Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health Care Alternative?

Health Care Alternative?

I want to start a process (I do NOT have all the answers... yet) where we try to develop an alternative to the current Health Care proposals floating around. I want this to be a new approach with the goal of ADDRESSING THE REAL PROBLEM while maintaining those aspects of the existing system which DO work and respecting the FREEDOM, RESPONSIBILITY and ULTIMATE AUTHORITY of the INDIVIDUAL (as advised by their caregiver; bureaucracy not required or wanted)

A. The primary objective is to provide Health CARE (not “insurance”) to those who legitimately 'need' care, but are unable to pay for it for whatever reason.

B. Private (personally controlled) insurance programs must remain viable and available.

C. Any Government action must be designed to provide actual SERVICES, not simply payment or other types of funding transfers.

D. Reasonable steps taken to recover payment from those able to do so once they are released from medical care.

E. Legal reforms to protect private facilities, physicians and staff from lawsuits (a "loser pays" lawsuit requirement, legitimate caps on fees and awards, etc.)

F. Implement mechanisms to remove the indigent (for lack of a better term) from the private system facilities ASAP. This will reduce crowding and provide cost savings for those who pay for their own care, while limiting 'rationing' at the private level.

G. Implement mechanisms to take appropriate action against usage of the government health care system by non-citizens.

H. TBD...

* * * * *

I propose we start by expanding the existing VA program, which is absorbed into a new, comprehensive service-providing system. (That there are problems with VA care points out that pre-existing government-provided services need fixing before implementing a radical modification to what we have... a topic for a different discussion.)

The basic idea is to allow the Government (VA) system to hire MORE / NEW doctors and nurses to provide (new) services for indigent care (all levels, not just critical care). Anyone needing EMERGENCY care can – as they do today – go to any facility (private or public). If you cannot (or will not) pay for the services received, the goal, at a private facility, is to provide the minimum care to stabilize the patent for transport to the nearest Government (VA) facility - and patient moves into that system until released. Once there, continued care, as defined by government staff is provided. Legal liability of the private facility and its staff is very limited (much tort reform needed here). Costs for transport and other costs assigned to government using standardized rates for billing from private facility with audits. BTW, here's a legitimate 'jobs program' to hire workers to build new infrastructure (buildings, offices, etc.)


1. NON-EMERGENCY care at an ER is immediately subject to severe legal procedures, starting with immediate jail time for not less than 72 hours.

2. Make it legal for PRIVATE medical professionals to refuse providing NON-EMERGENCY and/or NON-CRITICAL care (have to assist with transport to proper facility, but their liability ends there).

3. Non-citizens – when released from care - must assume a non-paid position as hourly government worker (building roads, janitorial, etc.) until some level of funding is recovered. 'Illegals' are incarcerated, and shipped ASAP to country of origin. Repeat offenders become permanent staff at correctional facilities (prisons, etc.). Cost of transportion and maintenance counts as 'foreign aid' and reduces ALL available funding to those countries accordingly.

4. Usage of government health services who are able to remain gainfully employed have wages automatically garnished (no tax 'refunds' either).

5. Mandatory (reversible) sterilization after government pays birthing expenses (or abortion expense) for more than one child. Reversing sterilization procedure must be paid in cash, in full, in advance by individual.

6. Private facilities have option to use same pricing of drugs and other medical supplies as agreed to by government (can work their own deal with suppliers, but start at government cost).

7. All health care insurance programs are paid for by the individual and follow the individual from job to job. Employer may choose to pay for all/ some of package, but all deductions for coverage belong to individual, not business: tax deductions belong to individual.

8. Insurance companies may sell programs across state lines, using any reasonable 'group rates' formula. Private programs are NOT required to provide all services, consumer may pick and choose coverage items (e.g., persons 60+ years old not required to have pregnancy coverage). Consumer choice, again.

9. Medical Student loans (if guaranteed by government) require X years of service at government facility before entering private practice.

10. TBD...

* * * * *

The point is to establish the Government as a CARE provider (not just a mechanism to transfer wealth from taxpayers to a favored group). Consumers have the OPTION to use the system or have their own. Government may use any criteria to provide (ration) care IN THEIR FACILITY ONLY. Staff to be hired by government system in competition with private marketplace.

I submit that overall "COSTS" will come down across the board by shifting the burden to where is costs reside, as opposed to trying to distribute the costs to everyone. Let those who make poor decisions bear the brunt of the risk...

Key point: CHOICE of using the Government Program remains with consumer – not mandated or required - avoid FORCING consumers in any direction, even "for their own good". The consumer assumes the RISK associated with not having adequate coverage.

BTW - My catchy acronym for this is: HEALTH by Government Alternative, Might Be Less Expensive... (the “HEALTH-G.A.M.B.L.E.”)

I know this new project will be tricky and challenging - especially given our diffenent apporaches to the situation by our respective outlooks. That's OK... I have started with a bizarre mixture of philosophical styles; some I don't like, but deem as necessary to achieve the goal.

I welcome your comments and feedback - This is a Real World problem, so let's set ourselves away from the drumbeats of the agenda-driven D.C. crowd and try hammering out details of a True Compromise and build something that will WORK. Propose new requirements or point out problem areas as needed. Enjoy the challenge.

- Steve

Monday, July 27, 2009



Day before yesterday, right after I got to work and as I was sitting at my desk, three or four of the guys were standing a few feet away talking about the Henry Gates arrest in Cambridge and subsequent controversy. Needless to say, they were doing little more than confirming to each other Sgt. James Crowley's version. I didn't say anything.

When they were done, one of them, a close friend, turned to me and asked, "Have you ever supported the white guy in a situation like this?" I guess it was because he figured liberals would always accept the black guy's version - regardless of the circumstances.

Truth is, I hadn't formed an opinion because I didn't have all the facts then - and I still don't.

Here we have a black professor: well known, physically unimposing, unarmed and with no history of violence whatsoever, claiming to be a victim of racial profiling, police intimidation and false arrest on trumped up charges. On the other hand we have the account of the officer, a man apparently without a history of racial confrontation, who claims he made the arrest because he feared for his life.

Both men are probably telling some of the truth, but one of them is guilty and I don't know which. This got me to thinking.

Much as we would like, we will probably never know the entire truth about what happened that day. Its the typical "he said she said" moment. Are there bigoted white cops out there who abuse their commissions to commit acts of racism? You bet there are. Are there blacks out there who, in situations like this, would cynically manipulate a history of racial prejudice to avoid guilt? Ditto. So in this case, I guess the best you can do is just roll the dice and take your pick.

I'm not going to end this with some kind of namby-pamby, catchall version of this affair where we conclude that both were honorable men, both over-reacted and neither of them is to blame. Hogwash. As I said, one of them is guilty - but only they know which.

If there is anything to be learned here, it isn't who was guilty and why. It is who we chose to believe and why. And, having made that choice, no manner of additional information, up to and including a complete, video recording of the entire event, is going to change most people's minds. Its just in our nature - and that's the saddest part. What do you think?


Thursday, July 23, 2009

A modern fable...

A modern fable...

Early one day, a florist went to a barber for a haircut. After the cut, the florist asked the barber about the bill, and the barber replied, "I cannot accept money from you - I'm doing community service this week." The florist was surprised and pleased, and left the shop.

The next day, the barber arrived to open his shop in the morning - there was a 'Thank You' card and a dozen roses waiting for him at his front door.

Later that day, policeman comes to the barber, and when he asks about the bill, and the barber again replied, "I cannot accept money from you - I'm doing community service this week." The cop was happy and left the shop.

The next day, the barber discovered a 'Thank You' card and a dozen doughnuts waiting for him at his front door.

Then, a Congressman came in for a haircut. Once again, the barber stated, "I cannot accept money from you - I'm doing community service this week." The Congressman was Very Excited and quite happy as he left the shop.

The next morning, the barber arrived to find a dozen Congressmen lined up waiting for a free haircut.

This story illustrates the fundamental difference in attitude and approach to life between private citizens in our country and those politicians who try to run our country.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


That's about one of the most marvelous posts I've ever read... not just from you, and not just on that subject. I'm thinking now of going out and buying a hat just so I can take it off to you.

When I was very young, living in middle of the corn fields in central Indiana, I remember laying out late at night on a cot along side my mother, looking up at the sky. She had an amazing and beautiful way of making people feel significant. Confronted as we were by that infinite sea of stars, one would tend to feel so small and pointless. Yet, looking up and listening to her made me understand the unlimited glory of just being alive.

This seeded in me a sense of belonging and worth. Years later, when Neil Armstrong made his historic walk on the moon, I never once regretted I could not do the same thing, because I knew in my heart that I was walking right along beside him.

Through the years, like you, I've followed our space program and never lost my sense of joy and wonder. Some others may believe it is a waste of money. After all, how many mouths could be fed with all the money we spend sending human and mechanical explorers off into space? Others would argue that our space programs result in technological advances which ultimately benefit us beyond the initial cost. I've never bought into this argument. I believe instead that exploration feeds a far more important hunger, and it is that of the human spirit. Anyone who had a mother like mine would have no trouble understanding this.

After she was long gone and resting peacefully in her grave, I wrote a poem about her, the last lines of which were:

...not whispering, but talking loud and joyous,
as if Being is exalted by Eternity,
and not diminished.
Thank you for your lovely post. It made me cry.

Monday, July 20, 2009

In The Footsteps

Today - July 20, 2009 - we are celebrating the first landing of Men upon the Moon. Forty years ago, on July 16th, 1969, the world waited breathlessly for an event years in the making. Amidst the sand dunes and palmetto trees beside the Atlantic Ocean, a million tourists, journalists and VIPs waited for the launch of Apollo 11 from pad 39A. Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins were to carry the hopes and dreams, not only of a country, but of all mankind.

It was the 1960's - when it seemed the dark side of humanity was ascendant... The Vietnam war... Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy gunned down... Protests raging on university campuses... The Cold War... Violent clashes between the police and demonstrators...

Which all faded from memory when, precisely on schedule, Jack King, the “voice of Apollo,” said “10-9-8... Ignition sequence start... 4-3-2-1 and LIFTOFF! We have liftoff!” The mighty Saturn V rocket strains to rise against the force of gravity, and for a heart-stopping second it appears to be losing the fight. Then, ever so slowly, it starts to pick up speed and clears the tower, streaking into the clear blue sky.

Four days later, the Lunar Module EAGLE approaches Sea of Tranquility, hovering 300 feet above the surface, when Neil Armstrong discovers the landing zone is filled with dangerous boulders. Armstrong takes manual control and for about 90 seconds, searches for a clear spot, flying over a crater and ignoring warning alarms from an overloaded computer. Fuel is running low, near empty. He sees a likely place, moves to it and cuts the engine as he calmly announces “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” And that night, July 20, 1969, at 10:56:20 pm Eastern Daylight Time, Neil Armstrong stepped from the ladder onto the surface of the Moon, saying, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The whole world shared in that moment. I think Columbus, Magellan, and the other great explorers of history would be less astonished by two men walking on the Moon than by the fact that hundreds of millions of people around the world were watching every moment as it happened, including the safe return of the astronauts to Earth.

Years later, Michael Collins would recall the people they met around the world. He was warmed by their reception, not so much by their praise, but by a sense of shared accomplishment. People didn't say, ‘Well, you Americans did it,’ everywhere they said: ‘We did it!’ We, humankind, we, the human race, we did it!” The spirit of inclusiveness was remarkable, given the space race’s origins in an atmosphere of fear and belligerence. Six times astronauts walked on the moon. And there was the unlucky Apollo 13, when we collectively held our breath and prayed three astronauts who faced death and disaster on the way to the Moon, would somehow limp back home safely.

Each day is a new opportunity for us to Explore our relationship with God. We seek to discover how we can exchange Our Goals and Our Dreams for the chance to follow His Plan. Like the Apollo astronauts, we have many personal challenges we will face in our lives. But rather than compare our personal journey to the first Lunar landing, I want to remind you of the space flight in December, 1968 – before Apollo 11. When Apollo 8 circled the moon for the first time - the first flight of humans beyond Earth’s orbit – a mission that restored and re-energized our sense of adventure. We have all seen that incredible picture of Earth, a blue and white marble sparkling in the blackness of space, rising above the dead lunar surface. If there is an image that defines the 20th century - that picture of our home planet rising above the lunar plain is it.

In 1968, on Christmas Eve, the astronauts of Apollo 8 -
Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders - focused a camera on the surface of the Moon outside the spacecraft window, while reading the opening words of the creation story from the Book of Genesis. This unexpected transmission, literally from on high, was a gift of HOPE. Hope there is still beauty in the world. Hope we can still aspire to Goodness and Greatness. Everyone who heard those words, whether they believed in God, in other gods, or in no god at all, shared in the spirit of that moment. We all experienced a boundless optimism, where once there had been despair. And with that spirit in hearts and minds - we moved forward.

It's been said that the essence of Apollo 8 was about leaving, and that Apollo 11’s was about arriving. So I ask you - which is more important, that people left their home planet or that people arrived at their nearby satellite?” Consider that during a storm on the Sea of Galilee, Peter believed in Christ and wanted to follow Him wherever Christ led: but Peter had to find the personal courage within himself to Step Out Of The Boat.

Today, we regard Apollo 11 as being the showpiece and symbol of the Apollo program, and rightly so. As we embark on our journey to achieve a better understanding of who God is and what wonderful Plan He has for us, I ask you to remember that – sometimes - it’s more significant to LEAVE than it is to ARRIVE.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sarah Palin will be missed


As you would expect, I will miss Sarah Palin. She was a fresh face in an increasingly static world. Like many, I dislike, and am deeply troubled, by the cloud she raised in her method of leaving: I had thought better of her. But, like you, I agree that when faced with the (personal) economics of the situation, it's arguable she had no other choice. As for her selection as McCain's VP, she was at least as qualified by experience to be Vice President as Obama was qualified to be President. Of course, you must grant an exception for not having of the Ivy League education and general membership in the intelligentsia.

What did she do well? She made one truly great speech, and several very good ones. As you noted, she appealed to a portion of the electorate that was concerned about McCain.

What did she NOT do well? Easy. It's obvious she doesn't do hostile interviews well.

It is curious to me that someone who performed decently in elected office – mayor, governor – can be considered to be “stupid” or “incompetent”. Instead, the pundits disagreed with her political positions and chose the Slander Route instead (e.g., following the dictates of politics by Personal Destruction). The 'sheeple', to put it simply, followed along. In every other case – say, being questioned for jury duty, asked to defend a scientific paper, or even being asked to comment on the abilities of an American Idol performer – most honest and genuinely humble folks recognize that being a witty and entertaining interviewee is NOT the only determinant of competence or intelligence. There are plenty of smart and otherwise skillful people who frequently say things that sound dumb (you, me, everyone). But – to our great disadvantage – when it comes to politics, we live in the era of the Sound Bite. And if it don't play well there, it don't play at all. Pity.

Let's cut to the chase... THE most important qualifications for President are CHARACTER and JUDGMENT. It's not about the the depth and scope of one's personal knowledge or experience in domestic or foreign policy matters. The President is surrounded by experts to cover those bases. What is critically required is the judgment to choose the right people to fill those advisory positions. And, then, the application of one's character and judgment as a LEADER to decide on the correct course of action given the available information. NO ONE can be an expert on all the matters on which a President must make decisions. IMHO, Sarah Palin had a more clearly defined record of her abilities as a leader – acting as a mayor and governor - than candidate Obama had on his resume. We can assume these things are not as important to the voting public as they once were or the election results might have been quite different.

It's understandable many will disagree with the results of her political judgment; but at least she had a record and was never afraid to point to it and say, “that is what I've done.” You can disagree with her ideology or opinion on various matters; but she was never afraid to say, “this is what I believe.” Disagree with her choice of friends and confidants; but she was never afraid to say, “these are the people I trust.” Refreshing.

As a side-benefit, her resignation should take her out of the cross-hairs as the primary target of the MSM, who seem to be indulging their own neuroses by continuing to harp about her now that's she's gone. Sort of like the joke, “How many country singers does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: 4 – one to change the bulb and 3 to sing about how much they miss the old one.

Her reasons for leaving the stage – whatever they are - will not be held against her (unless you already loathe her to begin with). Many pundits appear to be furious they won't have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore. This strategy worked quite well (or didn't work, based on your ideology) last time it was tried - Nixon in the early 60's comes to mind. At least now Palin's hands will not be tied behind her back by a public office. I doubt Keith Olbermann will generate any big rating numbers this summer attacking Michael Steele, et.al. He's back to his favorite game, “What can we continue to blame Bush for?” Sad. Perhaps he is just returning to a bad habit he enjoys too much to give up.

I see many on the liberal side lamenting, "Is this not the greatest betrayal a public servant ever committed against the people?" Hardly. As you correctly pointed out, there is PLENTY of ammunition for that topic on both sides; and we don't need to go down the list here... But, I can't help but laugh at those who are 'outraged' at Mark Sanford for NOT resigning and then turning around to be enraged at Sarah Palin for doing exactly that. Is there no satisfying them? Palin's detractors, typically resort to the class-warfare tools they accuse others using for their own nefarious purposes: she's lower-class, more country than cool, a Barbie-doll with a gun... You'd think these proponents of 'diversity' would welcome a newcomer onto the scene. I guess such consistency only applies if one demonstrates their ideological 'independence' by marching in lock-step with the coastal Intelligentsia.

To be sure, those conservatives who trumpet - Family Values!, Family Values!, Family Values! - were also not 100% satisfied with the appearance of such a “non-traditional” woman taking the spotlight. Even Vanity Fair cruelly and rudely observed that Sarah Palin wouldn't have been chosen by McCain if she looked like Susan Boyle. I read an analysis of her somewhere recently to the tune of, “She preferred being called a "pit bull with lipstick," … she was a conservative woman with a sense of humor, who could hang out with the boys and hang tough on "Saturday Night Live," where candidates go for their screen tests. By resigning as governor of Alaska, she forfeited the image of the dark mare racing to the White House, but that was our fantasy, not hers.”

What I'll really miss is the possibility of a debate between Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, probably in 2016. Hillary was more independent and certainly more influential as First Lady than she is stuck in the State Department. The spectacle of the first all-female run for the White House is cast aside (at least for now). Oh, well – it would have been fun to watch.

In any event, it is probably best if we set speculation over Palin's political future aside for awhile. My own SCCB (slightly-cracked-crystal-ball) needs a break, anyway. If she wants to re-enter the ring, there will be plenty of opportunities for her to show strength, political nerve & smarts. Sarah said she got the unanimous vote of her children to leave the office of governor. I guess the Birthday Party is more important than the Republican Party, even though both events are celebrated with balloons. I don't know if Sarah Palin intends to run for president in 2012. If so, I must say her choice to resign as Alaska's governor is a politically unconventional way of doing it. We'll see if it works.

That said, the public reaction to all this is most interesting - pundits have now almost uniformly written her off. But in a new USA Today/Gallup poll, 70% say Palin's resignation has "no effect" on their opinion of her. Of the remainder, 9% say they now see her "more favorably" and 17% "less favorably." In the same poll, 43% (and 72% of Republicans) say they would at least "somewhat likely" vote for her if she runs in 2012. Interesting.

It must really get under the skin of all those political geniuses - journalists, consultants, bloggers, academics (and on both sides, too) - that so many of the Common People refuse to see what is so obvious to them: that Sarah Palin is a blundering, flawed and failed shooting star whose selection by John McCain as his running mate showed nothing except McCain's questionable judgment. Pundits live in the world of the conventional: they assume if you know what happened yesterday, you can predict tomorrow. And, as usual, they are Wrong.

We live in unusual times. To be sure, many are correctly concerned for the future direction of this country. It's MUCH more than the latest economic statistics. It's knowing that what has always driven American society – a desire for and rejoicing of Freedom and Values - are disappearing from the political and social scenes. Taking the 'safe approach' rules. It is becoming obvious to those who have previously given little thought to it, that Genuineness and Conviction are more critical than Resumes and Appearances.

On the surface, it looks like Sarah is simply stepping away from a job in which she is no longer realizing her goals and ideals, and chooses instead to reconnect with her family and self. This is not necessarily political suicide. But she – and we all – can be absolutely certain that doing what everyone says you are supposed to do, especially when it means compromising your values, and letting pundits and experts run your life is the Road to Destruction. If for nothing more than injecting some much-needed audacity into the Ivory Tower of modern politics, she will be missed.

It has been said that Political MOVEMENTS ("philosophies" is too pretentious, and “ideology” is simply inadequate) have the ultimate purpose of TEACHING. Political PARTIES have the purpose of capturing control of government – in other words, WINNING ELECTIONS. Political managers - and in many cases candidates themselves - are chosen/hired to win the election, not to be true representatives of a particular set of philosophical principles. There have been exceptions, to be sure. It must be absurdly tempting to compromise one's principles to preserve a track record. Nice to see that at least a few folks out there are able to resist that temptation.

However, given the overwhelming pervasiveness of liberalism in the public schools, colleges, universities, and the media as a whole, getting across the basic principles of conservatism is difficult, at best. (To say nothing of understanding the basic principles of a realistic appreciation of the way the world Really Works.) I am happy to say that is one of the True Benefits of our own little blog we have here: "You either believe in rational discussion or you don't." It is Good to be reminded of that now and then. We may not accomplish much here – but we try. And with a mostly civil tone.


- Steve

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sarah Palin - A Post Mortem


When the news came out of John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, I looked into her bio and was flabbergasted. It seemed to me that of all the people he could have selected, Ms Palin was among the worst possible choices. Then, as the campaign unfolded, that selection contributed in no small part to a sort of black comedy.

Sarah Palin was clearly an attempt by Mr. McCain to lock down the Republican Party's base. He had billed himself as an independent, a posture with potential appeal to the vast number of political moderates whose votes were calculated to be crucial in the election. Yet among hard core conservatives he was, at the least, something of a cypher. With the addition of Governor Palin and the presumably pure, arch conservative values she brought with her, perhaps he thought this would leave him free to go after the moderates.

In some ways the strategy worked. Hard core right wingers rallied around Sarah Palin with a passionate intensity which John McCain could never have invoked. Predictably however, it was Sarah Palin's very strengths which torpedoed any chance he had among moderates. Thrust as she was onto the national stage, her lack of preparation and experience, not to mention sheer knowledge, played directly into the Democratic Party's hands. Democrats had the early lead anyway, and Ms Palin likely lost many more moderates than the number of conservatives she could possibly have retained.

We could probably go back and forth for days on how the media treated, and continues to treat Sarah Palin. No matter. Like it or not, the media live under the same ruthless conditions as does any other enterprise in a free country. What we condemn as unnecessary attacks on a public figure's personal life only happen because that is what sells newspapers. You and I may believe that events at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva are incredibly more important then the passing of a popular rock star, but by in large the public values Michael Jackson's beaded mitten vastly more than unlocking the secrets of the Higgs boson. And so it goes.

This morning I read a rather compassionate summary of the Palin Episode in the New York Times. Now I will admit I was never much of a Sarah Palin fan. In fact, I didn't like her at all. I considered her recent resignation as governor to be the height of hypocrisy and a poor example for anyone contemplating a career in government. Yet as I read the article, I found myself gaining not only a better understanding of this troubled person, but also my own tenets and assumptions. Let me explain.

I've stated repeatedly that both liberals and conservatives have something important to add to the execution of good governance. Yet the combination and cooperation of these two opposing philosophies is never going to work so long as the public continues to buy into the notion that one philosophy is always fruitful and the other is always barren. Our modern day pundits feed on this annoying shortcoming of human nature. To be sure, there are enough conservative fools in public life that I could base an entire career on exposing and mocking them. But much as I hate to admit, liberal fools are in no short supply either. If there is a moral here, it is that if you want to make a living as a pundit, its best to concentrate on only one type of fool or the other. Never both.

Regrettably, government has become the captive of this noxious economic formula. For commentators in today's media, political extremism sells. Fair minded journalism has become as unprofitable as fair minded governance. Thus, tenure in government virtually hinges on a politician's willingness to accept the rules of this game.

Now I'm not writing this post to excuse or absolve Sarah Palin for any of the mistakes she has made since entering into politics. The media has furnished us with a detailed record of her career. You may disagree Steve, but to my mind the facts indicate she was ill prepared to be vice president, much less run for the office.

But one wonders what might have happened if John McCain had just left her alone and selected someone else. The picture of her which emerges is that of a young, energetic person - possessing the same ideological certainty which young people always do - as well as the characteristic habit of overblown self importance which leads to all sorts of abuses of power. She was far from perfect. Moreover her ideologies conflicted with mine almost item for item. This last point really isn't a criticism, since I respect people who, much like yourself, come honestly to the condition of being wrong.

Perhaps she would have matured and after time brought a worthwhile perspective to national government. Who knows? Instead, she got yanked into the spotlight and fell into the role which right wing pundits quickly designed for her. She became known as McCain's "attack dog". The outcome was depressingly predictable. Along the way, Katie Couric's interview exposed a disturbing lack of comprehension of current affairs. The interview was thereafter represented in right wing journals as an "ambush". To me, nothing better reflects the bizarre logic of her defenders, who ignored the painful uncertainty of her answers to important questions and considered it noteworthy only that a journalist would be rude enough to ask them.

Frankly it is understandable that Ms Palin would be ignorant of several important national and international affairs. She had presided over a state with a population approximately one tenth the size of metro Atlanta, with needs and concerns which were strikingly different from those in the lower 48. Yet while this lack of knowledge had little to do with her ability to run a state, it had everything to do with running a country. So now we arrive at the crux of this post...

My view is that those who genuinely supported Sarah Palin's candidacy did so out of her perceived adherence to a particularly clear set of values. This reasoning rests on the assumption that in governance, ideology is more important than intellect. This stands in stark contrast to private industry, where it can be assumed we all want the most experienced and competent people to run those businesses we work for or hold stock in. But opinion makers tell us otherwise. The liberal will believe that a complete dunderhead will make a better senator, so long as he is liberal, than a conservative who graduated magna cum laude. And vice verse. And it looks for all the world to me that Sarah Palin has bought into this weird logic, hook, line and sinker. I find this to be rather sad.

My guess is that Sarah Palin will now depart on a career very different from that which she was pursuing before John McCain's interruption. Her account of the reasons why she resigned have largely been rambling, inconsistent and incoherent. Most observers in the press, including many thoughtful conservatives, have condemned her for it. I myself am inclined to be more generous. In my view she was lifted from the relatively peaceful backwater of Alaskan politics and placed, along with her husband and family, under the merciless glare of public scrutiny. Every fender bender became a seven car pile up, every blemish became a compelling disfigurement. My goodness, after Ken Starr finished investigating every hinge, joint and surface of Bill Clinton's personal life, I remember concluding it would be a rare person indeed who could not be made to appear as a fiend, provided one had 60 million dollars to spend on the endeavor. It makes perfect sense to me that Ms Palin simply got fed up with the whole thing.

Her exit from Alaskan politics was not graceful. I wish she had been more honest about it. All she had to do was say, "Look, I'm sick and tired of this. I've got bills to pay and kids to raise. And I can make about a hundred times more money writing books and appearing on Fox News than I can as a governor of this flop joint. Let somebody else take the job and furnish target practice for every two bit writer from here to Halibut Cove. I'm outta here...". Now that's a resignation speech I could cheer for!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Since you have both responded, more or less, to my challenge, I feel compelled in my capacity as instructor to indulge each of you with some sort of evaluation. In this connection, be advised that I consider tact to be useful only when dealing with small children or plumbers. Plain facts indicate you are neither.

Had you not both willy nilly, and with painfully lethargic deduction arrived at the ultimate purpose of my challenge, I would be inclined to assign each of you a failing grade. You, Mr. Rhetts, plodded along, yet in conclusion troubled us with a particularly pointless, existential monologue. You, Mr. Green, arrived at originality, yet miserably failed to ground your argument anywhere in the realities of human nature.

I part with this: at all times remember that blind dogma is the refuge of timid men. Only he who admits to the possibility of error is capable of genuine growth.


Bernardo de la Paz

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Turning Things Upside Down on Purpose

Ah, my friend - you understand why I chose to run in a different direction!

Yes, the Professor's challenge was well constructed and you are most accurate when you point out the exercise of attempting to 're-work' the existing budget - not the task of actually doing it - was the lesson itself. Another subtle aspect of the lesson to be learned - which I admit I inadvertently stumbled upon - was to recognize the need to step back from the details of trying to corral the Budget Monster and look and the situation with fresh eyes.

My radical(!) percentage-based approach to managing the budget is novel (I hope). It certainly has the attractiveness of having never been tried. But, IMHO, your charge that it requires 'no work' for conservatives is hardly appropriate. (To address this challenge to my Honor and Integrity, I'll meet you at dawn, Suh, with coffee and pistols for two...) I respectfully suggest it is equally troublesome to all bureaucrats, regardless of ideology.

First of all, the concept as presented is by no means complete. The first stage is to establish categories of spending at the highest point, which I started. Within each upper-level category will be sub-categories, which are yet to be assigned and percentages allocated. Is NASA part of R&D or Defense? Homeland security? The FBI? Defining the upper categories alone is a most tricky job and by no means easy... and it's way too early to start talking about “How Much do we have?” at the lower levels.

As with the Professor's diabolical spinning-wheel of an almost-impossible task, the Lesson of my alternate approach is *not* in the definition of categories and percentages for this-and-that. Instead, it is quite difficult and requires much soul-searching to (re)define the proper role of government when it comes to taxation and spending. And, YES, I admit that - on the surface - this task is easier for me than you, simply because of our difference of opinion on More or Less government being a Goal. It all starts at the top, and the devil-in-the-details becomes increasingly apparent.

I am not immune to the quandary that arises when long-cherished programs must fall under the ax, as simply paying for ANYTHING requires an honest and hard look at whether or not specific departments, programs, and tasks are *appropriate* for the federal government to handle. Then, once accepted, figuring out how which category it belongs to and much of much of THAT defined category's budget will be consumed becomes even more challenging. How much of Defense is spent on military bases? Weapons systems? How much of Entitlements is to be consumed by Medicare? Social Security? And so on. Remember – the percentages of the available funding are predefined. Thus, spending for the sake of spending at the detail is strongly discouraged if not eliminated outright.

Note that the problem of future deficits are non-existent, and a mechanism is put in place to handle re-payment of current deficits (albeit slowly, but it will eventually get done). 'Emergency' spending – if funds haven't been saved for such an event – can only be allocated by *immediate* changes in existing spending WITHIN THAT CATEGORY (and you can't borrow from next year's revenue!). Another not-so-easy task. Further, the effect of government action (or inaction) will most certainly affect the tax revenue stream, FORCING the legislative branch to adapt their policies based on their direct impact to the economy and thereby to tax revenues. Congress cannot pretend policies don't have an effect! If the federal government enacts a policy – no matter how well-intentioned – that makes available revenues for spending go DOWN, they *have* to fix it!... Another desirable side-effect.

Note also, that a STATE government is free to follow these objectives according to its own judgment. Categories and percentages will be different by region and by the direction of the citizenry. However, my proposal is limited (at this time) to discussing the role of spending by the FEDERAL government.

I guess I am more Jeffersonian and you appear to be somewhat Hamiltonian when it comes to federal power and responsibility. I see increased local control to address local issues - as defined by the wants, needs, and desires of those directly affected - to be a Good Thing. The separation of powers, duties and accountability/responsibility between Federal and State levels is a founding principle we should revisit - it was put there for a Reason.

All this to say... I am sure the Professor is smiling at both of us now. At You, for spotting the Real Purpose of the exercise. And at me, for turning the spending process itself on its ear to propose a new mechanism which forces government bureaucrats to learn how things work in the Real World.

It is easy to appeal to the Professor's anarchist tendencies. After all, he once said, something like, "all impediments to legislation are desirable”. I am sure he feels the same way about establishing hard limits taxation and reckless, unrestrained spending...

Limits are a Good Thing - it's putting them in place that is hard.

Notes From Liberal Purgatory


I'm sure you will recall Marshall McLuhan's famous dictum: "The medium is the message." I personally found this principle applies to the Professor's challenge so completely that I assume it must have been intentional. To wit: I found that mere ideology is practically useless when it comes to making the hard choices occasioned by the application of simple mathematics to the Federal Budget. Thus, it was the exercise itself, rather than the solution, which furnishes the message.

Now I'm about as close to a bleeding heart, tree hugging liberal as you will ever find. But after savaging the military budget, raising taxes and providing amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants - all easy pills for liberals to swallow - I still found myself about 900 billion dollars short. To close this gap, I had to eliminate all sorts of social spending near and dear to my heart.

And that is exactly the point. I believe as citizens and taxpayers we all live in dreamworlds which on the surface are radically different but at their cores are fundamentally the same. It seems we are all willing to carp and criticize, defend our cherished ideals and attack anyone who disagrees. But we do this in isolated bits and pieces - without stopping to consider the dreadful questions posed by simply doing the math. Let me give you an example.

Your work in progress, that is, the application of percentages to projected tax revenues to arrive at a formula for spending - allows you to maintain the persona of a fiscal conservative without having to perform any actual work. This same approach has been tried before, in the form of balanced budget legislation - and it never works. It never works because when it comes time to actually apply the legislation in the form of meaningful spending cuts or tax increases, neither conservatives nor liberals are ever willing to back up an inch on their respective ideologies. Then, they walk away from each legislative session with their reputations intact and government in shambles.

Its all the same to me if we move on to other issues. Heck, my reputation as a liberal is pretty much in the toilet now since my own budget solution advocated doing away entirely with the stimulus package and cutting social security by a whopping 200 bil, not to mention cuts in subsidized housing and community development. Worst of all, I couldn't come up with a dime for health care reform or cap and trade. Mercy sakes...


Monday, July 6, 2009

Budget posting

I have not forsaken the challenge. Unfortunately, I have been stricken with a computer failure and spent two weeks trying to get a new system up and running. I'm still not caught up... But I will return to the blog (eventually) and post on a regular basis again.

I would, however, like to take this moment to admit - for the record - that I *am* struggling with the challenge. Changing budget allocations, finding 'lost' revenue streams, and locating ways and means to cut the spending is certainly doable and a worthwhile endeavor. However... to me, there is SO MUCH *in* the budget that just don't belong there! Trying to figure out how much to spend on (for example) the National Endowment for the Arts is a waste of time, since IMHO it shouldn't be there in the first place. There are MANY other, less obvious examples, e.g., how much R&D money should be spent to support stem cell research? (BTW - My short answer is "none" - not because the research is not worthwhile -or unethical in some way - but why is it considered a proper allocation of taxpayer funds to compensate profit-seeking private company research efforts at all?) A personal arena I very much support - NASA and space exploration - is in a similar pickle: no matter how much I like it and support it: is funding it a proper function of government? Hmmm...

In consideration of this, I have (naturally) developed a different spin on the topic: Rather than waste our collective time trying to FIX a budget that is clearly bloated beyond repair - change the spending process entirely... Here goes:

Lets use a 2-year budgeting window, i.e., the Real World tax revenue receipts for 2009 define the total budget amount available for 2011 spending. Spending in that year (as approved in 2010) uses defined percentages allocated to specific areas: Defense spending (all depts) gets 35%, direct payments to individuals (includes medicare, welfare, social security, etc.) gets 35%, the federal bureaucracy (all non-military branches) is 10%, 10% for deficit reduction (retained as a savings program if no deficit), 5% for R&D investments (NASA, CDC, et.al.), 5% for emergency/discretionary ("pork") projects.

All amounts to be based on revenue already received. If tax revenues go DOWN, spending (by definition) goes down - likewise, revenue increases allows spending increases, but only within the percentage allocations. Micro-managing the budget from Congress effectively gets reduced, but not completely eliminated. Percentages can be changed by Congress with 2/3 vote, otherwise remain fixed: must equal 100%. Can only increase percentage in one area by reducing another. There is an issue with WHO decides exactly how the monies are spent within the dept, but the AMOUNT to spend is already defined. I'd prefer to get micro-managing budgets and programs away from Congress, but it still needs an effective means for accountability.

Of course, this system REALLY starts to work if used in conjunction with implementing the Fair Tax, so that any tax increases cannot be "targeted" to those group fallen out of favor, but instead are borne by the citizenry as a whole (better opportunity for Real Oversight).

Caveat: This is just an idea in the early stages, and - NO - I haven't really nailed down all of the details; this is a work-in-progress. The approach has many of the same pitfalls as other proposals. I think it would be just as fun to play with the percentages as trying to go line-by-line down the budget process, trying to decide how long each hair should be on the 800-pound gorilla of a budget we have.

Comments welcome.