Archive for December 2017

You Are Proof of Our Ministry   Leave a comment

We took a break for the holiday, but now we’re back to continue the study of 2 Corinthians.

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our heartsknown and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christdelivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living Godnot on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.

Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but  our adequacy is from God, who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spiritfor the letter killsbut the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Image result for image of sawing off a branch you're sitting onIt was a common practice in the ancient world to expect a letter of recommendation from another person or group of people detailing their qualifications to do whatever it was they were coming to do. It’s similar to how we present a resume at a job interview. Of course, today, we often present a cover letter and resume by email before the interview, but in Paul’s day, they lacked mass communication. The Didache, a collection of early Christian writings, reveals that letters of recommendation were common in the early Christian world. If a teacher or evangelist came to a town where they were not known, it was common for them to bring a letter from another congregation, recommending the spiritual qualifications of the individual. This was necessary as even Lucian, the pagan satirist, noted that any con-artist could rip off Christians because they were so hospitable, inviting, and trusting.

Up to this point, Paul argued that the legitimacy of his apostolic ministry was based on his sufferings. The Messiah suffered, and what is true of Him is true of His people. Paul’s sufferings demonstrated the source of his ministry. That was a good argument as far as it went.

Now Paul switched his argument to answer the ongoing challenges to his authority. He now argued for the validity of his ministry based on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, using a line of reason that continues through to Chapter 4 verse 6,  in which he compared and contrasted the Old and New covenants as a way to demonstrate the difference between his type of ministry and that of others.

Image result for image of sawing off a branch you're sitting onThose in Corinth who were challenging Paul’s legitimacy were evidently claiming that some of the material in 1 Corinthians in which Paul defended his ministry, was serving as his attempt to recommend himself. They were likely claiming that Paul could only recommend himself and had no such verification from anyone else. He was not, according to their arguments, an apostle at all. That probably brought up some bad memories about how he was not accepted when he first began preaching. A bit sensitive, Paul responded with sarcasm when he asked if his defense of his ministry in chapters 1 and 2 sounded like another self-recommendation. In the ancient world, letters of recommendation showed that someone lacked their own evidence to back up the claims they were making. They were a substitute for credibility. Paul shouldn’t have needed that because the existence of the Corinthian Church is his letter of recommendation. The Corinthian Christians themselves were the source of his credibility. If they were the verification of his ministry, then the inherent question is, were they acting like it? What would people know of Paul based on the way they were acting? Paul basically told them that what was true of them was true of him. Thus, if they questioned his legitimacy and his ministry, then they called themselves and their faith into existence. If Paul was not a legitimate apostle, then they had just cut off the branch their faith rested on.

Paul referenced two well-known Scriptural references in verse 3: Exodus 34:29-35, the account of Moses and the stone tablets, and Jeremiah 31:31-34, the promise of the new covenant that would be written on the hearts of God’s people. Paul contrasted the Old Covenant with the New, promised Covenant, saying that his ministry was the fulfillment of the promise — a ministry empowered by the Holy Spirit and written on the hearts of people. Paul’s God had promised a time when He would give a covenant that would be written on hearts, not stone tablets. Paul’s ministry was the fulfillment of that promise, and so could not be defined by written letters. He was making a connection between the need for letters and the Old Covenant Law.

Rather than questioning his legitimacy, the Corinthians should have realize that Paul’s recommendation, which was the Corinthian Church, showed him to be quite legitimate and competent. Paul had confidence not only in his own ministry, but in the church at Corinth. This confidence didn’t build him up or  say anything wonderful about Paul the man. Every aspect of Paul’s ministry came from God. It was God Who chose Paul and made him fit for duty as a minister of the New Covenant. Just as God called men like Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and made them sufficient despite their insufficiency, so He did the same for Paul. In contrast, the Old Covenant law was expressed in writing and was not kept by men, leading to their death. Now, Paul’s ministry was sufficient because it was powered by the Spirit that empowers God’s Word, which should be obeyed from the heart.

 

Meet the Penman of the Revolution   Leave a comment

I enjoy discovering new Founding Fathers and as I consider expanding my alternative history short story “Bridge at Adelphia” into a full length novel, I’ve been doing some digging and I discovered John Dickinson.

Image result for image of john dickinson penman of revolutionDickinson was among America’s most important founders. He was a colonial legislator and member of the Stamp Act, Continental, and Confederation Congresses. He was also chief executive of Delaware, where he was the only one to vote in opposition of himself (by a 25 to 1 vote). I love historical figures who didn’t see themselves a heroes and that certain indicates he wasn’t arrogant. He was later chief executive of Pennsylvania and  president of the 1786 Annapolis convention that led to the Constitutional Convention, being among the most informed and seasoned statesmen to attend it. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that, but for Dickinson and a few others, “the resulting constitution would not have been ratified.”

I’m not wholly convinced that ratification of the Constitution was such a great idea, but that doesn’t diminish my admiration of Dickinson who is best known as the “Penman of the Revolution.” Perhaps his most important writings were his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies. After publication as letters, beginning December 21, 1767, in the Boston Chronicle, they were republished as a pamphlet, reprinted in most colonial newspapers and widely read widely, making him America’s first homegrown hero. As we pass their 250th anniversary, we would again profit by recalling John Dickinson’s words promoting our liberty.

We cannot be happy, without being free…we cannot be free, without being secure in our property…we cannot be secure in our property, if, without our consent, others may, as by right, take it away.

[Mankind’s] welfare…can be found in liberty only, and therefore her sacred cause ought to be espoused by every man on every occasion, to the utmost of his power.

Violations of the rights of the governed, are commonly…small at the beginning… They regularly increase…till at length the inattentive people are compelled to perceive the heaviness of their burdens…too late. They find their oppressors so strengthened by success, and themselves so entangled in examples of express authority on the part of their rulers, and of tacit recognition on their own part, that they are quite confounded.

A free people therefore can never be too quick in observing, nor too firm in opposing the beginnings of alteration…respecting institutions formed for their security…the forms of liberty may be retained, when the substance is gone.

Divine Providence…gave me existence in a land of freedom…I shall so highly and gratefully value the blessing received as to take care that my silence and inactivity shall not give my implied assent to any act, degrading my brethren and myself from the birthright, wherewith heaven itself “hath made us free.”

Liberty, perhaps, is never exposed to so much danger, as when the people believe there is the least; for it may be subverted, and yet they not think so.

The love of liberty is so natural…that unfeeling tyrants think themselves obliged to accommodate their schemes as much as they can to the appearance of justice and reason…to deceive those whom they resolve to destroy, or oppress.

For who are a free people? Not those, over whom government is reasonable and equitably exercised, but those who live under a government so constitutionally checked and controlled, that proper provision is made against its being otherwise exercised.

I am resolved to contend for the liberty delivered down to me.

When John Dickinson died, both houses of Congress wore black armbands in mourning because they understood that Dickinson recognized that the essential purpose of government was to maintain liberty against others’ predatory acts and that without liberty, “loss of happiness then follows as a matter of course.” This helped motivate our founders to create a government whose basis in liberty would make them “protectors of unborn ages, whose fate depends upon your virtue.”

For the 250th anniversary of John Dickinson’s most famous work on behalf of liberty, we can again benefit from his words. He motivated our forefathers to prevent the possibility that “the tragedy of American liberty is finished.” We need to become as motivated as they were.

Dickinson and Thomas Jefferson wrote in Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms:

“Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us,” requiring that we “regard…oppressive measures as freemen ought.”

Independence Hypocrisy   1 comment

 

https://www.lewrockwell.com/2017/12/walter-e-williams/independence-hypocrisy/

Image result for image of walter e williamsOfficials in Catalonia, Spain’s richest and most highly industrialized region, whose capital is Barcelona, recently held a referendum in which there was a 92 percent vote in favor of independence from Spain. The Spanish authorities opposed the referendum and claimed that independence is illegal. Catalans are not the only Europeans seeking independence. Some Bavarian people are demanding independence from Germany, while others demand greater autonomy. Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled: “In the Federal Republic of Germany … states are not ‘masters of the constitution.’ … Therefore, there is no room under the constitution for individual states to attempt to secede. This violates the constitutional order.”

Germany has done in Bavaria what Spain and Italy, in its Veneto region, have done; it has upheld the integrity of state borders. There is an excellent article written by Joseph E. Fallon, a research associate at the UK Defence Forum, titled “The Catalan Referendum, regional pressures, the EU, and the ‘Ghosts’ of Eastern Europe” (http://tinyurl.com/y8dnj6s6). Fallon writes that by doing what it’s doing in Bavaria, “Berlin is violating international law on national self-determination. It denies to Bavaria what it granted to the 19 states that seceded from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. In fact, Germany rushed to be first to recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia.” It did that, according to Beverly Crawford, an expert on Europe at the University of California, Berkeley, “in open disregard of (a European Community) agreement to recognize the two states under EC conditionality requirements.”

The secessionist movements in Spain, Germany and Italy have encountered resistance and threats from the central governments, and in Catalonia’s case, secessionist leaders have been jailed. The central governments of Spain, Germany and Italy have resisted independence despite the fact that they are signatories to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which holds that “all peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

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Fallon notes the hypocrisy of Spain, Germany and Italy, as well as the entire European Union. Back in 1991, the EC — the precursor to the EU — “issued its conditions for recognizing the unilateral declarations of independence by states seceding from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.” Fallon argues that these same guidelines should be applied to the states of Catalonia, Bavaria and Veneto. Isn’t it double talk for members of the EU to condemn independence movements today, given that they welcomed and supported independence movements for states that were members of the communist bloc?

Catalonia, Bavaria and Veneto are relatively prosperous jurisdictions in their countries. They feel that what they get from the central governments is not worth the taxes they pay. Each wants the central government off its back. They think they could be far more prosperous on their own. That should sound familiar. Some of the motivation for secessionist movements in Europe is similar to the motivation found in the Confederacy’s independence movement of the early 1860s.

Throughout most of our nation’s history, the only sources of federal revenue were excise taxes and tariffs. In the 1830s, the North used its power in Congress to push through massive tariffs to fund the government. During the 1850s, tariffs amounted to 90 percent of federal revenue. The Southern states were primarily producers of agricultural products, which they exported to Europe. In return, they imported manufactured goods. These tariffs fell much harder upon the export-dependent South than they did upon the more insular North. In 1859, Southern ports paid 75 percent of federal tariff revenue. However, the majority of the tariff revenue generated was spent on projects that benefited the North.

Tariffs being a contributing cause of the Civil War is hardly ever mentioned. Using the abolition of slavery as an excuse for a war that took the lives of 620,000 Americans confers greater moral standing for the Union.

All Lives Matter   Leave a comment

Image result for image of police brutalityBrad has been making me watch these videos on 1st Amendment audits. Search for them on Youtube. Some of them are annoying and some of them are very informative. I’m sort of fed up with Brad’s latest obsession, but I am grateful to know about the topic.

Basically, law enforcement in the United States has gone full-on tyrannical. Again, this is associated with the growth of the state. We thought it was a good idea to give government agents the authority to order people around and abuse them regardless if they are causing harm to anyone. We’re reaping the logical results of that concept. Brad wants to see it change right now, but I recognize that’s a sea-change requiring an evolution in consciousness.

The current relationship of law enforcement officers to the public is flatout wrong, but the fix will take a long time to establish. In the meantime, there are some obvious fixes that would make things a lot better right now – and it’s hard to imagine anyone objecting.

Image result for image of police brutalityLaw enforcers should be required to know the law – and be fired when they are caught making up law  …

Law enforcers have guns. You knew that. Citizens who carry guns operate under extremely strict rules and are warned that they had better not operate outside the law, even by a little bit. Repercussions for doing so are severe. Statistics show they comply and rarely rarely operate outside the law.

Is is legal to film cops in their interactions with you?

Shouldn’t the same standard apply to armed police officers? Shouldn’t they be expected to at least know what the law is? Shouldn’t they be sanctioned just as severely as an ordinary citizen if they step outside the bounds of the law?

Keep in mind that everything cop – no matter how “friendly” he may seem – is backed up by a gun. You know it and he knows it. This makes every encounter between a citizen and a police officer inherently threatening to the citizen, who is usually unarmed.

Which is why it so important that law enforcers restrict their enforcement to the actual law … and nothing beyond the law. No citizen should ever have to worry about law enforcement unless he has violated a law or, to borrow from legalese, given law enforcement some specific reason to suspect he has or may be about to violate the law.

Is it legal to film public buildings from public spaces?

And yet, citizens are routinely accosted by armed law enforcement ignorant (or contemptuous) of the law. Examples are many but include belligerently confronting citizens legally taking pictures or video in public, where there is no expectation of privacy and the courts have repeatedly stated that no permit or permission is needed to photograph or video record anything that is plainly visible from a sidewalk or other public right-of-way. That includes  law enforcement offices, courts, jail facilities and so on.

Image result for image of police brutalityLaw enforcers often regard such photography/video-taking as an affront to their authority, but it is not illegal. If they do not know this and accost citizens, they are derelict in their duty. If they do know this and accost citizens, they are simply thugs. Either should be cause for immediate dismissal and, in several of the cases I’ve viewed, criminal prosecution. If mere citizen accosted someone lawfully going about his business in such a manner, we would be arrested and probably tried and convicted for assault.

Any illegal act performed by a person given life or death power over others ought to be treated at least as seriously as the same action would be treated if performed by an ordinary citizen, who usually lack life or death power over others.

Law enforcement is “trained” in all kinds of things peripheral to knowledge of the law: e.g., how to suss out arbitrarily illegal drugs or perform a “visual estimate” of vehicle speed, admissible as evidence in court. Why not require that law enforcers demonstrate competent working knowledge of the law – and weed out those who demonstrate that they do not possess it?

The right to defend oneself against an abusive law enforcer

If someone enters your home illegally, attempts to take something of yours or threatens you with physical violence, you have a legal (as well as moral) right to defend yourself. If you get the better of your assailant – or simply get away from him – you won’t be charged with a crime, but they will be.

 

Few question the rightness of this.

Image result for image of police brutalityWhy shouldn’t the same standard apply when a citizen is abused by law enforcement? Why should a government-issued costume grant what amounts to a license to abuse people by making such abuse, in effect, a legally protected act – since the citizen isn’t permitted to defend himself against such?

Shouldn’t a citizen be free to ignore a palpably unlawful command and walk away without legal repercussions? And, if legally justified, defend himself physically against an abusive law enforcer?

As it stands, not only does a citizen face repercussions for ignoring unlawful orders or defending himself against abuse of authority, the abusive law enforcer is treated far more gently for his abusive actions than the citizen is for defending his legal rights.

Personal liability for wrong-doing

Most of us are held personally responsible, civilly as well as criminally, for any reckless or criminal conduct we commit that results in harm to others or damage to their property. Ordinary citizens cannot foist the bill for the damage they cause in the course of their work onto the backs of taxpayers, as law enforcement routinely does.

We all want to believe that cops have our best interests at heart, but many of us have had encounters that have convinced us that most of them don’t. Many people live in jurisdictions where cops have killed and assaulted law-abiding citizens without any repercussions. When police step over the line, they should face judgment just as when citizens step over the line. Yes, losing their jobs should be on the table, but when they physically harm someone or cause property damage, they should also face criminal penalty and civil liability … just like ordinary citizens. Furthermore, they should not be allowed to fall back on the excuse that the citizen they were pummeling was “resisting arrest” when the person was just trying to protect themselves from an assault.

Posted December 26, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Government

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Merry Christmas   Leave a comment

Image result for image of ChristmasDecember 25, 2017 – Just say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to your readers. Make it heartfelt and personal.

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So, it’s Christmas morning and we’re sleeping in because my family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve. My mother and her father were both delivered by reindeer, meaning born Christmas Day. It sucks to have share a birthday with Jesus Christ. He hogs all the attention with the Savior of the World thing. So my father decided that he loved my mother enough to reschedule a major holiday — at least in our household. My brother and I have continued the tradition because it allows him to spend Christmas with his grandchildren. Brad and I and our kids like being a little idiosyncratic and so ….. It means we never shop for Christmas presents on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is usually a restful day of leftovers, board games and watching celebrities try to look cold while covering the Rose Bowl Parade.

I hope you all are having a lovely day. So in honor of this day, I’m posting my favorite Christmas song and then my mother’s two favorite Christmas songs — or were they birthday songs?

Merry Christmas! Or if you celebrate some other “holy day” insert your preferred greeting. Know that I appreciate everyone of my readers and hope you’re having a lovely Christmas season.

Posted December 25, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Getting Along During the Holidays   Leave a comment

A friend of mine did an article similar and I decided to do one from my own perspective.

Image result for image of modern winter holiday celebration

It’s Christmas again and also Hanukkah and Solstice and there are about two dozen people celebrating Kwanzaa and, so, it is so easy for this time of year to become more about tyranny than celebration. You’ve got people who will argue about whether it is right for the majority culture to impose its celebration on everyone else. Isn’t it hurtful that Jews have to see Jesus who was used as an excuse by the Nazis to kill six million of them. We’re told that Jesus is the symbol of oppression for blacks and so they also should be sheltered from Christian beliefs. I used to live next door to some actual pagans who would build a bonfire in their driveway at certain times of the year – the winter solstice being one. They would walk around it, throwing salt over their shoulders and chanting incantations. Maybe they were insulted by our celebration of Christmas. But it’s okay for Jews to celebrate Hanukkah, blacks to celebrate Kwanzaa and pagans to celebrate the solstice … except, the atheists want nobody to celebrate anything religious, so let’s just all gather around Santa and drink a toddy or twelve in celebration of the days getting longer. Then evangelical Christians respond that Santa is an idol and they don’t want to participate in that, so ….

Yeah, we all go nuts at Christmas.

I have an antidote for our mid-winter insanity.

STOP!

I am a Christian, so I will celebrate Christmas. A recent study says that 64% of Americans prefer to use the greeting “Merry Christmas” and about half of those resent efforts to force everyone to say “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings”. In other words, most Americans are not upset to see Nativity scenes or Santa. As a devout evangelical Christian, I do not object to Hanukkah even if I rarely participate in it. My friend Ron tells me that, as a Jew, he isn’t upset about Christmas. I’ve met only one Jew, a university professor who had lived in Israel, who said they resented Christmas. I’ve met many more Rons than Professor Bs. I went to a Kwanzaa celebration back in college (for an article I was writing), but 30 years on, I know only one black person who has celebrated Kwanzaa and she tells me it’s not really a thing anymore. It died with black nationalism and she doesn’t think “a celebration of separatism” should return. That’s her view.

Alaskans are all solstice admirers to a certain extent. We have 2 1/2 hours of sunlight right now. We celebrate the 30-seconds extra we get today if only by reading the “hours of daylight” stat in the newspaper and smiling. Brad and I are going to a friend’s property tonight to burn a big brush pile and drink hot chocolate. It’s part of a land clearing project our friend is doing preparatory to building a house. Since most of his guests are evangelical Christians, you can’t rightfully call it a religious celebration, but our friend did pick this day, knowing what it means, wanting to celebrate the return of the light.

I live 12 miles from the City of North Pole, Alaska, where you can shop at Santa’s Workshop and see a 30-foot tall statue of Santa from the main highway. The city street lights are painted to look like candy canes and all the streets have very Christmas-y names. Trust me, there are evangelicals living in North Pole who resent the Santa worship, but they’re outnumbered so they just grumble and live with it.

Atheists can resent all the various celebrations and their religious connotations all they want, but that’s the reality we live in. The Scrooges don’t get a veto on everyone else’s celebrations.

And, you know what? We shouldn’t. Why can’t we all just get along? I will celebrate my way, you can celebrate your way. I can say “Merry Christmas” and you can respond to me with “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” and nobody should need to get upset about that.

Image result for image of messianic jewish christmasWhy must we tyrannize one another during a time of celebration? Well, I think it speaks rather loudly to our society at this point in time. We have somehow lost the ability to live and let live (a very libertarian theme). That used to be very American, but we’ve gradually reached a point where some of us no longer tolerate the differences of others if those differences are not politically correct. We SAY everybody has a right to their own beliefs, but then we treat people who espouse beliefs we don’t like with derision on social media and sometime even in public. Those who shout the mantra “How dare you tell anyone else how to live!” feel quite comfortable with telling people who hold opinions we don’t like how they should live. And then we wonder why those people resist and refuse to participate in the societal zeitgeist of the month. Why can’t they just accept our better way of doing things? Don’t they know “we” are so much more enlightened than they are?

STOP!

I do believe myself to be more enlightened than a lot of other people on a variety of subjects. I will happily tell you about it on this blog. I will talk with you in person if you’re willing. But I feel no need to force you to believe as I do or to conduct your life as I do. What you do that doesn’t pick my pocket or break my leg is none of my business. What I do that doesn’t pick your pocket or break your leg is none of yours.

See how easy that was?

Merry Christmas!

Universal Medical Care Would Kill More Americans   Leave a comment

Tax reform ended the ACA’s tax penalty to support the individual mandate, thereby freeing many Americans to now negotiate with their insurance companies for more realistic medical insurance premiums. I know lots of people who will insist that means more people will die. I disagree.

More people receiving medical care means fewer preventable deaths. If universal healthcare, such as single-payer, leads to less death, then it is obviously the superior moral choice. Politicians like Bernie Sanders will go a step further and claim that Republican legislation, in fact, kills people by reducing government-sponsored coverage.

I am so far not a supporter of the on-vacation GOP healthcare plan because I don’t think it goes far enough. So when Rick, my cousin who is a world-renown doctor in his field, sent me some ideas for a health care article, I was excited to see that he’s not really for the latest-in-series GOP plan either.

What if there were evidence to suggest that more people would die under a universal medical care scheme than under the current US system? What if, by the left’s standards, the American medical care system is less of a killer than the average European one?

There is no accurate, undebatable estimate for how many people in the US died for lack of medical insurance. Consider the best estimates of how many people die in the US due to a lack of medical care. So, for the sake of argument, we’re going to accept the oft-cited (by the progressives) figure of approximately 45,000 fewer people would die in the US every year if all Americans had decent medical care.

Flip the question.

How many people in other countries die due to deficiencies in the medical care systems? And how many Americans would die if we had treatment outcomes similar to those other countries?

study by the Fraser Institute titled The Effect of Wait Times on Mortality in Canada estimated that “increases in wait times for medically necessary care in Canada between 1993 and 2009 may have resulted in between 25,456 and 63,090 (let’s just say about 44,273) additional deaths among females.” The US has about 9 times as many people, so adjusting for the difference in populations, that middle value inflates to an estimated 400,000 additional deaths among females over a 16-year period. This translates to an estimated 25,000 additional female deaths each year if the American system were to suffer from increased mortality similar to that experienced in Canada due to increases in wait times. Rick did not comment on a system that disproportionately harms women, but I will note that doesn’t sound very progressive.

Image result for image of doctors in hospital corridorLet’s look at interventional outcomes. According to the CDC, stroke is the cause of more than 130,000 deaths annually in the United States. However, the US has significantly lower rates of 30-day stroke-induced mortality than every other OECD country (except Japan and Korea). OECD data suggest that the age- and sex-adjusted mortality rates within Europe would translate to tens of thousands of additional deaths in the US.

Just for example – if America had the 30-day stroke-mortality rate of the UK, we could expect about an additional 38,000 deaths a year. For Canada, that number would be around 43,500. That only accounts for mortality within a month of having a stroke, which in turn accounts for only 10% of stroke-related deaths.

This is further reflected in overall stroke-mortality statistics: for every 1,000 strokes that occur annually in the US, approximately 170 stroke-related deaths occur. The UK has 250 stroke related deaths per 1,000 strokes and Canada has 280 stroke-related deaths per 1,000 strokes. Considering that Americans suffer approximately 795,000 strokes each year, the discrepancy in stroke-related mortality is humongous.

Similarly, cancer-survival rates are considerably higher in the US than in other countries. Check out this data cited by the CDC, which comes from the authoritative CONCORD study on international cancer-survival rates. The US dominates every other country in survival rates for the most deadly forms of cancer.

Recognizing that the US is a much larger country than the UK, if we weight the CDC-quoted survival rates for different forms of cancer in accordance with their contribution to overall cancer mortality, there would be about 72,000 additional deaths annually in the United States if our survival rates were comparable to the UK’s. There would similarly be about 21,000, 23,000, and 31,000 additional deaths per year with Canadian, French, and German survival rates.

Lives are saved by the many types of superior medical outcomes that are often unique to the US. This is not to mention the innumerable lives saved each year around the world due to medical innovations that are made possible through vibrant US markets.

Rick would be the first to admit: our medical system is far from optimal. Among other things, soaring medical care costs need to be controlled, while insuring against medical calamity ought to be much more affordable. Still Sanders and Company’s policy demands display completely ignorant of the massive deficiencies that are characteristic of universal medical care systems. They’ll sing songs all day about the 45,000 lives taken every year by greedy insurance executives and their cronies on Capitol Hill, yet remain completely ignorant of the fact that the European systems they fetishize are less humane by their own standards.

If we’re going to call Paul Ryan a killer for attempting to curtail Medicaid spending, then we logically have to apply that epithet to all politicians who advocate for European systems, because those systems have outcomes that would result in tens of thousands of additional deaths in the US every year.

Posted December 22, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Common sense

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Culture of Denial   Leave a comment

To address a problem requires the admission of a problem. That’s an AA maxim that has broad application in the world. Rick, my cousin who is a doctor, says you can’t really treat an illness until you’ve diagnosed it.

A second AA maxim is that if you keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, you’re making yourself crazy.

Image result for image of the regulatory stateStarting about 100 years ago – a little longer in Europe – western democracies bought into the idea that the private sector was bad. Left to its own devices, it would pillage the population – creating a privileged few who could set prices and wages for everyone else. The liberal order – whereby elected officials ran the government with the assistance of workers who left office when they did – made this all the more probable. What was needed, they insisted, was a professional bureaucracy of experts in various fields who were sheltered from political upheaval and would remain in place from one administration to the next. These enlightened nonpartisans could assure the health, safety, economic prosperity and general order of society and leave the private individual free to do whatever they could conceive … so long as what they conceived didn’t interfere with the functioning of the government bureaucracy, of course.

And, for a while, that worked. It took 50 years or so for budgets and work forces to grow to the place where they began to eat the private sector and leave us all frustrated with the size, scope and generally ineffectualness of the government.

Now, populists on both side of the political divide have grown frustrated with the political, economic and cultural status quo, frustrated with the policy choices that have made their lives less prosperous and less secure. The establishment keeps insisting that these people are wrong … just look at all the great government benefits you can apply for. Don’t worry that there are no jobs. You don’t need to even get out of bed in the morning.

And, the establishment wonders why people don’t want to listen to them? Really?

While that might sound like a great life style to a few people raised in a life of leisure, for most people that sounds like torture. There is nothing quite so undignified as an adult whose bills are being paid by someone else and we instinctively know that, which is why the most self-sufficient of us — rural dwellers — rail so loudly against welfare even when they qualify for it … because they don’t want to have their dignity stripped from them. They’d rather work hard for less money than sit on their butts waiting for their government check.

Plus, it turns out that being hard working actually improves our life expectancy.

The populists on both sides of the political divide are demanding change, but after a century of being educated to believe the private sector is bad and the public sector can fix that, they suffer from cognitive dissonance. They want to upend the elitist structure that doesn’t listen to them (noble goal), but then they demand programs that assure that government will continue growing and failing as it grows.

Under the progressive elite, the democratic countries asked too much of government while crowding out civil society and constraining market forces. Now we find ourselves in the inevitable doldrums inherent in a centrally planned society and we demand government “fix” that which it caused.

Unfortunately, while the populists have the right diagnosis, they believe the public school rhetoric that the private sector is bad and must be controlled by the public sector. So, upon finding they have been poisoned, they ask for more poison to counteract its effects.

The solution?

There are no easy answers for uprooting a Siberian pea hedge and, make no mistake, the US government is well-entrenched. To some degree, this can be addressed by us all engaging in rigorous comparative institutional analysis with a willingness to make substantive changes. The world won’t end if we go from 15 bureaucracies to oversee the “environment” that are all Congressionally-created non-Executive branch agencies that receive almost zero oversight to a single agency answerable to the President and cabinet. Yeah, some people will lose their jobs and budgets might be reduced … why is that a problem? I fail to see a downside for ordinary Americans.

Maybe we can look at the labyrinthine mess that is medical-care regulation and see if reducing some of the burden on providers might result in lower prices in the marketplace. No, people probably won’t die if they can buy insurance from Connecticut that is useable in Alaska … kind of like we do with car insurance now. I have better coverage now than I did 30 years ago for slightly less than my premium was in 1981 when Alaska had only two authorized car insurance dealers.

If someone with more time than I have was willing to go through the regulatory state and demand that each and every agency justify its existence and the efficacy of every one of its regulations, we might find that we could shrink government considerably with absolutely no loss of life quality.

So what are we afraid of? Oh, yeah — ourselves and the idea that we are the solutions we’ve been seeking.

 

Taking the Long View   Leave a comment

So, I ran into my extremely liberal former coworker in the grocery store last night. She was all in a tizzy about corporate tax reform and how it was going to “harm” her financially. Wasn’t I worried about how much more I would pay? When I said my sister-in-law (a CPA with tax experience) had checked my math and assured me we would be saving money not losing it, Michelle asked if my husband’s business had finally taken off. No, Brad is still keeping it small and enjoying being able to take time off to go fishing and hiking when he wants. We’re not rich and current tax reform should save us at least $800 and maybe as much as $2000. And, no, Brad’s business is a sole-proprietorship, not a corporation.

Image result for image of tax cuts helping the economyMichelle is a social worker, not an economist, but that’s really no excuse for ignoring the inconvenient fact that voluntary economic arrangements benefit all participants … else individuals could refuse to participate. In the absence of fraud (government’s failure to protect citizens from criminals) or coercion (government’s invasion on citizens’ rights), self-interest will guarantee a benefit to all parties, regardless of what Congressional Democrats may say at the moment.

The progressive strategy going forward will be to ignore many clear mechanisms by which the rest of us gain from improved incentives for capitalists to use their resources for others.

Corporate tax reform improves after-tax rewards for capital investments, providing tools for increased worker productivity and earnings. It further stimulates innovation, advancing techniques and improving technology, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship. This doesn’t just help company owners, but benefits workers and consumers.

Of course, there is a commonsense caveat here. It takes time for owners of capital to fully respond to improved incentives, meaning the positive effects on workers’ circumstances will appear only with time. The whole strategy of tax-reform opponents will be to focus people’s attention on the short run, before the positive labor effects appear in the data. The hope is that voters will overlook these benefits, which may not be fully realized, in fall of 2018 when they go to the polls to elect Representatives and Senators.

It might be a useful strategy because the benefits to capitalists appear immediately in the data. By comparing the limited benefits to workers in the present to both the present and future benefits to capitalists, opponents of corporate tax rate reductions can cast tax reforms as essentially just “tax cuts for the rich,” even if the vast majority of benefits actually accrue to workers over time.

This is how it works. When the tax burden on a class of assets, say corporate stock, is reduced, it will lead to an immediate increase in those assets’ prices. The asset price increase will not only reflect current gains to their owners, but also capitalize the expected increased after-tax profits that can be expected in the foreseeable future. The more durable the improvements are likely to be, due to future effects, the greater the asset price surge will be.

Additionally, most financial resources are owned by people who have greater wealth and income. Often these are older middle-class households who have had more time to convert unmeasured earning capacity into measured financial wealth, but that still leaves their middle-aged offspring not quite certain they’re seeing a benefit in the first year of tax reform. So, by focusing only on the short run (fall 2018), the results can be made to appear as huge asset gains for “the rich,” with almost no effect on American workers’ financial well-being. That lag lets tax-reform opponents assert that their claim has been “proven”. Of course, the main benefit of these short-term results accrues to older households that have had more time to convert unmeasured earning capacity into measured financial wealth.

Unfortunately for opponents’ supposed “proof”, the improved incentives of higher after-tax returns are the mechanism which produces increased worker productivity and real earnings over time. Those cumulative effects are very large, even when their immediate effect is small. But unlike financial market assets, there is no marketplace in which the higher real earnings of workers in the future (economists call that “human capital”) get capitalized into an easily-observed wage and/or benefit increase.

January’s investor- and owner- class begin to benefit workers later in the year or in January of 2019, but by emphasizing the short-run, the opponents basically just ignore that economic fact.

Michelle insisted that they should have implemented the tax reform starting in 2019 to allow people to adjust. I was stunned at first that anyone would want to delay getting to keep more of their money, but then I remembered, there’s an election in November 2018. She was probably just parroting some talking points she’d heard and taken as gospel. By implementing tax reform staring in January, the GOP gives some hope for businesses to see the benefits of tax relief immediately and to begin to pass those benefits onto their workers and consumers by late summer. As proponents of “taxing the rich” see their prospects for a political win evaporate, they will focus attention on the short-run. “Your wages haven’t gone up spectacularly yet, have they?” Banging that drum throughout the year will make excellent electoral ammunition … unless workers see an increase in their paychecks in late summer.

By the way, we’ve been here before with the Reagan tax reform. There are still people (Michelle is one of them) who will insist that the Reagan reforms had no positive effect for ordinary people. It was just “a tax cut for the wealthy.” Unless you were a worker who say a benefit before the next election, you probably thought your own experience was “proof” that Reagan’s tax reform didn’t work. A short term focus is a massive misrepresentation which diverts attention from the fact that improved incentives reveal themselves in the economy and for workers and consumers over time. If we take a longer-term view of economics, we aren’t fooled by the sleight-of-hand, but most progressive have difficulty with the concept that it can take six to 18 months for a tax cut to be reflected in the growth of real wages. I think that’s the effect generated by a bailout mentality.

Now, here’s the thing – ultimately, tax reform is only part of the picture for a healthy economy. The US economy is burdened by many things in addition to a high corporate tax rate. Unacceptably high levels of debt, private and governmental, also drag on the economy. The evisceration of the manufacturing sector doesn’t help. President Trump is making great progress on the rollback of regulations that was encouraging manufacturers to move overseas and a better tax rate might also help to protect and improve manufacturing in the US, but tax reform alone is not a magic pill. It’s just part of a compound strategy that is essential if any other parts of the strategy are going to work. At some point, government is going to have to cut spending in order to eliminate deficits and address the debt, but that only works if the economy is growing.

Unfortunately, politicians tend to see things in 2-6-year cycles, so don’t often take a long-view approach to the economy. Which begs the question –

Why do we think they should be in charge of the economy?

Posted December 21, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in economics

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Abuse of Law   1 comment

Did you know it is against federal law to share your Netflix password with a friend? Netflix doesn’t really care so long as you’re not selling the password, but the federal government does. They haven’t prosecuted anyone for it, but … similar to the law that makes it illegal to ride a horse drunk in Fairbanks, Alaska … you could be the test case for it. It doesn’t matter if Netflix has an issue with it.

Related image“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

Really? That’s a pretty troubling statement when you’re standing in a country with so many laws that it is impossible to count them all. Forget about reading them and knowing the fine print. When was the last time you even looked at a complete set of federal, state, and local codes setting forth tens of thousands of criminal violation that could send you to jail? There’s a whole room in the State courthouse to house it. It’s enormous and I’m am told by the curator that it is already out of date within days of it being fully stocked with the latest documents.

Very few Americans — not even lawyers — know all the laws and regulations that could send people to jail. Yet, America’s judges don’t let that stop them. They’re perfectly fine with lock people up for doing something they had no idea was illegal.

That’s unfair and flies in the face of the rule of law.  A couple of weeks ago, I was someplace where I could get cell phone reception, but not Internet and I really needed lunch. The problem was I had no money in my checking account and I couldn’t go to my bank in the time allotted for lunch. So, I called my son, who is one of the most honest people in the world and asked him to log into my bank accounts using my password and transfer $30. I told him to destroy the information when he was done with it. Then I ate lunch. The problem is that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 bans intentionally accessing a computer “without authorization,” and the Supreme Court has recently declined to hear a case from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Nosal, that held that password sharing could be prohibited by the Act. Although the majority opinion did not explicitly mention innocent password sharing, the dissent noted that the lack of any limiting principle meant that the majority’s reasoning could easily be used to criminalize a host of innocent conduct … including my son acting as my proxy so I could eat lunch.

At sometime in the past, the rationale for the maxim that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” was to give people an incentive to educate themselves about legal requirements. That was fine when there were few laws and they were mostly discoverable by using common sense, but any law student can tell you that to study all the laws in the United States would take years and barely scratch the surface, which is why lawyers specialize in areas of the law rather than in the whole thing.

Another rationale was to prevent people from escaping criminal penalties by claiming ignorance, even when they actually knew they were breaking the law. Again, that might have made sense in ancient times when there were only a few dozen crimes on the books and all of them involved morally blameworthy conduct like murder, arson, or rape. Today, the law has grown so complicated, and the relationship between law and morality so attenuated, that these supporting rationales no longer make sense. There have been multiple attempts to count the number of federal crimes, including by the Department of Justice, and no one has yet succeeded. Title 18 of the US Code, which governs crimes and criminal procedure, has over 6,000 sections, and it is estimated that there are more than 4,500 federal crimes and over 300,000 agency regulations containing criminal penalties. That doesn’t include the dizzying array of state and local criminal codes. Ignorance without excuse is pretty much assured.

The increasing criminalization of morally blameless conduct makes the punishment of innocent mistakes even more likely. For example, federal law makes it illegal to possess the feather of any native migratory bird even if one just picks it up off the ground. The potential penalties for doing so include fines and even time in prison. Think federal prosecutors would exercise their discretion to prevent miscarriages of justice under such obscure laws? Yeah, right!

Former Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Unser was convicted of illegally driving his snowmobile in a National Forest Wilderness Area in 1996 after he and a friend were stranded in the mountains during a blizzard, and forced to take shelter in a barn while suffering from hypothermia. Reconstructing their meandering path in whiteout conditions, prosecutors concluded they had strayed onto federal land and convicted Unser of the misdemeanor crime of operating a snowmobile in a national wilderness area. While that probably didn’t affect his racing career, if he had a job that was more sensitive to misdemeanors, he might have been unemployed immediately upon his conviction … for taking shelter from a storm in whiteout conditions so as to avoid death.

Even people attempting to perform virtuous acts have been persecuted by overzealous regulators. In 2009, Robert Eldridge, a fisherman from West Chatham, Massachusetts, faced up to a $100,000 fine and a year in prison for interference with a protected marine animal after he freed a humpback whale that had been caught in his fishing gear. He escaped with a comparatively small $500 fine after pleading guilty, but his altruism could have cost him his livelihood and prison time.

Image result for image of ignorance of the law is no excuseMore recently, Alison Capo also faced a year in prison after her daughter rescued a federally protected woodpecker from the family cat. The two were apprehended by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officer who overheard them talking about the bird while shopping for a suitable container at a Lowe’s home improvement store (Her initial fine of $535 was ultimately rescinded by the agency, claiming it was a “clerical error.”).

And it gets worse than that because now people are supposed to know the laws in other countries and assure that whatever they purchase online was in compliance with those laws.

Subjecting well-meaning homeowners, desperate snowmobilers, innocent password sharers, and countless other blameless Americans to prosecution for conduct that no reasonable person would know was illegal doesn’t advance the cause of justice. It undermines it. If the government cannot even count all of the criminal laws it has enacted, how on earth can citizens be expected to obey them?

Posted December 21, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Common sense

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