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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

If I got to ask a question during CNN Republican debate in Arizona:

Senator Santorum, you have labeled yourself the only true conservative in the race. We are in Arizona, the birthplace of Barry Goldwater, who was known as "Mr. Conservative." Senator Goldwater's opinion toward the religious right was well-known. It can be summed up by this quote:

"I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in "A," "B," "C" and "D." Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?"

How would you respond to "Mr. Conservative," Barry Goldwater, here in his home state tonight?

The Three-Fifths Compromise in historical context.

David Steiner, in his Colorado Voices column today, makes a common statement that bears some thought.  (See "Take a tip from fourth-graders").

Steiner was a judge for an American Legion speech contest for high school students. The topic was the United States Constitution. "The high school students talked about  ... how long it had taken for blacks to be counted as more than three-fifths of a person," among other topics, he said.

It has been my experience that most refer to that provision of the Constitution as an example of the racism that existed at the time. I find that curious, since the existence of slavery is a much better example. The "Three-Fifths Compromise" is found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution. It reads:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

What does that mean in modern English? It means that when counting the population of a state for purposes of determining the size of that state's Congressional delegation, slaves would be counted as 3/5 of a person.

The problem was not this compromise, the problem was slavery. I find it disproportionate to cite this compromise as evidence of racism when it pales in comparison to the actual bondage of human beings. It is as if someone says, "yeah, there was slavery in Colonial America and people were owned like common chattel, but the real injustice was that they were only counted as 3/5 of a person when it came time to determine congressional representation!" In that light, it is absurd.

If asked, I bet most think it was the slave-owning southern states that did not want to count slaves as full people. After all, slaves were just property. But, no, that was not the case. It was the northern states that did not want to count slaves at all. Upon reflection, this makes sense. If slaves were counted in full, the south would have had a larger voice in Congress.

Therefore, the pro-slavery contingent wanted to count slaves as full people, but the anti-slavery contingent did not want to count them at all. This juxtaposition demonstrates the folly of citing the Three-Fifths Compromise as  an example of racism.

The compromise is historically important, but not as important as the institution of slavery itself.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A response to "Why Obamacare is good for America"

The executive director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, my friend Dede de Percin, does her best to sell us on the benefits of Obamacare in the "Perspective" section of today's Denver Post. (See "Why Obamacare is good for America.")

I quote some of her statements, then respond underneath:

"Over the past few decades, America's health care system has been hurtling toward a crisis. Almost one-third of Coloradans — 1.5 million — either have health care coverage that is inadequate or have none at all. The primary reason is skyrocketing costs, which have priced out businesses and individuals alike."

Why the skyrocketing costs? Because of government mandated coverage, government regulation, and the inability to sell insurance across state lines, among other things.

"Decisions about our health care are too personal and important to be left to insurance companies."

But not too personal and important to be left to the United States Congress and state run exchange boards, apparently.

"Obamacare is starting to hold insurance companies accountable, controlling the runaway costs that prevent Coloradans from access to health care. For example, insurers must now justify premium rate hikes."

These rate rikes must be justified to a government board. I hope the inherent downside to government approval of prices is self-evident. Alas, I know it is not. See "The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics" entry on "Price Controls" for an in depth discussion.

"Essential preventive care is now considered a basic benefit for those with insurance and is available without co-pays or other cost-sharing because it keeps people healthier."

Keeping everyone healthier is a great goal. Pretending it can be done for free is a fantasy. The preventative care may not cost the consumer anything directly out of pocket, but the cost exists and it is paid by everyone. It is the ultimate in cost-sharing. Further, when a service has no marginal cost to the consumer, the demand for the service is virtually unlimited. With higher demand, prices necessarily rise for someone if not to the consumer directly. Costs exist. No legislation can abolish them.

"A major cost-containment initiative of Obamacare is the exchange. In 2014, Coloradans will be able to purchase affordable insurance in the Colorado Health Benefits Exchange, a statewide nonprofit organization. Intended to be a competitive, online marketplace similar to Travelocity..."

Wait... Travelocity was formed by government mandate? No? It was done by a private company in the free market? How is that possible? I thought only the government could make this happen. Perhaps not.

And this nonprofit state exchange plans on paying four executives $165,000 a year or more. It is amazing how political appointees always end up doing well in these state created nonprofits. It is pure corporatism. Nonprofit corporatism, but nonetheless corporatism. Some prefer to call it crony-capitalism (which, of course, is not capitalism at all).

"Since decisions about health care are too important to leave to others, the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and consumer-focused organizations are helping Coloradans make their voices heard by exchange board members."

Wait... health care decisions are too important to leave to others, so the exchange board members will make those decisions? Aren't they "others?" I am afraid I just do not follow that reasoning. (Not an uncommon occurrence for me, I realize).

I know de Percin means well. She wants to help those without health insurance coverage. She wants everyone to get the medical services they need.

But another layer of government bureaucracy will not achieve that admirable goal. Government, indeed, has a role, a very important one: policing fraud and enforcing benefits contractually promised to insureds in exchange for premiums. When government starts doing much beyond that, costs go up and coverage goes down.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Before the "system failed:" The death of a child.

The Denver Post headline reads, "Family: System failed child."

It is a horrific story of an abused four year-old boy, now dead, allegedly at the hands of his maternal grandmother. The grandmother had been awarded custody of the boy's two older sisters. The boy was living under her care, as well. The boy's name was Gabriel.

Gabriel's paternal grandmother had called the county Human Services department multiple times over her concerns about the boy's treatment. The State will now investigate the circumstances of the boy's death and the county's response to the previous complaints. That investigation may or may not find problems with the county.

Ultimately, however, Gabriel's death is not a failure on the part of the government, although it may have played a part in not preventing it. Ultimately, the system did not fail this child.

Ultimately, his family failed him. The article makes no mention of his parents. Where are they? Perhaps they have passed away and the boy is an orphan. If not, where are they? Gabriel was not under the legal custody of his maternal grandmother, only his sisters Where were other family members ready to take care of the boy? Where was the church?

This tragedy underscores the futility of looking to the government for protection. No one in the Department of Human Services was Gabriel's blood. No one in that department was Gabriel's mother. No one in that department was this Gabriel's father. No one in that department was Gabriel's family.  No one in that department was Gabriel's pastor.

No government agent can ever - ever - care about a child like his own blood. No government agent can ever have the compassion for that child like a man - or woman - of God.

If we, as society, looked to ourselves as individuals to help Gabriel, Gabriel would still be alive. Instead, we, as a society, have abdicated our personal duty as individuals and given it to the government, as a collective, to look out for children like this poor boy.

The collective works a 40 hour week. The collective goes home at 5:00. The collective punches a clock. A caring person -as an individual - never clocks out. Let us stop shirking our personal responsibilities onto the backs of a soulless collective.

Arguing for more state power over neglected and abused children is not compassionate. It exacerbates the problem.

No government agent is ever ultimately responsible for a child - his family, and by extension his church famiily - is responsible.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and media criticism

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Mitt, Newt and Rick: Let's end the myth that the GOP believes in limited government.

The 2012 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination should, once and for all, end the myth that the GOP is the party of limited government, free markets and personal liberty. I submit it is instructive to look at the records of the three remaining GOP candidates not named "Paul."

The following bullet points were excerpted verbatim from Reason.com's candidate profiles. Yes, I have cherry picked items inconsistent with limited government, free markets and personal liberty. Yes, these same profiles mention positions of each candidate that are consistent with limited government, free markets and personal liberty.

The point of this post, however, is to show that none of these three candidates believe, as a first principle, in limited government, free markets and personal liberty. They each are more than willing to make exceptions when expedient. Therefore, any claim that they believe in limited government, free markets or personal liberty must be prefaced by the qualifier "when convenient."

Mitt Romney:

  • Defends the mandate-and-regulate approach to health care he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts
  • He favors strong government surveillance powers to combat terrorism, and has praised the PATRIOT Act as a useful information gathering tool. 
  • previously backed ... No Child Left Behind. 
  • He's conveniently in favor of subsidies for corn-based ethanol.

Newt Gingrich:

  • Opposes Obamacare but in 2005 joined Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) in "appearing to endorse proposals to require all individuals to have some form of health coverage."
  •  Gingrich joined Obama's "Race to the Top" in 2009, calling Education Secretary Arne Duncan “a serious innovator." 
  •  Gingrich likes ethanol subsidies and has accused "big cities" and "big urban newspapers" of trying to hurt the farmers who benefit from them. Also likes fossil fuel subsidies and said in 2010 that "a low-cost energy regime is essential to our country." Supported cap and trade in 2007, 

Rick Santorum:

  •  While he was in office ... his record was, in the Club for Growth's words, "plagued by the big-spending habits that Republicans adopted during the Bush years of 2001-2006." He was a strong supporter of dairy subsidies, voted for Medicare Part D and the 2005 highway bill
  • Sen. Santorum voted for the Sarbanes-Oxley law that he now wants to repeal. He also backed steel tariffs and was a player in the GOP's corporatist K Street Project. After initial opposition to the program, he became a big AmeriCorps booster.
  • "This idea that people should be able to go and do whatever they want and it doesn't really matter as long as it doesn't hurt anybody, that's not our founders' view of freedom."
  • He joined Hillary Clinton's crusade against violent video games, used campaign finance regulations to threaten critics' freedom of speech, and favors a porn crackdown.
  •  ... he has warned against "the 10th amendment run amok."
  •  He also has a history of supporting national schooling standards. He voted for the No Child Left Behind bill in 2001.
  •  ... he has an on-again, off-again history of support for energy subsidies as well. In 2008 he called for Washington to "mandate that all cars sold in the United States...be 'flex-fuel vehicles'—that is, they should be able to run on a blend that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline."

Can we quit pretending? The GOP loves government programs. One might be able to make the case that the GOP loves government programs less than Democrats, but that is damning with faint praise.