Thursday, December 24, 2009

Health Coverage to All and To All a Good Night!

Unless you have been living in a hole for the last few days, you have heard by now that the Senate has voted to approve their version of the Health Care Reform Bill without any help from the Republicans (Passing the Senate with 60-39... Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky) apparently doesn't care about Health Care Reform).  I'm sure all of the Senators were doing their best insuring that the best interests of all Americans were being accounted for.  Especially Senators like Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) that only voted for the health care bill after an earmark was added to fund his state's Medicare obligation (each state must fund its own Medicare program).  The House of Representatives has a rule in place that prevents trading earmarks for votes, but a rule like that does not exist in the Senate.  There was actually a vote in the senate in 2007 to pass a similar vote trading rule that passed an unanimous 98-0 that would have forbade this type of actions, but it was never actually adopted.  So is the Senate actually acting in accordance with what is best for the common citizen?  According to, the congressional approval rating is a blistering high of 27.4%.  It seems to be quite clear that whatever they are doing - they aren't doing a very good job.

The NYTimes actually has a good article describing the differences between the two bills passed by the House and the Senate, located here.  There are quite a few differences that will not be easy to overcome.  For those of you in Massachusetts, your vote will mean have an even greater meaning in the January 19th special elections because the vote of one senator can pass or fail this entire bill.  With something this important, you'd think that a compromise could be reached that would satisfy more people.

If the senate was really doing such an awesome job, wouldn't their approval ratings be hire?  If this version of health care reform was really the best thing for the country, wouldn't more people be enthusiastic about it?  Drop an e-mail to your representatives and senators and let them know what you think about the job they are doing.  If you are one of the 27.4% of people that think they are doing great, tell them... they will need a few words of encouragement after the 65.8% of angry people get their word in.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Health By Bureaucracy

Just a quick one today.  I'm sure you've heard the news about the Federally appointed task force that decided that the current breast cancer screening procedures are too thorough sighting the high cost of each test and individual turmoil caused due to false positives (detecting breast cancer where there isn't any).  Thankfully the Obama Administration won't change their existing policy on this go-around... its like they have a critical bill moving through the Senate that is trying to give them control over what type of medical treatment is really necessary or something.

Seriously, though:  a government task force appointed to come up with the balance between cost, your own personal feelings, and your health?  Isn't this just like the government telling me what is healthy instead of me talking it over with my doctor?  I thought this was something only evil corporations were capable of: identifying what sort of treatments or preventative measures I need by a calculated cost-benefit analysis.  Why would you fight for something like this?

Here is my chance to poke a few more holes in the FDA, also.  Have you heard the story about the FDA looking to take action against highly caffeinated alcoholic beverages?  First off, who hasn't tried a Vodka with Red Bull - secondly, what is the point of making pre-mixed drinks illegal when the whole fashion was started with people mixing their own drinks?  If MillerCoors isn't allowed to sell their Sparks because it is dangerous, what is to keep people from mixing their own again?  Is the FDA going to go into a house party and arrest people for mixing drinks?  Which is really dangerous - the alcohol or the caffeine or both?  If everything is dangerous, let's just bring back prohibition and add caffeine to the list of banned substances!

It is impossible to implement enough laws to protect people from their own ignorance.  If it is dangerous to mix alcohol and caffeine, then education is the way to solve it (remember that party saying, "beer before liquor, never sicker - liquor before beer, in the clear").  It is the same with preventative health measures - these issues should be solved between a patient and their doctor.  These are the two most qualified parties that poses the most relevant information - not some bureaucratic task force.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Social Security

As you may recall, I asked Mike Capuano at an Open Mike event his view of the constitutionality of the federal government passing some form of universal health care in a previous post.  During the first few seconds after he was getting over his apparent shock, he told me that health care is absolutely constitutional because if it wasn't, then Social Security wouldn't be constitutional either.  My response was quite simply, "Well - yeah."  Enter: US Supreme Court case Helvering vs Davis (May 1937).  The Supreme Court upheld the Social Security Act as constitutional.

I was planing on going in to how this ruling was incredibly controversial and came shortly after President Roosevelt stacked the Supreme Court with the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937.  I was also prepared to dive deeper still into the meaning behind the phrase "general welfare" in both the US Constitution's Preamble and in Article 1 Section 8 from different view points (including direct opposition to James Madison's opinion from Joseph Story's Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States) that reinforce the theory that general welfare relates to the United States as a whole and not helping individuals off the streets.  Instead, after a brief conversation with a friend, I decided to look at the belief that it is the federal government's job to help individuals through personal hardships.

Clinging to the phrase "general welfare" in the constitution as meaning "helping poor people" is a week argument.  There are numerous texts that indicate "general welfare" applies to things like interstate roads so that the post office can efficiently deliver your mail without having to take into account different state's traffic laws, navigation standards and the placement of light houses and buoys for ships, and regulating trade between the United States and other countries.  These examples hold true even between differing opinions on how restrictive "general welfare" is on the laws Congress can pass.

So what leads people to believe that the government is required to look out for its citizen's well-being?  Where is it stated that anything the government does is always in the best interest of its people?  What proof is there that government programs are more effective at helping people than private charities?  Who decided that the government knows what is best better than me, my family, my friends, or my community?

The loudest voice in Massachusetts right now for the universal health care plan is arguably Mike Capuano who during his Open Mike event proclaimed that we the people should do our due-diligence when selecting a US Senator because he is the government, and the government can not be trusted.  If I can't trust the government, by admission of representatives of that same government, then why am I to assume that what they are doing is in my best interest?  Shouldn't I be able to trust them if that was the case?

My point boils down to this: the government (by its own admission) can not be trusted blindly.  We the people do not have the capability to live out our lives with all of our daily responsibilities and at the same time watch everything the government tries to do - anyone would go mad trying to.  The only way to ensure that your best interest is met is to have direct control over every aspect of your life that is important to you (retirement, health care, personal savings, charity, etc).  For those less fortunate, the immediate community (family, religion, work groups, neighborhoods, towns, cities, counties, states, ect) should feel a responsibility towards those people and help out.  It is a statistical impossibility that the government could ever come up with a program that is capable of helping everyone without hurting anyone.  It is also abundantly clear that even when government programs begin with the best moral intentions, they quickly degrade into slowly-moving, out-dated, bloated bureaucracies whose effectiveness degrades until they ultimately burden the nation more than the initial problem they were created to solve.  The second the government makes a decision for you, your freedom to make the choice for yourself is abolished.  Case in point: I can no longer choose where 6% of my salary goes to because the federal government decided I don't know how to save for my retirement (thanks, Social Security).  What a wonderful burden to have lifted from my back... I should consider myself lucky if I get back exactly what I put back in... wonderful investment strategy - THANKS, government!

So why then is the government left on this high moral pedestal?  Why is it treated with any less skepticism than the "evil corporations" or greedy old "elitists"?   I'm leaving this post with more questions than answers, but this is where I am at this point.  I am absolutely dumbfounded that people will argue for a plan like government health care on the basis that the government's only intention is to help its citizens only to freely admit that the government is full of corruption and self interest on any number of other programs.  If you can definitively identify for me why the government deserves our unyielding trust or what compels the government to act only in the best interest of the people... you get a prize.  Drop me a line in the comments.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Joe Kennedy for Senate 2010

Next year, Massachusetts will be holding special elections to fill the US Senate seat vacated by the late Ted Kennedy.  I found that it was actually really hard to find a single source of news that listed all of the candidates... but leave it to the internet swarm to step up and fulfill my needs.  Wikipedia has a really awesome list of candidates that you can check out.  A short Google search for each candidate can expose their platform for your consideration.  I took a look at all of them and settled on my winner.

The Democratic candidates are for the most part pushing hard to maintain Ted Kennedy's reputation of "winning at all costs."  When I visited Mike Capuano's "Open Mike" event, he stressed his approval of passing Social Security and Medicare "without a single Republican vote."  I feel as though people like this only serve to drive the wedge in deeper to further polarize the country which is absolutely not what we need at this time.

The Republicans are similarly polarized in the opposite direction.  The leading candidate, Scott Brown, is still pushing his anti-gay rights agenda.  Really?  Come on, man - Massachusetts has lead the charge on gay rights - so much so that it sued the federal government about discrimination against homosexuals!  How do you expect anyone to believe your commitment to bipartisan cooperation if you are so far out in right field over something this state feels so strongly about?

This leaves the independents (according to Wikipedia): William Coleman and Joe Kennedy.  William Coleman is a "common man" from Worcester... so common in fact that he doesn't even have a campaign website.  I can't find any information about his platform, his stance on issues, or even if he is still in the running.  FAIL.  After that monstrous blunder, my hopes weren't too high for Joe Kennedy (no relation to those Kennedy's).  As you have no doubt determined, I believe that Joe Kennedy is a phenomenal candidate.

Joe is a Computer Scientist by training, but has more recently held managerial positions and has held seats on the board of directors for several companies.  More importantly, his views are what some people would describe as "socially liberal and fiscally conservative."  He is for same-sex relationships and cutting government spending.   His view on health care reform is to make available to everyone Personal Medical Savings Accounts which are tax-free (those not able to save money into accounts would be able to claim all medical spending for tax write-offs) and to end government regulation which stifles free market (FYI: for the last 40 or so years, health care has NOT been a free market).

I've got my candidate for 2010... who are you voting for?  Tell me who and why in the comments.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Alternatives

Lots of people today are at odds with the main stream political parties.  Voters in the middle, or Restless and Anxious Moderates (RAMs) according to the Washington Post, are becoming more and more prominent with some estimates upwards of 80% of the population saying they would consider an independent candidate in the 2008 presidential race (regardless of their declared party affiliation).  From my point of view there are several issues that people find themselves at odds with one party or the other, so they label themselves as "Fiscal Conservatives and Social Liberals" or similar.  I'm sure you have heard of some of the other political parties because of candidates like Ross Perot (Reform Party), Ralph Nader (Green Party), and Ron Paul (Libertarian Party).  Thus the subject of today's entry: your alternatives.

I've seen lots of people define their political party based on the few issues they feel are important to them.  For instance: some people would label themselves as Democrats because they believe people should have equal rights to marriage... others would label themselves as republicans because they believe abortion should be made illegal.  What about all of the other positions those parties take?  The Democrats believe the government should take care of everyone and watch over them where the Republicans believe the government is evil and all of its spending should be cut to nothing except war (I'm exaggerating here to make a point of skewed opinion, not a presentation of facts).  While it may be true that it is impossible to find a political party where you agree with EVERY facet of their platform, but do you fall neatly into either the Republican or Democrat columns?

As I hinted at before, there is a plethora of options for political parties in the US, so I'm not even going to try to tackle every one.  Instead, I am going to focus on the two parties that have captured my attention the most: Libertarians and Constitutionalists.  When I first began my dive into political alternatives, I was drawn quickly to these two parties because my emerging political issue is personal rights.  These two parties agree on several issues including the wish to return to a government strictly bound by the Constitution, the promotion of individual freedoms, and they both have similar economic policies.  They also both agree on the issue of health care reform: the government is constitutionally prohibited from regulating health care.

The deciding factor for me was written in the preamble for each party.  The preamble is the party line from which all of their policies can be derived from - with it, you should be able to identify exactly how the party would vote on any given issue without having to look at their issues page.  The Constitutionalists believe that this country was founded not by "religionists", but by Christians that believe in "our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."  They seek to return to American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the government within its Constitutional boundaries.  This to me said that the party as a whole can selectively persecute because of religious beliefs (though not through legal means because the Constitution prohibits that).  It seems difficult to me that a country with such a strong foundation favoring one religion over another can remain tolerant of other religions (I'm thinking of the UK right now which is going through problems with their Muslim population and much of the Middle East which is trying to work through its problems with Christians).

The Libertarians on the other hand emphasize individual rights and the elimination of the use of force or fraud to achieve goals.  They don't even mention religion in their preamble except to say that they believe it is wrong for the government to promote or attack any religion in particular and that people are free to follow any religion they wish so long as it doesn't infringe on the personal freedoms of someone else.  It just makes sense to me.  Since I have learned about these platforms, I get a little confused when I see people arguing for something that would infringe on other people's rights or freedoms.  Some examples I run into all the time are things like farm subsidies, health care, and government regulations.  Things like the health care debate strike at the very core of the Libertarian platform.  According to the Libertarians: the government is already too involved and needs to get out; Subsidies (farm, foreign trade like NAFTA, and energy) are all bad for the people; and government regulation does more harm than good.  Look it up.  Understanding that there isn't one party that fits all, issues that deal with the core party line should certainly align with your values.

The first thing you should do now is read up on your favorite party... go to your search engine of choice, type in your political party (like "libertarian party") and the first hit will be your party's website.  You should then be able to navigate around their website to find their Preamble (here are links for the Constitutionalists, Democrats, Libertarians, and Republicans for a start).  Do you agree with your party's platform?  If not... why would you support them?  Find a party that agrees with you.  It isn't always easy to make a decision... but we've got some time... the next vote for the US House and Senate is November 2, 2010.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Blind Leading The Blind

Today a friend and I went to see Mike Capuano give an "Open Mike" talk in our town.  Mike is currently a US Congressman representing the 8th Congressional District of Massachusetts and running for the open Senate seat vacated by the late Ted Kennedy.  I wanted to ask his opinion on the Constitution and the current healthcare reform.

First, I want to talk about the event itself.  This was my first time ever going to see a politician talk and it was quite an event.  The talk was scheduled to start at 11:30am and was hosted by a local tavern down town.  My friend and I arrived early so that we were sure to get in (about 11:10am).  There were a couple of folks already there chatting amongst themselves and one came over to us shortly after we sat down.  At first I thought nothing of this guy coming over to chat - there were only 5 people at the tavern at this time that didn't work there, so he seemed like he was just trying to be friendly when he asked us if we were residents of the town.  Then he asked why we were there and if we were political activists.  Woah - what?  Right from townie small-talk to political activism?  As it turns out, most of the people that showed up (I'm estimating 80%) were advocates from some group or another trying to get the Representative to hear their pleas.  By the looks of it, everyone knew everyone else because they were all activists for some group or another.  The first gentleman we spoke with was advocating to escalate the war in Afghanistan and pull troops out of Iraq - another person we spoke with was advocating to end the "military industrial complex" (do people really talk like that any more???) - and someone else was advocating for gun rights.  I felt a little out of place.  The few people that weren't activists were town leaders from state representatives to the chief of police.

Around 11:20 the staffers for Mike's campaign came in and started posting signs all over the place.  It was a game to see how many "Mike Capuano for Senate" signs they could put in the little room we were all in.  We asked one of the staffers working near us what how she got involved with the campaign and her answer was a little interesting.  She was going to the Kennedy College and after the death of Ted Kennedy, she became more interested in politics.  She chose to work with Mike's campaign because his office was located near her home in Cambridge, MA and because he seemed like a good guy.  When we pressed a little more, she said the she agreed with some of his political views, but that she really liked him because he seemed like a good guy.  This was a common theme among the people at the event: they were mostly there to support Mike Capuano because he is a good guy.

Representative Capuano showed up around 12:10pm and things kicked off shortly after that.  Before anything could begin however, Mike walked around the room to everyone that was there and shook their hands to thanked everyone for coming personally.  He gave a very well delivered speech (without notes or a teleprompter) talking about how his orphan grandfather came over from Italy to live the American Dream (I'm paraphrasing a little bit, but you get the picture).  His strongest point seemed to be that you were voting for him because of his moral standings and judgment - not his political positions (because you won't agree with him on every point).  He was also very open that when voting on an issue of great importance to himself, he would vote towards his conscience even if it meant voting against his constituents.  He was very proud of his decision to vote against the Patriot Act even though he thought most of his constituents would have wanted him to vote for it.  He thought that if he was consistently voting against his constituents that he would be voted out of office.

There was a brief question and answer session after his speech.  There were a couple of things that I thought were interesting including his stance on immigration, a public option for health care, and education.  He felt that the immigration policy could be boiled down to economic policy - If the US economy is good, then we can accept a lot of immigrants and if the economy is bad, we can refuse a lot of immigrants.  The immigrants that are here should have available to them a path to citizenship... but the immigrant criminals should be deported.  Mike's stance on a public option was a little vague because he said that he hasn't heard any good options from experts yet.  He basically said that he gets one option for health care as a US Representative: Blue-Cross Blue-Shield.  He would support a public option that offers more choices.  I don't think the people there saw the connection that your bountiful choices would be between your employer's coverage and the government option.  Wonderful choices.  Mike also stated that there is only two ways to limit the cost of health care: a government-controller health care system or competition.  He doesn't believe the country is ready for a government-run health care system, but he thinks that it would be the best way to solve the current problems.  His stance on education was simply that the schools weren't receiving enough funding to implement No Child Left Behind and that all of the problems could be solved by increasing funding for education.

Here is my interpretation of his views: Immigrants are a drain on our economy, so we will only let them in while the economy can support them (except the smart immigrants... they will help are economy).  A public option health care will allow people to choose between the one choice they have now and a government option... but the government should really control the cost of health care.  Our schools are failing students because they don't have enough money, so just throw more money at them and everything will be fine.

I wasn't able to ask my question during the Q&A session, but thanks to the bold actions by my friend, I was able to ask Mike my question one-on-one.  I asked Mike to explain to me how any federal decision on health care fell within the powers mandated to it by Article 1 Section 8 the US Constitution.  Mike's response was that it was entirely within congress' powers because the Constitution outlines powers granted to the states and whatever powers weren't granted to the states fell under federal control... then he said that he respectfully disagrees with my opinion that Congress was overstepping its powers and was ushered off to his next appearance.  I feel like I've done a lot of reading regarding the powers of the federal government outlined by the constitution and never have I found anyone that even suggested that the US Constitution applied limits to state powers.  The US Constitution was created to protect the people from an oppressive government and to protect the states rights outlined within their own constitutions.  I've linked this blog many times to the direct text of Article 1 Section 8 which begins with, "The Congress shall have power to..."  That deffinetly sounds to me like the beginning of a list of powers that The Congress has (not what powers the states have and absolutely not "these are a few of the powers of the Congress, but they can make more if they feel like it").

Mike Capuano seems like a nice guy.  He spoke very clearly and passionately about things he believes in, and he really wants to help people.  In his own words, he wants to help people and he doesn't know any other way to do it other than through his work in the Federal Government.  I guess he doesn't care for charities or community help organizations because clearly they aren't doing any good.  The event was interesting to see, and I think I might go to a few more if my schedule allows... but Mike Capuano will definitely not be getting my vote.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Statistics: Who's side are you on, anyway?

There are a lot of statistics flying around regarding health care, and I thought it would be interesting to see what the numbers are really saying.  The thing that gets me is that statistics can me massaged to say just about anything you want them to say.  In this post I am going to focus on three statistics that stand out in my mind when health care is debated: The percentage of Americans without health care, the number of Americans without health care, and the life expectancy of Americans compared with other countries in the world.

These stand out to me because the number and percentage of Americans stated to be without health care doesn't seem to correlate with my impression of the number of Americans in existence, and I have heard some statistics that put the US as #1 for life expectancy when things like car accidents and murders are removed from the equation.  My biggest problems with throwing numbers around is the lack of information regarding the source of the data so that I can go look it up for myself.  That is an immediate red-flag in my mind that someone is trying to conceal something or manipulate the data to make their claims seem more important.

On to the amount of Americans without health care.  According to the National Coalition on Health Care fact sheet:
Several studies estimate the number of uninsured Americans. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 47 million Americans, or 20 percent of the population under the age of 65, were without health insurance in 2008, their latest data available.

~NCHC Fact Sheet
I am a little skeptical about that number.  First off, let's see how many people under the age of 65 the census bureau thought there was in 2008.  Using this data from the 2008 1-Year estimate, I have calculated  that 87.3% of the population is under the age of 65.  If there are 304,059,728 people in the United States, and 87.3% of them are under the age of 65, then there are 265,444,142 (rounding the .544 off to make a whole number) people in the US under the age of 65.  Assuming for a second that there really are 20% of those people uninsured, that would give us 53,088,828 (nearly 53 million) uninsured Americans - not the "nearly" 47,000,000 cited by the NCHC.

Now if we assume the NCHC number is correct (nearly 47 million uninsured Americans under the age of 65 are without health insurance), what percentage would that really give us?  Using my number from before (265,444,142 Americans under the age of 65), then 47 million is only 17.706% of all Americans under the age of 65 without health insurance. I'll grant that these numbers are still depressing, but why the inflation? Why isn't the truth good enough? Lucky for me, the NCHC included their referenced material in their footnotes:
DeNavas-Walt, C.B. Proctor, and J. Smith.  Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2008.  U.S. Census Bureau., September 2009.
~NCHC Fact Sheet
I dropped that into a Google search which produced this document.  If you pop on over to page 27 of that PDF document, you'll be at the section relating to health insurance.  This is the very first paragraph in that section:
The percentage of people without health insurance in 2008 was not statistically different from 2007 at 15.4 percent. The number of uninsured increased to 46.3 million in 2008, from 45.7 million in 2007 (Table 7 and Figure 6).
~U.S. Census Bureau
REALLY!?  Even the high number (46.3 million) which includes people over the age of 65 doesn't equal the NCHC number of nearly 47 million people without health insurance.  What numbers are they even looking at?  According to this report (which is cited by the NCHC), there are 301,483,000 people in the US of which there are 46,340,000 people uninsured (about 15.4%).  There are 263,695,000 people under the age of 65 in the US and 44,692,000 (nearly 45 million) of them are uninsured, about 16.95%.  Again, I'm not trying to say that this isn't a lot of people; I'm just making the point that someone is not being truthful about there numbers and that seems a little suspicious.

Now my favorite: Life expectancy.  Life expectancy is one of those really difficult things to calculate because there are so many variables.  What are the chances of you getting struck by lightning or getting depressed and committing suicide or having a house fall out of a tornado and landing on top of you or being attacked by pirates on the high seas or... I think you are getting my point.  None of those examples have anything at all to do with your health at the time of the incident that ends your life... unless you are trying to imply that having health insurance will protect you from the killer asteroid in Armageddon.

The most popular statistic sighted is that the US has the lowest life expectancy rating among developed nations... just above Cuba.  Wolfram|Alpha is really useful for doing statistical analysis, so I asked it to show me data relating to life expectancy.  It tells me that the United States is ranked 50th in the world with an average life expectancy of 78.11 years which beats out Cuba's expectancy of 77.45 years (ranked 57th).  That sure beats Swaziland (ranked 227th) with an average expected life of 31.88 years!  All of this data includes unnatural causes of death including car accidents and homicide.  So what are the leading causes of death in the US?  I found a World Health Organization database here that lists mortality statistics for all over the world, but it is friggin' huge and I don't remember access well enough to make use of the data.  Luckily, as is often times the case on the internet, someone else has done the work for me.  Scroll on down to the dynamic table and check out the description.  When you remove fatal accidents from the equation of life expectancy (like car accidents, homicide, etc), the US all of a sudden is ranked #1 in life expectancy.  You may also note that the data is from an older database (1999), but based on the data I've been sifting through from the WHO, this trend still seems to hold true (If you want to volunteer to sift through the latest access data, be my guest!).

The bottom line is this: the truth is absolutely more powerful the any other variation of data.  As soon as it is picked up that the data you are using has been exaggerated in any way, your entire argument is suddenly no longer sound.  If you are modifying this data, what else have you not told me?  Why is the data being altered?  Why are people lying to me over something as important as my own health?  So much for private corporations being the ones we can't trust.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Personal and Community Responsiblity

A few people have pointed out that I advocate a lot for private and corporate donations as opposed to forced giving through government programs.  The criticism I receive is that I seem to look down from my moral high ground and expect others to do the heavy lifting for me.  Some people don't believe that I practice what I preach.  In this post I'll go over the strategy my family is taking to contribute our part to make our community a better place and to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

This strategy is not indented to be the best for everyone - this is one area that has more than one right answer.  I guess the best place to begin is to choose the best way for you to contribute which generally boils down to two categories: Time and Money.  This is most likely the hardest decision to make.  The common problem is that you need money to buy the things you need and you need time to make that money.  Making a budget is an easy way to identify how much money you can donate.  Eventually, I want to be at a point where I can donate 10% of my income.  Obviously I need to be financially stable on my own before I can help other people.  I define financial stability as having the following things:
  1. Being able to cover all of my monthly bills.
  2. Emergency fund capable of covering all living expenses for 3 months (Bills plus some discretionary spending).
  3. Full contributions to long-term retirement savings capable of maintaining my current lifestyle after I retire without help from Social Security.
At this stage in my life I do not consider myself financially stable, but I am definitely on the way to being so.  Right now, I'm not able to give the full 10% of my income as I'd like, but my budget allows for small contributions here and there.  This means that my money is more valuable than my time, so I volunteer.  Eventually as I get older, my time will begin to be more valuable (like when I have kids) and I will need to re-evaluate my position again.

This leads me to the second decision: where do I donate my time and money?  I am a strong advocate for community support.  There is no point in perusing lofty goals of saving the world if the people down the street can't get a good education.  I also believe in supporting programs that have some meaning to me personally.  Really, anything you think is important is a target for your contribution.

My community volunteer support focuses primarily on education and pursuit of the sciences because that is what hits closest to my interests.  I am the team coordinator for a local FIRST Robotics Competition team which promotes science and technology education in high school students.  I also mentor in a program called STOMP which promotes science and technology education in fifth graders.  Both of these programs also get some of my money as is sometimes the case with volunteer efforts.  I have also donated money to Alternative Gifts International which helps fund engineering projects in places around the world.  All of these activities revolve around my local community or promoting science and technology. 

As I mentioned before, once I become financially stable and my time begins to be more valuable to me than my money, I will have to choose to re-allocate my resources as is appropriate.  I'm sure that my ideas of what to contribute to will be different from yours.  Some people may not wish to contribute anything at all which is of course their right (except in today's world).  How do you decide the way in which you donate?  How do you decide where your donations go?  Drop a line in the comments section.

The Right To Bear Arms

My older post about the Constitution combined with the personal knowledge that I am a gun owner spurred the following question: What is my take on the constitutional right to bear arms? The argument goes like this: If we are supposed to interpret the Constitution's words as they were meant back when they were penned, wouldn't the Constitution only allow members of a well-formed militia to keep firearms? There is another thought that the militia members stored their weapons in a militia armory and not in private homes. In this post, I'm going to attempt to explain the Second Amendment.

The ratification of the Constitution was not entirely smooth as there were several states that felt that the rights of individuals were not properly spelled out.  Many states passed legislation which tied their adoption of the Constitution to the later creation of the Bill of Rights that would more completely detail individual protections from the government.  Virginia passed its own bill of rights in 1776 called the Virginia Declaration of Rights with the following right:

That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.
~Virginia Declaration of Rights
The first federal mention of the people's right to bear arms was by James Madison in a speech to congress in 1789 (before he was elected president in 1809).  In Madison's speech, which the following phrase was heavily influenced by the Virginia Declaration of Rights, he proposed:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.
~James Madison

For those of you that don't know, James Madison was the key architect behind both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  In this statement, he justifies the right of the people to bear arms because he sees a well formed militia as being the best defense of a free country - not a requisite of keeping arms.  It was

Lots of people focus on the well formed militia statement as indicating that only members of an organized military should have the right to keep and bear arms.  It is true that
the militias fought off the British in America's fight for independence and it wasn't until the Civil War that drafts were the primary source of warfighters (the Vietnam War saw the last draft end in 1973 and today the US armed services is currently all volunteer service members).  However the key reason behind the bill of rights in the first place was to protect individual rights from infringement by the government.

The constitution was designed so that the people possessed more power than the government.  At the time of the ratification of the Constitution, standing armies were not popular because Europe had seen many armies rise up to rule over the people.  Additionally, people that lived on the frontier commonly had to protect themselves against Native Americans.  Many state constitutions included rights to bear arms for the purpose of self defense specifically (including Massachusetts).  Noah Webster (of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary) had this to say with regards to the people's right to bear arms:

Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States.
~Noah Webster
 Another argument in this debate is that the second amendment was intended to be a state right rather than an individual right to bear arms for protection... the state has the right to have well regulated militias (all arms and ammunition would be stored in a common location for the use by the militia).  During Madison's speech to Congress, he thought these amendments should actually alter the wording of the Constitution itself and not added as a list to the end as they are now.  During his speech he suggested that the right to bear arms be inserted in Article 1 Section 9 between clauses 3 and 4.  Section 9 deals specifically with individual rights, where Section 8 deals with state rights, indicating that Madison had intended that the right to bear arms is specifically and individual right.  Additionally, in the Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to bear arms is an individual right.

The US Constitution is meant to protect the people against their government.  It is recognized that the ability of the government to enforce unjust laws by force can not work if the people are able to defend themselves.  If I have missed or misrepresented anything, drop me a line in the comments!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Total Anarchy

Over the course of my posts, I have done a lot of government bashing.  Really, the government is so big that it is almost hard not to miss all of the stinking globs of terrible being thrown out by our honorable representatives.  A lot of comments I get regarding my posts that seem to indicate the reader believes I am anti-government.  This makes me question the reader's comprehension of my ideas.  I talk a lot about the Constitution and its amendments.  I'd say I spend more time talking about the Constitution than I do government.  So lets be clear.

I am absolutely against anarchy.

The government serves as an authority regulated by the people which is capable of using force to protect the rights of its population.  The most important part of that statement is the capability of using force.  The government can only accomplish tasks through the use of force.  When ever I say this, people immediately have a negative reaction to my choice to use the word force, but I believe that it is absolutely accurate.  The government is the only entity that has the ability to punish you by removing personal rights and in some states your right to life for not complying with its rules.  Once you begin to understand the concept that the government can only use force, you begin to see some government actions in a different light.

Since health care is still in the lime light, I'll keep with that topic for this example.  My biggest problem with the government health care debate is that the Constitution prohibits the federal government from taking any action in this arena.  In Obama's address, he mentioned that his plan would mandate minimum health care coverage just like many states mandate minimum auto insurance.  If auto insurance is such a good idea - why doesn't the federal government mandate a minimum auto insurance coverage?  The same reason there can't be a federally mandated minimum health care coverage: Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution covers the Legislative branch (which is where the current health care debate resides), Article 2 Section 2 covers the powers of the President, and Article 3 Section 1 covers the Judicial Branch.  I talked about this earlier in my post about the real issue with health care.  The government's powers are limited to protect us, the citizens of the United States, from those in power.  I'm sure you have heard Lord Acton's saying that ultimate power corrupts absolutely... that is essentially what the Constitution was drafted to protect against.

This is a slight tangent from the main topic, but I feel it is an important point that most people overlook.  When I argue that most of the current powers maintained by the federal government should be transferred to private corporations or organizations (like the FDA, Post Office, FTA, and everyone mentioned in my posts about the Government Machine), I am immediately bombarded by messages from people that say they wouldn't trust a corporation with these tasks because of the fear of corruption.  Since my post about the FDA received the harshest feedback, I'll visit that a little more.   In this post, I mentioned that 70% of the panels which approve prescription drugs had at least one member on the panel that had received money from the corporation that made the drug being reviewed.  This information was revealed in a highly respected scientific journal, Nature, in 2005.  The problem is that this sort of thing didn't change the way the FDA operated.  There are still independent articles being written regarding corruption with the FDA approval process.  This is because the federal government has decided that the FDA will be the governing authority in this regard and whatever decisions it makes are considered law.  Now let's look at some private industry corruption... off the top of my head, I think of Enron.  In 2001 Governor Gary Davis of California calls Enron an out-of-state profiteer, alleging fraudulent activities.  By the beginning of 2002, Enron's profits had plummeted, its stocks were worthless, and its top executive board was undergoing criminal proceedings.  Today there are still some trials taking place against non-Enron conspirators but, for the most part, it is gone.  In a little over a year the company was destroyed.  Understandably, a business' primary objective is to make profit... everyone knows this from economics class.  The way a company does this is by having a product or service that is of use to its customers, but if a company becomes corrupt (like Enron) it will be destroyed quickly allowing its competitors to fill in its place.

Now back to the topic at hand: where the government is useful.  Let's say that you and your neighbor are having a terrible argument.  Maybe this neighbor stole something from you - it isn't important for this exercise.  Anarchists, like Stefan Molyneux over here, is in favor of having corporations called Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs).  These corporations would operate like E-Bay... each of its customers would have a rating that is essentially equal to your credit score plus a lot of other things like how people score your interactions (you paid on time or you delivered your product on time, etc).  I could see this working for small debts, but if there is a really crazy argument - there needs to be some supreme authority.  When these arguments occur across state lines, the Federal Government steps in and resolves the situation (otherwise it is left to individual states).

When you look at the government and its finely described list of powers, hopefully you begin to see where I am coming from.  The government is overextended and just like anything else (corporation, private organization, family, friends, etc) it gets sloppy, inefficient, and wasteful.  Unfortunately with the government: its waste is our waste and its power comes at the expense of our freedoms.  Whenever it makes a decision for us, that is one more option taken away.  I believe the government serves a purpose and has a place.  I believe it has grown uncontrolled and now needs to be pruned.  I believe the path towards a healthier government is through the education of the American People.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Government Machine (Part 2)

Last time I looked at the National School Lunch Program, the Peace Corps, Delivery of Social Security and Government Retirement benefits, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology for waste, inefficiencies, and ways that the free market can easily step in and handle these initiatives without the need of federal government regulation.  Indeed, these programs could operate more effectively and respond to problems more quickly than the bloated government bureaucracies.  The one thing that these programs all have in common is the morality behind them.  No one is arguing if these programs are fulfilling a need - my argument is simply that it can be done better without the need for force from the government.

Food and Drug Administration
The FDA is the government agency in the Department of Health and Human Services tasked with regulating and supervising the safety of things that go into your body: food, diet supplements, drugs, vaccines, medical products, and cosmetics to name a few.  It also enforces sanitation requirements for interstate travel and rules for the control of disease in pets and other biological products.  The fun part is that there is only one regulatory agency responsible for these regulations.  Just like you wouldn't want a single commercial company in charge of important things like your credit score.  In an effort to combat this single point of regulation, there are several government and non-government organizations watching the FDA.  Unfortunately since there is only one regulating body, and that regulating body has the authority of the Federal Government behind any of its decisions, it isn't obligated by anything other than the level of public outcry to change its policies or regulations.

The American Red Cross is obligated to abide by FDA regulations.  The FDA has mandated that in order to reduce the risk of HIV-contaminated blood samples, any male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977 is not eligible to donate blood.  If we look at the government's research, we can see their verification data.  In 2007, 57% of those involved in this study reported that they had been infected through sexual contact involving two males.  That sounds like a strong statistical basis for prohibiting gay men from donating blood.  This got me thinking: what percentage of gay men in the US are HIV positive?  I found this interesting source that did some number crunching for me.  Since there are still lots of people that aren't comfortable reviling their sexual preference, it is very difficult to get a real number, so most if it is still mostly done through analysis.  This analysis reviled that only about 12% of gay males in the US have HIV.  With this revaluation, the statistical case for banning gay males from donating blood goes out the window.  Unfortunately, this government agency doesn't see any reason to change their regulations... the FDA revisits this policy once a year, by the way.  They have chosen to do nothing for the past 32 years.

With a single regulatory agency there is also the chance of corruption.  In a 2005 article in the scientific journal Nature, a study reviled that in 70% of all FDA prescription drug panels writing clinical guidelines had at least one member on the panel that has direct financial ties to the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug being evaluated.  In one case, every single member on the panel evaluating epoeitin alfa for use in HIV positive patients had received money from the drug's manufacturer.

In the corporate world, a regulatory agency that continued these practices would loose credibility and be run out of business as member organizations withdrew from this agency's regulations.  What makes the FDA immune to this type of action?  They are the only regulatory agency in the US and they are backed by the US Government.

Global Positioning System
Oh, the Department of Defence:  how we both love and hate thee.  It is funny that when people think of frivolous government spending, the DOD is one of the first government agencies that is fingered because of their enormous budget ($612.4 Billion identified as "Discretionary Spending: Defense" in 2008 according to the congressional budget office - that is about 4.9% of all Federal Government Spending in 2008) and its infamous "black budget" for secret projects and yet GPS is one of the projects that is identified as a federal government success story.

The Global Positioning System began its life in 1960 under a NAVY program called Transit.  It was a constellation of five satellites that would float around the globe together allowing for a navigational fix once about every hour.  In 1983 President Ronald Reagan issued the National Security Defense Directive NSDD-102 (Previously classified document, released in part) in response to Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (which happened to be carrying a seated member of the US Congress) being shot down by the Soviet Union because the aircraft strayed into Soviet airspace while on autopilot.  This directive allowed GPS technology to be available to the public as a service to benefit the common good once it was fully operational.  The modern constellation of satellites was completed in 1994, but there are still a few launches to upgrade the system and replace failed satellites.

Nearly everyone has a GPS receiver now, but do you know its limits?  Because it is a government-controlled device, each manufacturer is held to strict FCC regulations that can change at the whim of the government.  One such restriction is that your GPS receiver won't operate above 18km (about 60,000 feet) or while moving faster than 515m/s (about 1100mph).  The government thinks that if your receiver is doing one of these things, then clearly it is a ballistic missile and should be denied GPS capability.  That sounds reasonable, but what if I want to make an amateur weather balloon to take pictures of the curvature of the earth and track the balloon's progress because it is cool?  These types of experiments will commonly exceed 40km (about 130,000 feet) and thus will be denied the ability to use GPS.  There are several other similar systems created by other countries, but all of them are forbidden in the US due to import restrictions.  Alternatively, what if I wanted to build a cruise missile in the US - it would fly at about the same height and speed of a private plane, so I could use GPS for that... not to mention that it is much easier to build a cruise missile than a ballistic missile.

Finally, what about those people that choose not to use GPS for whatever reason (maybe they don't like that the US military is using it to bomb civilians in Afghanistan or something).  They are still forced to pay (through their taxes) for the maintenance of the system.  This, like several other government problems, boils down to freedom.  You don't have the freedom to choose what your money supports: be it a sophisticated map to get you from A-to-B or the ability to "reach out and touch someone" with a 3000lb JDAM.

Postal Service
Postal services on US Territory actually pre-dates the United States, but the United States Postal Service was headed up by Benjamin Franklin in 1775 and backed by the Second Continental Congress.  There were a couple of government changes that eventually led to the creation of today's postal service after the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act.  The current USPS is legally identified as an " independent establishment of the executive branch..." as opposed to a Government-owned corporation (like Amtrak).  As an Independent establishment it has not received tax money since the early 1980's, but it does receive several perks of a government entity.  Among them are sovereign immunity (it cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution), eminent domain powers (the ability to seize private property or rights without consent), powers to negotiate postal treaties with foreign nations, and the exclusive right to deliver 1st and 3rd class mail.

Do any of those powers strike you as shocking?  The nice little nook it has created in the government also protect it from anti-trust regulations as decreed by the supreme court in 2004 .  Additionally, it is a federal offense for anyone other than an employee or agent of the USPS to deliver anything to that box you paid for on your property labeled "U.S. Mail".  Would the USPS be as successful without these protections?  FedEx and UPS alone have dominated the package delivery service for several years causing the USPS to increase their rates on their protected products (have you ever seen the price of a stamp go down?).  What benefit does the Post Office provide in today's world?  The US Constitution allows the government to create and maintain Post Roads, but it did not mandate a US Postal Service.  It was created during a time when communication between cities was so poor that companies like FedEx and UPS weren't viable, but in today's world it is the USPS that can't keep up.  It has out-lived its usefulness as is evident through the success of its competition even in the face of government handicaps.

Federal Highway Administration
With the broad hand-waving flying around regarding a US Highway Department and its efficiency, I believe the closest actual government entity to be the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) which is a division of the United States Department of Transportation.  The administration has a complicated history that you can read about here, but the current form was created in 1967.  The largest push for the creation of the US Highway System was the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 signed into law by President Dwight D Eisenhower.  Eisenhower argued that in the interest of national defense, the highway system would allow the Army to quickly move around the country to fend off invasion by a foreign power.  Upon the completion of the highway system the cross-country trip of an Army convoy was reduced from two months to two weeks.  All hail the Department of Defense and its public works programs!

The major thing this administration has going for it is that most of its responsibility is maintenance.  Approximately 98% of the roads identified in the National Highway System have been built already.  Road maintenance doesn't experience a lot of fluctuation in cost or procedures, so there isn't really a lot to screw up.  Except when it comes to bridges, apparently.  Remember the bridge collapse in Minnesota?  An investigation into US bridges came up with 26.2% of all bridges in the US are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete (by the way: watch out, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, and Hawaii - more than 42% of your bridges are bad!).  I'll grant that not all of these bridges fall under direct control of the FHWA, but that agency is responsible for the quality of work for which federal funds support... which is another area where the FHWA is lacking: regulations.

The FHWA is also responsible for generating highway safety standards.  How many of you follow the speed limit?  According to various studies, anywhere from 60% to 80% (depending on where the speed was measured: rural, suburban, or urban highways) of all drivers do not comply with the posted speed limits.  Remember when highway speeds were limited to 55 mph for safety and fuel economy?  According to the Cato Institute, safety on the highways actually worsened for the first several months after the passage of the 55pmh law.  As for fuel economy - various independent studies assembled by the Heritage Foundation have shown that limiting highway speeds to 55 mph only has a 0.5% fuel economy saving.  With this in mind, how much is the FHWA actually helping highway safety?  Of course you remember my gripe from Part 1 about government regulations when private regulation agencies are quicker to adapt to new technologies and better at world-wide implementation.

Finally, what about making the highways pay for themselves?  have you ever had that though when you are driving down the highway that just made sense?  One example I can think of is: why isn't there some sort of wind turbine embedded in the median the take advantage of the wind all of those cars driving by creates.  Any privately operated road system that wanted to remain free to its users would need to come up with some way of making that roadway generate revenue.  Why shouldn't a road be able to generate enough revenue to support itself?  Toll roads were emerging around the country as a highly successful venture before the national highway system monopolized everything into a government-run institution.  From my experience in Massachusetts, it angers me to no end that the tolls I pay on the Mass Pike (I-90) are mostly going to pay for the Big Dig around Boston which I don't even drive on.  If the Big Dig was such a necessity, why doesn't it become tolled until its debts are paid off?

I haven't made my arguments as strong as I typically like through the use of more examples mostly because I wanted to keep the length of these posts to a readable limit.  My intent is to get you to break from the normal thinking of, "well it has been working for this long - it must be good."  The status quo may be functioning now, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a better way to do things and it definitely doesn't meant that just because the government can run a program for a long time that it is running it well.  Did I miss something or get my facts wrong?  What do you think about my compilation?  Let me know in the comments.

Friday, September 11, 2009

From a Certain Point of View

Don't worry, I'm still working on my analysis for the government programs in high standing - something just came up that I want to talk about.  In a discussion I had recently, someone said to me that I was presenting information to favor my point of view.  Someone's point of view is derived from opinion.  Sure - I'll take that my conclusions are my points of view, but lets take for example my major complaint about the current health care reform bill going through the house: It is not constitutional for the congress to proceed with the creation of a health reform law unless it first passes an amendment to the constitution that specifically allows it.

Right now according to the US Constitution, the Bill or Rights, and the associated amendments; it is not legal for congress to pass a law forcing you to have health care.  That is a fact - not a point of view.  My main reason for creating this blog is for the clarification of facts to lead to a more intelligent decision regarding my voting decisions and to present them in a clear, well-formed argument so that others may base their decisions from facts rather than banter from talking heads on the idiot box.

I have tried to separate my feelings from these arguments because that is how the Constitution was written.  It was a document designed to guide the decision making of our leaders regardless of their personal opinions so that they could make the best decisions possible for the benefit of every American citizen.  Some people seem to believe that because I am advocating against the health care reform bill that I do not think everyone should have health care.  This couldn't be farther from the truth.  I think everyone should have health care, I think you should have the flexibility to choose your own plan, and I think that everyone that approaches an emergency room should receive service regardless of their citizenship or ability to pay.  While digging up facts for my posts, I have come across lots of information to support my opinion that government programs are not well run or efficient - especially as the length of the program increases.

Finally, I am not trying to prove someone right or wrong and I'm not having an argument to win.  Everywhere I look from comments under news articles online to interviewed people on TV to conversations I have with close friends leads be to believe that people don't know the whole truth behind their positions.  There are plenty of people that want to be included in intelligent-sounding discussions, so they'll repeat the talking head they listened to last night just because they don't know any better. 
News now days has become more a delivery of opinion rather than facts.  The conservatives have their media outlets (Fox News jumps out in my mind immediately as I am typing this) and the liberals have their favorite (NPR, anyone?).  I'm trying to dig deeper behind these stories to find the unbiased truth - the raw data - so that I can make my own decisions and then share my findings with others.

I've checked emotion at the door.  I'm driving my arguments with supported information derived from raw data rather than stipulation.  If I have misinterpreted or missed something, that is what the comments section is for - tell me what you have found.  Challenge my point of views - this is how we learn and grow.  If you aren't even willing to think about other options, then do you even make up your own mind?  Is it simply that you follow the first idea that pops into your head like some sort of lemming?

It seems to me that the most frightening thing people experience in their life time is the realization that something they have been doing all of their life could possibly be wrong.  What does one do at this crucial point?  Has everything that occurred in the past invalidated?  Are you suddenly an evil person for doing the wrong thing all of this time?  Of course not.  No one is perfect.  Then why are new ideas treated with such hostility?

The Government Machine (Part 1)

In an effort to identify where my own thoughts of the government's ability to successfully operate programs differed from the norm, I asked for some help from my friends.  I wanted to know what federal government programs they thought were well-run, efficient, and to the benefit of the common good.  Some I were expecting and some caught me off guard.  Below is my analysis of each program or office mentioned to me prior to publishing this article.  Since I got a lot of good feedback, I'm going to break this into multiple pieces.

The National School Lunch Program
The NSLP was officially enacted with the passage of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act under President Harry S. Truman in 1946.  This program evolved out of the common problem that a lot of politicians have: the desire to remain in office over the desire for a prosperous country.  People were looking for help from rough times, so the politicians sought to make them happy with promises of free lunch.  I won't dwell on the development of the program because it is a rather convoluted story.  Sufficed to say that the programs leading up to the current NSLP involved price fixing and legislative language to punish schools that did not choose to participate in the program.

The program today offers free or reduced price meals to qualified individuals and qualified public, nonprofit, and residential educational agencies.  Sounds like a great program to get behind - it appeals to all of your moral values and beliefs.  Did you ever stop to think about the problems with this program?  First off, all meals prepared at an institution receiving NSLP must adhere to FDA guidelines (be sure to check the next post which will include the FDA).  Secondly, the government is using farm subsidies to provide fixed-priced goods.  What is wrong with farm subsidies, you ask?  Do you know where high fructose corn syrup comes from?  When the US sugar farmers couldn't keep up with foreign competition, US Farm Subsidies effectively increased the price of all foreign sugar imports so the US sugar farmers wouldn't lose their market share.  Then when other sweetened products (like coke) were competing to get their prices down, HFCS stepped in to become the new low-cost sweetener made by the US corn farmers (under another subsidy program).  Price fixing also has another impact that isn't always apparent: stifled competition.  In a free market, someone comes out with a good or service and prices it to make a profit.  The price is basically determined by supply and demand: the higher the demand, the higher the price.  Someone else sees the product and the selling prices, decides that they can make it in a way that selling it for less would still turn a profit, and enters the market at the lower price.  At this point, each manufacturer is trying to get the price down or increase the value of their product through development and marketing.  When the government is involved, not only does a competitor have to beat the government price, but it also has to beat the taxes taken away from people in order to be competitive.  Additionally, there are usually stipulations tied to the purchase of government goods that would further hurt the buyer if they stopped using the government product.  The stipulation from the government in the NSLP is that if a school opts out of the program, they lose additional federal food support in the way of excess farm goods (a by-product of a different farm subsidy) and additional monetary support for unsubsidized meals.

So what could be done better with the National School Lunch Program?  I can imagine a grocery store, restaurant, or local charities teaming together to create school lunch kitchens for entire districts.  Currently, part of the NSLP restrictions is that all lunches must be made on-sight in order to qualify for aid.  Everyone knows that mass production helps reduce costs and in meal preparation, it is no different.  These large kitchens could be located such that they could deliver hot meals to several schools on a rotating basis to coincide with the school's lunch periods.  The low-cost or free meals could be covered through the cost of other student's meals - like any other business that offers discounts (when that loan company offers you 0% financing, you know they are still getting their money somewhere else).  This may not be the only solution - there may not be any one single solution.  The point is that government aid comes at a higher cost than is initially identified by any single program.

US Peace Corps
The Peace Corps was started by Executive Order under President John F Kennedy and later authorized by congress with the passage of the Peace Corps Act.  The goal is to send able-bodied Americans out into the world to help other countries with needed training, improve the image of Americans abroad, and to increase the understanding of other cultures among Americans.  Since its inception, there have been nearly 200,000 volunteers that have served 139 countries around the world with a budget of $340 Million in FY2009.  So what is the problem?  I say it doesn't do enough.  The US Government decides who deserves to be helped and who must go on suffering.  Not only this, but it is hopelessly inefficient and redundant.  Check out the International Volunteer Programs Association (only one example of many) which sets up international volunteerism through any number of different programs.  Private overseas aid was three times more than government programs.  The message here is that the government bureaucracy is slowing down our ability to help others.  Furthermore, when you donate your time and money to a private charity, you can more specifically target your donations as you wish.

Delivery of Social Security and Government Retirement Checks
I am a little relieved that Social Security and Government Retirement programs weren't targeted directly - it makes me think you have some common sense.  This is a little specific in my mind.  Distribution of mailers is an automated system (most likely developed by the private sector, I might add) and should be efficient.  Now try fixing a problem that may occur with the delivery of your check - THAT takes forever.  I'll also cover the actual delivery of items when I talk about the Post Office next time.

National Institute of Standards and Technology
This one is in response to a comment that the service (the government service that keeps everyone's clock synchronized).  I have chosen to cover all of NIST in this section because is only a very small part its mission.  NIST is responsible for determining industry standards, validating new measurement standards, and pushing new technology.  As with the Peace Corps, NIST is disconnected from industry and redundant.  Currently the most widely used set of standards in industry is organized through an international organization called the International Organization for Standards (ISO).  ISO has member companies in 158 countries around the world and as such is the largest international standards organization.  Standards set by this organization are agreed upon though agreements by technical experts in their field.  Industry has always been the most successful at pushing technology, so the ISO standards are also the most up-to-date and relevant to their fields.  ISO isn't the only standards organization, either - nearly every professional society has a list of standards such as ASME and IEEE (ex: IEEE 802.11 - more commonly referred to as wi-fi).

Be sure to tune in next time for a look at the Food and Drug Administration, The Department of Defense's Global Positioning System, the Postal Service, and most people's golden egg: The US Highway Department.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Our Best Interest

It has come up several times in debates I have had that, regardless of what the constitution says, people are willing to let the government force universal health care reform onto the US citizens because they see the government as acting in our own best interest.  This assumes of course that the government knows exactly what is right for its citizens and how best to enact the correct actions.  I would like to challenge whomever is willing to provide me with three federal government programs that act in the best interest of the entire US population and that have been enacted so efficiently that you can not think of a non-government alternative.  Leave me comments - contact me through AIM or Facebook - talk to me face-to-face - WHATEVER.  I am interested to see what pops up.  You also have plenty of room in the comments section to validate your selection.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I Love Graphs

I saw this post on one of my blog trawls (using Google Reader... If you don't use Google Reader, then you are a buffoon - try it out immediately. I'll wait.

Anyway, it was a graph showing the value of the US Dollar from 1800 to 2009. It is a FANTASTIC example of what I was preaching about in my earlier post Government Intervention in the Economy. I love it because it shows how absurdly terrible the Federal Reserve is at regulating the value of the US Dollar. It also graphically illustrates the number of recessions the US has gone through (up in the corner) which the Federal Reserve has been unable to stop. Even the frequency of recessions is staggering - the Federal Reserve is an utter Failure. Here is the proof:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Gloves Come Off

First I want to start out by apologizing for the end of my last post. It went a little out of control with my rant which didn't add anything meaningful to my argument. I will strive to never let that happen again.

Let's have a discussion regarding life sustaining care for Medicare and Medicaid. Back in the sixties when these plans were created, they originated as universal government health care plans. There wasn't enough country-wide support for them in that form, so they evolved into plans primarily for the elderly (surprise - the elderly at the time didn't have to pay into the program with their tax money because they either already qualified for the program, or were not far from it... and the elderly make up the highest percentage of the voting public).

Since this is a very sensitive subject for a lot of people, I'll give you a little personal background to convince you that I am not totally disconnected from the real world. Firstly, no one is suggesting that the country should go cold turkey with these programs - this would cause irreparable harm to people that depend on the care these programs provide. Additionally that would represent a breach in trust between the government that has made a promise to people deeply invested in these programs (not that the government hasn't broken promises before - just that I'm not advocating breaking any more than they already have). My own grandmother depends on these programs ever since the day I took her to the hospital after a stroke. It is with this in mind that I would like to propose a road map to a better system for the entire country.

Did you know that there was a time when doctors advertised their prices? They even had sales in order to bring in new business. There was also a time when it was economical to fund research into new medical technologies in an effort to provide better services at a reduced cost. Doctors and Hospitals would compete for your business by striving to offer you the most advanced care in the nicest facilities with the most thoughtful staff. This was back in the time when the cost of health care meant something other than "its too high." Why don't you try this exercise: How much do you pay for your medical insurance? How much did that last prescription cost (not the co-pay - the actual per-pill cost)? How much does it cost for a physical at your doctor's office? What about a routine vaccination? Did you know the answer to any of these questions off the top of your head? If the answer is no, then you must either be super rich to the point that you don't have to worry about money or that you rely so much on someone else to watch over your medical care that the money doesn't matter. My guess is the latter over the former... but if that is the case, then why is the cost of health care so important to people now?

The simple solution to this problem is to put you back in the loop regarding the direct costs of your health care. If suddenly you had the choice to go to two identical doctor's offices where one charged you $35 for a check-up and the other charged you $50, then you could make a conscious choice as to which would be best for you. When the $50 guy sees his business drop, then he will find ways to get his costs down to compete with the $35 office. This model is called the Free Market. The problem with today's market is the government has come in and said that if you get Medicare, you won't have to see the cost to visit the doctor. So if you no longer care about cost (because the government is picking up the tab), why would the first office keep their prices at $35 when the guy down the road is doing the same thing and getting paid $50? And not only do the lower cost facilities get paid at the higher rate, the only thing they have to do in order to get your business is to be put on the "approved doctor" list. Anything else (like a comfortable waiting area, courteous staff, timely service, advances in efficiency) are unnecessary because the doctor's office no longer needs to compete for your service.

Now, to make this a good argument, I'll give you some an example. Back in 2004, Dr. Robert Barry was invited to testify in front of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress regarding a revolutionary type of clinic he had opened (here is his full testimony). In 2001 he left his practice as an ER doctor so that he could help the less fortunate in his community. His clinic began to attract people that were "
political exiles within our healthcare system". I'll allow you to read the whole thing at your own pace, I just want to quote Dr. Barry's findings:

It seems that centralized bureaucracies simply cannot manage healthcare. Medical decisions are much too complex and personal to entrust to distant bureaucrats many of whom lack basic medical knowledge. The most efficient and humane solution is to allow ordinary Americans to manage their own care by giving them control over their healthcare dollars. It is, after all, their money and their health. They should control both.
The simple truth is this: there is no competition with the government. If the government gives a favorable deal to anything short of every health care provider, then those providers outside of the system suffer because people can't afford to pay the taxes required to sustain the government program AND to pay for the care they really want. Here is the road map:

  1. End the tax benefit for employer health plans.
  2. Begin to allow young people to opt-out of Medicare and Medicaid taxes (with the understanding that they will not be applicable for the programs in the future).
  3. Begin a phase out government support for treatment of uninsured patient care.
  4. Reimburse the people of the United States for the costs of these programs in the form of lower taxes.
  5. Return freedom to the people.
Finally, just to hammer home the point that I am not crazy in my thinking that the government can't force people to be charitable, check out this article about the Christian duty to "actively seek the demise of all government welfare programs."