Sunday, May 24, 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

VIDEO: California's Path to Economic Ruin

From Reason TV this time, another must watch video detailing the problems of out-of-control spending in California under the Governator. It includes several clips of Tom McClintock who was the 3rd candidate in the 2003 recall election in California, with 13% of the vote. I remember at the time that I had really wished McClintock could have won, but that Arnold was probably the best you could expect out of California.

What is so disappointing about Schwarzenegger is that I thought he would be so much better on economic issues. In 2003, I had recently watched the entire Free To Choose series by Milton Friedman from 1980, which had recently been made available online. When Friedman did an updated series in 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger actually INTRODUCED THE SERIES.

The idea that such a huge fan of Milton Friedman would now be leading California as governor toward economic peril through uncontrolled increases in government spending must have Friedman churning in his grave (Friedman passed away a couple years ago, may he RIP).

Schwarzenegger followed this up with pretty solid rhetoric during the 2003 recall campaign, and seemed to be true to his word initially. But after he got his hat handed to him by the unions because they spent HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars to defeat his 2005 series of ballot initiatives (a level a spending the unions ironically could not have done had Proposition 75 passed, requiring union employees to opt-in in order for their union dues to be used for political purposes), he seemed to do a complete 180 and focus only on getting elected again in 2006.

He seems to have taken the approach that the people of California had spoke in 2005, and so he was going to give them what they wanted. I'm not sure if he just wanted to be popular, or look out for his political career, or if he truly believed all his talk about "the people" in the 2003 recall race, but since that defeat in 2005, he has lost all conservative tendencies whatsoever and is now worse for the Republicans than ever because he will get Republicans tagged with the blame as California suffers. Much better to have stood strong on conservative principles even if it would have led to an election defeat in 2006 (which I don't think it would have -- the 2005 propositions may have been defeated, but he was still popular enough). Instead, he is helping tear apart the Republican party from within.

It's a sad thing to watch. Sure, governing is tough, and it requires tough decisions, especially when they are the right but not popular decisions.

Why, Arnold, are you acting like such a political girlie man?

Friday, May 22, 2009

VIDEO: Cheney at AEI on National Security

This is a must watch speech. Former VP Dick Cheney gives an excellent speech reminding us all why we have avoided another attack on the homeland since 9/11.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama Spends His Own Money Like Crazy Too

You've got to take a look at this. It looks like Obama has spent well beyond his means until he struck gold with book royalties in 2005. The article points out that Obama has never had to face the consequences of reckless spending in his personal finances. The problem is that there is no similar path out of debt for the U.S. as a whole. It's a scary thought.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"Do you believe in evolution?"

Here is my comment at HotAir on the post where Chris Matthews asks Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) if he believes in evolution (trying to use that somehow to discredit Pence on carbon cap-and-trade legislation by establishing Pence as 'anti-science').

Science is limited to what can be observed, measured, repeated, and empirically verified. It cannot prove anything about the past. Science only gets us as far as proving facts about the present. Those observed processes must then be extrapolated into the past to try to explain how past events occurred, with varying levels of validity or certainty. Assumptions about the past must be made, such as the rate things decay today is the rate they have always decayed, and no catastrophic events (like say a worldwide flood) occurred.

A creationist and an evolutionist will almost always agree on the hard facts of what can be observed, like current rate of decay, what material fossil bones are made of, deviation within a species, etc. Where they vary is once they take the hard data and try to interpet it and develop an overarching theory or framework to explain the past and predict the future.

The theory of evolution is not science any more than ID or creationism is. It is a pretty poor theory chocked full of holes. I have heard 3 hour lectures describing instance after instance of known scientific knowledge that the theory of evolution can not explain.

There is, at best, VERY LITTLE support in the fossil record for a slow evolution from one species to another. On the contrary, the fossil record shows an overwhelming abundance of specific current or extinct species with basically no intermediate species to speak of. It became such a problem for evolutionists that they had to evolve their own theory by saying that ALL of the change from one species to another came in quick short bursts that would have left no trace in the fossil record.

To be sure, Creationism assumes there is a God who created all living things, and this is FAR outside the reach of science. But that does not mean that science disproves God, only that science has nothing to say about the existence of God. Remember science is only the observation and empirical verification of the natural world as it operates today. It does not attempt to explain the supernatural.

Similarly, Intelligent Design assumes there is a designer. From my perspective though, ID is quite different from Creationism and assumes much less. The basic crux of the theory is that the more and more we learn about how complex our natural world is, the more and more ludicrous it becomes to try to assert, as evolution does, that it all happened by chance. When you drive through a city and take note of all the building and roads, it is obvious that there was intelligent design behind the city. The city, even if you gave it billions of billions of years, would never have sprung up there by itself with no intelligent direction. To believe that it would have is the definition of crazy. And yet that it was those who believe in evolution would have us believe, that even at the cellular level, where a cell itself is thousands of times more complex than a major city, all of that just happened to align itself by chance, and take every step of the evolutionary ladder by chance without ever failing and snuffing life back out. It is scientific evidence itself that inspires belief in ID. Creationism is an extension on ID in that it asserts much more about who the Designer was, and how He designed it.

It is evolutionists, though who are most closed minded. They immediately rule out the supernatural, and dogmatically mandate that everything must be explained in the natural. They venture far beyond the limits of science into the realm of whacky theory, and hide behind the badge of science all the while. And worst of all, they militantly try to snuff out any opposing view, keeping a fascist grip outlawing opposing theories in the universities, and refusing to debate ID proponents or Creationists.

What are they afraid of? If their theory is so foolproof, why not debate the Creationists and expose their silly theories for the fraud that they think they are. Oh, that’s right, because when they tried that 30 years ago, they got their clocks cleaned by the Creationists.

Exit question: When was the last time you actually heard ANY scientific debate at all on the actual evidence itself?

Another comment from later on:

The problem I see with evolution is that it requires a lengthy chain of events to all be true, where if any one of them is not true, the entire theory fails. Whenever I have dug into or heard discussion and summaries of the ACTUAL SCIENCE, and especially the points put forth by Creationists or other skeptics, my take is that the theory of evolution is so full of holes and specific pieces wholly unsupported — and close to disproved — by the evidence, that I think it takes far more faith to believe in the theory of evolution than it does to believe that God created the universe.

Evolution’s answer always seems to be that if you allow enough time, anything is possible. If you try to point out how unique life is, and how improbable it is that random chance is responsible for what we scientifically observe today, the evolutionist just ups the ante and says, “See how amazing this process of evolution is!

Many a evolutionist is so convinced that their theory is correct that it seems impossible to find any way to falsify it. I think a revealing question to put to an evolutionist is what would it take to convince them that their theory is false.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"The Language of Healthcare 2009”

Politico is reporting on a confidential report prepared by Republican consultant Frank Luntz for Congressional Republicans that outlines the best political language for Republicans to employ on Healthcare Reform. It includes this interesting list:

Luntz’s 10 pointers in “The Language of Healthcare 2009”:

(1) Humanize your approach. Abandon and exile ALL references to the “healthcare system.” From now on, healthcare is about people. Before you speak, think of the three components of tone that matter most: Individualize. Personalize. Humanize.

(2) Acknowledge the “crisis” or suffer the consequences. If you say there is no healthcare crisis, you give your listener permission to ignore everything else you say. It is a credibility killer for most Americans. A better approach is to define the crisis in your terms. “If you’re one of the millions who can’t afford healthcare, it is a crisis.” Better yet, “If some bureaucrat puts himself between you and your doctor, denying you exactly what you need, that’s a crisis.” And the best: “If you have to wait weeks for tests and months for treatment, that’s a healthcare crisis.”

(3) “Time” is the government healthcare killer. As Mick Jagger once sang, “Time is on Your Side.” Nothing else turns people against the government takeover of healthcare than the realistic expectation that it will result in delayed and potentially even denied treatment, procedures and/or medications. “Waiting to buy a car or even a house won’t kill you. But waiting for the healthcare you need – could. Delayed care is denied care.”

(4) The arguments against the Democrats’ healthcare plan must center around “politicians,” “bureaucrats,” and “Washington” … not the free market, tax incentives, or competition. Stop talking economic theory and start personalizing the impact of a government takeover of healthcare. They don’t want to hear that you’re opposed to government healthcare because it’s too expensive (any help from the government to lower costs will be embraced) or because it’s anti-competitive (they don’t know about or care about current limits to competition). But they are deathly afraid that a government takeover will lower their quality of care – so they are extremely receptive to the anti-Washington approach. It’s not an economic issue. It’s a bureaucratic issue.

(5) The healthcare denial horror stories from Canada & Co. do resonate, but you have to humanize them. You’ll notice we recommend the phrase “government takeover” rather than “government run” or “government controlled” It’s because too many politician say “we don’t want a government run healthcare system like Canada or Great Britain” without explaining those consequences. There is a better approach. “In countries with government run healthcare, politicians make YOUR healthcare decisions. THEY decide if you’ll get the procedure you need, or if you are disqualified because the treatment is too expensive or because you are too old. We can’t have that in America.”

(6) Healthcare quality = “getting the treatment you need, when you need it.” That is how Americans define quality, and so should you. Once again, focus on the importance of timeliness, but then add to it the specter of “denial.” Nothing will anger Americans more than the chance that they will be denied the healthcare they need for whatever reason. This is also important because it is an attribute of a government healthcare system that the Democrats CANNOT offer. So say it. “The plan put forward by the Democrats will deny people treatments they need and make them wait to get the treatments they are allowed to receive.”

(7) “One-size-does-NOT-fit-all.” The idea that a “committee of Washington bureaucrats” will establish the standard of care for all Americans and decide who gets what treatment based on how much it costs is anathema to Americans. Your approach? Call for the “protection of the personalized doctor-patient relationship.” It allows you to fight to protect and improve something good rather than only fighting to prevent something bad.

(8) WASTE, FRAUD, and ABUSE are your best targets for how to bring down costs. Make no mistake: the high cost of healthcare is still public enemy number one on this issue – and why so many Americans (including Republicans and conservatives) think the Democrats can handle healthcare better than the GOP. You can’t blame it on the lack of a private market; in case you missed it, capitalism isn’t exactly in vogue these days. But you can and should blame it on the waste, fraud, and abuse that is rampant in anything and everything the government controls.

(9) Americans will expect the government to look out for those who truly can’t afford healthcare. Here is the perfect sentence for addressing cost and the limited role for government that wins you allies rather than enemies: “A balanced, common sense approach that provides assistance to those who truly need it and keeps healthcare patient-centered rather than government-centered for everyone.”

(10) It’s not enough to just say what you’re against. You have to tell them what you’re for. It’s okay (and even necessary) for your campaign to center around why this healthcare plan is bad for America. But if you offer no vision for what’s better for America, you’ll be relegated to insignificance at best and labeled obstructionist at worst. What Americans are looking for in healthcare that your “solution” will provide is, in a word, more: “more access to more treatments and more doctors…with less interference from insurance companies and Washington politicians and special interests.”

In general these strike me as good tips. However, I am concerned by a couple things.

First, I'm leary that following these talking points too closely without explaining the economics behind the assertions will come across as too political, but maybe I'm wrong and all the ignorant folks out there will be swayed by personalized anecdotal arguments.

Second, you don't have to rest your entire argument on, or lead your arguments with economic theory, but it is important to educate people on the subject. Otherwise, you are just fighting a war of words with the Democrats. The key is to find ways to briefly yet convincingly put forth the economic arguments in a way that bolsters your overall argument and educates the public.

What is wrong with, for example, after explaining what single payer government-controlled health-care would look like, educating folks on why their health insurance premiums keep going up at 5 times the rate of inflation. I will attempt to do so briefly here. (well, it turns out to be not-so-brief, so this is a horribly bad example of what I was just saying, but please read on)

What if we purchased food the way we purchase health care? Your employer would provide you with a food insurance plan where you paid a $1 copay for every food item you bought regardless of its actual price. There would be no prices posted in the stores. In fact, it would be hard to find any employee in the store who could tell you how much any particular food item actually cost. When you asked them, they would look at you like something was wrong with you and say, "Why do you care, your insurance covers it anyway." Furthermore, if a grocery store sold you food that made you sick, you could sue the pants off them and a jury would award you $20 million, so they would make sure to only stock the shelf with the best produce possible, would throw away anything that even might be questionable, and would purchase massive amounts of liability insurance as well. What would happen to the cost and availability of food in such a system?

Well, with no price transparency, most people would go to the nicest or most convenient store and purchase whatever they thought they wanted/needed without regards to price. People would purchase more food than they would otherwise because the true cost is hidden from them at the point of purchase. The food insurance companies would enact clunky ways to try to keep costs in check (not nearly as effective as each consumer being careful to get the best bang for the buck with their own money) by putting maximum prices on each food item that the grocery store could bill them for and trying to deny insurance coverage to those who were purchasing the most food. The government would step in and either mandate the insurance companies cover the heavy food consumers or offer government food insurance for the uninsured. It would cost the grocery stores far more to stock the shelves with food items because they would have to factor in all the preventative throwing away of questionable food and the steep liability insurance.

Prices would soar steadily as all these inefficiencies ballooned the costs. Insurance companies would have to keep raising rates to stay in business, and employers would not be able to keep footing the entire bill for insurance, resulting in employees feeling the more visible pain of more and more being withheld from their paychecks to pay for insurance. While most people (at least those that have insurance) are satisfied with their access to and choices for food, they are constantly irritated by the rising insurance costs and worried about those who can no longer afford insurance.

So what is the solution? Should the government take over and provide universal food insurance for all? People would be tempted to support it because on the surface it appears less would come directly out of their pocket. Those who pay little or no taxes would be especially supportive since food basically becomes free for them. But has the government really done anything to decrease the overall cost of the system? No! In fact, by shielding more and more of cost from directly influencing consumer decisions, they will have exacerbated the cost problem as people take advantage of free (at least at the point of purchase) food. In order to prevent costs from exploding, the government will have to ration in some fashion the amount of food each person can have. They will start telling grocery stores they will only be reimbursed a certain amount for each food item. Each time the costs keep rising and government deficits increase, the government will ratchet down the amount they will reimburse for each food item. Grocery stores' profits will vanish. To stay in business they will start offering to sell some food types to those willing to pay with their own money, and will start refusing to sell to those with government insurance. Of course the government can not allow this and will mandate that no one can buy food outside the universal food insurance system. While people are demanding more food, stores are going out of business. Growing demand coupled with shrinking supply creates food shortages. At first people start growing hungry. If something is not changed soon, people will start starving to death.

Ok, so universal government-controlled food insurance is not a good solution. What's the alternative. How about returning to a market-based approach where prices do their job of most effectively allocating resources, coupled with governemnt assistance for those truly in need. This is exactly how food is purchased right now! Everyone pays full price for their own food, and government provides assistance to the needy through food stamps. (food is a bit different than health care in that just about everyone does need catastrophic health insurance to help with a major medical situation)

How do we get from here to there. In my food insurance example, you want to shift the price visibility back to the point of purchase. You want to post prices back on the shelves. You want to encourage employers to shift from footing the bill for food insurance to increasing the employees wages by a similar amount. This creates a vibrant insurance market with competition that keeps insurance prices down. Each person buys the right amount of insurance for them, instead of an inefficient one-size-fits-all approach of your employer deciding what insurance coverage you get (which may be less insurance than you want or more than you need). You want to limit lawsuit payouts to a fair and reasonable amount so that grocery stores do not need to spend vast sums of money on liability insurance. Now that poeple are faced with much or all of the true cost of purchasing a food item, they will spend their money much more wisely and efficiently than they spent the insurance company's money. With a more price efficient system in place, the reduction in insurance costs and taxes leaves plenty of room in the budget for the great majority of families to purchase all the food they need. Those who are less fortunate and truly need assistance are given food vouchers (food stamps) to purchase food like everyone else.

In health care, the policy changes should be:
  • Increase price visibility by strongly encouraging doctors to be able to provide patients with on-the-spot price quotes and/or a menu of prices for each medical procedure. For any medical service that in not an emergency, patients would be able to shop around for the best price/quality combination they were comfortable with. There is no reason that patients should be getting an MRI at one hospital for $2000 when a hospital 20 miles away, in some cases, may only charge $1200 for an MRI.
  • Increase the implementation of Health Savings Accounts which provide individuals with lower insurance rates in exchange for higher copays and deductibles, thus increasing the price at point of purchase. This will help prevent people from overburdening the system with unnecessary care. For all care that is truly needed, the patients will be willing to pay from the nest egg saved up in their HSA.
  • Revise the tax code to stop encouraging everyone to get their health insurance through their employer. Currently, health insurance is only tax deductible if provided through your employer. It doesn't make sense, and it's not fair to those who don't get their health insurance through their employer. Most employers do not provide you with car insurance, renters insurance, homeowners insurance, flood insurance, life insurance, or disability insurance. Some may provide some limited amount of those, usually for additional withholding from your paycheck, but none of those are tax-advantaged. Employer-provided health insurance is ubiquitous primarily because of the tax deductibility in the current tax code. The biggest problems with employer-provided health insurance are that it hides more of the true cost of health care (when all it really does is reduce your wages by the amount that your employer foot for health insurance -- you would be better off with the higher wages and purchasing your own insurance), and it is not portable between jobs (when was the last time you had to switch your car insurance plans when you moved to a different job). The deductibility also benefits those with higher incomes who are in higher tax brackets more than those with lesser incomes in lower tax brackets (someone in the 35% tax bracket with a $1000/mo. health plan gets a $350 tax break, while someone in the 15% tax bracket with the exact same $1000/mo. health plan only gets a $150 tax break) and encourages expensive gold-plated health plans with little or no copays, otherwise known as first-dollar coverage (an employer is more likely to provide a more expensive plan when they can deduct the cost of the plan from their taxes). John McCain had a very generous plan in the 2008 presidential campaign to replace the current tax deductibility for employer-provided health insurance with a $5000 refundable tax CREDIT for EVERYONE. That means unless you were in at least the 25% tax bracket AND your employer was withholding at least $1667/mo. for your health plan, you would have been better off with McCain's plan. I don't know what the exact numbers are, but I have to believe it would have been above 95% of people that would have been better off with the $5000 tax credit.
  • Cap the amount of pain and suffering damages (those above and beyond any medical costs that a medical provider is liable for because of a mistake) that juries can award to $250,000.
  • Reduce some of the mandates for insurance companies to cover stuff like sex-change operations.
  • Get the government out of the business of providing health insurance as much as possible and instead provide those who need assistance with "health stamps" to go buy their own insurance and/or health care.
  • VIDEO: Reason TV on D.C. Voucher Cut

    This video is a must watch. Nothing makes me angrier than the way Democrats and liberals pay lip service to education being "for the kids", when in reality they keep throwing more and more money at an inefficient and failing school system just to pacify their teacher union base. Note that in the case of the D.C. vouchers, the $7,500 voucher is much CHEAPER than the $14,000 per student that the failing D.C. public school system spends. Parents LOVE the program because they can send their kids to a better school. The kids test scores go up. It sounds like a win-win-win.

    But the teacher's unions want to keep the government monopoly over public schools. The unions don't want to lose their power by losing union members (teachers) to private schools. The teachers like all the benefits and job security provided by the union and don't want to have to compete for their jobs by doing a good job like all of us out here in the non-unionized private sector have to do. The teacher's unions and Democrats are either completely ignorant of the facts or don't give a damn about the students. While a lot of teachers are probably just acting out of selfish ignorance, I think the union leaders and liberal politicians fall into the latter category. They know their policies are not the best for the kids, but are best for themselves and their own hold on power.

    When the average public school in the country spends over $10,000 per student and the average private school tuition is less than $4000, why wouldn't a $5000 voucher per student for every student across the country make sense? Keep the public financing but give the choice to parents. We could cut our education spending in half while improving test scores and providing all parents with the choice of which school is best for their kid. The good public schools would still do fine if they are good enough for parents to choose to send their kids there. It's a win all around, except for the government monopoly and teacher's unions.

    Sorry for going off. I promised a video:

    I have to follow up by venting a bit of frustration with some of the parents in the video. While I can understand their enthusiasm for Obama for other reasons, I cannot understand why the parents could not see the voucher cuts coming. I cannot understand why over 90% of parents in highly African-American sections of cities across the country keep voting for liberal Democrats. At least for those who want school choice, why, why, why can't they see that it is the Republicans that stand with them for a better education system for their kids? The parent in the video wants to ask Obama why. I want to ask her why she voted for Obama. Does she really not know what Obama's policies are? What will it take for people's eyes to be opened?

    While I'm at it, why haven't the Republicans gone full bore in trying to highlight the cut of the voucher program and attempted to partner with these voucher supporters like those in the video to put the political pressure necessary to keep the program. In addition to fighting for conservative principles in education and being the right thing to do for the kids and for the country, it would also be a great opportunity to make inroads into the black community. Who cares if these aren't people who will likely vote Republican in the next election? If you ever want to win these people over, you've got to start somewhere, and there couldn't be a better place to start than with helping these parents provide a significantly better life for their kids!