US Political Scene A right of center view of American politics

4Feb/120

Which Party Ruined the Economy?

Here's a quick, hopefully thought-provoking post.

Under Pres. Reagan there was a large expansion in the size of the federal government. Who had control of Congress during those years? Democrats. Pres. Clinton gets credit for having a good economy and balancing the budget but who is responsible for making and passing budgets? Congress. Pres. Clinton did the politically expedient thing and worked with the Republicans in Congress to get the budget balanced (although, the budget would prove to be unsustainable because it was based on unrealistic expectations of future tax income; the balanced budget was in trouble starting in late 2000 and early 2001 when a recession hit).

We had a good economy in the 1990s with Republicans in charge of Congress and with a Democrat in the White House. Things went south with the Internet bubble burst in 2000 and 2001. That was the start of a recession made much worse by the events of 9/11. Thankfully, the "Bush" tax cuts (Republicans were still in control of Congress) were passed. They helped shorten the recession. What was not good was passing them and increasing our federal spending. The economy was going along quite well until the housing market crashed in 2006-2007. This was one of the main factors resulting in the biggest recession the U.S. has faced. I'm not going to blame any political party for the recession but I have to point out that Democrats (and many Republicans) helped put in place government housing policies in the 1990s that were factors in the housing bubble burst. Further, Democrats were the ones opposed to regulations Republicans were trying to put in place that might have reduced the housing market crisis. Both parties are culpable for their actions or inactions though.

In 2006 (2007) Democrats took control of the House and Senate. In 2007 the recession officially started. Things were bad with the Republican Pres. Bush and a Democrat majority in Congress. They passed some bailout policies that were weakly effective at best and harmful at worst. Then Pres. Obama took office in 2009 (2008 election). He nearly had a Democrat supermajority in Congress with which to work. It seemed the perfect time to get things done to help the economy but instead of focusing on the economy, or at least trying to stay out of its way (there were other bailouts, some that seemed effective - the auto bailouts - but most have no measurable effects other than a huge deficit), Pres. Obama and the Democrats passed an environmental bill (which no one had the opportunity to read before it was passed) and a gigantic health insurance bill (which also was not read before it was passed).

In 2010, after about 2 years in office, Pres. Obama said he was serious now about the economy. Things were still bad. In 2010 (starting tenures in 2011), Republicans took control of the House and gained seats in the Senate. In 2011 the economy finally started to improve after Democrats no longer had complete control of Congress. It's still rough but getting better.

What I think is interesting is that the economy seems to flourish when Republicans are in charge of Congress and it seems to flounder when Democrats are in charge of Congress. It also seems that our economy is finally starting to recover in spite of the worst efforts of many Democrats (and many Republicans who either went along or didn't fight bills enough). It seems like the best course of action would have been either to do nothing or pass smaller, more focused stimulus measures. Tax cuts always work to improve the economy and are usually the best way to stimulate the economy. They just have to be accompanied by a reduction in spending. Basically, the government should get out of the way of the economy and provide focused regulations when necessary.

This post is biased. I wrote it this way on purpose to provide a counter-point to many arguments I have heard or read that praise Pres. Clinton for the good economy of the late 1990s, blame Pres. Bush for the 2007 recession, and praise Pres. Obama for the current economic improvements. There are many people who blame all good things on actions of Democrats and all bad things on actions of Republicans. That's such a gross oversimplification of who things actually work that it's not an effective argument (well, it is often effective because many people do not think critically and just accept it as truth). I wrote this post to show that I can argue just the opposite - that poor economies are the result of the actions of Democrats; after all, Congress is in charge of spending and passing laws and our economy suffered the most with Democrats in charge.

What's the truth? Probably something in the middle (Democrats and Republicans are both responsible). Our federal government is too big and certainly too inefficient. I'd argue that the inefficiency (bureaucracy) is worse than the size of government. We need a Congress and a president who are willing and able to increase the efficiency of the government in part by reducing its footprint.

25Jan/122

Mitt Romney’s Tax Returns

It took some comments on the New York Times article about Mitt Romney's tax returns to bring me out of retirement from posting on this blog. I want to provide brief responses to a few of the comments that capture much of the general sentiment of those commenting on that particular article (I cherry pick comments but I'm only focusing on comments with many other reader "recommendations").

The current highest reader-rated comment is this: "Anyone who sees nothing wrong with the fact that somebody who makes $20 million/year pays less than 14% in taxes, while someone who makes $40K/year pays over 20% is insane. Do not over-think it. It's absurd and unjust on its face."

There are many similar comments. For example: "this MITT guy earns 21mil & pays 15% in taxes [sic]. Joe the knuckle head plumber earns 50K and pays 28% in taxes"

What's wrong with the comment(s)? First, it's telling that this is the highest rated comment on the article; that tells you something about NYT readers and their biases (just like this post reveals some of my biases). Second, it never helps your cause to insult those with whom you disagree. Third, someone making $40K is not paying over 20% in income taxes (that's all we're talking about here - not other kinds of taxes; that's all we can talk about because the article is about Mitt Romney's income tax return). With the current tax code, a single person (I calculated as a single in order to try to increase the potential tax burden the most and to reduce credits or deductions or exemptions) earning $40,000 a year has a pre-deduction and credit federal income tax burden of $6030. Aha! That's a higher rate than Mitt Romney pays (it's 15%). However, that is a pre-deduction/credit tax amount. The standard deduction for a single person with no dependents and no other conditions that might change that deduction is $5,950. Using that deduction without any itemization (no other items resulting in a higher deduction), a single person making $40,000 a year would owe $4,106 in federal income taxes (estimated using the IRS estimated tax site). That is a 10.3% effective tax rate, which is lower than Mitt Romney's. At no point was the tax rate ever over 20%, like that particular commenter stated. Further, it is certainly possible but not likely that my hypothetical $40,000 a year earner would have no other credits or deductions. In reality, most people earning $40,000 a year pay a lower income tax rate than 10% (from a WSJ article: "The average income-tax rate for the middle slice of households—those making between $34,300 and $50,000—was 3.3% for 2007.";  {that article isn't that great; if you want a better WSJ article to read, read this one}). There's not much more to say in response to the comment on the NYT article.

This next comment (also very highly rated) captures what a number of people stated (the context is that Ann Romney paid around $20,000 last year for "domestic help"):

"There is NO WAY that family only spent $20,000 for domestic help. No family making that kind of income pays so little for domestic help unless they are doing something illegal. Just one house-keeper alone should make more than $20,000 if they were to pay her the legally required over-time, etc. Something is very wrong here."

This comment and the others like it are assuming that those are wages for 4 people working full-time (and even overtime!) during the year ("if they were to pay her the legally required over-time...") instead of the reasonable assumption that 4 different people were paid to help around the house(s) when needed. Maybe the "domestic help" (commenter's words, not mine) only worked 1 hour each and each was paid $5000 for that hour. That's much more likely than 4 people working overtime for a total of $20,000 in a year. The logic of the comment is seriously flawed. Not only that but the Romneys paid Social Security, Medicare, and other taxes on that $20,000 paid as Household Employment Taxes (see page 38 of the tax return).

Another highly rated comment (just a bit of it): "Like many of the wealthy, Romney paid no Medicare taxes." Also, this one: "According to his 1040 Obama IS working -- he has a number greater than $0 on the line for wages. It's Mitt Romney who isn't working -- his wage line says $0."

Actually, Mitt Romney earned $500,000 in speaking fees. Those fees are taxed at self-employment rates, which means at least $500,000 of his income was taxed at a high income tax bracket (with probably a lower effective rate due to deductions). It also means he paid Medicare and Social Security taxes (plus whatever else) on $500,000 (or at least paid higher taxes on that portion of his income). The first of those two comments was not only a red herring (it doesn't have anything to do with income taxes), it was wrong. The second is wrong as well. If you throw out a red herring you might as well bring up the fact that in 2010, Mitt Romney paid $226,000 in real estate taxes. That's money going to governments. In 2009 the Romneys paid $750,000 in state and local taxes (page 137 of the return). Stating that has as much (or more) relevance to federal income taxes on a tax return as does talking about Medicare taxes.

Another well-liked comment:

"This man is part of the international elite of super wealth, whether Wall Street tycoons, oil Sheiks, South American land holders or Chinese and Indian industrialists.... And then there is the business of Mormonism and giving as much to his religious as the public coffers. Why does our system of law allow a tax deductible contribution of this size - and to the Mormon Council of Elders, a shadowy private equity giant connected to Goldman Sachs (basically a Mormon bank)."

Notice the logical fallacy of guilt by association. Also note the blatant anti-Mormon bigotry full of completely false information ("Mormon Council of Elders, a shadowy private equity giant connected to Goldman Sachs (basically a Mormon bank)"). I'm sorry, but that is a ridiculous statement. The whole comment is an expression of ignorance or even outright deceit.

Another comment: "Will the moderator at the next debate please question Romney whether it's fair that he pays a far lower ta [sic] rate on his income than many middle class Americans?"

Actually, the effective average tax rate for middle class Americans is 8%. Mitt Romney, even with mainly investment income, is paying nearly double that rate.

Another one: "Romney is the symbol of what is wrong in America today. His vast income derives from the destruction of companies, jobs, benefits and pensions in order to generate fees for Bain."

Bain invested in around 100 companies during Romney's time there (and most of the companies were either just starting or on the verge of collapse - they were not generally healthy companies; Bain took on risky investments). Around 80 of those had very positive results with less than 10 mainly negative results (and this is only if you include what happened to companies up to 7 years after Bain's involvement, which means that some of the negative results came during the 2000-2002 recession). That's quite a remarkable record given the risky business investments. So much for destroying companies and jobs!

Here's the comment that brought me out of retirement (and it had a lot of other people recommending it, which is pretty sad): "Mitt Romney pays less in taxes than I do. And probably less than almost all the population. But no worries. We're good sheep. Nothing to see here. Moving along."

Let me restate that: "I pay more than $3,000,000 in taxes in a year. Almost all the population pays more than that. We just do what we're told though." Is that statement true? I doubt it. What the person meant to write is about tax rates, not taxes. Even so, the statement is still wrong. Mitt Romney's effective tax rate (again, which is what that individual really meant to write, not just taxes) is higher than 80% of tax-paying Americans' effective rates (additionally, 47% have no income tax burden). So no, Mitt Romney does not pay "less than almost all the population." Mitt Romney pays much more.

Okay, one last one: "Oh, I get it. You made the money all by yourself. And who paid for the police so you wouldn't be robbed? And who paid for the transportation system that allowed your goods to flow to and from your place of business."

Actually, Mitt Romney paid a lot of that. He paid over $700,000 in local and state taxes, including a lot of property taxes. Those go to support the police and the transportation system. He pays sales tax. In any case, we all talk about how we do our jobs or "I earned this" or "I did that"; that doesn't mean we necessarily ignore the contributions of others.

What we can learn from many of these comments is that there is room for improvement in the critical thinking department. We all could improve in that department; I know I certainly can! But what happens is that some people let their hatred or intense dislike of others cloud their judgments. We allow our biases and assumptions interfere with logical, critical thinking. All people do it to one extent or another. I'm not arguing that we all need to be coldly logical all the time but we could certainly use a boost in critical thinking skills and stop spreading falsehoods.

10Jan/111

The Shooting of Rep. Giffords

With the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and some of those waiting to meet with her or listen to her speak, there has been considerable online chatter about the causes of the shooter's rampage. Some of the earliest comments I read online blamed Sarah Palin directly and the Tea Party movement in general. Then came the accusations against Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Then the Right rightly started deflecting the blame by pointing out that the shooter is an advocate of flag burning and is apparently anti-religion. Those are generally very much at odds with the ideology of the Right. Further, they pointed out that a couple of his favorite books were The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf. Again, anything but traditional "Right" reading material. Clearly these all put him squarely with a Left ideology? Right?

Still, many of the news sources blamed (and still blame) the "toxic political environment" (or a "climate of hate") with the implication that it is toxic because of the Tea Party movement. It seems that people and the media have a serious retrograde amnesia for the kind of vitriol spewed against the previous administration, even before Pres. Bush was elected President. Then there was the hatred against Pres. Clinton before that, and the attacks against Pres. Bush before that, and against Pres. Reagan, Pres. Carter, and so forth. The rhetoric only seems more poignant given the prevalence of the Internet and people's lives bounded by a myopic state of acontextia; in other words, people either are not aware of or willfully ignore context and history. Markedly few people who either want to preserve the past (conservatives) or change it (liberals) are aware of it. There is considerable blindness on both sides and in the middle. I'm not claiming I have unfettered vision, I have my own cataracts, but I do try to be inclusive of context.

So is the Right more violent? Well, if you look at the 4 presidents who were assassinated, three were Republicans and only one a Democrat. Clearly Democrats and liberals are more violent. I have to clarify that I am using a touch of sarcasm to make some points. My point is that we cannot simply create a binary Left/Right classification and start blaming sides. Views and issues and actions are considerably more complicated than that. Another point is that I can take everything out of context. Meaning that when I stated that we have had 3 Republican presidents assassinated to 1 Democrat, and thus Democrats are more violent, that ignores a lot of historical context. It means, in part, that I am judging the actions of the past through the knowledge of the present, which can be troublesome. It can be troublesome when those judgments are doing things like criticizing Isaac Newton for not incorporating theories of quantum mechanics into his theories.

What we really need to do is respect the wounded, dead, and the families of those affected (including the family of the shooter) and then move on and let the justice system do its work. In this case we clearly know the shooter is guilty. That is not remotely questionable. What will be questioned is his mental state; it should be questioned. He is guilty but is he culpable for his guilt? That is to be established.

Of course, gun control advocates are taking this as an opportunity to promote their cause. That's a knee-jerk reaction similar to calling for a ban or for more restrictions on automobile ownership if the shooter had plowed a car into a group of people instead of shot them. People will always find ways to kill each other. Yes, guns are very efficient at killing but that's not necessarily an excuse to limit their ownership. If you want to ban what kills a lot of people, ban smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Ban junk food and soda. Those all kill more people than gun violence does. [Again, I'm not saying we should ban all those, I'm just pointing out the inconsistencies in some arguments].

I want to offer a radical explanation and solution for what was responsible for the shooter's actions - he was. I recognizing that there is a slight possibility that he is not responsible for his actions due to serious mental illness but that is for the legal system to sort out. So really the only thing we (including the media) should talk about is moving on and not pointing fingers of blame. I know that is such a radical idea when it is so easy to blame Sarah Palin, Right-wing wackos, drugs, guns, political climates (which are, by the way, fueled by the media), a failed education system, or whatever else people can think of. The person who needs to be blamed is the shooter. A lot societal problems could be benefitted if people started accepting personal responsibility for things. This is something that we need from individual citizens all the way up to the Administration. There is too much of pointing fingers in blame and not enough acceptance of our own responsibilities.

We need to stop focusing on the shooter and move on. That is why I did not include the shooter's name. It does no good to try and place blame on anyone else. Sometimes people just do terrible things because they choose to do them.

Update: Connor Boyack has good and similar post on his blog. Read his post for good insight into the controversy over the shooting.

There is also a good WSJ.com opinion piece by Glenn Reynolds about the shooting and the blame game.

22Apr/100

Truth, Freedom, and Religion

In the early days of the Revolutionary War one of the American generals, Nathanael Greene, expressed his desire for America to be an independent nation from Britain. His sentiments echoed that of many others of his day. Gen. Greene wrote:

"Heaven hath decreed that tottering empire Britain to irretrievable ruin and thanks to God, since Providence hath so determined, America must raise an empire of permanent duration, supported upon the grand pillars of Truth, Freedom, and Religion, encouraged by the smiles of Justice and defended by her own patriotic sons.... Permit me then to recommend from the sincerity of my heart, ready at all times to bleed in my country's cause, a Declaration of Independence, and call upon the world and the great God who governs it to witness the necessity, propriety and rectitude thereof." (as cited by D. McCullough in 1776, Simon & Schuster, 2005; emphasis added).

Contrary to the beliefs of many who are foes of organized Christian religions, the United States of America was founded upon religious principles and to some extent, religion. Our nation was not founded upon a particular religious sect but it certainly was never meant to be "free from" religion. There are movements that would remove any mention of religion from public discourse, especially in government. This is completely at odds with the Constitution. I recognize that Gen. Greene was not one of the Founding Fathers, per se, but his sentiments were in line with many others of his day.

Some feel justified in attacking religion in part because of a few words Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson believed in God but He did not believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He was also critical of some of the prevailing religions of his day. He was also critical of nations that had state religions - many people in the soon to be United States were; after all, that is why many of their fathers had come to America, for the freedom to practice religion as they saw fit. Here is the problem with building so much on Thomas Jefferson's few sayings and writings that were critical of religion - Thomas Jefferson was merely one of the Founding Fathers. He was very influential, he wrote the Declaration of Independence and was involved in the framing of the Constitution, but he was only one voice out of many. But here is the more important issue - Thomas Jefferson did not write the Constitution; James Madison wrote most of it. A number of other men had their input (and all states' representatives had to ratify it) but it was largely written by Madison.

John Adams, who was very religious, and Thomas Paine, who was deist like Jefferson also had a lot of input to the Constitution. In any case, none of the Founding Fathers were atheist. Those who were critical of the religions of their day grew up in a time when there was little religious freedom. America was in practice the only 'civilized' place on earth where there was relative religious freedom. Some religions had become oppressive and none of the Christian religions were quite like the religion Jesus Christ had established [I focus on Christian religions because at the time that was mainly what there was in America]. In light of this, the critical statements and beliefs were understandable. However, none of the Founding Fathers ever called for the abolishment of religion - most were religious, God-fearing men.

Those who would remove religion from public discourse (and even the government) would remove one of the pillars of our great nation. Religious principles played and play a large role in our government. Judeo-Christian beliefs are at the foundation of our legal system. This does not discount the influence of philosophers such as John Locke but neither should we discount the influence of Judeo-Christian principles. The Bill of Rights explicitly protects religions in the 1st Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This means that just as there should not be a state religion (like there was and is in Britain) there also should not be freedom from religion. Again, religions are protected by this clause. Christian religions are the some of the staunchest defenders of liberty; a nation without religion would not be a free one.

19Nov/093

Respecting the President

As I read various comments or blog posts online I see a number of conservatives who refer to our current president as "Barry." This is used in the same vein as many liberals used "Dubya" or any of their other derogatory names for the previous president (many of which are not going to be posted here). I do not support such informal and derogatory nicknames for the President Obama and I did not support such terms for President Bush. What Pres. Obama gets called is far milder than what Pres. Bush was (and is) called.

Regardless of what you think of a particular president, the office deserves respect. Even if you do not respect the individual, you should respect the office. Pres. Obama should be referred to as Mr. President (when talking to him, should you ever have that honor) or President Obama (or Pres. Barack Obama); he can also be referred to as "The President". On Twitter I can understand referring to Pres. Obama as BHO (which, while sometimes used to point out his middle name - Hussein - to try to link him with a certain former Iraqi dictator, is preferable to BO). However, that particular abbreviation should only be used on Twitter (or some similarly character-restricted medium) if your tweet is longer than the character limit and that is the best way to reduce the number of characters.

I know many people will disagree with me but I believe that people in important positions deserve respect and should be addressed respectfully regardless of your personal opinion of them. Besides, I find it difficult to take someone seriously when they refer to our president as "Barry." Here is an example of what I am talking about from a comment on a news story on a major news site. [Not that comments to online news stories are a good representation of the public, at least I certainly hope they are not representative, but they can serve as an illustration of my point].

"[A person] will run against the Barrack Hussein WH -- they will sign of the school system to the teacher unions for the future obligation of their pension and health benefits -- what that BHO care .. his kids are in a private school!"

That quote is taken completely out of context so it does not make a lot of sense (it does not make a lot of sense in context either). First, the commenter referred to Pres. Obama as "Barrack [sic] Hussein," which is an obvious appeal to anti-Muslim sentiment (or, at least the logical fallacy of guilt by association [in this case with Saddam Hussein]). Secondly, the commenter referred to Pres. Obama as "BHO", which is not necessarily disrespectful but neither is it respectful. I know people will quibble with my point but I believe that the office of President of the United States of America is deserving of more respect, regardless of your feeling about a particular president.

We can criticize and make a caricaturization of a president but the office of president should still be respected. Much of this boils down to basic civility, a quality I fear too many in our country lack. A person only weakens an argument by reverting to name-calling or otherwise disrespectful attitudes towards others.

11Nov/090

More Anti-Mormon News Bias

Mormon church approves gay rights law - as long as it doesn't have to follow it.

In the above-linked article, the author bitterly complains that the new law passed in Salt Lake City banning discrimination against homosexuals does not have to be followed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What the author so conveniently ignores is something called the First Amendment that prohibits the federal government (and all "more local" governments) from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The whole amendment is worded as follows: "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 first right guaranteed in the First Amendment is specifically given to religions. That is not a coincidence. Religions are protected by the U.S. Constitution - a person's sexual preference is not.

The author also incorrectly refers to a film ostensibly about Proposition 8 (called 8: The Mormon Proposition) as "the church's new film" as if the LDS Church produced and made the film. Anyone who believes Proposition 8 was a "Mormon Proposition" is either misled or disingenuous. What the LDS Church did do is encourage its members to support Prop 8 (although no one was forced to vote for it and no one was disciplined by the church if they voted against it) and be active in the political process. Why is a church - again, which is a Constitutionally-protected entity - not allowed to speak up on issues but any number of other, ostensibly secular, institutions can? Why can women's clubs, school groups, unions, businesses, and other organizations take stands for or against same-sex marriage but religions should just mind their own business? Religions provide a key role in the moral checks and balances of our nation.

The author continues on with dishonest editorializing:

"The LDS Church will always fall back on its lame  'bedrock of marriage' argument to defeat any attempts at furthering gay rights.

Remember folks, these are the same people responsible for reversing the gains the LGBT community so tirelessly worked for in California and Maine, the same people who just a few months ago faced nationwide criticism and spurred "kiss-in" protests because they detained a gay couple for having the gall to express their affection in public, then let their hateful PR spokesperson disastrously handle the situation in the press."

Firstly, how is defending marriage "lame"? The burden of proof rests with the editorial's author to demonstrate exactly how the LDS Church's marriage argument is lame. Or, is it just easier to call people names or call arguments names without actually addressing the issue? Second, I thought a majority of people in California passed Proposition 8, not the LDS Church. LDS Church members are free to donate their time and money as they see fit. The LDS Church also acted completely appropriately in its role in Prop. 8. Third, now the LDS Church is responsible for the vote in Maine? I think some appropriate citations are in order by the article's author. Fourth, the "public affection" of the two men arrested on church property included groping, making out, and drunkenness. The men were asked to leave the private property and did not. So, do homosexuals somehow belong to a protected class that does not have to follow private property laws? The only PR "problem" came from LGBT groups who misrepresented or misunderstood what happened and tried to create a controversy where no controversy existed.

Gay-rights advocates do themselves no service by writing articles like this one in The Examiner. The LDS Church stood up for gay rights as far as they are morally and doctrinally able to do. Why are some people so bitter at the LDS Church for standing up for marriage and families, which are the very foundation of our society? In the end, the author expresses disgust that the LDS Church did not change its doctrines to support the imaginary "right of same-sex marriage." The author did not help his argument by continuing to spread misinformation, lies, and hatred about the LDS Church.

24Oct/090

What It Cost to Support Prop 8

The Price of Prop 8. That links to a summary of many of the acts of hatred, abuse, vandalism, and crime perpetrated against supporters of Proposition 8 in California. The article provides documented cases of actions taken against those who stood up in support of marriage.

Here's an example of some of what occurred:

"Many reports of hostility toward Prop 8 supporters involve acts of vandalism. An elderly couple who put a Yes on 8 sign in their yard had a block thrown through their window. A senior citizen who placed a pro-Prop-8 bumper sticker on her car had her car's rear window smashed in. Some individuals with pro-Prop-8 bumper stickers had their cars keyed. One woman with a "One Man, One Woman" bumper sticker had her car keyed and tires deflated while she was in a grocery store. One man who placed signs in his yard and stickers on his cars and motorbike reported that someone egged and floured his home three times and egged, floured, and honeyed his car twice. Someone also pushed over the man's motorbike and scraped the bumper stickers off the back glass windows of his cars. Several other individuals reported that Yes on Prop 8 bumper stickers were scraped or ripped off their vehicles or defaced."

LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks recently stated:

"We must not be deterred or coerced into silence by the kinds of intimidation I have described. We must insist on our constitutional right and duty to exercise our religion, to vote our consciences on public issues and to participate in elections and debates in the public square and the halls of justice.... It is important to note that while this aggressive intimidation in connection with the Proposition 8 election was primarily directed at religious persons and symbols, it was not anti-religious as such. These incidents were expressions of outrage against those who disagreed with the gay-rights position and had prevailed in a public contest. As such, these incidents of 'violence and intimidation' are not so much anti-religious as anti-democratic. In their effect they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation."

Dallin Oaks stated that the effects of intimidation towards those who supported Prop 8 were like voter-intimidation in the South during the civil right movement. Oaks did not say that what occurred in response to Prop 8 was necessarily as bad as blacks faced in the South; he said that blacks faced acts that were meant, among other things, to intimidate them and keep them from voting. Many people in California faced acts meant to intimidate them from voting in support of Prop 8. Voter intimidation is anti-democratic, as Oaks said.

As I've written previously, it is hypocritical for people who preach "no hate" to turn around and instigate acts or words of hatred against supporters of Prop 8. In any case, we must, regardless of consequences, be willing to stand up for what we believe is right. There is plenty of room for disagreement - as there should be - but there is no room for incivility.

16Oct/091

The State and Future of U.S. Health Care

Many people support socialistic ideals by an appeal to pathos. Here is a rough prototypical and salient argument: Recently divorced Ann is a middle-aged woman with 3 kids. She has two part-time jobs and no health insurance. She has a medical emergency, which results in massive health care costs. She ends up losing her home and has to move into a friend's home with her two children who are still at home. She loses so much because of not having health insurance. If only there was a nationalized health care system in place, she would not have lost her home and all of her savings, which were small already.

This or similar experiences seem to be commonly used as arguments for nationalized health care and/or health insurance. However, using an appeal to emotion (a pathos story) is a logical fallacy; it is a weak argument at best and misleading at worst. Sure, it makes you feel badly and it is sad, but should it be the foundation for an argument in support of socialist policies? No. Such a story could be used appropriately and as support for an argument, but it should not be the central theme of an argument. Yet, appeals to pathos in support of nationalized health care are rampant.

Here is an example from Pres. Obama's most recent address on health care. This is, of course, not his entire speech but this entire selection is nothing more than an appeal to emotion [again, appeals to emotion are okay as long as they do not comprise the bulk of an argument]:

"Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can't get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed, and can't afford it, since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or too expensive to cover.

"We are the only democracy -- the only advanced democracy on Earth -- the only wealthy nation -- that allows such hardship for millions of its people. There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage. In just a two-year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point. And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage. In other words, it can happen to anyone. But the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem for the uninsured. Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today.  More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you'll lose your health insurance too. More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won't pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.

"One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it. Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, her breast cancer had more than doubled in size. That is heart-breaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America."

An additional argument in favor of nationalized health care is that the "U.S. system is broken. Look at Sweden or Canada or any number of other countries that provide health insurance to all their citizens without 'breaking the bank'. It is unethical for the U.S. to not provide for its citizens [as an aside, ethics have largely replaced morals in our world; instead of talking about what is moral or not we talk about what is ethical or even legal or not]." There are a number of problems with this argument.

  1. It assumes that nationalized health insurance is a good solution, or at least better than our current system and that the cost is justified. We do not know that it is better than what we have. Many assume that it will be - or at least that it will be "fairer" - but we cannot really know it will be better unless we implement it. The problem is that it is a really expensive experiment. Additionally, is it really the role of the United States government to provide for the health care of its citizens?
  2. It assumes that the U.S. is or should be like other countries. The U.S. Constitution is not the constitution of other countries and what was enumerated as the role of the government in the Constitution is different than in other countries.
  3. It ignores that socialized health insurance plans are one of the main reasons of high health care costs! To be accurate, all insurance is socialistic in nature (although historically, insurance has been based on risk - those at higher risk have higher premiums; that is a capitalistic modification of insurance {however, there are many within our country who want to level the playing field and make everyone pay the same amount}). In any case, insurance in and of itself is socialistic (I'm not saying that necessarily as a negative, I'm just pointing out philosophical underpinnings of our health care system). Additionally, most of the insurance plans in the U.S. are company funded. This means that our health care system is not based on free market principles. There are hints and allegations of free market economics but there is little real competition. The health care industry is based on insurance - everything revolves around it. It is also heavily regulated by the government. There is a striking correlation between the cost of health care and the rise of company-paid insurance. As the industry became more dependent on insurance and more regulated, costs increased. Health care costs in recent years have far outpaced inflation. In the free market this would likely result from an increase in demand. As demand increases, prices increase. However, our system is not a free market - it is not capitalistic. Demand has increased, which increase can account for some of the increase in health care costs, but due to the nature of the system, the dramatic rise in health care costs is likely due to governmental intervention and socialistic-type policies, such as employer-paid health insurance (and even insurance in general).  For more on this topic please read David Goldhill's article in The Atlantic (Goldhill is a Democrat). Governments are notoriously poor at reducing costs.
  4. This argument also ignores the fact that most countries who have nationalized health care have recently started to privatize because the governments are finding the model to be unsustainable. If the government run systems work so well, why the need for privatization? The answer is that they are not sustainable, especially not in a world that devalues family and family size (meaning that there is a decreasing number of people supporting an increasing number of people).
  5. The demographics of the United States are different from most other countries. The United States has many immigrants. We allow a number of legal immigrants in every year; also at least tens of thousands of illegal immigrants enter each year. Should illegal immigrants be covered by nationalized health insurance? How many other countries with nationalized plans are similarly affected by demographic factors like the U.S. is? [That is not a rhetorical question - I do not know. I could guess that very few are].
  6. Is a nationalized plan really sustainable with the aging population? We have more and more older adults due to numerous factors (decreases in infant mortality, better health care, more medicines, and so forth) and fewer younger adults (and not just per capita). People are having smaller families than they used to - the declines in average family size have not been dramatic within the past 100 years but they have been steady. This means we have a decreasing number of workers supporting an increasing number of people. People will be able to work longer - in theory - than they have in the past so this problem may not become as severe as it could be but we also have an increasing number of people with chronic health problems who are not able to work or who can only work part-time. The irony is that socialism, which is ostensibly about "the people" and requires masses of people to function, devalues people and leads to reductions in the number of people, which reduction undermines socialism! Look at the average family size in countries with stronger socialist influence (e.g., much of "Old Europe" or China) compared to the United States.
  7. Many health problems are related to unhealthy life choices. Obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes are all mainly related to lack of exercise and over-eating (and unhealthy eating). These problems lead to heart problems, higher rates of cancer, long-term disability, higher dementia rates, more strokes, etc. I have seen estimates that greater than 66% of health care spending is for largely preventable problems. Granted, some people have genetic propensities that contribute to these problems but genes only account for a minority of the variance. This means that lifestyle, not genes or biology, is responsible for much of our health care spending. I am not ignoring the fact that other things like corn food subsidies lead to an increase in use of high fructose corn syrup, which is very unhealthy. I am also not ignoring the fact that unhealthy food often is less expensive than healthier food; however, ceteris paribus (i.e., all other things being equal), lifestyle is the greatest contributor to health care costs. This means that in order to reduce health care spending, we have to change our lifestyles! Given that the government is not good at reducing costs (the free {or slightly regulated} market is much better), is it appropriate that "the government" pays for poor lifestyle choices of so many people? Is it appropriate that through socialized health care a person who makes good lifestyle choices be forced to directly subsidize someone who does not? Some may argue that we are already doing that and by nationalizing health care we can further diffuse the costs, which might even reduce costs generally. This may be true in the short-term but it is not sustainable. As mentioned earlier, the government is not good at reducing costs. Costs will continue to rise and in the end, the whole system will be worse than before. Nationalizing health care and insurance does not fix the problems in health care in our country. It is a bit like adding bandaids when what we really need is a transplant. There is an additional problem to diffusing costs in this manner.

Psychologists have shown an interesting phenomenon that people in the presence of others accept less personal responsibility. In the face of need, an individual within a social situation is both less likely to help and slower when he does help. We think someone else will pick up the tab. We think that someone who is more capable will act. The problem is that responsibility is diffused enough that fewer act. This is called the bystander effect or diffusion of responsibility. It has been replicated numerous times (see for example, Darley & Latane's article Bystander intervention in emergencies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1968). Those in larger groups are less likely to help someone in need. Now, any given individual might be likely to help, but based on averages and group studies, those in larger groups ("larger" typically shown to be comprised of 4 or more individuals) are much less likely to help someone in need, even if it is an emergency and the person could be in serious danger. The classic example of this is Kitty Genovese, who was raped and murdered but no one intervened to help her (someone eventually called the police but it was too late). There are many reasons why no one did but the important thing is the research that grew out of this attack and similar ones too. The more people present, the more diffuse our perceived personal responsibility becomes.

Socialism is the same. Because "the government" takes care of the people, why should anyone help another person? Why should we reduce costs by losing weight if someone else is paying for our health care? I'm not saying these are conscious decisions to not accept personal responsibility for actions, it is just that the nature of socialism leads to less personal responsibility. There is no individual in the collective we of socialism. Without at least some focus on the individual (I'm not implying or supporting anything like Ayn Rand's Objectivism - her extreme humanism of selfishness), there is little to no desire for accepting personal responsibility for actions, in fact, personal responsibility is eschewed. Without this responsibility in health care, costs will continue to skyrocket. Socialist systems are not the solution. Our health care system is already largely socialist (although maybe not what we think of as "typical socialism") through Medicare and employer-sponsored plans. More socialism will not work, we need less governmental intrusion and more free market enterprise.

Is capitalism better for health care? Maybe. My bias is to say, "Yes" but others will disagree. Are all socialistic ideas bad? No, but they are not necessarily the best answer. Is pure capitalism the best? Likely it is not. I have not addressed most of the philosophies of socialism, instead I have focused mainly on the health care debate, which merely touches one part of economic socialism. There are many other aspects of socialism to which I am opposed, including the devaluation of the family unit and the distrust and denial of religion. I also did not address how socialism interferes with the correct practice of free will, which is a topic for future discussion.

In summary, I believe socialist policies (including lack of competition, government and employer-sponsored health insurance, etc.) are largely responsible for our enormous and growing health care costs. Some may counter by stating that "more socialist" nations have lower health care costs as percents of their GDPs - that may be - but our health care system is anything but capitalistic. As we shift towards socialism, "socialist" nations shift away. Our system is unsustainable as are "more socialist" systems. The solution is not to increase the government's role in health care but to reduce it by reducing the artificial barriers against free market principles.

I do not have all the answers and maybe I do not have any of the answers, but I do know that socialism is not the best solution. It is a worse solution than what we have now. We need to increase personal responsibility, not take it away even more than it already is by moving in a socialistic direction. If we want to fix our health care system, we need to encourage healthy behaviors. I will not suggest how we might do that - that is a post by itself - but it will go a long way in reducing our health care costs. Further, increasing dependence on the government to solve our problems reduces our dependence on ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our communities.

Please comment to add suggestions or correct any errors I might have in my post. I welcome and respect all viewpoints as long as comments remain civil.

29Jul/090

Obama’s Health Agenda – What’s the Hurry?

This post is somewhat of a response to the following article: Obama Defends Health Agenda - WSJ.com.

My main question is is health care reform is so important why are Democrats trying to push through legislation at the speed of sound? Should not the most important bills receive the most scrutiny and debate? Should not the public and particularly the professionals have time to share their input?

I believe health care reform is important. However, my ideas of reform have more to do with insurance companies providing incentives for healthy living as well as governmental restrictions on malpractice lawsuits rather than turning health care over to the government. I do have to add, probably to the chagrin of pure libertarians, that I'm not necessarily opposed to nationalized health care if it makes preventative care a major focus - most national systems do not, by the way - and if it does not reduce physician reimbursement down to Medicaid levels. There are other provisions nationalized health care needs to have for it to be acceptable to me. We should pump more money into research and development and keep the pharmaceutical companies and others doing medical research going at full speed; contrary to what some detractors believe, pharmaceutical companies are [usually] not the enemy. I do not take pharmaceuticals if I can avoid it - it's been many years since I've had a prescription medication - but most pharmaceutical companies do a lot of good.

The same thing [hurrying a bill through Congress] happened with the stimulus bill. It was shoved through Congress so quickly no one had time to actually analyze it fully. There is a time for decisive action but when that action comes at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, the government should have the courtesy to take a little time on the matter. I know Pres. Obama is operating in the post-Katrina world where the federal government was perceived as acting too slowly in response. However, where were the local and state governments? Are not they the first responders? This does not give the federal government freedom to rush in to a perceived crisis without planning or without at least a little debate. Where lives are imminently at stake such as with a hurricane, responses should be faster (and driven first locally and lastly nationally). However, with stimulus packages and with health care (especially with health care), there is time to work together.

So far in Pres. Obama's administration he has come across as nothing but partisan. He is condescending towards those who disagree with him; he is finding out that people - even those within his own party - actually have the audacity to disagree with him. Repeatedly I read about Obama mocking those who disagree. Such childish snobbery is sad. He comes across as defensive and elitist. Pres. Obama's approval rating is falling faster than the stock market last year. As an investment he's leaving many people poor.

Democrats trying to cram bills through shows that they are as partisan as any Congress ever was. They are acting as if they feel like they have to get everything passed that they can while they still have a majority. If they have a majority after the elections in 2010, it will not be very large. Yet through all this Democrats say that none of these bills are political; Pres. Obama in particular has stated this a number of times. Who is not being truthful?

20Jul/092

We Elected the Wrong President

We elected the wrong president. What is almost as bad is that Republicans nominated the wrong person to run against Pres. Obama. What led to our electing the wrong president?

After eight years of Pres. Bush, the country was fed up with Republicans, the economy (although we had some really good years during Pres. Bush's presidency), and the wars. Not all of us were fed up with Pres. Bush but most people were. Of course, many people never gave him a chance or the benefit of the doubt because of the controversies Democrats created over the 2000 election. I was not a fan of Pres. Bush's fiscal policies in general but the treatment of him by much of the media and many liberals was inexcusable. The media should be able to and should criticize presidents but the relentless barrage on Pres. Bush and his administration was almost without precedent and bordered on unethical. Pres. Bush also had the misfortune to have his tenure come during the maturation of the internet and rise of social media. The vitriol exploded and the administration did not know how to deal with it (or did not want to waste time dealing with it, unlike the present administration). Part of it was the fact that Pres. Bush was not a "good politician" (that's not a criticism); he was successful in politics but was not a politician like Pres. Clinton or Pres. Obama. After eight years, our country wanted change.

This is where Pres. Obama came in. In 2006 Congress changed from a Republican majority to a Democrat majority. This was the beginning of the overall governmental change. For a time Sen. Clinton had the lead in the Democrat race for nomination. She had years of experience in Washington and had many connections. However, she was a "Clinton" and had her own history of scandals as well as those of her husband. She did not stand a chance once the media got behind and helped create the juggernaut that was Obama. He was young, cool, polished, intelligent, and media-savvy. As a community organizer he knew how to set up grassroots campaigns and raise funds in small amounts from many people. He was also African-American, which rather than hurting him, helped him tremendously. He had the African-American vote locked up and sealed. Overall, African-Americans compose about 13% of the U.S. population. Obama had virtually all of the African-American vote. Pres. Obama, smartly, ran his campaign on the promise of "Change you can believe in!" He was the person ostensibly from outside Washington who would re-create Washington, giving it an extreme makeover and more metrosexual appeal. Obama was to be a new JFK with the beautiful wife, cute kids, and polished rhetoric. Maybe he could build Camelot anew within the marbled pillars of the White House. He, to some of his followers, is a savior who not only cures cancer with a sympathetic look but also plays a decent game of basketball and looks good without a shirt on. Obama received the Democrat nomination also in part because the economy became of larger concern than the War Against Terror and the war in Iraq at a pivotal moment last year. Sen. Clinton suffered because of this and Sen. Obama benefited.

A similar thing happened in the Republican primary, although for different reasons. Mitt Romney was running 2nd to John McCain but in reality the race was close. However, Mike Huckabee proved to be more than a stinging gnat for Mitt Romney. Mike Huckabee pulled many of Christian conservatives away from Romney because they, in part, were already reticent about supporting a Mormon. Mormons, according to many Evangelicals, are the worst kind of cult; the worst thing to happen to Christianity since the feeding of early Christians to lions by the Romans. Mormons had the audacity to believe in and practice plural marriages in the 1800s, a practice many Westerners just cannot seem to stomach. Of course, Evangelicals do not seem to remember that many of their Biblical prophets practiced polygamy as has most of the world throughout most of history. In any case, Mormons are not well-liked among many fundamental Christian groups (or most other religions for that matter). Romney, in addition to losing supporters to Huckabee, also had the misfortune of the war in Iraq becoming the major issue within the Republican Party for a short while. The main focus on the economy did not come until after Romney withdrew and really not until after McCain was nominated. The war was McCain's strong point while the economy was (and is) Romney's.

More than a year ago I stated that Mitt Romney is "the man for the economic crisis in America." We did not realize at the time how bad the economy really was becoming. That was unfortunate. Had the economy remained the major issue, Mitt Romney would have received the Republican nomination. He has proven business acumen, rescuing troubled businesses over and over (including the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics). While experience can sometimes be over-rated, Mitt Romney's economic experience is not over-rated and cannot be over-stated. He would have been a president who would not have to rely completely on advisers to understand and establish economic policies. He could have worked even with a Democrat-controlled Congress, just as he did as governor of Massachusetts, to get sound fiscal policies passed (although the Legislature in Massachusetts did not like many of Romney's fiscal policies, which were too conservative for them).

Instead of Romney we are left with a spend-happy Pres. Obama and a Congress that is even more spend-happy. The stimulus and bailout packages might help in the short-term, should the money actually ever be released, but they set a precedent for future spending and debt. We purchase short-term and ephemeral gains at the expense of the livelihood of our children and their children. Even with the so-called stimulus package, we face unemployment rates that rival Europe's (at least Europe's in a good economic climate). As many European nations move away from socialist economic policy, America moves towards it. Even China has largely moved away from a socialist economy. We should let the market run itself without too much government intervention. I'm not idealistic enough to believe that a purely capitalist nation without government intervention is the best way but less governmental intervention and meddling is usually better.

While I think Pres. Obama is a good person trying the best he knows how to do, I do not believe he is the right person for the job. We elected the wrong person. Instead of Obama, we should have elected Mitt Romney. Fortunately we might have that opportunity in 2012. My only worry is that the economy will have recovered by then and many of us will believe that just because the symptoms are gone, the illness is gone. However, just like antibiotics, we need to extend the treatment long after the symptoms are gone in order to get rid of the disease. I believe that Obama's fiscal policies contribute to the disease instead of curing it. Maybe Obama can cure cancer but he cannot fix the economy; Congress cannot fix it either. Only the economy can fix the economy. Governments can help the economy but they cannot repair it; they can, however, make it worse by meddling. Again, this does not mean governments should leave economies completely untouched but our government should worry first about plugging the gaping holes in its bank accounts before it tries to do anything with the broader economy. We need fiscal responsibility, not this wanton spending our government is doing.

Mitt Romney was ready to answer the call to service but we rejected him. Hopefully we will not make the same mistake again in 2012 when we will need him more than ever to help clean up the mess the current administration and Congress are making.