Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If We Could Make Just One Fix to Health Care, This Should Be It

The best solution for increasing competition in the health insurance industry--to allow insurance companies to sell policies to any resident in any state-- is one to which the federal government holds the key. Not only would this reduce costs by increasing competition, it would be a simple change for Congress to make. Yet so far, the United States congress refuses to make this one change, preferring instead to make health insurance and health care more complicated than it has to be.

Since 1945, as a result of federal intervention, Americans have only been able to purchase health care in their own states. The resulting lack of competition is one of the chief reasons that health insurance has become so expensive here. A simple, one-page federal law allowing Americans to purchase health insurance from any company in any state would help to reduce the exorbitant insurance costs that cause several million Americans to not be able to afford health insurance. The United States Congress, however, does not seem interested or capable in creating simple laws that solve big problems. Members of congress seem predominantly about arrogating to themselves more control.

A bill being offered by Senator Max Baucus would require individuals to wait until the year 2015 at the earliest before they could purchase insurance from whomever they choose. Baucus's original bill contained no such language. These pitiful crumbs from the masters' table are only there at the behest of Republicans.
Starting in 2015, states may form health care choice compacts to allow for the purchase of individual health insurance across state lines…. Once compacts have been agreed to, insurers would be allowed to sell policies in any state participating in the compact.” [pg. 12]
If health care reform is really about helping the average American to more easily afford health care, how difficult would it really be to start with just this one thing to allow that affordability to begin happening right now?

Update 10/1/2009: Here is a conversation between CNN's Wolf Blitzer with President Obama's Senior Advisor David Axelrod wherein Axelrod runs like a scared rabbit from the question about allowing health insurance to be sold across state lines. Hat tip to Jeremy Lyman. (Queue video to 1:39 to see where Axelrod "steps in it".)

I'm Right...and You're Stupid. How Civil is Utah Politics?

Do we sometimes, perhaps subliminally, think that because someone disagrees with us that they are less intelligent? How civil is political debate in Utah? Why does it seem that incivility is more attractive and entertaining? Is a little incivility okay every now and then? If you had to choose between being civil and being honest, which would you choose?

These and similar questions were discussed last night at the quarterly blogger briefing entitled "CIVILITY IN POLITICS: WHERE DO WE DRAW THE LINE?", hosted by the Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City.

Dave Hansen, chair of the Utah State Republican Party, noted that there have been several times in American history where political debate has been much less civil than it is today. The 1968 presidential election at the height of the Vietnam War was one such high-water mark. Early campaigns in our nations history, such as those between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, were fraught with name calling and half truths that might make today's politicians blush. Also on the early side of our nation's history, at least one instance has been chronicled of a United States congressman nearly succeeding in killing a colleague on the floor of congress; has that happened recently?

Hansen's point was that political debate only seems to be more rancorous today because of the immediacy of cable news and the internet. Back in the day when there were only a few newspapers to accompany Walter Cronkite and the CBS evening news, it was not possible (as it is today) for Americans to get all of the salacious details of any political event they wanted to know more about.

Rob Miller, chair of the Davis County Democrat Party, opined that Representative Joe Wilson's recent outburst during President Obama's speech--"You lie!"--is not only completely lacking in decorum, but is an outburst without precedent. I completely agree with the statement that it was a disgraceful outburst, but Dave Hansen wondered if we simply don't know about any other such outbursts (1) because, until recently, presidents very seldom gave speeches in front of Congress, and perhaps more importantly (2) the almost immediate accessibility of virtually any news story is an advent of only about the last 10 years or so.

It reminds me of the recent "Obama Worship Song" that was videotaped and clandestinely uploaded to the internet. Did any such Reagan worship (for example) ever occur? The world may never know.

Is it more important to be civil or honest? There seemed to be nearly as many answers to this question as there were people in attendance at last night's briefing. In my opinion, it's important to be "civilly honest" (hopefully that doesn't sound like a copy-out). Only then can you be persuasive. If you're civil, but not honest, then eventually no one will believe you. If you are honest, but not civil, then eventually no one will listen to you.

Why does incivility seem to be more attractive than civility? No one at the blogger briefing had a really good answer to that question...

So what's your experience? Is incivility up in the Utah political area? Is Utah politics more or less civil than other places you've been.

Note: Jeff Reynolds and Lisa Johnson of the Sutherland Institute indicated that the next briefing would take place in December. For more information, or to attend, please contact Lisa.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I'm Glad That's Not in My Bible!

There are some pretty wacky things in the Bible. That's why I'm glad that my Church teaches that "we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly."

The other night we were reading about the exploits of the steroidally strong Samson in the Old Testament. He fell in love with some floozy from another country, and she got him to reveal a secret, which ultimately ticked him off as only Samson could be ticked off. In the last verse of Judges chapter 14 he dumps his wife out of spite. And you know... That's the first time in my entire life that I realized that before the tart named Delilah came along, there was another bimbo.

And how are these stories of a muscular, oversexed monster supposed to be spiritually uplifting?

In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins points out some the more bizarre entries in the Old Testament. Dawkins chortles:
To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents...

But unfortunately, it is this weird volume that religious zealots hold up as the inerrant source of our morals and rules for living.
In a big way, I can't blame Richard Dawkins for being an atheist, he having lived under the foot of the dogmatic, overwhelmingly improbable tenets of apostate Christendom. In a bigger way, I think that Article of Faith number 8 of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is looking pretty prescient these many years later.
We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
The superstitions and escapades of Moses's Israelites at Mount Sinai make it hard to imagine that the smoke-belching and lightning-bolt-wielding Jehovah of the Old Testament is one and the same character as the mild-mannered Jesus of the New Testament. The goings on at the foot of Sinai seem much more suited to the fantasies of an author of Greek or Roman mythology than to the spiritual teachings of prophet of God.

Remember Lot, who, with most of his family--except for his pillar-of-salt wife--escaped the ravages of Sodom and Gomorrah? It turns out, if we are to believe our current Bibles, that Lot partook of the ravages of the sister cities before his flight. When confronted with a group of men who targeted some of his guests for their homosexual conquests, Lot offered his daughters up to the men to be raped instead. Huh?

I'm suspecting that something got translated incorrectly in there somewhere...

Have you ever heard of Jephthah? As a great military leader, Jephthah prayed to God for victory over the Ammonites. As a covenant to God, Jephthah promised that, following victory:
whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
To his utter misfortune, his daughter, who happened to be his only child, was the first living thing to meet him upon his return from battle. What then happened? The respectable Jephthah did what any respectable Christian military leader would do--he murdered his daughter. It's right there in your Bible--and it's not the only Biblical instance of human sacrifice carried out to success.

What would God want us to learn from Jephthah's experience? Well, I certainly hope that it is that the Bible is not translated correctly. He wants us to learn that, during the large periods of time where no person on earth thought that God would speak to man, stories and teachings just might have crept into the canon that are not divinely inspired or otherwise spiritually enlightening.

God is not a fire-breathing, vengeful God. Yet this is the very "god" whose image millions of zealous Christian missionaries (including, I'm sure, several Latter-day Saints) worship in their quests for eternal salvation.

No. God is actually a loving God. His "yoke is easy, and [His] burden is light". But you wouldn't garner that insight if you took some portions of the Bible to be the infallible truth. Hard as it may be to believe, the mild Messiah in the meridian of time is the same gentle Jehovah of the Old Testament. How critical is it that this salient fact got lost in translation over the centuries? Look at the world around you.

One of the greatest contributions of Mormonism has been to point out one of the most important facts that would otherwise have gone unknown--and that still seems to shape political Christian Jihad--that God does not hate.

Unfortunately, it may yet take a long while for Christendom to get over its false traditions and pre-conceived notions in this regard. How pitiful is the vengeful but false banner under which, to this day, many Christians rally to their supposed god. How sad it will be for many Christians, having rallied for this spiteful mess of pottage, when they hear the words, "Ye never knew me."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Earthly Liberals and Heavenly Conservatives

It is very likely that one's religious perspective of heaven contributes quite substantially to the exercise of their politics on earth. It seems to me that Conservatives, who are more generally focused on earning the rewards of the next life, are not as tuned into the importance of taking care of the here and now as Liberals are.

If you're a Latter-day Saint I'm sure you've heard at least one such story before: person quits job and drains savings account because he has become sure that "The Millennium" and Jesus's return to earth are right around the corner, and that all things will be taken care of for him. Regardless of how many of such stories are true, these stories illustrate a potential shortsightedness of members of any religion that think that heaven is more important than earth.

Enlightenment thinkers, to include our own Founding Fathers, frowned on such exaggerated netherworld thinking. Instead, they realized that ensuring that everyone has sufficient for their earthly needs is at least as important as our expectations of heavenly reward. In fact, such earthly stewardship is a vital component in the earning of heavenly rest. Typical conservatives, through misguided religious zeal, are more apt to lose sight of this fact than are liberals.

George McGovern in his book The Essential America, reminded us that the religious views of the founders did not exaggerate the yearning for heaven at the expense of life's exigencies.
The Enlightenment thinkers placed emphasis on the power of human reason, disciplined by experience and observation. They came to believe that through education, humanity could be changed for the better. Most of the Enlightenment thinkers did not renounce religion, but they were sometimes critical of the doctrinaire, authoritarian nature of the established church. [They] tended to encourage a better way of life on earth rather than hopes for the hereafter.

The Essential America, pp. 4-5

We are commanded to be morally clean, but we are also commanded to take care of our fellow human beings. The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ reminds us that moral cleanliness and Samaritan concern for others are both important in the obtaining of eternal reward. But the political reaction to President Bill Clinton's sexual escapades a few years ago led me to believe that conservatives place far too high a premium on moral cleanliness at the expense of looking out for the welfare of others. It's as though we skip over passages like the following:

16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

The Book of Mormon, Mosiah ,Chapter 4

The typical conservative can learn a lot from the typical liberal, I think, in this regard. Instead of focusing on what superficially seem to be the rewards of the spiritual hereafter, conservatives would do well to remember that all of God's commandments--even those that seem fleetingly temporal--are foremost to be recognized as spiritual laws. With that balanced perspective, we can begin to see the importance of helping to ensure that more and more of God's children in the here and now have the basics of life, so that they, too, can afford to balance their thinking between temporal and spiritual necessities.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Real Reason that Housing is Not Affordable

Governments are notorious for creating problems (or inventing problems that don't exist) in order to blame someone else for them and to obtain more control over the masses by and setting out to provide a solution to the problem it caused. This is the essence of the current U.S. housing crisis. Government is the primary reason that housing is not affordable for many Americans. It is insanity, then, to expect government to fix the problem--a problem that it created in the first place.

It is a lie--based on unfounded interpretations of a housing study from the 1990's--that mortgage providers turned away minorities on a regular basis who were fully qualified borrowers. So states Thomas Sowell in his cut-to-the-point new book The Housing Boom and Bust. The reality is that equally qualified applicants of any race were being given loans--and equally unqualified applications of any race were being turned away--at roughly the same rates. One thing that markets--even if they are made up entirely of greedy people--don't care about is race. If someone has the ability to pay back my loan, I wouldn't care if they were green and had pointy ears; I'd give them the loan.

The reality is that blacks as a race were only slightly more often denied loans than were Hispanics, that Hispanics were only slightly more often denied loans than whites, and whites were actually slightly more often denied loans than Asians. Based upon a willful misinterpretation of the data, along with a willful intent to profit and propagandize in order to gain more federal control of the economy, politicians such as Barney Frank and Cristopher Dodd used knowingly false data and accusations while calling upon lenders to make housing supposedly more "affordable". It soon became clear (with Frank and Dodd still denying their culpability in the fiasco) that Congress's new prescription had crippled a previously healthy patient. It soon became clear that government requirements resulted in a plethora of previously denied borrowers generally not being able to afford making their new mortgage payments. Due primarily to imbecilic behavior on the part of the federal government, the housing crisis burst into full bloom.

The most dangerous bureaucrat is not the one who thinks he can get away with it, but rather the one who thinks he is morally obligated to get away with it. Government is the major reason that housing is not affordable for so many Americans.

Have you ever heard of "land use restriction"? I'd guess not. The phrase has a sinister connotation, so the connoisseurs of government control are careful not to use the pejorative term. What I'm sure you have heard of is "open space". Why is the phrase "open space" used so often, when what is really meant is "land use restriction"? Because open space sounds good. Open space sounds healthy. Open space sounds warm. Open space sounds fuzzy. At least that's what we've been conditioned to believe. More open space, however, is seldom necessary, especially in states where the government has already set aside about half of the land area as perpetual "open space". When someone speaks of the lofty vision of open space, they are in reality talking about restricting someone else's (i.e. yours, not theirs) use of land. When something is restricted, the cost of using it naturally goes up.
Where are housing prices most expensive in the United States? Almost without exception, the most expensive housing occurs in areas that have become victim to the political crusade known as open space preservation. The irony of this reality is another reality. Thomas Sowell paints the picture clearly:
It was in precisely these...enclaves that the kind of people for whom the national housing crusade expressed much concern--minorities, low-income people, and families with children--were forced out disproportionately.

The Housing Boom and Bust, p. 128
Under the guise of helping the underprivileged, open-space advocates take away many of the privileges that their impoverished fellow citizens had in the first place. Which causes the rich to get richer and the poor to get...homeless. Government is the primary reason that housing is not affordable for so many Americans.

How is it that politicians are seldom held to account for their mistakes? In part it's because political survival often entails the crafty denial of such mistakes. How is it that we are docile enough to let the same politicians who have ruined the housing market now roll the dice of intervention in the automobile industry?

What happens when government decides that it is time to build a new public housing project? Shortly thereafter, the crime rate--including the murder rate--goes up dramatically. Valdalism goes up. Dysfunctional families become more common. Welfare dependency goes up. What's the solution that our imaginative government always proposes? Government's solution is to build more housing projects.

Government is the main reason that housing is not affordable for so many Americans. Yet we continue to trust that government can solve the current housing crisis.

Government is the housing problem. Yet some people think it can be the solution to the mess that it created. How silly. That's like asking the bull to go back into your china closet and glue all your dishes back together.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Happy Constitution Day from a Document on Life Support

Some people think the Constitution is almost dead. Some people wish it were dead. And some people are doing their best to kill it. I think, though, that the Constitution is much stronger than we give it credit for since, when its precepts are adhered to, it's still the best bastion of liberty the world has ever seen. Learning this immutable truth might be rather costly in the days ahead, but that's another story...
The current health care debate, as well as the previous and ongoing debate over the global war on terror, show just how little people think about the United States Constitution anymore.

On September 17, 1787, 39 men put their lives on the line by signing the greatest freedom compact known to mankind--the Constitution of the United States of America. The Constitution eloquently and with wisdom set forth rules under which Americans could live in liberty and peace. But ask many people what they know about the Constitution and "racism" is one of the first thoughts that comes to mind.

Besides telling us how many senators and representatives we are supposed to have in Congress, the Constitution has become for far too many Americans a symbol of American greed and haughtiness. That's because far too few Americans know or care anymore what the Constitution actually says. That's because our federal government, having strayed far from the moorings of the Constitution, actually has become the epitome of greed and haughtiness. This was not always so. The Constitution prescribes very limited functions to the Federal Government, leaving all other responsibilities to the states. Few would recognize those limitations now, not to mention knowing that they even exist.

The current debate over health care captures the essence of what has gone wrong in America. Prior to that, the debate over the war on terror was a ripe indication of how little we understand our founding documents. Over the last 4 decades, the national Republican party has taken the role of tearing us away from our Constitutional moorings on an international level, while the national Democratic party usually plays the part of making the domestic scene constitutionally unrecognizable.

Most liberals recognized when George W. Bush wiped, um...feet on the Constitution in usurping power during the war on terror that the Constitution actually vests in Congress (which Obama has unsurprisingly not relinquished). Most conservatives now recognize that Barack Obama has equal disdain for the Constitution in his push for nationalized health care. But it's not enough to recognize and admit violations only when someone from another party commits them. Real integrity is when, regardless of what party one belongs to, one recognizes (and cares) when anyone rides roughshod over the pages of the Constitution.

It's come to the point that we're asking the wrong questions. To take the latest example, rather than asking if all Americans should have proper health insurance, the right question is: if all Americans should have proper health insurance, who is responsible to provide it? Certainly, under the rules of Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, it can't be the federal government. Under the broadest interpretation of the commerce clause of Article I Section 8, the Federal Government may have the authority to require the states to allow their residents to purchase health insurance in any other state, but that would be the outer limit of the federal government's powers. Other than maybe that, unless we amend the Constitution to allow the federal government to provide a national health care plan, we can't use whether or not (I think not) Britain or Canada provide their citizens better health care as a reason to start a national plan.

James Madison warned that
If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish
and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union;
they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress....

Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America.
It's as though most big-time Republicans and Democrats alike think that Madison was encouraging the "transmut[ation of the] nature of the limited government", because that is exactly what we have become.

As deficits mount and the love of Americans for each other waxes cold, the Constitution is honored today more in the breach of its rules than in respect for them. And that's exactly why I think the Constitution will never die, because as the breach becomes wider, it becomes more and more plain to see that true liberty and prosperity will only be found by returning to its precepts than by taking false comfort in becoming separate laws unto each of ourselves.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Iraqis Remember 9/11All Too Well

Iraqis mourned with Americans on September 11, 2001. It wasn't long, however, before their tyrannical ruler was targeted as a possessor of weapons of mass destruction along with the intent to use them on America. When it was later proven beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein never had either such payload or such intent, it was too late for the Iraqi people. During our mid-stream mission change of bringing them "democracy", we have brought far more death, dismemberment, and destruction than liberty. Yes, Iraqis remember 9/11. It is still tearing their country apart.

When I got to Kuwait in June of 2005, I was surprised that all of the Iraqi and Kuwaiti workers on my transition base couldn't understand very much of my limited Arabic speaking ability. It turns out they were Indians, Pakistanis, Philippinos, etc.

When I got to my combat base in Iraq, the only three Iraqis workers I ever met there were translators who went with the brigade and battalion commanders, or with combat patrols as necessary. The rest of the workers were Indians, Pakistanis, Phillipinos, etc.

It was not until 2 weeks ago, after having been home from Iraq for more than three years, that I discovered that this wasn't just the norm on military bases in Iraq. Not only did we occupy their country on false pretenses, disband their military, and fire all of their government employees, we also (except in rare circumstances) didn't provide reconstruction jobs to any of the Iraqi people whose country we were occupying.

No wonder they hate us.

In her book, "The Shock Doctrine", Naomi Klein details what additional shock and awe U.S. uber-fuhrer Paul Bremer dispensed once the aerial bombardment was complete.
Before the invasion, Iraq's economy had been anchored by its national oil company and by two hundred state owned companies. The month after he arrived in his new job, Bremer announced that the two hundred firms would be privatized immediately. Bremer enacted a radical set of laws [one of which] allowed foreign companies to own 100 percent of Iraqi assets...

The Shock Doctrine, p. 436
Iraqi advisers warned in advance that these actions would be seen as acts of war. You probably already know at least that much of the history that happened next.

But it gets worse.

Of the billions of dollars sent by the Bush Administration designated as reconstruction money--at least not the significant portion that was stolen outright by American contractors--almost none of it went toward contracts with Iraqi construction companies or to pay Iraqi workers, due to the fact that very few were allowed to participate. Klein says:
Even Iraqis' low-wage labor wasn't required for the assembly process because the major U.S. contractors...preferred to import foreign workers whom they felt confident they could control. Once again Iraqis were cast in the role of awed spectators...

Iraq once had one of the most sophisticated industrial economies in the region; now its largest firms couldn't even get a subsubsubcontract in their own country's reconstruction.

...cement factories were perfectly positioned both to supply the reconstruction effort with building materials and to put tens of thousands of Iraqis to work. The factories received nothing--no contracts, no generators, no help. American companies preferred to import their cement, like their workforce, from abroad, at up to ten times the price.

The Shock Doctrine, pp. 439, 441-442
Despite the ignominy of American occupation, sectarian violence and violence against the military was almost unknown for at least the first year that we were there.
Did you ever wonder where all of the insurgents came from? Well, now you know. Klein says:
In fact, all the forces tearing Iraq apart today--rampant corruption, ferocious sectarianism, the surge in religious fundamentalism, and the tyranny of death squads--escalated in lockstep with the implementation of Bush's anti-Marshall plan. After the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iraq badly needed and deserved to be repaired and reunited, a process that could only have been led by Iraqis. Instead, at that moment, the country was transformed into a cutthroat capitalist laboratory--a system that pitted individuals and communities against each other... It was a very capitalist disaster, a nightmare of unfettered greed unleashed in the wake of war.

The Shock Doctrine, 443-444
Why can't we just leave these people alone? Are they better off now than they were under Saddam? A friend of mine asked me today if we were going to leave Iraq in a bigger mess than we found it. Yes, it seems like we will.

How much longer are Americans going to believe the Bush Administration lie that our overarching goal was to bring democracy to the Iraqi people?

The Iraqis wish that 9/11 had never happened--but for very different reasons than most Americans do.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Obama "Fundamentally Changing America"? Balderdash

It's a dangerous political game we play when we pit ourselves as enemies against our actual friends. This is the result of believing the mistake Glenn Beck and others are making with an alarming increase in frequency, in that they claim that President Barack Obama is "Fundamentally Chang[ing] America". He is doing no such thing.

Many of you relatively older folks will remember (fondly?--I do) this video clip that I think was first aired as a commercial during the 1984 Superbowl. In my opinion, it is still one of the best commercials ever made.

This newer commercial remakes the classic, but with the fundamental substance changed in a fatally flawed way.

The problem? The remake portrays a message that is patently untrue. If we believe the essence of the remake then we are walking with too many Americans down the "Road More Traveled"--the wrong road--which will result in us never arriving at the real truth.

Barack Obama may have said that he wants to "fundamentally change America", but he is NOT fundamentally changing our country--any more than John McCain would have, or any more than several of President Obama's recent predecessors have succeeded in doing. He is simply carrying out the same Establishment plan that they have been carrying out, although perhaps at a slightly different velocity.

The sooner more honest Republicans AND Democrats will admit to this reality--that it is not a battle between Republicans and Democrats, but rather a battle between the Establishment and the rest of us--the better off America will be.

It's past time that we stop voting for the lesser of two dumbers at the ballot box.