasted. I agree there may be a teachable moment here that we shouldn’t let go to waste. But what should we teach?

First, by not letting Bert and Ernie get married and letting them remain friends, we can reinforce the idea that two men can have a relationship without it having to be sexualized. Friendship is a human good that we should nourish.

Second, we can avoid letting the teachable moment go to waste by letting Bert and Ernie be best men at the marriage between Kermit and Miss Piggy. It’s long past time for those two sweethearts to tie the knot.

In one show we can affirm to children the value of friendship, affirm that not all relationships need to be sexualized, and affirm that marriage is between a male and a female … even if, in this case, one is a pig and the other a frog.

What Lt. Governor Wilder Might Have Told the President

The late Lt. Governor Wilder, a Southern rural Democrat, is probably rolling over in his grave on account of President Obama’s plan to create jobs through government spending. If he could say something to the President, here’s what I think he’d say.

By way of background, the other day the President gave a speech in which he called on people to contact their Congressional leaders to urge them to demand more spending on infrastructure. Laying aside the fact that we’ve heard this “shovel ready” speech before, I think Senator Wilder would tell him the shovel we need for this kind of proposal is the kind he used in his barn.

Senator Wilder, known for his quirky sayings, would probably say to the President what I heard him say hundreds of times, “Mr. President, all wealth is production.” And the Senator would be right. That’s what the President doesn’t seem to get.

Government spending is not the creation of wealth, and that’s what we really need. The President’s plan is not the creation of wealth, but a reshuffling of existing wealth. Here’s how Governor Wilder might connect the dots for the President:

Mr. President, let me get this straight: you take my money from me and my farmhands who are shoveling out my barn, take some of it out for the cost of governmental bureaucratic processing (IRS), and then give what’s left to other people who are holding shovels so they can build a road. Now, I’m all for good roads, and government needs to help build roads. But there is no creation of wealth here. All you’ve done, Mr. President, is give my wealth to another person. The government hasn’t “produced” anything. So you’ve not created any wealth for anybody.

And, Mr. President, before you say something really embarrassing like, “But those construction workers we’ve put to work will spend their paychecks on stuff, and buying stuff helps the economy,” let me remind you that my farmhands and I would have spent the money—put it to good use, too. You think we just pile our money up in the barn and don’t do anything with it? Mr. President, that’s what we do with hay, not our money.

And, Mr. President, I wouldn’t want you to get caught saying something else silly like, “But we’ve put people to work,” because I’m probably going have to lay off some of my farmhands. So, again, Mr. President, the government hasn’t produced anything. No wealth has been created.

So, Mr. President, would you focus on keeping us safe from terrorist. And build roads if you want to. Just don’t treat us like some country bumpkin and think we’re not smart enough that to know your road programs aren’t producing wealth. There’s enough stuff gets in my barn that needs shoveling out without you adding to it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Time to Pass the President’s Plan

The President is our titular leader. And if ever leadership was needed, it is now on the crisis presented by our national debt and our annual deficit spending. I think it’s time to consider his plan.

First, we need to look at his plan for dealing with deficit spending in the current year’s budget. Oh, he hasn’t put one on paper for us to consider. In fact, we haven’t had a budget for over two years! Forget that idea.

Second, we need to look at his plan for dealing with getting the national debt under control. Oh, he’s not put one on paper for us to consider. Forget that idea, too.

Mr. President, platitudes and vague generalities cannot be voted on. The “devil is in the details,” and you’ve offered none. And, Mr. President, while you may want to criticize the plan put down on paper by Republicans and actually approved by a bi-partisan vote, at least they “put up,” as the old saying goes. And, as that saying goes, those who don’t “put up,” need to “shut up.” And now, Mr. President, it is time for you to “shut up” because you haven’t put anything up that America can read or Congress can vote on.

I know those words sound harsh, but I can’t really think of a nicer, more accurate and succinct way of saying what needs to be said. Does our President really think we Americans are so dumb that when he accuses Republicans of being intransigent about not having tax increases that we don’t see that he’s equally intransigent about having tax increases? It’s fine, Mr. President, to criticize one side for what they are intransigent about; it’s quite another to accuse them of being intransigent when you, too, are intransigent. I, for one, don’t want to hear that tired old doublespeak anymore.

And, Mr. President, in the absence of your own written plan, are you really so arrogant and imperialistic as to veto a plan that would pass the U.S. House and Senate? Such a plan would have to have bipartisan support, but you would exalt your nonexistent plan over one that exists and has bipartisan approval. So, in the absence of anything specific, please be quiet, and let the folks who actually have to vote on a plan do their work without your interference. You’ve had your time to shine, and you’ve let it get pretty dark.

It’s time, Mr. President, to give the American people a break; we’ve had enough of your kind of change. We didn’t know the “change” you promised also meant having a President who could only criticize but have no specific plan of his own to present to the American people and to Congress. That was a change we sure didn’t need.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Sex Connection

If you’re ready to connect some dots that liberals refuse to connect, then keep reading. A study by a University of Iowa researcher, Anthony Paik, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (April 2011) is just one more piece of evidence that you can’t divorce social policy and fiscal policy.

The study shows that 31% of women who had sex for the first time before age 18 divorced within five years; but if they waited until adulthood, the rate dropped to 15%, a drop in the rate of 50%! And comparing these two groups at 10 years, 47% of the marriages ended in divorce if they engaged in sex before the age of 18. But again, if they waited until adulthood to have sex, then the rated dropped to 27%, a drop of 42%!

Here’s the point: The younger you start having sex, the more likely your eventual marriage will end in divorce. Now, why is this important? It’s important because the risk of winding up in poverty goes way up when divorce occurs. And that cost to Tennessee taxpayers in state tax dollars is actually over $700 million annually.

Want to save tax dollars and want to cut down on poverty? Then let’s make sure our school sex-ed programs are not promoting, encouraging unmarried sex and just winking at abstinence.

A Fine Mess in Tennessee

State House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick was recently asked about the new effort by the Tennessee State Employees Association to have state employees identify areas of wasteful spending with the hope that elimination of waste would save state employee jobs. What he said was amazing and a wake up call for all Tennesseans.

The State Employees Association’s effort was launched in response to Governor Haslam’s recent decision to let go 70 planners in the Department of Economic and Community Development. But one fascinating statement by Leader McCormick about that effort that needs digesting is that federal tax dollars represent “as much as 40% of state lending.” Wow!

I love to quote the statement, “The debtor is the slave of the lender,” and while these federal dollars don’t represent “borrowing” by the state, it does represent a dependence on the federal government that is an erosion of our liberty as a state—the notion of federalism. Federalism was the idea that states would retain their sovereignty as a part of a group of “united states” with the federal government having limited, specific powers, with all other powers belonging to the states (see the 10th Amendment).

But with 40% of our budget coming from the federal government, don’t think that there are no strings attached telling us what we can and cannot do. There are a lot of strings that wind up dictating state policy.

And that’s not all. These federal dollars are what makes cutting the state budget so hard. Often our state tax dollar is being used to draw down another dollar or two from the federal government (which explains, in part, why we’re up to 40% in federal revenue). So, you cut a dollar from the state budget, and you may actually be reducing the service provided by the state from that dollar by as much as two or three dollars because you lose the federal “match.” As a former state Senator caught up in a budget mess, I know this from first-hand experience.

This also means that the cuts in Washington designed to attack Washington’s budget deficit and national debt will trickle (if not stream) down to the state, putting a greater demand for state cuts (which cuts are made harder for the reason just aforesaid) or for increased state revenue to make up for the “lost” federal money.

Paraphrasing Stanley Laurel’s catchphrase to his comedic sidekick, Oliver Hardy, “What a nice mess we’ve gotten ourselves into!” Except this “mess” isn’t very funny.