Saturday, March 31, 2007


Was it Legal? Was it Wise?

A large amount of paper and ink have been used up in the commentaries on the affair of the sacked attorneys. Critics of the Bush administration, myself included, suspect a very crass, sleazy motive was behind the firing of the eight US Attorneys. We suspect, for example, that Carol Lam was sacked to save Congressman Jerry Lewis, who was in her sights to be indicted for corruption. We suspect that David Iglesias of Albuquerque was let go because he was slow about prosecuting suspected Democratic activists for voter fraud. We know that the US Attorney in Little Rock was relieved of his job to make room for a protege of Karl Rove.

Today Professor Douglas Kmiec weighs in with an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times to defend Mr. Gonzales and the President. Professor Kmiec argues correctly that the President has and should have the right to discharge any US Attorney who, in the President's judgment, is not enthusiastically carrying out the President's policy regarding the enforcement of the law.

Professor Kmiec is trying to change the subject. The subject is, or should be, did the President and Mr. Gonzales exercise good judgment in firing the attorneys? Were they clear as to the reasons for the firings? What about the timing? Were they prepared to give convincing and honest answers to the charges by critics that the firings were done to achieve some sleazy, underhanded political advantage and not to improve the enforcement of the law?

Let me put aside for the moment my own suspicion that the replacement of the eight attorneys was done for some partisan political motive. Even if we assume good faith by the Administration, both the timing and the lame excuses put forth by the Justice Department and the White House indicate to me that neither Mr. Gonzales nor Mr. Bush were paying close attention to what was going on. Neither one of them was able to foresee the chorus of criticism that followed the sudden discharge of eight US Attorneys all at once. Could they not see that firing Carol Lam after she had successfully put one Republican Congressman in prison and was about to go after another Republican Congressman would look like partisan pay-back and not like an attempt to improve the process of enforcing the laws fairly and effectively? Could they not see that firing Mr. Yglesias after he had been pressured by a US Senator and a US Representative to speed up the indictments of some Democratic activists for Republican electoral advantage would smack of political sleaze?

No one denies that the President has the authority under law to fire US Attorneys. My concern is whether the President used good judgment in choosing which attorneys to fire and when to fire them. On the surface, the affair was either something that was justified but carried out very badly or something that was done for a very unfair partisan political advantage. In either case, it looks as though the President and his advisors ignored the obvious criticism that would arise. Perhaps they believed that no one would pay any attention to the firings. I can't make up my mind as to whether the President was stupid or venal. What do you think?

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Thursday, March 29, 2007


Liars and Non-believers

Poor Alberto Gonzales! He's told so many different stories about the firings of the eight US Attorneys that it can not be true that he hasn't lied at least once. The President has ordered him to fix things with the Congress. If he can't, he'll get a commendation or perhaps even a medal along with a pink slip.

The Administration is trying to get the story straight about Carol Lam. She was the US Attorney for San Diego. The Administation is trying desperately to get the public and Congress to believe that she was let go because she wasn't aggressive enough in prosecuting illegal immigrants. The timing of her release was awful. She had just completed a successful prosecution of one crooked Republican Congressman and was starting to go after another. No one except a true believer in the Bush doctrine believes that she was let go just because she wasn't tough enough on illegal immigrants. It is so obvious to the skeptics that she was fired as an act of desperation to protect the other Congressman.

The Administration might have been able to pull off the replacement of the eight attorneys if it hadn't used up its credibility in making up excuses for starting the Iraq War. I am fond of recalling a little German poem I learned once:

Wer einmal lügt, dem glaubt man nicht
Und wenn er auch die Wahrheit spricht.

Rough translation:

Whoever tells a lie, they won't belive him
Not even when he tells the truth.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The Forty Million Uninsured

According to some politicians, the crisis in our health care system due to persons without health insurance flooding hospital emergency rooms for health care is due to all the illegal immigrants we have in the country. These illegal immigrants don't have health insurance. They don't pay taxes that would support the public schools, yet our schools are flooded with their children. And so it goes. Yada, yada, yada.

Today the Los Angeles Times has a story about well-to-do professional workers who are self-employed. Two decades ago these professionals obtained health insurance at group rates through their professional associations. Today most of these group plans have been terminated. You can read the story here.

Insurers have been terminating these group plans in recent years because of several effects, including:

  1. Medical costs have been increasing rapidly.
  2. Young professionals have been buying individual insurance at rates less than the group rates offered by the professional associations.
  3. As a result, the cost of insuring the remaining older professionals has increased rapidly.
In our private enterprise system, insurance companies are forced to operate to maximize their profit. The result is that they look for young, healthy individuals to insure and either cast off the older, more expensive individuals or charge very high premiums to insure them.

Many of you won’t agree with my conclusion, which is that we need a complete change in the way Americans obtain health insurance. Leaving matters to the marketplace, as we are now doing, guarantees that only the very healthiest individuals can obtain health insurance at prices they can afford. To me that’s just not fair and it’s not right. Access to good medical care should be available to all, not just the healthy young and the very rich. We need an insurance system that provides affordable health insurance to everyone and which everyone has. One means of accomplishing this goal is the single-payer plan. Canada uses such a plan. Legislation to establish such a plan for California is in work in the State Legislature, even though a bill to establish single-payer was vetoed last year by Governor Schwarzenegger.

The political problem with single-payer is that it removes private insurers from the lucrative health insurance business. These private insurers have a lot of political influence, spelled M.O.N.E.Y. The single-payer bill was adopted by the Legislature last year. It can be adopted again. We must persuade the Governor to sign the bill. Any suggestions on how to do so will be welcome.

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Monday, March 26, 2007


California, so Beautiful, so Ungovernable

I've just received by e-mail exhibit 37b as to why California is ungovernable. We have problems in this State that our magnificent Governor and our fearless legislators seem unable to solve. Our public schools are suffering from insufficient funding. Teachers have to use money from their own salaries to buy supplies for the children. Hospitals are having to close emergency rooms because of the flood of uninsured residents who must use the ER for any health care they receive. Our prisons are overcrowded. Our highways need repair. There's a shortage of money everywhere - except in the campaign funds of some prominent politicians.

Anyway, here is a copy of the exhibit:

Albert, the package we sent your petition inlooks like this.

Mr. Albert Saur
Property address:
5416 Manton Ave, Woodland Hills, CA 91367
County of:
Los Angeles
Delivery date:
Week of 03/12

This e-mail is to confirm that your Official Petition to the California Legislature was delivered to your verified address on the date indicated above.Please sign and return your petition immediately so that we can forward it to your California State Legislators.Also, please say "yes" to our invitation to join the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Return the membership form along with your petition, or click on the red button to join online. Making your voice heard is important, but the only way to stop higher taxes is to get involved! Please join us today.

If you did not receive your package, or have misplaced it, please click on the red button to access our website for further instructions.

I did in fact receive the petition in the mail a few days ago. This exhibit shows that the anti-tax movement here in California is still strong and resourceful. I don't know yet what the constitutional amendment underconsideration is that has the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association so worried. I know that it is about time that someone tried to do something to restore some degree of equity and fairness to the property tax mess we Californians created when we adopted Proposition 13.

I think I am in position to talk. My wife and I bought our present house in 1968. It is a large tract house. We paid $39,000 for it. When Proposition 13 went into effect, the house was appraised at about $60,000 and was taxed at two percent per year on that amount. Since that time similar houses in the tract have increased in value. Not long ago some houses like ours were selling for $750,000. I am now paying in property taxes $1500 a year for a house that may be worth three-quarters of a million dollars. The people who bought houses in the tract recently may be paying a property tax as high as $15,000 a year, or ten times what I pay.

There is a nice Mexican restaurant near my house that has been in existence for longer than I have been living in my present house. I don't know what property tax the restaurant pays, but I suspect it isn't much more than what I pay. You may argue, even though I don't, that because of my advanced age and because I am retired, I am entitled to a reduced rate of taxation on my house. But, is the restaurant similarly entitled? A restaurant earns a lot of money. I don't earn any money; I live on my savings, my investments, on social security, and on some company pensions.

I think it's high time that California changed the Proposition 13 property tax law. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association is determined that the law will not be changed. In a contest between the reformers and the Howard Jarvis people, I will bet on the latter.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007


Poor George!

Pity George W. Bush. He can’t seem to get away with anything. Lately he tried to replace a few federal district attorneys – attorneys he had appointed at the beginning of his term of office – with others who were more enthusiastic about carrying out the Bush Agenda. The Bush Agenda starts with the need to increase Republican support for Bush in Congress. One of the replaced attorneys had convicted one California Republican Congressman of taking bribes and had sent him to do time in prison. This attorney was about to go after another corrupt California Republican Congressman. Just in time, she was replaced by someone more loyal to Bush and his Agenda. Other federal district attorneys – there were eight in all who were replaced – were let go for similar reasons. One was replaced by a protégé of Karl Rove. Another was replaced for standing up to Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, who wanted to know when indictments against some Democratic political operatives were to be unsealed, and please, could it be before the election last November? As a matter of law, the President has the power to hire and fire federal district attorneys. (The hiring has to be approved by the Senate.)

Also, as a matter of law, the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the United States. He can order them to go anywhere in the world. He can order them to attack a presumed enemy of the United States. The President’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, had sent American forces to attack Iraq to free the Emirate of Kuwait from Iraq occupation. Father Bush had an army of half a million men in his enterprise, including support from many nations. Several Arab nations supported Father Bush’s war to free Kuwait. Father Bush was criticized for stopping at the border between Kuwait and Iraq. The critics said he should have continued the advance, after defeating the Iraq Army, all the way to Baghdad. There he should have removed Saddam Hussein from power and replaced him with a ruler friendly to the United States and its interests.

Son George resolved to complete the unfinished work of the father. He used intelligence of dubious quality to persuade Congress to give him the authority to use force against Iraq. He then assembled an army of about one-third the size of his father’s army and a coalition with fewer members than his father’s and proceeded to invade Iraq. His advisors convinced him that the attack would be over in short order. The coalition forces would occupy Baghdad, depose Saddam Hussein, install a friendly government, and depart. The people of Iraq would greet their American and coalition liberators with flowers. Any damage to Iraq would be paid for out of the oil revenues from that country. After Baghdad was occupied and Saddam Hussein had fled, son George arranged a celebration on an aircraft carrier. The theme of the celebration was “Mission Accomplished.” The war was over, the new government would soon be in place, American oil companies would take control of the oil from Iraq, and the armies would return home.

But, George couldn’t get away with it. When Saddam Hussein fled, the entire government collapsed, including the local police. Thieves looted the Baghdad Museum. Thieves stole the copper wires that supplied electrical power to the city. The Iraqi Army had been disbanded and there was no organization to maintain peace and order in the country. The coalition force was woefully inadequate to the task of occupying and policing Iraq. Worse still, some of George’s excuses for the war were exposed as false. There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction. The UN inspectors had found and disposed of them after the father’s war to save Kuwait. The people of Iraq did not welcome the occupying army with flowers, but with home-made explosive devices. The country fell into a civil war between two factions of Islam, the Sunni and the Shi’a.

Poor George!

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Thursday, March 15, 2007


Firing of Federal Attorneys - a Scandal?

The Bush Administration is doing its best to downplay the importance of the firing of the federal attorneys. Bush's man in the Justice Department, Alberto Gonzales, now says that "mistakes were made." They must have been serious mistakes because even some stalwart conservative Senators, including Mr. Cornyn of Texas and Mr. Sununu of New Hampshire, are disturbed by the firings. I believe that the first story that came out was that the individuals had been terminated for poor performance. That story didn't last long. Some of the fired prosecutors publicly stated that they had recently been given very good performance reviews. Then some nosy reporter dug out some memos and e-mails between the President's lawyer, Harriet Miers, and a functionary in the Justice Department in which they discussed either firing all of the attorneys or some of them. Attorneys would be fired or terminated if they were reluctant or uneasy about vigorously carrying out the President's agenda. An example given was not strongly enforcing the immigration laws; another example was not vigorously prosecuting cases of voter fraud.

Now Mr. Gonzales appears before Congress and admits that mistakes were made. One mistake that got even the conservative supporters of the President irritated was that the first story, that the decisions were strictly Justice Department decisions, wasn't true. Now it is known that the White House had an important hand in deciding whom to fire and whom to keep. For example, the US Attorney for Little Rock was replaced to make room for a protege of Karl Rove. California Senator Feinstein was irritated that the US Attorney for Los Angeles had been fired, shortly after prosecuting and achieving the conviction and sentence to prison of Republican Duke Cunningham for bribery. Another US Attorney, the one for Albuquerque, stated that a Republican Senator and a Republican Representative had questioned him about the status of an investigation into corruption by a Democratic official, especially whether there was a sealed indictment that would become public before the election last November.

The President's apologists point out that US Attorneys are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the President. Newly elected Presidents customarily replace attorneys appointed by a previous President of the other party. No law was broken in firing the US Attorneys, so why the big fuss?

It's legal. It's still a scandal. It shows that our system of justice is subject to manipulation according to the whim of the President. US Attorneys can be pressured, or at least influenced, to conduct investigations and prosecutions that are favored by the President and his party. In a Republican Administration, corruption by Republicans will be hidden and corruption by Democrats will be exposed and publicized. In a Democratic Administration, corruption by Republicans will be exposed, publicized, and prosecuted while Democratic corruption will be hidden.

One rather obvious solution is to change the office of US Attorney from a political appointment to a career civil service position. US Attorneys, just like federal judges, should be insulated from political pressures.

So also should prosecuting attorneys of smaller government units: States, counties, and cities. It's a scandal that we in the United States elect county and city prosecutors. An attorney who has to run for reelection in two or four years is certainly under political pressure in dealing with cases that have acquired public notoriety. The public demands that someone be punished for the heinous act. The pressure is intense for the police to find a suitable scape goat and for the prosecutor to convict. Every now and then we learn of a convict who was wrongfully convicted and was serving time for another's crime. I believe that such mistakes would occur less often if prosecutors were not facing reelection.

What can I do besides complain about the situation? I know of no movement to change the way that city, county, and State prosecutors are chosen. I don't know whether the current scandal in Washington will cause Congress to change the law regarding the selection and terms of office of US Attorneys. All I can do is wait and see. Perhaps one of my friends who read this blog will present some suggestions.

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Monday, March 12, 2007


Fires, Floods, and Property Taxes

Some time ago I had a conversation with a member of the city council of a small city here in California. She said that the city had a problem raising enough revenue to pay for the services provided to the residents. In particular she said that the tax on residential property was not sufficient to pay for the services that residential property requires.

Today, on the front page of the Los Angeles Times I saw an example of what she was talking about. The center story today is about a fire in the Anaheim Hills area of Orange County. The fire has burned about 2000 acres and has damaged some buildings. According to the Times story,

The fire, coming during an especially dry winter, was fanned by Santa Ana winds blowing through the air dangerously heated by record-setting temperatures. Red flag conditions, oppressive heat and single-digit humidity also complicated the efforts by the more than 800 firefighters at the scene.The Anaheim Hills neighborhood features hotel-sized homes, some 7,000 to 10,000 square feet and still under construction.

I don't know what the property tax rates are in the area of the fire. The expensive homes may be new. If so, they would be taxed according to the price the owners paid for them and not according to the assessed value in 1975. Another excerpt from the Times article suggests that most of these homes are fairly new.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Glenn Sekius, from Fire Station 10 in Yorba Linda, fought a blaze in this corridor the last time it burned, about three decades ago."The only difference between now and 30 years ago is that people put houses in the way," he said.

The story of the fire gives me an appreciation of what my friend on the city council meant when she said that the property tax doesn't pay for the services that property requires. A city has to maintain a fire department to fight brush fires that may spread and destroy expensive homes. The city has to maintain a police department that, among other duties, has to help evacuate residents from homes threatened by a spreading wildfire. These services cost money and money must be found to maintain the service departments, even though serious fires may occur only once in thirty years.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007


Universal Health Care and Public Opinion

A few days ago I read several "letters to the editor" of the Los Angeles Times regarding a proposal to establish a "single payer" system to provide health insurance to all residents of California. A proposal to do that was passed last year by the State Legislature, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it. He said he opposed a state-run health care system. The Governor is a Republican.

I have expressed elsewhere my own objections to the "universal" health insurance scheme that the Governor advocates. What interested me in the "letters" that I read was the lack of public agreement on any one plan to solve the health care problem. One writer expressed support to the single-payer plan supported by State Senator Sheila Kuehl. Another writer proposed that private insurers could do a better job than government in providing a fair and adequate system of health care for everyone. Together, the letters (there were four of them, three expressing opposition to Senator Kuehl's proposal) convinced me that those of us, myself included, who believe that the Canadian single-payer plan is superior to the hodge-podge that we have here in the United States, have to conduct an effective campaign to educate and persuade the public that "single payer" is superior to "private insurers." We can not achieve a "single payer" plan by a mere majority in the State Legislature or by a mere majority of voters in a referendum. The support for the plan must be overwhelming. If it is adopted, it will be by consensus, not by a majority.

I think we have to make the following points:
  1. The single-payer system is not a "government run" health care system, like the National Health Service of England and some other European countries. Medical providers, doctors, hospitals, and clinics, would operate as they do now. All single payer does is provide health insurance to the entire population of the State at a uniform premium. Risks are shared among a large group. Physical examinations are not required to obtain health insurance under a single payer plan.
  2. Health insurance companies can not provide insurance to a portion of the State's population at a uniform rate unless the insured are in a pool in which there is a mixture of healthy and unhealthy individuals. That's why a large company can buy insurance for its employees at a cheaper rate than individuals. To stay in business, insurance companies must try to insure the healthiest individuals at attractive premiums and must charge unhealthy or risky individuals at risk for expensive medical problems high premiums.
  3. Developing a plan for funding the single-payer plan will be difficult. The logical and simple way is to let the State appropriate the "premium" money for the State's residents. The actuaries of the single-payer plan will calculate the proper amount for the premium in the same way that insurance company actuaries do now. This plan would entail an increase in taxes, in particular the State Income tax. The increase in taxes would be offset by the premiums that individuals and companies would no longer pay for private insurance. However, the State constitution decrees that any tax increase must be enacted by a 2/3 vote of each house of the State Legislature. Legislators who support the interests of private insurance companies would block the tax increase for the single-payer plan. Another funding plan is to let each individual pay a fee to enroll in the single-payer plan. That fee would be set by the individual's income, not his or her state of health or age. Companies that now provide subsidized health insurance for their employees would continue to do so, but would pay premiums or "fees" to the single-payer plan. The political advantage of using "fees" rather than "taxes" to fund the program is that fees could be enacted by a majority vote in the Legislature.
  4. The Single-payer plan must be a monopoly. If private insurers are allowed to compete, they will simply recruit the young and healthy residents of the State and charge them very low premiums. The Single-payer plan would be left with the task of insuring the old and the less healthy. The high cost of the plan would eventually turn public support away and the plan would be abandoned.
  5. A point that we must make, over and over, is that the present plan in the United States, such as it is, is the most expensive in the entire world. We spend more per person on health care than any other industrial nation in the world. Our life expectancy is shorter than that of many industrial nations that have some form of universal health care.

The public understands that our present health care system doesn't work well. We must take advantage of that understanding to get our message out and win public support. We don't have the luxury of waiting. There are other plans afoot that involve keeping the present system of competing private health insurers. Examples are the plan put into effect in Massachusetts and proposed for California by Governor Schwarzenegger. Let us be up and doing!

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