Thursday, September 27, 2012


I  dreamed a dream last night.

I dreamed a dream in which our President put aside the politics of class warfare and delivered a wonderful speech about coming to grips with our fiscal irresponsibility.

I woke up and realized it was a dream, but imagine if it were real?  What would it sound like?
For the last decade, our national budget has been in the red. Year after year, the annual budget did not cover expenses. The effects of the recession made a bad situation even worse. It also made it clear that our budget has a structural problem, and that Americans have more government than they can afford.
This budget is about priorities, and this structural deficit is an opportunity to start shaping America's future.  It is time to take a fresh look at the federal government and ask the hard questions: What programs do we need? What services are essential?  How can we provide the highest quality services as efficiently as possible?
We must not put off these choices any longer. Our preliminary budget estimates for 2013 project a budget shortfall of one-third of our operating budget.  It is time to give Americans an honest, balanced budget that focuses on current needs while still investing in the future. We cannot protect the status quo by asking more from hard pressed taxpayers. It is time to reform government in a way that provides Americans with quality services and an affordable cost.
The 2013 budget proposal does not contain an increase in income taxes. It cuts taxes on employers to foster job growth. It makes tough choices about cutting expenses, while encouraging innovation and the reinvention of government. It also includes some revenue increases, without which it would be impossible to eliminate the deficit while maintaining and improving the vital services that Americans deserve.
Interestingly, these words are Rahm Emanuel's, the President's former chief-of-staff.  I took the liberty of plucking out references to Chicago and put in references to America, to make the rewrite easier for the President's speech writers.  Chicago's budget deficit is less severe, in percentage terms, than the federal deficit.

These words were contained in Mr. Emanuel's 2012 budget for Chicago, where, as the newly elected mayor, he inherited a fiscal disaster that could not be blamed on Republicans, since Democrats have run Chicago since 1931 (81 years).  Mr. Emanuel chose to try to fix the problem.  Most recently Mr. Emanuel had to deal with a teacher's strike triggered by his continued efforts to get Chicago solvent.

I wonder why having this conversation is "pitchforking the poor" when Republicans say it, but sounds like common sense when a Democrat says it.

Maybe because it is fundamentally true?  And an act of prudence and genuine responsibility for exactly the poor people we all care about, who need a non-bankrupt government much more than the rich?

Sadly, Mr. Obama cannot make this speech, since it rejects the direction he took during his first term in office, which was to hugely expand long-term government programs and debt.  For the past 3 years Mr. Obama has not been able to convince even Democratic Congressmen to vote for his budgets.  I find this unsettling, but apparently I am in the minority.

Like I said, it was a dream.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I see a federal judge in Boston just ruled that the U.S. Constitution requires that the State of Massachusetts must pay for the sex-change operation of a man in jail for life for murdering his wife.  To permit otherwise, the Court ruled, would be "cruel and unusual" punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

You can read about it here.

You may wonder how the People of Massachusetts are "punishing" this fellow by refusing him the surgery.  Or you may wonder how this "punishment" could possibly be "cruel" or "unusual"  You would be joined in your wonderment, I think, by the framers of the Constitution.

The framers were quite concerned about actual torture, like drawing and quartering, when they passed the Eighth Amendment.  They were, almost assuredly, not committing their "lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" to protect a felon's right to cut off his, ahem, and install an artificial, ahem, in its place.

I prefer to use "ahem" to describe the anatomical realities of this surgery.  Suffice it to say that, among other things, it involves a surgical severance of the male member, and a surgical installation of a make believe female member. 

As late as 1960 we universally would have thought that cutting off a man's, ahem, and then installing an artificial, ahem, was cruel and unusual punishment.  Now we have advanced as a society to the point where we understand that NOT paying $20,000 to have a surgeon cut off a man's, ahem, is (a) cruel (b) unusual and (c) punishment.  We know this because if we do not pay to have it done the prisoner will do it himself, or kill himself.

We are not entitled to morally compel others to satisfy our desires or needs by threatening to kill ourselves.   We cannot morally force someone else to violate his conscience by holding our own lives hostage.  This seems a healthy principle, but one which has escaped the judge.

The prisoner had the freedom to pay for this particular surgery, but he forfeited his freedom by murdering his wife.  There are many consequences to committing murder, most of which center on giving up freedoms you once had.

The fact that this prisoner is sick enough to maim or kill himself to enforce his own will does not require that we suddenly surrender our own privilege, as free moral agents, not to pay for his choice.  To say otherwise is to make the prisoner our jailer.  If he is determined to kill himself, he has that choice.  But I do not bear responsibility for his exercise of that choice, nor am I required by law or morals to accede to, or participate in, his immorality.

For instance, as a citizen I am not morally responsible for a prisoner who chooses to hang himself rather than face his life in prison.  I do not owe it to him to set him free, because otherwise he will try to commit suicide.
Framing this as a "medical" decision does not evade the moral question.  Medical science can give us diagnoses, and treatments, but it cannot, in the end, decide moral questions for us.  You can find qualified psychiatrists who would opine that almost any treatment would be "medically necessary," if the patient were sick enough to kill or harm himself for the want of the "treatment."

 Psychiatrist about to give opinion on medical necessity.

In this case, "medically necessary" means the patient will harm himself if you don't do this.  Yet this is morally quite different from treating a life-threatening microbe that has invaded the prisoner's body against his will.  Medically, the two problems may be interchangeable: they both threaten life and both can be addressed by a medical procedure.  Morally, the two situations could not be more distinct.

The fact that a person wants a treatment, or that the person will harm himself if he does not receive the treatment he wants, cannot be the final word on whether I have an obligation to pay for the treatment. The result of accepting "medical necessity" as an answer to moral objections is madness, not principle.

We have some experience of the outcome of this madness when it comes to abortion, and in particular, the Obamacare mandates that seek to force Catholics to pay for other people's abortions.

 I feel like the little kid in the famous New Yorker cartoon.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York prayed the benediction at the Democratic Convention the other night.

The moment of delivery came at the end of a difficult labor.  The Archbishop is the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  He had offered to pray at both conventions.  The Republicans accepted, the Democrats went into "crickets" radio silence, likely because Archbishop Dolan and the USCCB are leading opposition to several policies of the Obama Administration right now, and having him pray at the convention created some inner turmoil.

Eventually the Democratic party extended an invitation and Archbishop Dolan accepted it. 

You can see the benediction on video.  You can read the text here. 

One sees why the Church has always been on, at best, uneasy terms with both political parties.   The Archbishop's prayers for immigrants and the poor must have resonated deeply with Democrats, and been a tad unsettling for some Republicans, given the Church's disagreements with some Republican positions on both subjects.  Conversely, the Archbishop's prayers for the unborn and for religious freedom likely touched a nerve for Democrats, for the same reason.

It was a touching moment, and a reminder that even New Yorkers can be gracious.  Prayer is like eating a meal together.  It tends to beget peace and goodwill.

As the Archbishop said, at the end, "God bless America."

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Pretty interesting last night listening to the Democratic faithful - the core of the Democratic party - booing God. 

The Democrats had removed mention of God from their platform, where it had been since time immemorial.  They also removed reference to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel - again, something that has been a staple of Democratic platforms in the past.

This created a huge furor among those not at the convention, including Independents, Democrats and (as you can well imagine) Republicans.  Seeking to quell a political firestorm, President Obama insisted the references be put back in. 

The Chair in an uncomfortable spot.

An amendment to put the two references back in the platform was submitted to a vote on the floor of the convention.  It needed a 2/3 vote to put through.  It was quite obvious, based on the "ayes" and "nays," yelled from the crowd, that the amendment did not have a 2/3 vote of the delegates.  Nevertheless, the chair rammed the amendment through by stating that in his opinion there was a 2/3 majority. 

There was widespread booing.

 Delegate booing.

All in all a fascinating glimpse at the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.

See the event on this link to YouTube.