Monday, February 22, 2010

Health Care: Too Important to Rush

Why are the Democrats determined to ram through a health care package, regardless of the fiscal impact on anyone who makes a decent wage?

One answer: Do it now before the conservative backlash leads to a loss of influence and seats in November.

Second - and more nefarious - answer: Do it now before the economy rebounds and people have other things on their mind. Create a dependent class that will vote for you in perpetuity.

Third answer: Health care is a moral imperative and now is the time.

I wish answer # 3 was the driver - then real dialogue and a better way forward can be mapped out. Thoughtful Democrats and Republicans want people to have medical coverage that is reasonable. The problems stem from how it is administrated; in other words, where the money goes.

The Democrats have offered nothing on legal liability (tort) reform to protect doctors. The Republicans need to rise to Obama's bullying and offer a comprehensive, decentralized and ethical set of ideas that hold private enterprise accountable while avoiding a federal system.

The arrogance of the current administration eclipses anything in US history, save FDR's attempts to circumvent the Constitution and pack the Supreme Court.

Republicans are equally to blame for failing to curb spending since 1980 and failing to hold business accountable for their over-speculation. While collar felons need to experience the same prison conditions as pot dealers on the street.

This morning's headlines made me shudder. The "in your face" attitude of those in power in contrary to everything we were promised in November 2008.

The people in power today were educated and mentored in the post-Vietnam deconstructionism, revisionism and neo-Marxism of the 1970s. They really despise traditional values, make back room deals with certain capitalists, and consider themselves smarter than Joe the Plumber and anyone else in flyover country. They despise the Tea Party movements (using their own "AstroTurf" pejorative) while failing to listen deeply to the concerns underneath the slogans. They insult Governor Palin mercilessly while ignoring Obama's refusal to have a real press conference for over seven months. They think they can rewrite the moral order, redefine the family and re-educate students to be global citizens. Unfortunately, most of these folks failed Econ 101.

Some conservatives have not helped things with reactionary histrionics and timeworn cliches. We can reduce some military spending. We can assimilate immigrants judiciously. We can affirm the traditional family while creating space for other domestic arrangements. We can unleash wealth creation that has the community and environment in mind. It is time to stop reacting and start offering real solutions that provide real jobs.

Health care reform is needed. But it is too important to rush. My only hope is that it can be overturned by a wiser Congress after the 2010 or 2012 elections. Read the details - most of the provisions kick in gradually and many after 2013. The presumption of power is frightening and should be a cause of concern to all thoughtful people.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ethical Innovation: Economics and the Environment

The "climategate" news is fueling the "deniers" of global warming (or climate change)and causing environmental advocates to find other ways to raise money for their overhaul of the world economy. Meanwhile, China, India and Russia continue to grow their economies on fossil fuels, thumb their noses at any binding climate agreements and the good people of the USA wonder what to believe. Even President Obama is speculating about nuclear power (and he pronounces "nuclear" correctly).

I think it is the height of hubris to think that humankind can seriously alter climate cycles. But it is also the depth of foolishness to ignore the serious environmental issues of the 21st century.

We need a new environmental ethic that thoughtful people of all faiths and nationalities can embrace. We need guidelines for planet care that do not destroy our fragile ecosystems while ensuring resources for future economic growth and sustainability.

There are three axioms and eight action steps we can affirm and pursue as we choose to cooperate rather than compete as a global community. There is room for entrepreneurship and private property while we provide for environmental regulation and the collective good.

Axiom One: We are stewards of an amazing planet and have the power and resources to destroy or improve many of its systems. Though I am skeptical on some aspects of climate change, the evidence of history reveals the impact we make on our cosmic sphere. When I was a child, the Great Lakes were unswimmable and the symbol of all that was wrong with capitalism. Today, they are much improved due to environmental regulation, economic ingenuity and the discovery that all benefit when we think long-term about earth care. I challenge my free market friends to not just rail against regulation - design products and services that have a softer footprint and renewability. You will be richer and our world will be here for our descendants. I challenge environmental advocates to realize that wealth is created from the judicious use of resources. Over-regulation will ultimately dry up the grants and taxes you depend on for your livelihood. Stop hating business and private property and see the connection between economic and political freedom.

Axiom Two: The economics of earth is not a zero sum game. Wealth can be created. Our planet is not one pie that must be sliced into seven billion pieces. There are some finite resources. But we are constantly discovering new ones and new ways to generate products and services. Rapaciously clearing the rain forests of Brazil is foolish. Those same rain forests have renewable resources that are making our lives healthier. An almost deforested Ohio is now awash in beautiful forests, with more trees that in 1900. We can heal and renew some ecosystems. Some cities in China (yes, China) are working to limit pollution and recycle resources.

Axiom Three: We must balance personal freedom and opportunity with local and global community cohesion. We know that over-centralized, state-owned and state-operated economies do not work long-term. We also know that unregulated global capitalism does not care one bit about the lives of locals. Recent Copenhagen climate change leaders wanted it both ways - a share in carbon-trading firms and Tata motors while urging the rest of us to live on less! At the same time, my father and friends are diligently resisting over development in a county that can barely sustain its current population.

Once we are past the Either/Or fallacy (community vs. private; freedom vs. regulation, etc.) we can take judicious action and build a better future. Here are some action steps that can improve our national economy - not at the expense of the planet, but in support of the long term good of the world.

Action Step One: Unleash current energy sources while developing greener ones. The USA has massive coal and oil reserves. Let's use them wisely AND develop the greener technologies. The Right rejects alternative fuels because of their expense ind infrastructure problems. The Left wants us all on bicycles until we have solar cars. I am using hyperbole to make a point. We can drill, develop carefully and unleash creativity. We can even consider nuclear options. One of the hypocritical realities about our European friends and rivals is that much of their energy is nuclear. It is easy for them to tell us to stop drilling while their fuel rods animate their economies! All of this activity must be done with real standards in place - enforced by the USA, not the UN.

Action Step Two: Localize and regionalize economic development. Take the decisions out of the hands of Washington, D.C. and place them with people who actually live there. We must rediscover City Hall and our state capitals. Our representatives in Washington need to stop boasting about their delivery of D.C. pork and start working to reduce the size of the federal government and unleash the creativity of local leaders. Republicans should be ashamed of voting against stimulus spending and then cutting ribbons for projects funded by the same dollars. Democrats need to balance a budget, period.

Action Step Three: Increase education concerning the environment, but do not make free enterprise or Western civilization the only evils! The consequences of seventy years of communism in the former USSR and Warsaw Pact is evidence that a centralized system can pollute much more than capitalism! At the same time, the Love Canal and Erin Brockovich narratives remind us that there are no "acceptable" human costs when there is prior knowledge of risk. The Sahara Desert is growing every year. This is the result of centuries of deforestation, warfare and short-sighted thinking. It will take private-public partnership to reverse this.

Action Step Four: This is a principle more than an action, but it is vital to our future. We must build our future on faith not fear. For two centuries, from Walden Pond to Rachael Carson, from the delusions of Rousseau to the follies of Paul Ehrlich, we have been assaulted with the immanent end of the world. At the same time, the Industrial, Information and Internet Revolutions, for all of their good, have also depersonalized work and dislocated millions of people. Being a Luddite is not the answer, nor should we capitulate to being cogs in a global capitalist scheme. We must affirm the dignity of each person, the sanctity of labor and the liberty of private property and entrepreneurship. We must also increase the visibility of those companies that believe in integrated social entrepreneurship that places community transformation as a primary mission.

Action Step Five: Refashion the United Nations and make it a forum for real economic and social discussion instead of a place for elites to live well, bash the USA and Israel and avoid looking at the structural evils in their own lands. A large percentage of the current committees and panels are a joke, especially with nations like Syria critiquing the USA on human rights! We do need the UN. But it needs to be a place to engage in solving real issues instead of allowing despots legitimacy and passing toothless resolutions. To my conservative friends: I agree that the UN must be improved; however, its elimination is not the answer. To my friends on the Left, let's stop all talk of "global governance." This is a code phrase for an elitist totalitarianism that will redistribute wealth and enrich a select few. Interesting fact: George Soros, darling financier of the Left, is heavily invested in Brazilian offshore drilling that will benefit China. So much for his environmental credentials. His aim is nothing short of the piecemeal destruction of the USA. Conversely, history is littered with the impact of international capital ruining self-sufficient agriculture and industry in the name of "development." Ask the former family farmers in Central America what they think of the United Fruit Company takovers of the 1930s to 1950s.

Action Step Six: Customize and localize unemployment benefits so that there is both compassion for the needy and a compulsion to look for work. The Right forgets that some localities simply have no jobs - so who pays for re-education and relocation? The Left forgets that human dignity includes a sense of productivity, not reliance on handouts. When a mill shuts down, real people are left destitute. The answer is not a paean to "free markets." On the other hand, the late Democratic Senator from New York, Patrick Moynihan, spent decades critiquing the failure of the welfare system and the generational dispositions and structures that are the consequences of an impersonal bureaucracy.

Let me inject a personal note here. I have spent years helping people who fell in between the cracks in our system. Some were injured at work and had to wait months or years for reasonable care. Others had addictions that were never treated. Many made poor choices and were on the streets. In all cases, they faced case workers who were either overwhelmed or uncaring. Welfare and workfare, care for families and the vulnerable needs to be local and involve the whole community, with public and private agencies cooperating to make a real difference.

Economic assistance is an environmental issue - we are interconnected and the good of all is a moral imperative. Karl Marx delivered scathing critiques of how factory workers were treated; however, his cures were - and are - worse than the disease. Adam Smith promoted the "invisible hand" of the free market - but he knew its operation required private and public virtue. We need to prosecute the white collar thief just as severely as the local drug dealer.

Action Step Seven: Unleash creativity and offer tax incentives - not just taxpayer cash - to companies and inventors who improve our lives and create wealth. Encourage local banks to start lending to enterprises that are innovative and demonstrate integrity.

Action Step Eight: Let's be part of a moral and spiritual renewal that offers hope and help, faith and action. I am a Christian and I want others to join me in my faith. That said, all people of humility and moral integrity can unite to enhance the lives of all around us. If we share wonder and a work ethic, we can partner in powerful ways. If we can have civil debate on our deepest differences, we will still be able to be peacemakers. If we will be accountable for our actions and affirming of the good of others, we can accomplish much. It is time to stop being victims. It is time to oppose totalitarianism in all forms. It is time to eschew homogenization and learn to live with our different universes next door, even while we cooperate where we can.

I am no fan of our current USA administration. I was not a fan of the previous three presidents, regardless of party. The office of President matters; however, he or she is not the key to the future we desire. The key is each of us deciding that a better future is possible.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ellis Island 2010

"Justice for the oppressed and poor!" shout the "advocates" for "undocumented workers." "Restore the rule of law and deport the hardened criminals" scream the proponents of "secure borders." Meanwhile thousands who have the cash and corporate connections are hired by high-tech firms and millions who are looking for work can not find any. Prisons are overrun with illegal immigrants, while many more wait years for their paperwork to navigate the system.

The entire immigration system is broken. Only creative, compassionate and principled transformation will solve the problems created by the competing political and social agendas.

The Left wants immediate amnesty, easy transit for all people and a permanent "working" class looking to the federal government for help to ensure their hold on power.

The Right revels in cheap labor and open borders to prop up global capitalism, with little regard for labor conditions or the enslavement of millions.

Corrupt government agencies on both sides of our border with Mexico permit drug lords to control vast stretches of territory and keep the populace in fear. Meanwhile, honest border guards are subjected to kangaroo trials and landowners in California and Arizona are prosecuted for protecting their property!

The Left wants to atone for 1848 (not understanding the historical context) and "redress" the oppressions of Manifest Destiny. Guilty social engineers want to redefine what it means to be American. Some even want to carve out a new "bronze nation" in the Southwest (as they fail to see the reverse racism in their proposals).

The Right wants secure borders, a defined pathway to citizenship and better screening. But because this screening involves non-Whites, they are branded as racists.

Compassionate clergy and charity leaders have the tasks of loving and serving families in the middle - people here illegally wanting a better life.

The Mexican government cynically cackles at our struggles because money sent home by their citizens is the second highest source of revenue, after the petrodollars. They can no longer claim "colonialism" or "Yankee oppression" - their own corruption is so endemic that their resources never find their way to the barrios.

How do we end the impasse? How do we be the welcoming land of freedom symbolized by the Ellis Island Center of the late 19th and early 20th century? How do we secure our borders without lapsing back to 1920s xenophobia? Can we be compassionate, pragmatic and principled? Can we be a good neighbor with Mexico without yielding sovereignty and being corrupted by their regime?

There are four foundations to a new immigration policy. If any of these is missing, we lose the exceptional nature of our invitation to the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

One: Erect "Welcome Centers" for all who wish to be part of our nation. Screening for disease, criminal records and political affiliations is not oppression - it is protection for our millions who deserve to feel safe.

Two: Secure borders are essential to freedom and safety. People attempting to sneak in must be immediately arrested, entered into a tracking system and sent back to their home country, unless they can prove they are real political dissidents or have a compelling human rights case.

Three: Create two tracks for those who wish to live and work in the USA: A citizenship track (including classes on government, history and English) and temporary resident/worker track that allows one to legally register for work, while the file is updated annually. Temporary residents should be encouraged to become citizens - but citizenship carries with it responsibility as well as privilege.

Four: Work tirelessly for justice on both sides of our border, confronting the corrupt factories of Juarez that enslave the vulnerable and the drug lords who feed the habit of too many Americans.

Great ideals, Charlie, but what about the current overpopulation in our prisons and the overrunning of social services by those here illegally?

The answers are simple and stunning: Deportation for all "undocumented" violent felons, immediately and without apology. For the people here working without legal status, register all of them for one of the two tracks in the next twelve months. This is not a blanket amnesty nor an unconscionable "get in line" strategy. Apart from a criminal record or direct ties to terrorism, no person will be deported if they register and start the normal process of citizenship and/or residential work status.

We know that millions are here illegally. If we find few registering, the key is not selective arrests of the poor, but prosecution of the companies and agencies that use (and abuse) these hard-working folks. We do not need people paying fines or leaving the country. We need to redeem a poor policy history and establish good boundaries for the future.

By the way, recent polls reveal that there are many unemployed American citizens who would take jobs currently held by illegals. It is a myth to suggest otherwise. What is not a myth is the hypocrisy of so many who employ illegals under the table. Note to friends who hire "day labor" in front of Home Depot or Lowes: you are part of the problem if you yell for secure borders but fail to live it out in your lives. the solution is not arresting the workers - let's help them get on track to normalization and make them part of the normal labor pool.

Someone is already angry at me for using the term "illegal." Sorry, friend, but it is an accurate term, just like Islamofacist (invested by Algerian Muslims angry at the terrorists) or labeling William Ayers as a terrorist.

The millions in the middle - hard-working families here without documentation - deserve something better than resentment from citizens and oppression by employers. They deserve a clear, principled process that welcomes them to the American Dream.

Will we find the courage to change or continue our shouting?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Pro-Life 2010

In his book, Moral Choices, Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft (author of the hilarious and insightful, Between Heaven and Hell and Jesus Meets Socrates) has a chapter about twelve boxes that Jesus will not squeeze into. Kreeft makes the salient point that Jesus is not Left or Right, and he is not a friend of extreme individualism or communism.

I think an authentic pro-life perspective is far more profound than emotional reactions to 1960s feminism or lock-step repetitions of environmentalist mantras. Conservatives conveniently forget that it has only been a generation since African- Americans and women have had a semblance of equal opportunity. Liberals have amnesia concerning the real stability of the traditional family across the economic and racial spectrum before the welfare state. The Right excoriates government regulation, but environmental improvements since the 1970s would be impossible without government oversight. The Left has a visceral hatred of real business - the kind that actually produces products and has to keep improving processes. Of course, the "business" of entertainment or education is exempt from critique. If you make millions from semi-pornographic movies or songs, that is OK as long as you vote the right way and have a Prius parked outside your mansion.

A pro-life worldview begins with wonder. Regardless of one's religion or opinion on the age of the universe, that fact that there is something and not nothing is amazing. Our planet is "rare" - all scientists admit that the probability of aligning and integrating all the factors for life is very small. If we can begin with wonder at the macro and microcosmic worlds, we have a starting point all humankind can share.

A pro-life perspective is grounded in the uniqueness of humankind among all the living creatures. Please notice I am not saying that such superiority means savage subjugation of animals and the environment. One does not need to be religious to see the qualitative difference between humankind and even the highest primates. Why does this matter? Pro-life means that a man is more important than a mink. A baby in the womb is more important than an obscure bug in the jungle. The notions that animals and other earthly life deserve the same legal and moral status as humans will ultimately dehumanize us and return us to self-destructive paganism.

Wonder and the value of human life must be joined with a deep respect for the interconnectedness of all creation and the special human vocation to care for the world. We may be more valuable that a toad, but we are part of a delicate and delightful ecology that calls our for care as well as creativity. Economic growth and environmental balance are NOT incompatible. Caring for the earth is not an ideology or religion - it is good stewardship of the gift of life.

Pro-life means that humans are endowed with natural rights and that governments exist to protect these rights, not bestow or restrict them. All people deserve love and respect regardless of gender, race or worldview.

These 4 pillars: wonder, human uniqueness, environmental stewardship and natural rights, are the foundations for the policies and principles that follow.

To be fully pro-life is to enhance and protect life at all stages and in some cases, confront the evils that undermine life. Here are eight affirmations that round out a pro-life ethic.

One: Life begins in the womb. Denial that the growing baby is a person requires such self-deception that it needs to be curtailed. The maturing baby is not a blob of fetal tissue or an appendage. There are times when the mother's life is in danger that therapeutic abortion may be called for. There are times that the consequences of incest or rape need to be confronted. Abortion as birth control dehumanizes everyone and keeps men from responsibility for their actions. Voluntary sexual intimacy between adults may result in pregnancy! Biology works. Underage moms and dads need to be responsible to give up a child for adoption or raise the child with the help of family and community.

Now we get to the heart of matter - what about all the exploited, poor women who are pregnant, having conceived in a relationship that is just shy of rape? The answer is economic, social, psychological and spiritual support, not the termination of life in utero. As a nation we must see all children as gifts and not snuff out life before or during her first breath.

Two: Pro-life means being pro-education for all children. We can provide education in all locations in smarter, more efficient ways. The wonderful turnaround narratives we love to read about or see in the movies are not the preserve of Left or Right. Courage, humility, leadership and a willingness to take responsibility are values all people of conscience share. There is room in the USA for homeschooling, private and public education. We must do more than teach to a test. We must also not allow public educators to displace parents, community and religious traditions in the interests of their political agendas. We do need more money for education - in the hands of students and teachers, not overpaid administrators who hide behind "flaws in the system" while exploiting the system for their own gain.

Three: Pro-life means pro-family and that means responsible parents caring for their children. Poor or rich, children deserve to go to school with clean clothes, full bellies and the knowledge that they can come home to a safe place. Clean clothes and a bowl of oatmeal are not beyond the ability of most people. Conservatives and liberals can join together in promoting family education on hygiene, parenting and life skills. Deadbeat dads need to be prosecuted and abusive parents held accountable. This does not mean that children can sue their parents because they received a timeout they didn't like. Real discipline is hard work.

Four: Pro-life means more local government and public-private partnerships and less paternalism from Washington, DC. For eighty years we have seen the fruit of federal programs that only expand in their inefficiency. Charities and community groups, city hall and county governments all need to roll up their sleeves and create new solutions for sustainable life. Pro-life promotes economic opportunity, not handouts. Pro-life programs transform ghettos though new businesses and end redlining. Pro-life advocates invest in human dignity, not constructing inhuman housing projects that sequester the poor. Pro-life compels life-long learning and flexibility in work, not vocational training that creates cogs for global capitalist machines.

Five: Pro-life implies reasonable laws on gun ownership, avoiding the totalitarian goals of the anti-gun lobby while recognizing that limits on firepower and good licensing are not violations of the 2nd Amendment. Our Founders recognized that the state should not disarm its citizens. Like citizenship, there must be reasonable rules for firearm ownership.

Six: Pro-life means that we stand against all forms of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, from the brothels of Bombay to the factories of Juarez, from Internet porn to over-sexualized education for public school children. Celibacy outside and fidelity within marriage must be celebrated instead of castigated. The contempt of Hollywood for traditional values is palpable in its hypocrisy. The same folks who hate the "Leave It To Beaver" values of the 1950s are aghast when a partner takes up with someone else! Without prosecuting the private lives of consenting adults, we need to reaffirm that women and men are capable of sexual self-control. We must work tirelessly to free the millions of exploited from labor and sex slavery. This is not just an "other country/culture" problem - these evils are present right in the heartland of America.

Seven: Pro-life means that we bestow dignity on the aged, infirm and vulnerable and refuse to capitulate to the calls for active euthanasia. It is one thing to let nature have her course; it is quite another to help her out, especially when economic motives create the context for elimination. All human life has value.

Eight: Pro-life means we are reluctant to go to war, careful when we do and clear about our aims. No general with a conscience wants to put soldiers at unnecessary risk, yet politicians talk about the military in calculating terms that ignore the price these brave women and men pay for their country. We must help our allies, confront terrorism and protect our liberties. We can do this without being an occupying force in hostile regions and without wasteful spending. As a corollary to this, pro-life means that we must dialogue about the death penalty and listen to each other. There are real pro-life people on both sides of this debate.

Pro-life is a rich, non-ideological affirmation that each day is a gift and each person possesses infinite worth. It is compassionate and concerned for justice. It recognizes personal responsibility while affirming that no one makes it alone. It affirms some traditions while setting people free to create new ones.

From conception to coronation, human life is worth protecting and nurturing. This is what it means to be pro-life.