Freedom is never free.....

"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."-Samuel Adams

Political Frivolity (maybe)


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Regulatory Extortion

"To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or wh
ose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it."
--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan,
ril 6, 1816

Thomas Jefferson was most certainly not born with the gift of prophecy. I’m fairly sure he did not consult an ancient seer residing in some cave far up in the Blue Ridge mountains. He did not read tea leaves, depend on Tarot cards, or employ an astrologer to assist him in day to day decisions.

Jefferson was born with the gift of forward thinking based on personal experience and more importantly,
the historical significance derived from the decisions and policies of our predecessors. He may have been referring to what had already transpired during the young and brief history of our nation.

Alexander Hamilton feared anarchy, and as a result took a very liberal view of the U.S. Constitution, most notably granting broad powers to the Federal government. Jefferson, on the other hand, felt that the Constitution’s 10th Amendment was very clear, granting powers not specified to the states. This disagreement led to the formation of the two-party system which we know so well today. Hamilton, Adams, John Jay, et el, were “loose constructionists”. There political philosophy dictated more power to the central government for the “Greater Good”; hence the party was called the Federalists.

Jefferson couldn’t have disagreed more with this thinking. The U.S. Constitution was written with the express purpose of granting the central government with a very limited roll in governing, while allowing each sovereign state to decide what would be more advantageous for them. Jefferson’s party was called the Democratic Republicans.

Jefferson could see very clearly what would and could happen if the Feds were granted expansive powers to usurp the rights of each sovereign state. Fast forward to modern America, and we have the Feds doing exactly what Jefferson feared. For example, The Uniform Drinking Age Act (1984) gave each state a five year window to change their laws to the minimum age of 21. If not, interstate highway funding would be cut off. Another example is to pay off states with a highway slush fund that lowered the legal alcohol blood limit to .08.

How about the “Tobacco Settlement”? The Feds blackmailed the tobacco companies through regulatory extortion by “allowing” them to stay in business if they paid a few hundred million dollars to lawyers, plaintiffs, federal, state and local governments.

The Mother of All Shakedowns may be the Community Reinvestment Act, in which the Feds mandated private banks to loan mortgage money to those who had no intention of repaying it. For those banks who declined to participate, the Feds would regulate them out of business. The CRA has brought us to this point in history where we all face an uncertain future, largely because of our leaders in Washington using political muscle and employing figurative leg breakers to apply pressure to those in private industry who really didn’t want to play the game. Did I mention Microsoft?

There are many more examples of Federal Blackmail, but I think you get the point. Jefferson saw this as a possibility 200 years ago, when Hamilton wanted to start a national bank. Since then, the two party system has morphed into essentially one enormous political machine where right is wrong and wrong is right. We live in a country where 65% of the citizenry believe our current administration is on the right track. We live in a society that would allow for the redistribution of wealth, “because it’s the right thing to do”, where the clever and industrious are punished, where those who go to work everyday to provide for family are penalized. Complacency is the rule, so long as we are “provided for”.

"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds." – Samuel Adams

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pulpit Politics

“I never told my own religion nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed. I am satisfied that yours must be an excellent religion to have produced a life of such exemplary virtue and correctness. For it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be judged.” -1816, Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Mrs. H. Harrison Smith

Here in Ohio we had Issue 3, which was a statewide referendum on casino gambling. The issue passed, and, (4) cities in Ohio will be granted a license to build Las Vegas type casinos. The cities are Cincinnati (my hometown), Cleveland, Toledo, and Columbus. I count (25) states with casino gambling. The impetus for this post is that the Catholic Church issued a press release a couple of weeks ago condemning the ballot initiative. The reason? “Moral, social, and economic reasons”. Being a recovering Catholic, I seem to recall festivals, Monte Carlo nights, weekly Bingo, on and on. The church would have us believe that these activities are not “gambling”, but righteous fund raisers for the salvation of a multitude of souls archdiocese would say the “Vote No on Casinos” stance had nothing to do with the possible diversion of funds that otherwise would end up in the coffers of the church. No hypocrisy here.

Throughout our country’s history, Pulpit Politics has attempted to shape public policy all the way back to pre-revolution, Tory dominated Boston, to the split of the Methodist Episcopals prior to The Civil War, and the current Roman Catholic stance that makes us scratch our collective heads. The heart and soul of the American Revolution which was Boston, was fairly evenly divided on allegiance to the crown and the complete independence from England.

Anglican churches preached fire and brimstone sermons opposing independence, with had nothing to do, once again, with the business of religion. Since the Anglicans were really just an Americanized version of the Church of England, this really was no surprise. The Roman Catholics, however, were accustomed to a huge power base for centuries in Europe, and, in actuality, were responsible for that political structure. So for the Archdiocese to preach from the pulpit about the evils of previously mentioned Issue 3, should not be a big surprise either.

Likewise, the Methodists in the southern states could not agree with their counterpart
s in the northern states about slavery. Sermons on Sundays were riddled with talk of the moral absurdities of the “peculiar institution” on the north, and spirited speeches about secession in the south. Granted, slavery was a very real and serious moral issue, there was no resolution that was going to come from a pastor, preacher, priest, or any other clergy. This issue was to be settled politically, and no sermon written was going to serve as a replacement for public policy.

Once again, none of this had anything to do with biblical themes or the business of salvation.
Publicly, the founders professed no membership in a particular religious denomination. Privately, it may have been a different matter, but based on the First Amendment, religion was intended to be a private matter, that is, not public.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The founders had it right. Religion is and should be a personal issue. Religious doctrine should be about religion, not public policy. Political matters are for governments at all levels to determine, and the First Amendment should preclude Pulpit Politics. This guarantees us the right to worship as we please, or not at all. The founders knew that morality was based in human nature. They felt that by allowing us to choose our faith, this would be a means to the end of religious intolerance that was prevalent in the Church of England and the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The freedom is there, but so is the intolerance. Let’s go to the Town Hall to listen to politics, and church for the religion. OK?

“One man's religion is another man's belly laugh.” Robert Heinlein

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Healthcare and Hypocrisy

“The art of medicine consists in amusing t
he patient while nature cures the disease.” ~Voltaire

As a child growing up in the 1960’s, I remember trips to the doctor’s office, along with my (5) siblings and my mother and father. Doc Krone would line us up, with a tray full of syringes, and give us shots, one by one. My dad would pay the bill, drive to the pharmacy, pay for the medicine, and we would go home. There were no co-pays, prescription cards, forms to fill out, HMO’s or any other kind of “managed care”. There was no such thing as HSA’s, MSG’s, PPO’s, PPG’s, PPA’s, EPO’s, or BHP’s. We didn’t have HBO, CNN, ESPN, or MSNBC. Our esteemed elected officials in Washington are very close to voting on a comprehensive healthcare reform bill that I call a POS.

Back in the days when
a physician’s primary procedure was “bleeding”, the medical knowledge base was very limited. In the surgeon’s tent after a battle, they relied on whiskey as an anesthetics, and musket balls for the patient to bite down on during amputations and removal of shrapnel. These tools of the trade were readily available, and were a good way to keep costs down. At the advent of the industrial revolution, and the technological advances associated with this period led to rapid advancement in medical care and procedures. Chloroform and ether replaced whiskey and muskets balls as the preferred pre-surgery anesthetic. Although this provided an improved level of comfort for the patient, there was a certain amount of increased cost associated with it. As with any technological discoveries and inventions, life becomes easier, healthier, but the component of cost is driven upwards.

The first insurance plans came to the fore during the Civil War, and only to protect those that worked on railroads and steamships, and only in the event of an accident on the job not unlike disability insurance in today’s world.

As urban centers became more populated, families were living in more confined spaces, and an alternative was needed to care for the sick. By the 1920’s there was an advisory board to establish some standards for the practice of medicine. By the 1930’s, a non-profit know as Blue Cross and Blue Shield negotiated discounted pricing on a “fee for service” basis. This system worked quite well for decades. Strong union influence in the 1940’s and 50’s created employer paid insurance plans.

Government programs to cover health care costs began to expand during the 1950s and 1960s. Disability benefits were included in social security coverage for the first time in 1954. When the government created Medicare and Medicaid programs in 1965, private sources still paid 75 percent of all of the health care costs. By 1995, individuals and companies only paid for about half of the health care with the government responsible for the other half.

"Of several remedies, the physician should choose the least sensational." -Hippocrates

As the cost of healthcare rose dramatically in the 70’s and 80’s, “fee for service” was replaced by “managed care”. Which brings us to 2009. Speaker Pelosi proudly announced the long awaited Healthcare Reform bill, all 1,990 pages of it. At first blush, after perusing some random pages, it would appear that attorneys across the nation would be smacking their lips. Endless litigation, page by page, section by section is the likely outcome of this behemoth. The fact that nobody really knows what is in the bill, including most members of Congress is seemingly irrelevant. That the “cost” is “only” a trillion dollars or so over (10) years is only a detail. When was the last time the CBO accurately predicted anything (10) years out? I recall we were to have a balanced budget by now. The stimulus package was to have a profound and positive impact on the economy and unemployment. I digress. Oh, yeah, the U.S. Constituion was only (8) pages or so.

"I find medicine is the best of all trades because whether you do any good or not you still get your money." (Moliere: "A Physician in Spite of Himself," 1664)

The fact that there is no interstate competition for health insurance, is, on the surface a huge part of the problem. In order to make this happen, states are going to have to waive some laws and regulations already in place. Each state has their own policies and laws regulating the healthcare industry, and this makes is difficult to compete across state lines. Once we get by this barrier and allow true, free market price shopping, I believe the market can and will allow the price of doing business to come down. Once the Federal government gets more of her greedy and power hungry paws in the mix, the more difficult it will be to repair the damage; free markets have always worked when left to run their course. Over regulation and government interference only serves to stifle, and ultimately strangle whatever course the markets would direct. Once it is deemed to be “free”, Katy bar the door.

“You can't fix stupid.”- Ron White (Comedian)