Monday, February 27, 2012

I Hope We Live To Tell The Tale

Shout,  shout
Let it all out
These are the things
I can do without
Come on
—Tears for Fears, Shout

With all the recent obsession over condoms, you may have missed this one, which I suspect is exactly how the Dems hoped it would play.  That's OK; I've got your back on these things.

But let's keep our eye on the ball.  

Week before last, the L.A. Times recounted the tale of the Genesis Solar Project, a huge solar farm being constructed in a Southern California desert.  Genesis received a partial Department of Energy guarantee on an $852 million loan back in August.

Don’t look now, but there’s trouble in green energy paradise.  Again.

Construction of the farm has yet to be completed, and at this point is held up indefinitely.  It seems in their rush to meet deadlines imposed as a condition of their DOE loan guarantee, planners missed a couple of things.  One, construction activities interfered with the native habitat of something called the kit fox.  Dead foxes started turning up all over the site, and after efforts to harass the animals into moving—where’s PETA when you need them—failed, it was determined that distemper brought about by the construction disturbances was killing the foxes off.  So, in essence, this “green energy” project is in fact creating an environmental problem.

I’m drowning in the irony of that one.

The other—likely more serious—problem in terms of the project’s ability to go forward is that  excavators discovered that the farm is being constructed on the site of an ancient human settlement.  The Colorado River Indian Tribes have a reservation near the site, and they, along with other Native American groups, are now seeking to delay or even stop the project altogether.  Meanwhile, the project stands incomplete and generating no revenue.  If they have to cut too much acreage out in order to accommodate the Indian and environmental concerns, the project will become—wait for it—uneconomical.


This, of course, is just the latest in the constantly growing string of disasters flowing from the Obama administration’s Quixotic quest to create an industry that does not exist, to provide products no one wants, at a price no one will pay.  Let’s review.

Solyndra—Bankrupt, August 2011

Of course, the poster child for the green energy train wreck is Solyndra, the California-based manufacturer of solar panels, over 1/3 owned by Obama mega-fundraiser George Kaiser.  Solyndra was the first to receive “green energy” startup loan guarantees from the Department of Energy, netting $535 million in a deal that was rushed through over the objections of financial analysts.  The DOE restructured that debt in early 2011 to move taxpayers behind the private equity holders like Kaiser in the creditor queue.  After there simply wasn’t enough market demand for its product, Solyndra declared bankruptcy in August 2011—almost to the day that the financial analysts who objected to the loan said it wouldand later sold its assets on the cheap to a new outfit also partly owned by Kaiser.  So basically the President's buddies got to finance their startup with taxpayer money, moved to the front of the line to get their own money out when it went belly-up, then took the assets for pennies on the dollar, leaving the rest of us stuck with the check.

Ener1—Bankrupt, January 2012

Ener1 was a New York-based parent company of a firm that received $118 million in federal “stimulus” grants to produce electric car batteries in part for the Fisker Karma (see below), a deal that ultimately fell through.  Ener1 filed for bankruptcy last month.

UPDATE 2/27/12:  No sooner did I post this, than I see that A123, who won the Karma contract out from under Ener1 on the strength of some $390 million in federal subsidies, is laying workers off, despite hefty pay increases for its executives.

Beacon Power—Bankrupt, October 2011

Beacon was a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of energy storage technology.  It received $43 million in Department of Energy loans.  Beacon declared bankruptcy in October 2011, saying it had been unable to obtain additional private investment (one wonders why).  It received bankruptcy court approval in December to begin selling off its assets.

Evergreen Solar—Bankrupt, August 2011/Now owned by the Chinese

Evergreen was a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of solar panels.  It received government grants including an estimated $5.3 million in federal “stimulus” money.  Evergreen went bankrupt in August 2011, and in November sold its assets to a Chinese firm.

Spectrawatt—Bankrupt, August 2011/Now owned by the Canadians

Spectrawatt was a New York-based manufacturer of silicon cells used in solar panels.  It received It received $500,000 in “stimulus” grants in June 2009.  Spectrawatt filed for bankruptcy in August 2011, and was bought by a Canadian firm.

Sunpower—Insolvency/Layoffs, November 2011/Now owned by the French

Sunpower, yet another California-based solar firm, received a $1.2 billion DOE loan in September 2011, the very last days of the program.  Barely a month later, it announced hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, and that it was “reorganizing” and cutting jobs.  It is now owned by the French oil giant Total, without whose backing, it would be bankrupt.

Amonix—Layoffs, January 2012

Amonix was a California-based solar systems manufacturer with a plant in Nevada.  It was partly owned by John Doerr, Daniel Weiss, and Steve Westly, who collectively have bundled at least $700,000 for Obama.  Amonix received $5.9 million in federal “stimulus” grants in 2010.  Last month it announced it was laying off two-thirds of its workforce.

Nevada Geothermal—Insolvent, October 2011

Nevada Geothermal, as the name suggests, is a Nevada-based geothermal energy company that received $66 million in federal grants, and another $79 million in DOE loans; loans it immediately used to pay off or renegotiate other loans that were or were about to be in default.  In other words, the company was already insolvent, a fact apparently known to the Obama administration at the time the DOE made the loans.  According to the DOE website, this project created 14 permanent jobs.

Fisker Automotive—Layoffs, February 2012

As I have previously reported, Fisker Automotive is a California-based manufacturer of luxury electric cars.  It received a $529 million DOE loan to produce its $102,000 Karma, which it manufactures in Finland.  After producing—then recalling—a grand total of 239 units, Fisker announced earlier this month that it was laying off employees in its Delaware and California locations, despite miraculous and unverifiable DOE claims that the loan had “created or saved” 2000 jobs.

Remember back when it was all about focusing on the economy and creating jobs?  These projects include five bankruptcies, one insolvency and one about to go under if it can’t resume construction, three laying people off, three now owned by foreign parents, and one manufacturing its product—to the extent it does so at all—overseas.  They represent a total federal investment of about $2.5 billion, and leaving aside temporary construction, appear to have added only 14 permanent U.S. jobs (without deducting for layoffs and bankruptcies), a clip of about $178 million per job.  Contrast that with the Keystone XL pipeline project Obama rejected (claiming it needed more study), which would unquestionably have created tens of thousands of U.S. jobs and not cost the federal taxpayer one red cent.

In a funny coincidence, with one exception (Nevada Geothermal—you work that one out) every one of these debacles involves federal money going to firms based in California, New York, or Massachusetts, huge chunks of it to big Obama backers.

I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

With this objective record on this issue alone, for the life of me I can’t understand how this President continues to net an approval rating as high as the 45% he’s been hovering around for months.  The level of incompetency is both obviously demonstrable, and staggering.  Worse, I can’t believe the GOP isn’t keeping this on the front burner and getting this message before the American public.  I’m aware of it, and now you’re aware of it, but Joe Six Pack isn’t, and he’s the one who matters.

This, and the force-feeding of Obamacare, should be the centerpiece of the campaign.  I hope the GOP gets around to telling this story soon, or it’ll be too late.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Contraception Mandate And Eroding Liberty, Part II

Pleased to meet you,
Hope you guessed my name.
Ah, what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game.
—The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil

Continuing with last post’s discussion of the erosion of liberty flowing from the contraception mandate, I want to turn from the attack on our religious freedoms and our right to be secure in our persons, and look at the private property aspect of this, and of Obamacare more generally.  In particular, I want to focus on the fundamental misunderstanding—or deliberate misrepresentation, depending on how you spin it—of what insurance is, because that misunderstanding appears to drive a lot of this debate.

First, it’s not “health care,” and it’s not “health insurance.”  Those are monikers deliberately crafted to play into the Left’s feel-good narrative that this is all about a “right” to see a doctor.  But that’s not what we’re really talking about.  What we’re talking about is medical expense insurance—that is, policy coverage to offset certain costs associated with medical services.  But let’s back up.

Insurance in our modern sense originated in the form of marine insurance—policies providing some measure of compensation for the value of an oceangoing vessel and its cargo in the event they were lost at sea.  We can think of it as a kind of wager: the vessel owner bets $10 that the ship and its cargo will go down, and the insurer bets $10,000 that it won’t.  We would never say that the vessel owner has a “right” to the vessel going down, or, for that matter, that he has a “right” to make the insurance company prevent that from happening.  He doesn’t even have a right to have the government force the insurer to write the coverage.  What we have is a private contract; an agreement whereby one party pays a fee in order to receive a financial guarantee from another against the happening of a specified risk.

Typically the amount the policy holder pays is very small relative to the magnitude of the risk being covered—otherwise it would make more sense to just bear the risk ourselves.  The insurance provider can make this work because, just like diversifying your investment portfolio, they spread their risk across a large number of policies.  In my marine example above, wagering $10,000 against a $10 premium seems like a bad bet, until we consider that the odds of that particular ship sinking are very low.  Let’s say 1 in 2,000 ships actually sink.  If the insurance company writes policies covering 10,000 of them, it collects $100,000 in premiums.  Statistically, they can expect five of their covered vessels to sink, and thus they will have to pay out $50,000 in benefits.  The remaining $50,000 goes to pay their overhead and costs of business, and anything left over is profit.  That is how the insurance business works.

Of course, if we force the parties to change the coverage terms, we change the mathematics.  For example, if we compel the insurer to pay $50,000 in benefits instead of $10,000, we see very quickly that the statistical risk calculation doesn’t work for him; the same five vessels will sink, costing the insurer $250,000 versus only $100,000 in premiums.  The insurer must either raise the premium, or go out of business.  Neither result is good long term for either the insurer or the insured.

Fundamental to the insurance proposition is that it’s a private agreement.  We can write insurance to cover just about anything as long as we can reach an agreement with the insurance provider as to how much the premium is, what the insurance is to cover, what the monetary limits of that coverage are, and any time limitations that may be applicable.  With medical expense insurance, the concept is NOT that you have the right to see any doctor, anywhere, anytime, for anything.  These same principles of agreement apply, and you must reach an agreement with the provider as to how much your premium (co-pay is a form of per-event premium) is, what illnesses or procedures are covered, what the limits are on how much the provider will pay, and over what period of time the provider will cover you.  Each of those items is almost infinitely variable, but you and the insurance provider must reach an agreement on them.  Once you do, you have a private contract that defines exactly to what you are entitled. 

But somewhere along the way, this idea of insurance as an agreement seems to have been lost.

The Left regards employer-provided medical coverage as some form of fundamental right—but when did this “right” come into being?  Prior to the late 19th Century, medical expense insurance as we know it did not exist.  None of the Founders had it.  Abraham Lincoln didn’t have it.  It’s unlikely that Progressives like Woodrow Wilson or FDR had it.  And before the 1960s, those who had medical expense insurance almost invariably had it through private policies that they bought themselves.  The practice of employer-provided medical expense insurance only became widespread after the creation of tax rules that made it more advantageous for employers to include that coverage as a benefit in their compensation package than simply to offer their employees higher wages that they could use to buy their own medical expense coverage or otherwise spend as they saw fit. 

As these employer-provided policies have become ubiquitous, however, they have come to be viewed incorrectly as some kind of entitlement, rather than as a compensation benefit provided by virtue of this three-way agreement between the carrier, employer, and the employee.  You do not have a “right” to “health care” at someone else’s (the insurance company’s) expense; what you have is a right to reimbursement for whatever medical expenses are specified in your insurance agreement.  And this is where the contraception mandate in particular, and the individual mandate in Obamacare more generally, have their problem. 

Let’s say, for example, that the local Catholic diocese operates Holy Cross Hospital, and offers its employees medical expense coverage through Aetna.  Let’s say further that every one of the Holy Cross employees is a practicing Catholic.  The diocese doesn’t want to provide, and the employees don’t want to receive, a policy that covers The Pill.  Aetna is perfectly happy to write a policy that doesn’t cover it.  All three parties to this private agreement are happy to agree voluntarily to this arrangement—it’s exactly the way they want it.  Under Obamacare and the contraception mandate announced by HHS, they don’t have any choice.  They’re going to have to change their agreement whether they like it or not. 

Let’s take another example.  Let’s say OB1Solar is a green energy startup, and offers its employees a choice between a medical insurance plan or an extra $30,000 in base salary.  Many of these employees are young, healthy, and single; they view their risk of needing medical care as slim, and thus see a greater benefit in taking the extra cash rather than the policy.  They voluntarily agree to take a job without employer-provided insurance, and OB1 voluntarily hires them on that basis.  Again, all the parties to this private arrangement agree it’s exactly the way they want it.  Under Obamacare’s individual mandate, they don’t have any choice.  They’re going to have to provide/accept medical coverage whether they like it or not.

Both mandates are an affront to the notion of private contracts, which is a fundamental aspect of private property.  When and from where did the federal government—and the Chief Executive in particular—get the power not only to order you to enter into a private contract, but also to order what the terms of that contract must be?  And if that power exists, where does it end?  This is not just a Freedom of Religion issue reserved to Catholics.  It’s an Article II issue (as I explained yesterday), and a freedom of contract/private property issue.  

And that affects everybody.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Contraception Mandate And Eroding Liberty, Part I

Slip sliding away,
Slip sliding away,
You know the nearer your destination,
The more you’re slip sliding away.
—Paul Simon, Slip Sliding Away


Frankly, I had hoped we’d be past the whole contraception mandate issue by now, because I thought we had bigger fish to fry.  Now, I’m not so sure.

Let me be clear up front:  NOBODY is trying to keep you from obtaining and using contraceptives if you so choose.  I don’t advocate that the government institute a legal ban on them—let’s leave aside true pure abortifacients like the so-called “Plan B,” which are a different issue—and as far as I know even the Catholic Church has never sought one, either.  If you want to use a condom or The Pill, fine.  I’m not going to cast any moral judgments on you.  Just don’t make me pay for it, which has been the core of the standard—and correct—First Amendment free exercise of religion argument. 

I fear, however, that the issue and the potential danger here go to something much deeper.  Last Friday, talk radio host Andrew Wilkow was taking a slightly different tack and making an Article II argument:  it’s not just that the mandate violates the First Amendment, it’s also outside the scope of the power given to the President.  And Wilkow’s right.  The President simply has no Constitutional authority to issue an executive edict requiring either Catholic hospitals, or their private insurance companies, to pay for contraception for someone else.

But what scares me here is the logical train Wilkow’s discussion sent me thinking my way down, because if we follow this out the implications are chilling. 

Let’s start by asking the question why we need “free” contraceptives.  The Left will immediately begin shrieking about the need to protect women’s right to “preventative health care.”  Just last week, Press Secretary Jay Carney was out there talking about the “right” to contraception “free of charge.”  House members Thursday were complaining that those objecting to the mandate were diminishing the “interests of women”  “who want and need coverage for basic preventative health care services[.]”

On closer examination, this “preventative health care” mantra doesn’t hold water.  As I’ve pointed out before, the only form of contraception with any legitimate preventative health care link in any normal understanding of the term is condoms, and not only are they cheapless than a buck apiecebut they’re also already widely available for free.  You simply don’t need a federal mandate that they be covered by insurance. 

But what about the health consequences of unwanted pregnancy? 

Well, the simple and incontrovertible fact is that the easiest, safest, cheapest, and most effective way of avoiding the potential negative health effects of pregnancy (or STDs, for that matter), is abstinence.  It’s literally free even without insurance.  It’s accessible to everyone, everywhere, 24/7/365.  And it’s 100% safe, and 100% effective.  If what you’re all about is protecting women’s health, then abstinence should be at the top of your list, and there is simply no need for an insurance mandate to force other people to pay for it.

No, this isn’t about women’s health and pregnancy.  It’s about sex.

How so, Rusty?

The only reason to push contraceptives and ignore abstinence is that what the Left really wants, but can’t say out loud, is to make sure women can have recreational sex without consequences.  Taking them at their word that they’re pushing this issue in the interest of women’s health, because we’ve just seen that this health concern isn’t, and can’t be, about the health aspects of pregnancy, it must be that there are health benefits related to sex itself, and contraception is somehow a necessary tool for facilitating access to those benefits. 

Now, I’m not disagreeing with the idea that sex has health benefits so far as it goes, but the issue isn’t what you do or with whom you do it.  It’s whether you can make me pay for it. 

The underlying premise is that there’s not only a health benefit to sex without consequences, but that it’s such a compelling need that we have to override other people’s First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and their Fourth Amendment right to private property and make them pay for the contraceptives that make it possible.  And we’re going to ignore the Article II limitations on the power of the Chief Executive in order to do it. 

Well, where does that idea lead us?

If one citizen can be compelled to provide another citizen with birth control in order to obtain the health benefits of sex, what that really means is that the one citizen must ensure the other citizen has the things necessary to access the health benefits of sex.  Well, what if even with birth control the sex just isn’t satisfactory enough to generate those health benefits?  If we can compel one citizen to pay for another’s birth control in order to ensure the other’s access to the health benefits of sex, can’t the President order one citizen to pay for another citizen’s pornography (and if so, can’t that pornography take whatever prurient form is necessary to get the job done)?  What about sexual aids—can the President order one citizen to pay for another’s adult toys?  Once the issue is enabling access to the health benefits of sex, there’s no difference between forcing one citizen to provide another’s condom and forcing him to provide any other tool or implement necessary to enable that access. 

But wait.  Let’s keep following the logic train.

If one citizen can be ordered to provide the implements necessary for another citizen to get access to the health benefits of sex, it’s only a slight step further to say that one citizen can be compelled to provide another citizen with the sex itself.  Those of you who like to scream about the government keeping its hands off your ovaries should start worrying about the government’s hands going somewhere else.  And before you complain that I’m just out there flapping in the winds of paranoia, bear in mind that a lot of the people pushing this contraception mandate are the same folks who push for gay marriage, and who think Roman Polanski should be canonized.  So there’s no telling where that might lead. 

Now, do I really think it’s going to get as far as all this?  No, probably not.  But I raise the issue to point out the serious erosion of personal liberty that’s going on here.  To return to our Article II complaint, this administration is so far out of bounds they can’t even see the Constitution from where they are now.  And the more we let them get away with, the less the tethers the Constitution was supposed to place on President’s authority to act as a dictator mean. 

And let me tell you, friends, history teaches us that at some point it takes a whole lot of blood to get liberty back once it’s lost.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

You Are What (The Government Lets) You Eat

The dream police
They live inside of my head
The dream police
They come to me in my bed
The dream police
They’re coming to arrest me, oh no!
—Cheap Trick, Dream Police

Government is out of control.

You already knew that, but wait till you get a load of this.  At a preschool in North Carolina, a four year old was on her way to lunch, toting the lunchbox dutifully packed for her by her mother.  A state inspector—following guidelines established by the USDA, and enforced through the federal Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services—took the child’s lunch away from her, concluding in the inspector's infinite wisdom that under the guidelines it wasn’t satisfactorily nutritious. 

Here’s what the derelict mom put on the menu:

Turkey and cheese sandwich
Apple juice
Potato chips

Good Lord, it’s a wonder the child hasn’t already turned into Mr. Creosote.  How about just one wafer-thin mint?

But wait, it gets worse.

Having stripped the child of the lunch provided for her by her own mother, the genius bureaucrat forced her—no doubt to the added profit of the purveyor with the government contract—instead to eat the school-provided menu, the entrée of which was chicken nuggets.  So, in the interest of ensuring the child’s nutrition, we traded a turkey sandwich and a banana for freaking chicken nuggets!!!!  Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, anyone?

Only government could get it this spectacularly wrong.

I know most kids love chicken nuggets, and my own kids eat them frequently.  But the truth is they’re gross.  Let’s think about this.  With few exceptions, chicken nuggets aren’t even made from chicken meat in the traditional sense (ever wonder why they don’t bear any resemblance to any recognizable part of a chicken?).  They are processed from a substance known as  "mechanically separated meat," that involves taking the scraps and bits left on the bones after a chicken is butchered, running them through a sieve to create a kind of pink primordial paste—not unlike what OCP fed to Robocop.  To that paste the manufacturers add thickeners, artificial flavorings, and undoubtedly huge amounts of salt and chemical preservatives.  The resulting goo is then molded into the nugget shape of choice, and the thing is breaded and deep-fried.

I’m all for deep-frying, but you won’t catch me claiming it’s the height of lean, healthy eating.

In this particular instance, the ruckus stems from the State of North Carolina’s Division of Child Development and Early Education Program, which includes a requirement that sites “provide breakfast and/or snacks and lunch meeting USDA requirements.”  I suppose that’s fine to set some kind of government-established nutritional criteria if what you’re talking about are government-funded meals, particularly under a state program.  Where we run into trouble is the second part of the requirement: “When children bring their own food for meals and snacks . . . if the food does not meet the specified nutritional requirements, the center must provide additional food necessary to meet those requirements.”  As apparently applied in practice, this doesn’t mean that the school is to supplement whatever may be lacking in the child’s meal, but that the school must actually forcibly replace the meal provided by the child’s parents in its entirety.  In other words, at least in North Carolina, the USDA is now regulating what you can feed your kids.

Over my dead body.

Never mind the obvious and complete incompetence that substitutes chicken nuggets for a turkey sandwich and a banana in the name of better nutrition—either the bureaucrat is hopelessly stupid in their understanding of the federal standard, or the standard itself is indefensibly moronic.  My problem here is what the hell business is it of the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, or some state agency what I feed my kids?  As long as I’m not putting a gun or illegal drugs in that lunchbox they take to school, what I feed my kids is between me and my kids.

This is an extremely dangerous development.  If the federal government, through a state agency, can regulate—read:  dictate—what a parent can put in their child’s lunchbox to take to school, it can regulate what that parent can/must feed the child at home.  And if it can dictate what I feed my kids at home, it’s only a tiny extension for it to regulate what I feed myself, and then where does it stop?  Rusty, nobody’s trying to regulate what you eat.  Oh, no?  We already see the food Nazis cracking down in the restaurant industry:  compulsory nutritional labeling on menus and reduced salt in New York City restaurants, bans on the use of foie gras in California and Chicago (the latter subsequently repealed).  And now we have Big Brother’s agents snooping in preschoolers’ lunchboxes.

I get it.  We’re too fat.  But government-imposed dietary restrictions aren’t the answer.  We have to break out of this growing culture of trading personal choice in order to be free from personal responsibility and the consequences of those choices.  If I want to eat french fries until I puke, that’s my business; and if I do it every day and I get fat as a result, that’s my problem. 

Our Constitution was designed with limited government in mind, the idea being that most decision making is best left as close to the people it most directly affects as possible.  The smallest decision-making units, and the core around which the Framers intended our lives to be structured, were the family and the individual.  There is no more fundamental personal liberty than the daily choice of what we’re going to eat—decisions that for the entire history of the Republic people and families have made for themselves.  Once that goes, there’s really no limit left to what the government can regulate in your personal life; what you can wear, where you can live, what color your car—er, electric golf cart—can be.  Even how many times a day you may exhale that dangerous pollutant CO2.  Everything’s fair game for the powers that be.

If we can’t reverse this trend and get government back in its pen, it’s not going to matter what we feed our kids, because there won’t be any America left to hand down to them.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Spinning The Cost Of Contraception

“I've worked out a few statistics of my own.  Fifteen billion dollars in gold bullion weighs 10,500 tons.  Sixty men would take twelve days to load it onto two hundred trucks.  At the most, you'll have two hours before the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines move in and make you put it back.”
               —Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger

Figures don’t lie.  Liars figure.

By now you’re well familiar with the flap over the executive mandate that religiously-affiliated universities and hospitals cover contraception and sterilization under the Obamacare plan.  In yet another showing of his boundless empathy for those who disagree with him, Obama offered a “compromise” last week whereby those universities and hospitals wouldn’t have to provide that coverage themselves, but instead their insurance carriers would have to provide it.

I was going to ask whether he really thinks we’re that stupid.  Alas, judging from some of the  comments I’ve seen, not only does he think that, but apparently he’s right.

This “compromise” is, of course, a nonstarter, and should have been laughed down as the silly semantic game that it is.  We can shift the direct cost of the contraceptives from the employer to the insurance company, but who, exactly, pays for the insurance, and what exactly do we think is going to happen to the cost of that insurance once carriers are forced by executive mandate to cover these drugs?  One way or another, religiously-affiliated universities and hospitals are going to end up paying for these things, their religious convictions be damned.

What’s the big deal?  It’s not like we’re making you pay for abortions.

Um, yes it is.

Many common contraceptive drugs such as The Pill and “Plan B,” and even modern contraceptive devices like IUDs work at least in part through an abortifacient mechanism.  That is, they prevent implantation of an embryo after fertilization, thus not preventing pregnancy but instead inducing a very early miscarriage—an abortion.  This presents a very serious problem for Catholics and many other Christians:

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.  From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life . . . Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, §§ 2270, 2272 (emphasis added).  I don’t go through this in an effort to proselytize you, but to help you understand that for many of us being compelled to participate, directly or indirectly in abortions—and, by extension, in contraception—is a major affront to our religious beliefs.  That’s why it’s so amazing to see the mental gymnastics that have been going on for some time to force this measure down our throats, despite our First Amendment guarantees.

The controversy dates back to the original regulations released by HHS in August 2011 requiring so-called “non-grandfathered health plans” to cover contraceptives and sterilization procedures for women.  Although after receiving approximately 200,000 comments HHS graciously permitted an exception for “religious employers,” that term was so narrowly defined that it really only includes churches themselves, not church-supported universities or hospitals or other organizations like charitable groups.  So the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston was exempted, but the seminary at the University of St. Thomas was not.  After much hue and cry, HHS conceded an additional year for nonprofit organizations that do not currently provide contraceptive coverage due to religious beliefs, to comply.

A whole year for those organizations to reverse a 2,000 year old teaching.  And I thought it was going to be a rush.

This time, after the latest “concession” purportedly shifting the cost from the faithful to their insurance carriers, HHS attempted to justify its new regulations by claiming that “there are significant cost savings to employers from the coverage of contraceptives.”  The way HHS figures it:

“[I]t would cost employers 15 to 17 percent more not to provide contraceptive coverage in employee health plans than to provide such coverage, after accounting for both the direct medical costs of pregnancy and the indirect costs such as employee absence and reduced productivity.”

I see.  It’s OK for the administration to trample on our religious beliefs because in doing so, they’re saving us money.

Obama, the "Savings President."  Has a nice, hollow ring to it, doesn’t it?

But notice the underlying mental pathology here.  Implicit within the dollar savings is the assumption that all of the pregnancies occurring because a certain health plan doesn’t cover contraceptives were unwanted. So, if only those women had contraceptive coverage under their employer’s health plans, they wouldn’t have had all of those babies.

Ah, I get it now. If all women had access to contraceptive coverage through their employer’s health plans, none of them would be having babies – because all of the pregnancies that occur in employees working for employers that don’t cover contraceptives are unwanted.  Of course, that policy undermines Joe Biden's philosophy of children as a funding mechanism for the Entitlement State.

Continuing with its fuzzy “new math,” HHS also noted that “owing to reproductive and sex-specific conditions, women use preventive services more than men, generating significant out-of-pocket expenses for women.”  What they forgot to mention is that, as of January 1, 2011, Obamacare took condoms, contraceptive creams, home pregnancy tests, and other over-the-counter contraceptive items off of the list of reimbursable expenses for healthcare flexible spending accounts in an effort to reduce the amount of money that employees could use to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses on a pre-tax basis, thus generating more tax revenue for the government.  So in the name of reducing the financial burden on women we’re ramrodding contraceptive coverage down the throats of those whose religious beliefs oppose it, while at the same time we’re adding to that burden by taking away an incentive for men to use over-the-counter contraceptives.  In other words, it’s OK to exclude contraceptives if doing so generates more tax dollars, but it’s not okay to exclude them if the exclusion is based on religious beliefs.

Things are definitely becoming clearer.  I’m glad we passed that bill so we could learn what’s in it.

But here’s where it’s really going to get sticky.  Last week’s “compromise” shifted direct costs from religious employers to their insurance carriers.  But the next move is going to be coming up with a similar mechanism for employees covered by self-funded plans.  Self-funded.  As in claims are not paid for by an insurance company, but out of the employer’s general asset base.  According to the Obama administration, the money to pay for the contraceptive coverage is not going to come from those plans.  So, where’s it going to come from?  The insurance fairy?

Once again, this administration—and the Left in general—is exposed for its fundamental practical ignorance.  Caught up in utopian dreams of free universal health care covering unlimited access to contraception and abortion, they lose sight of the basic fact that somebody in fact has to pay for those things.  Insurance is not some magic arrangement where you just get to go to a doctor for free.  It’s a private contract of wager.  You pay periodic premiums set by an statistical formula that calculates the odds a given person will need treatment, such that the insurer by spreading its risk over a broad enough pool, takes in enough money to cover the claims it has agreed to pay, and still make a profit.  No matter how you try to spin it, when you enact legislation forcing the carrier to cover certain additional drugs or procedures, you alter that private contract, and you change the math.  You’ve added to the risk to which the carrier is exposed, and it must change the premium calculation accordingly.  That added cost is passed on to the person paying the premium—typically an employer—whether they agree to it or not. 

So much for the First Amendment.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Brave New World

Be careful what you wish for
‘Cause you just might get it all
You just might get it all
And then some you don’t want
—Daughtry, Home

By now most of you have picked up on the fact that, as a matter of substantive policy, I am, well, in sharp disagreement with this President.  Today’s not about that.  Today I want to focus on process, and especially for those of you on the Left—you know who you are—I want you to pay particular attention, because this should scare you to death.

The year is 2038.  Sounds very futuristic, but it’s really only 26 years from now.  Not far off, in the grand scheme of things.

The President is Republican David Wainwright*, a former one-term senator from Alabama.  Wainwright came to national prominence with a stirring keynote address at the 2032 GOP national convention.  During his campaign in 2036, the Leftist media tried to raise alarms about some of Wainwright’s associations with Big Oil and the Klan, but these largely fell upon deaf ears as a public long-tired of being beaten down with excessive taxes—the so-called “Buffett Rule,” originally enacted in 2013 during Barack Obama’s second term to impose a flat tax of 30% on those making over $1 million, was later expanded to apply down to those making more than $150,000—was more interested in his “Keep Your Money” message of tax reform.

But in his second year in office, Wainwright faces serious opposition from a Democrat-controlled Congress.  Nevertheless, the Wainwright administration presses forward with his vision of transforming America with the following initiatives:

  • Calling it “unworkable in practice,” and impatient with Congress’ failure to enact amendments on its own, Wainwright directs his Department of Education to begin granting waivers from the school integration and busing requirements of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  The first states to receive these waivers:  Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and Illinois.
  • Citing a protein deficiency in the American diet—and dismissing reported connections between high administration officials and lobbyists for the National Cattlemens’ Beef Association—the Secretary of Agriculture issues an order directing all public schools to include increased minimum quantities of beef in all school lunches.
  • As part of an initiative “to better safeguard women’s health,” the Department of Health and Human Services issues new guidelines requiring all women over the age of 16 to undergo annual gynecological exams, to be conducted under the supervision of an HHS officer physically present in the exam room.
  • Concluding that it is unconstitutional—even though no court has so held—the Attorney General, acting at the President’s direct instruction, announces that the Department of Justice will no longer prosecute cases under the Voting Rights Act.  All cases on appeal are dropped.
  • In an effort to reduce the crippling cost of federally-funded abortions under the state-run National Insurance Program and “to enhance poor women’s access to preventative health services,” Wainwright establishes the Federal Birth Control Bureau.  The FBCB’s mandate is to set up clinics in inner-city neighborhoods, where women seeking a second abortion must also submit to sterilization surgery.
  • The Treasury Department creates a panel—whose members are appointed by the Department, with no Senate review—to review tax cases and no longer prosecute actions to recover unpaid taxes against certain people who “have historically been economically disadvantaged” by the tax system.  The criteria the White House establishes for this review center on whether the person being reviewed falls into a tax category whose share of total tax burden exceeds its share of gross national income.
  • To reduce the impact of ever-increasing mental health claims during the holiday season, HHS promulgates a new regulation requiring every homeowner to purchase and display a Nativity scene at Christmas.  President Wainwright dismisses atheists’ First Amendment claims, saying there must be a balance between free exercise (or non-exercise) of religion, and the national interest in ensuring peoples’ mental health.  As an accommodation, however, he relaxes the rule and instead requires all homeowners’ insurance plans to cover the cost of the displays. 

Rusty, you’re dealing with a doomsday fantasy land.  These things could never happen.

Oh, no?

Let’s rewind to the present day.

As I’ve tried repeatedly to explain in this space, the current administration has become a serial abuser of unconstitutional executive fiat power.  The Civil Rights Act waivers above are in both verbiage and practice almost identical to Obama’s action last week unilaterally granting state exemptions to the requirements of No Child Left Behind.  The beef example is similar to the individual mandate in Obamacare, and the gynecological exam and abortion examples are fairly natural extensions of it (once they can make you buy health insurance, they can justify almost anything as a “preventative measure” aimed at reducing the cost of that insurance).  The Voting Right Act example is exactly what the current administration has done with the Defense of Marriage Act (and, in limited cases, with the Voting Rights Act itself).  The panel for selective enforcement of the tax code is very much like the deportation review panels now being established.  And the Nativity scene mandate is very similar to HHS’ recent rule (as “accommodated”) requiring Catholic schools to cover their employees’ contraception.

In our Constitutional system, Presidents don’t have the power to legislate.  They have a veto power, but that veto extends only to entire pieces of legislation—despite Reagan’s forceful arguments for it, later echoed by Clinton and Bush 43, we still don’t have a line-item veto.  Once passed and signed into law, the ONLY power a President has is the mandate to enforce it.  A President cannot add laws by executive order, and cannot repeal laws through selective enforcement.  Yet that’s exactly what this President is doing—bypassing and overriding both the current and prior Congresses by executive edict. 

The examples I’ve used here are extreme, and they’re deliberately crafted to bother you on the Left in their substance, because I’m trying desperately to get your attention.  But the real problem here isn’t the substance, it’s the process.  This administration is totally out of control in terms of its usurpation of powers the Constitution does not grant to the executive.  And as you can see, once we become completely divorced from our Constitutional moorings, we have a real problem.  There cease to be any limits on what a President can do.  

You may love it now because you like the substance of all the hope and change this President is creating.  But he won’t be President forever—I’m still clinging to the assumption that even HE can’t overcome the 22nd Amendment—and you'll find then that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  You’ll rail against a President Wainwright and claim he’s suspending the bill of rights, that he doesn’t have the Constitutional authority to do what he’s doing.  And you’ll be right.   

You’ll also be too late.

*This is a made-up name of a purely fictional character employed here for purposes of illustration only.  I am not aware of any real person by that name, and any resemblance between the portrayal of the character here and any real person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Texas Sonograms Revisited

Lemond:         Remember, Gene, keep things with the Senator on a need-to-know basis.
Ryack:            Oh, you mean treat him like a mushroom: keep him in the dark, and feed him a lot of shit.
—Ken Jenkins as Major Donald Lemond, and Mel Gibson as Gene Ryack in Air America

Somebody’s gotta call these people out on this.

I’ve posted before on the new Texas sonogram law, which after the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an injunction by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, took effect yesterday.  There was much hue and cry in the local press over the coming Nazi intrusion into the sanctity of the patient/physician relationship, and hand-wringing over how we were unfairly demonizing and tormenting women by forcing them to view sonograms and listen to heartbeats. 

Oh, the horror of human life.

Apparently confirming what a monstrosity this law is, the Houston Chronicle yesterday morning ran a front page, eight column piece titled “Sonograms evoke strong emotions as law takes effect” (electronic version here).  The story led with three consecutive paragraphs describing the devastating reaction of women being forced against their will to look at and listen to the lives they were contemplating ending:

Some women covered their ears as the sounds of fetal heartbeats echoed into their exam rooms at a Houston abortion clinic.
            Others tried to drown out the noise with their own voices, said Planned Parenthood officials, nervously humming or talking over the sounds of fetuses in their wombs.  Still others turned their heads away from ultrasound images, an effort to opt out of part of the state’s new sonogram requirement for abortions, which the Department of State Health Services began enforcing Tuesday.
            “These patients are livid, they are hurt,” said Tram Nguyen, director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, describing recent scenes at her Houston clinic.  “They feel that we are the ones being condescending and questioning their decision when we are just messengers.”

It’s no surprise to find Planned Parenthood behind the article, although query how Planned Parenthood officials know how women were reacting in the exam rooms, given their supposed worship of the privacy of the patient/physician relationship.  Presumably they weren’t in the room to see it, and the doctors who were shouldn’t be talking.  But I digress.

The article is clearly intended to leave the impression that the Evil State of Texas is forcing these poor women to endure images and sounds they don’t want to experience.  Of course, the authors are simply shining a bright light on the Religious Right’s heavy-handed attempt at “shaming and bullying” women into not exercising their God-given right to an abortion, and we have to protect against that, right?  Never mind that the Fifth Circuit has ruled on that right vis-à-vis the State’s compelling interest in protecting human life. 

But what continues to irritate me with all this noise about forcing women to experience these things is the Chronicle’s and Planned Parenthood’s obvious and deliberate lie by omission:

The Texas statute doesn’t require women to view the sonogram or hear the heartbeat.

Don’t take my word for it; here’s Texas Health & Safety Code § 171.0122, added last year as part of the new sonogram law, in full and without any added emphasis or commentary from me:

*  *  *
171.0122.  Viewing Printed Materials and Sonogram Image; Hearing Heart Auscultation or Verbal Explanation.
            (a)  A pregnant woman may choose not to view the printed materials provided under Section 171.012(a)(3) after she has been provided the materials.
            (b)        A pregnant woman may choose not to view the sonogram images required to be provided to and reviewed with the pregnant woman under Section 171.012(a)(4).
            (c)        A pregnant woman may choose not to hear the heart auscultation required to be provided to and reviewed with the pregnant woman under Section 171.012(a)(4).
            (d)       A pregnant woman may choose not to receive the verbal explanation of the results of the sonogram images under Section 171.012(a)(4)(C) if:
            (1)        the woman’s pregnancy is a result of sexual assault, incest, or other violation of the Penal Code that has been reported to law enforcement authorities or that has not been reported because she has reason that she declines to reveal because she reasonably believes that to do so would put her at risk of retaliation resulting in serious bodily injury;
            (2)        the woman is a minor and obtaining an abortion in accordance with judicial bypass procedures under Chapter 33, Family Code; or
            (3)        the fetus has an irreversible medical condition or abnormality, as previously identified by reliable diagnostic procedures and documented in the woman’s medical file.
            (e)        The physician and the pregnant woman are not subject to a penalty under this chapter solely because the pregnant woman chooses not to view the printed materials or the sonogram images, hear the heart auscultation, or receive the verbal explanation, if waived as provided in this section.

*  *  *
I don’t know how our Legislature could have been more clear:

“A pregnant woman may choose not to . . .”

“A pregnant woman may choose not to . . .”

“A pregnant woman may choose not to . . .”

“A pregnant woman may choose not to . . .”

The Texas statute not only didn’t require the women described in yesterday’s article to endure the sonogram images or heartbeat audio if they didn’t want to, IT AFFIRMATIVELY SAID THEY COULD CHOOSE NOT TO.  But this fact conveniently doesn’t appear until the next-to-last paragraph of a two-page article, and it begs the question why so many women were supposedly “livid” and “hurt” about being involuntarily subjected to these images and sounds.  Taking the Chronicle story at face value, one has to conclude that Planned Parenthood simply didn’t tell the women in their examination rooms that the law gave them a right to opt out.  Indeed, although the Chronicle eventually notes that “women do have the option to request that the ultrasound volume be turned off”—no mention of the sonogram images—it does so at the end of a sentence that begins by saying that Planned Parenthood has been playing the fetal heartbeats for “all women who undergo the mandated sonograms.”  Nothing in the article says that Planned Parenthood is actually advising them of their right to decline.

Am I suggesting that Planned Parenthood would deliberately keep women in the dark?

Don’t be ridiculous.

As a for-a-fee abortion provider, Planned Parenthood has no financial stake in doing such a thing, so why should I question its motives in how it goes about complying with Texas law?  And I wouldn’t suggest that Planned Parenthood might manipulate women into a negative reaction in order to drive opposition to the statute.  No, that’s thoroughly and utterly absurd.

But now that you mention it . . . 

Let the facts speak for themselves.  First, Planned Parenthood, along with like-minded organizations like The Center for Reproductive Rights, argued to the ends of the earth to prevent the State of Texas from ensuring that women had access to potentially relevant information as they make their decision whether to have the abortion.  Having lost that battle, it now appears Planned Parenthood is deliberately avoiding advising women of their right to decline that information, thus forcibly inflicting it upon women who did not want it and had a right under the law to avoid it if they so chose—in the process placing itself in the very bully role in which it disingenuously attempted to cast the State.  At both turns, Planned Parenthood has worked to keep women as ignorant as possible, presumably in order to advance its own agenda and self-interest. 

Why it’s simply beyond all imagining.

The fact is the new Texas law does not require women to view sonograms or hear heartbeats; it requires that those things be made available sufficiently in advance for women to be able to absorb the information—if they choose—in making their decision.  But Planned Parenthood and their media accomplices on the Left are so blindly wed to their ideological point they’ll not only ignore that truth, but apparently will lie by omission to cover it up when it matters most.  And what I can’t understand is how so many, particularly women, continue to listen to and follow these people on this issue when it’s so easily demonstrated that these people are lying to them.  When do they wake up and ask, if you’re so into helping me and defending my rights on this, why do you keep lying to me about it?  Why are you so keenly interested that I not only have the right to obtain an abortion, but in ensuring that I actually get one—even if you have to deceive me to do it?

As I posted a couple of weeks ago on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, abortion undeniably terminates a human life.  Sonogram images and heartbeat audio are the most compelling evidence of that fact.  Assuming the reactions described in today’s Chronicle piece are accurately depicted, they confirm this and demonstrate that we as human beings know, viscerally, that what’s about to happen with an abortion is simply wrong.  Wrong at the deepest, most fundamental level.  So wrong that the only way we can go through with it is to remain deliberately, consciously, actively ignorant of the truth.

Which, of course, is exactly where those in the business of taking your money to provide an abortion and others on the Left want you.