Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union

I was hopeful...this was an opportunity to hear something fresh and new from the President about working together and inspiring a new generation of prosperity in America. What I heard was more of the same. Are the liberals out of ideas, or are they just daring the other side to make the first move so they can cut them to ribbons? I think this speech was a calculated and political one, designed to continue to outline the agenda that Obama and his supporters are going to live or die rallying around. They can't outline it in any different terms, even by redefining terms from liberal to progressive and taxation to investment, the core is still the same. Government is the answer.
A philosophical difference of opinion with most of Americans, as evidenced by the recent elections, and very cleverly played. Obama and his staff figure that by doing nothing they risk less, and dare the opposition to try and climb the hill that they protect. They are counting on the Tea Party led Republicans to make the first move into the open, and that is likely what will happen. New budget proposals built around calls for "less spending" will surely be a hallmark of the new legislature, which will surely gut some programs, then be prepared for the defensive onslaught from the liberals..."Look at what they are taking away from hard working Americans!" will be the first line of every major address for the next few years, and it may well be effective.
Obama's opponents and the eventual Presidential candidate will have to be very careful trying to overcome this shift in policy from the Obama administration.
Republicans cannot be seen as the bad guys with no new ideas this time around, on top of market corrections that are bound to improve economic conditions in spite of government's best attempts to delay it. Obama is fighting a delaying action, and he will play it cool. His opponents would do well to not underestimate the impacts of acting hastily, they must maintain a clear understanding of the consequences that may result, or Obama will be able to frame his version of America to over half of the American public that now receives benefits instead of paying for them.
As we learn more about Obama, and actually gain some useful insights into this very private individual by virtue of his words and actions over the past few years, I fear that we may underestimate what he has achieved by placing more voters on the receiving side of the ledger. These next few years are critical, and it is plain to me that Obama is preparing a well thought out policy to remain in power. We are setting up an unfortunate battle between those who are voting for government to take care of them, and those who must pay for it. The numbers are almost split 50/50, due to years of manipulation that has led disadvantaged people to stop looking for ways to get ahead using their own means, and start using the means of government programs instead. Turning the tide will take just as long as it took to create the lie, along with certain fortitude and careful planning to draw the line in the sand for 2012.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Politicians Change Their Tune?

It struck me this week, as the politicians and pundits tried to outmaneuver each other about who could be more "civl" in their discourse after the Giffords shootings, that we should view this as yet another attempt by the chameleons in our government to sway our opinions. Do they really think we are all that stupid?
They are all jockeying to place themselves in either the "look how civil I am" category, or the "look how brash I am because I don't care" category. You can find most politicians in the first column and the pundits in the second column, especially those that are trying to establish themselves among the "giants" of pseudo-news. I for one will stick to candidates like Mike Huckabee, who don't need to "change" anything about their behavior, because they are already civil in their discourse and have genuine plans for the safety and security of our nation.
These candidates face an uphill battle with news sources, entertainment executives and liberal leaning commentators who seemingly control every major news outlet, TV show and movie since I can remember. At least Fox news tries to be even with their commentators, enough to make us feel like we aren't being taken for a ride I am pretty skeptical of pretty much any source of "information."
Keep this much in mind, for all of those who cried out for caution and understanding when Major Hassan shot up Ft. Hood, knowing that his Muslim name could stir a backlash across America...where were you in urging caution when the Giffords shooter had the initial impression of being a "right wing nutjob?" It goes both ways people, and now view the facts...the situation in AZ has not proven to be any more than a very disturbed man with intent to kill and emotional issues, while the Ft. Hood shooter has been identified with Muslim Jihad. Still no backlash? Still seem like fair reporting of the facts? I think not.
The lesson for me is this, don't trust reporting for accuracy, always expect an "angle" to be we would do well to explore leaders that are not reported as constantly changing their spots to get our votes. Look to the character first, and how much that person "changes" to meet their expectations, instead of leading people toward their vision.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Huckabee the early leader for President in 2012?

Christian Church visit to the White House

On November 1st we heard that a Christian delegation visited the White House, the Church of the Brethren was included which is a pretty neat opportunity for such a small denomination. When I try to explain what the Church of the Brethren is to my friends, I tell them we are kind of a cross between Mennonites and Baptists (originally German Baptist Brethren so I figure they could maybe grasp that connection). The next question is “what is a Mennonite?” I guess if you aren’t part of the larger US based denominations you can get lost in the Protestant shuffle, if the church of the Brethren even qualifies as a Protestant denomination. This small group formed in the early 18th century was really after what it meant to be the church in the original sense, to follow Christ’s commands in a way that brought us back to the early church of the 1st century.
As I read the excerpt from the White House visit, I could not help but think how far we have strayed from our beginnings as a faith community. Founded as a counter-cultural response to the State Church’s control in Western Europe, our early Brethren found their way to America and “freedom” to worship as they pleased. Think of how hard it must have been; to pick up everything you owned and leave the area that your family had lived for as long as you could remember, in order to escape the oppression that existed. Just the thought of the 30-day passage in open seas would have been enough to give me pause.
The Church of the Brethren is not alone. I appreciate ecumenism in the sense that many of our faith traditions based on the saving message of Jesus Christ have common foundations. Many acknowledge that Jesus Christ as the gateway to a relationship with our heavenly Father, made possible by His sacrifice on the cross and resurrection. This sacrifice allows His “life example” the power to both show us a better way to live and provide for the erasure of our sins. When we boil down our similarities, we often find them more numerous than our differences, but these differences are often what we tend to focus on. Some of these differences are rather comical, like learning when to say the right words at the right time so you don’t look silly in a worship service. Others like how to “properly” baptize a new believer take on more weighty concern, but in the end we are all searching for the appropriate response to the gift that Christ has given to His people, the church.
The White House meeting was hailed as a “substantive” meeting that discussed issues of strengthening our country’s “fraying” safety net, extending unemployment benefits, job creation, education, Middle East peace and the travel ban with Cuba; all in a non-partisan environment. I can hail the non-partisan part, even if it sounds like the topics were not an indication. What I want to know, is what makes these Christian churches…Christian? We seem to have settled in to this mentality that our mission is to serve people’s needs, and those needs are related to physical well being only. Our churches are not competing with our spiritual adversary for souls, but with the United Way for funds. We have settled for taking care of financial hardship, basic human needs, peace between nations, improving our educational opportunities…all great and worthy things. But not the best thing.
As Jim Collins pointed out in his book, Good to Great, the enemy of great is the good that we do which distracts us from our core reason for being. The Church of Jesus Christ; whether you consider yourself Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, yes even the little Church of the Brethren group mainly in Pennsylvania and Virginia, the Church based on the Gospel message of Christ was only called to do a few specific things. Under Christ’s authority, we are called to go, make disciples, baptize and teach. In short, we are to proclaim the mystery and majesty of the faith that dares to make the outrageous claim that God came down in human form in order to walk around in our shoes, save us from our sinful ways, and be able to have a personal relationship with our Creator. When the veil was torn in the Temple in Jerusalem, we stopped looking for a God that lived there, and started looking for one that resides in our hearts.
When we take the mission of the church to mean, “feed the hungry,” we are perverting the very Gospel message we are called to preach. We are made of spirit, soul and body (1 Thess 5:23); and we ignore the needs of spirit and soul in favor of the body at our peril. Jesus said that the poor would always be with you, but you will not always have me. Just as the State Churches of Europe allowed their human interpretation of Christ’s message to manipulate the Church structure in a way far removed from Christ’s message; through involvement in political control rather than community support, participation on murderous crusades, purchase of indulgences to save family members from purgatory, I could go on and on, but we are allowing the same thing to happen to us today. It is easy to look back several hundred years and point to what the Church of that day did wrong, it is a much harder task to point to what we are doing wrong today, as we are guilty of the same human manipulation of Christ’s message.
Our message should always focus on Christ first, in telling the Gospel story to anyone that will listen and expecting a response that only God can provide, through the working of His Holy Spirit. Since we humans can’t do miracles apart from Him, we settle for the things that occupy our own feeble abilities. Our outreach to the poor should only be based on our response to Jesus Christ through His Spirit, not as an end to itself. That does not mean that we should not support the physical need we see around us, but that we should frame a response to that need based on our relationship with Christ. We have an individual spirit that reveals our conscience, which also reveals our response to the Greatest Story Ever Told. Why are we so ashamed of this story that we find it easier to do a little good with our own hands, eschewing the very great that could be done with God’s hands? I am embarrassed at our “Christian” Church leadership that settles for treating only one area of human existence with dignity, which only allows the body to be served while we ignore the spiritual connection that is possible with our Creator through Jesus Christ.
The greatest evidence of this refusal to embrace the message of Christ in our lives and in our communities, is the abdication of our responsibility to help our neighbors. That’s right, the one thing we think we are doing OK with, serving human needs, is the greatest area in which we as the Church are failing. We have abdicated our responsibility to our neighbors by allowing a government mechanism to serve those needs. Not only are we allowing basic human needs to be served absent of the saving message of Christ, we are content to structure ourselves so that our tax money goes to a central authority, then to an anonymous citizen that could be right next to you. It is certain that pooling our resources can have a multiplicative effect, but we are not even seeing a return there in a system fraught with corruption. What did we expect to happen?
It is a hard thing to identify a need with a neighbor, to take a personal interest and walk around in their shoes as Jesus did for us. It is a lot easier to text our friends about their dire circumstances and direct them to the local welfare office. It is an even harder thing to admit that we may need help, to ask our neighbors for support that may involve risking a closer relationship. It is much easier to send in an anonymous form, to receive an anonymous check in the mail. God’s way is not easy, it forces us to see things face to face, then deal with them in a very personal way. That is His way toward relationship with Him and each other, and one we have attempted to circumvent.
This is the system we helped to create, in the name of Christ, to serve those in need. What a weak and twisted structure we have built with our own hands. Our entire society is suffering, the results of this failure to embrace God’s plan that existed at the founding of our nation is now met with ballooning deficits, more people taking out of the system than paying in, and retreating neighbors that lob anger at each other instead of love. These results are just that, they are results of a broken system that human hands have tried to improve from a Godly one, yet we now only respond to the results as needing to be changed. The calls to lower the deficit, stop the spending, clean up the corruption…those calls are only addressing the results of the problem and will also fail, doomed to create an even larger rift between our people. The only true answer is falling back to God’s plan, to develop Christian communities where we have a genuine, personal care for each other that begins with our sharing a Gospel message that can save not only the human, but the spiritual side of us as well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Healthcare Plan

Get ready, we are far from hearing the end of this debate! Talk of Trillion dollar programs, inadequate patient care and how "we" as a nation will care for those with health issues are rising to a fever pitch. Those who want to spend money on government programs to fix the problem will argue on the side of care, that millions of Americans do not have adequate health care. Those on the other side of the issue will argue about the future of our nation, and the debt we are saddling the next generation with. 2000 pages of health care, with references to addendum and appendices and research that at the very least is hard to understand and at the very worst possibly tainted. Who really knows what is going on?
I fear that we are reaching for solutions that do not address the problem. The problem to me is not adequate care, it is rising costs and allowing personal care to become a ward of the state instead of neighbors. When I hear politicians say "Millions of Americans do not have adequate Health Care," what they are really saying is that "Millions of Americans do not have adequate Health Insurance." There is a huge difference here, insurance is the mechanism to pay for this grossly overweight system of health care, but it does not affect the care that we can expect. The fact is that any person can get care for any problem at any time, whether they can afford it or not. Although emergency rooms are perhaps not the most appropriate place for every problem, they are certainly not the contributor to rising costs as have been claimed. E-room docs are efficient, the process moves far more patients than an average exam setup, and in case you have not noticed; the Emergency room doesn't have million dollar paintings and teak boardroom tables.
What I am getting at here, is that the establishment is to blame, from the hospitals to the politicians to the insurance companies. Everyone has a piece of this pie, and instead of fixing the problem of rising costs and robo-care, they are going to use their well heeled lobbyists and PR machines to convince all of us to perpetuate the problem instead of solving it! The real issue at hand is that no one knows what it costs, because the patient is not the customer. The insurance companies and the federal government are the customers, let's face it, the actual consumer is not the customer. When was the last time you took your car in to have the oil changed, did you ask how much it would cost? Did you receive an answer? The same situation is not true of any medical service that has been provided to you, you don't have a clue of the cost other than "What's my co-pay?" It is no wonder that costs are out of control, no one even knows what they are.
Now, you will claim its not the same thing, I will counter that it is exactly the same thing, and even worse. For example, do you expect your auto insurance to pay for oil changes? Of course not, no more than you expect your home insurance policy to pay for a garage addition, but we expect our health insurance to pay for routine visits and pregnancies. In my mind, that is ridiculous, on top of having no idea what that oil change or garage addition will cost before having it done. We are mired in the thought that "someone else will pay for it," not realizing that someone else IS paying for it, and the someone else is US. Part of this problem may be due to treating entitlements as a badge of honor, unlike earlier in my lifetime when they were treated with a measure of shame. Using food stamps or getting reduced cost lunches at school used to be something to hide and be embarrassed about, today kids will brag about not having to pay full price. This mindset is seeping into our entire culture, and at the root of the healthcare argument that if not checked will spend us into bankruptcy. Applied to healthcare, why not eat Twinkies for breakfast, someone else will pay for it when I need help anyway.
Providing care for those that need it is as basic a human responsibility as it gets, and one that any of us would undertake when the need is legitimate. What person would leave an accident victim on the side of the road, instead of at least stopping to see if they are OK? We feel an obligation to help the cancer victim all over America's towns, with spaghetti dinners and cans on luncheon countertops, and it feels right to help a fellow human being whether in our own town, city or across the world. It is the right thing to do. The problem with universal health care, is that it removes that personal contact and places it in the hands of a government institution. We don't need to take care of that cancer patient or accident victim, we are paying our health insurance and dialing 911 so that should take care of it. That is just wrong.
To really fix the healthcare problem, we have to fix the costs. To find an example of a health cost that is not covered by insurance, let's use corrective eye surgery. When it first came out, it cost several thousand dollars and was considered dangerous by many people. Today, this type of surgery costs only several hundred dollars and you can find a reputable doc with credentials that can tell you exactly what it will cost, how many patients have been helped and even give you referrals on the safety of the procedure! So, without the health care industry involved, we are better informed and get better care at a lower cost. For ideas about what managed government health care will look like, we need to go no further than the process of getting an H1N1 shot.
Taking care of each other does not involve spending us into oblivion, it involves creative solutions to complex problems by focusing on the core issues. Covering major catastrophe like cancer is the goal of most Americans, not having their family suffer or going bankrupt if they end up with some terrible disease. So let's cover everyone with a basic policy that has a very high deductible, say $25,000, that will reduce the approximately $12,000 annual cost per person to around $3000. Give every US citizen (everyone, even the 11 million that are not covered under the current proposed plan that spends over a Trillion dollars) an Health Savings Account (HSA) account that is not taxed, can be used for regular care, that can roll over into the next year and be funded by the employer, citizen, support group or government. Most HSA expenses over a year would total around $4000, so we are already ahead by $5000 per person. The balance of any costs between $4000 and the $25,000 deductible would be covered by the individual, local support, the government depending on the economic condition or a government borrowing mechanism that would allow individuals to borrow against he future value of their HSA. This would also work with Social Security, but that is another story. When a patient goes to the doc, they can expect to be told what it will cost in addition to the procedure, and wold pay the cost out of the HSA account.
The result of this plan would allow the patient to become the customer, focus on the actual costs of care and allow the free market to begin reducing costs and improving care as in our eye surgery model. Groups of like minded individuals may decide to form health co-ops to share costs, churches could provide outreach health care through "Parish Nurse" programs, to deal with normal maladies, educate people about living healthier lives and generally keep people healthier and out of the system. There are infinite areas that could result from a system like this one, which would improve basic health, reduce costs and allow personal care for each other.
How can the government help, after all, we don't want to totally discount the coordinating and pooling effect of government. For starters, help initiate a nationwide system of electronic records. Create a fund to assist different economic classes with deductible and premium assistance. Promote wellness programs. Pay for lower income folks to get regular checkups. Promote healthier foods that are given away at low income food banks across the nation, instead of filling bags with high carb and fatty foods that no one wanted in the first place. Provide information on doctors and hospitals that are providing the best care. Allow health care across state lines.
Here is a plan that will work, can be started today and will have an immediate impact on the core problems. There are many areas you might not agree with, or want to change depending on your focus, but this plan will work to address the core problems of cost and personal care. We simply cannot sustain this system, and expanding it will be an act of lunacy, there must be another direction. So, for those of you that say there are no good ideas out there, try this one on before you adopt either spending us into bankruptcy or saying we don't have a better idea.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Muslim Outrage at Ft. Hood Shootings

MSN is running a piece today on the outraged Muslim community, trying to deepen a rift and throw salt in the wounds of the soldiers who have not begun to even heal physically yet. First of all, couldn't they let this type of thing settle down until we get some more facts? Secondly, why be so quick to take sides on an issue, is it so important to throw the evil American society under the bus that basic conscience can be ignored? They are in such a hurry to point fingers at our imperialism and greed as the leading cause of any terrible thing that happens in America, that they are willing to let the ink dry before the blood does.
When I mention "they," I am referring to the liberal minority in this nation that wants to remove everything that is good from our culture; our faith, our freedom, even our status as the greatest nation on the earth. I think that most of us are content to put up with it, let everyone have their opinion and be respectful of those opinions, but this one has gone too far.
One quote uses a Muslim source from Fort Hood to say "when a white guy shoots up a post office, they call that going postal. But when a Muslim does it, they call it Jihad." Hold on right there, let's get some perspective. The white guy that shoots up the post office isn't screaming "Allahu Akbar!" while shooting off rounds at people, and why even mention the "white" guy at all? Isn't that racist? If a "white" guy made a comment about a Muslim, or any other race for that matter, he would be apologizing on the national news within hours, and just for the record being Muslim doesn't count at being a race anyway it just determines your religion.
I am not sure what this nut was doing in our military anyway, but at the least this is proof to the world that we are indeed a free and open society, and to prove it we are willing to consider loss of life an acceptable alternative to living under the control of any person or institution. I don't see any Christians showing up at the local Muslim recruiter's office, getting a decent position and then shooting up their "friends" while screaming "Jesus is Lord!" If that absurdly impossible thing ever did happen, you can bet 2/3rds of the world population would be screaming for our heads. Instead, we acknowledge that in a free and open society there is an opportunity for terrible things to happen, but even those terrible things pale in comparison to the alternatives. Our freedoms are worth it, and we all know it, that's why we will lick our wounds and move on.
To go even further, the writers suggest that it is the military's fault for not recognizing and fixing this problem before it happened. This is akin to the Va Tech shooter situation, where the "government" is supposed to protect us from those things that cannot be predicted. Those that want to be protected from every possible ill really want our society to be recreated into a place that only Orwell could dream of, I for one want no part of that place. We live in the greatest nation on earth, one that has combined elements of faith and basic freedoms into a very special fabric, a fabric that is being tested and stretched to its limits by those seeking to destroy our Republic out of ignorance and carelessness. Our freedoms are to be cherished, even when they result in the possibility of terrible things. Our faith preserves us as a people of basic morality, so laws can be kept at a minimum, and our Constitution and the Statue of Religious Freedom guarantees that we are free to choose whatever religion we want. I doubt the Founding Fathers had Islam in mind when writing the Constitution or other statues, but it remains the choice of the individual, just don't use that as a cop-out against the foundations of our nation when things go wrong.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Election Integrity

It is the home stretch here in the Old Dominion when it comes to the race for Governor, not to mention other Local and State offices. Much has been said of Republican nominee McDonnell's social positions after his 1989 Thesis from Regent University came to light, especially regarding the position of women and marriage. I have to say that when his poll numbers dropped I thought Deeds had his number, only to find out that apparently the dip was short lived. The reality is that the Virginia election is very, very closely watched nationwide; and with over $22 million (did you get that!) collected to support their candidate this is a big deal. Democrats and Republicans alike are jockeying for position to declare how important or unimportant every possible detail should be, and this race really highlights for me how much we have thrown integrity to the wind in order to get a desired result.
When McDonnell first announced his candidacy and Bolling bowed out as a Republican challenger, the Republican side of the ticket was set early and left the Democrats to fight out their candidate in a primary. I was very pleased to see Creigh Deeds chosen to represent the Democratic ticket, not because I particularly like his positions (which I don't), but because I found the idea that Terry McAuliffe could "buy" Virginia to be rather distasteful. I offered my help to the McDonnell ticket early on as a blogger and supporter, but I have to tell you that my support has waned over the following months. Now don't get me wrong, I am still a supporter of McDonnell and there is little to no chance he will lose my vote, but he has lost my passionate support. The reason for this change of heart is simple, I believe he has chosen a route to become elected that erodes his personal positions on many issues that I personally care about. This in itself is nothing new on either side of the aisle, but I am afraid that we are allowing our elected officials and staff to be rather Machiavellian in their approach instead of standing on personal principle. This is not about being divisive, capable politicians like Huckabee are able to articulate their positions without being abusively divisive as you might see on Hannity or from Daily Kos; this is about having integrity to stand for what you believe even if it means you lose votes. Instead of scraping every vote off the floor to gain an advantage, we need public servants that are willing to lead and present their positions in a way that creates passionate followers instead of just voters.
When Deeds lost his edge after the Thesis debacle and appeared to be on the downswing in the race, I found it interesting that the Obama administration started backing up on their support of Deeds which had been so solid just weeks before. They did not have integrity in supporting their man out of fear, fear of being associated with the loser in such a pivotal contest. McDonnell has backed up on issues such as abortion and traditional marriage that were outlined in his Thesis to keep his lead, which is also an issue of integrity. I could make the point that Obama himself is one of the few that has kept his integrity from the campaign, on the very few issues that he dared to make a stand on such as declaring universal healthcare as a right and not a privilege. I would call that "selective integrity," where you make sure your Thesis from Harvard is nowhere to be found, so you can't be called out on the integrity issue down the road.
I would ask my candidate to take a stand, lead us in a direction that makes sense and be able to tell me what that is, and allow room for others to ask critical questions that might open their ability to understand why you believe what you do. If I don't agree with you, at least I know where you stand and can trust you not to move around on issues, which might just let me actually listen to you. That is where real change can begin.