28 June 2009

Health Insurance and Numbers - Some Simple Thinking

Here’s a little simple math regarding health care “reform” or what would be more aptly put as the federal government’s push to universalize health care insurance.

President Obama, through his Health and Human Services Secretary on Fox New Sunday, reiterated that the goal of injecting a federal health insurance plan would be to increase competition in the health insurance realm.  The numbers of that logic are as follows: one insurance provider – the federal government – would ensure that all other insurance providers competed in a manner which lowers cost.  Or, even more simply, one influences many.

On the other hand, there is an alternate opinion that each person in the US should be able to purchase health insurance for himself and his family in much the same way that drivers buy auto insurance.  People would be able to buy the level and depth of health care which they choose to carry and can afford.  The numbers of this alternative is that the millions – those buying individual and family insurance – would expand choice and competition simply by having the ability to pick and choose their coverage.  Private companies would strive to meet the needs of the customer.  Thus, the multitude of consumers would influence (and most likely expand the number of) insurance companies.

The problem that I see with health insurance is that individuals and families have no idea how much their insurance costs; they are decoupled from the dollars.  Bring the costs and the responsibility of health care closer to the individual, and liberty and choices are expanded.  What’s more, costs would probably drop.  One must ask if the current government would be please with that outcome.

26 June 2009

Energy and Liberty

The Waxman-Markey energy bill is up for a vote today, and my guess is that it will pass the House of Representatives. 1,201 pages - which no one will read until after it has passed -of money-grabbing, power-taking, industry-killing, public-impoverishing drivel.

This bill, should it pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Obama, would take enormous amounts of money out of the open economy and funnel it into government regulatory Hades from which it would never return. The statist-leftists claim that Waxman-Markey is required so as to save the planet; left unsaid is that it must be saved from us horrible, eco-devastating humans. Their chant, their message: It's for the planet! Don't we have a right to a clean planet! Down with CO2! (Never mind the plants...)

The actual result of the Waxman-Markey plan, however, for the common folks (those folks which Mr. Obama and statist-leftists like him claim to champion) will be a poorer, meaner life. And in taking people's earned income away from them, the government will take their personal liberty as well.

And that's the point. Energy "reform", health insurance "reform", and soon-to-be education "reform" will all cause power to gravitate to Washington D.C. and away from states, municipalities, and most importantly individual citizens. That's the point of these efforts by Mr. Obama and the statist-leftists. They seek to expand governmental power at the cost of trillions of dollars and untold amounts of individual liberty. Mr. Obama and the statist-leftists have and will tell the citizenry that these efforts are all for the citizenry - everyone has a right to (fill in the blank with high-cost, unattainable universality here). We will end up with far less liberty, far less freedom, and far, far less personal wealth. But we'll have government; we'll have our kind, loving Big Brother.

20 June 2009

Repower and Propaganda

Every time I see the old fellow on the "Repower America" commercials, it makes me just a little angry. Not angry in an I'm going to throw a book at the television way, but more in a "do you think I'm an idiot?" way.

The speaker in the commercial is an older gentleman with a non-urban type of accent; both of these aspects are purposefully chosen by the ad's creators. The hope is that the viewer sees the speaker as a down to earth, common sense spokesman. So when this spokesman says that the country burns oil "in ways that kill God's green earth", the hope is that we - the audience - will agree, in part influenced by his age and demeanor.

But what is at work is a plain-folks propaganda technique coupled with anthropomorphizing of the planet. This is the image: a trust-worthy guy tells the audience that burning petroleum distillates has the unbelievably immense consequence of bringing mortality to the very ground the audience stands on. That is a very strong statement.

When I was younger, the Cold War was still on. It was understood that a nuclear war - not just a one-off explosion - would kill most if not all life on the planet. Mass extermination, and that outcome was and is clearly demonstrable. The planet - for what it would be worth - would survive. Life and the taking of it belongs to the living.

The effectiveness of anthropomorphizing the planet is deep and lasting, which is why such language is used by "Repower America". So, one might ask, how can we cure our nearly dead earth? The speaker has an answer.

The speaker asks - rhetorically - "Why can't we use our own clean energy and create good-paying jobs here instead of sending billions overseas?" It's rhetorical because he asks the question while walking in a wind-turbine farm as flashes of solar mirrors come and go. Never mind the fact that currently a very small slice of energy is produced from those two sources. Never mind the infighting between environmentalists who want wind and solar power and those who claim that there's too much of an environmental impact from those sources. We can, the speaker claims, just use this ready energy and make jobs. Easy. Done! Who would guess that the solution would be so simple?

The speaker closes the commercial with the demand that "It's time to get real." At this point, I begin to agree with him. The United States really has lots of oil and natural gas within the borders of our great country. The United States really can build and run nuclear power plants and safely reprocess spent fuel rods. The United States really can pursue conservation and curb the growth of energy consumption. Why does "Repower" not advocate those positions? The earth is dying for an answer...right?

19 June 2009

Hurry-Up Legislating

After nearly six months of the Obama administration, it seems that one thing is clear about his method when it comes to domestic policy: I want what I want when I want it, and I want it now. Seemingly all legislative action on "big" issues - health insurance reform, cap-and-trade climate control, stimulus, Sotomayor's confirmation, the Obama budget, financial oversight and bailing - must happen immediately and with no delay. Certainly no delay for debate. The debate, they say, is over. Over on this, on that, and on that other thing. We must act now!

But perhaps the twin pushes for cap-and-trade and health insurance reform are causing even Democrats to recoil just a bit, and for an obvious reason: money. When legislators get a feel for just how much these wonderful new programs are going to cost, it appears to make them pause. Surely they understand that the trillions of dollars which would be soaked up by cap-and-trade and universal health insurance cannot be simply taken (in the form of taxation) from the 5% of the population that Mr. Obama promised during the campaign as taxable.

The speed with which Mr. Obama attempts - and in some cases, succeeds - to introduce and enact huge spending bills leads me to a pair of conclusions which cannot both be true. First, the Obama spending/legislation spree has been embarked upon so as to cram-down as much and as many liberal-progressive programs and ideology as possible in the shortest amount of time. The speed is necessary because actual debate might cause more people to actually think about what is being passed. Second, the Obama spending/legislation spree has been embarked upon so as to break the US economy. The ensuing catastrophe would be an opportunity to recreate governmental institutions through a liberal-progressive lens.

The answer to which is correct - if either is - is not as important as it is to simply slow everything down. Going slowly and asking questions on top of questions on top of questions is one of the best ways that Republicans and Obama-doubting Democrats can slow the descent into statism. What the Republicans can also do is publish competing ideas to the public at large. They should do this regardless of the cost; surely the RNC can stop sending "questionnaires" about Mr. Obama's policies and send outlines of truly conservative policy samples instead.

10 June 2009

Numbers, Real and Otherwise

President Obama has, since the birthing of the “stimulus bill” been proud to announce just how many jobs will be created through his massive government spending scheme. Or rather, “created of saved”. It’s that last portion which makes his job numbers works of fiction; that has been evident from the outset, though few in the media called him on it. The Wall Street Journal finally did:
“Mr. Obama's comments yesterday are a perfect illustration of just such a claim. In the months since Congress approved the stimulus, our economy has lost nearly 1.6 million jobs and unemployment has hit 9.4%. Invoke the magic words, however, and -- presto! -- you have the president claiming he has "saved or created" 150,000 jobs. It all makes for a much nicer spin, and helps you forget this is the same team that only a few months ago promised us that passing the stimulus would prevent unemployment from rising over 8%.”
There’s one un-real number in that paragraph, and it’s the one created by Mr. Obama – 150,000 jobs. And when Mr. Obama claims that 600,000 jobs will be created in his “next 100 days” – apparently his need for an immediate sequel extends past autobiographies – that number is fictional as well.

But the 9.4% unemployment rate and 1.6 million jobs lost are real numbers. And they’ll be really difficult for Mr. Obama to sweep under the rug with his imaginary broom for too much longer.

Here’s another real number for taxpayers: according to the Fox Business page, the government has doled out $80.3 billion to automakers Chrysler and GM. That money came out of the TARP funds which were meant for banks and such. $80.3 billion is a lot of money to sell one zombie carmaker off (to Fiat) and to transform the other zombie into a government-run, money-bleeding dysfunction. The only thing imaginary about the $80.3 billion spent on these automakers is the idea that we, the people, really have it to spend – or burn, as the case may be.

But we shouldn’t worry. Mr. Obama called yesterday – yesterday – for instituting “pay-go”, or pay-as-you-go legislation. This means that any new or expanded spending must be paid for through higher taxation or taking money from something else. Of course, any numbers put at this will be – you guessed it – un-real, because Mr. Obama has cut trillion dollar holes in it already. According to an AP article via Yahoo Finance, the legislation “would carve out about $2.5 trillion worth of exemptions for Obama's priorities over the next decade. His health care reform plan also would get a green light to run big deficits in its early years.” $2.5 trillion plus healthcare are big, real, scary numbers. But not to worry; everything else will be paid for as we go. Nuts.

Folks who claim that Mr. Obama is in the process of rapidly bankrupting the nation may be derided as scare-mongers, Obama-haters, or unpatriotic. But the numbers – real numbers – don’t lie. The counter-clockwise swirl created by spending and borrowing is growing more rapid by the day. Mr. Obama is accelerating the swirl through ever more spending, ever more borrowing, and ever more fiction-pushing. This spending and borrowing and spending will create an all too real collapse of our economy. And not only the banking sector. The whole thing.

04 June 2009

Out of Money? Try Doublethink.

A thinking person has to wonder just what the federal government is doing concerning spending, borrowing, and planning. Not long ago, after increasing spending by bazillions (please pardon the hyperbole), President Obama said that “we’re out of money now” in a C-SPAN interview. Yet the bailing out continues, the growing statism continues, with healthcare next on the block. Then perhaps curing “global warming” (or whatever euphemism suits the current climate) through “cap and trade” legislation. Finally, Mr. Obama will round out his “fixing” by turning schools around (and around and around).

But all of this will cost money – lots and lots of it. Bazillions might not be out of the question. Don’t worry though, the electorate is told again and again by Mr. Obama; these big fixes are just what are required to put the country on the right track. Some way will be dreamt up to pay for them, or (better yet) they’ll pay for themselves through “savings”.

Enter Chairman Bernanke (as reported on Bloomberg):

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said large U.S. budget deficits threaten financial stability and the government can’t continue indefinitely to borrow at the current rate to finance the shortfall.

“Unless we demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal sustainability in the longer term, we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth,” Bernanke said in testimony to lawmakers today. “Maintaining the confidence of the financial markets requires that we, as a nation, begin planning now for the restoration of fiscal balance.”

Bernanke’s comments signal that the central bank sees risks of a relapse into financial turmoil even as credit markets show signs of stability. He said the Fed won’t finance government spending over the long term, while warning that the financial industry remains under stress and the credit crunch continues to limit spending.

I would suggest that Mr. Obama’s grand plans for “cap and trade”, health care nationalization, and education “fixing” will not lead anywhere near the planet, let alone the neighborhood, called “fiscal sustainability”. They will lead the country into a hole of government spending – and governmental control – from which it and we may never emerge.

The doublethink operating in the Obama administration is shocking. Mr. Obama says that the country is out of money. Mr. Bernanke tells him (at some point, surely he has) that long-term fiscal stability is in danger because of deficit spending. I expect a serious head nod and tilt from Mr. Obama. Then the next big government program is envisioned and figures are dreamt up that will pay for it. The second will fix the first, if the first were even a problem to begin with. Until the first is a problem (again). Wash. Rise. Repeat.

03 June 2009

Washington Post Posts 10 Steps for Schools, Without Student Accountability

On May 30th, the Washington Post published an article by three folks from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). The article suggests ten steps which are supposed to turn failing schools in America into “world-class schools.” The authors claim that their recommendations are “radical” and that they will “get us where we need to go”. I was underwhelmed by the steps. Below, I will cover a few of them; text taken from the story is presented within quotes and in italics:

“Get outstanding students to go into teaching and treat them like professionals, not blue-collar workers in dead-end jobs. That means putting teachers in charge of their schools.” That sounds all fine and good, but there are roadblocks that the authors refuse to acknowledge. It would be a stretch to put teachers in the profession at this moment are in charge of their own classrooms – with regard to curriculum – let alone their schools. More often than not, curricula are dictated at the state level, either in the form of overly-complicated lists of learning objectives, mandated tests, or both. These factors end up in lowering the education bar and focusing on “bubble students” just enough to get them to pass standardized tests. For more on this, please check Booher-Jennings piece called “Below the Bubble”. The idea that individual teachers would be in charge of federally administered schools as opposed to those whose curricula are essentially dictated by the state defies current reality and the imagination.

“Hold faculty accountable for student achievement. Take over every school that, after three years, is unable to get at least 90 percent of all major groups of students on track to leave high school ready to enter college without the need to take any remedial courses.” After claiming a desire to empower teachers, to treat them like professionals, and to put them in charge of schools, the authors then set an honestly unattainable goal for them. Not only would the authors see these newly empowered teachers make sure students graduate, but have 90% of them ready to walk into college without remediation. Do they not realize that, even after years of testing in big states like Texas, getting 90% of students to pass their exit-level tests (which are not college entrance tests) the first time is still a tall task? And these tests are somewhat "minimal skill-set" tests, not college preparatory tests. There is another force in the classroom besides the teacher which is at work, yet the authors refuse to even acknowledge it.

Additionally, the authors obviously feel that not only is education through high school graduation a right (which has turned into an entitlement), but that college is a right as well. And whose job is it to push students – 90% of them, anyway – to be ready for college? (The other 10% would just need a little remediation in the authors' eyes before they gain their rightful places in college.) The authors would say that teachers are responsible. Perhaps they don’t understand that the verb “to learn” is an active-only verb. There is no passive tense for “learn”; no student is “learned by” their teacher. Indeed, student accountability is wholly left off the table in the authors’ bold, “radical” ten steps.

“Replace the current accountability tests with high-quality, course-based exams.” So much for treating teachers like professionals and putting them in charge of schools. I recall a time not too long ago when the teacher had the say as to whether or not a student achieved a level of understanding sufficient to pass a class, when student grades in a class mattered. Sure, teachers ought to be given a level of proficiency to which students must achieve (as a minimum), but the measurement of individual students in individual classrooms ought to be left up to each professional teacher. The teacher, as the authors suggest, ought to be in charge of his or her school and, one might assume, classroom. “high-quality exams” are already out there and in use: the SAT, ACT, et cetera; these are used to indicate a student’s aptitude to move on to college.

“Make a range of social services available to children from low-income families and coordinate those services with those students' school programs.” Here, we hit the core of the “radical” proposals. The authors realize that there are serious “social” issues within some low-income families. Perhaps their attempt is to use the framework of public schools to “fix” these family issues. If that is the case, then I suggest that federal boarding schools be opened for students who are deemed to have “social” issues too egregious for regular school settings.

Of course, this last comment is a leap in a direction I would not recommend. A government which can pull students preemptively into boarding schools – even for their own good – is a government which has far too much power. I’m not saying that the authors want to see this happen, but I do say that it is a logical conclusion to the steps they recommend. It would not surprise me to see it happen within my lifetime.

Somehow, there appears to be a growing feeling that government intrusion into private life is fine and dandy as long as it’s for “good reasons”, like protecting someone or something. We see this in America through government intervention into the economy, into banking, into industry, and soon into health care and energy production. It stands to reason that, like AIG and GM, the federal government may come to see urban school districts as “too big to fail.” When that happens, look out – cradle to grave direct federal intervention into individual lives will be here.

01 June 2009

Barone Get It Right – Run Against Centralization

This morning on Real Clear Politics, Michael Barone makes a good case that should run future campaigns on the platform of limited government. This would mean running directly against President Obama and his avowed statism, against nanny-like “benefits” dispensed by government, and against government-corporate collusion. One wonders just how Republicans would posit this argument against the seemingly unstoppable wave of statism.

For starters, the Republicans should develop, as quickly as possible, alternative programs for just about every statist program that Mr. Obama puts forward. Republicans already have somewhat solid thoughts on health care. They should also put forward ideas on military preparedness, the balance between diplomacy and military force when dealing with adversaries, corporate bailouts, and financial regulation. Indeed, Republicans may have all of these, but getting them out into the public will take a great effort, as the media largely kowtows to any action or plan that Mr. Obama comes up with.

Republicans must frame their plans and arguments under the banner of individual liberty. Every plan put forward by the statist Mr. Obama essentially takes liberty away from individual citizens and places it somewhere else, either in the government or in government backed institutions (like labor unions). Republicans must consistently and coherently remind the public that individual liberty is what made the United States the great country that it is. And while it is not hoped for, it can be expected that the statist structure which Mr. Obama is putting into place will cause nearly irreparable damage to an already weakened economy. If and when that happens (actually, it’s only when), Republicans need a clear message and plan for re-instituting individual liberty as the backbone of our country.