Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Who are we kidding

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

I used to be for the death penalty, but when I became Catholic, I changed my mind. I’ll be honest, it’s one Church teaching I have a hard time with. On one level, the consistency of the life ethic makes it easy for me to accept Church teaching, but I can’t deny that I have an instinctive reaction when I hear of what these people have done and desire retribution.

In the end I submit to the teaching authority of the Church and go with the life consistency.

But at some level, it becomes easier and easier for me when I see the statistics on how things work out in practice. Take this data from the state of California:

Since 1978 when the death penalty was reenacted in California, a total of 89 people have died on death row. Yet only 14 of them, FOURTEEN, were actually executed. The rest died of natural causes, suicide or a number of other means:

-Natural causes: 52
-Suicide: 18
-Executed: 14
-Killed: 2 (not clear if the killing was done by guards or other inmates)
-Drug overdose: 2
-Pepper spray induced heart attack: 1

To put those numbers in perspective, looking into the future, there are 720 people currently on death row in California, the youngest of which are about 20. Since people only live to about 80, AT BEST, only 100 or so of the 720 will actually be executed, if we return to our peak rate of about 2 executions a year (from 1999 to 2001, 5 people were executed, our fastest stretch in modern state history).

Forget for a moment the politics or the justice issues… seriously, who are we kidding? The vast majority of people on “death row” are really on life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Why 2008 did not go to the “moral majority”

Monday, December 13th, 2010

I was listening to an interview on Catholic radio this morning from a very insightful guy (sorry, I didn’t catch his name). He was talking about how if we frame the conversation correctly, a lot more people agree with Catholic positions than we think. By the way of example, he mentioned how, while about 50% of people are pro-choice and vote that way, when you ask them detailed questions on what they’d like to limit abortion to, most of them favor policies that could only be the case if Roe v. Wade is thrown out. Yet those same people will protect Roe v. Wade. About this, I completely agree. Getting the information out there and framing the conversation in a positive light can do wonders for political clout and progress.

But where he went amazingly wrong was when the host asked him about why so many people voted for politicians who held moral positions they didn’t back in 2008 and there he went tremendously wrong.

He tried to pin it to the above issues of awareness and conversation framing. He couldn’t be more wrong.

The reality is that 2008 was all about both the ineffectiveness of the Bush administration to deliver on their stated goals and going into areas that made people concerned. Bush claimed to be all about fiscal responsibility… he didn’t act like it. Bush claimed to be about moral rectitude… but it doesn’t help when you’re torturing people, and continuing the loss of life in two very unpopular wars that one wonders while we’re there in the first place.

There’s a reason all Obama had to do was say the word “Change” repeatedly for 10 months to win the election. It’s also the same reason that Obama has been somewhat surprised by the lack of positive reception to his actions. The reality is his campaign was so tepid about laying out his agenda (they didn’t have to do more), that lots of people voted for him less because of the actual agenda but more because he didn’t reflect the problems that the Bush administration was doing. Once the rubber started hitting the road, it wasn’t exactly what people thought.

The other side of the same coin is that people don’t want to talk morals in down economic times. People have a hard time getting worked up about embryonic stem cell research when they’re out of work. At that point they just want things changed so they can get back to work.

But make no mistake, the 2008 election wasn’t about a rejection of the moral principles that Republicans used to stand for. And part of framing the conversation for the future, is to not tie those moral issues to one party, so that when that party messes everything else up, the moral issues don’t take a beating with the economic ones.

Quick hitters – Taxes, the DMV and hell

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Today’s quick hitters:

  • This whole brouhaha about the Bush tax cuts is fascinating to me. I never thought I’d see the Democratic base turn so quickly on Obama like they have over this. He’s even had to call in former President Clinton to his defense. For what it’s worth, this is an area where I see both sides. I see our deficit and wonder if we can afford to keep taxes so low (and the wealthy are more able to take that hit). On the other hand, the income tax code is already HORRIFICALLY biased towards taking taxes from the wealthy. What I pay in taxes now with 3 kids a big mortgage an only 1 income is less than a tenth, yes you read that right, 10%, of what I paid 10 years ago without the kids and two incomes that was only 50% more than I make today. Heck, I’ll give you round number specifics: I paid around $2k in taxes for 2009 on about $50k of post deduction income ($80k pre-deductions). In 2001, I paid around $30k in taxes on $120k of income (and we had no deductions). An additional $28k in taxes for $40k in increased income!?! Something’s not right with that.
  • There’s a story in today’s Chronicle about a transgender person who’s ticked off because the DMV person who took their gender re-assignment paperwork, took their address and started soliciting them with religious material. Let me go on record as saying it was highly inappropriate of the DMV worker to do that. When it’s your job to preserve someone’s private information for the government (and anyone who takes an address down is), you’ve got to do their job, no matter how deplorable the actions of the person are. The transgender person is absolutely right to object to that.
  • That said, it’s just baffling to me that our society allows people to “change their gender”. What does that even mean? We define sex by our chromosomes… and those can’t be changed. Sure, you can slice off the penis, drill a hole in their pelvis, put breast implants in their chest, and give them hormone injections, but the chromosomes don’t change. At some level I understand why because of our noble insistence on liberty in the US we allow the surgery to go forward (although I can make a compelling argument why our liberties end before that). But there’s no reason why someone’s birth certificate/driver’s license should be able to be changed. Those surgeries didn’t change their fundamentals. While it wasn’t right for the DMV worker to take advantage of their role to notify this person of their perversion, the perversion of the nature of our humanity is quite real, as is the associated risk of hell that goes along with it.

Disgusted with politics after the election

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I’ve always thought that politics was a nasty business, but I never thought it could be as bad as it was this year. I’ve never seen so many attack ads. I’ve never seen so many distortions of the truth. Wait a minute, not just distortions, completely disingenuous crud. Pro-choice candidates sending me mailers telling me not to vote for the other guy because he’s pro-choice. Candidates criticizing other candidates for votes for which they also made. Criticizing both the cuts to services and that they voted for new taxes, not recognizing that you have to do one or the other, or both, when there’s a deficit.

Just absolutely ridiculous stuff.

And here’s the worst part: It’s merely a reflection of where our electorate has gone. When reading message boards amongst voters, the shear nastiness of the attacks is SO disheartening. The “you can leave California” gloating (which is just a response to Republicans who did it in previous cycles). The treating other voters as if they’re stupid.

The worst part is there seems to be no attempt to understand the other sides motivations and attitudes. I mean, I get why someone would want single-payer health care. I disagree, but I can see why someone might feel that way. I understand why people are for gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, and legal abortion… I completely disagree, but I understand their perspective. And while I’m sure there are people out there who look at my views with a similar amount of understanding, that’s not the feeling one gets when the publicly state those views (and in fairness, I’m sure it feels the same on the other side).

And it’s just really distressing to me. I’m not sure a republic can withstand this sort of hate-filled division. There has to be a way out of this sort of divisive politics.

What does freedom of religion mean?

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

I’m a pretty precise kinda guy.  I like things to have clearly defined lines, particularly when it comes to the goverment.  The reason I bring this up is because I find myself more and more confused as time goes on with what exactly the 1st Amendment means and should mean.  In my latest moment of confusion I read this blog post about a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco for their resolution condemning the morals of the Catholic Church.

Obviously I think the city of San Francisco is run by anti-Catholic bigots who are the biggest hypocrits ever for their constant message of “just let people live their lives the way they want… unless you want to live a Christian life.”  But just because I think it was a horrible resolution doesn’t mean I think it is worthy of a lawsuit based on 1st Amendment grounds.

Just for clarity, The 1st Amendment states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

It’s a pretty broad statement that says more than just “freedom of religion”.  But in regards to religion is says 3 things:

  1. It is illegal for the government to set up its own religion (called ‘the establishment clause’)
  2. It is illegal for the government to prevent people from practicing their own religion (called ‘the free exercise clause’)
  3. It is illegal for the government to prevent people from preaching their religion to others (called… um… the free speach clause?)

Generally the thing that I find difficult to determine is what a “religion” is from a legal standpoint.  Lots of people have religious beliefs that are illegal.  I’m pretty sure it is still illegal for canabals to eat human flesh, even human flesh of someone who consented to be eaten after their natural death.  As such, for obvious reasons, there is both a history and a good reason to bound the free exercise clause to mean “within reason”.  But who decides what “within reason” means?  It’s not just about infringing on the rights of others, as my canabal example shows.  And who is to decide what “within reason” means?  It can’t be the general population/majority because this clause is a right that is there to protect the minority.

So it’s all very confusing to me from a purely theoretical standpoint.  What I do know is that my Catholic faith should be protected because it historically and currently falls “within reason” and I’m fairly sensitive to the way our country is going with regards to infringing on Catholics right to practice our religion.  There are currently laws on the books in regards to abortion and birth control that place minor limit the rights of Catholics to practice their religion by compelling them to either act in a way their religion finds objectionable or refer others (which is in itself an afront to Catholics) to someone who will act in an objectionable way.  I fully believe that this trend will continue and there will be more significant legal abuses of the 1st Amendment against Catholics that will have to be fought all the way up to the Supreme Court.  As such, despite my theoretical confusion, I find in practice the 1st Amendment essential for Catholics in this country, despite being vague and confusing.

But this case against the city of San Francisco has nothing to do with my above confusion.  The city council is in no way preventing people from exercising their faith nor from having free speach.  So really, at least based on numbers two and three in my list, there is no case against SF.

Which brings me to my new confusion.  What does the establishment clause really mean?  And I guess in some way this comes back to the original confusion of, what exactly defines a religion?  We know that athiesm is indeed a religion from the various lawsuits athiests have brought forward protecting their right to practice their religion, so “having a God” is not a requirement for a religion.  So is all that is required a set of moral beliefs?

If that is the case, any time the goverment speaks to what is right and what is wrong (separate from what is legal and illegal), they’ve broken the establishment clause.  They have created a moral framework and if that’s all that is required to call your beliefs a religion, the government does it ALL THE TIME.  It does this on both sides.  We’ve got the various sex education measures that are constantly pushing a certain morality.  Yet on the other side, the Catholic Church in the US, which is very aware of the issues surrounding the 1st Amendment and is very protective of its freedom is constantly calling on the government to make moral proclamations.

So it’s all very confusing to me.

One take-away I have from this case is that I think it would be wise for the government to take a step back from the highly public service announcement model it has evolved into, including how it teaches things in public schools.  While there are minimums that can reasonably be taught without getting into murky areas, we long ago crossed over that line.  Somewhere the line between reasonable minimums like “don’t break the law” or getting the facts out like “AIDS can kill you” and making moral pronouncements like “teen pregnancy is bad” (purposely chosen for it’s lack of controversy) got blurred and then forgotten.  Perhaps it is time to re-draw that line.

As to whether there is actually a case against SF, I’m still not sure.  My gut says yes because not only were they making a moral statement, one that reeks of a anti-Christian religions mindset, but also because their statement was directed at a specific religion as opposed to a general “this is good” statement.  At the same time, I’m not so sure how to specifically corolate that to the specifics of what the 1st Amendment requires without breaking tons of reasonable precident.

Sports and faith

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Today, the combination of two different blog posts (one from Mark Shea about a new documentary and one varia post on TBIOOTF that ends with the following video that you must see) helped me to find the words to comment on the Virginia Tech tragedy in a way that could sound crass but I believe is meaningful.

One of the reasons I love college football over pro football is because college football is about more than an owner and his team.  The NFL tries to deceive people into thinking they are there for the community just like corporations try to fool people into thinking their motives are bigger than the bottom line, but it’s all a joke.  The reality is that the job of the NFL is to make the 32 owners money just like it is the job of corporations to make money for their owners/shareholders.  Sometimes the best way to do that is by being a “good citizen” but in the end, they exist for one and one reason only.

Not so with college sports.

There are many out there that think college football is just as comercial as pro football.  While it may seem that way, and while there are definitely comercial aspects of college football, the reality is there is far more there.  To make my case I give you two proofs:

  1. Name me a pro-football team that has “boosters” who are willing to donate money to the cause?
  2. There was no talk of the New Orleans colleges and University leaving for a new town like there was with the Saints after Katrina.

At it’s heart, college sports are about people.  It’s about students at a college and the alumni who used to go there.  It’s about the hope and pride of those individuals.  No matter what happens, those people have a link to that college.  The college can’t just move and no longer be the Houston Oilers and now is the Tennessee Titans.  Nope.  My diploma will always have the same name on it.  I will always be bound to that school.  While in good times it will be easy for me to show my pride, it is just as true that in bad times I can not deny my ties to them.

That’s why when I watch the video I linked above, it gives me chills and makes my eyes water.  Because it’s the same people who filled that stadium with hope and joy who were struck down by fear and sadness last week.

May God give peace to those affected by the tragedy so that they may again find hope and joy. 

Ranting about depressing news coverage

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

This morning I read my normal assortment of news sites and it was all very depressing.  Of course some of it was depressing because of the news itself, but what stuck me this morning was how much of it was depressing because of the attitudes of those covering it  or those commenting on it.  I don’t have the strength/determination to fully quote and rebutt everything, however, for my own sake forgive me these rants:

  1. Part of the governments job is to regulate the medical industry.  There are thousands of medical proceedures that have been banned that one can find doctors who will complain about their being banned.
  2. I’m sorry but the headline “Abortion Ruling Ripped” is amazingly biased.  One could have just as easily used the headline “Abortion Ruling Praised”.
  3. There is a vast difference between the supreme court striking down legislation and refusing to strike down legislation.  If you’ve got complaints about a law that falls within the constitution, don’t blame the courts, blame your elected officials.
  4. The only way NBC would have not released the killers videos they received is if it hurt their ratings.  We get the news we watch.  If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.
  5. If you decide you’re going to release content from a murderer, you’ve got only two choices in my mind: Refuse to air any of it or air it ALL (with the possible caveat of up to 5% which is “pornographic” (speaking more broadly than sexually) which should still be fully described including why it was too “pornographic” to show).  There is nothing I despise more than the possibility that a news outlet can be manipulating content to get the story they want.  Nope.  No dice.  You give me the content, I decide what to make of it.  Deal?

That is all… for now.

The future of newspapers online

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

There was an intriguing article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the future of newspapers now that the world is moving to online news.

The author, David Lazarus, is right in a number of respects, including that newspapers are giving away the store for free.  Well, nearly for free.  They do get some ad revenue from their websites.  But what made me want to comment on the article was not the free-store but that he’s missed the underlying issue.

The underlying issue is that in the digital age, the supply and demand curve is all out of whack.  Lazarus’s point is that the first newspaper to charge for their content, is going to be the first to go out of business because every other newspaper will still be free to online readers.  While, that’s one way to put it, I think it is the wrong way to print it.  The better way to put it is that the supply for news articles is so high that it’s driven the price to an unchargably low figure.

See, before the days of the Internet, everyone had no more than 3 or 4 newspapers to choose from.  I had three choices: The SF Chronicle, the SF Examiner and the Oakland Tribune.  If I wanted news, that was where I was going to get it from.  Frankly, sometimes I didn’t like my newspaper, but I was willing to put up with it and pay a reasonable subscription.  Now I can choose between thousands of newspapers.  I can go to the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washinton Times (or Post), or any number of smaller papers from the Sacramento Bee to the Punxsatawney Spirit.  Each paper has something a little different and I want a little bit of each.  It’s not reasonable to expect me to be locked into one.

So, it’s not that I’m not willing to pay a subscription, but I’m not going to pay a subscription that is priced with the expectation that I’m getting all of my news from that paper.  There’s just too much supply out there to expect that of anyone.  I’m not going to pay $15 a month for one paper because frankly one paper no longer has $15 of value with the supply available.  But here is what I am willing to do, I am willing to pay $15 a month for a subscription that would give me access to the majority of the major papers out there.  Or I’d be willing to spend 25 cents to get access to one-day’s worth of articles, but just like my print newspaper, I’d better have access to those articles for more than one day (a week would be a BARE MINIMUM, a month would be more appropriate).  And it better be easy for me do to.  I’m not going to whip out my credit-card every time I want to buy a $0.25 paper.

So Mr. Lazarus, I’ve now given you two suggestions as to how your paper can charge for its content in the Internet age.  The Hearst Corporation (or whatever it’s called these days) needs to start working on how to implement ideas like that.  If the newpaper companies choose not to adapt to new business models, it’s not the consumers fault they’re going out of business.

Along those lines I’ll close with two example from recent business history.  The first is the VHS movie market.  When that came along, Hollywood was really scared that it would undermine their business.  Why would people go to the theater if they could watch movies from the comfort of their home?  As a result they initially priced movies at ridiculous rates like $50.  Just as they feared, home movie collections taped off of HBO and others flourished.  But then the movie industry got wise.  They got into mutually beneficial financial arrangements with rental companies and dropped the price of VHS tapes to a consumer acceptable $15-$20.  The end result is that the VHS revolution in the end was a huge profit center for Hollywood.

The second example is the one Mr. Lazarus brings up himself: Napster and iTunes.  What is missing from his analysis is that Napster’s legal demise did not cause iTunes to succeed, it was effectively the other way around.  Other companies were in the process of working around the issues that Napster failed to address in court while providing music for free (example: bitTorrent) but all of those efforts lost their head of steam once iTunes came on the scene.  Why?

Because people want to do the right thing.

People don’t want to steal.  They’d prefer to buy stuff at a reasonable price.  They want to pay people for their work.  But when they’re not given what they believe is a fair price, then the general populance is going to find another way to get what they want and it may include minor theft.  Additionally, they’ll complain when any government entity cracks down on that minor theft.  But when given a reasonable and appropriate way to pay for what they value, people would far prefer to do it that way.  People want to do the right thing.

So that’s your answer Mr. Lazarus.  Your newspaper and the fellow newspapers out there needs to find a reasonable way to provide people a way to pay for what they want.  They’ll pay for it as long as it’s easy and fair and recognizes the vast choices that exist in news providers because of the Internet.

New mandated vaccine?

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

It continues to amaze me how stupid the elected officials are in the state I live in.

There is a new bill currently in committee in California that would require all 7th grader girls to get the HPV vaccine.  HPV is the sexually transmitted virus responsible for vaginal warts and in rare cases causes cervical cancer.  Supposedly 1 out of every 4 young women has the virus.

Amazing.  Just amazing.

Apparently we’ve lost the ability to see the difference between communicable diseases like the Measles or Mumps and a sexually transmitted disease like HPV.  Apparently our youth are such slaves to sex that they are just as incapable of preventing themselves from geting sexually transmitted diseases as they are from getting airborne diseases in a classroom full of sick kids.  Yup, sex is as necessary as air… don’t ya know?

I mean, I don’t even have to get into the more pragmatic issues like the fact that this will be a financial boon for Merek & Co., the holder of the patent on the vaccine for the virus, or that the drug is so new that we’re effectively making ginea pigs out of our daughters before we know what all the side effects are.  Nope I don’t even have to go there because those issues concede that there is merit in considering mandating a vaccine like this.

OK, in case I’m the only one who sees this issue clearly, here’s the deal:

It’s not the government’s job to tell me what to do except in a limited fashion.  Those fashions are limited to areas where my actions will cause the general public harm.  So, if by refusing to get a Mumps vaccine I’m subjecting others to the possibility of getting Mumps by just being in the same room with them, then there’s a reasonable public health issue involved that makes requiring the vaccine acceptible in a free society.  But what about a sexaully transmitted disease justifies a public health concern?

So here’s a quick FYI to the idiot Assemblyman Ed Hernandez who authored the bill and had this to say in the above linked artice:  “If it was any other disease, I don’t think we’ll have this controversy, but because it’s a sexually transmitted disease, I think that’s why it’s so emotional.”

Yes, you’re absolutely right you pathetic numbskull who wouldn’t be in office right now if it weren’t for the extreme gerrymandering you and your pals have inflicted upon the public.  People are upset because it’s a sexaully transmitted disease.  The fact that it is a sexaully transmitted disease changes everything.  It is no longer a public health issue.  For those of us with some modicum of self-control, we’ll never have this disease and for you to tell me that any future daughter I have has to subject herself to an expensive ($360) and, at this time because of lack of testing, potentially dangerous drug that she shouldn’t ever need, makes you a raving lunatic.

Great immigration interview with Archbishop Chaput

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

Archbishop Chaput has always been an impressive Church leader in my opinion because of his balanced and practical approach.  This interview with him about immigration reform is another example of this.  Some great quotes that show his balance:

“We want a strong economy and a good standard of living, but we also don’t want to do a lot of the unpleasant jobs that help sustain that standard. So we live with a curious kind of schizophrenia. We need the “illegals,” but we also want to complain about them.”

“If Americans are angry about the immigration issue, it’s not because they’re instinctively bigoted. They’re frustrated and afraid, and too many of our public servants have failed us by not really leading with vision — in other words, by following their polls and ambitions, instead of their brains and consciences, to find a solution.”

“In Denver, we want to build a Church community that it is truly multiethnic and multiracial. That strikes me as a demand of discipleship. But unless we get serious national immigration reform soon, a sense of grievance will continue to grow among both Hispanics and non-Hispanics. In the long run, that could gravely wound the whole country.”

Please read the whole thing.