Aug 16, 2013

I've moved!

I have taken the advice of some people smarter than me on this and moved my blog to Wordpress.

Aug 9, 2013

When "religious liberty" isn't

In the wake of electoral and Supreme Court defeats, some social conservatives are retreating from their crusade against the freedom to marry to the safer ground of religious liberty. In theory, this is both a smart and fortunate move. Same-sex marriage bans have both legal and political problems, the combination of which will make the position completely untenable within a few short years. In practice, however, claims of "religious liberty" very frequently aren't. They instead cloak their existing bigotry in this claim, effectively asking for the freedom to illegitimately discriminate.

There are some social conservatives who plan to propose a constitutional amendment to protect this type of "religious liberty":
“A religious organization, religious association, religious society or any person acting in a role connected with such organization, association or society and shall not be required to solemnize, officiate in, or recognize any particular marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of its constitutional right of conscience or its free exercise of religion.”
Again, this is a great concept in theory (ignoring the fact that the First Amendment makes it wholly unnecessary), but the ways it would be used undermine its innocent appearance. Before and after Loving v Virginia, the Supreme Court case that overturned state bans on interracial marriage, the same argument was made. Religious reasons were given to ban interracial marriage, and religious liberty was claimed after the bans were overturned so that churches wouldn't have to perform interracial marriage. It didn't work then, and it won't work now.

People have their marriages performed in their church. If they don't go to a church, they have it performed in a public place by a public official. If a same-sex couple requests that a church perform their marriage, they were almost certainly already parishioners of that church, in which case the church is already accepting of their relationship and union. No one is going to go into a church they have no relationship with and ask to have their wedding performed by someone who doesn't approve of it. People are asking for this type of religious "liberty" to protect them from something that is entirely fictional.

But this isn't only about marriages. Religious liberty is self-evidently important, since it also includes the broader freedom of conscience. However, as with any liberty, yours ends where it infringes on another. Religious liberty doesn't allow you to commit crimes by claiming your religion allows it, nor should it allow you to exclude certain people (not actions) from your association. The Boy Scouts (before this year) are a perfect example. They claimed the right to exclude gays from their organization because of their religious opposition to homosexuality. This claim undermines itself. Of course homosexual activity can be banned by a private organization, especially since they also ban heterosexual activity within the organization. However, to ban people with a homosexual or bisexual orientation crosses the line. They're not being prevented from practicing their religion or holding any religious or non-religious opinion by having to simply allow certain types of people in their organization.

If your religion opposes eating lobster (which Biblical religions technically do), you can ban eating lobster at your church, but you can't ban people from your church who happen to like eating lobster.

Jul 31, 2013

Hillary vs Rand, the coming political realignment

While many are focused on the Christie vs Rand front of the pre-2016 war, a new rift emerged this morning that could have much more significant consequences.

John McCain, 2008 Republican nominee for President and long-term thorn in the side of both right and left, joked that he would would have a "touch choice" if the nominees in 2016 were Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul. He clarified that he thinks Rand is evolving his father's particular brand of crazy into something more respectable, but went on to praise Hillary's term as Secretary of State and her stature in the world. A few background notes elucidate these comments: earlier this year McCain brutally lashed Rand on the floor of the Senate over his anti-drone filibuster, as the 2008 nominee McCain nearly faced Hillary in that Presidential election, but more recently McCain has been a vocal critic of Hillary's handling of Benghazi in Congressional testimony. So it's quite something that McCain would even joke about supporting Hillary Clinton over his own party's nominee for President.

However, if he wasn't joking, and I suspect not, McCain's comments hint at a possible coming political realignment like our nation hasn't seen since the mid-20th Century. Since the Reagan era the parties have been viewed on opposite sides of two major issue spectrums, Republicans have generally been for small(er) government and big security, while Democrats have generally been for big(ger) government and less security. If the parties choose Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul as their respective nominees, this ideological polarity will have reversed on the security spectrum. While she grew up in the anti-war 60s and was seen in the 90s as the doctrinaire liberal to husband Bill's triangulating centrism, since her time in the Senate, Hillary has emerged as a more globally interventionist hawk than even some Republicans. On the other hand, labeling himself a "libertarian Republican", and with his anti-drone filibuster and opposition to NSA surveillance and most foreign aid, Rand Paul is one of the leading voices for American non-interventionism.

If this realignment on security occurs, it will put the parties on a more clear liberty vs security axis. On all but social/moral issues, which are becoming increasingly state-based anyway, Republicans would be the party of liberty, and Democrats would be the party of security, both economic and national. (I would love to see the social/moral spectrum realign as well, of course, but that will take much more work.) As McCain suggests, Republican national security and foreign policy hawks might have a hard time supporting Rand Paul. To be sure, most would also have a hard time supporting the party's arch-enemy for the last 30 years too, but sometimes the easiest hurdle to cross is the tallest one if it's also the first one. McCain's open praise for Hillary as a competent leader and globally respected personality would be the basis for his and other Republican defections.

Now, all of this assumes that the realignment occurs in both directions. If Republican hawks move to Hillary, but no Democrat doves move to Rand, then we would have more of a one-sided collapse than a realignment. But there are plenty of Democrats who have made similar moves in the past, and more recently explicitly aligned with Rand on security issues.

So if a Hillary vs Rand election happens (and way way early polls suggest it might), and a realignment begins, I will welcome it. We've been dealing with contradictory party philosophies for far too long. We need an explicit party alignment on the liberty vs security axis, not issue-dependent positions on that spectrum. Even if we lose that fight, it's one worth having.

Full disclosure: I'm terrible at predictions.

Jul 25, 2013

Christie orders a new meal: roasted libertarian dove

At a Republican Governors Association event tonight, Chris Christie identified a new target in his neverending branding campaign to be Brow-Beater-in-Chief, but this time on his own side - libertarians. 

The governor labeled a "dangerous thought" the libertarianism making headlines on national security, most recently the Justin Amash and John Conyers effort to defund the National Security Agency over its flagrant 4th Amendment violations. He even morbidly used the "widows and the orphans" of 9/11 to buttress his police-statist policy preference, barely losing out in the dance macabre competition to President Obama and Senator Diane Feinstein's recent corpse parade for gun control.

Christie's friendly fire operation is dumb, short-sighted, and just plain wrong for several reasons.

Jul 18, 2013

Planned Parenthood chooses politics over health care

Today, Planned Parenthood announced that it will close three Texas clinics, after state budget cuts and the new Texas law restricting abortion to 20 weeks and mandating safety standards for clinics that perform abortion. Coming on the same day that Rick Perry signed the new law, and only days after that law was passed during protests at the state capitol, this can only be seen in the lucid world as a purely political move.

The funding that PP Gulf Coast says was cut, forcing these closures at the end of August this year, was done in the 2011 legislative session. So their 12 Texas and Louisiana clinics have been operating without any state funding for two years and just now have to close? Doubtful.

Fortunately, since the Texas legislature increased funding for the Women's Health Program by $71 million this year, affordable care for low income Texas women won't suffer. Also, since Obamacare now mandates that insurance companies provide preventative and contraceptive care free of copay or deductible, Texas women have even less reason to worry about losing out on the things that Planned Parenthood has been providing them.

While PPGC CEO Melaney Linton says the closures are “a completely separate issue” from the new law, their announcement and Perry's signing occuring on the same day is obviously not coincidental. Linton says that Texas not expanding Medicaid under Obamacare was “the final straw” that made them choose to close the clinics. However, the Medicaid issue was decided more than a month ago. If the closures were "a long time coming", then it shouldn't have taken more than a month to announce, if Medicaid was the "final straw".

What makes this PR move even more ironic is that only one of the three clinics that are closing performed abortions. That means only one would have had to meet the new safety standards by September 2014. There would have been absolutely no change for the other two, and any other clinics that don't (or now choose not to) perform abortions.

Sidebar: With all its complaining about public funding, it's ironic that Planned Parenthood itself doesn't even meet the 80% threshold that Obamacare mandates for health insurance companies to spend on medical care. PP only spends about two-thirds of its annual budget on medical care, the rest is overhead, "education", and "public policy work" (read: lobbying). Perhaps if they started worrying less about trying to get laws changed to loosen restrictions on them and more about providing actual health care to women, they could afford to do more of the latter.

Jul 11, 2013

Why is America so "conflicted" about abortion? Political correctness

Confirming every previous poll taken on the subject in the last 50 years, the Huffington Post has a poll out today showing that Americans don't approve of late term abortion. In fact, they don't approve of abortion period. 49% consider the practice itself morally wrong, while only 12% consider it morally acceptable (nauseatingly, another 24% don't consider it a moral issue at all).

The really confusing thing, and the only saving grace for HuffPo's absurdly leftist readers (see embedded poll comparing overall vs reader responses) is the seeming contradiction between respondents personal opinion about abortion and their allowance for the decision to be between the woman and her doctor (63% support).

However, the likely reason for this apparently conflict is pure political correctness. When confronted with the question of whether a medical decision should be between a patient and doctor, or a government dictate, the vast majority of people will allow the individual decision. This is reflected in constant political rhetoric about healthcare in general.

However, the validity of that question is undermined by the rest of the poll. While only 26% say the government should pass restrictions on abortion, 59% (!) favor a federal (!) ban on abortion after 20-weeks, 43% think there aren't enough restrictions on abortion, and only 19% think abortion should always be legal. If 63% of the country really thought the decision should be only between the woman and doctor, then that same 63% would say it should always be legal, otherwise it's not just between the woman and doctor.

But Americans are notoriously inconsistent. Or at least they usually are. On abortion, they're remarkably consistent. Almost no one thinks abortion should always be available to anyone no matter what. That's what is going on in places like Texas and North Carolina, not "extreme anti-choice" radicalism.

Jul 6, 2013

Texas SB1 vs European abortion laws

The American left celebrates Europe as a Platonic ideal society toward which we should strive. They tout the universal healthcare, strict gun laws, generous social welfare, economic progressivism, speech codes, and mass transit infrastructure. So surely Europe must have equally progressive abortion laws (i.e., none at all), right? Wrong. In fact, Europe's various restrictions on abortion make the proposed law in Texas seem positively laissez-faire in comparison.

Of the 27 European Union nations, 18 permit abortion on demand, but almost all only up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. After that, nearly all require there be a threat to the life, health of the mother, or incurable ailment present in the child. Not a single European nation allows abortion on demand at any point in the pregnancy for any reason.

Ireland allows abortion only to save the life of the mother. Portugal, Spain, and the Czech Republican allow it only to preserve the mother's life or health. Many other European countries require specific economic or "social" reasons, but still have restrictions on when it can be performed. Malta bans abortion altogether.

More than half of EU nations have restrictions on the reasons abortions are allowed, where they can be performed, and what procedures must be followed beforehand. Five nations, including socialist haven Sweden, require counseling. Germany even requires that counseling to include that the child has the right to be born, and others require providing information about other options to spare his life. Eight, including the UK, require abortions be performed in a hospital or other approved facility. Three require a 7 or 5-day waiting period for reflection before receiving an abortion.

So despite their status as a tiny fringe minority, the American abortion-industrial complex treats the Texas proposal for a 20-week limit (with exceptions further along) and safety regulations as an unprecedented attack on the "rights" of women. In fact, Texas is really just following the example of enlightened Europe.