Thursday, February 26, 2009

No room for celebration

As my wife and I drove to the hospital to give birth to our son, I was struck with a peculiar thought. It was late at night the day after the election, and as we drove down 100 South I saw a mangy dog that I assume was a stray. I had seen it several times before. Rural areas just outside of suburbs seem to be common places for strays to end up. As the image of the dog spun around in my mind with the image of my wife in labor and other random thoughts and images from recent days, a disturbing realization entered my mind. The new President-elect believes that the stray dog in my rear view mirror deserves more protection than the child in my wife's womb. Don't get me wrong- I think stray dogs deserve some protection; however, I am convinced that children at any stage of life- beginning at conception- deserve more. Under current animal cruelty laws, I would face jail time if I killed that stray dog. Conversely, if Obama's FOCA legislation was law, my wife and I could kill my unborn son with no repercussions (at least in this life). I could even have my neighbors foot the bill.
Obama's inauguration was attended by an estimated 2 million enthusiastic supporters. As I saw clips on the news, I wondered how many of those in attendance consider themselves Christians. I would like to talk to each one of them if I could. Those who want to find a way to fit Christianity somehow into their politics will find ways to do so. After all, there were Christians personally opposed to slavery who thought it should not be changed through the law. They thought instead it should be changed slowly through economic means. There were certainly Christians who found ways to justify voting for Obama, but that is not my issue for the moment. I just want to know how anyone can justify celebrating a man with such a reprehensible view of human life. If he gets his way, the only protection for unborn children will be their mother choosing to love them. Children who are not loved by their mothers will have no hope for protection. Not only will no one help protect these children, the government will be enlisted to fund and support their execution.
Through deluded reasoning, terribly misguided priorities, poor moral casuistry, or some combination of the three, I can conceive of how Christians may have voted for Obama. What there is absolutely no room for is celebration. Christians, whether they voted for Obama or not, should mourn his election on some level. We must, as Paul exhorts us, not mourn as those with no hope, but we must also not celebrate as those with no compassion.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why Socialized Health Care will Lead to Eugenics

Virtually no one denies that our current health care system could be improved. The question facing our country is whether or not we should move to a socialized health care system similar to the systems in England and other Western nations. There is growing support in our country for such a system. I fear that the shift in sentiment comes from misinformation propagated by the mainstream media and even less useful sources like Michael Moore's "Sicko." I won't go into the poor quality or significant cost that seems to go along with socialized medicine. Instead, I think there is a larger, more menacing concern that has largely been ignored: if socialized health care does not begin with eugenics it is at least likely to end up there.
Scarcity of resources is the ultimate driving force in any health care system. There are limited resources to provide for what is ultimately unlimited "need". I say unlimited because there is almost no limit to the amount of health care that could be beneficial to provide to our citizens. As medical advances continue there is an increasing number of possibilities for health care interventions, and these are certainly not getting any cheaper. We can not afford to give every possible treatment to every person. Under a SHC system the government must determine which treatments they will pay for and which are too costly. There are essentially two ways to match the resources with the demand: provide care for more people but provide less care, or provide care for fewer people so that those fewer people can be given more extensive care. I believe that human nature will ultimately lead us to favor the latter. When the decision makers are part of this socialized health care system, they will want to ensure that they get all of the coverage possible. In order for that to happen, however, many will have to be excluded.
The question then becomes who will become excluded. We have already started the process. Children that would require additional medical care, educational assistance, or any other "burdensome" interventions are already being targeted before they are born. (Incidentally, or maybe not, the founder of Planned Parenthood and the founder of the largest private provider of abortions in England were, to varying degrees, advocates of eugenics) From a fiscal standpoint this makes sense. By eliminating that cost we are able to provide more care for the rest of us. Euthanasia continues to become more acceptable and is even encouraged for those who would require extensive and expensive medical intervention to stay alive. Our current system allows the "healthy" and "productive" members of society to determine the rights of the feeble and voiceless. Socialized health care will further protect the strong at the expense of the weak.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How Iraq War Defeatists May have Made our Country Safer

McCain said something during the debate that got me thinking about the role that Obama and the other Iraq War defeatists have played in our national security. McCain mentioned the one thing that General Petraeus and Bin Laden agree on is that Iraq is the front line for the war on terror. It is generally accepted that most of the Al-Qaeda presence in Iraq entered after the start of the war. It is also clear from Bin Laden's periodic cave correspondence that he is well informed on political squabbles going on in the states and around the world. He routinely repeats defeatist talking points to rally the faithful. Iraq has become a lightening rod for Al-Qaeda insurgents, but why? It is my speculation that Bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders see Iraq as somewhere they can win. Where did they get that idea? In addition to the human inclination to be blinded by our ambition, most of the US and world media along with half of our politicians were saying that the war was not winnable and that we should pull out.
Al-Qaeda could have attacked the US again; in fact it did make several attempts that were thwarted at various stages of preparation. The US became much more difficult to attack; to do so would require tremendous resources and a great amount of time. Even if Al-Qaeda succeeded in some kind of attack, unless it rivaled 9/11, it would be difficult to classify it as a significant victory. Iraq on the other hand is much easier to infiltrate, though as the nation grows stronger, Al-Qaeda is having a harder time getting in. However, if they can manage to force the US out of Iraq in defeat that would be seen as a major victory.
Defeatists in our own country, particularly major political figures like Obama, have fed the belief that Al-Qaeda could succeed in knocking US and coalition forces out of Iraq. This has led to Al-Qaeda devoting all its effort and resources to that country. Could the abounding defeatism be part of a bipartisan plan to keep Al-Qaeda focused in one area? If so, I would be very impressed. Whether intentional or not, I think we have to give the left their due in making our country safer.

Afghanistan is likely to become the primary lightening rod now. As Iraq stabilizes and victory for Al-Qaeda there becomes less likely, Afghanistan makes the most sense for Al-Qaeda to focus on next. How things will play out there as US troops shift there from Iraq remains to be seen, but let's hope that those on the left and right can good cop/bad cop there way into continuing to weaken Al-Qaeda.

Friday, September 19, 2008

How a principled Obama could destroy the US economy

Obama's economic plan, if he managed to implement it, would have a devastating impact on the US economy and have the exact opposite effect that he intends.  There is much fodder for critique but I will focus on three points that I have heard him advocate most frequently and fervently:  increasing corporate tax and capital gains, closing "corporate tax loopholes", and increasing minimum wage.  The corporate tax rate in the US is currently 35%, the second highest in the world.  In reality it is not quite that high.  There are different deductions and exemptions that are too complicated to go through, but in short the effective corporate tax rate is probably in the high 20's, let's say 27%.  That still places the US on the upper end of the corporate taxation in the developed world.  Obama wants to prevent jobs from going oversees but unfortunately that is exactly what would happen if managed to increase corporate tax to 40% as he proposes.  He also proposes to close corporate tax "loopholes".  If he is successful, that would make the effective tax rate 40%, which would be a significant jump from where we are.  We can have a moral debate about how much of the tax burden should be borne by corporations vs. citizens.  The practicality is another matter and there really is not much to debate.  We have an increasingly global economy.  A handful of states are home to a disproportionate number of corporations due to favorable state taxes.  Corporations previously incorporated in the state in which they planned to do business, but that is no longer necessary.  The world is getting to the point that what made sense on a state level will make just as much sense on a global level.  There is little reason for corporations to remain in the US and pay 40% corporate tax when they could incorporate in Ireland and pay 11%.
Currently US based multinationals use clever legal accounting to transfer profit to other countries with lower tax rates.  Therefore other countries get the tax revenue that was actually produced in our country.  Closing the current "loopholes" and increasing corporate tax will only drive them out entirely.  What we really need to do is lower the corporate tax and close the loopholes.  The effective rate would not be significantly lower, but the incentive to transfer profit abroad would largely be removed and would thus increase the revenue received by the US treasury.
I won't spend a lot of time on Obama's plan to increase the capital gains tax because I think most people generally know that it will likely actually reduce tax receipts from capital gains and hurt the US stock market.  History tells us that when capital gains are increased, revenues decrease, and when capital gains rates are decreased, revenues increase.  It is nearly as easy to invest in foreign stock markets as it is to invest in the US.  If I can pay lower capital gains taxes on foreign investments you can bet that I will be investing there.
Finally, Obama plans to increase the minimum wage.  On the surface it seems like a decent idea.  After all, I wanted that single-mom working full-time trying to support her children, the one that Obama talks about during his minimum wage discussions, to be able to earn a living wage.  The problem is that only about 6% of minimum wage earners over the age of 24 are single parents.  Most are between the ages of 16 and 24.  The average household income for people earning minimum wage or less is more than $50,000. (Stats from Bureau of Labor Statistics)  Though it would make high schoolers happy, an increase in minimum wage raises the expenses for businesses employing people who make minimum wage, which will then increase the costs of goods and services provided, which will then disproportionately harm those who shop mostly at business that hire minimum wage employees.  The least impacted will be wealthy individuals who shop at higher end stores and pay for higher end services that will not be as significantly impacted by the change.
In each case it is the poor who will ultimately be hurt the most.  Those who are wealthy enough to rely on investments for income will be fine because they can simply invest overseas as our economy falters and taxes on US investments rises.  Corporations can simply move overseas and import their goods to the US.  Finally, the wages of the cashier at Whole Foods, the salesman at Coach, and barista at Starbucks will not change because they are already well above minimum wage and thus our yuppie friends will coast through largely unscathed.  Meanwhile, that single mom who buys her groceries at Wal-Mart, her clothes at K-Mart, and treats her three kids to a Pizza Hut party on Saturday will wonder how she is making $2 an hour more but is even further behind her bills at the end of the month. 

If Obama is elected there is some hope that things will not be as bad as I have described.  Perhaps he will be prudent enough to listen to a free market economist for advice like Clinton did, though I have seen little indication that he would ask a Republican for advice on anything.  The one positive is that he does not seem terribly principled on many of his positions and so may be willing to sacrifice his economic principles in favor of pragmatism.  His stance on the war inches daily closer to the position McCain has been defending for the past several years.  Judging from his record and his rhetoric, he may be willing to be compromise if there is at least some pressure from Congress to do so.  The only principle on which he has never waivered is denying basic human rights to the unborn or recently born.  So as long he doesn't decide that a sound economic plan could somehow indirectly lead to granting those little ones rights, perhaps there is some hope...for the economy anyway.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Top Ten Misguided Beliefs About Energy Prices

Listening to the hyper-politicized energy debates that have been going on for the past several weeks has been entertaining. Amid all the clamour it can be difficult to pick out reality from spin, so I thought I would take a few minutes to put together a top ten list of the most talked about partial/total energy fallacies.

10.It is simply a function of supply and demand.

Clearly the price of oil is due to more than simple supply and demand. While the supply/demand relationship has tightened, there has been no significant change in supply and demand since a year ago and during that time the price of a barrel of light sweet crude has doubled. Supply and demand is the most important long term factor, but it is not the whole story for the latest bull run in energy.

9.If we allow offshore drilling and drilling in ANWR the environment will suffer.

In some sense this is true, if we are thinking only of America (which, given our ethnocentrism that is often all we are thinking of.) Demand will increase. Supply will increase in kind. The only question is where the supply will come from. If we do not increase our supply, the increase will happen somewhere else like Saudi Arabia or some small African country being exploited for their oil. The US is likely better than anyone else at preserving the environment while drilling. But hey, as long is its not in our backyard, right?

8.Oil companies are gouging consumers with their record profits.

It is true that Exxon Mobil has had record profits during its recent quarters. It is also true that they are the largest company in the US. I don't know about you, but when I hear that the largest company has the largest proft in dollar terms I think, "Well, that makes sense." We may as well say that New York is gouging its citizens because they collected $63M in taxes while North Dakota collected on $1.7M. If we look at a true comparable measure of profit, profit margin, we see that ExxonMobil saw a profit margin of about 8.5% the last quarter. There are more than 1800 companies with a larger profit margin in the US.

7.A windfall profits tax on big oil will put money in the pockets of average Americans without raising the cost of gas.

Mr. Obama has advocated taxing big oil like ExxonMobil and return that money back to those who have to suffer through these high gas prices. I don't blame Obama for the bad idea- it was probably from an advisor, but he really needs to screen those. Exxon has a duty to its shareholders (many of whom are invested in mutual funds and are living off the dividends from that stock) Exxon will protect its profit because that is how it pays its dividends. Should their taxes increase, costs will go up, thus gas prices will go up. Oddly enough, the people who would benefit the most are the ones who are affected the least by gas prices. Americans would all get the same $1000 relief check, but when that causes gas prices to go up, the largest consumers of gas (generally truck drivers and owners of older, less efficient cars) would hurt the most.

6.We can lower energy cost by investing government funds in alternative energies.

This one gets a partial fallacy. Temporary government incentives can jump start new technologies that may have a positive impact on our energy situation. The problem is that it can also actually make it worse. Ethanol is a great example. It is not now economically viable without significant subsidy, and it is unlikely to ever be. The alternative energy that will be a long term solution will be the one that is simply cheaper without subsidy. Even if the US managed to legislate the use of cleaner but more expensive energy do you really see developing countries like China signing up for that? Me neither.

5.Oil from offshore drilling will not be available for 7-10-15-20 years (the number of years seems to grow with each news cycle).

The nearest Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) sites could be in production within 3-4 years; those further out are likely to see production in 5-7 years. The most difficult site that has no preparation yet could be as long as 7-10 years away. The EIA's now famous 2007 study predicted that the areas in question could reach significant production by 2017, but they also assumed that the moratorium would remain until 2012. That means five years from the moratorium lift. That could be lifted any day Congress decides to come back from vacation and accomplish something.

4. Estimates put the total oil available in the OCS at less than 20 billion barrels.

The simple explanation is that these figures are based on an outdated system that has since been improved for locating and quantifying oil and natural gas deposits. These figures are also based on $50/barrel oil prices. When determining the amount of deposits, the only deposits that are included are those that can be extracted for less than $50/barrel. That means that deposits that would not be economically viable at $50/barrel were excluded. There are a great deal more sites that are economically viable now that oil has surpassed $100/barrel. (There is information on that if the report linked above, or for shorter mentions at these Washington Post and Slate articles)

3.1-2 million barrels of oil per day (the amount estimated in the OCS proven reserves) is only 1.5% of world production, thus not enough to significantly impact the price of oil.

The important number to consider is not the percentage of worldwide production. The important figure is the gap between supply and demand. The closer the supply and demand number are, the higher the price will go and the more volatile the market will be. This graph shows the surplus daily supply. As you can see the surplus in 2008 is around 1.5 million barrels/day. An increase in world supply of 1-2 million barrels/day would double that spread. That is significant, and would have a terrific impact on the price of crude oil.

2.Simply opening the strategic oil reserve will have a significant impact of gas prices.

The strategic oil reserve is capable of releasing about 4 million barrels/day for about 17 days. It is possible that this could have some impact on price, but it is likely to have an impact of only a few cents for a few weeks at best. If it were a long term source of additional production, its impact would be much greater, but it is not. As part of a larger increased drilling strategy it could play a more significant role.

1.Oil companies already have 68 million acres of land that they are simply choosing not to drill on. If they would drill on those acres they could "nearly double total U.S. oil production."

I hope I do not have to hear this one much longer. Democrats are trying to pass a bill that would require oil companies to use current leases are loose them. The bill proposal says that if they use all the land they currently occupy they could double their production. This is extremely unlikely. To start with, most of that land has been explored and does not have enough oil to warrant drilling. Some is seismically unstable. The doubling number comes from assuming that the unused land would be just as productive as the currently productive land. The fact that the unused land has been virtually completely explored and deemed inaccessible or unprofitable was simply ignored. Not the best reasoning skills there. If oil companies could produce more oil and sell it for $130-140/barrel, I assure you they would.

Monday, February 18, 2008

How the Republicans became Lame and the Democrats became Blind...and other Just So Stories

Bill Kristol wrote an interesting piece in the New York Times today. In it he espouses an analogy connecting Rudyard Kipling (as understood by George Orwell) to the modern democratic and republican parties. (read the full article here if you have a chance) Kipling was often perceived as morally insensitive and some even accused him of being racist. According to Orwell, Kipling "identified himself with the ruling power and not with the a gifted writer this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality."
The opposition is not forced to face reality in the same way that the ruling power does. The opposition can deal simply in theory, and can even acquire a significant audience as long as the theory promises vast improvement and displays prima facie tenability. The ruling power must actually make decisions. Each decision bring consequences, some good and other not. These consequences are constantly providing fodder for passing judgment on each decision. Ideas from the opposition can never be proved wrong, because so long as the opposition is not ruling their ideas will remain in the abstract.
Kristol brings this around to modern politics:
"Having controlled the executive branch for 28 of the last 40 years, Republicans tend to think of themselves as the governing party — with some of the arrogance and narrowness that implies, but also with a sense of real-world responsibility. Many Democrats, on the other hand, no longer even try to imagine what action and responsibility are like. They do, however, enjoy the support of many refined people who snigger at the sometimes inept and ungraceful ways of the Republicans."
I tend to agree with Kristol's point here. I think that the republican party is off the mark on its priorities and the more power it gets the more corruption exists (though I do not think that is limited to any one party). However, I also believe that the republican party has a better grip on reality than the democrats. I actually think that fact will work against them in the coming election, but this post is long enough already.
There is much more to say on the topic. I'd like to know if others think Kristol is on point and where else you see this dynamic surfacing in politics.

Friday, January 4, 2008

I wanted to vote for McCain, but my wife won't let me

I enjoy discussing politics and unfortunately for my wife she is often the only person around for me to talk with. Over the course of the past few months I have been trying to encourage my wife to take our upcoming election more seriously. I tried to tell her it is her civic responsibility and Christian duty, which is of course true, but really I think I just wanted her to have more to add to our talks on politics. She has begrudgingly responded to my chiding and has started taking a look at candidate positions.
I have liked McCain for a long time now. He has always had a legitimate shot at winning the Republican nomination, and I think also a general election. He has a good understanding of many of the important issues, especially the war in Iraq, the economy, and the health care system. He is pro-life which is obviously important. While he is in favor of overturning Roe and Doe, he is one of those individuals who thinks abortion is an issue for the states to decide.
As I talked with my wife about McCain she was not impressed. She, if I understand her correctly, would not vote for anyone who would not fight for making all abortion illegal, even if they have great views on every other issue. She told me I should not vote for McCain, and as I thought about it I thought she may be on to something. When you understand abortion for what it is, it seems reasonable that being right on every other issue is not enough if the candidate is not committed to protecting the lives of the most vulnerable of our population. As good an economic policy as Hitler may have had, it seems reasonable that his pro-genocide stance is enough to disqualify him from consideration.
Some make the point that it would be impossible to succeed at eliminating at this point so we should just try to do our best to reduce it. I do not find this argument very compelling. When William Wilberforce brought the first bill to abolish slavery before Parliament, he faced opposition that easily defeated his bill 163-88 (Much more lopsided than a vote on abortion would be today). He brought a similar bill to the floor nearly every year until it eventually succeeded. Wilberforce wanted to succeed, of course, but he was not motivated by being likely to succeed. He was motivated by the urgency of the cause. Perhaps his model is a better one to follow.
Should McCain win the primary I will again have to consider the pool of candidates, but given the other options in the primary I think I may have to search elsewhere to place my support this primary season.
Thoughts? Do you think McCain is pro-life enough to vote for in the primary? How about in the general election if he wins the primary?