An Experiment In Scotch

I write to discover what I believe

Category: National Issues (page 1 of 5)

Thought For The Day On Healthcare

Thinking about healthcare and its providence this morning. Historically, this country has been driven by entrepreneurship and small business growth. Since 1998, we have been in a period where job creation through small business is much worse though slightly improved since 2010. One part of that is likely the connection between a steady job and healthcare. The Affordable Care Act while flawed in some ways at least incentivized job creation implicitly by allowing freelancers and entrepreneurs access to healthcare on the exchanges. Of course, one of the drawbacks to the ACA was that not everyone went through the exchanges because if you have a job, you get your healthcare there.

What kind of system could a thoughtful conservative humanist (a oxymoron in the leadership of the GOP of today but that’s a thought for another day) come up with as an improvement on the ACA that would foster job growth through small business creation? One of the benefits of other types of insurance is that they are semi-free markets. If you want to change your home insurance, you can research a variety of options and pick one of your liking. You cannot do this with healthcare because you likely can’t find a suitable replacement for your workplace plan on an exchange. One key to the ACA was the elimination of preconditions:

ObamaCare eliminated pre-existing conditions starting in 2014. No more pre-existing conditions means you can’t be denied coverage, charged more, or denied treatment based on health status.

Preexisting conditions are an interesting concept. If I have four car accidents that I’m at fault for, I have to pay more for auto insurance and might even get denied. But that’s not a precondition. That’s me being an idiot or just a bad driver for which no sane person would expect me not to pay more for. But if I eat nothing but Cheetohs and jelly beans for a few years and develop Type II diabetes, we don’t say “that’s not a precondition because it’s your fault.” We naturally have a sense of fairness in auto insurance that’s lacking in health insurance discussions because it’s hard to look at someone suffering from Type II diabetes and say “that’s largely your fault.”

Plus if you notice the clause in the preconditions statement: “you can’t be charged more.” This is clearly a disincentive for the companies providing insurance because you definitely cost more with preconditions. That means people without preconditions are the ones who pay the difference. This also violates our natural sense of fairness. If I drive a Ferrari, I shouldn’t be able to get insurance for the same cost a Camry owner does.

Any conservative policy is going to want to deal with preconditions in a way that’s fair to people getting insurance but also that doesn’t disincentivize companies from providing insurance. How is that possible? We have to be hard on people who through mostly or entirely their own actions, cause themselves to be more expensive to insure. How can we craft a policy that does that? Out of time for today…

The Negative Impacts Of Positive Laws

When I took my concealed carry license course here in Dallas, my class was made up of 30-40 mostly well intentioned, attentive folks. Demographically, it ran the gamut from young adult males to elderly women, white, black, hispanic, you name it. Most of the class was interested in what the instructor had to say and seemed to grasp the fact that owning and carrying a gun is a right, not a privilege. Based on the questions they asked, they understood the ramifications of a private citizen carrying a gun and all the assorted baggage that entails.

However, there were two young men who were clearly ignorant of those ramifications. One of them I’ll never forget. He wasted more of the class’ time asking inane questions revolving around when he could shoot someone than I’d like to admit. How the instructor didn’t kick him out of class I’ll never know. I’ve hoped ever since that day that he either failed his shooting test or the instructor refused to grant him a license. One egregious example was in reference to being cut off on the highway while he was riding his motorcycle. He asked if that gave him the right to shoot at the driver of the car. The rest of the class looked around in shock at this idiot who clearly thought getting a CHL meant becoming James Bond on a crotch rocket.

In all populations, the great majority of the citizens will be law-abiding, conscientious human beings with an understanding of right and wrong. But in all populations, there will always be a vocal minority for whom an understanding of anything beyond the realm of their limited mental capacities will be impossible. This kid was one of those. He was a malcontent, hopped up on testosterone, who was looking for a reason to show how tough he was and hoping to do it legally based on a law that dictates what citizens CAN do instead of what they CANNOT do.

In many ways, that’s the crux of the problem. Laws should be restrictive in nature, created to limit the freedoms of people based on the effects contrary actions would have on other people. Laws shouldn’t define freedoms, only remove them. It should not be up to a jury of our peers to specifically say whether we can do something or not, only whether we have done something that violated the rights of another. Passing laws like this is a slippery slope because it creates a question of what is protected under the law.

Which brings us to the case of Trayvon Martin, a unarmed Miami, FL teenager who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Under normal circumstances, one would assume a crime has been committed. Unfortunately, these are not normal circumstances. At question is the Florida law that says citizens of the state may use deadly force to protect themselves or their property when they believe they are in grave danger. The law is called Stand Your Ground and says that even if it is prudent for you to escape, you still have the right to defend yourself.

The slippery slope is of course how much territory is covered by the umbrella of a self defense law. This law, surely written by lawmakers who assumed it would only be used in situations involving physical violence, is being used to shield Zimmerman even though it is becoming rapidly apparently that he chased the unarmed teen down and shot him.

The details can be read here but the short version is that Zimmerman was a volunteer community watch patrolman with a record of calling in almost everything. He saw Martin in the neighborhood and called in a suspicious person. Then, instead of letting police do the work, he followed Martin with a licensed 9MM handgun even though the police dispatcher said not to. We can take a little side trip here and note that Zimmerman was an aspiring police officer who once attended a citizen police academy. At the risk of doing some couch psychoanalysis, he seems like the kind of person much like the kid I encountered in my CHL class.

What happened next is up for debate but the evidence seems to point out that Zimmerman followed and/or chased Martin and shot him. Zimmerman claims self-defense. That claim sounds patently false. Given the fact that he had no police authority and was never in danger if he hadn’t gotten out of his car, his claim to self defense resides on the unsubstantiated fact that Martin attacked him. However, if I’m walking along at night and someone is following me, I’m going to protect myself. If anything, Martin was the one who should be protected by the law in Florida. Zimmerman’s self defense claim stands in direct opposition to the fact that had Zimmerman, the aspiring but not yet ordained police officer, stayed in his car until police arrived-the only sane thing a normal person would have done-Martin would still be alive today and none of this would have happened.

The fact that Florida has a law that tells citizens specifically what they can do has opened up a can of worms surely never intended by lawmakers. There is no reason to have a law on the books that says you don’t have to run even if it’s prudent to do so. Without this law, it’s clear that Zimmerman has committed some crime because it’s not prudent to chase down an unarmed black teenager just because you think he looks suspicious in the gated community you are patrolling. Only this law is preventing Zimmerman from being indicted and it seems like a travesty to any casual perusal of the known facts.

In our CHL course, we were taught that once a bullet leaves the gun, we are completely responsible for its path and results. Unfortunately, lawmakers in Florida have passed a law that may transfer the responsibility from the shooter to the victim in a case that it was clearly never intended to cover. Passing a law that says you may stand your ground and shoot someone even if escape is a viable alternative is an example of a law designed to dictate your freedoms instead of limiting them based on the effect they have on others. When the law is used to shield someone who went out of his way to put himself into a situation fraught with danger, we’ve gone too far. George Zimmerman should be arrested and prosecuted for murder. There is no other rational outcome. And yet, he may not be because of this law.

Trayvon Martin would not be dead if George Zimmerman had acted in a rational manner. Zimmerman, clearly an individual with will to power desires, went out of his way to inject himself into a situation where he could play policeman. Without the authority to do so, nothing should stand in the way of a criminal trial. It will be a travesty of the highest order if he is allowed to go free because Florida lawmakers passed a law that shields him contrary to untenable circumstances.

The State Of Health Care Reporting Is Sad

The front page article on CNN right now, if read uncritically, would have the dear reader to believe that if you are uninsured in America, you are “at mortal risk” of dying prematurely and that 45,000 people die every year for the sole reason that they don’t have health insurance. Read more closely and you realize that all of the above is based on a study written by physicians who founded a program that supports government-backed “single-payer” health coverage and that is based on such hard data as “What all three of these people have in common is that they experienced symptoms, but didn’t seek care because they were uninsured and they worried about the hospital expense, according to their families.”.

Look, maybe we need single payer health care in this country. Maybe we don’t. But how in the holy hell will any of us be able to decide if we are to base our decisions on craptastic reporting like that linked above? Let us assume for a minute that it really is true that not having health insurance increases your risk of dying by 40%. According to the CDC, the age group measured in the study has a 1 in 305, or .32% of dying from cause whether you have health insurance or not. Acknowledging that the data is a little messy, if you say the uninsured have a 40% greater chance of dying, they are up to a whopping .46% chance of dying. For this, we’re going to completely rewrite how we handle health care in this country and hand it all to the government, keeper of things like Social Security and the regulation of Bernie Madoff?

This is the way reporting is going on CNN and other major media outlets. It’s all screaming and histrionics. This article is riddled with the three terrible sounding anecdotes, blaming their deaths on not having health insurance and being afraid to go to the hospital ignoring any other possible explanation like a freelance cameraman who by his wife’s own admission never complained about anything. Yet his death must have happened because he didn’t have health insurance. Color me unconvinced which is the color black like my sad, cynical heart.

Here’s another good one: one of the authors of the study, again who created a foundation to support single payer government sponsored healthcare, says that not having health insurance has become lethal. Guess what? Having health insurance is lethal too! Everyone dies. Having health insurance does not guarantee that everyone will suddenly start taking care of themselves and going to the doctor on a regular basis any more than having auto insurance ensures that everyone will suddenly start driving the damn speed limit.

Seriously, health care is not a fundamental human right. It just isn’t. In the long run, maybe it’s cheaper and better to have a single payer system and maybe it isn’t. But reporting like this CNN hit piece isn’t furthering the debate. It’s the sad state of big media today that we have to believe stuff like this is front page news.

Suing People To Solve Your Problems

The story: A private swim club kicks out a day care group possibly because of overcrowding, possibly because of racism. Media fire storm brews. Said private swim club reinvites day care group. Day care group refuses saying “children are scarred” and “The children’s best interests are not being served.” Day care intends to sue within a couple of days.

Look, I know racism still exists in this country and that if the charges of racism are true, something should be done about it. However, saying the children are scarred and refusing the olive branch regardless of whether you think it was coerced or offered honestly only serves to teach children that when conflict arise it is best to batten down the hatches and start fighting instead of trying to resolve things like, well, like humans. That action is what will actually scar the children by showing them how their role-models go about dealing with a difficult situation.

In this case, the charges of racism don’t ring particularly true. At least two other day cares had their invitations renounced. If the club was worried about minorities, don’t you think they would have investigated a little before extending an invitation to a largely minority day care? This sounds to me like a swim club that invited too many people to use its facilities and then got some blowback from the members who pay to have a nice private club. It does not sound like a racially motivated situation.

The lawyer for the day care had this to say about suing the club and demanding the resignation of all board members: “Our goal is to ensure that this type of behavior never happens again,” she said. Be careful what you ask for there. You’re liable to get it but just not in a way you expected. If clubs are worried about how their actions might get played in our 24 hour news cycle, they just won’t invite you. At all. That certainly doesn’t serve the kids well either.

There is much work to be done in regards to race relations in this country but refusing to solve things amicably in a case that easily could be identified as confusion will never help. We are teaching our children that when someone spites you, go out of your way to make their life miserable. Not a particularly instructive way to do things.

Unintended Consequences of Roe v. Wade

Conor at The American Scene has a post up trying to clarify this Ross Douthat editorial. They are both interesting reads. I find that any discussion of abortion, much like that of text editors (VIM Roolz!) and of religion, is dominated in large part by two very virulent, angry constituencies who typically try to yell down the other side, never pausing to examine the extremely subtle and difficult differences in the topic. Then there are people who fall in neither loud group who try valiantly to think through what can only be described as a horribly complex topic, a topic that can certainly have no clear resolution that says “This is the Truth”. And yet, in the case of abortion, we have Roe v. Wade saying very nearly that.

My thinking on Roe has greatly evolved over the past 10-15 years. I was once a staunch, if reasonably disinterested, supporter who believed that a woman should always have the right to an abortion because to me, in my highly simplified view, women who had abortions were 18 year old college students who had made a terrible mistake and couldn’t possibly have a baby because that would ruin two lives. Of course, nothing is ever that simple. As it turns out, 50% of all abortions are repeat abortions and as many as 25% are the third or fourth a woman has had. Many women use abortion as a form of birth control. The cases where abortion should be legal at all times like rape or great bodily danger for the woman are so rare that they would easily be legislated into law. It is interesting that the same extreme fringe on the left who say that any limit on abortion will lead to the ongoing degradation of the right are typically quite vocal about “reasonable restrictions to gun ownership” being just fine. Of course, one of those rights is in the Bill of Rights and one isn’t.

Apropos of that, the more I thought about it and read Constitutional thinking on the matter, the more I came to believe that abortion has no business being decided, pro or con, at the federal level. It just isn’t a federal matter. It doesn’t have the stature of voting rights or civil rights. It should be a state matter, like so many other rights that are enumerated in the Constitution.
There are quite a few people talking about abortion again (as if it ever really stops) because of George Tiller’s murder. Some people from both sides yell at each other as always and then there are people like Ross and Conor who try to make sense of the entire mess, trying to rationalize actions of both sides, something difficult to do in normal circumstances and probably impossible in the current irrational situation. However, it’s important to try so that maybe situations like this don’t happen again.

Here is what I see as Ross’ main argument: Because foes of abortion do not have a democratic, legislative way to air their views, some of them on the fringe see an act of murder as justifiable and in fact the only option. Because we cannot legislate a rational though messy compromise concerning abortion, abortion opponents feel helpless to change the current situation and certain fringe elements of the overall opposition decide to take what they see as the law according to God or whatever into their own hands. Hilzoy finds this to be a ridiculous argument because just because a terrorist believes they are acting in the right, they are not above the law of man and walking into a church and shooting a man in the face point blank while he hands out bulletins is always terrorism. And of course, this is true. But I don’t think that Ross is saying that Scott Roeder was justified in performing this cowardly act of terrorism. What he is trying to do is understand what might drive a man like Scott Roeder to do this.

This is where Roe v Wade has an unintended consequence and I personally think it makes some logical sense. Instead of having a legislative answer for abortion, we have a decision by the Supreme Court saying abortion should be legal. Granted, opponents of abortion could gather the required number of people to get an Amendment to the Constitution up and running to overturn abortion but let’s be honest, that is not anywhere near the same thing as getting a law passed in Congress (or even better in your own State legislature) that lays out rules and exceptions to the rule for when abortion should be allowed and when it should not.

None of this excuses the acts of one violent man. However, on a topic as controversial as ending a pregnancy, shouldn’t the rules be decided upon by the people? If it’s true that 58% of people support Roe v. Wade, then a law would be passed that reflects that majority. If in fact, fewer people support unregulated abortion depending on the trimester, a different law might be passed. Instead what we have is a situation where none of that can happen and in order to get reasonable restrictions to abortion, we have to pass a Constitutional amendment.

In the end, reality trumps theory and what has happened is that though Roe v Wade is the law of the land, one man has greatly changed a woman’s right to choose by walking into a church in Wichita, KS and murdering one of the three doctors in the U.S who perform late term (post 21st week) abortions. As of this writing, the family of George Tiller has decided to close the clinic where he carried out his life’s work.

Tax Day Tea Party Protests

If you’ve been reading anything about politics lately, you’ve surely seen at least cursory coverage of local tea parties around the country where people are coming together to protest the unbelievable spending that the federal government is doing in an attempt to get us out of the economic mess we’re in. These people are starting to understand that throwing more easy money at a problem caused by easy money can’t possibly be the fix we need.

April 15th is a day that was chosen to host these protests all across the country. You can find out if one is being held near you at Tax Day Tea Party. I’m planning on going to the Richardson one tomorrow at noon and probably the Plano one at 5, just to show my support as well as to make sure some coverage of the events take place. I’ll post photos and my thoughts tomorrow night. If you’re interested, drop me a line in the comments to tell me you’ll be there. Or if you have photos from other protests, feel free to send them to me and I’ll post them.

This could be the beginning of what I thought would be completely impossible in our country, the founding of a viable third party. It will be interesting over the next few months to see if this grassroots movement continues to build steam.

Taxes Are For The Little People

Seriously, do none of these people pay taxes? If this many of Bush’s appointees would have had tax problems, the media would have been in a damn uproar. And don’t think for one minute that if you or I screwed up 3 years of our taxes, that we’d just get to file amended returns and pay the difference.

This is a disgrace. We are being ruled by people who haven’t done anything other than run an election campaign. Not a damn one of them seems to know how to, you know, LEAD. I am losing the ability to be mad because it’s happening so much. Maybe that’s their plan.

A New Tax Deduction

Quote of the Week

Now that those of us who have been making steady, on-time payments on our mortgages for years will be paying off others’ mortgages through our taxes, can we claim a tax-deduction for our neighbors’ mortgage interest too?

Love it. People are angry over this and they are only getting angrier. This is not going to end happily for our ruling class I don’t think. Remember Newt’s Contract With America? It’s gonna happen again in 2010. Just wait and see.

Maybe America Will Be OK After All

There are some reasonably serious rumblings about people getting sick of our new President spending all their money. And some of the rumblings are getting loud. If a modern day Boston Tea Party happened to get organized in Chicago, I’d be on the first plane to Chicago I could find. Here’s hoping we still have some heart when it comes to our government and who exactly it is they serve.

UPDATE: Link was broken, fixed now. Sorry!

Advice We Don't Need

There’s nothing like having the Europeans tell us how to handle our housing crisis. “But as the housing bubble deflates, it also drags innocent victims into a wave of foreclosures” they crow! Please. What innocent victims are being dragged into a wave of foreclosures? Either you can afford the house you live in or you can’t. If you have a house payment that’s more than 28% or so of your monthly income, you’re probably not so innocent. You bought a house you can’t afford. Just because you now lost your job doesn’t make you any less innocent.

If you don’t have a rainy day fund of around 6 months expenses, you probably aren’t so innocent. You probably spend more than you save. That article makes it seem like thousands of people who are the epitome of financial purity are about to be foreclosed upon and I find that ridiculous. Sure there are some out there who played by the rules and just have had a string of bad luck. But $275 billion worth of mortgages in that category? I seriously doubt it.

This bill plunges $200 billion back into Freddie and Fannie who have already proven to be poor stewards of the public’s trust. They are allowed now to finance up to 105 percent of a home’s value. That sounds like a fantastic idea. Really it does.

“But the plan is well targeted: the administration aims to contain the fallout, not to keep everyone in their home. The plan helps only those with a reasonable chance to retain their house.” How can people who have a debt-to-income ratio of more than 38% realistically have a chance of keeping their house? That’s a full 10% over the accepted norms and doesn’t even begin to take into account the overall debt ratio that includes other debt payments like cars and credit cards. These people don’t have a reasonable chance.

Most crucially, fighting foreclosures is a political imperative. The administration needs a lot more money to save the US banking system – money that will be forthcoming only from voters who feel they, and not just Wall Street, are being rescued. This plan may help win them over. At $275bn, that seems like a bargain.

Finally we get the real meat. Like all government handouts, it’s a way to slip future ones by us without us noticing. For that, the Europeans probably are the ones that ought to be giving us advice.

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