This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas, Good Yule

For all who believe the Lord Jesus is the light of their life in the dark of winter, Merry Christmas.

To Jesus and all his countrymen and women, Happy Chanuka! (It's not his birthday - that was calculated by astrologers to be April 17, 6 BCE - the date the Magi would have said the King of the Jews would be born when a major conjunction was evident in Aries, the sign of ancient Israel).

To pagans, wiccans and hard partiers, Good Yule! Of course, the actual feast was the solstice a few days ago and the big party is next week on December 31, so why not split the difference, eh?

Saturnalia and pagan themes keep creeping into the holiday. They should. People need a good party when the days get short and the nights get long. In ancient times, the solstice and related Saturnalia was on December 25. The Gregorian calender places it on December 21, although it would have been more thoughtful to make it January 1 - although that was too much pagan symbolism for St. Gregory.

We now know that pagan symbolism is not really about idol worship. Instead, it is about attempting to understand the human condition. There is something in the human condition that demands togetherness and a bit of revelry when the shadows get long. While spirituality has its place in this equation, for most people there is nothing wrong with letting go once in a while (and for others there is Midnight Mass and marathon AA meetings). As a society, we should realize this and possibly move the New Year to what is now the winter solstice. Christmas can be celebrated on either the preceding Sunday or the following Sunday, whichever is closer. Of course, if we wanted a stable calander, January 1 (the solstice) could be a Sunday, with additonal days to make sure it always lands there added between June 30 and July 1 (with July 31 taken away). Map it out for yourself - it works. Christmas can still be December 25, on what is now December 18th, or on January 7th, what is now December 28th. I have a feeling businesses would rather have the earlier day, for tax purposes and because shopping is easier when it is warmer. As we found out this week - so is travel.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Fair Tax Compromise

Cross posted from Facebook:

In the past two elections, the Democrats have picked up 75 seats. It will take some really bad government to reverse this and movement by the Republican Party to the left on both economic and social issues. While oppossing gay marriage may appeal to the older demographic, it won't do well with younger voters, who are growing older and becoming more and more of a majority. What does this all mean? It means compromise is necessary on the Fair Tax should the nation like Mike and elect him President. One of the reasons I voted for Huck is that a compromise between the Fair Tax and what the Democrats would propose looks remarkably like the tax plan I favor, which is similar to the Competitive Tax Plan of Michael Graetz of Yale. Michael of was George H.W. Bush's Director of Tax Policy, so he is hardly a flaming liberal.

Professor Graetz proposes a Value Added Tax combined with a Simplified Income Tax with a $50K individual/$100K family standard deduction. He would also provide the prebate for paying VAT taxes to poor families, the Child Credit and the EITC as an offset to payroll or through a Smart Card.

I suggest going beyond the Graetz prebate to a full up $500 per month per dependent child and spouse tax credit on an expanded Business Income Tax (Graetz would cut the tax rate to 15%) payable by all employers, not just corporations, with labor costs no longer deductible. I would also have this tax cover Unemployment, Survivors Insurance payable to non-retired widows, Disability Insurance and Medicare Taxes. I would also roll any Obama health insurance reform taxes into the Business Income Tax rate and allow any deductions or credits to be made against Business Income Taxes, whether insurance is paid by employers or employees. There would also be education credits for vo-tech, college and remedial adult education arranged by the employer and students or welfare recipients would have to get an employer or religious organization to sponsor them as employees and would be paid to go to school, with some part-time work requirement as well and the full range of tax benefits available to them. This would be in concert with state and local government. There would be no other public assistance.

Old Age and Senior Survivor's Insurance would be privatized, with some of the employer paid portion going to voting stock in the employer, if applicable, as well as a trust fund of similar employee-owned firms. Part of the employee contribution would also be invested in the same way, however the employer contribution would be credited equally, regardless of base wage. Additionally, the base minimum wage would be set to at least $12 per hour so that no one pays their employees solely with tax credits. Because some workers salaries will go down due to the tax credit, the income cap on Social Security contributions will be raised to capture 95% of wage income, thus raising the average. Workers under 35 would be under the new plan, while workers over 35 would stay under the old unless they and their firms opt to convert to the new plan by fully capitalizing all past and current older workers with stock as if they had been in the plan from day one. Firms and employees that take this option would no longer pay FICA retirement taxes.

This plan would reduce the need for government employees while still meeting all of the public purposes set out in current programs. The education and dependent benefit provisions would also take away most incentives to abortion. The benefits should be good enough so that young people in a family way can get married and husbands won't care whether the child who would have been aborted to cover an affair was really their's.

Abortion from a Christian Leftist Huckabee supporter's perspective

Cross posted from Facebook.

I like what Mike Huckabee says about abortion. For too long the National Right to Life Committee has advocated a "Federalist" approach, although the original radical republicans and even Hamilton would call such a position anti-federalist or states rights. Any solution must be national, if only because people travel to have abortions or to procure them for their daughters, which is pretty much what they do now. Many admit that not much would change on the abortion front should Roe v. Wade be overturned in such a way as to restore state authority.

What exactly did states do when they had the authority? They imposed fines on abortionists.

Come again?

That's right, fines. This is why Justice Blackmun said that there was no right to life before Roe. If your only protection is a fine, you aren't protected. Animal cruelty has higher penalties. It seems the only effect of the law was to create a black market for abortion, travel for abortion and back alley and self-induced abortion.

I'm not working for that. Roe makes clear that the only way to trump the right of privacy, which is legitimate if abortion is only about medical regulation, is to recognize the legal personhood of the unborn.Sounds good? It depends on how you draw the line.

Personhood implies equal protection under the law. This means that anyone who tells you that fetal rights means only punishing doctors is either misinformed or fibbing (to put it politely). Full human rights means just that. It means that if you die, your relatives can sue the doctor for malpractice. It means that if you get killed, the state is obligated to prosecute the person who killed you and anyone who paid to have it done as an accessory to murder or manslaughter. It also means similar penalties to killing a child or even an adult. Whether you accept it or not, every fetal death becomes a public matter if there is no right to privacy.

How many pro-life women consent to talking to the police, prosecutors or a grand jury if the authorities suspect that your OB/GYN has been doing too many D&C's if you've recently had one yourself? What if they suspect that yours was not justified and treat you as such?This is not about the police going after "them" but going after you. Equal protection is equal protection.

If you think malpractice is high for OB/GYNs, just wait until every miscarriage is a potential court case. Granting full protection, which is required to overturn privacy, means just that. It is not a nightmare scenario. It is giving power to lawyers to pursue wrongful death cases, which most insurance companies will simply settle - although good luck finding obstetric care until after two months of gestation have passed and a miscarriage is no longer likely. This is what Blackmun was talking about when he stated that legal abortion was necessary to protect all obstetricians, not just abortionists.

It takes maturity to come to grips with this. It also takes honesty.

I am frankly sick and tired of those individuals who run for office saying that they are pro life while appealing to emotionalism about the unborn, soft pedaling the real legal concerns. This is called opportunism, and what else can you call it with more than 35 years of fundraising and no real viable solutions to the root problem. That's three and a half decades of death rather than compromise.Shame.

The fact is, before 23 weeks, a fetus cannot survive if born, while after it can with medical intervention. That seems like a reasonable line. Another might be the fetal heartbeat at 4 weeks of gestation (6 weeks or so from the last period). While I believe that life begins at gastrulation (rather than conception) and the best embryologiss agree, the heartbeat is a natural start of legal life when its cessation is considered the moment of death.

Huckabee likely does not agree with this, however I supported him in the primary because he would likely put in enough income supports for families that the abortion rate would go down anyway - judging by his performance as Arkansas Governor.

He also stated that he favored a life amendment. This is code for saying he wasn't about to do anything to quickly. A life amendent would need 2/3 of the House to pass, as well as 2/3 of the Senate and 3/4 of the states. It is regarded among constitutional scholars as the impossible dream of the pro-life movement and why overturning Roe was thought to be more attainable.Of course, it is only unattainable if it is attempted as an all or nothing position. If it is important to stop abortion, primarily in the later terms, then maybe its time to compromise on the 23rd week. Also, it may be that an Amendment is not necessary. The Congress is sovereign in matters of citizenship (not the states). Under the 14th Amendment, it has the power to enforce equal protection. Part of enforcement is deciding issues, like whether at some stage the rights of the child are equal to those of the mother. In the partial birth case, even though it was not spelled out, Congress was able to regulate abortion precisely because the fetus was in contact with air. Being a little bit born is like being a little bit pregnant. If any of you is out, you are legally a person. Congress could likely go further, although doing so takes work.

It takes the willingness to compromise - not easy when you are dealing with conservatives on a moral issue. It also takes specificity in deciding what legal protection really means. Let's say I am wrong about lawsuits and criminal charges. The way to make me wrong is to publish some language to make sure these things aren't issues - or admit that they are - and engage opponents in discussion.Its time to end the emotionalism of this debate and get down to brass tacks. Anything else is too much like what that other Governor from Arkansas would do. You know who I mean. The slick one.

School Choice in Virginia

As the father of a kindergartener, I am in favor of school choice. I am planning on sending my daughter to parochial school next year and should not have to pay for two educations, one by tuition and the other by taxes (although I pay for less than a full educaiton through taxes, since each child's tuition is spread among several taxpayers).

Since we are Catholic, there is a problem, since in Virginia we have a Blaine Amendment which prohibits state funds to Catholic education. Many have said this is an equal protection violation under the terms of the 14th Amendment. I tend to agree and hope for a change in the near future, either through a Constitutional Amendment in Virginia or a federal case. This could come about if the legislature or a school district tried to fund Catholic schools and were sued in Virginia courts. (It could also come from a federal case in another state). Regardless of how it goes down, I predict the Blaine Amendment will eventually be a thing of the past. What is of concern is what will happen next.

There is currently quite a constituency in Virginia, particularly Northern Virginia for public of funding of parochial schools. To put it bluntly, this part of the state is crawling with Catholics, especially when compared with other parts of the state (although Tidwater also has its share). If private school funding were constitutional, there would be an outcry for it, and the GOP should take advantage of that outcry by advocating for school choice. School choice will go nowhere, however, if it is seen as merely an attempt to gut public school budgets or break the teachers union. This means that school choice needs to do two things. The first is to allow parochial school teachers to unionize if they so chose, with a local for each diocese. The second is to increase revenue. How much should revenue be increased? Simply put, revenue should go up enough to cover the cost of tuition and contributions no longer needed by the parochial school system because of public funding. That is half of the equation - the other is to determine the income distribution of current private school parents and donors and increase taxes for the same economic strata, prefereably through income tax changes.When the advocates of school choice are willing to concede these two points, school choice will pass