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Filtering by Category: News

My Issue With How Paul Ryan Explains His Medicare Reform

Thomas Whitley

While I think talking about Medicare is potentially a big loser for both parties and it is also not the program that experiences the deepest cuts (those are reserved for programs that help the poor like Medicaid, housing assistance, & food stamps, and for everything else the government does that isn't Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security like food safety regulations, highway funding, and air traffic control), I thought I'd take a moment to review Paul Ryan's logic about why he'll be able to sell his Medicare plan. First, we need to be clear that we're talking about facts and not recycling talking points. Ezra Klein put it this way this morning:

I’ve got a modest proposal: You’re not allowed to demand a “serious conversation” over Medicare unless you can answer these three questions:

1) Mitt Romney says that “unlike the current president who has cut Medicare funding by $700 billion. We will preserve and protect Medicare.” What happens to those cuts in the Ryan budget?

2) What is the growth rate of Medicare under the Ryan budget?

3) What is the growth rate of Medicare under the Obama budget?

The answers aren't that hard to find if you actually look at the plans that have been proposed. 1. The cuts that Obama proposed and passed in the ACA are preserved in the Ryan Budget. In other words, both Obama and Ryan have proposed the same amount of cuts in the program. The difference, as I've said before, is how they propose to go about achieving those cuts. Obama wants to change how payments are made to providers by focusing on quality instead of quantity, e.g. a hospital that has a high rate of patients being readmitted would see cuts in their Medicare payments. Ryan's cuts come on the side of the beneficiary, i.e. the average American actually receives less over time.

Questions number 2 and 3 are easy. The answer for both is GDP+0.5%. That is, both Obama and Ryan propose capping Medicare spending at the same rate of GDP.

So now let's take a look at how Ryan is defending his Medicare changes. Here's (video) how Romney and Ryan defended the plan on '60 Minutes' yesterday.

Romney: What Paul Ryan and I have talked about is saving Medicare, is providing people greater choice in Medicare, making sure it's there for current seniors. No changes, by the way, for current seniors, or those nearing retirement. But looking for young people down the road and saying, "We're going to give you a bigger choice." In America, the nature of this country has been giving people more freedom, more choices. That's how we make Medicare work down the road.

Ryan: My mom is a Medicare senior in Florida. Our point is we need to preserve their benefits, because government made promises to them that they've organized their retirements around. In order to make sure we can do that, you must reform it for those of us who are younger.

Ryan and his defenders have continuously said that his plan does not change things for seniors currently on Medicare. He also says that anyone who is 55 or older will not be affected, i.e. they will get Medicare just like it is. The changes will be for those who are younger. There are a few negative effects that I see from this.

  1. The 40-54 range. Ryan's plan puts those who are nearing retirement, though not quite there yet in a particularly difficult situation. Many have been preparing for and planning on Medicare for some time, but under Ryan's plan, they would get something different, specifically a voucher that can be used to purchase insurance in an exchange that would include private insurers and the current Medicare plan. This voucher, though, would be equal to the second cheapest plan, in their attempt to spur competition. If, however, someone needs a better plan, they would have to pay for the difference themselves.
  2. Those younger than 40. Ryan's plan for Medicare calls for continual cuts to Medicare benefits, that is, the amount recipients of "Medicare" receive through their voucher or coupon keeps going down. Ryan's "GDP+0.5%" is a hard cap that "would automatically lower Medicare spending so that it is below the trigger level." The Obama "GDP+0.5%" cap, though, would be implemented a bit differently. As Kaiser Health News points out: "His proposal follows an effort in the 2010 health law to curb Medicare cost growth by tying the spending target to the Consumer Price Index in early years, and later on to the rate of GDP growth plus 1 percentage point. Now Obama is proposing to lower the target to the rate of GDP plus half a percentage point." The CBO has estimated that under Ryan's plan the average 65-year-old would pay a lot more by 2030 - 68% of their coverage costs versus compared with 25% today. This doesn't seem like a move in the right direction for me.

I can understand the rhetoric behind Ryan's plan, that painful cuts are needed to keep these social programs around and to "keep our promise" to our children and grandchildren, but I just don't agree with his plan to increasingly shift more and more of the cost onto individuals in low- and middle-income brackets while giving more tax breaks to those at the top. (Aside: He wants to cut $170 billion from Pell Grants, which could mean that over 1 million students lose Pell grants entirely. I'll let you decide if you think that's helping our country's future.) See this handy chart for reference:

 

To sum up, Romney and Ryan are trying to sell their proposed changes to Medicare by reassuring current seniors that they won't experience any changes to Medicare, but then he wants to turn the program into one where recipients receive vouchers that have a diminishing return and serve to increase the individual's share of costs. The theory is that they can still win the much-needed senior vote in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Iowa (3 of the 5 oldest states in the country) by getting them to think only of their interests and not those of their children and grandchildren. I think seniors are smarter than that and I think other age groups realize that while they're the ones who would be most drastically affected by the Romney-Ryan plan the GOP ticket only seems concerned about shoring up the senior vote so they can win in November. Only time will tell if the strategy is a winning one.

What Churches Can Learn From the Olympics

Thomas Whitley

Originally posted on the ABPnews Blog on 10 August 2012. As the Olympics got underway, the whole world seemed abuzz with excitement. Much of that excitement, though, quickly turned to complaints on the internet. Almost immediately the hashtag #NBCFail had cropped up on Twitter and became a trending topic. The source of the complaints was the fact that NBC had decided to tape-delay many of the more popular events so that they could show them in primetime. This is an understandable move and it’s nothing new to Olympic coverage (tape-delay or complaining about tape-delay).

Despite all of the complaining, NBC’s Olympic ratings have consistently been beating its Beijing ratings. NBC, however, did a few things that made a common annoyance much worse. For starters, they actively participated in “spoiling” some of the results by airing a commercial about teenage swimmer Missy Franklin winning gold immediately before they showed the race in which she won gold. With this move, complaints quickly moved out of the social media realm and began gaining traction with larger audiences. This, again, is an understandable mistake that was fixed quickly.

There are two instances, though, where NBC did not learn their lesson. First, they got Twitter to shut down the account of a journalist for the Guardian newspaper who criticized their coverage during the opening ceremony. The reason given was that he published a private email address of an NBC executive, though the email is one that is publicly available via a quick Google search. Second, NBC has used its increased ratings from four years ago to assume that the complaining group is small enough that it deserves no attention.

I see a few lessons for churches in how all of this went down. First, working to silence voices of dissent is never the right move. We are Baptists, after all. Our very existence is predicated on resistance. Moreover, voices of dissent, while rarely enjoyable, can often be a source of growth and learning. Voltaire said, “Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.” We must always be open to change in our understandings of God and how we do church. Though many of us have been at this church thing for a long time, there is always room for improvement, room for change, room for growth. And I believe it is our responsibility as Baptists to welcome dissent as that which can sharpen us (Proverbs 27.17).

Second, the perspective that NBC’s coverage must not be that bad since so many people are watching is a silly one. It is the only choice the vast majority of American viewers have. So, NBC can continue on its track ignoring what is admittedly a minority voice with very few repercussions. Churches, however, do not have that luxury. For our congregants, for our visitors, for our staff, there is always another choice out there. For some it may be another church, for others it may be no church at all. Now, I do not think this means that we should become too “seeker sensitive” by any means, but if all we do is listen to the voices of the majority, it seems as if we have missed the central theme of the message that Jesus shared.

Finally, this Olympics has been billed as the most social Olympics in history as social media has made the world more connected than ever before. NBC is streaming every event online for some cable customers to access. NBC has tried to capitalize on the recent explosion of social media, though it has certainly left a lot of room for growth. Churches, though, are even further behind the ball than NBC. A recent study from the Public Religion Research Institute found that while 45 percent of Americans use Facebook multiple times a week, only 11 percent report posting status updates on their Facebook page or other social networking site about being in church. Beyond this, even fewer follow a religious leader on Twitter or Facebook (5 percent).

I’ve given multiple presentations about how churches and other religious organizations can use social media to make their work and experience more meaningful, but there is often little done because it seems like too much work or doesn’t seem to be “worth it.” We have a responsibility to better educate ourselves on social media and to learn to implement it. Doing this is not a one size fits all proposition, but rather each church and organization needs to find out what fits their needs best. This may mean Twitter and Facebook posts of weekly prayer requests or having a hashtag that people can use to “talk” virtually about the service during the service (they can ask questions, share what was particularly meaningful to them, etc.).

I am a bit of an Olympics junky and have watched most of the coverage since the opening ceremony (it helps that I’ve been confined to a bed or couch for the past week or so because of back surgery). I think there’s a lot that we can learn from the Olympics from good sportsmanship to the spirit of togetherness displayed to how not to react to criticism. I hope you’ve been able to enjoy the Olympics as well, but I also hope that you’re able to step back a bit and see what lessons we can learn to better be the people of God.

What Romney's VP Choice Means for Women

Thomas Whitley

According to NARAL:

Statement on Mitt Romney's Selection of Rep. Paul Ryan for His Vice-Presidential Running Mate | NARAL Pro-Choice America: Rep. Ryan’s anti-choice record includes:

  • Repeatedly voting to deny women in the military – who defend our freedom overseas – the right to use their own, private funds for abortion care at military hospitals.
  • Repeatedly voting to defund Planned Parenthood, which would deny millions of women access to comprehensive reproductive-health care and preventive services.
  • Cosponsoring and repeatedly voting for the Federal Abortion Ban, a law that criminalizes some abortion services, endangers women’s health, and carries a two-year prison sentence for doctors.
  • Voting for an appropriations bill that defunded Planned Parenthood, eliminated the Title X family-planning program, and reinstated the D.C. abortion ban.

I know many of my readers are not pro-choice. What is most troubling to me, though, and I think should be for women everywhere, regardless of your views on abortion, is his continuous effort to defund Planned Parenthood - which does much more than provide abortions such as providing general women's health care, dealing with relationship issues, body image issues, and STD's - and to eliminate Title X family-planning programs, which provides numerous preventative health care services: "patient education and counseling; breast and pelvic examinations; breast and cervical cancer screening according to nationally recognized standards of care; sexually transmitted disease (STD) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) prevention education, counseling, testing and referral; and pregnancy diagnosis and counseling"

Oh yeah, and just so we're clear, Title X funds, by law, cannot be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning, i.e. no Title X funds even go to organizations that provide abortions.

I want to hear from everyone on this, but especially women. What are your thoughts on Romney's choice of Ryan, especially related to women's issues.

Deficit Fetishism

Thomas Whitley

You probably haven't heard of Joseph Stiglitz. He was a professor at Yale, Oxford, and MIT, he was on President Clinton's council of economic advisors, was the chief economist for the World Bank, and now teaches at Columbia. Oh, and he also won a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. No smaller a figure than he has weighed in on the state of our economy and what he thinks can get us out of it in an interview with the AP.

Q: Economic growth is slowing again. Unemployment seems to be stuck above 8 percent. Is that the result of high debts or slower spending?

A: The fundamental problem is not government debt. Over the past few years, the budget deficit has been caused by low growth. If we focus on growth, then we get growth, and our deficit will go down. If we just focus on the deficit, we're not going to get anywhere.

This deficit fetishism is killing our economy. And you know what? This is linked to inequality. If we go into austerity, that will lead to higher unemployment and will increase inequality. Wages go down, aggregate demand goes down, wealth goes down.

All the homeowners who are underwater, they can't consume. We gave money to bail out the banking system, but we didn't give money to the people who were underwater on their mortgages. They can't spend. That's what's driving us down. It's household spending.

Be sure to read the rest of the interview. Stiglitz's main point is that we have too much economic inequality in our country. He has a thoughtful and interesting take and it's one that resonantes with me. I've been calling for us to move away from austerity, which many conservatives are calling for though it's clearly not working in Europe, and to move toward spending. We need major national investment in infrastructure and education now more than ever. As such, I was also struck by his words on student loans as "evil and oppressive."

Q: What's the answer, then? Raising taxes on wealthy people can't possibly solve all the problems you mention.

A: No, there's no magic bullet. But there are other ways of doing things. Just to pick one, look at how we finance higher education. Right now, we have this predatory lending system by our banks with no relief from bankruptcy. In some fundamental ways, it's really evil and oppressive. Parents that co-sign student loans now find out they can't discharge those loans, even in bankruptcy.

Education is so important, but there are so many barriers. Just 8 percent of those students in the most selective colleges come from the bottom half of the income scale. Eight percent! They can't get in because they don't get as good an education in elementary and high schools. Education is the vehicle for social mobility. It's how we restore the American dream.

It's hard to put into words how much I agree with Stiglitz on this. Investing in education seems to be a no-brainer to me, for conservatives, moderates, progressives, and liberals alike. Investing in education offers a great return on investment and helps our country's competitiveness in a global economy. Conservatives should love this because it means losing less jobs to countries like India and China. Investing in education also helps to break the cycle of poverty and give many more people a realistic opportunity at upward social mobility. As I said, a n0-brainer.

Liberals Hate God

Thomas Whitley

Many of you have no doubt heard Missouri Republican Todd Akin's comment about liberals hating God in response to a poorly done editing job of the Pledge of Allegiance after Rory McIlroy won the US Open:

Well, I think NBC has a long record of being very liberal and at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God. And so they’ve had a long history of not being at all favorable toward many of things that have been such a blessing to our country…This is a systematic effort to try to separate our faith and God, which is a source in our belief in individual liberties, from our country. And when you do that you tear the heart out of our country.

These comments have resurfaced since he just won a Senate primary in Missouri to take on Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in November. I, obviously, think Akin is wrong. I think he has fundamentally misunderstood classical liberalism and has taken part in a convenient revisionist form of history when he talks about the founding of this country (hear his defense of his comments here).

Yet, as much as I think Akin and people like him represent a danger to the religious freedoms that we all hold so dear, I have to be honest about where some of the blame lies. To a large extent, liberals are to blame. We have essentially given in to the idea that conservatives have a lock on religion in this country and, for whatever reason, have not systematically and emphatically pushed back against comments like this.

Our pushback, though, can not simply be repudiating his comments, but must also tell the story that exists for so many liberals - we are politically and socially liberal precisely because of our religion. We subscribe to the outlandish idea that Jesus may have actually meant what he said about helping the poor, the widows, the outcasts, and about the love of money being the root of all evil.

This is not in an attempt to somehow make religion the exclusive domain of liberals, but to make sure that it is the exclusive domain of no one. Liberals are, to be sure, a bit more reluctant to talk about their religious or spiritual convictions in the public sphere, but I believe open communication of this sort is necessary if we are going to be a country that truly values everyone's religious beliefs (and those without any beliefs), if we are going to be a country that fights to uphold the separation of church and state (as enshrined in our Constitution), and if we are going to be a country where comments like Akin's are recognized by everyone, liberal and conservative alike, as absurd and baseless.

Conservatives have, thus far, written the dominant narrative that says only those who are really conservative care about God and everyone else is out to destroy God and make sure that no one in this country can worship God. We know that isn't true, but it's up to us to begin to offer a different narrative, one that is true, one that is honest about those with whom we disagree, and one that represents the best that America has to offer.

France's Proposal of an Unthinkable 75% Top Tax Rate

Thomas Whitley

I flipped over to CNN briefly this afternoon and heard a CNN anchor talking about France's new President Francois Hollande's proposal to raise the top tax rate on those earning more than a million euros a year to 75%. The host seemed absolutely shocked at that rate. To be sure, that is a lot compared to our current top tax rate of 35%, but a quick Google search would have provided CNN with some relevant context. See this chart from the Tax Policy Center, for instance.

A few observations:

  1. The US has had a top tax rate higher than 75% in over 30 of the past 100 years.
  2. The US' highest tax bracket maxed out at 92% ('52-'53), with 12 years of a 91% top rate ('50-'51, '54-'63).
  3. In the past 100 years 66 of those years have had a higher top tax rate than we have now, with our current top tax rate at 35%.

Apparently we all have a short memory and lack the will to do basic research.

Blocking the Vote

Thomas Whitley

Lest you think Democrats are whining about nothing when they claim that Republicans are trying to disenfranchise voters who traditionally vote Democrat and went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008, this from Ohio:

Ohio Early Voting Cutbacks Disenfranchise Minority Voters | The Nation: ‘‘I cannot create unequal access from one county board to another, and I must also keep in mind resources available to each county,” Husted said in explaining his decision to deny expanded early voting hours in heavily Democratic counties. Yet in solidly Republican counties like Warren and Butler, GOP election commissioners have approved expanded early voting hours on nights and weekends. Noted the Cincinnati Enquirer: “The counties where Husted has joined other Republicans to deny expanded early voting strongly backed then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008, while most of those where the extra hours will stand heavily supported GOP nominee John McCain.” Moreover, budget constraints have not stopped Republican legislators from passing costly voter ID laws across the map since 2010.

So, extending early voting hours in largely Republican counties is okay, but doing the same in largely Democratic counties is not?

This isn't just happening in Ohio. The Pennsylvania Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R) said, in June, that the state's voter ID law was “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state.” (video)

And in Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott has been hard at work trying to purge what he says are ineligible voters from voting rolls, though 87% of people on the purge list are people of color and at least 58% of the people on the list are Hispanic (groups that historically vote Democrat), numerous county election officials have refused to comply because of problems with the list, and many of the people on the list are in fact citizens who are eligible to vote.

Republicans across the country have decided that the only way they can win is to suppress those who would vote for Democrats. This is an affront to what our country stands for and that comes into particular focus as we just celebrated the 47th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Fortifying Public Prayer in Missouri?

Thomas Whitley

Missouri votes to fortify public prayer with amendment that critics call unnecessary:

Missouri voters approved an amendment to the state constitution Tuesday that proponents say will help ensure the right to pray in public.

The amendment was on a statewide ballot and had widespread support, though critics said the right to pray is already protected under the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

First, this bill is redundant and completely unnecessary. Second, part of the bill goes beyond protecting the right to prayer and becomes dangerous to real education:

Another part of the amendment sparking controversy is a section that reads "no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs."

Should students get out of learning algebra because it is against her religious beliefs? Of course not, but the law would also likely be used to get students from participating in assignments that teach scientific facts like we're seeing in Louisiana.

This amendment will go to the courts and most likely be struck down, but we should be clear about the challenges to education coming from the right all over the country.

P.S. Don't forget that Texas wants to take critical thinking out of its education system.

How Are Voters Supposed to Know the Truth?

Thomas Whitley

In my experience it is not uncommon for the majority of the electorate to think that all politicians lie, all the time. While I don't think this is true at all, I do think that politicians employ a great deal of spin on a regular basis and often seem to live in the gray areas. The current campaign season seems to only be making things worse. In the past week, the Romney campaign has not just put their spin on two important issues (early voting in Ohio and Welfare waivers for states), but has blatantly lied about both.

This new reality is complicated even more by certain groups that claim to be non-partisan fact checkers. Take PolitiFact's recent ruling on Harry Reid's statement that a highly credible source told him that Mitt Romney did not pay taxes for 10 years. Jamison Foser sums up the problem with their ruling quite well:

The way PolitiFact chose to criticize Reid is, unsurprisingly, stupid. PolitiFact says that because Reid has not proven his claim, he is a “pants-on-fire” liar. By this standard, Romney -- who has said there was not a year in which he paid less than 13 percent taxes, but has not proven the claim, is also a pants-on-fire liar. (Don’t hold your breath waiting for PolitiFact to tell you that.) Also by this standard: PolitiFact, which has said Reid is lying but has not proven he is lying, is itself a bunch of pants-on-fire liars. Like I said: Dumb. PolitiFact has three basic problems: Their work is often lazy, dumb, or both; they apply frequently-misleading labels like “mostly true” and “pants-on-fire” to everything in a triumph of gimmickry and marketing over clarity and substance; and they’re remarkably thin-skinned, sanctimonious, and unresponsive to substantive criticisms of their errors of fact and logic for an organization that presents itself as guardians of truth.

I'm not naive enough to think that the Obama campaign doesn't spin things to make them look better for themselves, but there has been widespread reporting that the Romney campaign doesn't seem to be playing by any rules at all; it's no longer spin, but outright lies. And in attempts to sound more neutral, many news organizations seem to be shying away from pointing out these blatant lies. Then, supposedly neutral fact checking organizations like PolitiFact offer "dumb" reasonings for their rulings and don't couple their rulings with appropriate nuance.

So, my question is how are we, as voters, supposed to know the truth? We don't have the time to fact check every claim we hear from every politician and the news many are watching is consistently misinforming them (see this study that finds that Fox News viewers are less-informed than those who watch other news and even than those who watch no news at all).

I've written before about how we, as responsible citizens, have a responsibility to inform ourselves and I think this is still true. It takes a lot of time and work, to be sure, but it's worth it to me. I don't want to just ingest everything a politician - or a news anchor - tells me to believe. I'm trying to maintain intellectual integrity and this means that I need to think for myself, to hear multiple perspectives and sometimes do the work that others can't or won't do for me.

So, for views on the economy I read the columns of actual economists or respected journalists that have been covering the economy for a long time and have no problem admitting when they're wrong (see: Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein). For politics I vary my sources early and often. This means that I very often read dissenting views (see: NYT, WSJ, WashingtonPost, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, AP, and numerous journalists from each organization). For instance, I follow the official Obama campaign accounts on Twitter, but I know that everything they share will be positive for them, so I seek out contrasting perspectives to get a fuller picture so I can make my mind up myself.

I'll admit, I'm a bit of a political junky (I even started a new politics podcast with my friend Andrew Barnes - who is much more conservative than me - called ThinkingPolitics), but I think that everyone owes it to themselves and to their fellow Americans to be an informed citizenry. As I understand it, the very idea of a democratic society is predicated on an educated citizenry. We are quick to talk about the responsibilities that our politicians have; it's time we lived up to ours.

Mitt Romney's Europe Problem

Thomas Whitley

Natasha Mozgovaya, who writes for Haaretz, an Israeli news site, is a bit skeptical of just how positive a Romney presidency would be for Europe and Israel:

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, didn't have much "to sell" in Europe, except for hackneyed friendship pledges, awakening the spirit of the Cold War, praising capitalism and freedom, and the conservative message that one should not borrow more than one can pay back. Romney's problem wasn't gaffes or even partially adopting Sheldon Adelson's position on the Palestinians. His problem on this trip was that he lacked a vision that the world might want to believe in, or at the very least a specific foreign policy program for discussion.

It seems that Romney has the same problem overseas as he does stateside: his main (apparent) qualification for being President is that he isn't Barack Obama.

P.S. Even foreign observers are able to recognize that Romney is running as the "generic Republican candidate," which, by the way, "has better chances of defeating Obama than the real candidate."

Mitt's Secrets

Thomas Whitley

Mother Jones has a piece out on six things Mitt Romney is hiding. They range from old emails from when he was governor of Massachusetts to details as to how he has an IRA worth between $20.7 and $101.6 million when the legal annual contribution limit is $17,000 ($30,000 if an employer matches). CNNMoney has a piece out today on another sort of secret Mitt's keeping.

Mitt Romney's other tax secret | CNNMoney: It has become clear that Mitt Romney does not want to release any additional tax returns.

But that's not the only tax issue the presumptive nominee has been reluctant to talk about. He has been equally quiet on a policy question that could have a direct impact on the amount of taxes paid by millions of Americans.

Romney has for months touted an ambitious plan that promises massive tax cuts. He has also steadfastly refused to say how he would pay for them.

Romney has proposed a 20% across-the-board cut to income tax rates. He also wants to scrap the Alternative Minimum Tax, eliminate the estate tax and chop the tax rate paid by corporations from 35% to 25%.

All those cuts mean the government would collect far less revenue. Romney claims his plan will make up the difference in-part by limiting deductions, exemptions and credits currently available to top-level income earners.

But he hasn't lifted the curtain on which deductions he is planning to curtail.

I'm not saying that President Obama doesn't have secrets too or that I fail to understand that your campaign in platitudes and govern in policy. I know that as soon as any candidate releases details on things like this, they open themselves up for numerous attacks.

However, as it stands, his tax "plan" is virtually unscorable by groups like the Congressional Budget Office and the Tax Policy Center, both nonpartisan groups that score these types of plans and give estimates as to what their economic impact would be (for what it's worth, TPC estimates a $3 trillion increase to the deficit under Romney's plan over the next 10 years and that's with extending the Bush tax cuts - that doesn't sound like a tax plan from a real fiscal conservative).

Romney himself has said, "frankly it can’t be scored." And on the question of making up for all the tax cuts Romney is offering, Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center said, "It's really hard to figure out a way to make this operational."

How does Romney plan to get independents who are concerned with the economy to believe him when he says he's the solution to all our economic woes if he won't tell us what his real economic policy proposals entail? Offering huge tax cuts to everyone is always popular, but it's not always fiscally responsible.

The Connection Between K Street and Main Street

Thomas Whitley

Cutting Washington could hit Main Street | CNNMoney: The push to slash federal spending in the name of curbing deficits and getting rid of "big government" could hit the private sector. The reason: The federal government now spends more than $500 billion a year -- or roughly 14% of the federal budget -- on private-sector contractors.

That's more than double what it spent in 2000, said Dan Gordon, a government contracts expert who oversaw federal procurement policy for the White House from 2009 to 2011.

1. Duh.

2. Why are we just now putting this together, that cuts in Washington affect more than just politicians?

3. Why do so many not seem to realize that cutting government spending and government jobs means cutting actual jobs that real people have. Cutting federal workforce numbers only means good civil servants get laid off and the job gets pushed to a private contractor, which in many cases, charges more. In other words, to use popular parlance, cutting government spending is often a policy that "kills jobs."

The Patriotism of Gun Control

Thomas Whitley

Why Gun Control is Patriotic: A disgusting act that has shocked the nation, but who is to blame for what happened? The liberals would say that it is the NRA and the gun industry, who make it absurdly easy to secure assault weapons in the United States, including over the Internet. The conservatives in turn would say that it is not guns but people who do the killing. Literally speaking they are correct, but if the essence of what the conservatives claim is true, then the reason we have crazy massacres in this country is because Americans are a bunch of homicidal maniacs with no impulse control; and if that part is true, then should we really allow this same crackpot citizenry to carry firearms? You see the problem?

It seems that we've found ourselves in a bit of a catch-22.

Read the rest of the piece, as I think he makes a good case. But my question to you is this: if it's true that "people kill people" and guns don't kill people, then why do we have so many more gun murders in this country than in  basically all other developed countries in the world combined - most of which have much tougher gun control laws?

American Collectivism

Thomas Whitley

In a speech in Roanoke, Virginia a few days ago the President made these remarks:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.  (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.  I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service.  That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

Mitt Romney and conservatives have hit back at this collectivist message. Romney said this:

The idea that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple, that Henry Ford didn’t build Ford Motors, that Papa John didn’t build Papa Johns, that Ray Kroc didn’t build McDonalds, that Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft. . . to say something like that is not just foolishness, its insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in America and it’s wrong

I guess Steve Jobs didn't have scores of designers and engineers and marketers and supply chain experts helping him make Apple into the global company it is today. And Henry Ford never got help from anyone and he built every car by himself.

The conservative cry is that Obama's remarks tell us his true vision for America.

Obama's Creepy Collectivist Vision: You know the latent message here: You didn’t earn it.  So you have no right to it.  Since you have no right to it, “we”-the government-will take what we want.

Call me crazy, but when I heard (and reread) President Obama's remarks I heard him praising "individual initiative" as well as recognizing how we're all in this together. I know that collectivism apparently goes against everything that is "American" according to some conservatives (and apparently flies in the face of liberty), but it seems to me that the President is simply a realist.

Sure some individuals do great through determination and hard work, but no one became successful on his/her own, no one. Show me any one successful person and I can show you thousands who helped that person get to the height of their success. I guess that means you can color me a collectivist.

My Thoughts on the Boy Scout Gay Ban

Thomas Whitley

Boy Scouts of America Keeps Gay Ban | BBC: The Boy Scouts of America will not change its policy of excluding gay scouts and scout leaders, following a secret two-year review, the group says.... Announcing their conclusion, the Boy Scouts cited support from parents as a major reason for keeping the policy.

"The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting," Boy Scouts chief executive Bob Mazzuca said.

"We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society."

The panel was unanimous in its decision and a Boy Scouts of America spokesman told the Associated Press it was "absolutely the best policy" for the group.

I've waited some time to comment on this two-year ordeal because I'm torn. On the one hand, I respect the BSA's right as a private organization to make and implement policies of this nature, but on the other hand I see it as a step in the wrong direction.

I grew up in scouting. I started as a Tiger Cub and went until I earned my Eagle (with much prodding from my parents and scout leaders). I learned things like how to start a fire with no matches, how to survive in the wilderness for days with only the supplies on my person, how to climb and rappel, how to shoot, and how to save lives. I also learned other less publicized skills from scouting like how to sew, how to be a good citizen (at the local, state, and national levels). I learned about water conservation and personal financial management. I was taught and given opportunity to exercise leadership and public speaking skills that still influence me today. And beyond all of this I learned to embody the words of the Scout Oath:

On my honor I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

and the Scout Law:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

I fully believe I am a better person because of my time in scouting.

But there's another thing that scouting taught me and that was acceptance and inclusion. I wasn't always in the popular group in scouting, but I was included then. And then, when I was in the popular group, I was encouraged (sometimes strongly) to include others. A lot of different types of boys came through my troop. I was friends with many of them, but just as many weren't "my type." Regardless, we learned how to get along, how to trust each other in situations where trust was important, and how to be mutually responsible.

My scout leader (who is still a dear family friend and was also my baseball and basketball coach growing up) taught us that everyone was welcome with us, whether they looked like us, talked like us, acted like us, or did none of the above. When we recited the Scout Law it meant something to us and today as I think back on those years I'm brought back to the Scout Law and the Scout Oath.

We pledge as scouts to do our best to keep ourselves "morally straight" and I can think of no better way to do that than to continue the inclusiveness that I was taught as a scout and let openly gay scouts and leaders stay in the ranks, learn life skills, and make lifetime friends.

I've spoken with my scoutmaster about this recently and recognize the many complexities involved with allowing openly gay scouts and leaders in troops, but the benefits far outweigh these (mostly logistical) concerns for me. I have no doubt that some of the thousands of scouts I encountered over my years in scouting were gay, but that doesn't define who they are just as being heterosexual doesn't define who I am.

Scouting helped teach how to be a man, it helped me understand that honor and integrity actually mean something. I can only hope that if I have a son one day that the Boy Scouts will have reversed its policy so that it can do the same for him.

Does Liberal Christianity Need Saving?

Thomas Whitley

Ross Douthat is out with an opinion piece in the NYT asking  if liberal Christianity can be saved:

Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase. ... But if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance.

Douthat makes some good points, especially when he points out the unwillingness of many religious and secular liberals to recognize the dwindling numbers. I wonder, though, whether liberal Christianity needs saving.

Douthat thinks that liberal Christians

should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.

It seems to me that numbers is not the end-all-be-all of liberal Christianity and that it has much to offer the world as it is now. Anyway, I'm still wrapping my head around all of this and contemplating just how much saving liberal Christianity actually needs. Sam and I will be discussing this very topic on our next episode of ThinkingReligion, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

The Bias of the Lamestream Media

Thomas Whitley

Or: How we decide when news is biased. In this fascinating piece, Jonathan Stray reports how various factors affect we balanced or biased we perceive a news piece to be.

How do you tell when the news is biased? It depends on how you see yourself: This effect has been noticed before. At the University of Michigan, William Youmans and Katie Brown showed the same Al Jazeera English news clip to American audiences, but with a catch: Half saw the news with its original Al Jazeera logo intact, and half saw the same video with a CNN logo instead. Viewers who saw the story with the original Al Jazeera logo rated Al Jazeera as more biased than before they had seen the clip. But people who watched the same footage with the fake CNN logo on it rated CNN as less biased than before!

Does this mean that we judge “bias” by brand, not content? Many people have tried to define what media bias is, and attempted to measure it, but I want to try to answer a different question here: not how we can decide if the news is biased, but how each of us actually does decide — and what it means for journalists.

This isn't altogether surprising, but its a very interesting look at how we perceive "bias" in the news. The question is what do we do with this information. Stray comments on what it could mean for journalists, but I'm interested in what it could mean for viewers. Are we capable of recognizing these tendencies in ourselves and correcting for them?

Will Baptists Remain True to Religious Liberty?

Thomas Whitley

Baptist historian Bill Leonard urges them to.

Be true to religious liberty, Baptists urged | ABP: Leonard said it was easy for Baptists to affirm pluralism and freedom of conscience while they were a distinct and sometimes-persecuted minority, but as religious liberty became more the norm, they discovered that, the First Amendment notwithstanding, Americans “grant religious liberty grudgingly” to minority groups.

Now, Leonard said, the pluralism that Baptists anticipated and defended much earlier than many American Protestant groups has prevailed, with cities and towns populated by multiple Christian and non-Christian religious groups and the accompanying “death rattle of Protestant privilege in American culture,” especially in the South and Southwest.

“This loss of religious hegemony forces us to ask: What will become of our commitment to religious liberty now?” Leonard said.

Some baptists continue to celebrate true religious liberty while others seem to have long forgotten this important and large aspect of their history. Hopefully baptists will remember their heritage, heed Leonard's urging, and reaffirm their commitment to religious liberty for all.

Dave Ramsey and Socialism

Thomas Whitley

This morning the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Affordable Care Act, called by many Republicans "Obamacare." Everyone is weighing in with their opinions on the decision and what that means for the future of our country. I was particularly struck by Dave Ramsey's response on twitter:

Sad day in America. We move further and further from personal/community responsibility and toward socialism.

I guess Ramsey forgot to read Acts 2.44:

All who believed were together and had all things in common

One of the main reasons I favor socialism in so many countries around the world is that it does just that, increases community responsibility and because I think we have a moral responsibility to look after those around us, just as the Acts 2 community did.

He's the President, Not the Pastor

Thomas Whitley

Worth 6 minutes of your time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2yIaNSFBBw&feature=youtu.be

Two quotes that stood out to me:

He is not the pastor of the United States, he is the President of the United States.

I am grateful for pastors like Frederick Haynes III who understand and respect the separation of church and state and who actually believe in equal rights for all.

Why are you so upset? Why did it bother you so? Why were you soemotional that you had to clothe your anger with the Bible and justify your bigotry with scripture? Why did you have to do it? I gotta hang out here because you do know, and I’m going to lose some of y’all right now, we often major in what Jesus minored in.

Have you ever read the gospel and heard Jesus say anything about homosexuality?

It takes courage to stand up and speak so forcefully against colleagues and congregants and I have a lot of respect for Haynes for doing so.

Thanks for Friendly Atheist for posting the video.