Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The inaccuracy of the article bothered me at the time, but I didn't bother to write to the newspaper to correct the error. First, the present Roman ban on married priests started some time in the Middle Ages and it was caused by concern about, of all things, property. If a married priest dies, his children will claim his estate. If he dies celibate with no children, or at least no legitimate children, the Church claims his estate. The concern was the need or desire of the Church to keep the property that had been under the control of the priest during his lifetime. The Church now claims that celibacy is good because it frees the priest from any concerns about his own family and allows him to give complete attention to the needs of his parishioners.
Many years ago I met the brother of a girl I knew in graduate school. He was a pleasant fellow and I thought he was a religious nut. He had joined a branch of the Roman Catholic Church known as "Uniat." This branch operates mainly in Ukrania and copies the customs and the ritual and the language of the Ukranian Orthodox Church. In the Orthodox Christian Church (Ukranian, Russian, Serbian, Armenian, Greek, etc.) the priests are married. If a priest is elevated to a bishop, he is separated from his wife and the church gives her a pension. The Uniat priests have wives and they swear allegiance to the Pope of Rome.
My mind wanders. I was once told that my body does not metabolize uric acid properly and that I have a rather high concentration of the stuff. What uric acid does is to stimulate the brain. Dalmatian dogs have high uric acid concentrations and are, as a consequence, restless. My restless brain then wandered to the subject of writing a novel. I would like to be able to write a novel. I have great admiration for novelists. It seems to me to be very difficult to write a long novel. One can easily conceive the bare plot of a story. In fact, the news provides examples of events that make excellent plots. A man kills and drowns his pregnant wife to be free to marry his mistress. A girl seduces a wealthy and respectable man, then leaves him miserable and destitute while she goes on to other lovers. A famous musician is threatened with exposure for having had a homosexual affair and manages to commit suicide in a way that isn't apparent so that his body can be buried in the family cemetery plot. A good writer can take any one of these basic plots and add detailes and expand the plot into a good novel. It's obvious to me that I don't have the patience to do the hard work of adding detail and meat to the bare bones of a plot.
Shakespeare was a great writer, but he didn't write novels. He wrote plays. He didn't make up the plots; he used actual historical events or historical persons. He didn't have to write a lot of stuff about background, descriptions of environment, comments on the state of mind of the protagonists, and the like. He let the characters in his plays do all of that. In his day they didn't use scenery on stage. A character would simply remark that they were now in a field, or in a castle, or whatever. The audience had the privilege of imagining all the stuff that Shakespeare would have had to write down if he had written novels instead of plays.
Could I be a playwright? Hardly. I've already declared that I don't belong in the company of Mark Twain or Leo Tolstoy or Agatha Christie or Edgar Allan Poe or Victor Hugo. I certainly can't claim to be anywhere near the equal of Shakespeare or Moliere of Goethe or Schiller or Euripides. All I can do is sit at this keyboard and write some of the thoughts that pass through my mind.
Friday, July 27, 2007
More about Universal Health Care 2
I agree with you that both Parties are obsessed with policies affecting
small numbers of people, and they do so without much concern for
principle. I think this is a result of the era of scientific polling, which allows small groups of one-issue voters to be identified and subsequently catered to as a means of winning a narrow election. The nonsense of pushing up corn prices by mandating ethanol is a prime example. Politicians are tripping over themselves trying to buy votes in Iowa, even though ethanol makes no sense in terms of energy independence or reducing pollution, and it raises overall food costs significantly for everyone. Immigration policy is another example.
Both parties are trying to get a marginal number of Latino votes by totally ignoring border security.Insofar as the Democratic Party is dominated by Liberals, they do favor imposing national solutions as the preferred mechanism for solving problems. Perhaps 10% of the population has a problem paying for health care, so the solution proposed is to put 100% of the population under the control of the government. When the solution is universal, it will tend to benefit by lack of comparison to better alternatives.The current lot of
politicians are so bad, it seems to me that a third party would have a better chance than any time in the past century.
My response was that I don't believe the ten percent figure R cited. I haven't seen any data on the fraction of Americans that have problems paying for health care; if such data exist, I suspect the number is greater than ten percent. The data I have seen is that public opinion polls show that more than half of the population favors some form of Universal Health Care, whether it's a Canadian-style single-payer, a subsidy to enable everyone to buy a good health insurance plan, or a National Health Service, such as what Britain adopted after WW-2. Because UHC is so popular with the public, I have to believe that a lot more than ten percent of the public is worried about whether medical expenses can be paid. In our system, in spite of what R and other conservatives assert, if medical expenses can't be paid, they won't be delivered. Getting emergency medical treatment at hospital emergency rooms is not a substitute for good medical care, a fact that the public recognizes even if R doesn't.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Misunderestimating the President
Well, of course George Bush knows that the insurgents have maps. If he doesn't, someone in the White House will tell him. Ascribing his absurd argument in favor of continuing the adventure in Iraq to stupidity is just an example of how badly some of us opponents of his policies misunderstand him.
When the President says - as he often does - that we must
stop the insurgents in Iraq or they will follow us home, does he really believe these people don't have maps? Does he think they couldn't find the U.S. without being led here by following our troop ships or cargo planes?
We know that Mr. Bush has approval ratings in the mid twenties. That is, only one American in four approves of his policies, particularly the war in Iraq. Mr. Bush knows that also. Even if he doesn't read the newspapers, he is surrounded by people who do. His absurd, to me, argument about "fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here" is intended for his hard-core supporters, the twenty-five percent of the public that still believes in him.
I have read that at one time George W. Bush undertook to run for Congress in the district in which his ranch is located. He didn't succeed. He was advised that he should learn to talk like the people of the district; that is, drop his New England accent and speak like a West Texan. He has taken this advice to heart. He not only speaks with a West Texan accent, he frames his ideas in the way an unsophisticated and poorly educated West Texan would. The argument about keeping the insurgents so busy in Iraq that they won't try to come to the United States makes some sense to such people. Mr. Bush is a living example of the proverb that "no politician ever lost any votes by underestimating the intelligence of the American public."
On another lever, he is an example of the corollary to Abraham Lincoln's theorem about fooling the public. The corollary is that you can not only fool some of the people all the time but you can fool enough of the people enough of the time. Even though he has lost his majorities in Congress, Mr. Bush is still able to fool enough of the Representatives and Senators enough of the time to keep his ruinous adventure in Iraq going.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
How Much Longer for Gonzales?
In case anyone is still wondering how or why Mr. Gonzales clings to his job, a reporter answered that question. Mr. Gonzales has only one constituent - the President. The President has indicated his confidence in Mr. Gonzales. Clearly, Mr. Gonzales is running the Justice Department the way the President wants him to. What's more important, Mr. Gonzales isn't talking. The day he talks is the day he leaves.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
The Impeachment Debate Heats Up
Speaker Pelosi is opposed to impeachment. She has two good reasons:
- If Bush were impeached and convicted and removed from office, along with Vice President Cheney, she would become President. She doesn't want impeachment to look like a power grab.
- The push to impeach President Clinton was led by the odious Tom DeLay. He wanted Clinton removed simply because he hated him and because Clinton was a member of the other Party. Ms Pelosi does not want to be remembered as the Democratic equivalent of Tom DeLay.
Perhaps the constitutional amendment that makes the Speaker of the House third in line to succeed the President has had the unintended consequence of protecting the President from impeachment. At the time that President Nixon was impeached, the Democratic Speaker insisted that Nixon's choice for Vice President, Gerald Ford, should become the new President even though Ford had not been elected to the office of Vice President.
Because of Pelosi's reluctance to have the House hold hearings on impeachment and because there aren't 67 votes in the Senate to convict, some Democrats and Republicans are discouraging talk of impeachment. At best it would be an empty gesture if the House voted to impeach and the Senate voted to acquit, just as in the case of President Clinton. As a substitute, Senator Feingold urges a vote of censure against the President. Again, this would be an empty gesture. Mr. Bush wouldn't resign or even change his behavior. However, Congress would be on record as expressing disapproval of his unconstitutional acts and threats of unconstitutional acts, such as warrantless wire taps on American citizens and threatening not to prosecute witnesses cited for contempt of Congress - and to pardon any who are prosecuted and convicted and sentenced.
Actually, Mr. Bush has taught us some useful things about our constitution. He has ignored precedents he doesn't like, followed precedents he does like, and has stretched the meaning of the words of the document to justify his high-handed ignoration of Congress. He has shown how weak the "Power of the Purse" is in trying to correct a wrong-headed policy. He has shown us that our elected Representatives and Senators are much more interested in getting themselves reelected than in acting on behalf of the best interests of the nation. We should not revile him, but celebrate him as a great teacher.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Overturning bad Precedents by Impeachment
Bruce Fein, who was an assistant Attorney General in the Reagan administration and who drew up some of the articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton, has stated his reasons for having impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives against George Bush. Mr. Fein clearly loves the constitution and his reason for impeaching George Bush is that Mr. Bush has established several dangerous precedents. These precedents must be destroyed lest future Presidents use them. The way to destroy the precedents is to hold impeachment hearings based on these precedents. It must be made clear to all future Presidents that these acts were and are illegal under the constitution and that the current President must be impeached for committing them.
Our constitution is more than the mere 25,000 or so words in the document. It is also a long series of court cases which establish precedents in law, and a long series of Presidential acts that have not been challenged by either Congress or the courts. I can think of two or three important precedents:
Marbury vs. Madison: This case established the power of the federal courts to void acts of Congress and the President as being unconstitutional.
Tyler's Ascendance to the Presidency: The constitution did not stipulate that when a President left office in mid-term (e.g., through death or impeachment) that the Vice President then became President. It stipulated only that the duties of the President would be carried out by the Vice President. The unstated implication was that Congress would by law establish a means of choosing a new President, such as by special election. After the death of President Harrison in 1841, Vice President John Tyler insisted on being sworn in as President, thus establishing the precedent that the Vice President actually becomes President when the President dies, is disabled, or otherwise can not act as President.
Roosevelt and the Navy’s Tour: President Theodore Roosevelt decided to show the world that the United States wielded a big stick by sending the Navy on a tour around the world. At the time there was money appropriated by Congress sufficient only to allow the Navy to steam half way around. Roosevelt sent the Navy off anyway, arguing that if Congress wanted to leave the Navy on the other side of the world it could do so. Of course, Congress had to appropriate the additional money to enable the Navy to complete the tour. The President established the precedent that even the Congressional power of the purse does not prevent the Commander in Chief from doing what he pleases with the armed forces.
President Bush has established, or has tried to establish these and other precedents:
- The power to prevent members of executive departments from testifying before Congress;
- The power to listen to telephone conversations between Americans without warrants;
- The power to designate persons, even American citizens, as enemy combatants and to hold them in prison indefinitely without habeas corpus or a fair trial;
- The power to weaken or change the intent of a law by issuing a signing statement at the time he signs the bill into law in which he expresses his understanding of the law and his intent about enforcing it.
Mr. Fein argues that Congress must act now, during Mr. Bush’s term of office, to void these precedents. A way to void them is to impeach the President and the Vice President for doing these things. If nothing is done during Bush’s remaining term, the next President, whoever he or she may be, will be able to exercise these powers and will claim that the President has the implicit authority as Commander in Chief to do so, following the custom of his or her predecessors. Mr. Fein wonders whether Republicans want a future president Hillary Clinton to have the powers that Mr. Bush has illegally claimed for himself. If not, they should urge the impeachment of the President now.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Term Limits - correction to the previous blog
Term limits were adopted in California about 1992 (readers, please correct me if I am wrong). At the time, the Speaker of the California Assembly was Willie Brown, who subsequently became mayor of San Francisco. Willie Brown is a man of African descent. He is a skillful orator. He wears expensive clothes. He deliberately attracts attention to himself. In 1992 the public in California had not completely abandoned the idea of the African as a person who should stay in the shadows. He should be quiet and modest. He should not try to be the center of attention. It bothered many Californians that the Speaker of the Assembly, one of the most powerful politicians in the State, was African.
Lo and behold, along came Term Limits. Many Californians voted for term limits as a means of getting rid of this embarassing African. It seemed to be the only way. Certainly the residents of the district he represented were going to reelect him to the Assembly for as long as he wanted to be a member of it. As long as he was a member and his party, the Democratic, was in the majority there was no other way to get rid of him.
Term limits is a way of getting rid of someone else's favorite representative whom you detest. You are willing to get rid of your own favorite representative in the process. There's no other justification for term limits that makes any sense to me. I think that wanting so eagerly to get rid of another legislator that you're willing to get rid of your own is a damned poor way to make public policy.
Nonpartisan Expectations and Disappointments
Unfortunately, I don't have a group of eager young graduate students working for me. I don't have a position at a university where these graduate students live and thrive. I'm just an opinionated old man with some ideas. I think they are good ideas. I think all of my ideas are good ones, or at least most of them are. Unfortunately, I don't have the inclination or the time to do the necessary research to make an idea grow into a good article. Also, I fear that someone else my already have written an article about my idea. You see, ideas are not unique. Many others may share the same good ideas with me.
That being said, I'm going to try to compose an essay about the behavior of legislatures and the way in which the legislative process disappoints or even disgusts some observers, particularly non-partisan observers who can't understand why legislators can't simply get along with each other and make the compromises that are needed to get good legislation enacted.
Non-partisan observers believe that the public tends to elect capable men and women to serve in legislatures. They believe that these legislators should think first of the interests of their constituents and then of the interests of the State or nation. They should not think of their own personal interests. Legislatures ought to behave somewhat like conventions, in which people of good will and intellgence assemble to tackle some weighty problems in a thoughtful way.
Well, anyone who's spent any time at all observing the way a legislature operates knows that legislators do not behave at all like a group of capable and interested citizens participating in a convention. For one thing, legislators like their job. I've known a few legislators - Congressmen, members of the California Assembly, members of the California Senate, members of the Los Angeles City Council and others - and one of their primary goals is to be reelected. Most of them also want to sponsor and shepherd good legislation through the body of which they are members. They believe that enacting good legislation will please their constituents and enable them to be reelected in the next election.
Another feature of any legislative body that I've ever observed is that the members are divided into two opposing groups, or parties. Each party has some basic ideas that all its members must subscribe to. Each party has its own constituents or supporters among the public. These supporters also cherish the basic ideas of their respective parties. To be sure of reelection, a legislator must give convincing lip service, at least, to these basic ideas or core principles. Members of the public who share these basic ideas like to hear them spoken of and defended in public speeches.
The non-partisan citizen doesn't understand or appreciate the importance of the party. Belonging to the party is like belonging to a church. If you are an active party member, you socialize with other members of the same party. You may belong, as I do, to a political club. You tend to demonize the "other" party. In my case, I believe that many Republicans are so obsessed about taxes that they would rather see important and necessary government services go away rather than vote for additional taxes needed to support them. At least, they cling to the illusion that government wastes a great amount of money and that if only the money were more carefully allocated and managed there would be plenty to go around and pay for every necessary service. (If any Republicans read this blog, they are welcome to add their comments and tell the world what they think of Democrats. I won't presume to speak or write for them.)
Non-partisan voters support such "reforms" as "non-partisan city councils," and "term limits." They hope that such reforms will decrease or eliminate the partisan "bickering" that occurs in legislatures and encourage the election of "citizen lawmakers" who are not "career politicians" but will instead behave in the way the non-partisan voter wants them to behave. They value consensus and compromise and hate expressions of strong differences of opinion.
The non-partisan element is important in our elections. It may not be important in the complex process of enacting legislation. As one career politician once noted, enacting legislation is like making sausage. It is not appetizing to watch either process too closely.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Last night I watched the PBS program "Bill Moyers' Journal." Bill had Bruce Fein and John Nichols discussing the proposition that President Bush and Vice President Cheney should be impeached. I had previously thought that impeachment of those two now would be like locking the barn door after the horse was stolen. Mr. Fein, in particular, presented a compelling case in favor of impeachment.
His argument is that the Bush administration has committed several offenses against the federal constitution: warrantless wire taps, denial of habeas corpus for the prisoners at Guantanamo, lying to Congress, refusal to allow administration members to testify to Congress, and so on. It is very important to Mr. Fein that these unconstitutional and illegal practices should not become precedents for future presidents to use. He asked, do we want a President Hillary Clinton, a President Rudy Giuliani, a President McCain, a President Edwards, or any other ambitious politician from having these powers? If not, we should now take action to censure the current President for doing these things. We must have the House draw up and pass a bill of impeachment in which these crimes are itemized. We will thus make it clear that future Presidents are forbidden to act as unaccountable monarchs rather than elected and accountable presidents.
I must say that his argument convinced me. Although the horse is gone, we can recover the saddle, the reins, and the buggy. Future Presidents must be made to understand that the Presidency is not unaccountable and must respect and cooperate with the Congress.
Now, where do I go to sign a petition for impeachment?
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Articles of Faith
It bothers my conservative friend H that he is unable to convince me of his side or position on an argument. He was unable to persuade me that I should enthusiastically support the exploration and drilling for oil in ANWR. He couldn't understand why I would accept the proposition that we import a lot more petroleum than we should and pay a lot more for it than we should and yet would not support the proposition that we need to drill and extract petroleum from ANWR. He dismissed my argument that we should instead devote money and effort to developing and building new facilities for generating power that don't rely on fossil fuel and don't exhaust megatons of CO-2 into the atmosphere each year.
R was also bothered by my refusal to accept the argument for drilling in ANWR. Of course, to him, I am just another liberal that he sometimes converses with in internet chat rooms. He finds liberals to be persons who ignore facts and statistics. His positions on drilling in ANWR, on opposing universal (free) health care, etc., are, in his words, based on facts and statistics.
I don't know anything about R's chat room liberals. I know about three conservatives: R, H, and M. My opinion is that they tend to be short-sighted, looking to the immediate future (present shortage of petroleum, etc.) and not the more distant future (need for alternate energy sources because the world is running out of oil). On some issues I think they are completely unrealistic. They say the same thing about me on some of the same issues.
H tried to irritate me by quoting from the odious Ann Coulter who pronounced that liberalism was like a religion. Being a professional conservative, Ms Coulter has to bash and insult liberals and do it in a way that generates a wide audience for her work. Rather than express indignation at the presumed insult, I wrote H that I agreed that many of my liberal ideas are matters of faith. I believe that all members of a society, or of our society at least, are entitled to good medical care. There should not be a price on someone's life. I think that entitlement is just as solid as the right to police protection, fire protection, property title protection, a stable monetary supply, and protection against foreign terrorists. I can not justify any of these rights or entitlements on the basis of statistics. I believe that there are more important things than profit. A business is not only tolerated but supported by society because it provides a useful or necessary service, not because it makes a profit for some investors. I believe that the primary responsibility of a manager of a corporation or other business is to the public, including the employees and customers of the business. Responsibility to the investors is secondary. These are things that I believe. Some of them are heresy to conservatives. In that sense, I accept the verdict that liberalism is like a religion. So also is conservatism.
Bush the Decider
This article about Mr. Bush and his kitchen cabinet advisors reminds me of a story I once heard about the construction of the first railroad in Russia. The engineers laid out two routes for the line to connect Moscow and St. Petersburg. Each route went through a number of cities that lay between the two ends of the line. They decided to let the Tsar have the honor of choosing the route.
Rather than welcome the chance to make a decision on his own, the Tsar was incensed at having to make a decision rather than ratify one made by his advisors. In his anger, he took a pencil and laid out another route, between the two that the engineers had chosen and which missed all the cities. Well, he was the Tsar and he had decided, and that was the route of the rail line.
My take is that Mr. Bush is incapable of making a real decision. He’s not sure of himself. He can’t handle a situation in which two well-informed and intelligent cabinet secretaries present alternative policies, one of which he has to choose. He needs to know that his choice is the correct one, whether given by God or by Dick Cheney. His insistence that he is the “decider” is a transparent effort to hide his own inability to make independent decisions.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Why I don't like the Republican UHC Plan
Of course, not all Republicans think like the late Milton Friedman, who once famously declared to his class of graduate students that there are no poor people in America. Governor Schwarzenegger (California) and former Governor Romney (Massachusetts) have both put forward health care plans in which the central ingredient is to require everyone to buy insurance. They recognize that some people are so poor that they can't afford the premiums. In their plans there are provisions to subsidize insurance for low-income people.
Governor Schwarzenegger also recognizes that insurance companies tend to charge high premiums or even refuse to provide insurance to individuals with expensive medical problems. He proposes to get around that plan by requiring that insurance companies insure everyone, or anyone who applies, regardless of any existing medical condition. I have not read his plan, so I do not know if insurance companies are required to charge the same premium to everyone, or whether, as they have from olden days, they first give you a physical examination and then determine the premium from the result of the exam.
If I were an insurance company and were required to sell health insurance to everyone, I would want to be able to charge a very high premium to a client who seems to be close to death. I would insist that it is my constitutional right to do so. No State, no Governor can require me to operate my business in a way to lose money. I'm sure the present Supreme Court would sympathize with me and decide the case in my favor.
So much for any legal requirement that insurance companies insure anyone who applies, regardless of his or her medical condition. More especially, so much for requiring that insurance companies apply the same premium to everyone. Insurance companies are going to tend to select the healthiest patients. Sick patients are going to tend to select insurance companies that charge the lowest premiums. The Supreme Court isn't going to allow States to mandate premiums or choice of patients that require insurance companies to operate at a loss.
The Republican plan for universal health insurance is an example of a solution to a very complex problem that is simple, inexpensive, and wrong.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Even though we Americans live in housing units that emphasize the isolated nuclear family as the organizational unit of society, we have a hankering for belonging to larger groups. Many of us participate in annual family reunions where we organize ourselves for the day in the age-old manner of the great apes: the dean or grandparent, surrounded by immediate relatives and descendants, with less close relatives enjoying theselves at a small distance from the family leader. Many of us belong to organizations, such as churches, political clubs, sports clubs, the Sierra Club, the Masons, the Elks, the Oddfellows, and the like.
I'm trying to find a point in all of this musing. I think one point is that we secretly rebel against the isolated nuclear family model that our housing patterns tend to impose on us. We have not always lived in this way. When I was much younger, most of my relatives lived on farms. A man and his wife would live on and work a farm that had belonged to his or her parents. Perhaps a surviving parent would live with them. Brothers and sisters would live on other farms in the neighborhood. As time went on and I grew older, farmers acquired machinery that made their work more efficient. Large families were no longer needed to do the work. Children who weren't able to inherit or buy a farm went to work in a city, perhaps in a furniture factory in Grand Rapids, perhaps in a foundery, perhaps in an automobile plant in Lansing, Flint, or Detroit. These individuals were used to living in houses (farm houses) and tended to live in houses in the city. Cities became clusters of houses surrounding areas where people worked. Although jobs were plentiful they weren't necessarily permanent. A worker had to be ready to change jobs and move to a new location. Family ties became weak.
And so on, and on. I'm not going to try to emulate the work of the famous anthropologists. You can go to their books and read all about it. Instead, I'll make a few comments about my own situation.
My father was a child who did not inherit or buy a farm. His father had been a farmer, but had sold his farm and bought a small area, five acres, just within the village limits of Kent City in Michigan. Grandfather used some of his money to buy a franchise to sell International Harvester farm machinery to farmers in the area. When Grandfather died, my father's sister inherited some money. She and her husband bought a farm near Mesick. My father's older brother inherited the five acre spread, including a house and barn, where my grandparents had lived. My father inherited the International Harvester franchise. Grandfather died in 1925.
My father lost the franchise in the great depression of 1929-1930. He was able to keep the building. The franchisor, International Harvester, forced all its dealers to buy farm equipment at the same rate as before the depression. They couldn't sell the stuff. As a result, they enjoyed the blessings of bankruptcy while International Harvester stayed in business.
My father found work in the local farm bureau cooperative in Kent City. The cooperative provided services to farmers who grew various grain crops: oats, wheat, rye, and corn. They could have some of their grain ground to form cattle feed, chicken feed, etc. They could have some of their grain stored and later shipped. The Pere Marquette Railroad provided a siding for cars to contain the grain and for cars that contained coal. The co-op sold coal to villagers for use in their furnaces and stoves.
Finally, in 1933 my father received an appointment as Postmaster of the village.
I won't bore you with more details of my early life. I grew up having only a vague memory of what life is like on a farm. Occasionally I would spend some time on a farm, particularly my Aunt Ruth's farm near Mesick. I got a little taste of farm life, more of the pleasant part than of the hard part. Except for living in a dormitory during my stay at Michigan State College (now University) and for living in an apartment for four years in New York City, I have spent my life in a single-family house. Correction: while working in Washington, DC and while studying in graduate school, I lived in rented rooms. I have lived far from close relatives and have not attended very many family reunions. My own socializing involves people with similar political or recreational ideas: Democratic clubs, bridge clubs, etc.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Who Enforces the Constitution?
For starters, the enforcement mechanism is weak. "Congress shall make no law ..." etc., regarding freedom of speech, establishment of a religion, etc. Well, suppose Congress does make such a law? What then?
The framers supposed that the President would use the power of the veto to prevent any such unconstitutional law from taking effect. We've seen how well that idea works in practice.
Chief Justice John Marshall discovered (or invented?) another way of stopping unconstitutional laws from taking effect. He asserted the principle of judicial review of laws and other acts of the legislative and executive branches of government. That has worked a little better, but it's not perfect.
Thomas Jefferson (a dangerous radical if there ever was one) had the idea that the people would demonstrate and rise in revolt against an unconstitutional or otherwise unjust law. He argued that there should be such a revolution every generation or so and that the new constitution would have a rather short life span. That idea went nowhere, also.
Unlike the constitutional courts in some countries, our own Supreme Court does not review legislation until someone has brought a lawsuit against it. An obviously unconstitutionl law or act of a President can stand until someone brings a suit to the Court and the Court decides to strike down the act or law. This method of enforcing the constitution is limited by the requirement that the person bringing the suit to the Court has "standing," or can show that he or she has been harmed because of the law.
In recent times the Court has made it very difficult to bring such suits forward because of the "standing" requirement. Recently an action by the President that involves awarding federal money to certain religious groups was challenged in court by a group supported by the ACLU. A federal court ordered the suit dismissed because the plaintiffs lacked "standing." The plaintiffs were arguing that some of their tax money was going to support religious organizations and that such support violates the First Amendment proscription on the establishment of a religion. I suppose that the court reasoned that simply having one's tax money spent on supporting a religion that one doesn't believe in does not constitute harm. It's like arguing that my tax money shouldn't be spent on a wrong war in Iraq. Once you've paid your taxes, the money isn't yours any more and what the government does with it is not subject to your beliefs.
I also disagree with the decision of the President to spend federal money in supporting his favorite faith-based groups. Even though Congress hasn't established a religion, this spending clearly favors certain religious groups over others. Perhaps the suit should have been initiated by a religious group that does not share in the President's largesse.
The conclusion is that the existing mechanisms of enforcing the constitution do not always work. Is it time for one of Thomas Jefferson's revolutions?
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Continuation - Conservative vs. Liberal on UHC
I wrote to H as follows, with copy to R:
Dear H, R does indeed make some good points. He cites statistics. I don't have access to detailed statistics on the effects he writes about. However, I think that he chooses statistics to bolster his arguments. I can't challenge his claim that the reduced life expectancy in the United States is a result of more violent crimes being committed here than in England or Japan or Canada. I have the feeling, but can't prove it, that people who do have access to the statistics took that effect into account when comparing life expectancies in the various countries with UHC and without. Since I can't prove it, I will have to abandon, for the time being, any argument in favor of UHC that relies on increased life expectancy.
You like to repeat the claim or "sound bite" of the odious Ann Coulter that "liberalism is a religion without God." I will start from that point and assert that my first reason for supporting and advocating UHC is a moral one. It is moral and just that everyone in our society should enjoy access to the best health care, just as we all enjoy access to the best police system, the best fire protection system, a uniforn system of money, and so on. We have, or should have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Implicit in that is the right to good health and the right to good medical care.
I believe this. I will continue to believe this in the face of any statistics you or Roy can throw at me. I have values - liberal values.
My second reason for supporting UHC is that I believe that it works, and works well. I discount the anecdotes you Cons like to bring up about long waits for this and that. What I believe is that waiting times in hospital emergency rooms are shorter than in American hospitals because there is no problem of determining who is going to be able to pay and how, and of making sure that the paying patients are tended to first. I know that in countries with UHC the actual cost per resident of medical care is substantially less than it is in the US.
This is my response.
R then wrote:
I don't have access to detailed statistics on the effects he writes about.Nearly everything I cite is obtained by using Google on the Internet. I am a compulsive reader, but I figure it is better to link things so people can get right to them. It is not too easy finding things on the Internet and so I don't really blame people too much for failing to do so. But access is available to anyone. If I find information contrary to my point, I think I am obliged to disclose that information. The trick is that I've been doing this for years, so I usually can avoid points I know are wrong!
I have the feeling, but can't prove it, that people who do have access to theYou are completely wrong about the health statistics, but you make a good point about Liberals putting feelings ahead of facts. The Liberal idea is that there must be facts somewhere to support whatever it is they feel, so there is no reason to be concerned much about facts. Imagine if science worked that way: all the data says "x is true", but but it can be rejected on grounds that that it contradicts the scientist's feelings. The truth should always found by examining the data, pro and con. It is moral and just that everyone in our society should enjoy access to the best health care, just as we all enjoy access to the best police system, the best fire protection system, a uniforn system of money, and so on.It is not true that we should all enjoy equal access to the best. If I choose to live in some remote area, I choose to give up access in favor of other preferences. Equality is only possible without choice.The problem with your moral argument is that it ignores the moral problem of stealing from one person to give to another. It is quite one thing to say that you wish to give all your money to achieving equality in health care. It is another think to say that you have a right to take all of my money and give it to the cause you espouse. In the case of health care, it could easily consume 100% of the resources of society -- if there is no consideration other than the moral argument.A second problem is that by Liberal argument, about 10-15% of the population needs additional health insurance. OK, so what is the moral argument for taking my money to impose a system that you want, and which I do not want, upon 100% of the population? Why would it not be a better moral decsion to just take give it to people who have the demonstrable need? I think the answer is that believe fairness is achieved only when every citizen is under equal subjugation of the federal government. How, after all, could it be fair if Big Brother orders "left face" and not everyone need comply?The third problem, is that your belief in the efficacy of the UHC system is solely an article of faith, or if you prefer feelings. In a separate e-mail, I cited an article comparing life expectancy in Costa Rica with that in the US. The facts are that Costa Ricans do about as well, but not due to any system of UHC, but rather due to a dramatically more healthy life style. This would be very important if facts were allowed into the discussion, which Liberals do not allow. So Libs are imposing a quasi-religious belief upon the whole population, at enormous expense, on grounds of their particular non-factual morality.
statistics took that effect into account when comparing life expectancies in the
various countries with UHC and without.
What I believe is that waiting times in hospital emergency rooms areTotal nonsense, but of course you never have to prove anything you feel. Our local emergency room does not even ask about payment until after the patient is treated, and triage is strictly on medical grounds. I've been through it personally.Most countries have much less elaborate emergency facilities, because they do not have so many traffic accidents, drug OD's, etc.
shorter than in American hospitals because there is no problem of determining
who is going to be able to pay and how, and of making sure that the paying
patients are tended to first.
I then wrote to R as follows:
Regarding UHC, I take it you are happy with the present situation in which some of us have good medical care (we can afford it or we are lucky enough to belong to a good insurance group) and others of us don't. In your letter (below) you respond to my moral argument in favor of UHC with your own arguments, as follows:
(1) To achieve UHC, it is necessary to have everybody pay. For people in very good health (who live like the Costa Ricans, for example) that means that they are paying more for health care than the value of the medical services they receive. In other words, and to quote you,
"The problem with your moral argument is that it ignores the moral problem ofTo be logical, you must apply that same reasoning to paying taxes to support a police department, a fire department, etc.
stealing from one person to give to another."
(2) You then argue that since only 10 -15 percent of the population needs additional health insurance, why impose a single plan on everone? Why not just provide the additional insurance to the 10 to 15 percent who need it? My response is, who is going to pay for the additional insurance? The 10 to 15 percent who need the additional insurance can't afford it. You are trying to apply fire or flood insurance rules to health insurance. I have a choice to live or not to live in an area subject to floods and fires. I do not have a choice to need additional health care that a low-cost policy won't cover. It's not my choice to be badly injured in an auto accident; it's not my choice to have some unusual and debilitating medical condition. In view of your objection to having money "stolen" from you to benefit other persons, there seems to be no way in your world view to provide the necessary additional insurance.
(3) Regarding the efficacy of UHC, you ignore my argument about hospital emergency rooms. It is reported that many hospitals have closed their emergency rooms because they can not afford to take care of all the uninsured poor people who use these facilities as their only source of medical care. Unfortunately, closing the emergency rooms also denies needed help to patrons who are affluent, who have insurance, and who are stricken with real emergencies (e.g., heart attacks) and now must travel half an hour to reach the nearest available emergency room. In your world view, perhaps we should apply tattoos to people who are entitled to use emergency rooms. Anyone arriving without a tattoo is simply left outside in the street.
R wrote as follows:
I take it you are happy with the present situation in which some of us have goodI think our health care system can be improved. Of the solutions I've heard, the most appealing is to establish a system of low-cost drop-in health clinics. One can suppose that they have to be government subsidized, although that might not be the case. The idea is to unburden emergency rooms from ordinary health care, and to provide services to people who could not otherwise afford it.I also advocate government-paid "health disaster" insurance to cover strange diseases and improbable occurrences. The fact is that people between about seven and fifty have very few health problems, on average, so such disaster insurance is actually not a major cost item.
medical care (we can afford it or we are lucky enough to belong to a good
insurance group) and others of us don't.
To achieve UHC, it is necessary to have everybody pay.That's like saying "To guarantee that everyone dress like Chairman Mao, it is necessary for everyone to comply with the dress code rules." The objective should not be to achieve uniformity, the objective should be to achieve a good health care system.
To be logical, you must apply that same reasoning to paying taxes to support aOf course, and I do apply the same standard across the board. That basically means that we should make decisions democratically with the goal of minimum intrusion upon peoples lives and pocket books. Your concept, I gather, is that (a) liberals decide what is moral and (b) then there is an unlimited license for liberals to take my money and spend it as they like. So, for example, if 10 or 15% of the population needs more health care, there is no problem imposing an expensive system on 100% of the population for no reason other than imposing authoritarian uniformity.In areas such as police and fire, localities get to decide how fancy, elaborate, and complete a system the people want. Liberals cannot tolerate non-uniformity. They insist on imposing expensive and ineffective systems on everyone.
police department, a fire department, etc.
For the record, I'll mention that there is a list of federal government functions that must be provided. These include the military and the Post Office. So there is no opting out of those. Health care is not on the list.
Why not just provide the additional insurance to the 10 to 15 percent who needI have no objection to the citizens voting to pay for the additional health care. My preferred mechanism is through walk-in clinics, but it would be OK to provide insurance upon establishing proof of need. There is a moral obligation, I believe, to minimize public expense and government intrusion upon taxpayers.
it? My response is, who is going to pay for the additional insurance?
In view of your objection to having money "stolen" from you to benefit otherNo, citizens can vote to provide benefits. The binding constraints are minimum cost and minimum government control. Please clarify your theory about how it is moral for liberals to take unlimited sums of money from taxpayers and spend that money without any limitations or constraints.
persons, there seems to be no way in your world view to provide the necessary
Regarding the efficacy of UHC, you ignore my argument about hospital emergencyI refuted the false assertions you made. To my knowledge, the only places where emergency rooms have been shut down are in cities near the Mexican border flooded by millions of illegal aliens. This is a consequence of our immoral federal government refusing to provide any assistance to localities, even though the problem is caused by a refusal of the government to enforce immigration laws on the books. The uninsured poor people are illegal, and however we want to treat them, it should be a federal, not a local problem.Throughout, you seem to maintain the notion that UHC would have some effect on life expectancy or infant mortality or some other health metric. There is no evidence of that. Such statistics are dominated by lifestyle factors, not the health care system. Researchers predict that in the US, life expectancy will be reduced in the future due to rising obesity. The effect of forcing everyone to conform to Big Brother's health care system will not be a measurable improvement in health.
rooms. It is reported that many hospitals have closed their emergency
rooms because they can not afford to take care of all the uninsured poor people
who use these facilities as their only source of medical care.
I then wrote that I had a few comments on R’s recent e-letter. Excerpting from my letter, here are the comments:
R: I think our health care system can be improved. Of the solutions I've heard, the most appealing is to establish a system of low-cost drop-in health clinics. One can suppose that they have to be government subsidized, although that might not be the case. The idea is to unburden emergency rooms from ordinary health care, and to provide services to people who could not otherwise afford it.
Al: A generation or two ago we had such clinics here in Los Angeles. My wife and I visited such a clinic to obtain flu shots. It was about 30 or more years ago. The "taxpayer rebellion" and Proposition 13 reduced the funds available to the County to fund these clinics and they were closed. I think they were good and I wish they could be created again.
R: I also advocate government-paid "health disaster" insurance to cover strange diseases and improbable occurrences. The fact is that people between about seven and fifty have very few health problems, on average, so such disaster insurance is actually not a major cost item.
Al: In a previous letter, I wrote that “to achieve UHC, it is necessary to have everybody pay.”
R: That's like saying "To guarantee that everyone dress like Chairman Mao, it is necessary for everyone to comply with the dress code rules." The objective should not be to achieve uniformity, the objective should be to achieve a good health care system.
Al: I don't advocate that everyone dress like Chairman Mao. I seem to be unable to make it clear that a UHC system should cover everyone, not merely the sickest or those most in need of special medical care. My idea of UHC is that everyone would receive needed care regardless of ability to pay. I don't see that a "one size fits all" criticism applies. If not everyone is covered, what will happen is that private insurers will pick off the healthiest individuals and offer them insurance at rates that are less than what the UHC system is forced to charge. As a result, we would then have two systems: a private for-profit system that covers healthy individuals and a government system that covers the sicker. It wouldn't take long for the public to lose confidence in the "expensive" government system. We'd be back where we are now.
R: For the record, I'll mention that there is a list of federal government functions that must be provided. These include the military and the Post Office. So there is no opting out of those. Health care is not on the list.
A: Right here is our basic disagreement. I think that health care should be on the list. Whether provided by the federal, state, or local government is a matter for discussion and disagreeement.
R: I refuted the false assertions you made. To my knowledge, the only places where emergency rooms have been shut down are in cities near the Mexican border flooded by millions of illegal aliens. This is a consequence of our immoral federal government refusing to provide any assistance to localities, even though the problem is caused by a refusal of the government to enforce immigration laws on the books. The uninsured poor people are illegal, and however we want to treat them, it should be a federal, not a local problem.
A: Emergency rooms have been closed here in Los Angeles. We are a considerable distance from Mexico. There are many people in Los Angeles who don't have and can't afford medical insurance. Not all of them are illegal aliens.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Discussion with a Conservative about Universal Health Care
Here is a series of e-mails between S, R, and myself. My friends all have access to this blog and they can judge for themselves whether I have faithfully presented their arguments and opinions in these e-mails. The series starts with an e-mail from S to R and others:
What does Socialized medicine buy Canada versus our patch work of medical coverage?
It buys a lot if you look or compare two statistics.
- Canada infant mortality rate within 24 hours is 4.6 per 1000 live births and the U.S is 6.4.
- Mean life expectancy is 80.3 years for Canada and 78.7 for the U.S.
I came up not with socialized medicine but a public health plan. This thought occurred to me while sitting in the waiting room at a woman's clinic. Jean was sent there to see a gynecologist. Poor Jean, she was by far the oldest and the only one positively diagnosed as not pregnant.
Attempting to study the group indicated most were by far much over weight. If overweight and lack of prenatal care were publicly available, could this reduce infant deaths? Not much there as training is very important in prenatal care. Trained nurses could handle this. The Red Cross offers classes to train parents for the new born in the home. Jean and I took the course and poor Jean was out of place as we were adopting and in our thirties.
Now on to longevity. Most people get some training in health in high school. However only something like 85% graduate by eighteen. Adult school does not cover health very much. I think this area would be another boost to senior's longevity.
My mother spent a huge number of volunteer hours with the county health department. She knew what it took to provide clinics of various types and some of her greatest friends were public health nurses. The nurses keep my Typhoid shots current as I was often drinking water out of North Georgia springs. nutrition was a big thing with the prenatal and post natal clinics. Doctor's cost was very little and often was a donation.
So conservatives, what is wrong with such a start towards some UHC by this method? Will it not help the most in need? I do not want to hear an answer about how one can not purchase batteries for a hearing aid in Canada.
Liberals, I have come to understand, have a protective shell that keeps out facts no matter how over repeated or how well documented. Facts are not just lamely refuted, they are totally ignored.
1.0 Canada infant mortality rate within 24 hours is 4.6 per 1000 live births andThe reason infant mortality rates are higher in the US has nothing to do with the health care system, it is due to social problems. We have a huge population of drug-addicted mothers that Canada, nor any other country, cannot match. This is certainly a major problem, but it is not going to be cured by health insurance.
the U.S is 6.4.
2.0 Mean life expectancy is 80.3 years for Canada and 78.7 for the U.S.The lower life expectancy in the US, compared to other first-world nations, is due to the much greater number of deaths in the age group from about 15-45. These deaths are due to traffic accidents, violence (e.g. gang shootings), drug overdoses, and suicides. If you make it to 50 in the US, life expectancy is the longest in the world. Quite obviously, changes in health care insurance will have no effect whatsoever on traffic accidents, violence, drugs, and suicides.You point out correctly, that American high-fat high-sugar diets and lack of exercise are major problems. More can be done with educational programs, but changes in health insurance are not going to have any effect. Note, for example, that countries with a lot of mass transit involve their population in a great deal of walking. The US has too low a population density to support much mass transit outside of a few city centers. Health insurance is not going to change that. I have a profit-making health insurance plan. They contact me regularly by phone and by mail with all sorts of suggestions about a healthier lifestyle. They have an incentive to improve my health. Why would a non-profit care?Medicare lowers their administrative costs by never checking bills for error or fraud. They spend zero on that. Profit-making insurance plans comb hospital bills and dispute overcharges. I have little doubt that more than pays for itself. Why would a non-profit care?
Finally, note that countries like Canada can get away with imposing price controls on drugs. Since it is a small market, the drug companies do not cut them off. But try it in the the US, and you will drive drug companies offshore and refusing to ship. But facts are just to be ignored.
I specifically looked those figures up. Does that make me a Liberal?
At least we agree on one thing. Education helps. When I started volunteer tutoring years ago, the school was overrun with pregnant teens. Lots of effort of education was put forth by the school about protection with respect to aids. They had a guard who worked for the local prison talk on how he had contracted aids in a fight with a prisoner. We now have very few pregnant girls and a much larger coed enrollment.
I am proposing more health centers where teens can learn more about prenatal care plus child care. Schools hardly can afford full time medical trained faculty members.
Your point about the age group 15-45 has much merit. Canada has a much lower speed limit. You seldom even see a 100 KM speed limit which is close to 60 MPH in this country. I do not remember ever seeing a higher speed limit there. Their speed limit enforcement is well in place too.
I am not sure about the mass transit argument. Does this mean that our death rate is less in the bigger cities like San Francisco? I thought that most centenarians live in rural Midwest. Am I wrong?
Lastly, our schools now sell machine soft drinks and chips through machines. Not much help there if the student body has a number of pregnant girls.
I have no idea about the life expectancy over 50. Do you have a reference? IRS bulletin 590 has lots of longevity tables for IRA distributions. If this is so, our life insurance costs for those over 50 would be higher. Moreover, the other countries with a SS type plan would be more solvent too would it not?
The data you quoted is more elaborate then mine. Does this mean Conservatives have a better source. Who is using more statistics?
Pessimistic and Liberal, S
I specifically looked those figures up. Does that make me a Liberal?Too soon to tell. If in a week or two you claim that life expectancy numbers prove the US health care system is inferior, then you are a certified Liberal.
At least we agree on one thing. Education helps.We do agree on that.
Canada has a much lower speed limit. You seldom even see a 100 KM speedI don't think speed limits are the main problem. In this country, if a person has his driver's license suspended for DUI or whatever, he usually drives out of the courthouse parking lot -- ignoring the court completely. In Japan, by contrast, first DUI means you lose your license forever, second offense is a year in jail. Their tradition is that the youngest person in every group will be the driver, and will be served nothing but coke that evening.
limit which is close to 60 MPH in this country.
I am not sure about the mass transit argument. Does this mean that ourI don't know. I was just observing that exercise is one factor in a healthy lifestyle, a factor often missing in the US. I lived in Tokyo for a while, and found mass transit to be quite a workout. One can easily climb 20 flights of stairs and walk four or five miles every day making connections. If the Japanese did not drink so much and eat so much salt, they would live forever.The broader point is that the quality of health care is not the only factor in health. It also depends upon the health habits of the population. The increase in obesity, for example, is expected to lower life expectancy in the US over the next few decades.
death rate is less in the bigger cities like San Francisco? I thought that
most centenarians live in rural Midwest. Am I wrong?
I have no idea about the life expectancy over 50. Do you have a reference?From MIT course notes on Public Health Policy:
"Significant improvements in life expectancy lies not in cures for chronic disease—heart, cancer---but in reducing accidents, suicide, homicide, AIDS, the big causes of premature death."
Posted here "First, it would be great if people would recognize the limits to health care, even high-tech health care. Diet and exercise matter more to your quality of life than treatment does. For example, you could stop treating cancer completely and only drop the overall life expectancy by a couple of years. If this seems ridiculous to you, do the math. ...." [he does]http://www.oftwominds.com/journal/goodfellow5b.html
"... The United States spends roughly $4,500 per person on health care each year. Costa Rica spends just $273. That small Central American country also has half as many doctors per capita as the United States. Yet the life expectancy of the average Costa Rican is virtually the same as the average American's: 76.1 years."
How can that be? According to public health researchers, the biggest reasons are behavior and environment. Costa Ricans consume about half as many cigarettes per person as we do. Not surprisingly, they are four times less likely to die of lung cancer. The car ownership rate in Costa Rica is a fraction of what it is in the United States. That not only means that fewer Costa Ricans die in auto accidents, but that they do a lot more walking, and hence they get more exercise. Thanks to a much lower McDonald's-to-citizen ratio, the average Costa Rican thrives on a traditional diet of rice, beans, fruits, vegetables, and a moderate amount of fried food--and therefore enjoys one of the world's lowest rates of heart disease and other stress-related illnesses." http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0304.longman.html
Lastly, our schools now sell machine soft drinks and chips through machines.I am all in favor of parents exerting control over the diets of their children.some places are banning the soft drinks. Do you think Libs still have superstitious fears about dangers of artificial sweeteners?
Moreover, the other countries with a SS type plan would be more solvent tooNo. SS is a Ponzi scheme whose solvency depends upon the ratio of the number of active contributing workers to the number of recipients.The data you quoted is more elaborate then mine. Does this mean Conservatives have a better source. Who is using more statistics?I have been repeatedly criticized by Libs on message boards for citing facts. They tell me that facts are unreliable, whereas feelings are reliable. Therefore, they tell me, one should develop policy positions by cultivating sensitive feelings, and then reject statistics that contradict those feelings.
would it not?
[The discussion is continued in my next post. - AJS]
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Crime and No Punishment
Now Libby doesn't have to go to prison. The prosecutor knows that he has no incentive to talk. The illegalities of the Bush administration are safe from disclosure and punishment.