Equal protection? Piece of cake!

Sugar Daze / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The week after Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s vetoed “anti-gay” bill SB 1062, The Atlantic ran this headline on its story feed: “How Religious-Freedom Laws Could Come Back to Hurt the Faithful.” Jonathan Merritt lays out a hypothetical turning of tables, where a Unitarian refuses service to a Baptist. Then he asks:

Would conservative Christians support this storeowner’s actions? Because if not, they better think long and hard about advocating for laws that allow public businesses to refuse goods and services to individuals anytime they believe the person’s behavior conflicts with their sincerely held convictions.

The moral lesson seems simple and airtight:

If you are able to discriminate against others on the basis of religious conviction, others must be allowed to do the same when you are on the other side of the counter.

But was the bill really about legally enshrining anti-gay discrimination? The actual text makes no reference to sexual orientation. Read the bill, it’s short. Neither does it say anything about discriminating against a customer on the basis of the customer’s religious belief.

It is very easy to imagine a criterion where a business owner may refuse service: when the requested service violates her conscience. This can happen when an artist is forced to render service to an event she personally finds unconscionable. Maybe she is a florist, photographer, or baker; these people have already been sued and boycotted for refusal of service.

Consider if a caterer, who is a strict vegan by conviction, were forced to serve meat to carnivores. That would be a clear violation of conscience, unjustified and wrong. Some would argue that she should not be in the catering business in the first place, but that’s illiberal and hard-hearted.

However, if the caterer were forced to provide a vegan meal to carnivores, that would pass muster according to the correct understanding of equal protection.

Refusal of service based on an immutable trait of the customer is one thing. But refusal of service based on the impact the service would have on the producer is one possible rational basis for the right to refuse service.

Why hasn’t the mainstream media picked up on this?

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Study: journalists report think tank leanings selectively

Conservative-leaning think tanks like the Hoover Institution are much more likely to be ideologically identified than their liberal counterparts. | Photo credit: darkmatter / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Reason.com recently highlighted a study in the Journal of Media Economics which suggests selective media bias in reporting think tank leanings:

Leading news outlets were 14 times more likely to identify the Heritage Foundation as conservative than they were to categorize the Brookings Institution as liberal, reports a new study in the Journal of Media Economics. The study, conducted by the Department of Justice economist Wayne Dunham, analyzed 25,000 news articles from six large daily newspapers and the Associated Press over the past couple of decades.

Reason correspondent Ronald Bailey points out the implicit bias in this lopsided ideological identification.  It seems reasonable to me that reminding readers of a source’s ideological affiliation tends to make them dismissive of that source.  It follows then that liberal think tanks get less scrutiny than conservative and libertarian ones.

Free societies rely on some semblance of balance and objectivity from the press. It won’t help for government to intervene, as with the Fairness Doctrine.  Rather, news consumers should signal their displeasure to the editorial boards.  To that end, it would be good to know which major papers Dunham examined.  If the report is accurate, then some of America’s most influential journalists need to explain, or else cop to, their own bias.

Pope pontificates unprofitably on free markets

Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Pope Francis’s recently released exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (pdf), has made the news and elicited commentary for its admonitions against the free market economy.  This is not a new stance for the Catholic Church.  Still, this latest iteration of qualified praise (hat tip First Thoughts blog) from commentators across the political spectrum led me to study the primary source itself.  After reviewing the text, I can only conclude that on free markets and the poor, Francis is tragically mistaken.  He gets it wrong.

In a section titled “Some challenges of today’s world,” Francis calls Christians to say “no to an economy of exclusion.”  Consider this passage:

… today we have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.  How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?  This is a case of exclusion.  Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?  This is a case of inequality.  Today everything comes under the laws of competition and survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.  As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Herein we get a good sample of the main vehicle of discourse: platitudes.  Pope Francis doesn’t try to marshal any facts or hard evidence that the world is as he says; he takes it for granted that we share in a worldview where the powerful crush the weak and eat them for breakfast.  But is this really the world we live in?

Writing for the Daily Caller, conservative and Christian Matt K. Lewis affirms Francis’s warning against greed.  To me, his acknowledgment of the “tension” between conservatism and markets comes off as a little too contrite.  Lewis appeals to pure speculation by otherwise venerable Christian writer and apologist Francis Schaeffer.  He supposed that employers who sacrificed profits to pay their employees more would demonstrate Christ’s love better than by giving those profits to charity.  This obsession with profits is beyond misguided; it’s destructive to lend credence to the notion that not giving away profits is inherently bad.

Jesus warns us all to refrain from judging our neighbors.  He warns us to remove the log from our own eye before removing the speck from our neighbor’s.  Accordingly, who am I to say that my neighbor is greedy?  It is one thing if I know my neighbor intimately.  But it is uncharitable and an overreach to attribute greed to a general class of people whose trade circumstances I know little about.

As I see it, Francis’s social teaching remains too mired in a Eurocentric, Old World conception of human society.  The Pope himself hails from Argentina, a poster child for the economic development frustrations that are the norm in Latin America.  At one point, Francis sharply rebuts the efficacy of supply-side economic theory:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.  This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.  Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

But to say that supply-side stimulation has never been confirmed by the facts is untrue!  In America, Kennedy’s 1964 tax cuts, along with Reagan’s 1986 and Bush’s 2002 and 2003 tax cuts, helped everyday Americans greatly.  Over at National Review, Kevin Williamson details some more of Francis’s economic shortsightedness, particularly his trust of government to ameliorate inequality.

If Pope Francis really wants to lift up the “excluded,” he should look no further than to the tiger economies of South Korea, Taiwan, and most recently, China.  There, real people have been lifted out of poverty and brought into purpose, productivity, and prosperity, thanks to the free market.

Elswhere in his treatise, the Pope offers a thesis that violence will continue as long as inequality prevails.  What supports this idea, given that we’ve always had economic inequality, and there is no political mechanism to eliminate it on the horizon?  We could call upon Stephen Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature to see how violence has declined precipetously over the history of civilization.  We can lay this against our background knowledge that inequality is increasing to say that violence has shown itself to be inversely proportional to inequality.  Truely, may the rich get richer!

The progressive may ask, how could anyone say that?  Well, if life is anything more than a zero sum game, where the only way forward is government enforced redistribution, then that’s something we need to know and lay hold of.  In a Wall Street Journal opinion from 2012, Rabbi Aryeh Spero makes the case:

At the opening bell, Genesis announces: “Man is created in the image of God”—in other words, like Him, with individuality and creative intelligence. Unlike animals, the human being is not only a hunter and gatherer but a creative dreamer with the potential of unlocking all the hidden treasures implanted by God in our universe. The mechanism of capitalism, as manifest through investment and reasoned speculation, helps facilitate our partnership with God by bringing to the surface that which the Almighty embedded in nature for our eventual extraction and activation.

Further, seeking to unlock the hidden treasures of creation brings deep joy.  Spero remarks:

Unlike socialism, mired as it is in the static reproduction of things already invented, capitalism is dynamic and energetic. It cheerfully fosters and encourages creativity, unspoken possibilities, and dreams of the individual.

Where the Pope sees dehumanization and a stripping of dignity, a capitalist who understands economic truth in light of the image of God–Imago Dei–sees joy.  To make room for the invisible hand, to allow suppliers to compete for the benefit of the consumer, and to practice capitalism–under the rule of law, not under the unbridled strawman Francis berates–brings very real material and spiritual benefit not just to the capitalist, but to those whom Jesus called “the least of these.”

If we love God with all our mind, as we’re called to do in Matthew 25, then we can heed Francis’s call to serve as ones “bruised, hurting and dirty.”  But that will mean for someone like myself, refuting a simplistic vision of the world that vilifies entrepreneurship, uncritically trusts government to alleviate inequality, and endows dignity as a wealth transfer instead of a mutually beneficial transaction.  If there is joy in the Gospel, it has to be in knowing the world as it actually is.  As for the economic realm, it looks nothing like Pope Francis sees it.

Remedial economics: Obamacare as teachable moment

Photo credit: peasap / Foter.com / CC BY

Here’s a good news article–from AFP of all places–that highlights the problem when government negotiates prices.  The headline says it all: “Secret pricing spikes US healthcare costs.”   The unflattering description of price negotiation, which is a favorite tool of economic liberals, is remarkable.  The article quotes European health policy experts, who advise the US to follow their lead by turning pricing over to market mechanisms. What a concept!

Meanwhile, a blogger at Values and Capitalism reminds us of the importance of basic economic literacy.  Her mention of “price signaling” triggers that part of me that must lecture everyone: prices communicate information about scarcity.  When government offers subsidies or fixes prices, it distorts that information.  These interventions produce illusion and falsehood.  It’s quite arguably immoral.

The spectacular implosion of the Affordable Care Act that we are now going through is a teachable moment.  Many fiscal conservatives spend a lot of time snarkily tweaking liberals and the Obama administration.  It would be a serious waste not to turn aside for a moment, and soberly remind our fellow citizens that no one can wish away immutable economic realities.  Central planning will never beat a free market.

ENDA’s game: pandering and distraction at high cost

This past Monday, President Obama and Apple CEO Tim Cook released twin editorials urging Congress to pass ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  Consider this portion of Cook’s appeal, as cited in the Washington Times:

“For too long, too many people have had to hide that part of their identity in the workplace,” he wrote. “Those who have suffered discrimination have paid the greatest price for this lack of legal protection. But ultimately we all pay a price. If our co-workers cannot be themselves in the workplace, they certainly cannot be their best selves.”

Mr. Cook refers to the LGBT community.  But notice that that special class goes unmentioned in the passage. One can easily imagine he is writing about another group of persons who “have had to hide that part of their identity in the workplace.”  Which makes me wonder, would this Silicon Valley captain of industry–a scion of progressive, elite culture–have gone to bat for Republicans, gun enthusiasts, or Evangelical Christians?  In sociologist George Yancey’s 2011 book, Compromising Scholarship, it precisely these groups that face the most bias from university faculty hiring committees.

But that point is not germane to the merits, or demerits, of the legislation.  Earlier this week, Melinda at Stand to Reason noted that while religious institutions are exempted from ENDA, small business owners are not.  It’s the same befuddling logic that granted Obamacare exemptions to big businesses, but not to small ones.  The editors at National Review pointed out some more liabilities, including an increase in bureaucracy and lawsuits.

A factcheck.org piece dismissed as spin House Speaker John Boehner’s claim that ENDA will result in “frivolous” lawsuits.  But in doing so, the factchecker had to affirm a Congressional Budget Office estimate that $47 million will be needed for new oversight and processing of 5,000 new legal claims annually.  The writer couches the real economic cost this way:

As for Boehner’s claim that ENDA would “cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” that may well be the outcome in some isolated cases, but the law specifically applies only to companies with 15 or more employees — which exempts nearly 90 percent of all small businesses (and nearly a third of those employed in businesses with under 500 employees).

This supposedly inquisitive journalist’s lack of concern for “isolated cases” reminds me of President Obama’s now immortal prevarication, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.”  Five million individual market health insurance plans are not good enough.  Off to the exchange you go!  If you are on the wrong side of “history,” as outlets like The Week want to label it, you will get steamrolled under Progress.

Speaking of Obamacare, isn’t this trotting out of ENDA just a timely distraction from the trainwreck?  At least one advocacy group sees the move for what it is: a shameless pandering to a constituency,  but only when it’s convenient.  LGBT activists are right to take the move as an insult.

This is really nothing new for Obama or the Democratic Party.  Manipulating a menagerie of supporters through identity politics is straight from the party play book.  Talk about a wedge issue; our president is the great Divider-in-Chief.

Real people are being thrown under the bus.  With Obamacare and ENDA, we have the Forgotten Man.  Person A takes from person B to benefit person C.  That is, if person C really gains any significant benefit.  The one thing we can be sure of is that person A is looking out first and foremost for himself.

Ronald Reagan’s admonition is timeless: the nine scariest words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Photo credit: Princes Milady / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Defunding Obamacare: principled, or pointless?

Robert Ariail, Townhall.com

For some time now, the Wall Street Journal editorial board has been warning about the futility of the strategy to defund Obamacare before it goes into effect in October.  The evening before Ted Cruz saddled up to fillibuster in the Senate, indulging the painful path to government shutdown, the Journal issued a preemptive, if qualified, “I told you so.”

We wish the GOP luck, since we support the policy if not the strategy. But however this charge into the fixed bayonets turns out, we hope the folks who planned it will take responsibility for what happens now.

The Journal points out that the leaders of the defund charge could not drum up solid GOP support, but only a “rump minority.”  And I think for good reason: Republican Representatives in swing districts can’t afford to take the blame for government shutdown.  A senator like Cruz does well to play to his base, with re-election five years away, if he’s not eying 2016.  Meanwhile, he and the defund (defeat) caucus are daring to doom vulnerable House Republicans by renewing the party’s image as overzealous shutters-down of government.  Democrats have been salivating for months.

As Michael Medved reminds us from time to time, there is no secret army of conservatives who will turn out in mass when the GOP takes its principled, suicidal stand.  That army doesn’t reside in swing districts; if anywhere, it would reside where the GOP will win by more than 20 points anyway.

Medved has posed this challenge on air over the past few weeks: what is the winning scenario for the defund campaign?  How do America or the Republican Party gain anything real out of this, whether in 2014 or for the foreseeable future?  President Obama has the bully pulpit, and the traction to outlast the GOP.  Even after the embarrassing Syrian escapade, the media’s irrational infatuation with the president is as recalcitrant as ever.

I’m firmly in the live-to-fight-another-day caucus.  I know the trite cries of “RINO” and admonitions to take a “principled stand” fly thick through the air these days.  So I take succor in the WSJ editorial’s biting claim to street cred:

These columns opposed ObamaCare before it was known by that name, and we may have even been the first to call it by that name. We also don’t need any lectures about principle from the Heritage Foundation that promoted RomneyCare and the individual mandate that is part of ObamaCare. Or from cable TV pundits who sold Republicans on Mitt Romney despite RomneyCare.

I’m not especially aware of Heritage’s transgression, but I feel the Journal on this one.

It’s refreshing to see cartoonist Robert Ariail’s no non-sense take on the situation.  The cliff image is all too prevalent these days, because we’ve been bouncing from cliff to cliff every few months.  It will be refreshing when posturing politicians stop clowning around, posing for “principle,” and actually get smart about saving the country.  Suck it up.  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Robert Ariail, Townhall.com

 

 

 

 

Obama’s Syria policy: Weak in review

20130914.syriandolls

Whew, it’s been a while since I did an original political cartoon.  We’ve seen some really terrible developments in American foreign policy this past week or so.  President Obama laid down a “red line” on Syrian chemical weapons use more than a year ago.  Then, last week, he denied setting a red line.  Per the Commander in Chief, the international community set it.

This week, Secretary of State John Kerry assuaged domestic doves and foreign foes as to how “unbelievably small” a U.S. strike on Syria would be.  Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal went to town on that one.

In a glowing review of the President’s Tuesday night prime time speech, Walter Shapiro denied cheerleading for Obama.  This is hardly credible given how extraordinarily painful and opaque the White House’s waffling military machinations have been.

The Commander in Chief about-faced when Russia supplied an out consisting in Assad’s vow to allow inspection and destruction of his massive chemical weapons stockpile.  National security expert Max Boot pointed out the dim prospect of such a solution.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled a world leadership coup with his New York Times op ed.  After reading it, New Jersey senator Bob Menendez confessed that, “I almost wanted to vomit.”  I think this graphic is a little more palatable, and totally apt.

Steve Kelly, Townhall.com

America has for her Commander in Chief that kid who gets picked last for sports games, the one who bullies turn upside down to shake out his lunch money.  Putin was a KGB hot shot; Obama was a community organizer.  This is not good.

When I was in college, literally learning about the politics of peace and war, I was introduced to Win, Lose, or Draw: Domestic Politics and the Crucible of War.  After conducting some game theory research, author Alan Stam recommended a simple strategy for dealing with unfriendly regimes: tit-for-tat.  It’s like the eye-for-an-eye of international relations.

The simple lesson that every American president should remember is this: clear and consistent communication is indispensable to the national security interest.  Speak loud, and carry a big stick; make the other side think you’ll use it.  What the Obama administration has done instead is the opposite.  American officials have telegraphed a lack of resolve, betrayed a sense of hesitation, vacillated between options, and came ill-prepared to the bargaining table.  Our Ship of State must survive three more years with an incompetent helmsman.

American foreign policy hasn’t seen such tragedy and disgrace since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.  I mean it when I ask, pray for the wisdom of America’s leaders.

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