Some random thoughts on “Obamacare”

1. SCOTUS got the decision right. In my opinion, they could have upheld the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause, but the Taxation Powers Clause is ironclad. By the way, I taught AP Government for 24 years and spent a lot of time on the Commerce Clause; if anyone wants an explanation, shoot me a response. It sounds incredibly boring but, believe it or not, it is the foundation for the majority of our civil rights legislation.

2. Those who voted in dissent relied primarily on “states’ rights.” We fought the bloodiest war in the history of our country over “states’ rights” and the Confederacy lost. Get over it.

3. I have noted throughout the firestorm over national health care that, when first-person pronouns are used on picket signs, those supporting national health care overwhelmingly use the word “we”, while the Tea Partiers and their ilk use the words “I” and “me.” I don’t believe this is as trivial as one might think; rather, it is a snapshot of the philosophical differences at play here. If your own personal health care is fine and dandy, anything that threatens the status quo might get your panties in a knot if you are unable to empathize with other people. If you tend to remember that a nation, by its definition, is a group of people who share a common culture and live together in the same geographic space, you are more likely to care about the other people in that nation. Does that mean that the Tea Partiers care about the USA only to the extent that it is a country, a defined piece of territory functioning under a set of laws, and that they don’t think of the USA as a nation with shared values? If so, it would explain an awfully lot about their overt hostility.

4. One final thing: one of my former students is now a Canadian citizen, but she still follows USA news better than 99% of our citizenry. She swears that she heard two of the disappointed Tea Partiers state yesterday that, “the country is ruined. That’s it. We’re moving to Canada!” Anyone need to have the irony of that explained?


Mitt Romney = Governor Romney

Here’s something as rare as John Boehner without an orange complexion: a political blog written today that has nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s ruling on health care (we really don’t know enough until some time has passed for intelligent analysis.)

For better or worse, Mitt Romney’s central theme seems to be emphasizing his time as a businessman in the private sector and using that as his argument for why he is a better job creator than Barack Obama. That is an illegitimate argument (see earlier post on what that means.)

Without getting into the jargon of formal logic. Romney’s argument is exactly the same as if I earned a J.D., practiced law for a few years, and then applied for a job as a Family Practice physician at a local clinic based on the argument that I had earned a doctorate degree.

Regardless of what you think of Mitt Romney, his experience in the private sector is irrelevant. No less an economic conservative than Milton Friedman wrote that business and government are distinctively different institutions with different goals. The goal of a business not only is, but should be, to earn a profit. It is precisely the lack of profit motive that makes government a necessary institution. It allows businesses to operate without worrying about self-regulating, and it is uniquely positioned to create jobs during recessions because it does not have to answer to shareholders who expect dividends. Besides, it is unfair to expect businesses to hire people “out of the goodness of their hearts” during economic downturns.

An honest and legitimate campaign would have Romney campaigning as Governor Romney, especially since a governor is also a government’s chief executive. I think we all know why that hasn’t been the strategy of choice.

Viognier: a wonderful surprise in the wine world.

By way of context, I should reveal that I was in the wine profession for about 15 years as a retailer, wholesaler, and importer. The work in these fields is not nearly as glamorous as you might think, but I guarantee that I rode the glamorous stereotype for as long as I could before I got married!

I mention the context just to show how much things changed in 25 years. Back when I was in the business, no one knew what Viognier was. I ran into it a couple of times when a customer ordered Condrieu, and my natural curiosity led me to look it up. Condrieu is a tiny appellation in the Northern Rhone and, apparently, it had fallen into disfavor in other areas because it was notoriously finicky compared to other available white varieties; the window of picking Viognier is very narrow, because if you pick it too late, its acid levels tend to drop and it is a grape that requires enough acid to make its peach-apricot-honeysuckle qualities come through.

Fortunately, just when it looked like Viognier was on the road to extinction, two powerful forces came to the rescue. One was Georges DeBeouf who, so famous for his Beaujolais wines, was looking to branch out. While I have yet to see any of his Viogniers in the U.S., he has been influential throughout both France and places as far-flung as Australia.

Josh Jensen (who deserves a post of his own) showed what the wine world now knows:  a willingness to experiment and a resolute refusal to blindly follow traditions. As far as I can tell, he was the first one to bring Viognier to the United States and make commercial wine, followed shortly thereafter by the “Rhone Rangers” just to the south (another group worthy of its own post.)

Good Viognier, to me,  fills the same flavor niche that good Chenin Blanc does. It is a wonderful sipping wine on its own, but it matches well with anything in a cream-based sauce, including some dishes that are mildly spicy. What was once its curse may be its blessing; Chenin Blanc sadly fell out of favor because it could be grown in huge, bland yields that hurt the reputation of the great Chenin Blancs, but Viognier is always going to be a low-yield grape.

So, where does it grow best? Viognier loves warm to hot days, but cool nights. Josh Jensen and the Rhone Rangers of San Luis Obispo have got the right climates. So do Southern Oregon and Eastern Washington.

Separation of Church and State (continued)

OK, OK – time to stop ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the room. We all know that much of what has motivated the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops for some time, along with many other Catholics and religious figures, is the abortion issue. The ultimate goal, of course, is to overturn Roe v. Wade; the efforts have been relentless of late and have become more and more confrontational.

Well, regardless of one’s personal views on abortion, there is but one conclusion that can be drawn (perhaps sadly):  there is no way to ban first trimester abortions without violating the Constitution. There are many admirable people who believe that the human soul is imparted at the moment of conception, but this is clearly a religious view and not a scientific view. No scientist would classify a fetus three months old or less as a viable human being and, whether we like it or not, ours is a nation that keeps religious views out of secular law.

Catholics should remember that the First Amendment not only keeps our church out of the law but, more importantly, keeps the law out of churches. Do we want to return to Colonial days of legal religious persecution? Do we want to return to the early 20th Century when Klan-dominated or -influenced legislatures sought to shut down Catholic schools? Or to the 19th Century when Mormons were lynched?

The one thing that seems clear to me is that any progress in the abortion problem must start with all sides starting with shared values; everyone that I know wishes that there never was a reason for people to seek abortions. Is it too much to ask that all Americans focus their energies on eliminating the social ills that lead to the pregnancies that cause women to seek abortion, such as poverty, antiquated adoption laws, rape, incest, etc.?

Separation of Church and State

One week from Sunday, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops is staging a rally calling attention to its concerns about threats by government to religious freedom. The rally was sparked by concerns over the national health care requirement that Catholic institutions (except, of course, churches themselves) cannot opt out of providing elements like birth control to its employees. From a neutral point of view, I find this very interesting; if this issue is heard by the Supreme Court, it could go either way, and both sides will cite the First Amendment in support of their cases.

But, is that all that is inspiring the U.S.C.C.B.? Given recent events, I doubt it. Stay tuned.