Friday, February 25, 2011


I'm not sure why I'm writing this post, but I hope you find it interesting.

My grandfather (on my father's side) was an incredibly talented and versatile man. He was an excellent mechanic, woodworker, fisherman, gardener... if it involved working with one's hands, he was good at it. My father on the other hand was not particularly skilled in any of these things. Fortunately, I inherited my grandfather's skills rather than the lack of them from my father. I like to think I can fix almost anything. My motto has always been, "If it can break, it can be fixed.".

Years ago, long before flat screens, I had a very nice 37" TV which just up and quit. Most people would just throw it away and go buy a new one. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I opened it up, looked it over and found what appeared to be just one, tiny, burnt out resister. I bought a new resister and soldered it in. Subsequently the TV came back on and provided us with service for another 5 or 6 years. I spent about 39 cents for the resistor - as opposed to $500.00 for a new set.

I taught myself, with virtually no one's help, skills in heating, air conditioning and refrigeration. Before it was all over, I got get paid, and paid well, to take a bag of tools up to a rooftop and figure out what was wrong with a compressor the size of a car engine in a mechanical room the size of a small house. I can still do it today. Plus, I doubt if I'll ever win any bass fishing tournaments, but I guarantee you I wouldn't come in last.

One thing I've learned about fixing things is that technical knowledge is far less important than attitude and motivation. When it comes to fixing things, its always amazed me how much the average man knows yet refuses to apply. Once, while training in the field an HVAC/R apprentice, I got tired of answering his incessant questions. I told him, "You know the answer to this problem, but you don't know you know it.". Facing a difficult repair, I decided to ask him questions rather than provide him with answers. As it turned out, he figured out the solution on his own. I told him to pretend the next time that he alone, by himself, would have to figure out the answers to the next repair. He became a pretty good tech after that.

I think as a nation we have become a people who want all the answers presented to us sealed in a tube. We simply don't have the intellectual passion to break open those tubes, find out how they are built, and judge for ourselves if they are valid and useful. Inquiry, the weighing of alternatives, doubt, radical new ideas and solutions, all frighten and fatigue us. Without much of a struggle, we've ceded the power of independent thought to the incoherent stupidity of the mob.

Frankly, I often find your opinions to be obdurate, insensitive and block headed.


I've never doubted your capacity to spit in the eye of anyone who tries to tell you what to think. And that's a compliment Steve, from one guy who can fix things to another.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Union, Through and Through...


You'll be happy to learn that thanks to some of your recent posts, they've quadrupled my already dangerously high dosage of Thorazine. I've taken to putting it in a Pez dispenser and popping it like candy. The mental institution I practically live at now is considering naming a wing after me. You'd make a stunning consort for the White Queen, Steve, who could "believe six impossible things before breakfast". But then, why limit yourself to just six?

You heard somewhere that firing the least competent 10% of teachers would improve test scores by 50% - clearly indicating you consider teacher's unions to be the main obstacle to this handsome plan. Really?

Five states (including Georgia) effectively bar collective bargaining by teacher's unions - thereby removing that obstacle. If you were correct in your reasoning (and you aren't), these states would be near the top in national SAT/ACT rankings. Funny thing is, all six of these states rank in the lower third of the rankings. Wisconsin by the way, where the WEAC (teacher's union) has till now been particularly strong - and where according you, all these incompetent teachers can't be fired - traditionally ranks near the top of the rankings.

All of this argues against taking important positions based on vague, anecdotal generalizations - as they have the habit of coming back at you like boomerangs. Let me simplify it this way then. IF this 10/50 hogwash was true, states which are not barred from firing and replacing that lower 10% would have HIGH scores and states which are would have LOW scores. But this isn't true. Steve, you need to tow that particular bromide back to the hangar and see if you can add enough horse power to get it off the ground. Moving right along...

Weighing the effect of unions on scholastic achievement can be a tricky business. One Angus Johnson (PhD in education from City University of New York, 2009) has a thoughtful, balanced post on the subject: "Teachers Unions, ACT/SAT, and Student Performance: Is Wisconsin Out-Ranking the Non-Union States?" And by the way he starts the post with the observation that comparisons of the "non-union" five states I just mentioned with Wisconsin are usually based on faulty information.

Dr. Johnson directs us to a (2000) Harvard study which: "found a statistically significant and positive relationship between the presence of teacher unions and stronger state performance on tests...", after " controlling for factors like race, median income, and parental education...".


"They found that the presence of teachers unions in a state did have a measurable and significant correlation with increased test scores — that going to school in a union state would, for instance, raise average SATs by about 50 points."

Why would that be? Let me guess. The people who are doing these studies are all in unions and have a vested interest in confirming the positive effect of teacher's unions? Well that's easy enough to check. Fire up your search engine and look for state SAT and ACT rankings. See?

Steve, firing and replacing the worst ten performers in any group of a hundred in principle should always improve the overall performance of the group - and possibly a useful rule when managing ditch diggers or parking lot attendants. But as you move up the scale, other principles become equally important.

Suppose you managed a shop with a hundred mechanics. If they're good mechanics, and perform well as a group, why would you assume that arbitrarily firing the ten least skilled among them would improve overall performance? First, now you have to go out and get ten more mechanics and hope they're better than the ones you fired. Second, you've now demonstrated to the remaining 90 that tenure and attitude are pretty much worthless. Don't you think that demonstration would have some effect, not only on the way they approach their jobs, but also on the respect they have for management and the company as a whole?

The Harvard report summarizes:

"...other mechanism(s) (ie, better working conditions; greater worker autonomy, security, and dignity; improved administration; better training of teachers; greater levels of faculty professionalism) must be at work here.”

And it makes sense. Sure, certainly, unions in all trades have frequently helped incompetent boobs to stay on jobs for which they frankly aren't suited. I've seen that myself first hand, many times. And sometimes also the nature of the trade itself comes into play. Unions seem to produce positive benefits more often in some trades than in others.

But the point here is that teacher's unions, especially, can and do provide their members with a sense of dignity and security, and protect them from capricious and arbitrary administrators - or - in other words - raise the level pride and professionalism, on both sides. The payoff is a better education, and isn't that what all of us want to see?


Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Yesterday I watched, via On Demand, the HBO Special, "Battle for Marjah".

It reminded me vaguely of the media build-up to this particular campaign. Marjah, we were told, was going to be the first test for the military's new strategy in Afghanistan, referred to as Clear, Hold and Build. How did it work?

Marjah, which is actually little more than a collection of crude huts at a crossroads in Southwestern Afghanistan, was under Taliban control at the beginning of 2010. In February, "Operation Moshtarak", sent three companies of Marines against an estimated 250 Taliban fighters in the town. The HBO special followed along with Bravo Company, which experienced the heaviest fighting. The fighting was over and the town secured in less than a week. The Marines suffered only one KIA.

We here in the U.S. were told our guys would be fighting along with the Afghanistan Army, members of which were supposed to be on point. That latter part turned out to be laughable. The few Afghan troops contributed absolutely nothing - in fact, got more in the way than anything else.

If you get a chance to watch this special, I recommend it. I've watched more than a few documentaries about the War in Afghanistan, but for some reason this one in particular seems to best reveal the overwhelming futility of this war. And the greatest irony of all is that this is a lesson we should have learned 40 years ago in Viet Nam.

"Battle for Marjah" consists almost exclusively of footage shot on the ground while covering the operation. And nearly all the dialogue in the movie comes from our own men and their commanders. It is in no way some kind of biased, "pacifist" account, or of cherry picked scenes designed to paint the operation from any one particular angle.

Our guys fought well and of course victory in the battle was never in doubt. But the really depressing part was the footage shot during the four months the Marines stayed on in Marjah after the battle - the Hold and Build phase. During this entire period, not one representative from the Afghan government arrived to liaison with whoever passed for local authorities. The Afghan troops on hand had all been recruited from the tribes in the far north, and as such were clearly useless as a holding force among the ethnic Pashtuns of Marjah. In the end, the Marines had to recruit the members of a local militia as a holding force to take over when they left. Ironically, it was common knowledge that many of the militia members were themselves either current or former members of the Taliban.

During their stay, the Marines spent $600,000.00 on improvements - they were most proud of the work they had done on the town mosque. Despite this, in repeated interviews, the locals all claimed their lives were better under the Taliban. After the battle, the Marines had gained control over the town and limited parts of the countryside. But by the time they left, the area they controlled had diminished, and their encounters with new IED's were increasing.

All of this left little doubt that it was only a matter of time before Marjah returned to Taliban control after the Marines left. They talked about building schools - yet there weren't any teachers to teach in them. They talked about bringing the town under the control of the Afghan government - yet no one from the Afghan government seemed to be interested. They talked about replacing the cultivation of opium with alternate crops - yet there were no secure markets for these crops.

What stands out, sharply, is how much better suited the Taliban were to run things in Marjah than either our own Marines or the weak, distant and corrupt Afghan government. Here in the U.S., we've created a narrative in which the Taliban are all maniacal terrorists. This makes it easier for us to keep track of who's good and who's evil. But the reality is far more complicated.

The Taliban of Marjah are "their" people: friends, kin... members of a closely knit, tribal society. To this society, we might as well be aliens from space. Our purpose has become to bring them our remote vision of democracy and human rights. Yet the society of these people has in its history absolutely no experience with this vision. So, on what basis can we possibly expect they will embrace it?

Today there is an ongoing debate over what the real motivation might have been for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars were demonstrably the most historically significant actions taken by our government in the last 30 or 40 years, so Americans ought to have an honest dialogue about them. However we're probably not going to get that dialogue anytime soon; too many of our leaders, and indeed followers as well, have too much invested in them politically. What they would rather do is maintain the company line that these wars were the only justified, and necessary reaction to 9/11. Not only that, but even questioning that line is both un-American and an insult to the men and women in uniform who continue to fight in them.

What this untenable precept masks is a failure of both political and military strategy. Whether or not you believe the Bush administration cooked the evidence get us into Iraq and Afghanistan, the real issue here is that once we decided on direct military intervention, we committed ourselves to two kinds of war in those countries: one of arms and one of ideas. Now, in places like Marjah, our guys are continuing to prove they can always win the wars of arms, but are painfully unprepared and unsuited to win the wars of ideas. We should have known that.

We elect persons to government based on our confidence they will wisely weigh the facts and make prudent decisions. I'm afraid what we are learning now is the spectacular failures of policy which occur when you substitute ideology for facts. Our strategists in government simply assumed that once the battle of arms was over, everything else would be an easy downhill ride. It hasn't been. Today, the central irony in Afghanistan is the government we installed and continue to support there is now negotiating with the Taliban to construct a stablizing power sharing agreement to fill the void which will occur after our troops have left. Does anyone seriously doubt that if we stayed on another year, or ten years, the outcome would be any different? Or, for that matter, any kind of "power sharing" agreement will quickly disolve and the Taliban return to power not more than a few months after we've left.

Steve, the Taliban in Afghanistan didn't just drop out of the sky. They were a home grown, indiginous movement which the Soviet Union proved could not be defeated by force of arms. Someone should have been taking notes. Certainly, as a nation we had every right to demand accountability from the leaders of this movement for their support of terrorists like the al-Qaeda. However, before we decided on invasion, we had many other options. Now we have no other option than direct, miltary confrontation with a determined enemy which enjoys vast support in the countryside out beyond Kabul.

Now would those "other options" have worked any better? Who knows? The Neocons wanted us to believe that pussyfooting around with sanctions, seasoned perhaps with stand-off, targeted attacks on the terrorist infrastructure, was a policy which was doomed to failure. Yet, what exactly were the compelling reasons to believe a direct invasion would automatically achieve success? What were the compelling facts which led us to believe the Afghan people themselves would rise up and form a stable govenment and open society once the Taliban were temporarily disarmed? Steve, there weren't any. All we had to go on was a preposterous amalgam of wistful thinking which willfully ignored lessons of history and the culture of a country incredibly different from ours.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the situation is hardly more encouraging. Backed by Iran, radical mullahs like Muqtada al-Sadr continue to gain power - and the whole nation threatens to fracture along ethnic and religious lines. Once unthinkable, the formal partition of Iraq along these lines seems more and more the least perilous alternative. How is that progress? After investing over 30,000 casualties - including over 4,000 dead - and a trillion dollars, we're leaving a country which now has the potential to pose a threat to our security much greater than it was when we went in.

Interestingly Steve, what got me started on this post was watching "Battle for Marjah" while the events taking place in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and then Libya were still fresh in my mind. It struck me how powerful a force progressive, social change can be when it emerges from within a society and how fragile and impermanent it is when imposed from the outside.

It looks like a refreshing storm of progressive initiatives are erupting all over the Middle East. No one can be sure exactly where all of this will lead. Without doubt, we'll see a few new regimes emerging out of this chaos which don't seem as friendly to our country as those which they have replaced. And neither is there any doubt that hard core terrorist organizations will be doing everything they can to exploit the situation.

Despite these perils, I think now is no better time for our country to stay out of the struggle, and put our faith in the rather ancient principle that true liberty is never gained by gift or accident, but by the sacrifices of real people who want it bad enough to fight for it on their own.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another Bubble coming?

I just ran across an interesting article here...

What does this mean? To the untrained eye (mine), it strongly implies businesses and consumers are cutting back on tech purchases. Which, in turn, suggests that many (most?) don't have confidence in where we appear to be heading economically. More than just the movers and shakers, but all the way down to the little guys.

Combine that tidbit with the continuing strong efforts of Washington (specifically the president) along the following lines... risky loans being backed by taxpayer funds - bank, auto and energy bailouts - and the biggest topic in the news: union bailouts at all levels (local, state, federal)...


It looks like more and more people are reading the tea leaves and deciding, "Why chance spending money today, you will likely need tomorrow?" There's also the un-stated comment (except from the crowing of far-right pundits), "Is he intentionally trying to make the Republic Fail, or can he *really* be THAT incompetent?"

Combine this approaching technological pin-prick with your recent (and excellent) post on trade deficits and a general economic conundrum of our own making, and one wonders if even more challenging and difficult times may indeed lurk ahead.

Just some points to ponder...

- Steve

Runaway Models

There may be some strange cooking going on in the kitchen...

This all started when I saw a news story several weeks ago about NASA's Dr. Hansen claiming that 2010 was The Hottest Year On Record. Much was made of his most-recent studies providing yet-more 'proof' that AGW / Climate Change was Real, not subject to dispute, and the 'deniers' were flat-out wrong... Rather than take it a face value, I thought it called for a little digging into the data.

First, take a look at this link to NASA's GISS Surface Temperature analysis. Note that virtually the entire Arctic at the top is "gray" indicating "missing data".

Then, look at this link showing extrapolated GISS data. The Arctic is shown with temperatures 2-10 degrees C above normal. My understanding is this alternate set of data was used by Dr. Hansen as source material leading to his recent "hottest year on record" statement.

Clearly, even to a non-climate scientist such as myself, it can be inferred that the 'average world temperature' calculated from the second set will show higher temperatures. I guess you *have* to get values to plug into the model from somewhere... but what would be wrong with using real word data? In other words: just how good are those "extrapolated" values?

Look at this link of a NOAA animation of recorded temperatures over a recent period. As expected, some areas are above normal, some below, some stay close to the expected average. Kinda like the real world, eh? So where did Hansen's data come from, and why is it so wildly different? Well, some *model* of Dr. Hansen's was used to create that data. (Or at least some model endorsed by Dr. Hansen, else why would he use it?)

It is clear (at least to me) that Dr. Hansen's extrapolated data significantly skews the global temperature reading upwards. Also note Dr. Hansen claimed a record in 2010 by only 0.01 degrees based on this data.

I feel reasonably comfortable in saying that if the NOAA temperature values had been used instead of the "extrapolated" values, the result would be quite different. I doubt it would support a "hottest year on record" statement.

*ANY* serious scientist (regardless of discipline/area of study) would simply take the BEST available data, push it through the models, and let the results fall where they will and publish it all regardless... even if the data shows the theory/model is WRONG.

Dr. Hansen's views this subject of CO2 and AGW are well known and documented. However, I question his conclusions about 2010 global temperatures, which at first glance, appear to contradict Real World observations. I am sure others can/will do the same. I might still be wrong about this (and *I* am willing to admit it).

But even if I am not a certified Climate Scientist... "Lucy, you got some 'splaning to do"...

BTW - You'll note I didn't use any data from JoNova, Anthony Watts, I very carefully did NOT look at any of those sites, since I did not want to be or appear to be biased (or following a different herd of sheep). Just looked at easily available NASA and NOAA data... Since *I* found this, I am sure the denier sites are making similar analysis, and they probably did so weeks ago... no doubt it took me longer than those folks (who have more time). No matter where it comes from, none of this changes what the data appears to indicate. One way or another, FACTS will win out, in the long run.

- Steve

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Funny Money


Quick. Can you guess which was the last year the United States exported more than it imported?





Answer: 1975. By the way, that's 36 years ago for those who are keeping score.

In the 35 years from 1976 to 2010, the U.S. imported around 8 trillion dollars more in goods and services than it exported. The picture is gets even bleaker if you look at goods alone. During the same period we imported around 9.8 trillion dollars more in goods than we exported.

Now admittedly, I'm not an economist and most likely prone to over-simplifying things, but it does seem worthwhile to reduce this situation and these stunning numbers to terms which average dudes like myself can understand. Here:

I own a shoe store, which is my sole source of income. Each year I net about $30,000.00, but then go out and spend about $40,000.00 - and I've been doing this since 1975. Steve, where did the extra money come from?

Now the answer should be obvious. For 35 years I've been going deeper and deeper in debt to support a lifestyle which I honestly can't afford.

And the grim situation we in the United States face today looks just that simple. I decided to first compare the trade deficit figures (available here), to housing values (available here). One striking thing which literally jumps off these pages is the connection between the two. Note for instance that housing values and the trade deficit both hit all time highs in exactly the same year: 2006. Not only that, but the trade deficit begins to rise sharply in 1997 - exactly the same time housing values took off.

There isn't as strong a one to one correlation between the U.S. Federal debt and the trade deficit. Here, I think other factors probably influence the year to year trends. But even so, if you look at any U.S. Debt chart, its impossible not to notice a sharp rise which begins in 1975. Back to my shoe store...

Crudely stated, what I've been doing for the last 35 years is racking up debt personally, based on the collateral of the real estate I own, and jointly with my fellow citizens, based on nothing more than the "full faith and credit" of the United States.

But any way you look at it, its all funny money. History has shown that my house really wasn't worth what the banks said it was, and since the housing bubble went kablooie, I now have nothing in the way of personal property to sell and pay off my personal debt. Similarly, the 13 trillion dollar federal debt is based on the fiction that our government has the will and means to pay this money back to its creditors.

So what are the options?

.....sound of crickets chirping.....


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Even Jove nods...


Referring to your last comment on your last post, no, we're not doomed. Now coming from a head hanging, Jimmy Carteresque, deep malaise maddened Lib, that's rather unexpected, don't you think?

This last little go 'round on the Vinson ruling has revealed, to me at least, an often unrecognized truth about the U.S. Constitution. Bear with me here...

All this recent palaver about the courts, activist judges and Big Government ought to give us pause, where we ask some important questions regarding the intentions of the Framers and the meaning of the magnificent document they created. To be sure, the nature of government today at all levels is probably very different from that which the Framers originally envisioned. However, it is also true that the nature of society itself has radically changed as well in ways the Framers could not have anticipated.

I daresay the Framers would have been astounded by the growth of huge, multinational corporations, many of which dwarf in size, power and influence most of the world's political nations. They would have trouble comprehending the downright amazing, revolutionary changes in transportation and communication - where travel times have been reduced from years and months to hours and minutes - and where information can spread across the globe in microseconds. This is not to even mention the advent of weapons capable of wiping out the human race altogether, or of unparalleled advances in chemistry and biology which have occasioned miracle cures as well as unintended maladies.

Sure, these and much, much more comprise changes in society which no sane person living in 1787 could come close to predicting. But one wonders, if they could have predicted these changes, would the Constitution they wrote have been much different?

Actually, I don't think so. I don't think so because I believe the Framers themselves ultimately recognized their own inability to create a document, able to guide a nation through time and unanticipated changes, and yet not itself be immune from change and evolving interpretation.

To my mind, the judicial branch established by the Constitution is the central instrument the Framers designed, to at some times allow and at other times prohibit, the changes in law and government deemed necessary to meet the challenges the Framers could not anticipate.

Often, when we are presented with Supreme Court rulings that have far reaching consequences which we deplore, we tend to assert the court is wrong in their interpretation of the Constitution. Naturally, when their rulings result in things we favor, we say they are right. But really, what we should be saying in all cases, regardless of the consequences, is that the Supreme Court is only acting, as they should, on the responsibility the Framers charged them with.

And you know Steve, even when court rulings go against our own political, social or religious opinions, the least we can say is that we live in a country capable of dealing with constant change, and yet still preserving the human dignity and liberties the Framers recognized as absolutely essential to any great nation.



Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wagging their tails behind them...

Hoo Boy… You're really dancing aren't you?

FIRST – Obamacare, Romneycare, ACA call it what you will - my point was: I don’t care. But on that point – just exactly how is “Romneycare” working for Massachusetts on the financial side? If we’re going to use THAT program as a model, let’s honestly evaluate how it’s doing in the Real World before leaping to the conclusion that Sliced Bread can move to the side. I’ve heard reports (but have not personally confirmed) that Massachusetts health care costs are rising significantly with no tangible improvement in actual care being provided. But there *are* significant changes in Who Pays and How Much… Here’s a link I am still trying to digest on this topic – but IMHO it should be taken with a grain of salt since it is a government report on how THEY think THEY are doing… I’d like a truly non-partisan review of the raw data. I'm sure its out there, but I'm trying to weed through the chaff myself.

SECOND – Yes, the EMTALA is troubling. My understanding of the act itself mandates access to services but doesn’t directly address how to *pay* for those services, e.g., "paving the road to Hell", etc. And before you accuse me of callousness (you came close, but dodged at the last second: thanks), yes: I’m worried about Joe too. Lots of scenarios out there, and you mentioned only one; some get really nasty on both sides.

Regardless, I don’t think Joe should be able to walk away from his (assumed) financial obligations. You neatly dodge the issue of whether or not Joe wanted care or not. His decision might be affected by WHO is going to pay for it, or other reasons. If Joe knows he *will* be held accountable, he *may* (if able) want to think about exactly what he is getting into. *THAT* is the biggest problem with EMTALA... Joe makes decisions (doesn’t get insurance for whatever reason), but then is absolved by Uncle Sugar from suffering consequences of that decision. What to do?

I’m not sure I like the easy solution (proposed by some) of a return of indentured servitude. Once that particular door is opened - especially as the designated beneficiary is the State! – it has entirely too much potential for abuse on multiple levels. *sigh* There is no easy or ‘fair’ answer. Good Heavens… how did our founding fathers manage to survive all those years without a Big Brother looking after them?

Also - I don’t remember exactly how the Federal government is actually “charged with regulating the insurance industry”, as you put it. My experience, limited as it may be, shows that authority has been assigned to the States: hence, the existence of Insurance Commissioners (some elected, some appointed) and their duly assigned powers, legal requirements, and responsibilities which are applied on a state-by-state basis. I’d rather see this power grab be honestly presented to the public by Washington bureaucrats, with the state bureaucracies being bluntly told, “you guys are out of here; we’re taking over.” This would have a beneficial effect of reducing state budgets (by cutting back on staff, salaries, etc.), to say nothing of having fireworks between the states and federal bureaucracies for its entertainment value alone. (If it’s working, don’t mess with it, and if it ain’t working, get rid of it… you can’t have it both ways...)

THIRD – Yes, the Individual Mandate is the key problem. I deeply resent being informed by others exactly what actions are deemed to be ‘in my best interest’ and then threatened with legal force (deadly force?) to make certain *I* comply with *THEIR* demands should I choose to disagree.

I do not, and have NO intention of, assigning *any* level of authority over *MY* continued existence to an unaccountable bureaucrat (of any stripe).

The point is quite simple… If you wish to be self-reliant, you should be allowed to follow your conscience. If you wish to reject your personal responsibility in favor of largess to be provided others, that’s your choice - but in that case, you should have NO CHOICE in defining the rules, conditions, and end-user benefits of such largess (tail wagging the dog, bread and circuses, etc.). Worse, attempting to force both ends of that spectrum into the same pool is WRONG. Let's be honest for a moment - the ACA doesn't address the 'equalization' of WHO PAYS, only WHO GETS (because more of them do the voting).

Funny thing about that.. have you noticed that those self-reliant folks are typically more than capable of not only supporting the needs of themselves, but also voluntarily helping others? And the other group typically just has an abundance of *claims* upon the resources and efforts of others, to be acquired for THEIR personal and direct benefit, and have little else they are willing to contribute to the collective as a whole.. Does the ACA assist in the creation of a (so-called) "moocher-class"? Hmmm...

FOURTH – You bring up the obvious point: the wide-open funnel of (taxpayer) money to private industry. That concept is wrong here and in other areas. I *DO NOT* like the idea of government bureaucrats being given the power to pick-and-choose which companies win or lose. Compete for your customers. Don't try to rig the game by forcing participation.

Glad I was able to elevate your blood pressure: you can skip the next round of aerobics, I guess.

- Steve

Give me Liberty, or give me Health Insurance!


Great horny toads! Steve, stay where you are. I'll be over as fast as I can with a priest to exorcise the spirit of Patrick Henry...

Before I get to the meat and potatoes, a few appetizers:

FIRST: "Obamacare"? Please. For Pete's sake, If you insist on using pejorative portmanteaus, at least have the courtesy to call it Romneycare, inasmuch as Romney's Massachusetts plan is the model on which the Affordable Care Act was based.

SECOND, you say: "...the "you've got to buy car insurance" argument is bogus.". Well no, no it isn't. You may not like the law in this case, but the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (the EMTALA) requires: "...hospitals and ambulance services to provide care to anyone needing emergency healthcare treatment regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay." And, "There are no reimbursement provisions."

The argument here is neither tenuous nor hard to understand. On account of the Emergency Medical Act, anyone who can and yet fails to obtain insurance is receiving a tangible benefit at no cost.

Consider Joe Blow: a man of average means who decides not to get health insurance because, well, he's healthy as an ox. One morning while Mr. Blow is crossing the street he gets hit by a car. Subsequently, he's rushed to the nearest hospital, where (thankfully) he receives a quarter million dollars in emergency medical care. Think I'm exaggerating the costs? Nope. My neighbor's health insurance company has thus far paid out over 150K for the surgery and complications resulting from the accidental severance of the tip of her little finger.

Don't worry, Joe's doing fine. But who pays the quarter mil? Not Joe. Heck, he can barely afford to make his house payment. So its the ambulance company, the hospital and the doctors who wind up footing the bill.

But not really Steve. Actually they just jack up their prices to cover the cost of having to take care of people like Joe. That means the insurance company pays more, which means you pay more. Which ultimately means the Federal government, charged with regulating the insurance industry (via the commerce clause), must find a reasonable means to plug this leak in the bucket. Ergo, the Individual Mandate.

So, I submit your real problem is not precisely with The Affordable Care Act, but with the EMTALA. Now think carefully here. Suppose that in Joe Blow's case, there was no EMTALA.

OK, Joe gets hit by a car, somebody calls the cops, the cops call an ambulance company and the ambulance company determines Joe isn't insured and can't afford their service. All of a sudden the ambulance company decides they've got a cake a'burnin in the oven and and can't pick the poor guy up. So the cops (or some tidy citizen) just pushes Joe off to the side of the road where he just bleeds out.

Steve really, seriously, do you think that's going to happen in the U.S.of A.? I mean, do you honestly believe a majority of voters, including yourself, could stomach that? Do you believe if Steve Green himself was a dispatcher at an ambulance company, or an emergency room doctor, or an administrator at a hospital... Do you believe that Steve Green could turn away a person in need of life saving care just because they didn't have the ability to pay for it? Come on man!

But, and here's the kicker, you're going to have to find people capable of making these kinds of decisions and living with them if you are seriously advocating the repeal of the Emergency Medical Treatment Act (which again, is entirely the onus for the Individual Mandate). Frankly, I don't think I would want people like that anywhere near our health care system - you wouldn't either.

THIRD, OK, yes, I've come around to the opinion that the individual mandate is not a very good idea. And my objection to it has nothing to do with the constitutional issue. To be blunt, I've come to believe the individual mandate is simply the only option the health insurance lobby would allow their trained monkeys in congress to vote for in - and as such it constitutes a sell-out of greater magnitude than another recent sell-out: The Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit. In essence, all the individual mandate is really doing is funneling more money to the private health insurance industry while the issues of high cost and poor service continue to fester. Let's wrap this up.

Steve, we live in a wealthy country, presumably filled with smart, able health care professionals and pharmaceutical companies. Yet despite these advantages, our health care system has become an international laughing stock. I wish I could think of a way to conclude this post with some kind optimism, but I really can't. Truth is, conservatives and liberals both have good ideas on how to solve this problem. But these days the only way you can get elected is to claim your side has all the answers and the other side has none - which makes finding the middle ground virtually impossible.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Re: We're Off

Egad. I'll try to be brief.

The SCOTUS (being comprised of human beings) can make mistakes. The Gonzales v. Raich (ne: Ashcroft v. Raich) decision is one mistake out of many: Dred Scott, Kelo, etc., easily come to mind. Assuming you are implying such, I certainly agree with the concept that these numerous mistakes can frequently be traced back to using ones position on SCOTUS to provide a 'legal justification' for support of ones personal position (i.e., political viewpoint). Unfortunately, our country's legal history is continually clouded by such actions. In my mind, *THIS* type of judicial ruling - regardless of the position taken and most certainly regardless of whether or not I personally or politically agree with it - is the clear definition of "judicial activism". And it is wrong. Period.

With respect to the Raich case, I side (for the most part) with Justice Thomas. Even though I personally disagree with California's position and actions, they are within their constitutional rights to do so. To my knowledge, there is NO clear constitutional foundation granting such powers to Federal enforcement. However, the majority of Supremes, in their attempt to bolster Federal power, simply grabbed the most convenient (only?) tool available to them - the Commerce Clause. Yet-another mistake, as we are now discovering.

Salient points...

- The Raich case does NOT met the (obvious) criteria for INTERSTATE commerce. It was a local matter, being interfered with by Federal representatives who exceeded their legal authority. Period. Finding a way to 'fix' the SCOTUS decision in Raich (and other) will be extremely difficult. This is what happens when you turn political efforts over to the courts in an attempt to accomplish what are clearly legislative objectives.

- The Affordable Care Act (or whatever it is technically called: 'Obamacare') attempts to ESTABLISH a mechanism which mandates and requires actions attached to interstate commerce where none has previously existed. The regulation of the insurance industry is completely under the guidelines and control of the various state authorities. This is why I cannot buy a policy, as a resident of Georgia, which does not confirm to Georgia law. Different policies in different states have different costs: because of the state level mandates for coverage which occur on a state-by-state basis... Anyway, I do not know of any legal justification to allow - through legislative fiat - a VOLUNTARY transfer of individual rights and obligations (which is the key aspect of *any* contract for services to be provided/rendered). As such, I believe 'Obamacare' is unconstitutional, by attempting to interfere with (and ultimately control) PRIVATE commercial transactions (which would no longer be voluntary).

- Yes, there are numerous other cases - some arguably beneficial - wherein the government interferes in such matters. It's still wrong.

- BTW - the "you've got to buy car insurance" argument is bogus. You can drive a car all you want: on your own property. It is only when you voluntarily enter into a 'contract' to use 'public' roads that you must conform to the public requirement of providing insurance.

- I have a great personal desire to see the Obamacare Act set aside - I just don't think the Act, as written, or by intent, is an appropriate matter for government. That said, I do NOT seek to accomplish that goal "by any means necessary". It must be done properly, and that means (ultimately) legislatively. Unfortunately, there is a belief that using SCOTUS to rule on the constitutional side of the argument is appropriate. It may be. But ultimately, it is a legislative issue. The act was passed as legislation, and it can - MUST - be *removed* (or set aside) by the same process.

- I see the deliberate goal of Obamacare as being founded in the idea that Everyone should have 'equal' access to the same amount of stuff. Hogwash. Who decides?

What I am trying to say, is that "Inequality" and "Freedom" (or "Liberty") mean different things to different people. There is a significant debate on the idea that "Inequality" includes ethical concepts such as the desirability of a particular system of rewards. For example, since there ARE clear differences in income levels, there is inequality, by definition. Whether or not trying to modify that condition is an appropriate function of government - at the expense of Freedom/Liberty - is debatable... but not to me: I place a very high value on Freedom and Liberty. In the Real World, there is an unavoidable inequality between individuals in intelligence, desire, discipline, etc., which is part of the human condition. That inequality CANNOT be successfully manipulated by political fiat, no matter how Good the intention or how wonderful the desired Consequence. Thus:

Free people are not equal. Equal people are not free. And thus it will always be.

That's enough for now...

- Steve

The Right Side

In the village of Kunming, in the Province of Yunnan, there lived twin brothers who were known by all the villagers as prodigies. They were strong and swift of both body and mind, and in all things they always competed with one another. Yet though one would sometimes win and other times lose, neither of them would always win or always lose, and such wise not one of them could ever claim he was better than the other, no matter how much he tried.

It came to pass that these two brothers tired of Earthly pursuits and so enrolled at the Jizu Mountain Monastery. Upon acceptance, they became novice monks of the first level.

Subsequently, the two brothers continued their constant competition by applying themselves to contemplation of The Tao unceasingly. Yet as the years went by neither of them, despite their excellence, was promoted to the second level.

One day the brothers visited the Monastery's most respected Teacher. "Teacher," one of them asked, "we both study hard and long. Why are we always passed over?"

"Follow me." Said the Teacher.

The Teacher led the two brothers to the central courtyard of the monastery, where stood an ancient stele. "Legend has it," he said, "that of all the sides of this stele, only one is right and the others are wrong. Which ever one of you stands on the right side, I will promote to the second level. But neither of you will advance until you find the right side."

The first brother walked over and stood on one side of the stele. The second brother then stood on the opposite side. The Teacher shook his head. Then, the two brothers circled and stood on the unoccupied sides. Once again, the Teacher shook his head. In a flash, one brother leaped up and climbed to the top of the stele, but the Teacher shook his head again.

Finally, the other brother turned to the Teacher and said, "Teacher, the only side left is the one below the ground. Is that it?"

The Teacher shook his head a fourth time and walked away.

As the months passed, the two brothers could often be seen spending their precious few hours of free time, stitting in lotus position before the stele and meditating on the Teacher's seemingly impossible challenge. Finally one day they returned to the Teacher.

"Teacher," one of them said, "would you grant us a moment of your time?"

The Teacher nodded and followed the brothers out to the courtyard. One brother then stood on one side of the stele. The other brother walked over and stood beside him, where upon the two looked questioningly back at the Teacher.

The Teacher nodded. "I now promote both of you to the second level." He said.


Dib and Dab

Once upon a time there were two young men, Dib and Dab, who woke one morning to find themselves enclosed by an very high brick wall. Being a man of action, Dib reached down, grabbed a rock and began to pound at the wall. Day after day he pounded, chipping away ever so slowly. Meanwhile, Dab ran hither and yon about the enclosure.

"Dab," said Dib, "come join me and together we'll chip our way through."

"No thanks," said Dab. "I've better things to do."

"And what might that be?" Said Dib. "Running around all day while I alone work patiently at getting us out of here?"

"Perhaps." Said Dab.

The months flew by. Dib kept chipping away, making scant progress, while Dab continued to run. Finally one morning Dab approached Dib and said, "Well brother, today is the day!"

"And what, pray tell, makes this day so different from all the rest?" Said Dib.

Without saying a word, Dab, whose legs had grown very strong, stepped back several paces, then ran forward and jumped over the wall.

Speechless, Dib stood and stared at the top of the wall where Dab had jumped over. After some time he picked his stone back up and resumed chipping.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

And we're off!


As I said previously, I'm still undecided on Judge Vinson's ruling.

It comes as no great surprise that an honest conservative, regardless of his or her opinion on the efficacy of The Affordable Care Act, would side with judge Vinson and his opinion on limiting Federal authority as granted by the commerce clause. Here I stress the word "honest". Frankly, it seems to me conservatives and liberals are both equally inclined to lose track of the constitutional issues and cite judicial activism when confronted by rulings which strike down laws they favor. This issue is a perfect case in point. Pay attention here...

I decided to take a look at the previous rulings which upheld the Act and compare their reasoning to judge Vinson's. Last year, in a suit brought by Liberty University (Howard's alma mater!), Lynchburg based federal judge Norman K. Moon ruled in favor of the Feds. Similarly, in a suit brought by the (ubiquitous) Thomas More Law Center, judge George Carom Steeh ruled for dismissal. Thoughtful observers will note that Moon and Steeh were both appointed to the bench by Democrats, whereas Vinson was appointed by a Republican. I guess you would have to be blind not to see that this distinction explains at least in part the different rulings.

But only in part - and that's important. Personally I see other motives operating, wheels within wheels if you will, which seem to go beyond the simple explanation of liberal vrs conservative. To wit:

As you might expect, in his 20 page opinion (a mere dip of the toe compared to judge Vinson's 128 page extended swim), judge Steeh saw the The Affordable Care Act to be entirely within the scope of the commerce clause. One of the cases he cited in support of his logic was the 2005 Supreme Court ruling in Gonzales vrs Raich. Here's where things get really interesting.

To summarize, California resident Angel Raich grew marijuana for his own medicinal use, a practice which was absolutely legal under California law. The U.S. government saw otherwise. Consequently local authorities, accompanied by the DEA, destroyed Mr. Raich's marijuana plants and Raich sued. The case made it all the way to the SCOTUS and there Mr. Raich lost. From the wikipedia article:

"Gonzales v. Raich (previously Ashcroft v. Raich) ... (2005), was a decision by the United States Supreme Court ruling that under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, the United States Congress may criminalize the production and use of home-grown cannabis even where states approve its use for medicinal purposes..."(my emphasis).

Curiously, the case divided the two most conservative judges: Scalia and Thomas. In concurrence, while recognizing the limitations of the commerce clause, Judge Scalia offered a line of reasoning which should put him at odds with Judge Vinson. Judge Scalia wrote:

"Unlike the power to regulate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce, the power to enact laws enabling effective regulation of interstate commerce can only be exercised in conjunction with congressional regulation of an interstate market, and it extends only to those measures necessary to make the interstate regulation effective." (again, my emphasis)

Now believe it or not, this was pretty much the same line of reasoning the Feds offered judge Vinson with regards to the individual mandate.

In dissent, Thomas stuck to his conservative guns and concluded:

"If the majority is to be taken seriously, the Federal Government may now regulate quilting bees, clothes drives, and potluck suppers throughout the 50 States. This makes a mockery of Madison's assurance to the people of New York that the "powers delegated" to the Federal Government are "few and defined", while those of the States are "numerous and indefinite"..."

Oh my! Forgive me for chuckling, but isn't it entertaining to watch a sure 'nuff throw down between a couple of iconic conservative pit bulls? Anyway...

My own opinion here is that judge Scalia was most likely inclined to stretch the the interpretation of the commerce clause because in his heart of hearts he sided with the Feds on the issue of enforcing laws against the production and use of marijuana. Judge Thomas on the other hand looked further down the road and saw this as an unjustifiable expansion of Federal authority. What a pickle!

Now since we both know judges Scalia and Thomas, not to mention all the rest of the Supremes, will be fervently checking into our blog for guidance on this most important issue, I suggest we apply our customary perceptivity to it most ricky tik. Que pensez-vous?


Friday, February 4, 2011

OK, OK... I'm running on the wheel as fast as I can...

Yeah. Right. I've been outrageously busy in many different directions (par for the course, I suppose). I *am* working on long post. Someday soon (this weekend?) I'll get it posted...

I must say - in the short term - your recent diatribes strike both surprising and familiar chords for me. Tough questions. No simple answers. Or so those who don't frequent LRA&H may think. We specially in glaringly obvious answers to otherwise untouchable questions.

Here's my short answers on recent posts - thereby giving you gobs of room to scream and holler, as I will leave out far too many critical details...

1. The Health Care Bill - Why the surprise? Of *course* the Act is un-Constitutional at its core. Since when have politicians and bureaucrats allowed their never-ending desire for power to take a back seat to the Rule Of Law? Didn't one of Ayn Rand's characters claim (paraphrasing), "What do you think those laws are for? We need more laws that cannot be followed without breaking them because the only excuse to exercise power is against criminals..."

My guess is that Republicans/Conservatives will eventually cave in on Democrat/Liberal PR pressure and agree to remove some of the more troubling provisions/requirements of the act, while leaving the more subtle (but more damaging in the long-term) parts in place, so they can claim, "we did something, and we do care". Thus, as usual, reaching for the emotional 'feel-good' and political preening will trump both common sense and Doing What Is Right. *sigh*

2. Death Penalty - Personally, I have no problem with executions - after a swift, prompt legal review to confirm the sentence. I even suggest these events should be made truly PUBLIC, so as to provide an additional measure of proof that "actions have consequences" to the populous at large.

However, I remain concerned that our legal reluctance to implement such a final sentence (in appropriate cases, of course) is a direct result of society's never-ceasing efforts in favor of what I call "the Oprah Effect" - placing group dynamics above individual responsibility in *all* cases (e.g., yes, it's a Bad Thing, but it cannot be his/her fault). Yes, I know the Great "O" adopted her philosophy from her mentor Phil Donahue, but she has pushed to ever-greater heights, so she gets credit for the label on the syndrome.

There. That should get your blood pressure up. Stay tuned.

- Steve

Wednesday, February 2, 2011



Last night while casting around for something to watch in the desolate wasteland of TV, I came upon a documentary about David Berkowitz - the New York "Son of Sam" murderer. The hook for me in shows like these is all the patient detective work that goes into tracking down the criminal, which I find fascinating.

Anyway, I'm watching the show and all of a sudden, here comes a contemporary interview with David Berkowitz himself! You couldn't have pried my chin off my chest with a 4 foot crowbar. I'm thinking, "WTH? For no reason whatsoever, this guy murdered 6 completely innocent kids, not to mention rendering another girl permanently paraplegic, and he's still above ground?" Are you serious?

He looked pretty good, too. Nice hair cut, clean clothes, new pair of glasses... Except for the scar on his neck from where some fellow inmate tried to slit his throat, he looked for all the world like the kind of guy you wouldn't mind entrusting your Little All with at a fairly conservative investment brokerage ("Gacy, Berkowitz and Manson " comes to mind).

For the heck of it, I went to a list of serial killers at Wikipedia and determined to find out how many of those convicted in the U.S. were ever executed. I got so depressed after the first 15 I had to stop. Of these, it turns out only two had been executed, while most of the rest had been given life sentences.

By the way, Terry Blair was tried on 8 counts of first degree murder, was sentenced for 25 years, got out in 21, then turned around and murdered 6 more women. Now he's serving life without parole. Maybe I'm a little dense, but it looks for all the world to me like 6 women would still be alive if the state of Missouri had been able to just get rid of this guy after the first go 'round.

Incidentally, this list is just of the people we recognize serial killers, and doesn't include the thousands more who murdered by onesies and twosies. Imagine that. If they can give a guy a life sentence for murdering 60 people, what do they give the guy who had the prudence to limit himself to one or two, a gold watch?

Steve, what a farce this is! And here I thought nothing could beat American politics for mind blowing inanity. As it turns out, when compared to the criminal justice system, politics is just a mile marker on the road.

Here's my logic: Some guy does away with someone, just do away with him. Simple, don't you think? I don't view this kind of thinking as liberal or conservative, moral or amoral, Christian or atheist. Neither does this strike me as an expression of vengeance - or even of appropriate punishment (for "appropriate punishment" you can check with one of the moms or dads of the kids the Son of Sam shot down). It is instead to me just ordinary common sense. Follow this plan and we all save ourselves the expense of haircuts, new pairs of glasses and clean clothes for people like David Berkowitz.

This is not to mention the annoyance of having to listen to him blathering on about how "prison is Hell". Why not just punch his ticket and give him a chance to see what Hell is like first hand?

Your turn.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

This just keeps getting jucier...


You know how much I hate it when you smirk, and cringe at every opportunity you have to do so. Now it looks like Federal Judge Roger Vinson has given you carte blanche to engage in this annoying activity. As I'm sure you are aware, yesterday he ruled against the constitutionality of The Affordable Health Care Act. And to top it all off, in a key section of the ruling he uses an analogy which should set the Tea Party a'crowing:

"It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause. If it has the power to compel an otherwise passive individual into a commercial transaction with a third party merely by asserting --- as was done in the Act --- that compelling the actual transaction is itself “commercial and economic in nature, and substantially affects interstate commerce” [see Act § 1501(a)(1)], it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted. It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place. If Congress can penalize a passive individual for failing to engage in commerce, the enumeration of powers in the Constitution would have been in vain for it would be “difficult to perceive any limitation on federal power” "

As I said before during out discussions on Prop 8, I always admire the way an informed and intellectually competent jurist goes about rendering an opinion - and Judge Vinson's work is no exception. If you have time, take a moment to skim through the 78 page ruling. His argument here is compelling. To wit, it is: What exactly are the limits of the Commerce Clause? And we might as well recognize that the answer to this question has implications which go quite beyond this particular case. Judge Vinson invokes the troubling idea that an unrestricted interpretation of the Commerce Clause could give Congress the power to do almost anything.

That idea should give us all pause. I'll have to admit, I mostly like the Affordable Health Care Act - including the Individual Mandate provision on which Judge Vinson's ruling principally turns. However, if indeed his reasoning is correct, shouldn't we all be wary of a constitutionally derived power which allows the Federal Government to enact and enforce a host of laws we may not like? After all, practically every activity and (as Judge Vinson states in this case) inactivity is going to impact interstate commerce.

Ironically, the White House has termed the ruling a case of "judicial overreaching". Funny, that. I guess the application of the "activist judge" motif, so common these days among social conservatives, ultimately depends on whose ox is gored.

At any rate, this latest ruling only evens the score. Before this, two Federal judges had ruled in favor of the Act and now, two have ruled against. I haven't yet decided if I agree with the logic of the ruling. But one thing is for sure. Back when several states joined this suit, most in the media gave them virtually no chance. Now we find they're batting .500 and knocking on the Supreme Court's door.

Since there is no doubt the world's great statesmen frequently depend on LRA&H as a source of wisdom on the crucial issues of our times, I suggest a brief account of your thoughts on this matter would be greatly appreciated....