Sunday, February 26, 2012

Occupy The Middle Kingdom?

Income inequality isn't only a problem in America. I do believe that China's Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality) recently overtook the US. This will be tolerable to the legions of workers while China experiences the 10% growth that it currently enjoys. With a significant slowdown, it won't be tolerable.

Westerners tend to ascribe virtues of competence and wisdom to the Chinese government. If these leaders were wise, they would be starting to implement political reforms now. That way, pressure release valves are already in place when the system gets dealt a shock. Have they not been watching the news at all over the last year?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Would Republicans be OK with Sharia law being applied to Christians?

Interesting hypothetical:

"Suppose the Muslim owner of a large company that employs Muslims and non- Muslims (or even just Muslims) wants to be exempt from insuring medical stuff except in cases where male employees see male doctors and female employees see female doctors. The owner find it objectionable that 'his money' should pay for anything he finds religiously repugnant, and this is his take on sharia law. Would Republicans have any objection?"

Call me crazy, but something tells me that John Boehner wouldn't exactly be rallying people to support the religious freedom of the Muslim business owner here. Many more hypothetical scenarios here. Again...the real story is that health insurance has no business being tied to employment status. Especially not in the increasingly liquid labor market that we live in. The link causes economic problems, ethical problems, and political problems.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lessons from the contraception controversy.

1.  Nice to see the GOP so concerned with Catholic opinion (seriously).  I assume this means they agree that the death penalty should go and that we should extend unemployment benefits.

2.  The real story here is how ridiculous it is that health insurance is tied to our jobs.  Breaking that link will help with cost control, and will enhance labor market fluidity by encouraging riskier moves on the part of workers.  (Health insurance is an anchor keeping talented people at 'safe' jobs instead of going solo, with a new firm, etc.)

3.  Obama is unwise for picking a fight with the Catholic Church.  He thinks Republicans are stubborn?  It took the church 360 years to exonerate Galileo.

4.  Catholics themselves need to be more active participants in their church's theology.  Family planning is smart, not sinful.  It reduces abortions.  It results in healthier families and societies.  Condoms can prevent disease, reducing the health care burden and suffering.  The Catholic Church needs to have a new council to address these issues for the 21st century.  Their flock, but not the government, should be pushing for that.

5.  Mitt Romney enacted similar regulations in Massachusetts as governor.  Enjoy your nominee, Republican Party.  You could have had Jon Huntsman but nope he wasn't crazy enough for you.  Now you get Obama until 2016.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Questions for Catholic Bishops re: health insurance coverage

The Bishops believe that Catholic insurance should not cover contraceptives, because they do not want to encourage what they say is sinful behavior.  There are many other situations where the church would be encouraging vice by paying for medical treatment.  I would be curious to know where the church would come down on a few of these issues:

1.  Sexually-transmitted diseases are a consequence of promiscuous sex.  If the church treats such conditions, people do not live with the consequences of sinful behavior.  This is clear moral hazard which will encourage more vice.  However, if left untreated, STDs can be rapidly fatal, hurt unsuspecting spouses in cases of infidelity, cause birth defects and stillbirth of fetuses, and increase the risk of pregnancy.

2.  On one hand, the Gardasil vaccine gives our daughters carte blanche to have lots of promiscuous, unprotected sex.  On the other hand, it is a simple vaccine that prevents cancer.  Its easy to see where the controversy comes from.  Reducing the risk of a behavior will certainly encourage said behavior.

3.  What to do in cases of cervical cancer caused by HPV?  If we treat our daughters every time they develop cancer after having unprotected sex, aren't we just encouraging their sinful behavior?
4.  Gluttony is a grievous sin.  However, bariatric surgical procedures have been shown to be cost effective at increasing the health and quality of life in morbidly obese people.  Should the church be forced to encourage gluttony?

5.  Type II diabetes is, like obesity, very often caused by excess consumption.  Should the church be forced to cover the costs of medications that control the disease, hence promoting sinful behavior?

6.  Many people who smoke will develop lung cancer.  For Catholic insurance to pay for treatment would clearly violate the teachings of the bible; see Corinthians:19-20

"Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body."

7.  If a person develops a parasite or neurocysticercosis after eating Biblically-forbidden pork products, obviously the church would violate their principles if they paid for treatment.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Why haven't aliens contacted us?

Some people believe that the lack of outside contact is evidence that complex life does not exist in the universe.  As the idea goes, we know that simple life is easy to create (from our own experience).  Yet, complex life defined as a civilization at or beyond our level apparently does not exist.  If they did, presumably there would be a lot of them, and we would find evidence of them in the frequencies of the cosmos.  So some people believe life is easy to start but hard / impossible to develop beyond a stage where we are, the conclusion being something snuffs out the civilization when it is about our age.  Maybe nuclear weapons are to blame.

There is a tribe deep in the Amazon jungle in Brazil that has never had contact with humans from the outside.  The Brazilian government is actively protecting them from outsiders who are trying to contact them, in fact. If anyone is curious why we haven't been contacted - this is my theory why:  we are the equivalent to the uncontacted Brazilian tribe.  There probably are millions of intelligent civilizations, and maybe even the supreme among them are protecting our planet from outside signals from others who would interfere.  In their mind, we should make our own way.  If we succeed then we can join the league of universal civilizations.  If we destroy ourselves in the interim, then we weren't a worthy species.

I think Bill Watterson's theory is good too:

98% of Catholic Women

That is the number that uses some form of contraception.

98% of Catholic Women are not wrong.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Indiana right-to-work, breaking the Union of the 1%.

Indiana just passed right-to-work legislation. The standard labor argument (against Mitch Daniels) is that all workers benefit from the actions of a worker's union, so they should all contribute. I'm not sure if that is true. There are some cases of overlap I'm sure, but one of the most important benefits of being in a union is protection from being laid off "unfairly". If a worker declined to pay union fees and didn't join the union, they face that risk. It's a calculation that any individual would need to make - but clearly, if the benefits of unionization are so great, theres no need for a law that forces a worker to join. I am always for greater individual freedom, so I definitely side with Mitch Daniels on this issue. Workers have the right to organize and join unions, but unions shouldn't have the right to force workers to join.

On a somewhat related note, consider what the essence of unionization is: it is undeserved economic influence; economic power at above-market rates. In a union, a collection of individuals organize within the framework of a larger group such that, by virtue of that organization, they become more influential than the sum of their parts. They increase their economic power not by increasing productivity, but by pressing political advantage into economic gain.  Obviously, this leads to less efficient labor markets - and many others are hurt in consequence, including non-unionized workers.

Now stop and consider the entrenched financial and corporate elite in this country.  The "1%" generally is a very productive group, and in a genuinely free market they would be compensated handsomely for their efforts.  However, by virtue of their connections to politicians and their virtual ownership of government in general, the financial and corporate elite have been able to press their advantage.  They have built a system from the inside that favors them unfairly.  They are no different than factory workers who unionize and demand outrageous or unearned pay.

Wall Street and many entrenched corporations have economic power beyond that which their productivity deserves.  Tax-payer bailouts and implicit government backing of too-big-to-fail institutions.  A tax code, written by armies of lawyers and voted into being by bought politicians, which is insanely complex and riddled with loopholes that benefit the authors.  Entrenched corporations (think: unionized workers) with their lobbyists buy themselves government subsidies and tax breaks; these are advantages that their smaller or newer competitors (think: non-unionized labor) don't enjoy.  The power of the financial and corporate elite, like unionized workers in a factory, is greater than the sum of their parts.  This is the Union of the 1%.

While Democrats are funded by traditional middle-class unions, Republicans are backed by the union on Wall Street - and as the financial crash in 2007 showed, the latter is more detrimental to the economy.  So:  want to do some union busting, and make our economy more competitive?  Fine.  Lets not stop with the middle class unions. We need to end corporate welfare. Simplify the tax code.  Break up any company or bank that is implicitly backed by the taxpayers because it is too big to fail.  Stop government subsidies and tax breaks to entrenched corporations.  End attempts at regulating the internet.  Re-write our ridiculous patent laws which have been woven into place by entrenched companies to keep out the competition.  THAT is how you revitalize the American economy.

This is what Occupy Wall Street is all about.  Americans have gone along with the de-unionization of the middle classes for decades, and the promised gains in living standards have absolutely failed to be realized.  Now its time to end the union of Wall Street, of the entrenched interests, of the elites who own Washington.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Catholic Bishops and the Laws of Men

Imagine a couple has been in a monogamous marriage for over two decades. They have raised four children. They do not wish to have more. They could be worried about having enough money for retirement,
and can't afford to raise more children. In addition, because the couple is getting older, they are worried that they will lack the energy to raise another child. Finally, they worry about the health of the mother and potential child in such a late pregnancy. This couple wishes to remain intimate, and so use contraceptives to prevent another pregnancy.

The vast majority of Catholics agree that the use of contraception, such as in the case described above, is completely reasonable. In 2005, a poll showed that over 90% of Catholics thought using contraception in some circumstances was not a sin. Also important is the central role that contraception plays in preventing great sins: a sure-fire way to prevent abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Catholic Bishops stand in stark contrast to their flock. They believe that anyone who uses condoms is a sinner, no matter what. Not content to merely pass their antiquated judgments, the Bishops are now demanding the power to deprive American Catholics the right to purchase condoms & other family planning products with their health insurance.

Growing up a Catholic, I remember a church that tried to serve as a guide. The church gave recommendations and advice to its flock, but never dictats. The recent change is really bizarre to me. What does it say about the Bishops' mindset that they would even try to use legal means, to use man's laws, to restrict the freedoms of their flock? At any rate, the Vatican should not have the right to impose their religious laws on Americans from Europe. Americans have economic freedom, religious freedom, and behavioral freedom that should not be infringed upon by anyone, even Catholic Bishops.  I am glad that President Obama stood up for the freedom of Americans in this case and told the Bishops that they can preach, but they cannot rule. Any Catholic who believes that family planning is smart, and that abortion is terrible and should be avoided, should call their Bishop and tell them as much.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Tragedy of the Komen Foundation

Public health has taken another blow.  They say these things come in threes.  We have leading conservative presidential candidates telling people that vaccines cause autism.  A conservative senator in Tennessee just told his constituents that it is "virtually impossible" to spread HIV through heterosexual contact.  And now, we are politicizing the screening and treatment of breast cancer.  I can't stop thinking about the cultural damage here.  Has anyone else considered what we just lost as a nation?  We disagree on just about everything these days. The notion that breast cancer is a disease worth fighting is one of the few remaining things everybody could agree on.  That has now been destroyed; and for what? At the end of the day, this was over $700,000 dollars. To destroy such a cherished and unitary cultural icon for such a petty trifle, for such a cheap political victory.  It must take an exceptionally vindictive person to want to make that trade.

At any rate, this was an unforced error of staggering proportions on the part of the Komen Foundation itself. Before this story broke, I suspect that very few people knew that Komen gave money to Planned Parenthood. Even if people knew Komen was providing breast cancer care at Planned Parenthood clinics, what kind of person would possibly care? One would think self-interest alone would have led Komen to stay out of this debate.  Now that they have taken sides, its probably too late. If they stand firm and abandon low-income women, they will alienate at least the 75% of Americans who support abortion rights in some form or another.  Arguably they will lose more than that, since obviously not everyone who is anti-choice thinks depriving poor women of breast cancer screening is worth a political point. Alternatively, Komen could do the right thing and reverse course. In doing so they would become a perpetual target for religious bullies who are always looking for another battle to fight.  Either way, what used to be a non-controversial, unitary force, the fight against breast cancer, will be reduced into another yearly battle in our incessant culture wars.

I do think there is a way out.  Komen needs to stand with low-income women and support breast cancer services, and provide concrete data that show that donors' money is being used only for breast services.  Conservative women should stand with them when they do - because they should recognize that this isn't worth it, and that there are better and less destructive venues in which to have the abortion fight.  People should remember why they supported the Komen Foundation in the first place and leave politics aside for once.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

top 5 regrets of the dying

Interesting article from a palliative care nurse:

I anticipate that I will regret not having drank more beer. So I will
pre-emptively fix this problem tonight.