Tuesday, October 30, 2012

“We’re Just Friends”: Opposite Sex Interaction Outside of Marriage - OR - How Wrong Is Really Right and Not Wrong Is Actually Wrong.

I’m fixin’ to make a speech…

This goes out to all the young husbands and husbands to be who believe their wives are unjustifiably trying to control and change them because their wives don’t like that they have social interactions with other women. YOU’RE ALL BUTT-HEADS. I will explain in a moment.

Let me preface my remarks by saying that I once felt the same way. Not that I had a lot of friends that were women, but I do get along with women pretty well. In all modesty, I’m a pretty charming guy. And, at least according to my wife, I’m also a pretty nice guy. And when I was young and first married, I saw nothing wrong with spending social time with other women from work or other social spheres. After all, they seemed to like having me around. And since I loved my wife and would never cheat on her, what could be the harm. I simply couldn’t understand why it bothered my wife. I would argue: “I’m not doing anything wrong”, the rallying cry of the mind stuck in singleness mode. But that was then…when I was a butt-head…just like you. I was wrong, and here is why..

The situation…

You’re married (or in a serious, "leading to marriage", relationship), but you also have this girlfriend…er…friend who is a girl. She may be a new acquaintance or a lifelong pal. She may even be an old flame (which moves you up a class to stupid butt-head). You probably have no romantic interest in her at all, (although, if you have even the slightest twinge of attraction to her, you move up another notch to complete moron butt-head.) You and this girl are maintaining a social interaction* with each other, and your wife is none too happy about it. In fact, she’s very upset. Your description of her reaction is probably something like “psycho crazy jealous”. It makes no sense to you because you and this girl “are just friends”, and you “haven’t done anything wrong”. You feel your wife is just flat out wrong about you and this friend and you wish she would stop trying to control you and change who you are. Sound familiar, butt-head?

Why your psycho crazy jealous wife is really right…

When you make your wedding pledges, one thing that you promise to do is some version of: “forsaking all others, keep myself only to you (your spouse).” I have two bits of insight into women for you. First, they take that pledge very seriously. That should be no surprise, as I’m sure you take it just as seriously in regard to her monogamy. The second insight will probably be more startling – she considers that “forsaking” and “keeping” to go well beyond the sexual. Basically, your wife wants to be the ONLY woman in your life of any consequence (also why you must “leave” your father and, especially, your mother, and “cleave” to your wife). While she understands that you have to have business and other more formal interactions with women, she expects that in ALL social situations, you will “forsake” all other women and direct not only all of your affection but also ALL of your ATTENTION toward her. When you make your wedding vow, that is what you are promising from her perspective. ANY social attention toward another woman is attention taken from her and a violation of your promise to her. You may think that is crazy, but that is reality. If you aren’t ready to fulfill that promise, you aren’t ready for the type of oneness that marriage demands.

So, if you are carrying on a close social relationship with another woman, you are breaking your vow just as much as if you were sleeping with another woman. You may not see the connection but your wife sure does. And the betrayal she feels can be just as painful as it would be if you were engaged in full-fledged adultery. That is why your wife is perfectly justified in being “crazy psycho jealous”. Be honest now. If the tables were turned, you would probably be just as upset. Why? Because you’re a man and you know what men are thinking and even if you trust your wife, you don’t trust those other men. How come you think it should be any different for a woman? I got news for you; it isn’t.

Not only that, but she is justified in attempting to “control” you (she is actually just trying to bring order to the marriage) because your behavior is in fact, out of control. Frankly, if you can’t stop a trivial interaction with another woman, how can she be sure you can stop ANY interaction with other women? You need boundaries. It is truly unfortunate that you don’t have other men in your life to show you that because it leaves her to be the “bad guy”, but it is a lesson you need to learn anyway. I hate to be the bearer of such bad news but being married means that you can’t act the same way with women that you did when you were single.

Finally, she is justified in trying to “change” you, (or really, trying to show you what rightly needs to change in your life). What?!? You didn’t know you would have to change when you got married? You figured you could just go your merry way as if you were still single? Who did your marriage counseling anyway? Sorry to tell you this butt-head, but marriage is not a relationship where two people pursue their own agendas. It is a relationship where they forsake (there’s that word again) their individual pursuits and submit their lives to the good of the whole. That requires change, particularly in areas that are counter to oneness.

I hope that you see that, even though your wife is in essence wrong about you and your friend, she is actually quite justified in her reaction to your extra-marital relationship. “But”, you are probably screaming right now, “I still haven’t done anything wrong”. Ah, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t wrong.

Why you are actually wrong, even though you haven’t done anything wrong…

There are three specific ways that your extra-marital relationship causes harm and therefore is quite wrong, even if you and the other woman are, at least currently and from your perspective, “just friends”.

“Cruel to be kind” - It is time to burst your bubble butt-head. Maybe you are just a “good guy”. I know you think you are charming and nice and understanding and all, and you are just trying to be a decent person by letting this other woman cry on your shoulder or blow off steam or have a good clean time or whatever. Guess what? Secure women don’t need you to be their friend. They are fulfilled by their husband or boyfriend or other women in their life. In most cases, the kinds of women who seek out the attention of a married (or otherwise off-limits) man are those who are actually looking for such a man to bond to. They are needy, and insecure, and desperate for love and attention (this even includes many married women). Such relationships can only end one of two bad ways. One possible outcome is that you get sucked into their needy world and forsake your wife even more. The cruel irony is that you will claim that you are just trying to help a friend when in fact you are enabling that person, deceiving yourself, and abandoning your wife. The other, only slightly less harmful outcome is that you wake up and realize what is going on and greatly harm the other person in the process of breaking off the relationship. In essence, if you are truly devoted to your wife, and would never cheat on her, then you are leading another woman on by giving her the kind of love (non-sexual) and attention that should be reserved for your wife. How cruel of you to let this woman think that you are some knight in shining armor when in fact you will never give her the devotion that she is so desperately seeking. Even though you aren’t doing anything wrong (that you can tell), what you are doing is wrong.

“Pride goes before a fall” - The annals of history, not to mention marriage therapists’ notebooks, are filled with accounts of marital affairs which started as “just friends” relationships. How many men (or women) have boasted “I never would cheat on my spouse” only to stumble down the road when the going got rough or the grass looked greener? In the previous paragraph I presumed you are a good guy, and that may be so, for now. But let’s be honest – you still are a flawed human being, just as are your spouse and your friend. Nobody can claim to be immune from cheating. How many truly good, wholesome, people – pastors, neighbors, relatives – that you know have fallen? 1, 5, 10, 100? To assume, especially now in your butt-head state, that you have some inherent anti-cheating gene that makes it impossible for you to ever betray your wife (even more than you already are) is so ridiculously naïve that it makes one wonder if you have ever matured past the age of 16, when you most certainly knew that you were indestructible, invincible, and oh so absolutely right about everything in the universe. You think you are special? I’m here to tell you that you are wrong, even though you aren’t currently doing anything wrong.

“Live with your wife in an understanding way” – Men are given two very important and specific sets of instructions in the Bible on how to be a loving husband. (NOTE - these are not inherently religious instructions, but practical instructions which apply to any marriage, Christian or not.) The first is in Ephesians 5, where Paul orders husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. In a nutshell, give up your entire life in service to your wife. Everything you do should revolve around making her life better. Ask yourself butt-head, is your relationship with another woman, no matter how innocent, exhibiting sacrifice and service to your wife? In fact, it is the opposite. It is an act of sacrifice and service TO THAT OTHER WOMAN! What betrayal! No wonder your wife is so mad.

The second instruction is found in 1 Peter 3, where Peter tells husbands to “live with your wives in an understanding way”. The literal translation is “live with your wives according to knowledge”. In plain English, don’t be a butt-head when it comes to your wife, her feelings, and your life together. The reader’s Digest version: use your head, man! While you don’t necessarily have to “understand” how she feels or why she feels that way, you do have to be understanding of her feelings. Why doesn’t it matter to you that your behavior is upsetting? Is it so important to you that something make sense in your butt-head mind that you would purposely be mean to her out of spite? So much for the “good guy” image you perpetuate. It is fundamentally wrong for you to disrespect your wife with such a total disregard for her feelings and it is doubly wrong for you to do it while feigning innocence by claiming you are doing nothing wrong.

Always treat a gun as if it’s loaded…

In conclusion, I would like to help you to not be a butt-head by suggesting a course of action via this analogy. I come from a hunting family. To get a hunting license in MN as a youth, you must go through gun safety classes. To hunt with my family, you have to go through the much more rigorous family gun safety training. The overriding principle of our family’s gun safety training is this: the gun is always loaded. I know that is a cliché, but we take it very seriously. In fact, we are almost obsessive in our unwavering application of this attitude (I won’t even point a fake gun at a person, just out of principal and to set the proper example for anyone who is watching). The reason is simple: we don’t want anyone to get hurt and the only way to ensure that happens is if you always, ALWAYS, treat the gun as if it is loaded..

Some people may think that is silly. Guess what. People get shot every year by guns that everyone thought were empty. Think it is silly to avoid social interactions with members of the opposite sex. Guess what. People get divorced every year because of acquaintances that started off (or even remained) as “just friends”. Just like my family’s gun safety rules, you must adopt an unwavering principle when it comes to this issue: I will not enter into close social relationships with members of the opposite sex, ever, regardless of how harmless they seem. If you don’t adopt this position, sooner or later, that “unloaded” gun is going to hurt someone..

EPILOGUE – While the main focus of this post has been husbands and their treatment of their wives, don’t assume this phenomenon is restricted to the martial dynamic or a male to female gender direction. While this situation occurs most often under those circumstances, it is by no means restricted to them. Nobody is immune from the danger and pain of an opposite sex relationship with someone who is not your significant other, no matter how innocently it may begin or appear to be..

*Social interaction is ANY kind of interaction, whether face to face or not. That includes calling, texting, Skypeing, chatting, Face Booking, tweeting, or snail mailing. It obviously includes personal meetings, even those where your wife is present. It is basically any kind of one-to-one, personalized, contact other than purely professional contact.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell

Dogberry on the Obama Campaign

They have committed false report;
moreover, they have spoken untruths;
secondarily, they are slanders;
sixth and lastly, they have belied a candidate;
thirdly, they have verified unjust things;
and, to conclude, they are lying knaves

If you stretch the facts a little and creatively manipulate data and statistics to make your point, you are called an obfuscator, which is a fancy word for being not exactly accurate. If you transition into telling blatant falsehoods, you are called a liar. If you double down on those lies by calling the person exposing your lies the real liar, you are a lying liar. And if you persist in perpetuating those lies even though they have been universally refuted by objective fact checkers, you get the prestigious Dogberry award for being the lyingest lying liar of them all. Congratulations to President Obama and his campaign team, the newest Dogberry recipients for their unashamed and persistent lies about Mitt Romney's tax plan despite all facts to the contrary
We were in Iowa this last weekend for a wedding and, Iowa being a battleground state, we were bombarded by presidential political ads on t.v. (We get no such ads in MN since it seems clear our home state will continue the Democrat zombie walk it has engaged in since Carter.) The Obama campaign's post-debate ads continue promoting the claim that Romney’s tax reform plan will give a $5 trillion dollar tax cut* to the wealthy funded on the backs of the middle class. This blatant lie is perpetuated despite being rebutted by Romney himself in the debate, and soundly debunked by every fact-check that has addressed the issue. Why do I care, if it is so patently false a claim? Well, I’ll tell you.

Unfortunately, I have many friends and relations that only get their news from MSNBC or the propaganda firm of Colbert, Stewart, and Maher. They only read liberal rags like the New York Times, Washington Post, or our own Minneapolis Star and Sickle…er…Tribune. And they only follow left wing hack columnists like Andrew Sullivan, Ezra Klein, E.J. Dionne, and Paul Krugman. So they only hear the lying liars' lies claiming Romney lied in the debate. Hence they will believe these ads without giving any scrutiny to Romney’s actual plan. Luckily, despite all the misinformation they are absorbing, they may, due to our relationship, tolerate and give some credence, however slight, to a blog post from me. So my friends, here is the truth.

Mitt Romney has proposed a 5 point plan for creating 12 million new jobs. Anyone can look at this plan on the Romney web site. I suggest everyone look at Romney’s full plan and judge its merits on its face, not based on what Romney’s enemies say about it. Here is the link to the plan, so you have no excuse for remaining ignorant: http://www.mittromney.com/jobsplan.

The tax proposal which is being mischaracterized by the left is part of point 5 of the plan: “Champion Small Business”. The pertinent bullet point is: “Reduce taxes on job creation through individual…tax reform”. (There are corporate, capital gains, and other tax components to the proposal, but it is the individual tax rate reduction that is the focus of the “$5 Trillion tax break for the wealthy” claim.) The specific proposal has two parts: “Reduce individual marginal income tax rates across-the-board by 20 percent” and “Broaden the tax base to ensure that tax reform is revenue-neutral”.

In the debate, Romney expanded on the “broaden the tax base” part of the plan. Not only is he counting on increased employment and production to bring in more tax revenue but he also stated that he would close loopholes and remove deductions in an effort to reform the tax code and eliminate tax avoidance (not tax evasion, which is illegal, but tax avoidance, which is the legal tax gymnastics which help reduce an individual’s tax burden, a practice which overwhelmingly favors the wealthy). He stated two absolutes about these effects. 1) They would net to a near zero reduction in taxes for the wealthy, and 2) they would not result in net tax increases for the middle class. In fact, he said he would not sign any legislation, no matter how closely it followed his plan, if it raised taxes on the middle-class or did not result in net deficit reduction. In essence, he is saying he will only do it if it does what he says it will do - lower taxes AND increase revenue with a net effect of reducing the deficit.

“How can you do both?” you might ask (especially if you only listen to the left who say that it is impossible). Well, the simple answer is “the same way Reagan did”. Most people will recognize this as supply side economics. You know, that form of economics employed by Ronald Reagan which ushered in the longest sustained period of peace time economic expansion in the country’s history. It works because, combined with the other elements in Romney’s 5 point plan, it will increase employment and domestic production dramatically. Tax reductions for both corporate and individual small business owners will encourage hiring and expansion. Tax reductions for the middle class will increase household income and spur purchasing, leading to more production. More people working and more companies producing means more tax revenue. The tax cuts will be “paid for” by economic growth, as well as by the tax reform that will eliminate tax loopholes for the rich, which ironically, is exactly what the left has wanted for years.

Now, people can disagree about the feasibility of this plan. Many people still don’t believe that Reagan’s economic policies worked (despite all the empirical evidence to the contrary). Others will say that deficit reduction is impossible even with such economic growth. (Please read the whole Romney plan, as this is only one part which contributes to, but is not the be-all-end-all of, deficit reduction.) That may all turn out to be true, but this post is not an argument for the Romney plan. I simply want to point out how the Obama campaign is lying about the Romney plan. There is nothing in this plan that produces a $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy, or increases taxes in any way on the middle class. In fact, the plan will be implemented in such a way as to minimize the NET tax benefit for the wealthy while maximizing it for the middle class. Anyone who claims otherwise is blatantly lying or woefully ignorant.

This brings up a more serious point regarding the campaign. The Obama camp is claiming that Romney lied in the debate and that he has reversed course from policies he has been touting for over a year. Yet you can read the plan for yourself. You can see that Romney portrayed the plan accurately in the debate and that the plan has been in place for a good deal of time. On the other hand, it is clear that the Obama campaign is purposely perpetuating a bold faced lie in their campaign ads. Is that the kind of President we want?

*The $5 trillion figure is based on the projected tax savings which result from the 20% reduction in individual marginal tax rates. The figure is cumulative over 10 years, even though the Obama campaign ads make it seem like it is an annual savings. Nobody disputes this figure, but it is only one half of the equation.

For more fun on the Obama campaign’s attempt to keep you in the dark on the facts, read this new article from “Iowahawk”: White House Scientists Struggle to Contain Outbreak of Scrutonium. A teaser:
WASHINGTON DC - Engaged [in] a relentless battle against time and fatigue, a select group of message scientists assembled by the White House's Center for Narrative Control say they will take "all steps necessary" to contain a recent outbreak of scrutonium, a deadly poll-eating supervirus that attacks the immuno-hope system, leaving victims vulnerable to material facts.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Minnesota Amendment 1 - Why I'm Voting "NO"

Update 11/7/2012: The Amendment failed. Also see update to note 5 below regarding this issue and the courts.

I admit for the longest time I wasn’t sure how I would vote. I thought maybe that I wouldn’t make up my mind until I got into the booth. But some serious discussions, and some serious introspection, have led me to the conclusion that, to stay true to myself as well as my faith, on this issue, in this context, I have to vote “no”.

Some who know me (mostly the afore-mentioned family and friends), will be baffled that this is even a question to be pondered. To them, a “yes” vote is a no brainer, and they would expect that I would concur(1). Many others who know me just as well will not be surprised at all that I am voting “no”. In particular, my younger daughter will applaud this decision (having voted similarly on the California proposition) and consider it to be an encouraging turning point in my Libertarian development. Neither side, I suspect, will appreciate the deliberation I went through to get to this point. So in order to avoid disownment (or misplaced praise), and hopefully provide a little enlightenment, I offer this post.

This will be a long post so I will summarize first. You can slog through the arguments at your leisure. 

Biblical marriage and civil marriage are not the same institutions. Since the government has decided to regulate certain civil unions, including bestowing certain privileges and imposing certain obligations on the participants, they should do so without prejudice. The fact that government has decided to use the term “marriage” to describe these licensed, contractual arrangements is irrelevant (or maybe, unfortunate), and certainly does not justify limiting those arrangements on a gender basis any more than it would justify limiting them on a racial or religious basis. Regardless, it has no bearing on the biblical institution for which religious people use the same term and therefore is of no consequence to our citizenship in God’s Kingdom. Never-the-less, as Christians we are sent into this world to witness even though we are not “of the world”, and part of that witness is upholding the laws of the world, often in spite of our personal opinion on their worthiness.

Some background information for those who aren’t familiar with the amendment or me:

Minnesota already has a law that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. The purpose for enshrining this into the MN Constitution is to avoid what happened in Iowa a couple of years ago, where the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the similar Iowa statute. Minnesota conservatives want to make sure that “the courts” do not circumvent “the will of the people” of Minnesota. I don’t disagree with this course of action on a fundamental, constitutional basis. 

As for me personally, it should be clear from many posts on this blog that I actually do consider marriage, at least in the biblical sense of the word, to be strictly between one man and one woman. In fact, as far as the bible is concerned, “gay marriage” is an oxymoron at the very least, if not a completely nonsensical term, and the “one man/one woman” structure of marriage is a simple, unalterable fact. As a Christian, my personal position on marriage unwaveringly reflects the text of the proposed amendment. With that in mind, here are my reasons for voting “no”.

In this world but not of it

When Jesus was praying to the Father for his followers, he described his disciples as being sent into the world but not being of the world (John 17:14-17). This is understood as the “dual citizenship” of the Christian. We simultaneously exist as citizens of secular society (Minnesota-America-Earth) and of God’s kingdom. We are to keep these citizenship spheres distinct from each other, and as long as they don’t conflict, we are to maintain a balance between the two. Only when society imposes upon us rules that violate our faith are we allowed to disobey.

As citizens of these two worlds, we have two primary guides to inform our behavior. As a citizen of the world, I have the law, and specifically in America, the Constitution. As a citizen of God’s kingdom, I have the Bible. And while the law has very little to say about the Bible (thankfully), the Bible has plenty to say about the law. Paul and Peter make it very clear that, as citizens residing in this world, we are to obey all of the laws and the authorities. Jesus is truly our model for this behavior, as he obeyed the law of the land (Roman law at that!) even while being falsely accused and sentenced to death. None of the New Testament writers ever called upon the Church to write the law or even make any effort to change the law, regardless of how good or bad, moral or evil, the law was. Significantly, neither did Jesus. Indeed, this indifference to affecting the law is what we see in the early church. Only after Constantine did the church and the state become intertwined, to everyone’s detriment.

Sometimes, society and the Christian disagree on principal. That is alright as long as neither tries to impose their will on the other. I am perfectly comfortable with society defining marriage differently than I do, as long as they don’t require me to believe their definition. As long as the Church is not being required by law to marry gay people, it is of no concern to us as citizens of God’s kingdom. We may be required to extend certain civil rights to those married gay people, but that is part of our societal citizenship and we are obligated not only by law but by scripture to comply.

As a society, America provides the best possible environment for us to exercise our dual citizenship. Nowhere on earth is it as permissible for me to outwardly disagree with the law (note - disagree does not mean disobey) than here. Society cannot legislate my faith. But, that freedom from intrusion by society into my godly citizenship is a two way street, because my faith also cannot legislate society. In our free society, if I am free to believe what I believe about marriage, then others are as free to believe something else about marriage. This is the blessing and curse of liberty. As long as the law doesn’t dictate either of our beliefs, and neither of our beliefs tramples on the rights of the other’s, liberty is preserved. 

As Christians, we need to face two facts: society has decided to involve itself in the marriage business, and gay people have marriage-like relationships. To be fair, as far as our marriages are concerned, the first fact doesn’t much impact us as our definition of marriage is inherently part of the regulatory scheme. What we need to decide is whether or not other civil marital arrangements harm us in either citizenship realm. If they harm us societally, then the scales of justice are tipped and the law is unconstitutional. If they harm us spiritually, then society is intruding on our godly citizenship and we are allowed to disobey. If we are not harmed in either way then, like it or not we are compelled to obey the law. 

Frankly, I don’t see how gay marriage impacts me at all, either positively or negatively. Some Christians will argue that it corrupts society(2). Maybe so, but what is that to us? We are not of this world! We should expect corruption in society. We are to be the antidote for that corruption (how are we doing BTW, hmmm). That is why Jesus sends us into the world. Moreover, and this is crucial to understand, our calling is NOT to overturn the worldly law, even if it allows actions we consider corrupt, or even that we simply disagree with, as long as it doesn’t corrupt US. I repeat – Jesus NEVER directed us to change worldly law. To attempt to do so in the name of Jesus…well…I won’t say more other than to say there is no justification in scripture for such activity(3). We are required to obey laws (or lack of laws) that may lead to societal corruption as long as they do not corrupt US.  Frankly, if there were no corruption, there would not be much point in us remaining here to show the world a better way.

More to the point, what possible impact can the attachment of a word to a relationship have on any corruption that relationship may bring? If you view two gay people in a relationship as a corrupting influence on society, does it matter what you call their relationship? Does the word alter the relationship’s impact on society in any way? As Christians we are sent into this world to be salt and light with the full expectation that we will be living amongst people who conduct their lives in ways that we abhor. Who gives a rip what words are used?

Others worry that allowing gay marriage in society will start us down a slippery slope where eventually, we will be forced to perform and recognize gay marriages in our churches (although some already do). I don’t fear this slippery slope as long as the Constitution remains in place. I also see no evidence that gay rights activists want to strip the Church of its right to define marriage its own way. But let’s say that we do plummet down that slippery slope. What that fundamentally would mean is that the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty has been removed. If that ever happens, all bets are off(4).

All of the above might lead me to simply not vote at all on the amendment (equivalent to a “no” vote), but I have to consider one more issue. As Americans who are compelled by Scripture to obey the law, what is our duty to that law? Let’s not forget, in America we live in a society which believes in liberty and equal protection under the law for all people. If this society is going to regulate certain civil relationships with certain obligations and privileges, it needs to do so without prejudice. We need to support that principle. How can we claim liberty for ourselves but deny it for others? What is “Christian” about that? We may believe that there is no such thing as “gay marriage” in the biblical sense, but we are blind if we believe there are no such things as gay unions. People in those civil unions deserve the same legal rights as people in parallel civil unions. That includes the right to use the same terminology(5,6). If Christians should be mad at anything, they should be mad that government co-opted the term “marriage” for heterosexual civil unions in the first place. This would all be a moot point if all such contracts were called “civil unions” from the beginning. But they aren’t. We need to let it go.

One last word about that pivotal word: “marriage”. Very few Christians are aware of an obscure biblical fact. The word “marriage” does not exist in the Old Testament, and doesn’t really occur in the context we are using it here even in the New Testament(7). Simply put, the word we are making such a fuss over is actually never used in Scripture. Oh, to be sure, the relationship to which we attach the word is abundantly present in the Bible. But we have done the attaching; it isn’t a native biblical term. It should be neither shocking nor concerning to us that other people use the word for other relationships. In fact, the term “marriage” is used figuratively for many kinds of paired relationships outside of the intimate human context. Christians, (or more correctly, religious people), do not own this word, nor is it particularly religious in its breadth of meaning. And to reiterate, it isn’t even biblical.


(1)    I have heard many of my fellow brothers and sisters recount interactions they have had or witnessed with “no” voters. In those recollections, they shared some of the arguments given by the opponents of the amendments – arguments that, to me, seem rather sound and at least worthy of consideration. But my friends summarily dismissed those arguments without, seemingly, giving them a fair hearing at all. Truly, to many conservative Christians, this is a no brainer.

(2)    This is often aggravated by the “homosexuality”=”super sin” mentality of many in the Church. I would argue that divorce and fornication (both legal) are equally if not more corrupting on society yet the Church has a disturbing tolerance for those two activities, probably because of the rampant practice of them within the Body.

(3)    Those who want to legislate Christian morality need to be careful what they wish for. Ask yourself first which Christian sect gets to make the rules. If it is the Catholics, birth control would be banned. If it is the Baptists, dancing might be prohibited and prohibition returned. Even more conservative denominations may try to outlaw even more activities most of us consider amoral, or impose activities to which we object. If it is the Mormons (I know, not Christians), coffee and coke are off the menu. And what if another religion takes the reins? Want to live under Sharia law? God tried a Theocracy once and humans made a horrible mess of the whole thing. We are ultimately too fallen to agree on a universal moral code. Some people think that the legal system in America is based on biblical principles and morality. They are wrong. The legal system in America is based on a balancing of rights. It is secular, and should remain so. If you don’t believe that, ask the Danbury Baptists and Thomas Jefferson.

(4)    Of course, we Christians know that this persecution against the Church will come someday, but we also know that gay marriage is not going to be the cause. Besides, the persecution is unavoidable, regardless of how anyone votes on this cosmically trivial amendment.

(5)    UPDATE 12/7/2012: The SCOTUS has indeed agreed to hear both gay marriage cases this term. The docket numbers are 12-144 and 12-307. TTatOT will be paying close attention as this makes it way to the court.

UPDATE 6/10/2013: Oral arguments on the cases were heard March 26th.
The Supreme Court will eventually deal with this issue and I firmly believe that they will affirm the use of “marriage” as a legal term of art for gay civil unions, thereby striking down state gay marriage bans, just as in the past they struck down laws banning inter-racial marriage and laws refusing to recognize marriages of couples from non-Judeo-Christian faiths. It could come up as soon as this next judicial term with the California Proposition 8 case.

UPDATE 4/28/2015: The beginning of the end.
The Supreme Court hears argument today on four consolidated cases brought by states asking the court to uphold traditional marriage. Virtually all commentators expect the court to, instead, uphold gay marriage on 14th amendment grounds, thereby making it the law of the land and striking down any state laws and constitutional amendments which define marriage as only a heterosexual union.

(6)    To be fair, I also do not buy the outrageous outrage on the part of gay marriage advocates over not being able to use the word “marriage”. It is equally as silly. They claim that using separate terms for gay vs. heterosexual unions is tantamount to the “separate but equal” policies of racial segregation. I find little merit in that argument.

(7)    Some translations will use the English word “marriage” for certain Hebrew and Greek words, but further word study reveals that these translations are presumptuous paraphrases. The relationships described might be marriages, but the actual Hebrew and Greek words used are not those languages’ equivalents of the English word “marriage”. In fact, the creation of a particular equivalent of “marriage” in the source languages may be a post biblical event.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Big Lie About Heartless, Greedy, Eeeeeeevil Health Insurers

A couple of posts back I did a brief series on some big lies related to executive salaries and taxes. A recent post on Facebook elicited a response from an old friend that highlights another "big lie" I believe needs debunking - that of the heartless, greedy, eeeeevil insurance company that only cares about its bottom line and its shareholders.

Let's start with the post and my friend's response. I posted the following quote "diagnosing" ObamaCare from a Dr. Barbara Bellar, who is running for the IL state Senate:
So, let me get this straight. This is a long sentence. We’re going to be gifted with a healthcare plan that we’re forced to purchase and fined if we don’t, which purportedly covers at least 10 million more people without adding a single doctor but provides for 16,000 new IRS agents, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn’t understand it, passed by a Congress that didn’t read it but exempted themselves from it, and signed by a President who smokes, with funding administered by a Treasury chief who didn’t pay his taxes, for which we will be taxed for four years before any benefits take effect, by a government that has already bankrupted Social Security and Medicare, all to be overseen by a Surgeon General who is obese, and finally, financed by a country that’s broke.
I got this response from a high school friend in which he offers a "defense", of ObamaCare, I think, based on an apparent disdain for those heartless, greedy insurance companies:
The only thing I can offer in defense is that it is recklessly foolish, naive, and dangerous to assume that any privately owned or publicly held insurance corporation would ever have your best interests in mind when it comes to your health, your ability to pay, or your circumstances. They exist purely to service their shareholders and their corporate officers. I, for one, have no desire to see my health, my life, and the lives of my children in the care of companies that behave little better than sociopaths.
Ouch! Considering I work for the country's largest, and therefore I assume most heartless, greedy, and eeeeeeevil, health insurer, I felt quite taken aback (ok - not really, but still, I think a response is necessary). I would like to assure my friend that he is quite wrong, and even more importantly, the alternative is significantly worse. So here goes.

Starting at the end, my friend says: "I, for one, have no desire to see my health, my life, and the lives of my children in the care of companies that behave little better than sociopaths". Putting aside actual health insurer behavior for the moment, let's consider the alternative. Would you rather put your and your family's health and life in the hands of a bureaucracy that views healthcare as simply a line item on a budget - easily discarded or cut if the cost of that care goes into the red? (Note - there is a significant difference between insurance and government run healthcare(1)). I can't think of anything more heartless than that. Granted, insurance companies may have conflicting priorities when it comes to their money (we shall soon see), but can a person really claim that government is more warm and caring? That certainly isn't my experience or anyone's I know.

Whose "care" do you put your health and life in anyway? People seem to have a mixed up view of who does what in the health care industry. There are providers and there are payors. The insurance company doesn't "provide" your healthcare, they simply pay for it. While they do exercise some control over what they are going to pay for, and how much, that is outlined in your policy and known (if you bother to read it) up front before you buy their product. The horror stories that people tell are very rare exceptions (and in virtually all cases, explainable and/or avoidable if one understands their policy). Bottom line, your health and life are not "in the care of" the insurance company, they are in the care of your doctor. The insurance company simply pays your doctor for that care according to your policy.

Now let's talk about accountability? Certainly insurance companies are accountable to their stockholders but it doesn't end there(2). They are also accountable to state insurance and health departments which require proof of financial responsibility and customer satisfaction on a yearly basis in order to retain their license to sell their products. And, as a provider of a service, they are also accountable to their customers. That may not translate directly into care, but it ultimately leads to that as customer satisfaction is directly related to the patient experience. If you don't provide good service for your customers, you won't have any customers.

Conversely, how accountable is government? Ever heard of anyone getting a complaint resolved when it comes to their Medicare or Medicaid coverage? I haven't. You are a captive audience with no choices when it comes to government run health care. If you don't like it, you can't simply change carriers as you can in the private sector. You are stuck and if the government fails to "have your best interests in mind when it comes to your health, your ability to pay, or your circumstances", it's tough luck.

So now we return to, and address, the beginning of my friend's "defense" of ObamaCare - cold, uncaring, greedy corporations. To refresh, he claims that insurers do not "have your best interests in mind when it comes to your health, your ability to pay, or your circumstances. They exist purely to service their shareholders and their corporate officers." Do insurance companies want to make money? Of course they do. So do doctors and hospitals and so do the patients who are seen by them. This is, after all, a capitalist nation. Does a profit motive, though, make an insurer "little better than sociopaths"? I don't know - does it make your doctor that? Does it make you that? Just because a company, any company, designs products to make themselves money doesn't mean that they don't care about the customers who consume those products. It would be suicidal to have such an attitude. So let's take a look at how profit motives and consumer "best interests" are BOTH "in mind" to a health insurance company.

Do insurance companies have your best interests in mind when it comes to your health? From a certain perspective, it can be argued that your health is the insurers primary concern. Why? Because an unhealthy customer is a less (or non) profitable customer and a dead customer is a lost customer. I will grant that a profitable bottom line is the end result of a healthy customer base, but to say that patient health is not in the best interests of the insurer is actually the more naive belief. Why else would health insurers in the 80's and 90's begin introducing concepts like preventative care benefits for adults and best practice guidelines? Why else would HMO's have designed the gatekeeper model of health plan to better triage and direct patients to the most appropriate level of care? All of these innovations and many more have been born out of, and continue primarily to be driven by, the payor side of the industry. Insurers are VERY interested in their customers' health and finding ways to improve it. One can cynically say that a profit motive underlies all of those efforts, but that doesn't change the fact that consumers are better off, health-wise, because of it.

Even today, the payor side of the industry leads the way in innovation. My employer, and many other insurance and managed care companies across the country, are continually working with providers, states, and local communities to better ensure that the right care is delivered at the right time in the right setting by the right provider at the right price. We work with Medicaid plans in a number of states to create community health centers that cater to local needs, even going as far as putting "boots on the ground". We are developing pilot projects with large provider contingencies in several states on a new "collaborative care model" which better coordinates care and communication between local providers and hospitals. The payor side of the world will ALWAYS be on the forefront of improving patient health because, frankly, it is in the best interests of both us and our customers to do so.

Do insurance companies have your best interests in mind when it comes to your ability to pay? My first question back would be "pay what"? If the issue is your ability to pay for your health care, then, I would answer that that is in fact the purpose of insurance. It insures you against unforeseen costs. It ensures your ability to pay for health care services that would normally be beyond your means. So, obviously, your best interests related to ability to pay for your health care is the essence of the insurer's product and therefore certainly "in mind" to the insurer (unless you think insurers design their products mindlessly).

Or is the issue your ability to pay for the insurance itself? That is a bit trickier, but the answer is still that the consumer's best interests are in mind. Put simply, if an insurer can't create affordable products, they won't be in business very long. I don't believe people know how very competitive this industry is. I also don't think people realize how low the profit margins are in health insurance. (see my first "Big Lies" post for more info.) Insurers are constantly striving for ways to reduce both their administrative costs and their claims costs, as well as design more tailored products, so that they can offer more competitive pricing. ObamaCare, actually, will curtail these efforts (don't believe the hype about lowering the cost curve) by mandating "one size fits all" insurance products and implementing counterproductive cost controls (counterproductive because they will drive providers out of the industry, creating lower supply and higher demand, and therefore driving costs up). There are free market ways to make insurance even more affordable. The key to implementing them is not to heap more government regulation on an already overregulated industry, but to get government out of the way to let the innovators and entrepreneurs lead.

Do insurance companies have your best interests in mind when it comes to your circumstances? I'm going to assume that this has something to do with covering pre-existing conditions. That does pose a dilemma for the insurer, but it is no different than the problem "pre-existing conditions" pose for any type of insurance. The thing to keep in mind is that this is insurance. The insurer takes risk based on certain underwriting assumptions about the costs a certain person or population will present. The more costly the insured, the higher the risk, the more expensive the insurance product.

Let me illustrate with an example that people might be far more familiar with: car insurance. Should a car insurer be forced to sell an insurance policy at the same price to two individuals, one who has a perfect driving record and another who has had several accidents and DUI's? Even with a rudimentary understanding of insurance, I would hope that the common sense answer from anyone would be "no - obviously they should be able to sell the product at higher premium to the driver who poses the higher "risk" of incurring a claim." Insurance 101.

The same principal holds true for health insurance. The solution in the insurance world is "risk pooling". You put together a group of people, some who are high risk and some who are low. They "average out" to a risk level that allows pricing that is somewhat higher for some people and somewhat (sometimes significantly) lower for others. Overall, if designed right, it should be "affordable" for everyone. ObamaCare attempts to force this scheme on the industry by means of the individual mandate. If everyone has to have insurance, insurers can spread their risk and collect premiums across a greater pool of consumers and therefore be able to offer plans to people with pre-existing conditions at an affordable cost. This is actually true. Of course, most people weren't told that ObamaCare was essentially a subsidy to the insurance industry. What? You thought ObamaCare was designed to punish those greedy insurers for their draconian practices? Buwahahahahaha! Not!

Anyway, although the individual mandate is one way of spreading risk and bringing about more affordable insurance for everyone, it is certainly not the only way. Again, free market approaches could have been applied to accomplish the same goals without government intervention and without forcing you, the consumer, to buy a product you may not want or need and penalize....oops, sorry...tax you if you don't.

In the end, I can say without reservation, working in the industry, that insurance companies really do have their customer's best interests in mind when it comes to their health, ability to pay, and circumstance. There may be a profit motive behind that, to be sure, but profit is not bad. More importantly, a healthier, more prosperous America is very good. ObamaCare will not bring about a healthier or more prosperous America. All it will do - and here is another long sentence - is force people to buy a product they don't want, with benefits they don't need, at an ever increasing cost, brought about by greater demand for services, due to an increased patient pool, coupled with a shrinking supply of providers, due to doctors leaving the market because of reduced reimbursements, resulting in the wrong care, at the wrong time (if you get it at all), in the wrong setting, by the wrong provider, at the wrong price.


1. The important distinction between insurance and a government run program is that the insurance company has to pay for their liability, regardless of whether they have the money in revenues to cover the cost (that is why insurers are required to have "reserves" - money held back to cover excess costs). That is the "risk" that the insurance company bears. The government, on the other hand, simply rations care if there is not enough in the "budget" to cover care. Need your gallbladder out? If there is no money in the budget for it this year, you go on a waiting list. And heaven forbid you get too old to make that surgery cost effective. "Here's another pain pill - live long and prosper".

2. It should be noted that not all health care payors are out for profit. For example, in my (and my friend's) home state, HMO's must be non-profit.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Individual Mandate Survives as a Tax"

The headline jumped off the scotusblog.com live blog and you could hear the cyber *gasp* from the nearly 1 million viewers getting the first hand news of the most anticipated Supreme Court decision in decades. A few posts later, the even more shocking news came to light. The swing vote in the 5-4 majority was not Anthony Kennedy, as most expected, but George W Bush appointee Chief Justice John Roberts. Immediately on the open thread at hotair.com, the Roberts bashing began. "John Roberts sucks", "Roberts is now a bigger scoundrel than Souter", "Another Bush Justice lets Conservatives down and moves left", "Roberts stabs Constitution in the back", "Roberts you socialist scumbag", "Drop dead, Roberts", "Roberts can kiss my a**", "Roberts is a red", and many more unrepeatable comments were spewed out by the downcast and disillusioned conservative community. But is this a correct judgement of the Chief Justice and his opinion? I'm not so sure.

In fact, John Roberts may be sly as a fox.

The more I think about it, the more I think this decision actually accomplishes several things for conservatives.

1. The Commerce Clause power is checked. Both the Robert’s opinion and the dissent state clearly that there must be positive commercial activity before the Commerce Clause can be invoked. This was the argument against the mandate all along – that it regulated inactivity, not activity. The ruling basically affirms that argument and should preclude the Federal Government from successfully enacting any more such mandates.

2. The left cannot use the “court is illegitimate and political” argument now. That will bode well for decisions down the line. I really think that Roberts knew that a 5-4 decision against the law would seriously damage the court’s credibility, at least with the left half of the country (which includes the media and academia). If he couldn’t get at least 6 votes against the law, he was bound and determined to side for the law but write a very narrow opinion that wouldn’t hurt the cause of liberty or do violence to the Constitution. He actually, in a way, succeeded on that front even though this will be viewed generally as a setback.

3. Roberts has basically called Obama a bold faced liar for promising no taxes in the 2008 campaign. The breaking of the “No new taxes” pledge by Bush senior is what doomed his reelection bid and it may very well doom Obama’s too. If this is a “win” for Obama, it is a pyrrhic one. 

4. The decision will energize conservatives and independents to turn out and vote for Romney in the upcoming election as they will see repeal as the only way to get rid of this very unpopular law. While I don’t think that is the only alternative left (see next point), it matters not if it causes another Republican tsunami in November.

5. The decision now opens the door to challenge the tax as illegal. There are many flaws in the “mandate penalty as a tax” argument and I suspect the law suits are already being written to overturn it on those grounds. And since the court also declared that the tax could be challenged before the tax takes effect, we don’t have to wait 2 years before those law suits can be filed. So Roberts basically “kicked the can down the road” a little ways, but so be it. In the end, he may have provided even a more solid basis for challenging the law.

(update) 6. As many commentators are pointing out, the shift of the mandate to a tax makes the entire law that much easier to repeal or at least gut. Tax votes in the Senate require only a 51% simple majority, and are therefore filibuster proof. Now only the Presidency and a pick up of 4 Senate seats by the Republicans is needed to send ObamaCare to the trash heap of history.

The bottom line is that this decision may have doomed Obama’s reelection and doesn’t ultimately protect the law. Pretty clever...if it turns out that way. Only (more) time will tell.

UPDATE - Some pertinent quotes from the Chief Justice's opinion:

The power to regulate commerce presupposes the existence of commercial activity to be regulated. If the power to “regulate” something included the power to create it, many of the provisions in the Constitution would be superfluous.

The proposition that Congress may dictate the conduct of an individual today because of prophesied future activity finds no support in our precedent.

The Commerce Clause is not a general license to regulate an individual from cradle to grave, simply because he will predictably engage in particular transactions. Any police power to regulate individuals as such, as opposed to their activities, remains vested in the States.

No matter how “inherently integrated” health insurance and health care consumption may be, they are not the same thing: They involve different transactions, entered into at different times, with different providers. And for most of those targeted by the mandate, significant health care needs will be years, or even decades, away.

The text of a statute can sometimes have more than one possible meaning...And it is well established that if a statute has two possible meanings, one of which violates the Constitution, courts should adopt the meaning that does not do so.

Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income. And if the mandate is in effect just a tax hike on certain taxpayers who do not have health insurance, it may be within Congress’s constitutional power to tax. The question is not whether that is the most natural interpretation of the mandate, but only whether it is a “fairly possible” one.

The Government asks us to interpret the mandate as imposing a tax, if it would otherwise violate the Constitution. Granting the Act the full measure of deference owed to federal statutes, it can be so read, for the reasons set forth below.

It is of course true that the Act describes the payment as a “penalty,” not a “tax.” But while that label is fatal to the application of the Anti-Injunction Act, supra, at 12–13, it does not determine whether the payment may be viewed as an exercise of Congress’s taxing power.

...taxes that seek to influence conduct are nothing new.

Neither the Act nor any other law attaches negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance, beyond requiring a payment to the IRS.

Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in §5000A under the taxing power, and that §5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. That is sufficient to sustain it.

Sustaining the mandate as a tax depends only on whether Congress has properly exercised its taxing power to encourage purchasing health insurance, not whether it can.

The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.

But the statute reads more naturally as a command to buy insurance than as a tax, and I would uphold it as a command if the Constitution allowed it. It is only because the Commerce Clause does not authorize such a command that it is necessary to reach the taxing power question. And it is only because we have a duty to construe a statute to save it, if fairly possible, that §5000A can be interpreted as a tax.