Morning Report, August 24

Morning Report, August 24 August 24, 2009

One Christian’s perspective on today’s news:

1.  Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God, penned an Op-Ed in the New York Times today, “A Grand Bargain Over Evolution.”  Worth reading.  The argument, essentially, is that believers should accept that natural evolutionary means are quite capable of explaining the development of such things as moral intuitions–while atheistic scientists should accept that it makes sense to speak of purposes and moral values as transcendent, existing things (not merely “hallucinated,” in the words of Steven Pinker).  It’s rather peculiar to me that Wright seems to think that this potential bargain is a new proposition, and I don’t think he rightly characterizes theistic evolution or intelligent design.  My doctorvater (in the gender neutral sense), Sarah Coakley, is doing some excellent work on the relationship between a Christian theology of love and evolutionary theories of mutuality.

Yet the explanatory status of some evolutionary theories needs to be held in mind.  Given a commitment to developing an evolutionary explanation for a certain factor F,intelligent people will eventually develop a story, in the vast majority of cases, that would account for the emergence of factor F.  Since no other explanations are possible (given a commitment to naturalistic explanation), the most persuasive evolutionary account will eventually become established as “how things happened,” even if there is practically no way of testing the hypothesis.  Whether it really is “how things happened,” in other words, we have no idea.  It’s just the best explanation we have within the parameters for acceptable explanations.  Yet if we open up those parameters — that is, if we do not begin by excluding the possibility of divine activity within the natural realm — then the very same explanation may no longer be the most persuasive.

I’ll write more on this another time.  But this, in any case, is an interesting article, worth reading, if only for the sharpening of our mental faculties.  Wright seems to view religion as beneficent mostly insofar as it tends toward social cohesion and the purposes of a global kumbaya circle.  The question of salvation is left out.

2.  Tough times at the White House.  With the approval ratings continuing to sink, the White House raises the deficit projection for the next 10 years from $7T to $9T, and dumps this info on late a Friday afternoon just as Obama headed out of town for vacation.  Meanwhile, the relationship between the Obama administration and the White House press corp may be souring.  Even the New York Times published today a rather blistering report on how the Obama administration has failed to fill 43% of the top “senior policymaking positions” that require Senate approval.  The Times blames it on a tough Senate confirmation process, but when your party has 60 seats in the Senate that excuse rings rather hollow.

As one conservative blogger put it, “The real question is why the national media hasn’t discovered this before, as the NYT puts it, 15% of Obama’s presidency has expired.  A competent executive with the kind of advantage Obama has in the Senate would have filled these positions by now, and a competent news media would have pointed it out before August.”

3.  Nouriel Roubini, the “doctor doom” whose status rose significantly when his prediction of the current Great Recession proved true, predicts either a very slow, U-shaped (instead of V-shaped) recovery, or else a double-dip W-shaped recession.

4.  Defenders of government-provided health care have been embarrassed by the revelation of a “death booklet,” or material from the Veterans Administration directed doctors to provide veterans with certain problems (even ones that are nowhere near life threatening) to counsel patients about end-of-life options.  I continue to believe that “death panels” was an unjustified rhetorical overstep on the part of Sarah Palin, but I also continue to believe that there is justified concern over how a government-run health care system (or a system over which the government has great control) would approach end-of-life issues.

Now, even the New York Times writes that seniors are probably right to be concerned about changes from Obamacare.  One reason is because of cuts to certain doctor specialties, such as cardiologists, on which seniors especially depend.  Thus: “Medicare officials recently proposed changes that could increase payments for some primary care services but reduce payments to many specialists. Cardiologists would be especially hard hit, with cuts of more than 20 percent in payments for electrocardiograms and 12 percent for heart stent procedures.  “Cuts of this magnitude could cripple cardiology practices and threaten access to services for millions of patients,” said Dr. John C. Lewin, chief executive of the American College of Cardiology.”

Hugh Hewitt raises an interesting question.  If it led to disaster for the Blue Dog Democrats and the Democratic majorities in Congress, would Obama still press for this health care reform?  Hewitt thinks the answer is probably yes, and I say he’s right.  Few in the liberal wing of the party will mourn the loss of the Blue Dogs at this point.

5.  Tom Ridge’s claim (or the claim made in promotional materials for his forthcoming book) that he was pressured to raise the threat level prior to the election proves out, as suspected, to be less impressive on careful review.  Once when Ridge was about to raise the threat level, right after Senator Kerry had been nominated, Ridge circulated the wording for the warning, and Fran Townsend, who liaised between Bush and Ridge, recommended that he include three lines about how they would not have gotten the intelligence if it were not for the President’s leadership and offensive counter-terrorism philosophy.  Also, when bin Laden released a video shortly before the election, there was discussion amongst the National Security Council on whether the threat level should be raised.  Since there was no support for raising the threat level in the DHS, Ridge apparently wondered to himself whether the others’ motivations were political.  Yet it was widely believed that bin Laden’s videos could contain “triggering phrases” or etc. to communicate with sleeper cells, so raising the threat level was a legitimate consideration, and in any case the threat level was not raised on that occasion.  After Bush was told that DHS did not want to raise the level, it was not raised.

6. takes up the question of whether the health care reform being discussed on Congress right now would fund abortions.  “Will health care legislation mean “government funding of abortion”? President Obama said Wednesday that’s “not true” and among several “fabrications” being spread by “people who are bearing false witness.” But abortion foes say it’s the president who’s making a false claim. “President Obama today brazenly misrepresented the abortion-related component” of health care legislation, said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee. So which side is right?”

The answer, according to, is Douglas Johnson and the National Right to Life Committee.  The Annenberg Public Policy Center, which runs Factcheck, is considered, amongst conservatives, quite liberal–and has often been criticized from the right for being prejudiced in a leftward direction.  So this conclusion is especially important.

“The truth is that bills now before Congress don’t require federal money to be used for supporting abortion coverage. So the president is right to that limited extent. But it’s equally true that House and Senate legislation would allow a new “public” insurance plan to cover abortions, despite language added to the House bill that technically forbids using public funds to pay for them. Obama has said in the past that “reproductive services” would be covered by his public plan, so it’s likely that any new federal insurance plan would cover abortion unless Congress expressly prohibits that. Low- and moderate-income persons who would choose the “public plan” would qualify for federal subsidies to purchase it. Private plans that cover abortion also could be purchased with the help of federal subsidies.”  In other words, the President is dissembling.  They also dispute the notion that you will be able to keep your doctor and your plan, if you wish.

Consider, for instance, the Cash for Clunkers bill.  There is nothing in there that explicitly requires cars from 1980 to qualify for the plan.  Yet no such requirement is necessary.  The great majority of cars from 1980 will be covered anyway, because they belong to the broader category of vehicles that are “covered” in the plan.

7.  American military commanders in Afghanistan have determined that their force levels are insufficient.  This will put Obama in a tough spot, when support for the war in Afghanistan is waning fast, especially on the Left.  The right is now Obama’s biggest supporter when it comes to his Afghanistan policy.  At the same time, the Department of Justice has decided that it would like to reexamine detainee abuse cases, as Obama announces a new elite interrogation team.  Leon Panetta reportedly went on a profanity-laced tirade when he heard that the administration would continue its attacks upon the CIA, though he sent this letter to CIA employees.  Panetta may even have threatened to quit.

8.  Columns of the day.  First, this piece from Troy Senik (actually a few days old) on how Obama’s own over-the-top, unspecific rhetoric put him in a position from which it was almost impossible to govern effectively (ahem, I’ve been talking about this for a long time).  Second, Clive Crook’s excellent analysis of the health care reform process and what Obama might do to reach the ultimate prize of universal coverage.

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