Tuesday, January 31, 2012

“The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions”

Everyone who is a conservative at heart is faced with an enormous dilemma when it comes to the question of Medicare.  Putting aside, just for a moment, the fatal flaws of the program, it is a socialistic scheme that does not meet with the intent of the Constitution and the founders’ framework for a limited federal government.  On the other hand, Medicare is now ingrained into the nation’s mindset as an entitlement that is no longer to be questioned, as the Left knew it would be when they sent us down this road.  People like my parents have come to depend on it.  Consequently conservative politicians are in a no-win situation on this topic.  They cannot propose scrapping the program and still remain viable candidates, and yet to propose ways of “saving” Medicare – at least to my way of thinking – is contrary to conservative ideology.  It seems conservative voters have little choice but to accept a candidate who, by standing up for Medicare, promises not only to continue but to further enshrine the systems we oppose and which are guaranteed to contribute to our eventual failure as a nation.

For this reason I’ve given a lot of thought as to how we could have it both ways – save Medicare but do it in a way that requires the application of conservative principals such as personal responsibility.  I have concluded, upon deep reflection, that it cannot be done. The Medicare system is too deeply and inherently flawed to save it at all, never mind do so in a way that satisfies a conservative like me.  Consequently we need a candidate who is brave enough to do the unthinkable and propose ending it.  We won’t get one, of course, but as long as I’m dreaming here’s what I think that candidate should say:

Imagine if I gave a stranger a credit card with no spending limit and then I arranged for the bill to go to you.  What do you think might happen?  Do you think the stranger would be a wise and careful consumer with your hard-earned money like you are?  Would he make tough choices and show concern for your financial security?  Or do you think he might forget about that and spend without regard to the way it affects you?  If you can understand what could go wrong with this arrangement, then you should understand the inherent flaw of the Medicare system.

Under Medicare the consumer has little to no natural incentive to restrict or curtail consumption.  The predictable result is an unnaturally high demand for healthcare services, which in turn leads to shortages and/or skyrocketing healthcare costs, as we’ve all witnessed in the past several decades.  Next, well-intentioned politicians with no understanding of economics will step in and further exacerbate the problem by placing artificial controls on the prices of Medicare services, which further limits availability and drives prices higher yet for everyone else.  We then have what is commonly referred to as “a mess.”

At its start, in 1966, Medicare cost $3 billion, ..."The House Ways and Means Committee estimated that Medicare would cost only about $12 billion by 1990 (a figure that included an allowance for inflation). This was supposedly a 'conservative' estimate. But in 1990 Medicare actually cost $107 billion."’ In 2011 that amount rose to $485 billion, and by 2021 it is forecast to be nearly $821 billion. 2     Do you think maybe the politicians don’t know what they’re doing here?

Medicare spending has grown at a much faster rate than our gross domestic product and every year it consumes a larger and larger share of our national budget.  “...CBO’s projections suggest that in the absence of changes in federal law... Federal spending on Medicare (net of beneficiaries’ premiums) and Medicaid would rise from 4 percent of GDP in 2007 to 7 percent in 2025, 12 percent in 2050, and 19 percent in 2082.3

Most Americans recognize that we are already in dire financial straits even as I speak.  How can anyone believe that we can continue on this road any longer? 

For some, the concept of healthcare as a limited commodity is uncomfortable to accept, but that is the reality.  Healthcare in and of itself is not a constitutionally guaranteed right.  How can it be when such a guarantee would require that others be indentured to that obligation?  Healthcare is ultimately the product of the labor of other people.  We become dangerous to our fellow man when we presume the right to that labor, or the right to the labor of younger generations who must bear the cost.  So to those who claim Medicare is a moral issue, I say, “Yes it is.” It is immoral for people to use the power of the state to force others to pay for their healthcare without limitation. 

But all of this does not mean that people must forego good quality healthcare once they retire, as certain folks would like us to believe.  Our undue reliance on government to solve these problems has severely damaged the free market process, but it can be restored because all of the necessary elements remain in place.  We have willing suppliers ready to provide a market for willing consumers.  We must begin by getting the federal government out of the healthcare business, which brings me to the subject of Medicaid. 

By now the story should ring familiar.  When started in 1966 Medicaid initially covered 4 million people at a cost of about $1 billion.  Today, Medicaid.gov (“Keeping America Healthy!”) proudly informs us that “Medicaid and CHIP provides health coverage to nearly 60 million Americans.”4   The cost? Well it was nearly $400 billion in 2011 excluding administrative costs.5    This is what happens when the decisions about spending are taken out of the hands of local communities and placed far away in the hands of bureaucrats.

Government run health programs don’t fix our healthcare problems they multiply them.  They remove free market conditions that are necessary for the system to work, and they invite massive fraud, allowing dishonest people to get rich at taxpayer expense and away from taxpayer control.   Someone once said, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."  It's time for us to take heed of that advice and get off this road we're on.

Friday, January 20, 2012

On Newt, Fidelity and Judgment

When republican governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, was embroiled in a scandal relating to his highly publicized affair a friend of mine was annoyed because apparently some talk show hosts were calling for his resignation.  He was of the opinion that republicans should stick together and not “eat their own,” and he thought a strong resume on fiscal conservatism was the higher priority.  I tended to agree but that misses the point.  The question was this:  what gives anyone the right to presume to tell other voters what qualities should be important to them in a candidate?  In a time when some are voting because they like someone’s toothy smile or cool sunglasses, it’s not my place to say whether or not infidelity should be a deal-breaker for someone else.

That’s why when Newt Gingrich was once asked about his past indiscretions and whether or not it was a legitimate issue in the campaign his answer was exactly right.  He said it was a fair issue to bring up and that whether or not this disqualified him for POTUS was a choice for voters to make (I’m paraphrasing, of course).  Then he expressed regret over his past mistakes and stated that he had asked God for forgiveness.

Let’s contrast that with what we saw from Bill Clinton who first went to great lengths to cover up his infidelities and smear and denounce his accusers, and then dismissed his behavior as a “personal issue” that was no one’s business but his (remember the wagging finger?).  As I opined back then, Clinton’s attempt to deprive voters of important information about his character and then to issue proclamations about what should or should not be relevant to voters smacked of the worst kind of imperialism.  The notion that citizens have no business making judgments about the behavior of a man with the power to impact all of their lives, well that’s all part of the terrific Clinton legacy.  The true test of a liberal is to see if he will sacrifice the ideals of a nation to advance his own interests.

But back to Newt.  In light of the damning accusations recently launched by his ex-wife I’d like to relate a personal story that might give people pause for thought. 

We moved to a new state when my son was starting first grade.  I was concerned about him adjusting to the move but he soon made friends with a boy in school and so we became friends with his family.  Life-long residents there, they sort of adopted us.  The dad coached the boys’ T-ball team, we had barbecues and took the kids on outings to the beach, etc.  As we got to know them, however, it eventually became apparent that there were serious problems in their marriage, and the more time we spent with them the more clear the reasons became.  The wife, who was otherwise great to be with, seem to take pleasure in making the husband miserable.  She belittled him, picked fights in public, undermined his authority as a parent, literally spent them into bankruptcy and had gained about 100 pounds during their 12-year marriage, among many other things.  Reluctant to separate my son from his best friend, we endured many an uncomfortable time in their presence because of her tendency to openly express her anger or disappointment in him.  He, on the other hand, would do what he could to ignore or placate her to keep peace in public.  Five years later or so the husband finally decided to call it quits, and with her “good riddance” he moved out.

About a month or so later I was with the wife at a school function when she informed me that the husband was “having an affair.”  She knows this from having hacked into his cell phone messages, and she feels wounded and betrayed.  I was in disbelief.  She sincerely believed herself to be a victim.  Later, at the monthly Bunco get together, she informed a sympathetic crowd of women that her husband had left her and was cheating on her.  Since they heard only her version of things, she had everyone’s immediate sympathy.  This experience is always in the back of my mind when someone professes to be the injured party in a marriage gone bad. 

The point of this post is not to defend or excuse anything Gingrich may have done or to suggest that people don’t have the right to judge a candidate on his morals.  It is simply to say that things are not always as they may seem.  The fact that Gingrich’s daughters appear to be defending him suggests to me that there is much more to the story than we know, but each of us is entitled to draw our own conclusions.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Big Score for Gingrich

One of the major disappointments for me in Monday night’s GOP debate was to hear some of the candidates articulate their ideas for “fixing” Social Security and Medicare.  I’m tired of hearing people who profess to be “conservatives” propose that we fix our socialist-like entitlement system by making it look more and more like....(drum roll please)...socialism!

I don’t expect any candidate to propose that we get out of the business of Social Security altogether.  Right or wrong, Social Security is here to stay in one form or another.  Given that as the situation, what would be the next best way to make the program comport to the conservative ideal of maximum personal liberty and self-reliance?  The answer is that we make it as close to individually self-funding as practical and possible.  Gingrich’s proposal that we adopt the “Chilean” approach to retirement savings is the only one that even comes close to meeting that essential mark.

It infuriates me to hear some suggest that we “means-test” Social Security so that people who are deemed not to “need” the money can forget about receiving anything when they reach the age of retirement.  “From each according to his ability.  To each according to his need.”  That’s what that is.  Pure Marxism, plain and simple.  There would be nothing wrong with asking people to voluntarily give up Social Security payments in the interest of charity or with people choosing to do so on their own, but it is nothing short of stealing to force people to do so against their will.  It is not the State’s decision to decide who does or does not “need” the money, or even that “need” should be a requirement for getting what was promised.  Once we head down that road we give our de facto consent to the ideas behind Marxism, and place ourselves on the fast track to the European-style socialism that is decried by the very people who suggest “means-testing” Social Security.

As for raising the retirement age (or, to put it more accurately, to raise the age at which people can draw Social Security benefits), if the method for funding Social Security is resulting in the average person under-funding their retirement, then sure – it should be raised.  Why should you get to draw benefits at 62 if what you’ve contributed computes to a retirement age of 70?  But the whole argument underscores the mess that’s been made here and the need for a very different approach.  Since people don’t directly fund their own personal retirement funds it’s impossible to say who has or has not contributed enough to earn benefits by any given age. 

The whole Social Security dilemma/debacle should provide a prime opportunity for teaching the harsh lessons about the realities of policies that are based on the ideas of socialism.  What must someone who’s 54 think about these great plans to “fix” Social Security by preserving it as is for people 55 and older while telling everyone younger, “Sorry!  You got gypped.”  But the lesson has been completely lost in these debates because everyone is a politician first, and a conservative second (assuming they’re a conservative at all). 

It’s time to give up the notion that Social Security can be “saved.”  If history teaches us anything here it’s that the system is inherently flawed and over time people will be asked to give up more and more of what they’ve contributed in order to support those who, for whatever reasons good or bad, have not lived up to their responsibility for taking care of their own needs.  We are living history right now!  We must get out from under this system once and for all, and from what I can see Newt is the only one who is proposing a plan that does so. 

Don’t even get me started on Medicare.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thoughts on the Death Penalty

(Note:  This was first posted on my old blog in September of 2010)

Many years ago I watched a documentary called “The Thin Blue Line,” which documented the case of Randall Dale Adams who was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death back in 1977. Adams was eventually exonerated and released in 1989 after serving 12 years in prison. It was a tragic miscarriage of justice and it caused me to seriously rethink my position on the death penalty. 

Since that time I have given a great deal of thought to the serious topic of crime and punishment, as I believe all of us should. Since I am fascinated by the nature of criminals as well as by the methods used to identify and convict them, I have been an avid fan of shows like “Cold Case Files” and “Forensic Files,” which document actual murder cases and the methods involved in solving these crimes. While they mainly focus on finding and convicting murderers, occasionally there will be an episode which details the case of someone who’s been wrongly convicted. 

There is no doubt in my mind, particularly after watching programs like those mentioned above, that death is a fitting punishment for some crimes. Based on what I’ve seen, in fact, one could argue that merely putting someone to death does not rise to the appropriate level of justice for the horrific suffering some have inflicted on innocent people. But having seen many cases now where death sentence convictions have been eventually overturned, I had to ask myself: should the death penalty be allowed?

In order to answer that question we must first understand how our system has failed because, theoretically, it should be nearly foolproof. That’s because the standard for finding someone guilty, i.e. beyond a reasonable doubt, is an extremely high burden to meet and because our system is designed to give defendants a vast array of protections. After seeing a number of wrongful conviction cases profiled over the years as well as researching cases on the internet, I found a common element in nearly every case: human failure. This included negligent council, frauds perpetrated by overly zealous prosecutors, lying witnesses, inept judges and jurors who failed to properly do their job.  In the case of Randall Dale Adams from “The Thin Blue Line” for instance, he was the victim of a dishonest prosecutor and dishonest witnesses.
So the answer lies not in taking this or that punishment off the table, but in fixing the system so that wrongful convictions do not occur. Otherwise we take the outrageous position of saying to people, “We think you’re guilty of this terrible crime, but since we can’t be sure we’re ONLY going to give you life in prison.” What kind of justice is that? We must demand that the system work as it was intended to and that justice is properly served every time.

How do we accomplish this? Accountability. We must always rigorously enforce the rules of our justice system, including consequences for failing to play by the rules or perform one's duties. Lawyers must be fined, jailed or disbarred if they are derelict in their jobs. Witnesses must be held to account when they perjure themselves. Judges should be impeached or otherwise punished if they fail to uphold the laws and standards of the court.   Even jurors must face serious consequences when they fail to fulfill the obligations of that vital role. 

Just as we hold doctors to the highest standards, so too should we expect the highest of standards from those who hold the power of life, death and freedom over other citizens via the part they play in our justice system.  A strong justice system, including tough consequences for criminals and unquestionable fairness in determining those consequences, is the cornerstone of this nation and we must never allow it to be compromised.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Is Obama Stoopid?

I once heard an old joke about a man who got a flat tire as he was driving past the local insane asylum.  Warily he got out to change the tire, nervously eyeing the spooky asylum with its barred windows and gated surroundings that stood just a few feet away.  When he noticed a man standing in front of an open window, watching him, he became quite anxious.  He hurried to change the tire, but in his haste he knocked over the hubcap in which he’d placed all of the lug nuts, and they spilled down into the sewer.  “Damn it!” he yelled, and he paced nervously, thinking about what to do.  Suddenly the man in the window was speaking to him:  “Why don’t you take one lug nut from each of the other tires and use those to hold the spare in place until you can get to a gas station?” he said.  The man liked this idea and replied, “That’s a good idea!  Say, what are you doing in that place?”  To which the man in the asylum replied, “I’m not stupid.  I’m just crazy!”

That about sums up my answer when people suggest to me that Obama is stupid.  Whether or not he’s stupid all depends on what you believe his motives to be.  If you sincerely believe that he cares about the interests of the American people and wants to advance the interests of the U.S. as a nation, well then I guess you would have to believe that he’s stupid, because it’s easy to demonstrate that nothing he’s ever done has helped those goals along. 

Personally, though, I believe Obama has much different motives in mind.  I think he wants to grow and consolidate the power of the Left and I think he wants to gratify his own ego.  To do that he needs to “spread the wealth (i.e. buy votes for himself and his party with our stolen tax dollars),” he needs to control as many aspects of our lives as possible through government and he needs to weaken our standing in the world so that he – not this nation – can be revered.  And to those ends I’d say he’s doing pretty well, which makes it hard to argue that he’s stupid.  So, is he crazy?

Well some argue, and I agree, that liberalism is a disease of the mind.  It manifests itself, I believe, as underdeveloped psychological maturity, which is why liberals display many of the behaviors that we normally associate with children.  I don’t know if that makes them “crazy,” per se, but it certainly should mean that we don’t want them running the country.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What is “Compromise?”

Imagine you’re the coach on a football team.  One of your receivers is interfered with and prevented from catching what would have been a 20-yard pass on the five yard line, maybe costing you a touchdown.  The penalty should be that your team gets the ball on the five yard line and you have a first down.  But suppose the ref comes to you after conferring with the other team’s coach and says, “The other coach wants to negotiate the penalty.  He’s offering to let you have the ball on the ten yard line and it’ll be second down.  What do you say?  Are you willing to compromise?”

There’s that word the democrats are so in love with these days. 

Of course, that kind of request would probably bring confused silence followed by laughter followed by justified outrage by the coach and fans of the team being asked to compromise.  And the outrage would be justified by the fact that both teams, by virtue of being part of their league, have already agreed to the rules in advance.  The negotiation about what kind of penalties will be enforced for any particular infraction have already taken place, and there is absolutely no legal, moral, ethical or logical reason for them to compromise. 

This is precisely the same situation we are facing when it comes to so many issues being debated in Congress every day.  Republicans are being asked to “compromise” even though the rules were already negotiated and agreed upon long ago with the founding of the Constitution, and there is nothing to be gained by republicans if they “compromise.” There is only more and more to lose, which is the same as saying that a “compromise” is ALWAYS a win for democrats.

But democrats know this.  It’s why they’re so eager to “compromise.”

Again and again Obama and his cohorts in crime are poised to win the day by controlling the course of the discussion and outsmarting witless republicans who, instead of standing up en masse and simply pointing to the Constitution, let themselves be embroiled in an argument about who is, or is not, willing to “compromise.”  This would be like the coach in the scenario above arguing with the ref over yards and downs instead of simply saying, “No way.  We play by the rules.” 

Sadly, we’ve already compromised so much over the decades that it simply doesn’t occur to most republicans to just go back to the rule book.