There is no doubt that the Bible is one of the most valuable historical documents that we have. Textual critics date most of the OT to around the time of the great Athenians -- Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Herodotus, Xenophon etc. But it also seems clear that the assembly of the OT did include at times much older documents. Just which those are is of course something that textual scholars continue to debate.
For my money I see Exodus and probably Genesis as very early. And I base that on the view of the Gods found there. The Greek Gods were generally very powerful and effective figures. Nobody pushed them around. But YHWH as described in Exodus is rather pathetic, much more like the only barely effective Gods of earlier times. He has the Devil of a time (if I may use that expression) in getting the Pharaoh to do anything and it is only after YHWH has visited plague after plague on Egypt that the Pharaoh relents a little
But that is only the start of YHWH's troubles. Now he has to keep the Israelites in line. And he frequently fails. They go off after other Gods all the time. So I see Exodus as a true account of a quite primitive people -- much earlier than the sophisticated Greeks.
And that is valuable. We have no comprehensive account of such a primitive people from any other source. We have a few scraps of cunieform but that is it. So how accurate is the OT as history? From what I see, it always has the last laugh. Things in it that were once dismissed as myth keep being confirmed as real by archaeological discoveries.
So what are we to make of the days of Methuselah, when some men lived to be nearly 1,000 years old? As is usually alleged, it could simply be a mistranslation. In earliest times there were a variety of number systems in use and interpreting numbers given in one system as if they were from another system could give absurd answers. They could be out by a factor of 10, for instance. That this was the mistake is now well-argued for, so instead of Methuselah living to 969 years, his age is now given by some scholars as 96.9 years -- which is very plausible.
I am reluctant however to say that anything as recorded in the Bible is wrong or mistaken. People who claim that often have to eat their words. So I have an explanation which makes sense of the literal Bible account.
Most people these days accept it as entirely likely that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. But they also see it as quite unlikely that we will ever get vistors from extra-terrestrials. Why? Because the distance between alternative biospheres is so great. You would need to travel several lifetimes just to get from one biosphere to another.
But what is a lifetime? I don't think it stretches credibility too far to say that there may be some beings somewhere for whom 1,000 years is a lifetime. And for such a people, interstellar travel may be a more attractive and plausible idea.
So Genesis chapter 5 could be seen as showing that there is such an extraterrestrial people and that they did once visit us. And that they were humanoid is not a stretch too far. As biologists say, form follows function.
Religious Liberty on Trial Before the Supreme Court/b>
The Affordable Care Act is the law that keeps on giving. Last time it was before the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts validated the horror that is ObamaCare when he declared the individual mandate penalty to be a tax, and thus within the constitutional power of Congress to create. Tuesday, the Supremes heard another challenge to the law in the form of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius – both cases dealing with mandates and religious liberty.
Hobby Lobby is an arts and crafts chain owned by evangelical Christians. With more than 13,000 employees, the company faces potential fines of almost $475 million a year if it fails to comply with ObamaCare's demands. Conestoga Wood Specialties is a kitchen cabinet manufacturer owned by Mennonites, and, with almost 1,000 employees, it faces penalties of $35 million per year for failure to comply. The owners of both companies contend that complying with ObamaCare's mandate that employer-provided health insurance cover contraceptives – even more specifically the mandate that coverage include abortifacients – would force them to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. More than 300 plaintiffs in over 90 lawsuits have joined them in the fight.
The suit pits the First Amendment's free exercise of religion and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) against ObamaCare. Under RFRA, the government may not substantially burden the free exercise of religion unless it can show that the burden advances a compelling interest using the least restrictive means of achieving that interest. (This is the federal law that is mirrored in Arizona, the amendment of which was the subject of the kerfuffle there last month.)
The Obama administration argues that business owners from the corner dry cleaner to corporate giants like Exxon give up their constitutional right to exercise their religion when they establish a business. And in essence, leftists want the government to stay out of their bedroom, but they want taxpayers and employers to pay for what happens in it.
The Court's female justices, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dominated the questioning of counsel during the oral argument, trying to make the issue one of “women's rights” instead of religious liberty. Sotomayor asked whether corporations objecting on religious grounds to providing contraception coverage might also object to vaccinations or blood transfusions. Ginsberg asserted that it “seems strange” that the RFRA could have generated bipartisan support if lawmakers thought corporations would use it to enforce their own religious beliefs.
Kagan claimed that the corporate challengers are taking an “uncontroversial law” like the RFRA and making it into something that would upend “the entire U.S. code,” since companies would be able to object on religious grounds to laws on sex discrimination, minimum wage, family leave and child labor. She complained that “everything would be piecemeal and nothing would be uniform.” Forced uniformity is the leftists' goal, after all. But if employers wanted to claim religious objections to the minimum wage, why haven't they already?
Sotomayor and Kagan each outrageously suggested that employers who have moral objections to ObamaCare mandates should drop health care coverage for their employees in favor of the tax. “But isn't there another choice nobody talks about, which is paying the tax, which is a lot less than a penalty and a lot less than the cost of health insurance at all?” Sotomayor asked.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote, voiced concerns both about the rights of female employees and the business owners. He asked what rights women would have if their employers ordered them to wear burkas, a full-length robe commonly worn by conservative Islamic women. Later, on the other hand, he seemed troubled by how the logic of the government's argument would apply to abortions. “A profit corporation could be forced in principle to pay for abortions,” Kennedy said. The government's “reasoning would permit it.”
The First Amendment plainly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” And the Religious Freedom Restoration Act adds statutory backing to that liberty by protecting people and businesses against infringement of their liberty. Yet ObamaCare's entire structure is about forcing people to engage in buying health insurance while dictating what that insurance covers. In a nation of 300 million people, this is bound to cause problems beyond basic infringement of liberty.
Tragically, the Court upheld the law as a whole in 2012, but, on the bright side, it appears the contraception mandate will be struck down, and the vote against it may even be 6-3. We'll find out this June.
A Costly Failed Experiment
With Sunday marking the fourth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law, it’s worth revisiting the initial purpose of the president’s signature legislation: Universal coverage was the main goal. Four years later, not even the White House pretends that this goal will be realized. Most of those who were uninsured before the law was passed will remain uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Democrats also fixated on another goal: protection for people with pre-existing conditions. One of the first things the new law did was create federal risk pools so that people who had been denied coverage for health reasons could purchase insurance for the same premium a healthy person would pay. Over the next three years, about 107,000 people took advantage of that opportunity.
Think about that. One of the main reasons given for interfering with the health care of 300 million people was to solve a problem that affected a tiny sliver of the population.
More recently, the president has had to explain why between four million and seven million people are losing their health insurance despite his promise that they would not. The new insurance will be better, he tells us. No longer will insurers be able to cancel your coverage after you get sick. What he doesn’t say is that this practice was made illegal at the federal level by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and was illegal in most states long before that.
While the president and his party struggle to find more convincing reasons why we need ObamaCare, three huge problems won’t go away.
* An impossible mandate. For the past 40 years real, per capita health-care spending has been growing at twice the rate of growth of real, per capita income. That’s not only true in this country; it is about the average for the whole developed world.
Clearly, this trend cannot go on forever. So what does ObamaCare do about that? It limits the government’s share of the costs while doing nothing to protect individuals or their employers.
The law restricts the growth of total Medicare spending, the growth of Medicaid hospital spending and (after 2018) the growth of federal tax subsidies in the health-insurance exchanges to no more than the rate of growth of real GDP per capita plus about one half of 1%. This means that as health-care costs become more and more of a burden for the average family, people will get less and less help from government—to pay for insurance the government requires them to buy!
* Unworkable subsidies. A family of four at 138% of poverty level is able to enroll in Medicaid in about half the states and obtain insurance worth about $8,000. Since the coverage is completely free, that’s an $8,000 gift. If they earn $1 more, they will be entitled to join a health-insurance exchange and obtain a private plan that costs, say, 50% more in return for an out-of-pocket premium of about $900. That’s a gift of more than $11,000.
At the same time, the employees of a hotel who earn pretty much the same wage as in the two previous cases will be forced to have an expensive family plan and they and their employer will get no new government help. The only assistance is the long-standing tax break that exempts employers’ premium payments from federal income and payroll taxes. Even so, the ObamaCare mandate amounts to about a $10,000 burden on these businesses and by extension their employees.
These are only a few of the many ways in which ObamaCare’s treatment of people is arbitrary and unfair.
A bigger problem is the impact these differential subsidies will have on our economy. As businesses discover that almost everyone who earns less than the average wage gets a better deal from the federal government in the exchange or from Medicaid, and that most people who earn more than the average wage get a better deal if insurance is provided at work, trends already evident will accelerate. Higher-income workers will tend to congregate in firms that provide insurance. Lower-income workers will tend to work for firms that don’t. But efficient production requires that firm size and composition be determined by economic factors, not health-insurance subsidies.
* Perverse incentives in the exchanges. Under ObamaCare, insurers are required to charge the same premium to everyone, regardless of health status, and they are required to accept anyone who applies. This means they must overcharge the healthy and undercharge the sick. It also means they have strong incentives to attract the healthy (on whom they make a profit) and avoid the sick (on whom they incur losses).
The result has been a race to the bottom in access and quality of care. To keep premiums as low as possible, the insurers are offering very narrow networks, often leaving out the best doctors and the best hospitals. By keeping deductibles high and fees so low that only a minority of providers will accept them, the insurers are able to lower their premiums, thus attracting still more healthy individuals at the expense of overall care.
So four years into this failed experiment, what are the alternatives? Getting rid of the mandates, letting people choose their own insurance benefits, and giving everyone the same universal tax credit for health insurance would be a good start. More easily accessible health savings accounts for people in high-deductible plans is another good idea.
Every provision in ObamaCare that encourages employers either not to hire people or to reduce their hours should go. Everything in the law that prevents employers from providing individually owned health insurance that travels from job to job should go. And everything that makes HealthCare.gov more complicated than eHealth (a 10-year-old private online exchange) should go.
Biden Claims Illegal Immigrants are "Already American Citizens"
The millions of illegal immigrants in the United States are already American citizens, in Vice President Joe Biden’s view. At the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Legislative Summit Thursday Biden explained:
"You know, 11 million people live in the shadows. I believe they're already American citizens. These people are just waiting, waiting for a chance to contribute fully. And by that standard, 11 million undocumented aliens are already Americans, in my view.
All they want—they just want a decent life for their kids, a chance to contribute to a free society, a chance to put down roots and help build the next great American century. I really believe that. That’s what they’re fighting for."
Biden referenced former President Theodore Roosevelt's 1894 speech “True Americanism” to assert that immigrants are precisely the type of courageous individuals America needs.
However, Biden ignored Roosevelt’s admonition that immigrants must also embrace the principles of American speech, politics, and principles:
"It is beyond all question the wise thing for the immigrant to become thoroughly Americanized. Moreover, from our standpoint, we have a right to demand it. We freely extend the hand of welcome and of good-fellowship to every man, no matter what his creed or birthplace, who comes here honestly intent on becoming a good United States citizen like the rest of us; but we have a right, and it is our duty, to demand that he shall indeed become so.…"
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