Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Income Inequality: An Uneven Playing Field

The topic of Income Inequality, is an unfortunate name for this issue. Whether this misfortune was unavoidable is not particularly instructive as to the importance of the issue in American society today. What is salient about Income Inequality isn’t its name, so regardless of the words selected to establish it as an iconic political issue what is important is what the underlying is to the nation. Equally important is that what the issue is isn’t understood to mean some commonly accepted set of ideas or concepts. Certainly there is no assurance that any two individuals agreeing or disagreeing over the issue are actually working from a framework that allows them to meaningfully communicate with each other.

How then is Income Inequality to be properly and effectively discussed and debated by politicians? How are they to present their views, explain their reasoning for what policies and approaches they are advocating for legislative efforts, building support for in their campaigns, and persuading voters that their answer for Income Inequality is superior to others being touted? The answer should be obvious but it’s not apparent that anyone is doing the one essential thing that the nation needs: Framing the issue for the public.

What then is Income Inequality? If we were to ask politicians, members of the media, or you how likely would it be that any of the answers match? If they don’t match, how could a sane and rational national policy be formulated?

Let’s take the simplest and most basic definition of Income Inequality: Each person in the US doesn’t make the same income as every other person in the US. This can’t be the issue since it is disconnected with every aspect of America’s economic system, society and would even violate the religious beliefs of many. From this we can conclude that the Inequality is not that different people make different income amounts than others make. In fact we actually expect this to be true and accept it.

We are going to have to explore the issue further. Is the issue related to the ‘Income’, to the ‘Inequality’, to both, or to some indirectly referenced concept that is obscured behind the Income Inequality label?

On its surface one might think that Income isn’t the issue. No one is against people having incomes, no one can rationally think having ranges of incomes is a de facto bad system, and no one can expect incomes to be untethered to some productive value of exchange. What then could be a source of disagreement about Income? Wait! Could it be what we agree that we have defined Income to be?
We all know and understand what we mean by income, right? It’s the same for everyone …,  hmmm?; well maybe not. There’s salary/wages, there’s tips, there’s stock grants and options, there’s gifts, there’s capital gains or losses, interest, barter, charitable donations, prizes, and … . So what actually constitutes income may be part of the concept encompassed within the Income Inequality issue. Even if we all agreed which types of ‘values’ were considered income or not, we should all agree that some of these value-based categories are not treated equally. Is that what’s at core of the Inequality issue?

The fact that different kinds of income are treated differently would only be an issue if their availability were somehow biased or constrained to some income earners and not others? So this may be a factor in the Income Inequality issue. Now I recall debates about the fair versus unfair aspect of these different categories for years, so these differences are not new. The argument for the different treatment of one type of income versus is usually based on how it benefits the overall economy compared to other types. Hence, long-term capital gains are taxed at lower rates than wages; with the justification being that the investment promotes and produces increased value in the overall economy. This income opportunity is available to anyone who assumes the investment risk, as long as they have financial resources to make the investment. While not truly available to all income earning levels in the country, the openness to investments are generally unbiased. I am sure there are some that are significantly biased or constrained to a very small group in the population; but I am not sure this is where the Inequality issue resides.

I don’t think we should get into the question of whether allowing some individuals receive ‘value’ that is not treated as income in the same context as say a basic wage earner’s income is. Allowing an executive to be granted $10M in stock as part of their compensation should not impose any treatment of the value of those shares are income. Yes it seems set up to benefit a small group of individuals, I think the root problem that people may have here is actually contained in a dimension of inequality discussed later.

Is the Inequality issue related to how income earners are impacted by other dimensions of the economic environment? Don’t factors like inflation or wage growth rates impact everyone more or less equally? The answer is no, they do not. Perhaps we are getting closer to what Income Inequality is connected to. How so?

If everyone received a 2% raise in a given year, the more you made before the more you make from the raise. That’s fair, isn’t it? If you earned $10K, you get $200 more. If you earned $100K, you get $2,000 more. If you earned $1M, you get $20K more; and if you earned $10M then you get $200K more. The mathematics of this is one reason that the Income Gap increases between any two groups. Why is 2% for everyone what constitutes fair?

I know that raises often are driven in part (or completely) by the need to meet inflation or workers would be losing ground (buying power) to inflation. But a 2% raise doesn’t have the same impact or consequence to every earner. There’s a proportion of the population that still lose ground to inflation with a 2% raise. This is because their income is already below the Consumer Price Index amount that would keep them even with a 2% inflation rate. This group will not be able to buy the same amount of food, shelter, energy, clothing, transportation, … that they use to be able to purchase. This group truly is worse off despite getting a raise. Anyone not getting a raise is also worse off, so our fixed-income population is pressed more. The Inequality dimension appears to be surfacing along this perspective of our economic system. If the 2% wage (income) increase was the amount required to keep the average person making the average income whole then everyone below the average is losing economic ground from where they were the year before. Conversely, everyone above the average is making some progress in increasing their economic value; with those higher up the income range gaining more over everyone below them. This is why there is an element of truth to the “rich get richer, and the poor get poorer” observation. So the gap grows even if everyone can hold their relative position. Now remember that the average income is significantly greater than the median income amount. So in fact, more than half the population is disadvantaged with a keeping up with inflation view if it’s the average that is the ‘breaking even’ point. Keeping doing this year over year, the math doesn’t change and the gap increases faster and faster. But this is all driven by the math, there is no ‘value’ proposition for why this is fair. There is no rationale that explains how this is in the best interests of a society or a nation.  There is also no reason to believe that such an economic system is sustainable. Is the Inequality issue perhaps nothing more than a predictable consequence of the unstable economic state that such a system produces?

There has to be some other rational for why the system should reward the higher income earners to a progressively greater degree. In fact, we hear lots of arguments to this effect. Investments create jobs and that benefits the economy and everyone. This argument sound good, and I would agree that there should be some benefit to those of make investments. But that argument while useful in establishing a principle that investment is an important element in a competitive economy, it need not guarantee that investments result in what is good for the economy, for the nation or for the majority of the public.

If the widening Income gap is part of the Inequality issue, is it nothing more than recasting that an “expanding middle class” is key to strengthening the nation’s economy and security? The principle that Henry Ford used to have a wage for employees that would also make them customers was an early insight into the wisdom of the business community understanding that wages are a double edged weapon. One side may have a short-term cutting edge while the other produces damage in the long-term.

Income Inequality is coming into focus but still it exists in a foggy landscape. Given the hazy view, are the politicians just blowing more smoke contaminating the view more; or are they clearing the air so that we can all see what the issue is, how it affects us personally, nationally, economically and supports or degrades our American values and goals?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Presumptive Primary Winner: Why a Political Party Should Require a Two Contender Minimum

The Democratic Party is experiencing the consequences and phenomena that is tied to having a presumptive nominee for the 2016 political presidential campaign. While the current instance applies to the Democratic Party it is equally applicable to the Republican Party in cases when it has a presumptive nominee. It’s not surprising that Hillary Clinton is going to run for office, she is after all a major power-player in the Party and she has aspirations to be President. She also has the attraction of being a woman which engenders the historic opportunity to have the first woman President which is clearly dynamic that will impact voter turn-out on many sides. But these criteria do not represent a compelling justification for a de facto candidate.

The problem with having a presumptive candidate is that because of her support within the Party there is a ‘barrier to entry’ that any other prospective candidate is required to surmount to contest the presumption. Along with the presumption come many benefits that the candidate accrues that just fortify the rampart against any challenger.  Benefits like wealthy contributors who want to be in with the nominee should they win.

Now there are also disadvantages that a presumptive candidate receives, so it’s not a win-win situation but it is a highly probable nominee win situation, particularly if no actual challenger surfaces. Overall however, the presumptive candidate achieves the first step in the critical path to the White House with little to no effort. This effortless step brings with it some disadvantages for the steps that follow. The candidate doesn’t receive the experience of confronting an opponent’s views, policies, and positions that will allow them to hone their message or adjust their position to the ‘conditions on the ground’ that their campaign will have to deal with during the competitive race against the Republican nominee. The candidate is a target early but exists in that political space where they are effectively only able to campaign for support without the opportunities to rack up any wins against an opponent. They won’t receive the same level of media coverage or attention until there is one Republican candidate that they are identified as competing against. Each and any response to the many Republican candidates running serves those candidates’ interests and dilutes the focus on the Democratic message. Such reactions also represent  occasions where the presumptive candidate creates vulnerabilities via their response that get exploited from both the many-to-one voices situation and the prolonged interval during which they are the clear and definitive target. Perhaps the greatest disadvantage is that without the competition of ideas in a campaign the opportunity to seize better plans, policies and positions is reduce or even eliminated since there is no occasion where those new ideas are given an advocating voice.

To alleviate these negative conditions, the Democratic Party (or any Party) should seek or even require that two candidates actively run for the nomination. Such a process would provide the Party with the advantages and opportunities to have issues and positions established resonate with the current political environment and that are tested under the trial-by-fire conditions that those items will face in the general election. It insures a campaign focus and attention from the media and the public, even those outside the Party’s core, that will produce more consideration of the issues that are and will be substantive to the public and in the campaigns.

This required competition will also produce the selection of a nominee that will have better prospects for winning in the general election on the basis that if you can win your Party’s nomination with competition than you are the better candidate versus if you are anointed as the nominee because no one tested your abilities to actually win.

It’s unlikely that this approach would be adopted by any Party however since it run directly against the immediate and primary interests of a presumptive candidate and their supporters.  It’s the political tendency to act on the premise of self-first and other-entities no higher than second.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Measles 2015: A Pox On Our Public Healthcare Policy

There is a phenomenon that people don’t pay much attention to and certainly don’t base public policy on. This is unfortunate in that the public would be better off if they did pay slightly more attention to it, and public policy would advance rather than atrophy from inattention. The phenomenon: Knowledge does not persist from one generation to the next; knowledge must be communicated and learned or it is lost. We all know it’s true that knowledge must be learned, but we are perfectly willing to ignore what has been learned or not.

The 2015 US measles outbreak is a symptom of neglecting such knowledge. And we can add negligence to the mix by a weakening of public’s healthcare policy by widening the exemption/waiver policy as if there were no consequences to permitting non-inoculations. As the measles cases increase and spread to multiple states, we can anticipate the public reaction. There will be those who cry for the government to do something, this will be particularly prevalent among politicians. Another response will be to demand an investigation on how this (and irrationally for by whom this) was ‘allowed’ to happen. There will be the segment of the public that advocates a personal rights / individual freedom position that no one should be forced to inoculate their children (and they will have their politicians who support them).

But where is leadership on this issue? What besides the obvious has any leaders or pretender to the throne stated, declared or proposed? Where is the analysis, the debate or the proposed policy to address the demonstrated problem that the measles event has projected onto the national scene?
Don’t expect any satisfaction on this front. Leadership has apparently spent its load on what they can bring to the issue. If you missed it, it basically: “I think people should get vaccinated to protect the public.” Some add: “But I also believe individuals should have a role in this decision for their family.”  These two items cover all bases as long as you don’t think about the statements, attempt to develop a sound and reasoned policy from the statements, or consider whether the statements represent the problem space that this issue needs to cover.

What is the issue? Is it really as simple as whether everyone should be vaccinated or whether there are legitimate exemptions to be allowed under the law? I contend that that is only a part of the issue. The whole issue encompasses the scientific and medical understanding, the public health policy, individual’s right to medical decisions, the social cost/benefits for a pro- or con- position, and the responsibility of individual members of a society to other members.

The scientific and medical side of the issue should come down to what the ‘best’ scientific and medical expertise indicates we should do. In the current world, the answer is that vaccinations are the correct actions to take. This view acknowledges that there are medical conditions which will require an exemption but those conditions are not because of being afraid that vaccinations will cause autism. The view of medical and scientific communities is the public should vaccinate. This position is appropriately apolitical, it does not and should not be weighing in on the philosophy of government dimension.
The public health policy side of this issue presents the government’s (local, state and federal) involvement and responsibility in establishing the requirements for citizens, businesses, organizations and government agencies to follow in protecting the public and the nation from threats originating from diseases or situations that impact citizens’ health. The policy unfortunately varies at and across the various levels of government which makes for an unreliable situation in terms of the cause and effect consequences of one variation relative to another.  While there is a general consensus on the measles vaccination position within the nation, there are widely different exemption criteria and rules which make it much easier for an individual or parent to opt-out of being vaccinated. This opt-out allowance is a particularly relevant aspect of the current measles outbreak.  So the public health policy supports vaccinations but the instances where exemption rules are looser it is weakened and thus less effective in confronting the risks to the public from diseases.

The individual right to make personal choices in medical treatment that has come into prominent display with the measles outbreak is a dimension of the issue that most readily comes into conflict with the public policy, scientific, medical and other dimension of the issue. The reason for this is that the individual rights principle is almost understood to be at odds with a public / societal rights concept. I don’t believe that this conflict is as real, necessary or sufficient as it is treated but that doesn’t prevent it from creating a conflict that must be addressed. The fact that this conflict has been addressed in the past and will have to be dealt with again and again in the future is just part of the transmission of knowledge from the past into the future.

The most salient element of the individual rights position that must be considered with respect to a medical decision is whether the decision is truly a decision about the individual (or their family) or whether the decision involves the health of other individuals in the society. I don’t believe there is any dispute as to who should be able to make a medical decision about a wide range of medical conditions. Who else but you should decide if you go to a dentist for a filling; should you get glasses or contacts for correcting vision problems; should you get cholesterol pills, blood-pressure pills, erectile dysfunction pills, or other treatments for various health conditions that are non-contagious.
On the other hand, does our social contract for a free democratic society allow individuals to choose to make individual decisions about highly contagious and deadly diseases? If you have a highly contagious disease, our laws allow for the public-good to override your right to act indiscriminately and risk the health of others. You can be quarantined, you can be forced to take medication and you can be held to be accountable for negligence. Now these overrides of your right are narrowly defined in terms of the science, medicine, public health policy and level of risks presented; but they clearly demonstrate that like all things in our social contract there are limits, conditions and obligations that go hand in hand with the right. So where does this leave the individual right view on vaccinations? At best it seems to depend on the risk to whom question, and it has to acknowledge that it does not consistently trump the other factors irrespective of other interests.

Now I realize that people don’t like to consider or worry about the trade-offs that have to be accounted for on such topics as healthcare, but that doesn’t make the financial considerations unimportant or even critical to the decision. From a Cost/Benefits view, the vaccination issue presents a whole range of factors that are relevant to how the vaccination policy position for a particular disease should be calibrated. There are some diseases that while highly contagious are not highly injurious to anyone who catches it from another, and of course at the other extreme there are those diseases that have very high mortality rates and thus are significant risks to anyone. In cases where there are vaccines for the low risk outcome diseases the importance of a non-compulsive public policy position is rational, this would be especially true if the dollar cost to vaccinate were high. For diseases on the high mortality side, a policy to not require high-level vaccination compliance is equally warranted. In fact if the dollar cost was high and it isn’t feasible to protect every citizen the other-side of an individual’s right to choose would surface.  The element of the cost/benefit assessment on a disease, like measles, is how to determine some of the cost areas that come into play. How much does it cost to treat individuals who are not vaccinated and who come down with the disease? To what degree are long-term costs for someone that suffers a chronic consequence from being infected? Are there costs to individuals who are vaccinated beyond the vaccination, and if so what? On this dimension the answer is disease specific the costs/benefits trade-off decision will need to be made with an eye to what is the best policy for the public as a whole. This view presents the individual choice right under the notion of being able to choose for yourself without forcing a risky consequence onto someone else’s right to life.

Lastly there is an area of the vaccination issue which is rarely, perhaps never, included in a discussion of the vaccination policy. It’s the Responsibility factor. When we engage one of our ‘rights’ into a conflict, we diligently support the principles of rights that we acknowledge in our society. And when one right comes into conflict with another of our rights, we hope that there are precedents in the law to help guide which has the primacy and which is subordinate. What we don’t often do is think about, discuss or confront the question of is: Given a particular right, what are we then responsible for in the exercise of that right? If your individual right to not get vaccinated results in my suffering a loss is there no responsibility for you to account for that consequence? If your decision produces or contributes to a significant cost to the nation should you be responsible for that cost? The responsibility question is the one at the heart of balancing the individual right with the society’s obligation to protect all citizens. The fact that it’s not easy or comfortable to resolve is just what it means to live in a free society.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Case Study of Modern Politicians: (or the new definition of a Leader)

What follows is not specific to nor uniquely characteristic of Gov. Christie, it appears to be generally applicable to our politician (national and state, democratic or republican, incumbents or aspiring hopefuls).

Politicians are charged with creating the policies and the laws that are necessary to, required by and central to the execution of governing. To fuffil that role it is essential that politicians be able to formulate, explain and lead the public toward a social implementation that delivers on the principles and values of the society that the nation is founded upon delivering. In this regard, leaders are required to lead; a simple but perhaps forgotten concept. The Founding Fathers were leaders. They had positions that they would present, discuss and debate; and they acted upon those positions. Sometimes those positions were accepted as fundamental principles, sometimes they were compromised on with others' views and became the policies that would become part of the societal agreement, and sometimes they were rejected because the particular idea(s) were not in sufficient common agreement that they did in fact represent the leading views of the collective wisdom. In the end, they lead; they put their views and positions before their peers and the public, defended them, and have created for posterity the nation that we have today in our free, democratic and law-based system of government (federal, state, and local).

Would a leader of the Founding Fathers' caliber sit back and wait to see if they were going to run for office before they would speak out on what the nation, the state or they themselves should be doing with respect to an issue of national significance? If you don't have an answer to present, or you don't have sufficient comprehension of the issue or factors that need to be considered, or you don't believe that the issue is important enough to be of concern to a political leader then is it in the nature of a leader to say: "I will have a position if I choose to run." Do leaders have to be running to participate in the political debate and political decision process on an issue?

The question that the public should be asking any politician is: "As a leader do you have anything of import, substance or value to provide to the public, to the political process or to our society that would be important and useful in setting an American understanding of the issue, a value-based perspective that would provide direction to others, or an illustration of how American principles are reflected in what should be done?"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Legal Weed: It’s Not What You Want, It’s What You Get

As the legalization of marijuana issue works its way forward though the various states and the federal arenas we will all have the opportunity to see the political processes proceed and with it the quality and level of judgment and understanding at which national and state leaders are capable of operating. In other words we are about to witness the incompetency and perhaps in some cases the influence of non-public interests in the legislation and execution of marijuana use in the public sphere.

Now don’t assume I am for or against the legalization, to be perfectly honest I am generally indifferent to that decision because no matter which way it goes the same consequential political and public aspects that will plague the nation for years to come will occur. It is the ‘laws of physics’ about marijuana in society that are the real issue and that is something that is beyond the comprehension of politicians. Politicians think, I use the term loosely, that they can create a legal policy that will resolve the issue by defining the manner of use that will be permitted. Note: the current criminal status of marijuana use that has existed for the last several decades was the best attempt that politicians were capable of and we can all see the excellent and wonderful success and benefits that have occurred because of those efforts.

The issues of use are not primarily whether it is considered legal or illegal that issue is just the one that people get their ethical self wrapped around based on how they see the use as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. But ask what the cause and effect dimensions of legal or not legal are, and do those consequences ethically justify the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ position being made and promised by the politicians?

As the public sentiment grows for legalization and the politicians see funding’s beck and call the crime will ebb and the weed will flow. But the laws of physics will proceed unrelenting without regard for opinion, desire, dictate or hope of those who judged imperfectly what they failed to comprehend. These effects will come from how the use of marijuana will intrude on other areas of life and society. Just like trying to criminalize it produced a black-market for weed, criminal elements who capitalized on it, costs for law enforcement and punishment, granting use a “rebellious” character, and changing the lives and prospects of numerous citizens; the legalization of marijuana will extend into areas that are beyond just the question of is it legal or not. With legal use are we less impacted by how marijuana effects things like driving behavior and skills, healthcare costs,  cost of insurance, non-adult access to use, use at work or in the military, …

When others use weed does it affect the responsibility that they have with respect to impacts on you?

This is where the politicians fail to lead. In defining the legality how well thought out are these areas in terms of what happens next? Presumably, the justification for criminalization was that bad things resulted from use. The fact the worse things happened from just deciding to criminalize use doesn’t eliminate the fact that there are consequences of use and there are risks to others from legal use.

So what’s needed is that we need a comprehensive marijuana use policy that addresses not just its legality but all the other dimensions in our lives that use will affect. This is not something that gets done once and done. Marijuana policy will need to be studied and monitored so that our society can adapt and respond to the deficiencies in the legislation and what was understood and hoped for by the politicians that think they can will the world to work the way they intended it to.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cease Fire: Good Or Bad Idea?

The current Israeli – Gaza Strip crisis is the latest episode of war-level conflict between Israel and Palestinian (notably Hamas-centric groups) forces. The state of the conflict between the parties is at a particularly high level of armed engagement with the associated number of fatalities that is logically a consequence of such a state of affairs. The laws of physics and probability just don’t allow for the enormous amount of explosive projectiles being deployed without the ‘cause and effect’ deaths that will result. Simply put, when two sides engage in attempts to kill the other there will be deaths.

In most situations where there are armed conflicts, the nations of the world will express some degree of concern or alarm about the conflict. The nature and degree of concern or alarm will vary across a number of dimensions; but one particularly salient factor that raises the level of concern and disapproval are situations where civilians, and especially children, are victims to the violence. If the majority of the causalities are civilians then the outcry to stop the violence reaches its highest levels. In response to the concern around those being killed, a typical call to action will be for the opposing sides to agree to a ‘cease-fire’; that is a cessation of hostilities, a truce, or creating a pause in aggressive activities. The duration of a cease-fire represents a secondary dimension of attempts to resolve or manage a resolution to a crisis situation.

So it is not surprising in the current Israeli – Gaza hostilities that the calls for a cease-fire and the offers or proposals for cease-fires are in the offing as if there were some competition with a prize for the winner of a chosen proposal. Most proposals are rejected by one side or the other. I think occasionally both sides reject a presented proposal. There have been some short cease-fire events agreed to, but they are either almost immediately violated or pass with the return to the state of war as if that is the preferred condition and the cease-fires are inconvenient interruptions in the opportunities for death and destruction.

Diplomats from different nations inform us that they are working with any and all parties that they can to arrange for a cease-fire that they can then build upon to ultimately bring about a resolution and lead the parties and regions to peace. Certainly an admirable goal and objective for our US diplomats and for those from other nations; but are they failing to gain traction on this front because there is no way to place an acceptable proposal on the table or they are stuck in presenting ‘same old’, ‘been down this road before’, or ‘nothing new under the sun’ versions of a cease-fire state that is not practical, workable, reasoned, or productive and thus leads to nowhere.

Is a cease-fire desirable because it makes the rest of the world more comfortable but does nothing to address the factors and issues that have sustained this conflict for decades? Is a cease-fire that is temporary and allows for triage but not for a cure anything more than delaying the death toll?

What is required by our world leaders, the parties directly involved, those acting behind the scenes, the diplomats, and the rest of the world’s citizenry is a more comprehensive approach to defining and implementing a path forward to if not stop hostilities to manage them. The lack of a plan and structure in which the conflict can be managed is where the diplomats are failing. They need to learn new techniques and approaches to conflict resolutions of this type. Just because you have a hammer doesn’t mean that the hammer is a salient tool that will be effective in planting a new crop. Trying to help is very humane and we would hope is what all nations would want to do here (though this is probably not universally true) so yes we are trying, but trying and trying and trying over again is likely an indication that the desire to succeed is not matched by the ability, competency or wisdom to succeed. This doesn’t mean that there are not effective and acceptable approaches to attaining a cease-fire and better yet a resolution to the conflict but that those engaged in defining and developing the solution are not properly equipped to do it.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

“I Believe” The Supreme Courts’ Own Pandora’s Box

The expected Monday ruling by the Justices on the ‘religious rights’ of companies versus federal laws has the potential to be ground-breaking decision. Regardless of the decision there will be lots of subsequent efforts that will enrich the lawyers. The problem that is facing the Justices may actually not be the one that they are ‘narrowing’ their sights upon. Do companies, even tightly held family businesses, have the right to indiscriminately apply their religious beliefs, tenets and views with exemptions from federal laws/regulations? The question is not whether the companies and their particular owners have religious views that conflict, in their opinion, with an aspect of a federal policy. This may be the issue that is discussed in the media, that the suit and its arguments are fashioned around, or that the parties involved want the issue to be; but the issue that the Court should be considering in its assessment of the suit ought to include the ‘unasked’ and ‘un-presented’ question of who and how does a ‘religious’ belief get defined and assessed as being a ‘valid’ belief?

Is the Supreme Court willing to rule that ‘religious’ beliefs trump law in any area? Or is the Court somehow going to try and carve out a small, narrow, and single-issue oriented decision that will fundamentally (not meant in a religious context) establish a crack in the foundation. A religious belief would seem to be recognized and honored by our Constitution as something an individual is allowed to have and live by within their own life without interference from the Government. However, at the very moment and boundary where the individual’s beliefs intrude into the lives of others, America decided that the Government and religion will take separate paths. So when the companies’ owners want to be exempted from the federal mandate on healthcare rules we are staring straight down the dividing line. The owners believe in a pro-life view which they now want extended to the lives of their employees.  It doesn’t matter if the employees have a comparable view; it doesn’t matter if employees’ view are also religiously based yet are pro-choice or if agnostic/atheistic are violated by definition from that of the owners.

Let’s set aside the question of the employee’s rights to their religious or non-religious views versus the owner’s, because I am sure every American will agree that a company’s views take precedent over their employees just like the feudal lords views superseded the serfs [I could have used a more American reference, but why muddy the issue?]. So let us look just at the dimension of ‘religious’ correctness of doctrine.

The ‘religiosity’ of a view being relevant in the applicability of our nation’s laws is the introduction of the very malicious cancer that the founding fathers were fortunately able to foresee and build into the social and civic structure of our government and society. Keeping religion out of politics has been a dismal failure, but keeping it out of our laws has been at least more often than not a successful ‘holding ground’ effort. When discussing the freedom of religion right, it seems that people think of and distrust the government’s intruding on our religious rights but there was as important (maybe even more feared) risk of religious intrusions on our government. This second dimension of religion and government is the one that the Court is placing on the altar of their wisdom. Whether they sustain the letter and spirit of the founders’ vision or sacrifice it to a vision that they have misunderstood will be at the center of their ruling. Each side of the argument will of course see their view as being consistent with the “original intent” argument which logically means that that view is not verifiable as a “true” intent. This decision must ‘look to the future’ because that is where the consequences will occur and that is where the wisdom or folly of the Justices will fall; that is also where the rest of us must live with their decision be it good or ill.

Now I always know what the right interpretation of religious views should be. That is because I know that my beliefs and faith are true, right and come from the gifts that God has granted me. So if the Justices could just assure me that my views were upheld and applied than I would have no objection or problem with ruling that ‘my individual freedom of religion’ rights were protected. However, since I find the religious views of others often in error of a rational religious doctrine, even one that is purportedly the same as my own, I do not see how others can be allowed to influence a public policy which has any impact upon me and my rights both religious and non-religious. Now being an open-minded person, it does occur to me that there might be at least one other person in the nation that may have the exact same view as me regarding their rights yet not agree with me on my religious views. This does create a certain irresolvable conflict of whose views are paramount. I of course think mine should be but perhaps you might think that yours are.

 Where might religious beliefs come into conflict with local, state or federal law? Could anyone possibly have a religious view that could be applied to an exemption or to a compulsion on:  taxation, government funding of programs, entitlement programs, medical research, criminal codes, property, drugs, …  [by now you may have a few of your own areas that you think the government may be in violation of your religious views and need to be exempted from something because of it].

Now what about the ‘who gets to decide’ if a religious belief is an accurate interpretation of a particular religion’s doctrine? What religions get recognized? Whose religion has precedence over others? If I share a religious faith but disagree with one or more members of that particular faith, who gets to decide? A recent study of Catholics in the US indicates that they don’t follow several of the positions of the general leadership of the Church. Even the Pope’s views are not absolutely concurred with by his hierarchy. The reason that there is a myth about Pandora’s box is that even a very long time ago there was a need to remind people that that are consequences to actions, and that sometime you can’t undo the action.

In the Christian faiths there is an answer to this issue in the Bible, it strange that no one has brought it up.