Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Access to Sex as a Human Right

Our culture readily accepts the outsourcing of all kinds of domestic services. We happily have our dogs walked, our lawns mowed, or shirts laundered all by people we don’t have breakfast with nor buy a card for on Valentine’s Day; our busy lives are readily propped up by the physical labour of others.

Sex has to be thought of in this way. No, maybe it’s not a romantic assertion, and perhaps not a politically correct one either, but pretending that sex is always about lovemaking and declarations of devotion is a naïve and discriminatory contention.

So "argues" Lauren Rosewarne, lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Melbourne. The quoted paragraphs close her ephemeral article asserting that sex ought to be viewed as a fundamental human right.

We comment briefly, as the times demand.

First, we aren't citing this to suggest that we're on a rapid slide down a slippery slope. Note well, gentle readers, the positive signs, small as they are, about chastity. To wit, teenage sexual activity is down per latest surveys. Sex has always been problematic, but the problems don't always go from bad to worse.

Second, Rosewarne's position obviously seeks legalization of prostitution. That's not a new position either, and it's often been argued from the notion that society should decouple sex and relationship, let alone sex and marriage. Nothing new there.

Most importantly, note well how closely allied Rosewarne's position is to the reasoning of same-sex marriage advocacy. "Sex is a fundamental human right" =  "marrying the person one loves is a fundamental human right." Why? Can a free society not prefer some human relationships to others?

Note well the foundational problem in asserting positive rights (the right to food, shelter, medical care, sex) to negative ones (the right to practice religion freely, to speak freely, not to be searched without warrant), these latter essentially the right to be left alone with one's thoughts, words and property. Extending the notion of rights to the positive category has been a problem for a long time.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What to Preach on Black Friday

Today, as the remains of the national Feast of Thanksgiving course through the alimentary canals of our Republic's ignoble citizens, said dyspeptic citizens have lined up in the darkness to buy stuff.

Indeed, in the greatest assault to our national traditions since the Beatles' musical celebration of hand-holding, some retailers opened during the Feast of Thanksgiving itself. The horror! The horror!

Our Republic's clergypersons, both conservative and progressive, are united in their homiletical scorn for this activity. It is materialism, pure and simple. While the Manichean progressives insist that the fault lies with the dark forces that propel "corporations," "corporate greed" on its way to becoming a compound noun in their vocabulary, Calvinist conservatives insist it's a matter of the depravity that infests every human heart. Progs say that the problem is on the supply side, so corporations ought to be forced to close their rapacious, big-box retail outlets for the holiday. Conservatives say that the problem is on the demand side, so people ought simply to stay home.

In this regard, the conservatives, despite our labeling them as we did, happen to be more right than the progs. As if that needed to be said. Progs live on the notion that they're more noble than their deprived fellows, victims all, and so aim to restrain the narrowly limited population of evil folk (the 1%) to protect the hapless mass of ignorant but good folk. Conservatives hold to the hoary notion that there's such a thing as human nature and the human experience, and the thing is universal.

But we delight to refine the discussion, with some insights from behavioral sciences and biblical theology.

What we witness on Black Friday is not materialism but what many behavioral scientists label "seeking," that is, the behavior of animals, including human ones, to investigate their environment to find new and better things to eat, places to sleep, and opportunities to procreate. Neuroscience shows that seeking is the main source of pleasure in the brain, that the anticipation of reward provides more pleasure than the reward itself.

What Black Friday shoppers are doing is activating their "seeking" mechanism to overcome challenges in the investigation of their environment, deriving pleasure from the anticipation of finding something that they register as a reward. It's the thrill of the chase that they seek, and the purchase is more a trophy to memorialize the thrill than a source of pleasure on its intrinsic merits.

Now, let's get theological in a biblical way.

What's wrong with "materialism" is not the materiality of the stuff people possess. It takes a profoundly unbiblical notion of spirit/matter dualism--spirit is inherently good, while matter is inherently evil--to get to that. The God of Israel makes material stuff and calls it "very good."

No, what's wrong with "materialism" is the seeking of something other than God as a source of security and satisfaction. Jesus' famous story about the man with a great harvest who plans his security via bigger barns points out the futility of such confidence. The man's planned economic expansion can't add to his life a single cubit, as his life is required of him the very night he forms his plans.

The problem with stuff is that we hope it will make our lives right, and stuff can't do that. But we love to seek things--that's how we're wired to work. So we go seeking stuff.

And what we need to seek is God.

We submit that God designed creatures to be seekers so that humans would seek Him.

This gets us closer to the real notion of materialism as idolatry, a common and legitimate connection, though one usually made imprecisely. It's not that people "worship" their possessions in a sense that any of them might recognize as religious fervor. It's that they pursue possessions as a source of security, buying into the ancient, false notion that possessions provide self-sufficiency (eat it and you'll become gods). Thereby, they fail to seek God, to listen to God, to rest in God, to reckon with the failure of their possessions and ultimately of the failure of their mortal bodies. And so they fail to trust in God in any sense beyond verbal assent to a religious dogma.

We could provide biblical references, but we prefer that readers seek them for themselves. Make that an alternative activity of seeking on Black Friday.

Gingrich is Right, But SWNID Still Won't Support Him

Newt Gingrich is right about immigration. Namely, policies that would repatriate undocumented (or "illegal," if you must) immigrants who work, pay taxes, raise families and obey the law are unspeakably stupid.

SWNID has long insisted that economic law is more important than civil law regarding immigration, and the latter ought to cede to the former. Economic law says that available supply will somehow reach to meet demand. Hence, if one country has a demand for labor and its neighbor country has a supply, the supply will aim to meet the demand. If the United States has jobs that go unfilled and Mexico has laborers who want opportunity, the enterprising laborers will find a way to get to the jobs.

Meanwhile, Republican activists who dominate the early nominating process are utterly dominated by anti-immigration fervor that borders on the absurd--this despite their most recent political heroes' (Reagan's, Dubya's--also their most recent political goat's [McCain's]) championing of pro-immigration policies and their insistence on free-market principles economic salvation.

Gingrich has the audacity to state as much publicly, though he's clever enough to do so only after gaining some traction in the polls. We heartily affirm his bold move, one that Romney will also make, but not until September 2012.

But we will not support Mr. Gingrich, despite our warm feelings for his policy position on this and many other matters.

We will not support Mr. Gingrich because a President's fundamental role is not as a policy advocate but as an executive. And Mr. Gingrich is proved to be an inept leader who alienates associates, burns bridges, and overreaches in his supreme confidence in his own judgment.

Policy positions are easily changed relative to temperament. Gingrich lacks the foundational temperament of an effective political leader.

Mr. Romney demonstrates as much. He can change policy positions more easily than he can change his sacred underwear. And while he too has obvious flaws of temperament (i.e. too much confidence not in himself but in collective leadership of experts: witness RomneyCare), they are least among those currently running.

Hence, we metaphorically hold our nose, as we do every four years, not so much to throw him our support but gently to allow our support to creep in Romney's general direction.

Americans Prefer Class Warfare to Math

As we slog through middle age, we become convinced that most mortals can't do math and like it that way.

Dr. Krauthammer is an exception, as his column this week demonstrates.

In it he lays bare several myths that the Party of Jackson is presently employing to get its hapless President re-elected. They are:
  • That Republicans refused to raise taxes in the failed supercommittee negotiations.
  • That Republicans act as they do because they are in the mystical thrall of Evil Geniuses, the latest being Grover Norquist.
  • That the Republic's salvation lies is robbing from the rich and giving to the middle class through higher tax rates on the rich, particularly through repealing the "Bush Tax Cuts" that have caused every evil thing in the last decade.
Dr. K ably points out that the significant Rs in negotiations proffered various plans to increase tax revenues, all rejected by the Ds (with the excuse, not mentioned by Dr. K, that they were "too small"), while the Ds have a consistent record of never even introducing a budget in the Senate, except for BHO's February 2011 offer that was rejected 97-0.

The problem, ably noted by Dr. K, is that Ds are obsessed with raising tax rates on the "wealthy." This, of course, is the outcome of their decade-long anti-rich, faux populist rhetoric. Like Roman Catholic dogma, the Democrats' policy platform must somehow remain consistent with everything they've ever said before.

Ds desperately hope that Americans are as bad at math as they appear to be. To wit: they hope that Americans confuse tax rates with tax revenues, just as they seem to confuse wealth distribution with wealth creation.

[We were going to explain these distinctions in a few sentences, but then we decided not to. Anyone who doesn't understand should either search this blog for earlier posts that provide such explanations, refer to any responsible textbook on economics, merely contemplate the difference between numbers that express percentages and numbers that express quantities, or stop reading this blog as one unworthy.]

As a check on this matter, and as a check on all nonsensical statements made by Democrats about what "the vast majority of economists" say, we refer to the remarkable IGM Forum, which now routinely asks leading academic economists their views of key public-policy issues. Recent polling shows that such solons agree that (a) while a small increase in the highest income tax rate would put negligible drag on the economy; (b) such an increase would also have negligible impact on the federal deficit; and (c) the more promising opportunity both to address the deficit and economic growth would be to reduce tax rates while also eliminating deductions that prefer one kind of economic activity over another.

In other words, what Rs on the supercommittee were proposing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reality Check for Movement Conservatives--Again

McCain lost because he's a RINO.

If the Republican Establishment forces us to accept another nominee who isn't a true conservative, Obama will win a second term.*

Reagan showed how to do it: never give an inch on true-blue conservatism, and you'll win every time.

Well, except the facts prove otherwise.

Michael Medved, a true conservative who has long excoriated the conservative passion for rigidity that rejects coalitions and compromise, lays out the electoral facts in today's WSJ. When Reagan won, which he didn't in 1968 or 1976, he won by capturing middle-of-the-road votes. McCain lost because he didn't do as well as Dubya with moderates, though he actually did better than GOP House candidates, indubitably a predominantly right-wing bunch. Goldwater was as true blue as they come, and as articulate about principles as they come, and the election went to the guy whose operatives made stick the parody of Goldwater's slogan, "In your guts, you know he's nuts."

Here's the summation:

In short, the electoral experience of the last 50 years does nothing to undermine the common-sense notion that most political battles are won by seizing and holding the ideological center. In the last two presidential elections, more than 44% of voters described themselves as "moderate," and no conservative candidate could possibly prevail without coming close to winning half of them (as George W. Bush did in his re-election).

We offer this for all those whose frustration leaves them grasping for straws like Ron Paul (Islamists hate us because we have a base in Saudi Arabia? Really? In Pakistan they hate us for that? And you'd rather wait to be attacked than prevent an attack? Really? And this is not appeasement that you're advocating? Really?). There's a reason that only one voter out of twenty supports this charming little nutcase (we extrapolate his 10% in GOP polls at approximately half of the electorate, an estimate that generously overstates the Congressman's support). It's that he's just as nutty as Dennis Kucinich.

*How exactly does the Republican establishment get its way when the nomination is decided with primaries and caucuses? By sending Stepford voters to the polls? By stealing elections? By ordering its brain-dead sheep to do as they're told? Is the length of memory of a conservative really less than four years?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Occupy Quinlivan's Computer!

Combine the pointless performance art of OWS with the Democrats' sweep of the Cincinnati City Council election (Winburn as the lone non-Democrat is like have ten Democratic votes on the nine-member City Council), and what do you get?

A member of the Council majority suing the city because the restriction of her use of a city computer on a city internet connection for campaign purposes is, in the view of her lawyers, a violation of her free speech rights.

We are not making this up. The councilwoman in question is Laurie Quinlivan, ardent supporter of Mayor Mallory, shrill shill for the streetcar, and former TV reporter distinguished for a certain entitled pushiness in conducting investigative reporting (that last remark is based on a troubling encounter that we once had with her as she sought to attribute to us information that we thought we were giving on background, using the incentive, "My pastor told me that you could help me").

The story is here.

Attention, Councilwoman Quinlivan and OWS denizens: the right to free speech includes reasonable restrictions on time, place and manner. Citizens have the inalienable right to say anything they think, especially anything political. They don't have the right to do it any time, anywhere, by any means. This is so settled a matter of constitutional law that one wonders that anyone in government or with an eighth-grade education operates without the assumption.

Yet we are told that a city-owned, taxpayer funded computer should be free for use in a partisan political campaign, and that a public park with reasonable restrictions on access and use should be available for constant use without restriction for aggrieved citizens to express symbolically their grievances.

But individuals shouldn't be allowed to give a lot of money to a political campaign, and groups of individuals organized to do business (i.e. corporations) shouldn't be allowed to give any.

What's Next After SB5 and ObamaCare

There's really not much reason to blog these days. All the interested person really needs to do is assemble a list of key words from current events, search this blog, and read prior posts. Plus ça change . . .

But we will deign to repeat ourself now and then.

One such occasion is today. WSJ's opinion page--the best proof of American exceptionalism--today notes the whirlwind sown by the defeat of Ohio Issue 2 and Ohio Senate Bill 5 that it represented. To wit: communities lacking the flexibility to pass on health insurance and pension costs to public employees will by necessity end up with fewer public employees.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has looked past the pretty pictures of firefighters and teachers (why no police officers? because market research shows that a lot of voters don't trust police officers like they trust firefighters and teachers) and who has contemplated the lessons of Alegbra I. Specifically, if health insurance and pension costs are rising faster than tax revenues, then either the per-employee costs of health insurance and pensions must be reduced or the number of employees must be reduced.

SWNID, as is well know, is on the side of history regarding the place of organized labor in the postindustrial economy. With every passing year, a smaller number of workers are organized, except in the public sector. The politics are complex but the economics are simple: unionized labor works against its own long-term interest by stifling improvements in productivity.

Among our current federal executive's failings, one of his three greatest is his fealty to organized labor, especially organized public employees. Economic stimulus was all about keeping state and local employees on the payroll. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was all about mandating that health insurance come from an employer or from the government--to assure that such benefits could be a prize won by unions desperate to appear to create value for their members.

That point has been lost in all the hullabaloo about the federal mandate. Had BHO wanted an efficient means of getting healthy people to buy health insurance, he would've done what John McCain (gasp!) had proposed and what Wyden-Bennett proposed: tax individuals at a rate roughly equal to the cost of a moderate health insurance policy and provide a tax credit up to that amount for premiums paid for health insurance. Et voila! Individuals and families can then shop for insurance that fits their situation, and if they don't, Uncle Sugar has money in the coffers to cover their indigent care. And there's no power-grabbing invocation of the Commerce Clause to justify an erosion of liberty.

But why not? Just about the first thing out of Obama's mouth when he began the quixotic quest for Eleanor Roosevelt's mantle of liberal sainthood was that Americans like their system of employer-provided health insurance. This, of course, is a conventional political lie. Americans don't like getting insurance from their boss, because the boss has to buy insurance for everyone, and one size doesn't fit all. And they don't like being tied to a job that they dislike out of fear of losing health insurance. But they'd rather get insurance from a bad boss than from any government agency, no matter how nice the President of that government is.

But unions depend on the employer-provided "system" (an accident of price controls in WWII, as alert readers with decent memories will recall: note how one economic sin begets several more). They need to negotiate for benefits to preserve the illusion that without their intervention, workers would be paid in gruel and rags.

And so we have ObamaCare, and a Supreme Court case, and a system which, if implemented, will lead employers to drop plans and individuals with decent health to go without insurance, paying an annual fine that is much lower than the cost of insurance, until they get sick, when guaranteed coverage at average rates, they'll jump into a system that can't possibly stay afloat economically. Such are the exigencies of life in a Republic in which 12.5% of workers are unionized but unions dictate public policy to the Executive.

Incidentally, the primary list of Obama's political failings are as follows, in order by which he applies them: (1) support for government investment in favored, private industries (Solyndra!); (2) support for pointless "green" initiatives and "green" objections to economically productive initiatives (Keystone Pipeline!): (3) support for unions, especially public-employee unions (see above!). We could go on to praise him for adhering to a Bush-like foreign policy or to excoriate him for punting on issues where he has the influence to do something positive, like immigration reform or tax refom. But you get the picture.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Harvard Fundamentalism

One of SWNID's all-time favorite jokes goes as follows.

Two men are in a restroom. One is washing his hands as the other makes a move to leave without washing. The man at the wash basin says, "At Harvard University, we learned to wash our hands after relieving ourselves.
The other man replied, "At the City College of New York, we learned not to pee on our hands."

The Boston Globe recounts some Harvard students' hijinks at another of the endless "Occupy" events, including the following:

Harvard University Police briefly detained one demonstrator, Jeff Bridges, who yelled, ‘‘I’m a student!’’ Bridges, a third-year divinity student, said he had pushed his way in, waving his ID. ‘‘I think what they’re doing is wrong and immoral, and as a divinity student I should know,’’ he said.

What do we call people who are assured that their religious views are unimpeachably right because they come from an unimpeachable authority? The answer is either "fundamentalists" or "students at Harvard Divinity School."

Monday, November 07, 2011

Quick 'n' Dirty SWNIDish Voter Guide

In response to the myriads of gentle readers asking for guidance on tomorrow's off-off year election choices, we break our blogging fast to supply the handy, dandy SWNIDish Voter Guide for 2011.

First up, Cincinnati City Council

Committed to the notion that free markets are the way to general prosperity, SWNID leans Republican. But in City Council elections, we are a decidedly choosey Republican. So from the GOP slate we endorse the following:

  • Amy Murray: super smart, super sensible
  • Wayne Lippert: from the impressive Portman stable, a financial advisor with the sense to help the city sort out public-employee pension messes
  • Catherine Smith Mills: also a veteran of the Portman staff, representing the best of GOP sensibility

And we reject the following who besmirch the legacy of Lincoln:

  • Leslie Ghiz: loud, inconsistent, a publicity hog, clearly trying to establish a public persona to run for mayor but without a political philosophy from which to govern
  • Charlie Winburn: on his second set of term-limited terms, Winburn still has no achievements on his record save the ability to sustain his own voice for long stretches without pausing to inhale

We fill out our slate with the following, still not voting the maximum nine so that our votes have a smidgeon more impact:

  • Kevin Flynn: attorney, dad, board chair of Drake Center, courageous overcomer of devastating injuries, sensible guy who knows how to make the city better, resident of Mt. Airy, our city's most pleasant neighborhood
  • Wendel Young: a work horse, not a show horse--shows up and supports good decisions and consensus
  • Cecil Thomas: retired cop who loves the city and views things sensibly, though apparently he needs to clean up some of the rental property that he owns
  • Chris Bortz: development-minded, pro-business, the kind who might actually bring jobs to the city, maybe a decent mayor in a couple of years

Meanwhile, we urge any and all not to vote for any or all of the following:
  • Mike Allen: publicity-hungry former county prosecutor who lost his old job through extramarital activity on a county-owned desk. We don't need to enable this guy's ego that is already enormous even by the standards of politics.
  • Chris Smitherman: the only person with more ego than Mike Allen in this race. Smitherman will use anything for self-promotion, and we don't say that lightly.
  • Roxanne Qualls: a nice lady who's been around for a long time with a lot of weak ideas that never get stronger. If you like the last twenty years of council governance, keep voting for Qualls. Props, Rox, for telling the Prez that the only way to pay for an Infrastructre-Bank-financed rebuild of the Brent Spence was with tolls, but we need to hear two sensible ideas before you'll get the SWNIDish vote.
  • Chris Seelbach: a protege of David Crowley, representing all the elements of the Democratic Party coalition that make it hard to vote for Democrats these days--organized labor, sexual orientation as protected class, etc. We can only be grateful that the Irish question has settled down to the point that he doesn't advocate his mentor's despicable position on that too, at least not publicly.
Then there's Cincinnati Public School Board. In a tremendous show of the political indifference that comes from frustration and contentment (yes, those exist together: many are frustrated with public education to the point of indifference; others see the district as well enough managed by its administration that the board is of no importance), four candidates are running for three seats. That makes this race a question of whom to vote against. And the answer is incumbent Eve Bolton, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. If you can read, thank someone other than Eve Bolton.

Votes go to Chris Nelms, civic-minded man of faith; Mary Welsh Schlueter, highly informed mom with a powerful educational philosophy; and Alexander Poccia Kuhns, associate of Nelms who isn't Eve Bolton.

Now to the referenda:
  • Vote YES on Issue 1, to modernize the Ohio constitution regarding the state supreme court.
  • It's an emphatic, if pointless, YES on Issue 2. Public-employee unions are wrong for their members, not just wrong for taxpayers. Time to trim their power to a proportion where they'd have to deliver value to their members to stay in business. This will fail, but don't let it fail by much, or nothing will change for a long time.
  • We're voting NO on Issue 3. No, we haven't been away for a month learning to like ObamaCare. We just think it's kinda pointless to vote for a law that will have no constitutionality if it's passed. Well, you can make an argument that the law's success would make a strong political point that might offset labor's win on Issue 2 a little. So vote your conscience on this one. A YES on Issue 3 is OK.
  • We urge a YES on Issue 32, Cincinnati Public Schools levy. While we excoriate the district for explaining the case for the levy so vaguely, the district has exercised exceptional stewardship in the last five years, attaining an exceptional record for a large-city district with less expenditure than the current norm. While we think that public-school education is still too expensive, CPS will not waste much, and their current path is leading to good outcomes for several thousand kids who need to learn. It's expensive but worth it.
  • YES on Issue 37 will continue to fund indigent care in University Hospital and Cincinnati Children's Hospital, both valuable in light of Uncle Sugar's failure to liberate the healthcare system.
  • Issue 38 is for renewal of the children's services levy, and who wants less of that? It's a YES for all but the most reptilian of small-government conservatives, and even SWNID has warmer blood than that.
  • Issue 44 is a NO. This referendum empowers the City of Cincinnati to negotiate reduced electricity rates for its citizens. What's wrong with lower rates? Well, you can do this yourself, dear citizen. And you might get a better deal by choosing your own plan. And this bill requires citizens to opt out of the deal rather than to opt in. How'd we all do with that cable television deal in the 1980s? Happy with TimeWarner's monopoly? Glad for Dish and Direct for a little competition at long last? Don't make the same mistake twice!
  • Issue 45 is also NO. It's about gas aggregation. Same as above, especially as gas prices are falling through the floor thanks to humankind's latest technological advance, fracking. Trust the city to make a deal that misses the next price drop.
  • Issue 46 straightens out some filing deadlines for elections. Vote YES so we won't have to keep voting this.
  • Issue 48 forbids spendthrift politicians from investing in fabulously expensive streetcars to transport bar-hopping UC students to The Banks and back safely. If you think that inefficient, expensive, inflexible, limited public transportation is economically stimulating, you don't read this blog. VOTE NO!
See you next November, if not before!