Persecution update

The New York Times reports on violent persecution of Christianity in India. FromHindu Threat to Christians :

The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.

They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.

“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”

Meanwhile, in Iraq, 15,000 Christians have been driven out of Mosul. Thirteen have been killed. It isn’t clear whether the persecutors are al-Qaida–for whom Mosul is one of their last remaining enclaves–or the Kurds.

Preaching politics

The definitive answer to why pastors should not endorse candidates from the pulpit was given yesterday in my pastor’s sermon on rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s(Matthew 22:15-21). The sermon focused on the latter part of that statement: “what is God’s.” The short answer: our faith. We give our taxes and our votes to our secular caesars, or the equivalent, but we must not give them our faith.

Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live

It takes a lot of character to defy your critics by walking into their midst. A good way to handle mockery is to play along, fighting humor with humor. That’s what Sarah Palin did in appearing on “Saturday Night Live.” She acquitted herself well in some funny, though silly, sketches. Here they are:

For the words to the Sarah Palin rap–which are very, very funny–go here.

World Serious

So it’s the Tampa Rays vs. the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. I think the former bottom-dwelling team from Florida changed their fortunes when they dropped “Devil” from their name. The shift in imagery from a repellant sea creature to Florida sunshine was propitious; and in a game with so much superstition and fear of curses, the exorcism of a name change had to have helped.

How pro-abortion is Obama?

Robert George is one of the giants of contemporary thought, an ethicist and political theorist at Princeton who is always worth listening to. In this article, he shows that while some people might be considered “pro-choice,” Barack Obama is actually “pro-abortion” and to an extent few of us probably realize. Dr. George also dismantles the arguments that Obama’s position on abortion should make no difference in whether a person should vote for him, that Republicans haven’t ended abortion so Obama’s election won’t matter, and that Obama’s policies will result in fewer abortions. I know some of you faithful readers believe these things, but would you read Dr. George’s entire essay and tell me if you still feel that way? Thanks. Excerpt:

Let us assume that there could be a morally meaningful distinction between being ”pro-abortion” and being ”pro-choice.” Who would qualify for the latter description? Barack Obama certainly would not. For, unlike his running mate Joe Biden, Obama does not think that abortion is a purely private choice that public authority should refrain from getting involved in. Now, Senator Biden is hardly pro-life. He believes that the killing of the unborn should be legally permitted and relatively unencumbered. But unlike Obama, at least Biden has sometimes opposed using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion, thereby leaving Americans free to choose not to implicate themselves in it. If we stretch things to create a meaningful category called ”pro-choice,” then Biden might be a plausible candidate for the label; at least on occasions when he respects your choice or mine not to facilitate deliberate feticide.

The same cannot be said for Barack Obama. For starters, he supports legislation that would repeal the Hyde Amendment, which protects pro-life citizens from having to pay for abortions that are not necessary to save the life of the mother and are not the result of rape or incest. The abortion industry laments that this longstanding federal law, according to the pro-abortion group NARAL, ”forces about half the women who would otherwise have abortions to carry unintended pregnancies to term and bear children against their wishes instead.” In other words, a whole lot of people who are alive today would have been exterminated in utero were it not for the Hyde Amendment. Obama has promised to reverse the situation so that abortions that the industry complains are not happening (because the federal government is not subsidizing them) would happen. That is why people who profit from abortion love Obama even more than they do his running mate.

But this barely scratches the surface of Obama’s extremism. He has promised that ”the first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act” (known as FOCA). This proposed legislation would create a federally guaranteed ”fundamental right” to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, including, as Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia has noted in a statement condemning the proposed Act, ”a right to abort a fully developed child in the final weeks for undefined ‘health’ reasons.” In essence, FOCA would abolish virtually every existing state and federal limitation on abortion, including parental consent and notification laws for minors, state and federal funding restrictions on abortion, and conscience protections for pro-life citizens working in the health-care industry-protections against being forced to participate in the practice of abortion or else lose their jobs. The pro-abortion National Organization for Women has proclaimed with approval that FOCA would ”sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws [and] policies.”

It gets worse. Obama, unlike even many ”pro-choice” legislators, opposed the ban on partial-birth abortions when he served in the Illinois legislature and condemned the Supreme Court decision that upheld legislation banning this heinous practice. He has referred to a baby conceived inadvertently by a young woman as a ”punishment” that she should not endure. He has stated that women’s equality requires access to abortion on demand. Appallingly, he wishes to strip federal funding from pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that provide alternatives to abortion for pregnant women in need. There is certainly nothing ”pro-choice” about that.

But it gets even worse. Senator Obama, despite the urging of pro-life members of his own party, has not endorsed or offered support for the Pregnant Women Support Act, the signature bill of Democrats for Life, meant to reduce abortions by providing assistance for women facing crisis pregnancies. In fact, Obama has opposed key provisions of the Act, including providing coverage of unborn children in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), and informed consent for women about the effects of abortion and the gestational age of their child. This legislation would not make a single abortion illegal. It simply seeks to make it easier for pregnant women to make the choice not to abort their babies. Here is a concrete test of whether Obama is ”pro-choice” rather than pro-abortion. He flunked. Even Senator Edward Kennedy voted to include coverage of unborn children in S-CHIP. But Barack Obama stood resolutely with the most stalwart abortion advocates in opposing it.

It gets worse yet. In an act of breathtaking injustice which the Obama campaign lied about until critics produced documentary proof of what he had done, as an Illinois state senator Obama opposed legislation to protect children who are born alive, either as a result of an abortionist’s unsuccessful effort to kill them in the womb, or by the deliberate delivery of the baby prior to viability. This legislation would not have banned any abortions. Indeed, it included a specific provision ensuring that it did not affect abortion laws. (This is one of the points Obama and his campaign lied about until they were caught.) The federal version of the bill passed unanimously in the United States Senate, winning the support of such ardent advocates of legal abortion as John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. But Barack Obama opposed it and worked to defeat it. For him, a child marked for abortion gets no protection-even ordinary medical or comfort care-even if she is born alive and entirely separated from her mother. So Obama has favored protecting what is literally a form of infanticide.

You may be thinking, it can’t get worse than that. But it does.

For several years, Americans have been debating the use for biomedical research of embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (originally for reproductive purposes) but now left in a frozen condition in cryopreservation units. President Bush has restricted the use of federal funds for stem-cell research of the type that makes use of these embryos and destroys them in the process. I support the President’s restriction, but some legislators with excellent pro-life records, including John McCain, argue that the use of federal money should be permitted where the embryos are going to be discarded or die anyway as the result of the parents’ decision. Senator Obama, too, wants to lift the restriction.

But Obama would not stop there. He has co-sponsored a bill-strongly opposed by McCain-that would authorize the large-scale industrial production of human embryos for use in biomedical research in which they would be killed. In fact, the bill Obama co-sponsored would effectively require the killing of human beings in the embryonic stage that were produced by cloning. It would make it a federal crime for a woman to save an embryo by agreeing to have the tiny developing human being implanted in her womb so that he or she could be brought to term. This ”clone and kill” bill would, if enacted, bring something to America that has heretofore existed only in China-the equivalent of legally mandated abortion. In an audacious act of deceit, Obama and his co-sponsors misleadingly call this an anti-cloning bill. But it is nothing of the kind. What it bans is not cloning, but allowing the embryonic children produced by cloning to survive.

Can it get still worse? Yes.

Decent people of every persuasion hold out the increasingly realistic hope of resolving the moral issue surrounding embryonic stem-cell research by developing methods to produce the exact equivalent of embryonic stem cells without using (or producing) embryos. But when a bill was introduced in the United States Senate to put a modest amount of federal money into research to develop these methods, Barack Obama was one of the few senators who opposed it. From any rational vantage point, this is unconscionable. Why would someone not wish to find a method of producing the pluripotent cells scientists want that all Americans could enthusiastically endorse? Why create and kill human embryos when there are alternatives that do not require the taking of nascent human lives? It is as if Obama is opposed to stem-cell research unless it involves killing human embryos.

This ultimate manifestation of Obama’s extremism brings us back to the puzzle of his pro-life Catholic and Evangelical apologists.

They typically do not deny the facts I have reported. They could not; each one is a matter of public record. But despite Obama’s injustices against the most vulnerable human beings, and despite the extraordinary support he receives from the industry that profits from killing the unborn (which should be a good indicator of where he stands), some Obama supporters insist that he is the better candidate from the pro-life point of view.

They say that his economic and social policies would so diminish the demand for abortion that the overall number would actually go down-despite the federal subsidizing of abortion and the elimination of hundreds of pro-life laws. The way to save lots of unborn babies, they say, is to vote for the pro-abortion-oops! ”pro-choice”-candidate. They tell us not to worry that Obama opposes the Hyde Amendment, the Mexico City Policy (against funding abortion abroad), parental consent and notification laws, conscience protections, and the funding of alternatives to embryo-destructive research. They ask us to look past his support for Roe v. Wade, the Freedom of Choice Act, partial-birth abortion, and human cloning and embryo-killing. An Obama presidency, they insist, means less killing of the unborn.

This is delusional.

We know that the federal and state pro-life laws and policies that Obama has promised to sweep away (and that John McCain would protect) save thousands of lives every year. Studies conducted by Professor Michael New and other social scientists have removed any doubt. Often enough, the abortion lobby itself confirms the truth of what these scholars have determined. Tom McClusky has observed that Planned Parenthood’s own statistics show that in each of the seven states that have FOCA-type legislation on the books, ”abortion rates have increased while the national rate has decreased.” In Maryland, where a bill similar to the one favored by Obama was enacted in 1991, he notes that ”abortion rates have increased by 8 percent while the overall national abortion rate decreased by 9 percent.” No one is really surprised. After all, the message clearly conveyed by policies such as those Obama favors is that abortion is a legitimate solution to the problem of unwanted pregnancies – so clearly legitimate that taxpayers should be forced to pay for it.

But for a moment let’s suppose, against all the evidence, that Obama’s proposals would reduce the number of abortions, even while subsidizing the killing with taxpayer dollars. Even so, many more unborn human beings would likely be killed under Obama than under McCain. A Congress controlled by strong Democratic majorities under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would enact the bill authorizing the mass industrial production of human embryos by cloning for research in which they are killed. As president, Obama would sign it. The number of tiny humans created and killed under this legislation (assuming that an efficient human cloning technique is soon perfected) could dwarf the number of lives saved as a result of the reduced demand for abortion-even if we take a delusionally optimistic view of what that number would be.

Third party candidates?

The floor is open for consideration of alternative candidates to the big two. Some of you have mentioned how you are voting for Mr. Barr or Mr. Baldwin. I believe there are other candidates besides them, not just third party but fourth and fifth and who knows how many. Most of us don’t know too much about these alternatives (Constitution, Libertarian, Green. . .). If you support some other candidate than the Democratic or Republican nominees, please tell us about that individual and make the case for why he or she would make the best president and promote the best policies.

P.S.: I just learned that on Sunday night, C-SPAN will televise a debate between various of the alternative candidates.

Comic relief

Both John McCain and Barack Obama attended the Al Smith dinner, a traditional gathering of mostly New York Democrats devoted mainly to humor. Both candidates gave funny, self-deprecating speeches. A sample:

“This is a very distinguished and influential audience and as good a place as any to make a major announcement,” McCain said. “Events are moving fast in my campaign. And, yes, it is true that this morning I dismissed my entire team of senior advisors. All of their positions will now be held by a man named ‘Joe The Plumber.’

“Already my friends, my opponents have been subjecting Joe to their vicious attack machine. His voracity has been questioned by Barack Obama’s running mate, ‘Joe The 6-Term Senator.’ He claims that this honest, hard working small business man could not possibly have enough income to face a tax increase under the Obama plan. What they don’t know is Joe The Plumber recently signed a very lucrative contract with a wealthy couple to handle all the work on all seven of their houses.” . . .

“This campaign needed the common touch of the working man. After all, it began so long ago with the heralded arrival of the man known to Oprah Winfrey as ‘The One.’ Being a friend and colleague of Barack I just called him ‘That One,’” McCain said in reference to his bully-like tactics in the second presidential debate. “He doesn’t mind at all. In fact, he even has a pet name for me: ‘George Bush.’” . . . .

“It’s been that kind of contest and I come here tonight to the Al Smith Dinner knowing I’m the underdog in these final weeks, but if you know where to look there are signs of hope, even in the most unexpected of places, even in the room filled with proud Manhattan Democrats. I can’t shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me.

“I’m delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary.” . . .

Obama later took the podium and said he’s not necessarily “the chosen one,” but could in fact be a superhero.

“For the last few weeks John has been out on the campaign trail asking this question: Who is Barack Obama? I have to admit I was a little surprised by this question. The answer is right there on my Facebook page,” Obama said. “But look, I don’t want to be coy about this. We’re a couple weeks away from an important election. Americans have a big choice to make, and if anyone feels like they don’t know me by now, let me give them some answers …

“Who is Barack Obama? Contrary to the rumors you may have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-El, to save the planet Earth.”

He then launched into the genealogy of his birth name.

“Many of you know I got my name, Barack, from my father,” Obama said. “It’s actually Swahili for ‘That One.’

“And I got my middle name, obviously, from someone who never thought I’d be running for president.”

Obama’s tax cuts

From Obama’s 95% Illusion:It depends on what the meaning of ‘tax cut’ is:

Mr. Obama is proposing to create or expand no fewer than seven [tax] credits for individuals:

A $500 tax credit ($1,000 a couple) to “make work pay” that phases out at income of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 per couple.
A $4,000 tax credit for college tuition.
A 10% mortgage interest tax credit (on top of the existing mortgage interest deduction and other housing subsidies).
A “savings” tax credit of 50% up to $1,000.
An expansion of the earned-income tax credit that would allow single workers to receive as much as $555 a year, up from $175 now, and give these workers up to $1,110 if they are paying child support.
A child care credit of 50% up to $6,000 of expenses a year.
A “clean car” tax credit of up to $7,000 on the purchase of certain vehicles.

Here’s the political catch. All but the clean car credit would be “refundable,” which is Washington-speak for the fact that you can receive these checks even if you have no income-tax liability. In other words, they are an income transfer — a federal check — from taxpayers to nontaxpayers.

He also wants to remove the cap on Social Security withholding. Right now, once a person makes around $100,000, the Social Security withholding out of the paycheck stops. Whether payroll deductions that one never sees again constitute a tax is a matter of definition, though the money goes right into the federal stash since there isn’t a social security lockbox. One could make the case that this needs to happen to save Social Security. At any rate, contrary to Obama’s claims, this will amount to a big tax on a lot of people making less than $250,000.

We have nationalized companies before

The International Herald Tribune explains to the world that the U.S. has history of intervention, including nationalizing companies. The article notes that whereas the term “nationalizing” is OK to use in Europe, we aren’t supposed to use that word in Americca:

In other countries, the government bank-investment programs are routinely called nationalization programs. But that is not likely in America, where nationalization is a word to avoid, given the cultural aversion to anything that hints of socialism.

“Putting this plan on the table makes a lot of sense, but you can’t call it nationalization here,” said Simon Johnson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. “In France, it is fine, but not in the United States.”

In times of war and national emergency, Washington has not hesitated. In 1917, the government seized the railroads to make sure goods, armaments and troops moved smoothly in the interests of national defense during World War I. Bondholders and stockholders were compensated, and railroads were returned to private ownership in 1920, after the war ended.

During World War II, Washington seized dozens of companies including railroads, coal mines and, briefly, the Montgomery Ward department store chain. In 1952, President Harry Truman seized 88 steel mills across the country, asserting that unyielding owners were determined to provoke an industry-wide strike that would cripple the Korean War effort. That forced nationalization did not last long, since the Supreme Court ruled the action an unconstitutional abuse of presidential power.

In banking, the U.S. government stepped in to take an 80 percent stake in the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust in 1984. Continental Illinois failed in part because of bad oil-patch loans in Oklahoma and Texas. As one of the country’s top 10 banks, Continental Illinois was deemed “too big to fail” by regulators, who feared wider turmoil in the financial markets. Continental was sold to Bank of America in 1994.

Yet the nearest precedent for the plan the Treasury is weighing, finance experts say, is the investments made by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in the 1930s. The agency, established in 1932, not only made loans to distressed banks but also bought stock in 6,000 banks, at a total cost of about $3 billion, said Richard Sylla, an economist and financial historian at the Stern School of Business at New York University.

A similar effort these days, in proportion to the current economy, would be $400 to $500 billion, Sylla said.

When the economy eventually stabilized, the government sold the stock to private investors or the banks themselves.

That program was a good one, experts say, but the U.S. government moved too slowly to deal with the financial crisis, which precipitated and lengthened the Great Depression. The lesson of history, it seems, is for Washington to move quickly in times of economic crisis to revive the patient.

So we did it before, though it was once ruled unconstitutional and an abuse of presidential power. Doesn’t that constitute a legal precedent? Why does this not make me feel better?

The moral challenge of the economic crisis

My colleague Mark Mitchell, a government professor at Patrick Henry College and currently a visiting scholar at Princeton, has written a penetrating and morally challenging essay on the economic crisis and the bailout. Read it at the website of the Center for a Just Society. It’s entitled “Ten Questions and a Modest Proposal.” Here are the ten questions. Follow the link for the modest proposal:

1. Is it a fundamental problem when a corporation becomes so big that its failure threatens to bring down the national economy? Could it be that scale matters? Can institutions become so large that their potential harm outweighs their actual (or occasional) good? If yes, then are there measures that could help ensure that economic power is decentralized and therefore less dangerous?

2. The bailout was ostensibly necessary to protect our “American way of life.” That such a reason was offered without justification indicates that our way of life is an axiom that must be assumed but never questioned. But is it too much to consider, if only for a moment, that perhaps our way of life is precisely the problem? Of course, a way of life is a complex thing, but insofar as the “American way of life” consists in living beyond our means, it is unsustainable. To the extent that consumer credit is at an all-time high and personal savings is at an all-time low, the “American way of life” is irresponsible.

3. Public debt mirrors private debt. Both publicly and privately, we have become a nation that demands immediate gratification. Is such a national disposition healthy? Psychologists tell us that adults are capable of delaying their gratification. If so, then publicly and privately we are, according to this measurement, behaving like a nation of children.

4. The best part of the American tradition is characterized by a can-do attitude and a willingness to face the consequences of our decisions. Consider, then, the fact that in many states home loans are, by law, non-recourse. This means that if a borrower cannot afford to make the payment, he can simply walk away from the deal. The property returns to the lender, and its value may or may not cover the outstanding debt. In essence, the bank runs the risk and the borrower runs away. If such laws were eliminated, borrowers would take care not to borrow more than they can afford. Does the fact that it is legal to walk away from a home mortgage make doing so morally right? Is a system based on no-risk credit and legal irresponsibility fundamentally flawed?

5. In our private lives, we expect that our “standard of living” will be higher than that of our parents, and our children will enjoy a higher standard than us. But is that expectation warranted? Do we need a higher standard of living than our parents? Exactly how high is high enough? When will we be able to say “my standard of living is just fine”? When a society finds itself animated by a fundamental desire for more stuff, the analogy to the nursery is hard to miss.

6. We are told that the catalyst for the current economic troubles is the housing market. Consider the following: in the 1950′s the average house had one bathroom and was something under one-thousand square feet. Today, the market standard is one bathroom for every bedroom and the average square footage has more than doubled. Ironically, the size of families declined precipitously during those same decades so that the average square footage per person has risen dramatically. How big is big enough? Would the current crisis be as acute if the houses we bought were more modest?

7. For years, Republicans championed tax reduction while Democrats emphasized government programs. Both sides won the debate. Today, the presidential candidates from both parties argue about whose plan will reduce taxes the most. At the same time, both candidates promise far more government programs than they can afford. The American people want both lower taxes and increased government spending. We want it all now and we want to defer the payment until later (preferably after we are safely dead). How’s that for family values?

8. Many of us have parents or grandparents who lived through the great depression (and a few among us remember it). My grandmother raised a family during those lean years and the frugal habits she acquired by necessity stayed with her the rest of her life. She saved and mended and lived well within her means. She was grateful to have a margin between her income and her expenses and thought it was wise to live modestly. What would our grandmothers say to us now as we struggle to maintain our “American way of life”?

9. Lord Acton’s hoary saying is pertinent: “power tends to corrupt.” If so, then we should make efforts to decentralize power. Such a sensibility is behind the separation of powers written into the fabric of the U.S. Constitution. We should be concerned, then, when big corporations get into bed with big government. The off-spring will be ugly and, we can rest assured, it will be big. This bailout represents a stunning consolidation of corporate and government power. Of course, we are promised that the government will regulate the corporations, but the conflict of interest is glaring. Could it be that the problem is not de-regulation but regulations that favor big corporations over small businesses?

10. In Greek drama hubris plays a key role. This is the fatal pride that brings down even the greatest of men. Is hubris at the heart of this crisis? Hubris is the failure to acknowledge limits. It is the failure to live within the bounds proper to human beings. Ultimately, it is a failure of virtue. When we delay payments rather than our gratification, we reveal our ill-formed character. When our demands for more things are limited only by our insatiable imaginations, vice is running the show. When our leaders tell us that they can solve any crisis if only we grant them more power, hubris has taken center stage.