Friday, April 27, 2007


Guest Workers

There is a proposal in Congress to expand the guest worker program. In the same proposal there is a requirement for stricter enforcement of our immigration laws. Some see this proposal, or bill, as a political solution to the concern and disputacious comment about the six million (or is it twelve?) undocumented immigrants in this country. From what little I know about it, the bill is intended to placate both the right-wing advocates of rounding them up and sending them back and the business people who use these immigrants as a source of low-cost, unskilled, complacent workers.

Under the guest worker program, a person in Mexico, for example, comes to this country to work for a specific employer for a specific time period. The worker can not leave the specified employment to take a job with better pay or better working conditions. The guest worker is not represented by a union. The employer should under our laws provide safe working conditions and should pay the worker the wages due. Not all employers do these things. Our Republican business-friendly administration is not motivated to enforce the law on employers. Of course, if a guest worker does something to break his agreement, such as demonstrating against some employer abuse, he is summarily sent back to his own country.

At present the guest worker program affects only a small fraction of the immigrants. The administration proposes to enlarge it to cover all of the current immigrants that manage to enter the United States without proper visas. If that is to be done, the program must be changed to provide more choices for the guest workers. A guest worker should not be tied to a particular employer. Rather, the Department of Labor should make an estimate of the need for additional workers in the various industries that use immigrant workers and direct the Immigration Service to grant a suitable number of guest worker visas. These workers should then be free to choose among many employers.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Faux Debate about Iraq War

Tonight I listened to Jim Lehrer interview two Congressmen on The News Hour on public television. One Congressman was a Democrat from Pennsylvania; the other, a Republican from Michigan. The topic was the bill that the House passed providing money to fund the war but also specifying or suggesting dates for withdrawal. Naturally, the Democrat supported the Bill and the Republican opposed it. I listened to the usual arguments.

The Democrat argued that we must convince the Iraq government that we will not remain forever and that they have about a year to make the necessary political compromises to achieve peace in the country. The Republican argued that we should never let an enemy know of our plan to leave the field of battle, because that is a sure way to lose the war. There was sense in both positions, but it seemed to me that there was an important problem that neither man, nor Jim Lehrer either, wanted to mention. That problem is the apparent stubbornness of President Bush in sticking to a failing policy of trying to solve the problem with a military victory.

Our political system insulates the President from the Congress. If the President is following a dangerously bad policy there is nothing that the Congress can do to stop him, as long as he has the support of at least one-third of the members of each House. Both Houses of the Congress are trying to persuade the President to adopt a different course. The President continues his determined stand and will not admit that he has made a mistake. Since he won't admit the mistake, he can't be expected to correct it or to change his policy.

I have long admired the parliamentary system of government that many other nations that were formerly colonies of Great Britain have adopted.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007


A Difference of Opinion

The other day my Conservative friend H sent me an e-mail which contained the following:
I have TiVo and I recorded Gonzales's hearing which I watched this morning at breakfast. About the time it was over Jeanne brought me the LA Times. So I had the chance to see it and then read about it. I thought the AG did OK but that was not how the Times article came out.
I wrote H an e-mail in which I commented that he and I saw things very differently. In fact, I wonder whether we saw or heard the same event. I also read the Los Angeles Times. The assessment of Gonzales’s performance in the Times agreed with what I had heard on radio and later seen on TV.

It makes me wonder. Do Conservatives, like my friend H, live in a different universe? Is their mode of thinking so different from mine that we could see the same event and yet have such different conclusions? Am I demented or are they?

I can think of one possible, but extremely unlikely, explanation that preserves sanity for both H and myself: H watched the hearings on Fox News. I’ve rarely watched Fox News. It’s on cable, which I do not have at home. Occasionally at the gym I see a bit of Fox News on the TV sets that are placed in the exercise rooms. I was not in the gym the day Arlen Specter, Pat Leahy, Edward Kennedy, Lindsey Graham, and others skewered Alberto Gonzales and suggested that he would be doing the Department of Justice and the President a big favor if he would simply resign and go away. I don’t know how even Fox News could have slanted the coverage of the hearings in such a way that one could think that “…the AG did OK….”

In my e-mail to H I stated that Gonzales was in an impossible predicament. The question was, why were eight capable US Attorneys sacked and how much did you have to do with firing them? He couldn’t give answers to any part of the question. He couldn’t invoke the Fifth Amendment. All he could do was to insist that he couldn’t remember. The firings were not illegal; the President has the right to fire them at will. The question was why, not was it legal. In press conferences Mr. Gonzales had given several different and conflicting explanations of the firing. Both Democratic and Republican Senators sensed that Mr. Gonzales was hiding something; something so embarrassing to the President that Mr. Gonzales would rather play the fool than tell the truth. As far as I could tell from what I heard of the hearings, Mr. Gonzales’s only friend and defender among the Senators was Orrin Hatch.

I noted that after the hearings the left-leaning blogs were full of comments about Alberto Gonzales and explanations for his behavior in the Senate hearings. The right wing blogs (or at least the one I looked at) were silent about Gonzales. They were full of criticism of NBC television for airing the material that had been mailed to them by the Virginia Tech assassin.

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Monday, April 23, 2007


Do We Need More Guns?

My friend M recently sent me an article in defense of handguns. The writer of the article argued that the recent tragedy at Virginia Technical Institute would have been averted if the shooter had known or believed that there were individuals in the classrooms that were armed with loaded handguns. The killer would have been more cautious in choosing his victims; in addtion, some of the intended victims could have taken him out if they had with them loaded hand guns.

The writer of the article went on to cite some statistics about the rate of homicides due to gun shot in States that allowed residents to carry concealed weapons and the similar rate in States that did not allow concealed weapons. The writer did not mention specific States nor specific homicide rates. It's possible that the statement has little basis in fact.

Even conceding the correctness of the quoted statistic, it is not convincing proof of the writer's assertion, that if most of the public was armed with concealed weapons then a killer would be more careful and less likely to undertake a killing rampage. First, the writer may have the cause and effect relation reversed. Perhaps in a State that for other reasons has a low homicide rate due to gun shot the public does not see the need for strict regulation of guns and residents are allowed to carry concealed weapons. In words of few syllables, low homicide rate causes relaxed gun regulation, not relaxed gun regulation prevents some homicides.

Second, I can imagine that in places were the rate of gun-related murder is high, if public policy were to allow or even encourage more people to carry concealed weapons there would be more, not fewer homicides.

Of course, my friend M and I are simply preaching to our own choirs. His friends and allies favor a wide use of concealable weapons. They really believe that they can defend themselves from some lunatic who uses an automatic assault weapon. They believe that their one bullet can have a more immediate effect on stopping him than his ten bullets have on themselves. To make their case even remotely logical they must postulate that the deragned killer is armed with the same kind of weapon that they carry in their pockets. My friends and allies believe that the ordinary citizen is not going to be as adept at using his or her weapon (i.e., shooting straight and quickly) as a determined assassin. I believe that safety is better served by strictly limiting the kind and number of weapons in the popoulation. Criminals should not be able to get their hands on automatic weapons. Even farmers and hunters, two groups in our population who resist strict controls on the ownership of weapons, do not need automatic weapons to shoot hawks and deer.

What is to be done? Existing laws can be enforced better. Available information can be shared more widely among different law enforcement agencies. Gun manufacturers can be made to provide information about dealers who seem to be the suppliers of guns that find their way into the hands of criminals. More importantly we can have a reasonable discussion about guns and how to keep criminals and homicidal lunatics from getting their hands on the most dangerous kinds of guns. We should also have a reasoned discussion of the Second Amendment. It does not grant an absolute right, just as the First Amendment does not grant a mischief maker the right to cry "fire" in a crowded theater.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


The Late-term Abortion Decision

By now every blogger from here to St. Johns in Newfoundland will be having something to say about the decision yesterday by the Supreme Court which allowed a federal law, enacted four years ago and which prohibits the procedure popularly called "partial birth" abortion from being performed. There is no explicit exception in the law. However, the Supreme Court decided that the procedure could be performed if a physician or a patient proved to a federal judge that the woman's health would be in danger unless the banned procedure could be carried out. That possibility of judicial review of extreme cases allowed some of the justices to approve the law and to decide that it did not impose an "undue burden" on a woman who needed an abortion.

The decision represents the views of a majority of the Court and of the President that the "right to life" of an embryo or a fetus equals the "right to life" and health of a pregnant woman or a patient who might be cured by the results of research on embryonic stem cells. This equality is based on a religious belief or superstition.

We should congratulate ourselves on the circumstance that our President and the majority of the Court do not subscribe to the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses. These people believe that we humans should make do with the organs that God has given us and should not defile the body with organ transplants, including blood transfusions.

The issue of whether abortion is a natural right or a mortal sin is one that has bedeviled politicians for decades. Recall that politics has been defined as the "art of the possible." When dealing with such a contentious issue, politicians try diplomacy. They try to defuse the issue by adopting measures that are grudgingly acceptable to both sides. The law in question is just such an attempt at a compromise. Congress chose a procedure that is used only in certain late-term abortions. Some gynecological experts contend that there are other procedures that can be used and that the particular one forbidden by the law isn't ever really necessary. Others contend that in certain circumstances the procedure poses the least risk to the woman's health and ability to have other children later.

Some of us are outraged that Congress would enact a law banning a particular medical procedure. What moral authority do 535 elected politicians have to dictate to the medical profession on such a matter? Others are overjoyed that at last there is one procedure used to perform abortions that has been outlawed. They see more of the same in the future.

What is a mere politician to do in this situation? Neither side accepts the compromise offered so far. I think we have to go back to the days of prohibition, particularly local option, to find a model. In the 1950's (and perhaps today, also) some States had provisions for local communities or counties to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages. A friend once recounted the experience in one county of Tennessee. At one time the county voters approved the legal sale of beer, wine, and whisky. After a year or two, the ministers started a program to persuade the voters to vote "dry." My friend noticed that the bootleggers gave quiet support to the ministers. Finally, the public was convinced, and the county voted "dry" in the next election. The ministers were happy because they had improved the moral climate of the county. The bootleggers were happy because they were back in business. Then the reformers started their campaign to put the bootleggers out of business by getting the voters to vote "wet." And so it went, election to election.

Another friend told me of making a trip to a city in Oklahoma, probably Tulsa. This friend knew that Oklahoma was a "dry" State, but he wanted to find a speak-easy. He asked a policeman. The policeman obligingly pointed one out for him. My friend asked if the policeman would like to join him in a drink. The policeman politely declined. Another friend told me that in the Christmas shopping season the newspapers ran large ads with the prices of certain favorite wines and whisky and brandy, the purpose being that the public would not be overcharged by their favorite bootleggers.

Perhaps that is the way to solve the abortion conundrum. Make it illegal, but don't enforce the law. The fundies will be happy that abortion is illegal. Fathers with sometimes wayward daughters will know that safe abortions are available. The political controversy will go away.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007


Odd Thoughts for a Saturday Morning

My friend M, whom I consider to be a complete right wingnut, trades insults with me by e-mail at least twice a week. In his latest, he included this comparison between "conservative" and "liberal." I will leave it to you to decide which of us is the nuttier.

First, his definition is not new; I'm sure I've seen it before.

Conservative Beliefs:

Liberal Beliefs:

What's new to me is that the RW nuts have added the line on global warming to make it a political issue. It shouldn't be.

I am not familiar with any "liberal" comparison of "liberal" with "conservative." I won't try to construct such a list myself. Rather, I choose to punch a few holes in my friend M's definition of the two. First, it's big news to me that free enterprise, freedom of speech, self reliance, and freedom of religion are beliefs that only conservatives have. There's a question about the meaning of the second amendment right to bear arms: is that an individual right or is it the right of the States to have their own independent militias? That's still an unsettled question. At any rate, conservatives in cities like Los Angeles are just as appalled as liberals whenever an innocent child is killed by gunfire from a street gang member, and when the police find that gangs have superior weapons to the ones we provide to our policemen.

My point is that, according to M's list, nearly all of us are "conservative." The only persons not included are some criminals and a few hard-core dedicated communists. Even communists believe in self-reliance. A fundamental flaw in M's list is that it isn't useful as a means of classifying opinions.

Now, what does M have to say about liberals? Obviously he regards them with scorn and contempt. Don't worry; that's just one of M's insults. I get even with him in the next round of e-mails. Aside from that, what is wrong about the list for liberals?

Government Regulation: Contrary to what Libertarians and the Cato Institute would have us believe, private enterprise does not remain competitive without some rules. Monopolies are forbidden. Conspiracies to fix prices are forbidden. Companies are required to label their products and provide printed warnings of any hazards regarding a product. These are sensible rules that we all agree with. Someone has to enforce them. An impartial policeman is needed to keep free markets free and competitive. We all pay the policeman to do that; it is one of the functions of government. You may argue that some regulations are unnecessary and burdensome. No one disagrees with that possibility. The necessity of a particular regulation must be settled by the public and not by industry.

The Government takes care of everyone: I certainly hope that government would treat everyone fairly. A great man, our sixteenth President, said that government should do for people what people can't do for themselves. Perhaps M favors a government that takes care of only a select few. We have a tendency toward such a government now. The Bush Administration is concerned about caring for the wealth of the rich, by keeping their taxes low, and caring for the feelings of the christian fundamentalists by forbidding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and by advocating against abortion and gay marriage. It's not greatly concerned about the lives of the volunteers who are fighting Bush's War in Iraq nor about the lives of their families. The care or neglect is shown in the funding priorities of the administration.

Only Government has (controls) guns: People who call themselves liberals have all sorts of attitudes regarding the ownership and use of guns. You attitude depends on where you live. A farmer uses a gun to protect his chickens from the hawk. Men in small towns and on farms in some States like to go deer hunting in the fall. Rural people tend to regard a gun as a useful and necessary tool. City folk don't shoot at hawks and don't spend their vacation time hunting deer. To them, a gun is something a policeman uses to protect them, or something a mugger uses to rob them, or something gang members use to kill each other. City folk would feel more comfortable if guns didn't exist. If they didn't exist, the police wouldn't need them, either. There are certainly some liberals who passionately desire strict regulation of hand guns, dealing with who is allowed to own or use one, how they are marketed and sold, the kind of ammunition available for them, and what type of gun is allowed to be sold to the public. A lot of the controversy has to do with automatic or semi-automatic weapons: weapons that can fire many bullets for one pressing of the trigger. Farmers have no interest in such weapons. Neither do deer hunters. Gangs and other criminals like them. The police generally do not carry such weapons.

Freedom of speech you agree with (witness the treatment of conservative speakers on campus): It's just plain nutty to conflate the behavior of rude, impolite college students with liberalism. I suspect that what the students object to is not the "conservative" content of a particular speech but the obvious lies and half-truths that so many "conservative" speakers utter. If a speaker states that he believes in a society in which everyone has an equal chance for success but must achieve success through his or her own efforts, I don't see why anyone would object. However, if the speaker goes on to say, as Milton Friedman once said before a college audience, that there is no poverty and there are no poor people in the United States, he deserves to be booed.

Blind Belief in the Only True Religion (Global Warming): Now, there is an assertion that is just plain nutty. I won't bother to respond to it.

Recently, M, H, S, R, and other friends have been e-mailing me and each other about global warming and universal health care. Now I admit that universal health care is a rather radical idea. I'm not sure it's a liberal idea. It's probably to the ideological left of many liberals. However, the existence of Global Warming has been condeded by almost everyone except James Inhofe, a Senator from an obscure mid-western State. It is not sure what the consequences will be. One prediction is that the levels of the oceans will rise several feet.

I keep trying to think of a model for a system of universal health care. Some Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney, Arnold Schwarzenegger) think of the model of auto insurance. Everyone is required to carry liability insurance for his car. Why not require everyone to buy health insurance? For those who can't afford the premiums, the State will provide a subsidy. Mr. Bush proposes that the federal tax code be modified to allow health insurance premiums to be counted as deductions. (They were allowed until about 1970).

One model I think of is fire protection. In Los Angeles City and County, everyone is protected by fire departments who try mightily to protect homes threatened by wildfires. We don't buy insurance so that the fire crew will come; we pay taxes that pay for the fire departments. We do have fire insurance on our homes, but that is to pay for repairing the damage done, not to pay the fire crew to come to extinguish the fire. If we followed this model, we would set up numerous free health clinics where people could get treatment for various medical problems. The free clinics would also encourage people to participate in preventive medicine, just as fire departments encourage us to install smoke and fire alarms, give us advice on how to protect out houses from wildfires, how to build houses that resist burning, and the like. Really serious medical problems would be dealt with in hospital emergency rooms. As to health insurance, that would pay for expensive treatment needed to restore good health.

I'm not sure I like this model very much, but it would be an improvement over what we have now. It would be like the health care system in Los Angeles in 1960, when the county had funds to operate free health clinics. My wife and I used to go to such a clinic every year to get our flu shots.

Anyway, that's enough odd thinking for a Saturday morning, especially as it is almost noon.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007


About Don Imus

Earlier this week there were bits of news about a remark Don Imus had made regarding the members of a girls' basketball team at Rutgers University. He referred to the players as "nappy-headed hos." The news snippets included the statement that this phrase was insulting to the girls of the team, as it was both a racial and a sexist insult. I couldn't understand why.

After a day or two I saw a television program in which the basketball girls had a news conference. It turned out that all but two of them are black; that is, Americans of African descent. I decided that perhaps "nappy" refers to the hair that most black people have: thick, black, with tight curls. O.K., I guess that counts as a racial slur, although not particularly insulting, just a bit disrespecting.

Two days later I learned that Mr. Imus had offered the excuse that his term was no different than the term a black male rapper would use to describe a black female. Then I figured out the meaning of "ho" and why it is an insult. Black rappers, at least some of them, use a dialect taken from the deep South that their great-grandparents learned as slaves. In this deep Southern dialect, the sound represented by the letter "R" is omitted unless it begins a syllable. Thus, "ho" is deep Southern pronunciation of "whore."

OK, that cleared up the mystery for me. I still don't understand why Mr. Imus tried to imitate the pronunciation of black rappers, or why he thought that he, a white male, could get away with imitating their speech. It reminds me a little of old-time minstrel shows in which white actors would cover their faces and hands with black coloring and go on stage and use a bogus form of the deep Southern dialect to portray black people as silly and ignorant.

Mr. Imus has managed to insult both women and black people. His act is just as insulting and shameful as the minstrel show skits. He should have his mouth washed out with soap, be given a severe whipping, and be sent to bed without his supper. He should also be kept away from a microphone until he learns better manners and expunges any remaining feeling he may have of white male superiority.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007


A Pessimistic Prediction

Looking at the front-runners in the present Presidential race, I predict the following nominees:

For the Republicans, Mitt Romney

For the Democrats, Hilary Clinton

Although at present Romney seems to be in trouble with the Religious Conservative wing of the Republican Party, he has a year to convince them that, as a Mormon, he follows the teachings of the Church with regard to same-sex marriage and abortion. The Latter Day Saints Church is very conservative with regard to such things. It's also conservative with regard to government programs of assistance to the poor, the aged, and oppressed minorities. These matters should be settled through non-governmental organizations, like the LDS Church. That Church provides generously for Mormons who are out of work by providing jobs and food for them and their families. These teachings are very appealing to other religious conservatives. Romney will have them eating out of his hand by the end of the year.

I predict the Democratic Nomination to go to Clinton. She has the best organization. She is the best known. Her principal opponent, Barack Obama, is a Negro. Many Americans have a secret reluctance to vote for a Negro as our nation's leader. Clinton has a similar problem because she is a woman.

Romney will be our next President.

Why am I pessimistic? If we Americans could elect a Democrat, there would be a chance for a worth-while reform of our broken medical care system. With Romney, or any Republican, the only thing that won't be vetoed is a scheme similar to the one in Massachusetts, in which the insurance companies are still running things and putting profit ahead of high quality health care, as they must, because their stockholders will demand it.

Romney will convince the majority of Americans who oppose our war in Iraq that he will bring it to an end, just as Richard Nixon ended the war in Viet Nam. Romney may even have a "secret plan" for ending the war. The Democrats will have been unable to end or even slow down the war by election day next year. In fact, we may even be at war with Iran by then. Romney will have a secret plan for ending that one, too. The Republicans will be respected again and Romney will have a cooperative Congress.

I hope I'm wrong.

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Friday, April 06, 2007


Counter arguments to Libertarians

In yesterday's post (see below) I commented on a recent Libertarian argument against a proposal to provide universal health insurance to all by means of a single-payer system. Canada has such a system, as do many other industrialized countries. I am not satisfied with my own critique of the Libertarian argument against such an approach. I know that there are others who are much more able than I am to mount a convincing defense of single-payer and a devastating attack of the Libertarian argument. However, I will attempt such an attack anyway.

The writers made the following four arguments against proceding now with setting up a single-payer plan:
  1. A single-payer or universal plan doesn't provide timely access to certain expensive medical procedures, such as joint replacements or organ transplants.
  2. Lack of personal health insurance or personal wealth does not preclude Americans from obtaining health care from hospital emergency rooms.
  3. Statistically, one can not show that having health insurance correlates with having better health.
  4. The additional cost of caring for the uninsured is no more than three percent of the total cost of the American health care system, the writers say.

Rather than proceed with a single-payer or universal plan, the writers recommend that we should try to do something about things that drive up the cost of health care to mericans. We should adopt such remedies as health savings accounts, a standard health insurance deduction in the personal income tax, and deregulating the insurance industry.

  1. Access to such procedures as joint and organ replacements are delayed in some countries by a shortage of facilities to perform the procedures, not by the bureaucratic inefficiency of the government's health care plan. In addition, in our own country, these precedures are not available to persons who lack both insurance and the money to pay for them. We read in the papers of accounts of poor, uninsured persons who do receive such procedures, but they are the exceptional cases in which some generous person or organization pays the cost. Libertarian point #1 is not a valid argument against universal health care.
  2. Emergency room care also does not provide expensive treatments like organ or joint replacements. It provides only the medical services needed to prolong a person's life or to treat an illness. If you have a weak heart and have a heart attack, the emergency room staff will resuscitate you but will not give you expensive treatment for your condition.
  3. There are several possible explanations for the lack of correlation between having good health and having insurance. One is that a majority of Americans do have health insurance. The lack of correlation simply means that insured Americans, on the average, are as healthy as the average uninsured American. A good fraction of uninsured Americans are young people with good health who either can't afford the insurance or don't see any need for it. Another is private insurance is not structured to encourage one to stay healthy by having frequent check-ups. It is structured to enhance profit by discouraging visits to the doctor unless the patient has a case that is convincing to the insurance adjuster.
  4. To argue that the cost of caring for the uninsured amounts to "only" three percent of the cost of the American medical care system and then to argue in favor of such controversial and untested remedies as deregulating the insurance industry, setting up personal health savings accounts, and an insurance deduction in the income tax seems rather hypocritical to me. I have no doubt that providing insurance to the uninsured would reduce that three percent cost to something less.

Anyway, for what it's worth, there is my answer to the Libertarian argument against universal health care or universal health insurance. I welcome your comments.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007


Opposition to Universal Health Care

Writers Michael Tanner and Michael Cannon have an opinion article in the Los Angeles Times for Thursday, April 5 in which they present the Libertarian argument against universal health care or universal health insurance. Mr. Tanner and Mr. Cannon are scholars at the Cato Institute. In their argument they make the following points:
  1. Providing universal insurance does not necessarily provide universal or equal access to medical care. Many countries that provide universal health insurance still require waiting periods for many more expensive procedures, such as joint replacements or organ transplants. The patient may die while waitint.
  2. In our own country, lack of health insurance does not deny medical care. An uninsured person can always obtain medical treatment at a hospital emergency room. Hospitals are legally required to provide such care.
  3. The writers cite studies that show that having health insurance does not correlate with having better health.
  4. The writers cite a report that shows that the cost to society of providing health care to uninsured persons amounts to no more than three percent of the total cost of medical care in the United States.

The writers conclude that, rather than concentrate on providing affordable health insurance to everyone, politicians should work on fixing some of the other problems and applying other solutions,

such as enacting a standard health insurance deduction, expanding health savings accounts and deregulating insurance markets.

I think that these writers are living inside a bubble. Even they concede that it would be good to provide everyone with health insurance. They don't think it would solve anything to do so. They don't recognize that our national health care system is broken and is deteriorating. It may be statistically true (I can't dismiss their statistics out of hand) that a person who must rely on a hospital emergency room for medical care is otherwise just as healthy as a person with health insurance or with enough money to pay for visits to the doctor. I do know that more and more hospitals are closing their emergency rooms. Emergency treatment is still available, but waiting times are longer and longer. I have good health insurance and I have enough money to pay for medical costs out of pocket, but if I have a heart attack I may not be able to reach a hospital with a working emergency room in time to save my life.

It is very wrong to argue that we don't have a pressing need for universal health insurance, at least, simply because emergency rooms are legally required to care for the uninsured and indigent members of our society. We all need access to emergency treatment from time to time. Such treatment should not be delayed because ideologues have objections to society providing afforcable health care to all.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007


A Little More about Presidential Powers

In my previous blog on this subject I argued that there is a weakness in our constitutional system that allows a stubborn and ill-informed President to conduct a war in a way that is harmful to the nation's armed forces as well as to the nation itself. However, the cure for this possibility is not to change the Constitution so as to take away the President's authority as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. What is needed first is a recognition of the difference between tactics and strategy.

Strategy, like other policies of government, should be decided by a representative legislature. Otherwise, we do not have a republican form of government; we do not have democracy. Strategy includes deciding whether to wage war and on what country to wage it. Strategy includes deciding how big a war to wage. Strategy includes deciding whether to go all out to win a war or to pursue the war with limited objectives. These are all strategic decisions and should be made by the people's representatives.

Tactics include the means and techniques of waging war. Shall one of our armies attack on the right or on the left or in the center? How many troops and what kind shall we use for laying siege to or occupying one of the enemy's cities? Shall we attack a seaport from the sea with our navy, from the air with our air force, of from land with our army? These are decisions that I believe are tactical, not strategic. The President and his generals and admirals should have a free hand regarding the choice and application of tactics.

A serious problem with the current war in Iraq is that there is no consensus regarding strategy. We started the war with the presumption that all would be over in six weeks. Iraq's army could be defeated easily, Baghdad occupied, and Saddam Hussein replaced by a new President of our choosing. We had one lined for the job: Ahmad Chalabi. Things didn't work out as expected. At that point, there should have been a debate and a new decision regarding our strategy, our goal in Iraq. There was no such debate. Both houses of Congress were controlled by members of the President's party. Rather than debate our changed goals in Iraq, these party leaders were motivated to protect the President from the embarrassment of having to agree to a new and much less ambitious set of goals for what we could reasonably accomplish. There was no debate. In fact, even with the change of party control in both houses, there is no substantive debate today about a new strategy, a new set of goals for Iraq.

Instead of debating and coming to a consensus about what we wish as a nation to accomplish in Iraq we are now in a pissing contest about whether the President has absolute power. We are arguing about whether "Commander in Chief" confers upon George Bush the power of an absolute monarch. We should be debating and coming to an agreement about what we can still accomplish in Iraq, given the armed forces we have and our ability to engage such countries as Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia in a diplomatic effort to limit the civil war in Iraq and eventually to create an effective government for that country that does not involve putting another strong man, like Saddam, in power.

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Monday, April 02, 2007


Limits on Presidential Powers

There’s a debate going on these days about the power of the President. One side argues that the President and the administration constitute one of three co-equal branches of government. Each of the three branches, the Congress, the courts, and the President, are independent. The other side argues that, although the three branches are independent, they depend on each other and each branch acts as a restraint on the others. It’s all about separation of powers and competition among the three branches to limit what government can do.

A specific target of the debate is the power of the President to wage war. The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. Congress has the power to raise an army, a navy, and other military organs as needed for the defense of the country and to achieve the national goals. The President is designated as the Commander in Chief. A specific question is whether Congress can place limits on what the President can command the armed forces to do after war has begun. One side of the argument asserts that the President has a free hand to conduct the war in any manner that he believes will best achieve the nation’s objectives in the war. The other side asserts that Congress has not only the power to raise taxes and provide money to conduct the war but also the power to place limits on what the President can do in his conduct of the war.

Scholars on both sides of this argument cite specific parts of the Constitution and precedents from court cases to defend their assertions on the power of the President. No one that I’ve noticed seems to be arguing whether the President should have unlimited power to conduct a war. I mean, not whether the Constitution gives or does not give unlimited power but whether unlimited power is a wise thing.

If a President does indeed have unlimited power to conduct a war, then he (or she) is a despot with respect to war powers. There is no limit on what he or the armed forces can do. The armed forces can capture and torture enemy prisoners in defiance of treaties that the nation has agreed to. The President can continue a losing war long after it is obvious to any intelligent, impartial observer that the war can not be won. The President can send American troops back into battle after a very short time for rest and refreshment. He can wear down and wear out our army by overusing the troops. If the theory of the independent and unlimited President is correct, we, the American people, have no legal recourse under the Constitution to change things. The only legal recourse is the power of Congress to impeach and convict the President and remove him from office. If the President has the support of more than one-third of the Senators, he will not be convicted.

In such a situation the people may rise in revolt against the federal government. We Americans have never taken that course. Our neighbors south of us who have adopted constitutions similar to ours do quite often rebel and force an unpopular or tyrannical or incompetent President to leave office. Our own traditions do not give us that option. All we can do is to wait for our President’s term of office to end. He can not amend the Constitution to give him an extension or to allow him to run a third time for election. In the meantime, dozens of American soldiers and marines will die in his war that he refuses to end.

This is the sad consequence of the application of the theory of the independent presidency. I think that, regardless of what the Constitution and judicial precedents tell us, it is a bad thing for a President to have such unlimited power. The fact that the current President is able to claim such power and get away with it shows that we have a serious defect in our Constitution. I’ll leave it to constitutional scholars to suggest what changes we should make in that document.

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