Monday, July 30, 2012

A Reminder of Consistency

This morning, I my phone told me to read 1 Samuel 12:1-25.  On Saturday, it ruined the Lochte-Phelps 400 IM race, so it knew I was angry with it.  I think it redeemed itself.  I get impression that folks look at Genesis and Leviticus and see discrepancy in the nature of God between the Old and New Testaments.  My personal opinion is that any sort of legal document is going to be a complicated view of a people.  That's really what Leviticus is, after all. 

The Law was written to show us that God is Holy and we are not.  The rest of the Bible is written, basically, to tell us that the Law is not to be our God.  1 Samuel 12:20-22 illustrates this:

 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own."

Even at this point in God's story, He is telling a story of forgiveness.  ("All this evil" follows a catalogue of the history of defying God from the Exodus forward, culminating in the request for a king.)  Two other places in the Old Testament, in the Minor Prophets (they are minor because they are short and responding to a specific problem, not like the Mediocre Presidents from the Simpsons' musical) we get a little more on the theme:  
 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God. 
Micah 6:8


For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6

The Hosea verse was even quoted by Jesus at the conclusion of Matthew 9:9-13, a story criticizing the aloofness and exclusion practiced by the Pharisees.  Most importantly, it's a reminder that a relationship with God is accessible; there is no sin that puts us so far out of God's reach that we are lost.  This is the message that starts in the Garden and continues through the Resurrection.  We get to be a part of that story, no matter what our history.  So, thanks phone, for that reminder.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Headlines are fun sometimes

Earlier this week, Mitt Romney spoke to the NAACP.  (He's running for president, by the way.)  I read a few articles about the event because this time of year is slow for news.  I don't mean to minimize the relevance of the NAACP, but I have read this story before.  Well, that's not entirely true; I have never read one where the sitting President of the United States was a member of the class for which the NAACP was founded to help.

Now, when I read this headline on, I was surprised: Romney Receives Standing Ovation for Straight Talk at NAACP Convention.  Townhall is, admittedly a conservative website trying to spin a conservative angle.  Now, compare to a headline: Romney Booed at NAACP Appearance for Promising Obamacare Repeal and Mitt Romney Booed At NAACP Convention For Saying He'd Repeal Obamacare.  Neither of those sites are particularly sympathetic to Romney.

The contents of each piece are a bit different, too, with Townhall going into the most detail and making it sound like he's going to peel away a third of black voters, even though polling suggests he has 6 percent of support among that group (according to the Slate article).

This is an interesting case, because Slate and Huffpo are really "Dog Bites Man" stories, so they're not really that newsy in the first place.  Townhall comes off as that weird place where emphasizing facts in a particular way comes off as bias -- kind of like moving what should be an A6 story to the front page.  Townhall was the only one to mention standing ovation at the end (and buried it, so it was probably a zealous editor writing that headline) and Huffpo did mention the politeness of the crowd.  The Slate story only talks about the boos surrounding Obamacare.

Each outlet did publish other stories, but these were the first to come up after the event, the sort of first impressions.  I found it quite interesting that each chased the angle they wanted in the first run by the editorial staffs.

What does this mean?  I think that the headline, the newsy part is that Romney spoke before the NAACP, because that is not always something Republicans do.  The fact that he would be facing a hostile crowd is not hard-hitting journalism and trying to paint as rosy a picture as Townhall does is really nothing short of spinning for your guy.  Both really strike me as sorts of hackery.

I think that if you read all three, you can come away with a reasonable picture of the story -- the NAACP was a polite but partisan crowd hearing a speech from a presidential candidate maybe 2% of the attendees would vote for.  And quite frankly, the more interesting story coming out of the NAACP Convention is that Obama did not speak at the convention this week, the summer before his re-election to president when he needs to have the NAACP's constituency as energized as possible to win.  (Here is a link about it and a link about it -- oddly enough, I could not find a one telling that same story.)

I guess the moral of the story is to take your news with some skepticism, even for benign, trivial stories, and seek out sources from different perspectives.  The aggregate of these small stories matter in shaping the political and social narrative by reinforcing expectations (Huffpo and Slate) or really making the outlook seem rosier than it might actually be for Romney (Townhall).

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Goo goo gachoo Mr Roberts

I, like everyone else, was surprised by the outcome of the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act.  I did kind of anticipate that it would be struck down, like most of the smart money seemed to as well.  My personal impressions of the law are not especially positive, because, like the Obama Administration's characterization of the Constitutionality mechanism, is a bit of a bait and switch. 

As I hear about Roberts' explanation about defending ACA as a tax, I am pretty ok with his reasoning.  The powers granted to Congress for taxing are pretty broad and behavior changing taxes (particularly tariffs) have a long history; just because I think Congress can pass a tax, though, does not mean I think it's a good idea.  It is not called a tax in the body of the legislation, which to me is immaterial; if they called a future tax whiskey, it would not actually be whiskey and should not get special considerations simply because it is not actually called a tax.

The ACA does not really seem to be a health care reform, it's more of a health insurance reform.  It is kind of weird that the discussion always seems to center on the fact that the problem with our medical care is insufficient insurance (which, typically, isn't insurance at all; it's usually a payment plan for medical services) rather than addressing alternative means of access.  What I mean is that when I go into the doctor for anything from antibiotics for strep throat or a broken arm, I have no idea what it is going to cost nor what it should cost.  (Bear in mind, my wife is also a doctor.)  Why has there been no mention of a move towards transparency in costs?  By adding more people to insurance, that only gets more muddled, because somebody else is paying for a large share of it.  If we knew how much it cost, really, to examine, x-ray, set and follow up on a broken arm, then we could evaluate whether or not something like a 401k model for health expenses would be better, or what it would take to put that kind of control in our hands rather than some corporate accountant.

It also seems weird how excited Democrats are for that control to be given to insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.  On Meet the Press, Nancy Pelosi, of course, said the opposite, also while denying it was a tax (even though she conceded that it was clearly granted under the taxing power and would be collected by the IRS).  That's kind of a joke.  I don't have any particular aversion to corporations playing a role in our society, but it is really intimidating to think that I  don't have any idea what to expect to pay for anything.  I am going to get my wisdom teeth taken out and I could owe anywhere from $0 to a few thousand, and until they tel me, I won't have any idea how to plan for that.

I was quite glad to see that the majority did say that this is clearly outside the scope of either the commerce or necessary and proper clauses.  I am no attorney, but that seemed ludicrous on its face.  While it really does nothing to say that Congress could not just frame whatever they wanted to do in terms of a behavior influencing tax, that is much harder politically to implement -- hence this very discussion. 

Normally, taxes like this are presented as credits rather than penalties (like home interest deduction or incentives for buying energy efficient windows -- I lose money that would otherwise be on the table for not buying those products), but that distinction is pretty insignificant.  Any vote against a tax cut is an effective tax increase, and I think that should work in reverse, as well. 

I also do not really get how such a body really does fall down partisan lines every time.  Why is there that much latitude, really?  The Constitution is not Ulysses.  It is largely written in pretty plain language and that there can be such violent disagreement entirely rooted in a partisan manifestation is weird.  People have disagreements about interpretations of automotive specifications sometimes, but it is not like there is a pro-four door/anti-four door delineation of reading them.  It does make the court seem petty, and I tend to sympathize with the conservative wing on issues like this because the spirit of the document was to limit the powers of the Federal Government, and reading into it otherwise seems like using the Bible to justify child pornography.