Sunday, January 27, 2013

Employers and Health Insurance Rights

New lawsuits are challenging a government policy under the Affordable Care Act - a policy that requires employers to provide health care coverage that includes birth control.  The law exempts employers whose organizations' purpose is to promote religious values, that primarily employ and serve people who follow their religious views, and who qualify as non-profits under the tax laws.

Private employers who hold strong religious convictions about the immorality of birth control and abortion feel that the government, by requiring them to support birth control coverage, is infringing on their First Amendment rights.  This has, in their eyes, become a separation of church and state issue, and has found its way into our courts.

They do not, however, feel that by refusing to comply with the federal requirements, that they are, in turn, infringing on the rights of employees who do not share their views.  I, assume, under a decision to edit the terms of health insurance, employers may also require documentation that procedures such as tubal ligation, hysterectomies, vasectomies, and orchidectomies (excision of the testes) have a clear medical indication unrelated to birth control.

If an employer were to discover that a salaried employee had actually used this money to purchase birth control devices, should the employee be terminated?  After all the employer is, though indirectly, supporting an act that he feels is morally reprehensible.  Perhaps he should not employ anyone who does not, first, indicate in some manner that he/she will not expend salaries for such objectives.

I know of no taxpayer, individual or corporate, who is allowed to refuse to pay taxes to a government that supports efforts that the payer may find morally reprehensible.  We all have to pay taxes whether we are pacifists or not, whether we believe in abortion, or not, whether we believe in capital punishment or not, whether we believe in charter schools or not, etc.

In refusing to provide the coverage (e.g. the financial wherewithal) for birth control and the like, it is not the employee or the government who is acting immorally, but the employer!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Saving on Gas With Your Prius - Forget It!

In a previous Blog (The "Nanny State," Taxes and Bad Behavior, Aug 2, 2011) I indicated how governments have come to rely on "sin" taxes to support their budgets, suggesting that prostitution and smoking may be "bad behavior" on moral or medical grounds, but profitable for the tax base of certain states.  A significant decrease in these activities will negatively affect revenue.

Now, it seems, that the reduction in fuel taxes resulting from the increased efficiency requirements for automobiles has adversely affected tax revenues, both federal and state.  Taxes on gas use are said to have fallen precipitously.  Not to worry.  Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon has suggested that the fuel tax be replaced with a VMT tax - a tax to be based on "vehicle-miles traveled."  Drivers who use roads more should pay more for that use - similar to a toll, I guess, but now all roads would, in effect become toll roads.  The tax would be collected at gas stations; miles being calculated by installed GPS systems which would transfer the data and calculate the appropriate tax at the time of re-fueling.

Pretty creative, don't you think?  When one revenue source begins to dry up because of changes in behavior mitigated by a government, another source of revenue must be devised.

But don't think you can get away with a gas-guzzler now.  VMT rates may be related to vehicle-efficiency with higher taxes for the less-efficient.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Thoughts on Theodicy and Newtown

I am fascinated with the subject of theodicy - the vindication of the presence of evil, given the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God.  The search for reasons for the world's ongoing parade of horrors, has kept a plethora of philosophers and theologians busy theorizing ways in which such absolute evil can obtain in God's world.

God is usually vindicated in one of the following ways:
  • God's plans defy human understanding, and his actions should not be questioned
  • Humans, or some humans, have behaved immorally and God is exacting retribution
  • It is not God, but the Devil who has gained control
  • God is no longer involved in human behavior - he is merely an observer, exacting punishment for the wicked and granting rewards for the righteous in the world to come.
  • Some other explanation which would be equally difficult to comprehend
Some musings:

Bringing the existence of God into the discussion of such profound evil acts as demonstrated by the horror of the recent annihilation of 20 elementary school children in Newtown, CT is, to say the least, daunting.  We are a compassionate people.  We refuse to hold a God responsible for such evil, but have no issue invoking him when things go well.  Though, according to some beliefs, God may have had a hand in the tragedy,  people continue to pray to him for his guidance,  for his protection, and for his continued love and understanding.  

People believe God understands what mere mortals cannot understand, and we mortals ask him to help us understand the incomprehensible.  Some may argue that perhaps God wanted these little children and their teachers to join him; and who are we to question his actions.   However, the reasoning of mere mortals cannot escape the fact that this argument must then consider the killer an agent of God.  This concept must be very difficult, if not impossible to accept.

If there were a God,  is it possible that he was unaware of what was to transpire on Dec. 14, 2012 in Newtown, CT?  If he were unaware, what does that say about his "omnipresence." Alternatively, if he were aware of the killer's intent, yet did not stop him, then either God decided to remain a simple bystander (for reasons known only to him) or was powerless to control the act.

Nevertheless, people still feel the need to "believe."

God (either as a reality or as a concept) serves a purpose here - but only, unfortunately, after the fact.  People seek him out for solace in their grief - he fills that need somehow.  People pray to help them understand the incomprehensible - and often, if not most often, some peace may be found.  God is there for the grieving survivors - but was, apparently, not there to protect the victims.

People seek God for answers to "How could this happen?"  They should also seek answers to "How could God allow this to happen?"  If the reasons cited at the very beginning of this piece provide that answer for you, I believe you to be very fortunate.

Evil in the world is far more easily understood by non-believers.  Not requiring divine explanations allows human reasoning to draw human conclusions.   

Life - its tragedies and its wonders alike - is a manifestation of our natural world and, God or no God.  We can look only at ourselves to understand it.