A Tale of Two Intrusions on Religious Freedom: Duty to Pay Contraception Insurance Premiums & Duty to Report Child Abuse

I saw this story on a Mormon bishop who will be required to stand trial for failure to report child sex abuse. I still had on my mind the “religious freedom” issue of a Catholic-affiliated hospital being required to pay an insurance premium that covered contraception, and I got to thinking of parallels.

When the State imposes a duty to report child abuse, it imposes the duty on clergy (along with other citizens), without giving a blanket exemption for religious concerns. In some cases, it might offer a narrowly tailored exemption (e.g. granting immunity when the information is received by clergy during confession) but not a broader exemption for all religious concerns of a church (e.g. a religious preference for handling conflict between congregants internally, keeping secret (pdf) internal Church matters (see also here), or that the Church hierarchy is the proper authority for governing interaction between its priests and lay members of the Church.)

But, there has not been an outcry over the trampling of religious freedom when the State recognizes some but not all of the religious objections to state mandated activity. See here (pdf) for a summary of state laws concerning Clergy as mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. And in New Hampshire, West Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Texas, there is no exemption at all, not even in a clergy-penitent privilege in cases of child abuse.

The outcry that does not exist for duty to report abuse, even in the face of religious reasons not to report, by contrast, is a full-throated political roar in the case of paying insurance premiums that allow employees of religiously-affiliated institutions such as hospitals to obtain birth control. Why the discrepancy? That the former is a state intrusion on religious freedom and the latter is not doesn’t seem to be the answer; or at least a very incomplete answer. Rather, this looks to me like another stone to be thrown by those who don’t like contraception or the health care reform act in the first place.

Warren Buffett Reveals Himself As Self-Hating Billionaire

I kid with the title; if only to distinguish myself somewhat from the other million people or so linking to Warren Buffett’s latest opinion in the New York Times. Sometimes I wonder if guys like Buffett and Soros are viewed by other billionaires in much the same way as a lot of gay people view Log Cabin Republicans.

Buffett points out that he pays a smaller percentage in taxes on income he makes from investment than people make on income they actually work for. He further contends that it’s a fallacy that people will walk away from investment if the taxes are any higher. And, he points out that the job creating power of lower taxes on investment does not comport with historical experience. Lower taxes on investment have coincided with a period of weak job creation in the U.S.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)
. . .
Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

We should keep in mind that the super-rich are, by and large, not extraordinarily good or bad people. They are not demons who should be reviled; but, by the same token, they are not Galtian heroes either. Some worked harder than usual. Some were smarter than usual. A lot were some combination of hard working, smart, and very lucky – in terms of opportunities life sent their way to seize and/or in terms of coming into life with a nest egg they could use to make money.

My sense is that profit should come from labor, innovation, and/or risk. Where the system breaks down, in my mind, is when the economy rewards individuals in excess of the labor, innovation, or risk generating the profit. “Who’s to say?” Good question. But, I would venture a guess that, of 238,663 households making more than $1 million per year, only a tiny percentage of them are generating value from their labor/innovation/risk that is twenty times more valuable than that generated by the average household making $50,000 per year.

I know plenty would say that the value is whatever the market will bear. But, I think the market is structured to overcompensate certain activities — financial services and investment come to mind. I think these services and investment could be had for less. Mr. Buffett, who can speak on these matters with considerably more authority than me, seems to agree; for whatever that’s worth.

John Cole on bipartisanship

After listening to Instapundit, Malkin, and “Joe” the “Plumber,” John Cole wonders aloud how this bipartisanship thing can possibly work.

I really don’t understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties is insane. Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with your date, and you suggest Italian and she states her preference would be a meal of tire rims and anthrax. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can probably figure out how bipartisanship is going to work the next few years.

Key instigators of his despair were “Joe” the “Plumber” bemoaning the lack of spending and program cuts in the stimulus bill and Instapundit citing Bush’s MBA as evidence of his awesome managerial skills.

It’s the old Prisoner’s Dilemma. If both parties are nice, everybody wins a little. If you’re nice, and the other guy is an ass, he wins big and you lose big. If you’re both asses, you both lose a little, but the same amount. The rational approach is to extend your hand initially, and if the other guy does the same, you both win. If, after that first act of good will, the other guy bonks you on the head, the rational approach is to beat the hell out of him until he extends his hand, and then you do the same.

Failure

Bush has some impressively low poll numbers these days:

Just 15 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is handling the economy, while 78 percent of Americans disapprove. Even a majority of Republicans disapprove of the President’s handling of this issue.

Overall, the president’s approval rating has dropped five points from last week and is now the lowest of his presidency. Only 22 percent of Americans approve of the job he’s doing, while 70 percent of Americans disapprove – a new high.

President Bush’s job approval rating has dropped 68 points from its all time high of 90 percent back in October, 2001. It now matches Harry Truman’s previous all-time low, recorded by Gallup in February 1952. The 70 percent disapproval rating is higher than any measured since Gallup began asking about presidential job approval in 1938.

A sixty-eight point reversal. I am proud to be a member of that 10% that never approved of the job he was doing. To the fifty-eight percent of the population who have come to see the light (all too many, regrettably, after November 2004), welcome aboard.

Monon Trail

While I was in Indy this evening, I ran 10 miles on the Monon Trail from 96th street down through Broad Ripple and back. What a great facility that is. And lots of people in the area are using it. It really seems to add to the quality of life in the area. I have to think that it also boosts property values for nearby properties.

But, I wonder how such a project gets accomplished. I suspect that if the government went around using its condemnation powers to acquire rights of way, there would be a great hue and cry from property rights purists who believe that government should not be defiling the sanctity of property rights for such frivolous purposes. I also suspect that if 90% of the other property owners sold out at a reasonable price, the last few people would be tempted to hold out because they know they can command a windfall premium where the project is largely in place and routing around the hold outs is impractical. I guess if you’re a government leader, and you’re sure a project is going to be a success, you just muddle on through despite the purists, and allow the rest of the community to give them the collective stink eye if they continue to protest after the project turns out to be beneficial to the community.

Anyway, you can count me as a fan of the trail. It was a pleasure to run on.

Craven

In the wake of McClellan’s book, there is some review of the media’s approach to reporting in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Atrios has a good post up noting where some media types are saying, essentially, they did the best they could. However, Atrios’s post also points to one example that puts the lie to this sort of hand-wringing: the Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) reporters; particularly John Walcott, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. They generally got the story right, reporting on how thin the administration’s case for WMDs really was.

Dan Froomkin catalogs some of the defensiveness by the media news personalities.

For your consideration

Kagro X has a post up at Daily Kos entitled “This will make Watergate look like child’s play.” It’s about Don Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama who was allegedly the target of a political prosecution by the Republicans. The facts are still being developed and I’m citing to a Daily Kos page, so I don’t expect anyone to take this as gospel. But, if true, the implications are astounding.

Siegelman was prosecuted for allegedly trading government favors for campaign donations when he was governor from 1999 to 2003 and lieutenant governor from 1995 to 1999, and HealthSouth CEO, Richard Scrushy was accused of arranging $500,000 in donations to Siegelman’s campaign for a state lottery in exchange for a seat on a state hospital regulatory board.

There are allegations that Karl Rove planned on neutralizing Siegelman politically through federal prosecutions. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Siegelman released from prison pending his appeal, finding that he had raised substantial questions of law and fact demonstrating the potential that the trial court had committed clear error.

In isolation, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal. However, you see something similar in the case of Georgia Thompson who was released from prison after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined, upon review, that the prosecution’s evidence had been “beyond thin” in the words of one of the judges.

Then, you have the Attorney General purges under the leadership of professional amnesiac Alberto Gonzales who resigned under the pressure of an investigation into whether United States Attorneys were fired for not pursuing politically motivated and timed corruption prosecutions.

Perverting the justice system, imprisoning people, and ruining lives for political gain makes G. Gordon Liddy’s break into Democratic headquarters look like an April Fool’s joke by comparison. Again, file under, “interesting, if true.”

Mississipi Democrat wins special election in blood red district

Hillary Clinton won big in a more or less meaningless primary race in West Virginia — points in garbage time to cover the spread, I suppose.

Of greater interest tonight is the fact that a Democrat won in a special election in Mississippi. Travis Childers beat Roger Wicker in Mississippi’s first district. That seat opened up when Roger Wicker vacated the seat for an appointment to the Senate. (I believe the Senate seat opened up when Trent Lott stepped down.)

Bush took 63% of the vote over John Kerry in 2004 in that district. This follows on the heels of special election losses by Republicans in two other normally safe seats — Hastert’s old seat in Illinois and Richard Baker’s old seat in Louisiana. One would think things will tighten up by November when all the campaigning makes the electorate say “to hell with all of them;” but at the rate things are going, Dan Burton can probably still feel safe, but the rest of the Indiana GOP delegation has to be getting a little skittish. If a Democrat can get elected in a 63% Bush district, it can plausibly happen just about anywhere.

License Plate Madness

Indiana isn’t the only state that gets goofy with the license plates. Florida is considering one with the phrase “I believe” and pictures of a cross and a stained-glass window. The plate’s proponent says he would oppose a similar plate for atheists stating, “I don’t believe.”

Personally, I’ve had enough of the specialty plates generally, and the constant drum beat of a certain vocal minority of Christians trying to mark their territory by seeking government endorsement of their religion is quite annoying.

Republicans block middle class tax break

Sylvia Smith, writing for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, has a story on the Alternative Minimum Tax. The AMT is a secondary calculation on tax obligations, originally designed so that rich people paid at least some tax if they were too successful using exemptions and the like for tax avoidance. Unfortunately, the AMT was not indexed to inflation and now threatens middle class tax payers. In years past, Congress has passed band-aid fixes that temporarily exempt taxpayers of more modest means.

This year, Republicans are blocking Democratic efforts to save middle class taxpayers from the AMT because the Democrats’ proposals involve taxing wealthy taxpayers more heavily to avoid increasing deficit spending.

According to the Tax Policy Center, a joint program of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, nearly half of all taxpayers with incomes less than $100,000 will have to pay the millionaires’ tax next year unless Congress changes the law. This year, fewer than 1 percent of those taxpayers were subject to the alternative minimum tax.

The idea behind the alternative minimum tax, enacted nearly 40 years ago to prevent 155 very rich families from sheltering most of their income, was to make sure everyone paid a minimum amount.
. . .
The House bill includes higher taxes for some well-off people to offset the cost of the patch because Democrats have insisted any new spending or tax cuts be paid for.

Bush says he will veto the House bill. Mark Souder is opposed to the bill because he would prefer to add to the deficit than tax the wealthy. Mark Souder: Champion of Red-ink Republicanism.

It’s a legitimate debate as to who should pay taxes:
Current status – Middle class taxpayers.
Democratic preference – Rich taxpayers.
Republican preference – Our kids (with interest).