Morning Report, September 24th: Finding the Right College, Recession and Racial Integration, The Missing Index, Faith at Harvard, Terrorism Central, Suing the Truth-Exposers, Mamas and (Bad) Papas, Palinasia, Hollywood Morality and Cracking the Nut of Iran

Morning Report, September 24th: Finding the Right College, Recession and Racial Integration, The Missing Index, Faith at Harvard, Terrorism Central, Suing the Truth-Exposers, Mamas and (Bad) Papas, Palinasia, Hollywood Morality and Cracking the Nut of Iran September 24, 2009

One Christian’s perspective on the day’s news:

1.  For those who are guiding children toward college, or interested in the best way to do so, Thomas Sowell has a nice article with some direction on how to find the right college.  The rankings one finds in a place like US News and World Report are not meaningless, but they have very little to do with the quality of the experience the student will have.  I should add, however, that college is largely what one makes of it.  Approached rightly, I believe that almost any student can be happy at almost any institution, if s/he develops the right relationships, maintains the right attitudes and pursues the right things.  For all the focus on finding the right college, there should be more attention to how one makes the college the right college through the actions one takes once there.

2.  RECESSION AND RACIAL INTEGRATION.  Along these same lines, Christianity Today has an interesting account of how the financial pressures of the recession have led black and white churches to integrate and worship together.  Ours is a God who makes good things out of evil, or what the world calls evil.

3.  THE MISSING INDEX.  With the emergence of the Baucus plan, we’re no longer dealing with multiple possible bills and all the confusion that brings.  The Baucus plan represents the Democratic game plan right now.  So it’s gaining more and more scrutiny.  Dick Morris, who is apparently no fan, details (some of) the costs of the Baucus plan for non-rich Americans.  He claims that the uninsured will only receive subsidies for insurance coverage after they have paid 20% of their income.  Of course, Dick Morris could be mistaken, so I will wait for confirmation on that.

What is interesting to me, however, is the 35% tax on “gold-plated” health insurance policies ($8000 for individuals), which is intended to help pay for the subsidies that will be given to the poor.  So  imagine that an individual receives an insurance policy worth $10K.  The insurance provider will then be taxed $3500.  The profit margin in the health insurance business is exceedingly small.  A study in 2003 showed that 70% of insurance providers either had a negative profit margin or one underneath 5%.  Average returns recently have been about 3%, making health insurance less profitable (by margin) than 85 other industries.  So there’s no way the insurer can simply eat the 35% increase in cost.  Naturally, then, the provider will pass that cost along.  Those who paid $10K for their own insurance will now pay $13.5K; those who receive insurance through their employers may find their plans dropped (sending them into the government plan, if there is one) or lowered in quality in order to fall beneath the trigger point.

The Democrats (and of course the Republicans, though they’re not the ones in charge right now, so the Democrats get to enjoy the burden of leadership here) do not want to tax everyone.  So this is a way of taxing individuals indirectly, by taxing those who provide them services with very little profit, knowing full well the cost will be passed along.  But it won’t seem like a tax, since the cost is coming from those evil insurance providers (further cultivating animosity between patients and insurance providers…sending more into the arms of the government?).

But what’s interesting to me is that the “trigger” of $8K for individuals (something like $21K for families) is not indexed to inflation (not to mention, as Morris notes, medical inflation, which has been twice the ordinary inflation rate).  Indexing to inflation would be an obvious thing to do, so someone must have decided not to do so.  According to estimates, 10% of Americans presently have health insurance policies that fall into this category.  Many of them are not rich; many belong to unions that have used their bargaining power for Cadillac insurance plans.  Bear in mind that the reformed system would not “begin” until 2013, by which time 15% or 20% of Americans may reach that trigger.

There are two reasons why Democrats may not want to index the trigger to inflation.  First, of course, is if they intend to spread the burden beyond the 10% over time.  You pass the bill when only 10% would qualify, minimizing the push-back from voters, but by the time the plan is enacted its costs fall on more.  The other reason is if the politicians want the power, as they currently enjoy with the Alternative Minimum Tax, that comes with annually patching the problem.

But who knows?  The Baucus plan may change in dramatic ways.  Pelosi is trying to liberalize it.

4.  OBAMA TIRED OF PAYING FOR YOUR OIL.  Barack Obama wants to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, at least if he can get everyone around the world to do it in conjunction (so there are no competitive disadvantages posed to any one country’s businesses), which seems reasonable to me.  Also, this piece at The New Republic makes the strong point that “the one way” Barack Obama can bring his term back to success is by improving the economy and in particular unemployment.  I have not bought into the argument many have made that Obama’s administration is in mortal peril.  But I think this is roughly correct; the complicating factor is, the economy will eventually turn around, and will almost certainly do so before 2012.  Assessing the extent to which Obama deserves credit for that will prove a complicated matter.

Another move from the Obama White House that deserves notice: they’ve decided that Bush was right about the power of the executive to detain terrorists as combatants indefinitely without trial, based on the war powers already given the President by Congress.  This doesn’t bother me, but we should learn a lesson: some things are easy to castigate when the other party is in power, but look different once you’re in the Oval Office and you’re responsible for keeping America safe from homicidal maniacs.

5.  LIFE OF FAITH AT HARVARD.  Today I met with some great young men from Harvard’s Ichthus journal, and the Evangelical Portal will be developing a relationship with them (and hopefully with some of its sister journals at other schools).  I’m quite impressed with the quality of their material — even at their blog.  Here is a very nice reflection on the “abundant life” found in Christ:

It was Nietzsche who said it first, but it’s a common thought—Christianity is nihilistic. People may not express themselves in so many words, but who hasn’t heard the argument that Christians are prudish, repressed, reactionary, life-denying—life-hating? That Christians want to stamp out natural loves and pleasures? That Christians are so fixated on their pie-in-the-sky, ethereal heaven that they completely lose sight of life on earth?

Read the rest here.

6.  TERRORISM CENTRAL.  A lot of terrorism-related news all at once.  The terror arrests in Queens and Denver — leading to warnings on rail safety.  A new video from Ayman al-Zawahiri.  The terror probe expandsWarnings also for stadiums, hotels and transit, and travel to Germany.  All coincidence that these things are coming together?  Apparently the video of bin Laden’s lieutenant, which was probably intended to be released on 9/11, may have been delayed for a few weeks by jamming the web sites that distribute these things.  Was that to throw off an intended attack?  To prevent it long enough to give us time to make the arrests?  And was the message a sort of “trigger” intended to rouse a sleeper cell to action?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Just the discovery of what appears to be an active al Qaeda cell within the United States is disturbing enough:

The terror probe that burst into the spotlight in New York last week may have led authorities to the first active al Qaeda cell uncovered inside the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to officials familiar with the matter.Current and former U.S. officials say the allegations in the case embody their worst fears — that a legal U.S. resident could quietly leave the country, receive explosives training from al Qaeda in a lawless region of Pakistan, then return to U.S. soil.

7.  TURNING YOUR BACK ON MADNESS.  Congratulations to the UN delegates who walked out on Ahmadinejad.  And I’ve got to say that I’m enjoying this new tone from Obama:

UNITED NATIONS – President Barack Obama challenged world leaders Wednesday to shoulder more of the globe’s critical burdens, promising a newly cooperative partner in America but sternly warning they can no longer castigate the U.S. as a go-it-alone bully while still demanding it cure all ills.

“Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone,” said Obama in put-up-or-shut-up comments before a packed U.N. General Assembly hall. “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

In his first appearance before the group, Obama promised the U.S. would reach out in “a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” but he also wagged a rhetorical finger at leaders who spend much of their time at international gatherings excoriating the U.S. He said “an almost reflexive anti-Americanism” that swept the globe under the administration of his predecessor, George W. Bush, is not “an excuse for collective inaction.”

“Nothing is easier than blaming others for our troubles and absolving ourselves of responsibility for our choices and our actions,” he said.

You mean, the US isn’t responsible for all the evils in the world?  And you mean that other countries would rather sit back and let us address the world’s gravest problems, and then criticize us for doing it wrong?  Hmm.

8.  SUING WHISTLE-BLOWERS.  ACORN sues the filmmakers James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles for the recorded conversation in the Baltimore ACORN office.  It may be the case that Maryland law allows ACORN to sue them, while other state laws do not.  Which is not to say that ACORN will win the case; that seems unlikely.  They may be testing the waters to see whether Andrew Breitbart, whose media organization has rather sheltered and cultivated the filmmakers, will offer to settle out of court.  One has to suppose that ACORN would not want this to go to court, since the discovery process could be incredibly damaging to them.  Or it may be more of a PR move intended to portray themselves as victims, and later, when the lights of public attention have faded, ACORN will withdraw the suit.  You can read the story of the background of the video here.  Conservatives have long felt that ACORN, and in particular its electoral arms, are more extensions of the Democratic party than independent entities, and have shielded illegal activities under the banner of noble intentions and community service.

I’m not a fan of this kind of journalism, whether it’s done on the Right or the Left, and whether it’s high-end material like Michael Moore or low-end material like O’Keefe and Giles.  We need more media products that examine issues from every angle, not polemicizing from one angle, mocking the opposition, showing them in the worst possible light, or in their worst moment.

9.  MAKING THE BAND.  Children wearing different colored bands that denote the different kinds of sexual favors they must bestow if their bands are snapped?  Apparently.  Read about the callous disregard of the store owner who sells these items.

10.  THE BAD PAPA OF THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS.  Mackenzie Phillips, daughter of John Phillips, musician for the Mamas and the Papas, tells about how her father raped her when she was 19, on the night before her wedding.  He taught her to roll a joint at 10, and introduced her to heroin at a very young age.  They carried on an incestuous affair for 10 years.  But, she says: “My father was not a bad man. He was kind of a testament to what drugs and alcohol – in huge quantities – can do to a person’s priorities. Their motives.  I don’t hate him. I understand that he was a very tortured man, and he sort of passed that torture down to me.”  Ugh.  Those 60’s peace musicians were so enlightened, weren’t they?

11.  A NEW LEAF?  Not a link here, but just a note: I greatly appreciated the different tone Obama seemed to offer on the talk shows on Sunday.  I thought he was much more conciliatory, much more willing (following his own advice) to avoid attacking the motives of those who disagreed with him.  That’s what I was hoping to see in the speech he gave before Congress.

12.  COMPETING POLLS.  Some time ago I noted that a majority of physicians seemed to be in favor of health care reform along the lines proposed by Obama and Democrats.  Now another poll appears that suggests the opposite.  Hmm.

13.  SCHOOL PROPAGANDA?  Does this high school quiz seem propagandistic to you?  Before you decide, read the full story here.  It does seem to encourage students to assume that President Obama is telling the unvarnished truth, and doesn’t encourage a critical attitude or assessment.  But I don’t recall many instances in my own education (granted, I did independent study during my high school years because of my gymnastics career) when I was encouraged to view a President’s claims with skepticism.  It doesn’t sound as though the teacher, however, allowed a critical discussion, so that seems wrong to me, if the account is correct.  On the other hand, I have no idea what to make of this video.  The commenters take it too far when they warn of moving toward fascistic indoctrination.  But it is worrisome.  If it doesn’t bother you, ask yourself whether you’d mind if such a song were sung to President Bush in his first year, or after 9/11?

One of my fundamental precepts, however, is that people are more or less the same (profound, I know), and that includes Democrats and Republicans.  Not necessarily the same in their principles, but in their neuroses, their weaknesses, their faults.  There was a tendency after 9/11 to glorify Bush as the leader chosen by God for such a time as this.  Yet I don’t recall quite the same tendency to leader-worship as one finds with Obama.  In some ways that’s understandable; Obama is the first African-American President, so he accomplished something historic simply by being elected.  He speaks in the loftiest of rhetoric, at least on occasion, and inspires many people.  In office, however, Obama should be held to the same critical standard as all politicians, and we should expect him to stumble in much the same way other politicians do.

14.  PALINASIA.  Sarah Palin gave her speech in Asia, and reviews varied from those who thought it was “brilliant” to those who walked out (American delegates who were presumably against her to start with).  And again it always fascinates me to read the comments from the enlightened on websites like Swampland.  My favorite is cfukara, who suggests that Palin only got her degree by giving sexual favors to her professors.  Granted, Palin does not have the preferred ideology of the intellectual elite, and she performed poorly in some early interviews on national policy issues, but she’s accomplished, with no help from her husband or a big-name patron, a great deal more than 99% of the population.  She may not be a genius, and I think she’s wrong on certain issues, but she’s clearly an intelligent woman, competent, courageous, ambitious, and hard-working.  The loathing on the Left for Palin continues to amaze.  My suggestion: like Bush Derangement Syndrome, and the Obama version, let’s call this Palinasia.  And speaking of Palin, this Democratic operative has an interested prediction, if current trajectories hold, for Palin “with her arms raised in triumph on Election Day 2010.”

15.  LANDSCAPE ASSESSOR.  Information on the political landscape, from Byron York:

It’s also far smaller than the massive 19-point lead Democrats held over Republicans in June 2008. So in less than a year and a half, the Democratic margin has fallen from 19 points to 3. (The last time the Democratic lead was so slim was five years ago, in October 2004. The last time Republicans held the lead in the Congressional question was October 2002.)

16.  WONDERFUL HOLLYWOOD.  Yet another television show (“Cougar Town“) with no moral compass.

17.  COLUMN OF THE DAY.  Thomas Friedman on the hopes of cracking Iran with threats of biting sanctions and military action.

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