Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

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Senator Robert Byrd, March 2009: Passing health-care reform via budget reconciliation is an “outrage”

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Here is Senator Robert C. Byrd’s (D-W. Va.) entire Washington Post op-ed article of March 22, 2009, in which he called use of budget reconciliation as a way to bypass Senate debate “arcane”, “undemocratic” and  an “outrage that must be resisted.”  Note that a year later (2010), the House used reconciliation to pass health-care reform.  It is an outrage, and people on both sides of the aisle should be very concerned about it.  The piece is just three paragraphs and worth reading in its entirety.

ROBERT C. BYRD (D-W. Va.)

Member of the Senate Budget Committee and senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee

Americans have an inalienable right to a careful examination of proposals that dramatically affect their lives. I was one of the authors of the legislation that created the budget “reconciliation” process in 1974, and I am certain that putting health-care reform and climate change legislation on a freight train through Congress is an outrage that must be resisted.

Using the reconciliation process to enact major legislation prevents an open debate about critical issues in full view of the public. Health reform and climate change are issues that, in one way or another, touch every American family. Their resolution carries serious economic and emotional consequences.

The misuse of the arcane process of reconciliation — a process intended for deficit reduction — to enact substantive policy changes is an undemocratic disservice to our people and to the Senate’s institutional role. Reconciliation, with its tight time limits, excludes debate and shuts down amendments. Essentially it says “take it or leave it” to the citizens who sent us here to solve problems, and it prevents members from representing their constituents’ interests. Everyone likes to win, and the Obama administration, of course, wants victories. But tactics that ignore the means in pursuit of the ends are wrong when the outcome affects Americans’ health and economic security. Let us inform the people, get their feedback, allow amendments to be considered and hear opposing views. That’s the American way and the right way.

Source:  Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Washington Post Opinions, March 22, 2009, “The End of Bipartisanship for Obama’s Big Initiatives?”.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/20/AR2009032002941.html

The End of Bipartisanship for Obama’s Big Initiatives?

The End of Bipartisanship for Obama’s Big Initiatives?

Right to die might kill health care reform – Washington Times

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SMITH: Right to die might kill health care reform – Washington Times.

“Several aspects of the legislation are troubling from a constitutional perspective. However, not all of these aspects are raised in the state lawsuits. Ultimately, the Supreme Court may confront the constitutionality of the legislation in the context of a lawsuit brought by an individual citizen, not the state governments.

“For example, the mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance raises potential problems, not merely because the congressional authority to pass it is questionable, but also because it interferes with individual rights regarding health care choices…”

Read full article here.

Individual Mandate: Unconstitional Capitation Tax?

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Law professor Steven Willis suggests that the strongest argument against the constitutionality of the Health Care Act is that it involves an un-apportioned capitation tax.

According to Article 1, section 9 of the U.S. Constitution:

No capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.

Willis writes:

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care ACT of 2010 requires all individuals… to pay a ‘penalty’ on their failure to act, i.e., on their failure to purchase proper health insurance or to enroll in a proper plan…  Certainly, the ‘penalty’ is not a ‘duty’ or an ‘impost’ and is not constitutional under either of those terms.  Hence, in my opinion, the only thing the ‘penalty’ can be is a direct tax and, more particularly, a Capitation or per person tax.  Such a tax is constitutional, but only if apportioned among the states consistent with the census. This Lack of Health Care Tax is not properly apportioned. Hence it is unconstitutional.

Proper apportionment (i.e., amount of tax) could potentially reflect factors like age distribution of a state’s population and their general health status, and whether the state has its own provisions for public healthcare.

For details read the entire article here.

Related posts:

John Stossel: Welfare state harms the poor

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From John Stossel’s April 8 column:

“When I first explained libertarianism to my wife, she said: “That’s cruel! What about the poor and the weak? Let them starve?”

I recently asked some prominent libertarians that question, including Jeffrey Miron, who teaches economics at Harvard.

“It might in some cases be a little cruel,” Miron said. “But it means you’re not taking from people who’ve worked hard to earn their income (in order) to give it to people who have not worked hard.”

But isn’t it wrong for people to suffer in a rich country?

“The number of people who will suffer is likely to be very small. Private charity … will provide support for the vast majority who would be poor in the absence of some kind of support. When government does it, it creates an air of entitlement that leads to more demand for redistribution, till everyone becomes a ward of the state.”

… David Boaz of the Cato Institute] indicts the welfare state for the untold harm it’s done in the name of the poor.

“What we find is a system that traps people into dependency. … You should be asking advocates of that system, ‘Why don’t you care about the poor?‘”

Unconstitutionality of the Individual Health Insurance Mandate: A Freedom of Religion Argument

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Unconstitutionality of the Individual Health Insurance Mandate:  A Freedom of Religion Argument

I am surprised that nobody has yet raised this concern (but in a way, not surprised, because today many people have a fairly mistaken view of what religion is generally).  The argument here is that modern medical practice is basically a very specific and arbitrary worldview — one based on metaphysical assumptions that some religions and spiritual traditions disagree with.

To begin, one may simply note that there are established religious denominations in the United States that do not believe in medical treatment.  The most notable example is Christian Science.

To be honest, Christian Scientists should be complaining loudly against this legislation.  The only news story I’ve seen on the subject, unfortunately, was to the effect that some members of the church lobbied for legal provisions to allow their centers to receive funding.  What this really shows is that, predictably, at least some modern Christian Scientsts have backed down from the original principles of their relgion.  Likely there are still some who hold the traditional view.

In case anyone needs a reminder:  Christian Science was founded by Mary Baker Eddy, in the 19th century.  One of her core teachings was that an illness is a physical manifestation of a spiritual disorder.  Physical illness is cured not by medicine, but by prayer and rectification of whatever is wrong with the soul.

That is not by any means a new or especially rare view among Christians.  Since the time of Jesus, it has long been accepted by Christians that physical healing may occur by praying or the laying on of hands. So, if one really believe this, then isn’t resorting to physical medicine a sign of lack of faith?

In general we can broadly distinguish between two radically different worldviews, naming them Materialism and Idealism.  Modern society is based on materialism, which holds that material reality — things like atoms and electrons — is the ultimate reality, and that sickness and disease are a products of interactions and events at the material level.

In contrast, Idealism holds that the ultimate reality is mental or spiritual: basically, all the world is a dream — either in our own minds, or in the mind of God.

Now if you are a Materialist, then it makes perfect sense to treat diseases with physical medicine.  But if you are an Idealist — and that includes not just Christian Scientists, but many others — including many Buddhists and practicioners of certain forms of yoga — then the way to cure disase is by changing your thoughts.

As a basis for a legal argument, this is not as far-fetched as it might at first seem.  In The American Religion, noted literary critic Harold Bloom observed that American culture is fundamentally rooted in what he labeled “gnosticism”, but which in this context could be equally well be called metaphysical Idealism.  Most Americans believe in miracles, and that ones thinking can shape reality in a non-material way.

Most Americans today perhaps are somewhere on a continuum between radical Materialism and radical Idealism.  But, in theory, a person could identify as a pure Idealist, and on that basis claim it is against his or her religious principles to use medical treatment.  If this were tested in the Supreme Court, if the defendent (the person refusing to buy insurance) were sincere, and if the case were knowledgeably presented, then it would appear to be a fairly open-and-shut case:  a person could refuse to participate in medical treatment for genuine religious reasons.

If this were a specious or insincere argument, that would be one thing.   But what’s involved here is a very genuine tension between radically different worldviews.   It should be very plain that the Constitution does not require a citizen to subscribe to the “religion” of metaphysical Materialism.

Is the US Drug War is Ruining Mexico and Latin America?

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Is the US Drug War is Ruining Mexico and Latin America?

Some of my posts here are more academically oriented — on issues like social policy or psychology — but since this is a blog, some posts are more ‘from the heart’.  This one is a case in point.

The other day I saw a television news story about the Mayor of Juarez (Ciudad Juárez), the large Mexican city that borders El Paso, Texas. (You can watch the same or a similar interview here:

http://www.ticklethewire.com/2010/03/25/mayor-of-juarez-mex-hates-the-drug-cartels-they-want-him-dead/ )

It was shown how, after receiving death threats from Mexican drug cartels, he has to go everywhere with an armed guard.  In reply to the interviewer’s question whether he’s considered quitting, he said ‘No’, and explained that he was too committed to helping the city develop at a critical point in its history.

The Mayor seemed completely credible, and if that is his motivation then he is heroic.  I tend to believe him.  When I was a child, my family frequently drove into El Paso (the nearest large city).  I vividly remember looking south across the Rio Grande to the hillsides of Juarez, filled with shacks, and signs of utter poverty.  It was incredible to think that, this close to the US, people could live under these conditions.  A person could not witness this without being motivated by the innate human sense of compassion to want to see these conditions improved.

So when this man says that he has a vision of a decent life for his city and people, I believe him.  But standing in his way are drug cartels.  And standing behind the Mexican drug cartels is the insane Drug War of the United States.

Let us speak plainly here, enumerating the plain facts:

1. The Drug War doesn’t work.

Despite the billions of dollars spent, drug abuse is still common in the United States.  Anyone who wants to can easily by marijuana or harder drugs.

2. Public sentiment favors decriminalization of marijuana.

In virtually every referendum in which it’s been put to the test, voters have demanded decriminalization.

3. The Drug War is a cheap ploy to curry favor with voters by appearing tough on crime.

If any American citizens do want the war on drugs, it’s probably because their opinions have been manipulated by politicians.

4. The Drug War results in numerous (and sometimes fatal!) civil rights violations of American citizens.

DEA agent:  “What do you mean, ‘wrong address’?  Oops! Sorry about that gunshot wound.  Nothing personal, right?”

5. The Drug War has filled our prisons.

How to create jobs:  (a) make more laws, (b) put more people in jail, (c) hire more guards.

6. By making drugs illegal, it becomes no longer necessary for people to develop moral character by choosing not to use drugs.

What’s really revealing is that this argument is completely over the heads of government officials.


Americans lived without the Drug War for a long time and it didn’t cause society to collapse.  From the 1930’s through the 1950’s, marijuana use was well known.  It was considered a vice, but wasn’t criminalized to the extent it is today. It was associated with artists, musicians, and bohemians.   Common sense, social norms, and a plea to personal responsibility were enough to keep the problem from getting out of control.

In the 19th century, people could go into a drug store and by opium tincture (laudanum).  Again, this did not lead to the breakdown of society.

These and other examples show that legalization of drugs doesn’t cause society to fall apart.  Yes, there will be cases of addiction and abuse, but these can be dealt with, just as we now deal with alcohol abuse and addiction.  It’s less disruptive to society to deal with drug abuse by individuals than to deal with a government that has gotten out of control, and, at least with regard to drug policy, is indistinguishable from a fascist state.

All this would be bad enough if the problems of the Drug War were confined to our own country, but, as the example of Juarez’ mayor shows, that is not the case.  By making marijuana and cocaine illegal we create a demand for illegal drugs, which are supplied by Latin America.

On top of this, American policy is hypocritical, since the fact is that many Americans want to use marijuana.  In how many motion pictures or television shows do you see sly innuendos or allusions to marijuana use?  Our laws make it illegal, but our culture sees it as ‘cool.’

We are making Latin America do our dirty work, while our politicians strut around congratulating themselves on their high moral principles.

We have no right to do this.  The just and honorable thing, not to mention the practical thing, is to decriminalize recreational drugs.

The Individual Mandate: Commerce, Tax, or Government Subscription Fee?

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So far, a lot of discussion about challenging the individual mandate of healthcare reform centers on the Commerce Clause of the Constitution: does Congress have the right to mandate purchase of private health insurance by virtue of its Constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce?

It’s possible that all this concern with the Commerce Clause is obscuring and taking attention from more fundamental problems here. Look at it this way. Western European governments tax people to pay for socialized medicine. Basically it’s part of the income tax. In theory the US federal government could do the same thing; nobody would claim that such an increase in federal income tax is unconstitutional.

One way to interpret what’s happened is that the government is saying, “We could just raise your income tax by 20% and put all healthcare financing under a government insurance program. But this would be unnecessarily expensive. So instead, we’re going to make you send your money to private insurance companies, not us. Because of the competition that introduces, this will be better for everyone.”

So, from a practical standpoint, given a choice between the former model, which is clearly constitutional, and the latter, which is questionable, the latter is better. Maybe it’s not “constitutional” in a strict sense, but it is better.

However it appears there may be a deeper philosophical issue here — one that pertains to the fundamental relationship of citizens to government, and the nature of the social contract. Functionally, the individual mandate serves as a kind of tax. But usually taxes are for things we do or use. We pay sales tax on items we buy, for instance. We pay tax on income we earn. If you don’t buy anything or don’t earn anything, you don’t have to pay these taxes.

But the individual mandate amounts to a tax on just being alive. Thus, it is really more like a subscription fee than a tax: one is required to pay it simply because one is a citizen. That strikes me as unprecedented. The principle it implies — that, basically, the citizen is owned by the State, and has an *automatic* obligation to the State — seems like a defining feature of Socialism. It is a truly radical change in the relationship between the individual and the State. And whether it is explicitly prohibited in the Constitution or not, that does seem like something the founding fathers did not intend.

So in summary the argument I’m raising goes as follows: (1) under the Constitution, Congress could legally raise taxes to pay for universal healthcare; (2) if they’re allowed to impose such a tax, they should also be allowed to make us send our checks instead to insurance companies — because that is cheaper (the insurance companies would be functioning like contracted tax collectors and administrators); (3) however there is a significant question whether fees for mandatory health coverage are a ‘tax’ in the usual sense (and the sense meant by the framers of the Constitution), as opposed to a subscription fee demanded of citizens.