Monday, November 22, 2010

TSA vs The Constitution

The fourth amendment to the US Constitution, one of the original "Bill of Rights" states:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Now, I will admit, I have not personally been subject to the current TSA search procedures, but I have seen them on TV, and even the TSA calls them "searches". I don't know about you, but it doesn't seem to me that buying a ticket to fly on an airplane is probable cause to warrant a search.

And these procedures aren't really protecting us, anyway. They are completely reactive. When a failed terrorist tries to carry explosives in his shoes, we must remove our shoes. When one tries to mix liquids, we must remove all liquids from our bags and limit them to three ounces each (you can't make a bomb with 6 ounces of liquid?). When one tries to carry explosives in his underwear we are subject to full-body scans and intrusive pat-downs. What happens when someone tries to carry explosives in a body cavity, will we all have to go through body cavity searches before we fly? Our problem is that we are trying to apply a technological solution to a people problem. We are trying to stop the bomb instead of stopping the bomber.

Many of you are going to say that if this is going to keep us safe, we should put up with it. But as Ben Franklin said "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Monday, September 13, 2010

When You Find Yourself at the Bottom of a Hole

President Obama has recently been repeating a story about getting the car out of the ditch, and the people who drove it into the ditch wanting the keys back. But there is a better aphorism that the President should learn: When you find yourself at the botom of a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging!

When candidate Obama became President Obama, he found the country in a pretty deep hole. Since then, he has continued to dig. First the TARP (I know, it occurred under Bush, but Obama supported it), then the Health Care bill, then a stimulus; overall a whole lot of new spending. He's now talking about "Cap and Trade," that may not be exactly government spending, but by slowing down the economy will add to the deficit by decreasing revenues.

But the President not only has the chance to stop digging, he can go a long way to filling in the whole. During his campaign, he said that he would review all government programs, and get rid of the ones that didn't work. Well there are two entire departments that, by that criteria, he can completely shut down.

First, he can shutter the Department of Energy. When it was created in the 1970's, it's purpose was to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Back then we got about 40% of our oil from foreign sources, today, after almost 40 years of the DoE's existence, we are dependent for about 70% of our oil from foreign sources. That sounds like an entire department that doesn't work to me.

Second, he can close down the DEA! Richard Nixon was the President who declared the War on Drugs in 1971, and created the DEA in 1973. There have been no positive results from this "war" since that time; supply and demand are both about where they were in 1973, and the "war" has "bent" more constitutional rights than any terrorists. Again, it doesn't sound like this one is working, either.

So President Obama can stop digging. He can start to fill in the deficit hole by keeping a campaign promise and closing down these two departments that clearly don't work. If you agree, write to the President and keep his feet to the fire on his campaign promise to get rid of programs that don't work.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Can We Trust Congress?

OK, they have passed what is by anyone's measure a flawed health care reform bill. But congress has promised to fix it in the future and to do what they need to do to make it work. Can we trust them to do this? Especially since the congress that is making the promises is not the same one that will need to implement the fixes.

Well, let me tell you a little story about congressional promises. In the early 1970's, the IRS was auditing and penalizing companies over their use of independent contractors. The companies complained to congress, so congress took some action. They put in place section 530 of the Internal Revenue code, which protected companies from the IRS by granting them a "safe harbor." In other words, if the companies jumped through the right hoops in treating a worker as an independent contractor, the IRS could not penalize them. They did this in 1976 and promised to create a definition of employee and independent contractor in two years.

It is now 34 years later, and the "safe harbor" provisions of the IRC still exist and are still in effect. Congress has done absolutely nothing to create that definition they promised to create by 1978. The only thing they have done is to make the temporary measure (section 530) permanent. The laws of these United States are filled with temporary measures that congress has promised to fix and never does. So why do we trust them now to fix the problems they have created with health care? I can't remember when they have ever kept a promise they made for future action. If you can, please comment and let me know.

But in the meantime, I am not going to believe the promises they made this time. The only real option available is to repeal the current legislation and do it right. Because if they don't get it right the first time, they will never fix it!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Democracy is Doomed to Failure

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years." This quote is attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler. In 1814, John Adams said "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

These were some smart folks, a lot smarter than I. The founding fathers knew the same things, as they built a number of clauses into the Constitution designed to prevent the failure of our fledgling democracy. The first was designed to isolate at least one legislative branch of congress from the majority. Section 3 of Article 1 of the Constitution states "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years;" Unfortunately, the seventeenth amendment to the constitution, ratified in 1913, changed the selection of Senators to be elected by the people of the state instead of the legislature. They had been insulated by being at least one step removed from popular vote, they no longer were. The second hope for insulation of the government is the election of the President by the electoral college instead of the popular vote. This insulation has been thinned in most states by forcing the electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote, but at least the insulation still exists.

But we have lost the seperation of the legistlative branch from the "tyranny of the majority." Our legislators vote in such a way as to keep their jobs, which means they try to give their constituents the "benefits from the public treasury" and we let them. We keep re-electing the ones who promise the most. Poll after poll finds that citizens don't like congress, but like their own congress person.

I tell you now, they are ALL part of the problem. And it is time to have a real change. Don't vote for the incumbent, no matter who their opponent is they can't be any worse than whoever is in there now. And then, when that person is up for reelection, vote for his opponent. We don't need a law to have term limits, all we need to do is vote them out of office.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Better Health Care for Less Money

Congress just really does not get it. As I showed in earlier posts (see "Health Care for All" on 10/7/2009 and "The Real Problem is Cost" on 11/25/2009), what they are doing will not solve the problem, will cost a lot of money, and will create a "health care" system whose only cost control mechanism will be through rationing. We need a system that will let the market work. Well, instituting a universal "Health Savings Account" system will do that.

A "Health Savings Account" system, or HSA, is currently defined in law as being a savings account using non-taxed money (like a traditional IRA) combined with a high-deductible "catastrophic" insurance policy. Such a policy would not kick in until medical expenses reach $1500, and the savings account portion would cover everything before that $1500. So the savings portion would have to be at least $1500. An insurance policy to meet these requirements should cost no more than $2500/year. The problem now is how to make sure that people who would otherwise not be able to afford this coverage can be covered.

Well, under this scenario, the total cost of care for a person would be $4000/year ($1500 savings account plus $2500 insurance policy). The government can supply that total cost for the poorest 100000000 (100 million) citizens for $400 billion. That is less than half of what current health care bills in congress will cost. The government could supply an average of half that total amount (sliding scale depending on income) for an additional 200 million citizens for an additional $400 billion. That is a total of $800 billion to cover 300 million people. That is around three quarters of the total population for less than any of the current bills floating around congress that will STILL leave some people uncovered.

Write your congress person and tell them about this. It is a workable plan that will cover more people, create market based incentives to control costs, and will cost less money than current plans. It is a workable solution that can be implemented in a 100 page law, instead of 2000 pages of incomprehensible legalese. And it supplies real health care to everyone. Think about it, and let others know. We need to act now before they make another critical mistake.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Real Problem is Cost

Congress is currently working on what they are now calling "Health Insurance Reform." Please note that it is no longer referred to as "Health Care Reform." That is because the currently proposed legislation, whether it's the 1.2 trillion dollar house version or the 0.9 trillion dollar senate version, no longer even tries to do anything about health care costs. And neither will do anything to control costs. There are a number of reasons for this.

First is the disconnect between the purchaser of medical care and the payor. Think about this situation. You go into a grocery store where none of the food has a price on it. You select the food you want to eat, and when you hit the check-out, they add up the costs, still don't tell you what they are, and let you walk out with your food because someone else, your "Food Insurance Provider", will pay for it. If those conditions were in place for a few years, just what do you think would happen to the cost of food? Well, that is how we have been paying for our health care for more than 40 years. It is no wonder the cost of health care keeps increasing.

The second reason is the monopoly of the medical profession. If you get sick or injured you only have two choices for treatment, either self-treat or go to a doctor. Now I don't know about you, but the difference between my level of medical knowledge and a doctor's is vast, and there are a lot of medical professionals who fit tinto that gap: physician's assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, EMT''s, etc. But I do not have the choice of seeing one of them (unless they are under the "supervision" of a doctor, where I have to pay the doctor's fee). Remember the last time you had a bad sore throat? You went to your doctor, who looked at your throat and gave you a prescription for about 3 weeks worth of a pennicillin family antibiotic (unless you are allergic to pennicillin, and the doctor finds that out from YOU). He didn't do any cultures or anything to determine whether the prescribed antibiotic would work, he just wrote the scrip. Why did you need to see (and pay for) a doctor to get those antibiotics, why couldn't you have gone to the pharmacist yourself? Why should I pay $65 or more to see a doctor, and they pay for the antibiotics, when I really only need to pay for the antibiotics anyway?

Health insurance is not the problem, the cost of health care is the problem, and there are only two ways to contol that cost. We can re-connect demand and payment, or we can ration care by fiat. Which would you rather happen?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The First Amendment: Under Attack?

OK, I went on a rant last week, and it may have sounded like I was railing against allowing the Catholic Church to express its collective opinion on a particular issue. That is not what I meant. One of the things that makes this country great is the Bill of Rights, and the first amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." What I was complaining about is that the Catholic Church, because of tax laws, is not playing on a level playing field, they start out at an elevated position; not because of who they are, but because of the tax laws. The tax laws rig the game in their favor, and leave the rest of us to struggle to reach the place the church is starting from.

I believe in the first amendment. We need to have the freedom to say what we want. And the first amendment has been tested and is pretty much absolute. No matter what you may have heard about "limits" on the first amendment, there are not really any. There is no law to prevent you from yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theatre. There are laws about the results of that yelling, you may be guilty of causing a riot, or endangering lives, but the actual speech is protected. There is currently one exception to the first amendment, and it is the most abhorrent of all. Political speech is restricted by the McCain--Feingold Campaign Reform Act of 2002. And political speech is the most important that needs to be protected.

The supposed reason for this law is to limit the role of money in elections. The sponsors and supporters of this attack on the first amendment will tell you it must be needed and wanted because vast majorities of both houses voted for it. What they will not tell you is that the real effect of the law is to keep incumbents in office. Since the incumbents are starting from an advantageous position to begin with, limits on the amount of money challengers can spend can only benefit the incumbents. Again, their real concern is keeping themselves in office.

The answer is not to limit fund raising, but to publicize who is contributing the money. With today's technology, contributors' names can be published within hours of their contributions. Don't allow anonymous contributions; sorry, but if you are not willing to own up to your opinion, you don't have the right to voice that opinion. That would allow the electorate to decide whether they want to vote for the person who accepts that money. Let the electorate decide, not the politicians.