Monday, September 21, 2009

Bill Maher on tax protest march

Bill Maher had a marginally amusing, if not highly partisan and inaccurate, rant about the people marching on Washington to protest the liberal destruction of the US ideal. Putting aside his swipes and vitriol, he does raise an interesting point: we should find some way to tie the costs of not taking care of one's own health to the cost of getting health care. After all, subsidizing health care doesn't help overall if everyone gets less healthy along the way.

Now, like many liberals, Maher's knee-jerk idiotic reaction is to echo the calls for taxing foods which are bad for people. Sure this might help the immediate problem, but at the unnecessary cost of big government, big regulation, stifling of freedoms, and precedent for more wrong-headed approaches. I would suggest that there's a much better way to tie the amount paid for health care to the magnitude of the care required, based on how you maintain your own health, without all those nasty side-effects.

I propose that we have a system where people pay for health insurance for themselves and their families, where the cost is based on their various health risk factors (eg: lifestyle, habits, etc.) and general health-affecting factors (primarily age). This distributes the cost of random events among many people, while allowing individuals with unhealthy habits and/or higher risk bear a higher proportion of the costs for everyone's care. No nasty big-government intrusions, no big wasteful bureaucracies, more personal accountability for one's health: it seems like a win-win-win. What say you, Bill Maher (as if he reads this blog)?

If only we could get from wherever we are now to that ideal...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

California's education system

I was struck with an interesting thought on the way home yesterday, while listening to a radio ad "brought to me" by the California Teacher's Association. Every advertisement, promotion, lobby effort, sponsored message, etc. which is paid for, even in part, by the CTA is being bought directly or indirectly with my taxpayer dollars. Moreover, that's money ostensibly allocated to educating our children, which is being diverted away from our children and to lobbying efforts to enrich the union and its members.

That's worth keeping in mind, I think, the next time you hear about over-crowded class sizes, underpaid teachers, miserable education rankings, or other updates on the state of public education in California. Think of it this way: every CTA-sponsored ad/message you hear is directly taking some tax money away from educating our children, and directly and intentionally contributing to the miserable broken failure that is the California public education system. The next time the CTA wants more tax money, reflect on how much they have directly wasted and diverted already, and evaluate on if they are doing what you want done with your money, instead of educating children; as they say, "the more you know..."

Monday, September 14, 2009

A litmus test for news sources?

Something I have observed among the people I know: intelligent people like to be well-informed. This principle seems to extend beyond philosophical and political differences, and across various spectrums of communication. It's what leads people to explore new avenues of communication, seek out dissenting opinions, and generally favor unbiased information presentation. Indeed, it's probably largely the reason people read blogs like this one.

It's rare that an opportunity would arise to clearly and unambiguously judge whether a news organization or source is presenting all the important information in a clear and unbiased way; many people argue about this very topic in relation to various news sources, with no clear criteria. It's fortuitous, then, when events come along which offer a clear differentiation, a litmus test of veracity and integrity for news sources. Fortunately for us, 9/12/09 offered just such a test.

As you, a blog reader, are probably already aware, there was a large protest march at Washington DC on 9/12/09. There's some debate over the exact number of people participating, but estimates put the number between one and two million people, making it the largest protest of the Obama administration, and the largest gathering in the capitol since the coronation of our Dear Leader. Surely, then, if anything warrants news coverage, the largest consolidated protest of the government in recent history would be such an event, and no matter what your personal stance on the Obamanation and its policies, you would want to be informed of it.

Here's the NY Times search on '9/12 protest', see if you can spot their extensive coverage. Or maybe you prefer CNN, self-proclaimed "America's leader in news". Or, closer to home, the LA Times coverage. Good extensive coverage, guys... way to go.

Now, you can say I picked liberal-biased news sites, and you might be right; if you picked a random news outlet, chances are it's liberal-biased, and might be reporting on the largest protest in recent US history with a liberal bias. But even if you want your news colored with a healthy dose of left-wing bias, you still want the news... like, significant events which are occurring, right now, in the world. I know I would feel very uneasy about reading news sites, large or small, where I knew reporting on significant world events was being suppressed and filtered before I got to see it, and you should to, no matter what additives and flavoring you like with your news.

So, I humbly suggest you take this opportunity, and recommend to your friends and colleges, to use this rare event as a litmus test for your news sources, and filter out the ones which are not giving you the important information on significant events in the world. We the people cannot change what various media conglomerates present to us as the news, but the one power we have always had is the ability to vote with our feet, as it were, and our viewing/listening/reading attentions. People have sacrificed much to preserve the freedom of the press; the least we can do to honor those efforts is turn away from the news organizations which would throw it away.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Health care reform "debate" is laregly over

In his most recent speech to Congress pushing his vision of socialized medical care for the United States, President Obama said the time for debate is over, and the time for action is now. Now, it seems to be there's still quite a bit of difference of opinion over what health care "reform" should constitute, and I would personally contend that rash action without consensus is probably worse than no action at all, but on one point at least I can agree with a socialist leader: there's not much left to debate health care reform.

Let's look at the largely undisputed facts. Health care in the US is expensive, painful, and getting worse. Lack of consumer protections in the insurance industry have allowed the process to become painful even for people "fully" covered. Tying insurance tax incentives and group plans to employment has made it difficult and painful to have private insurance, and stifled competition. Medical liability laws have made health care very expensive, with much of the expense going to lawyers and ambitious plaintiffs. Medicare is bankrupting medical practitioners, while simultaneously creating a massive unfunded liability to the country which is predicted to eventually surpass Social Security as the largest financial debacle the country has ever created. There are some very strong arguments for reform, and fixing some of the massive problems which everyone can agree on.

On the other hand, there are some bright spots. America leads the world in medical research, both in procedures and pharmaceuticals. You can generally get care reasonably quickly, as compared to some countries where multi-month wait times are common. Emergency rooms are only packed in areas with large populations of illegal immigrants, and solving the latter problem would help a lot with the former problem. Doctors are still paid well, and medical professions still attract some of the best, most competent people as a result. So there are some bright spots with health care in the US, and whatever the government decides to do, they should endeavor to preserve as many of the good points as possible.

Now let's look at the "debate". Republicans have been the minority voice with their ideas, largely because of the Democrat majority and huge liberal media bias, but they have a few points/ideas. Among them are reducing medical liability to keep costs down, allowing cross-state insurance shopping for more competition, and developing some sort of non-profit insurance program to help provide coverage for people who cannot get insurance through an employer. They have also talked about reforming Medicare to reduce overhead costs and limit long-term costs for the taxpayers. All of these are good ideas, and although they don't address all the problems, they also don't damage any of the good aspects of the current system.

The Democrats, on the other hand, want to go an entirely new direction, and nationalize health care entirely. Essentially, the Democrat plan (at least the most popular version expressed) would replace all private insurance with an expanded version of Medicare, which would cover everyone in the country, regardless of income, job status, legally, conditions, or any other factors. This essentially would destroy all the bright spots of the current system, while aggravating most, if not all, of the problems. All of this is irrelevant for the Democrats, though; it's part of their long-term agenda to socialize as much of the country as possible, and any medical reform which does not move in that direction is unacceptable to a large sect of the Democrats.

What is amazing to me, though, is that for everything I have listed above, there is virtually no debate. Nobody on the Democrats side has debated that any of the Republican proposals would be good for the US; in fact, some Democrats favor the reforms (in concept). Similarly, nobody on the Democrats has argued that any of their proposals do anything to solve any of the problems I listed, or even not make them worse; there's a tacit acknowledgement that socializing medical care is worth the admitted degradation in services and increases in cost. In essence, there's no debate on either side about any of the facts or proposals; there are just real, legitimate philosophical differences between the two parties and their ideal versions of health care in the US.

So indeed, the time for debate might be over. The US people need to decide if they want socialized medical care, and vote in/out their "representatives" as appropriate. The Democrats need to decide how much sacrificing the principles of democracy, and acting against the interests of the people and the country, is acceptable to push their agenda. Each Republican in Congress needs to decide if they can be bribed with incentives and pork to compromise their principles and get on board for the Democrat's historic push to reform the US to match Obama's socialist vision. There's really nothing left to debate; it is now simply a matter of which group will be stronger, the would-be leaders of Obama's new socialist US, or the few people left defending democracy and freedom.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More scary stuff: indoctination

So it seems like every time I read anything about the government these days, it's one abject failure after another. Whether it's bailouts, handouts, encroaching socialism, corruption revelations, or other malignancy, each day brings new reasons to feel disgusted with your "representatives" in the Obamanation. However, every once in a while they plumb a new low, and indoctrinating school children could just be the new bar-setter for utterly despicable actions which bring my hatred for Obama and the misguided people who elected him (and/or the few remaining zealots who still support him) to entirely new levels.

Maybe I'm over-reacting. I mean, surely the Obamanation is doing more destructive things to the United States in general than force-feeding liberal propaganda to impressionable school children. Destruction of the national currency has got to be worth more overall "evil points" than brainwashing poor Richard and Jane. Achieving the end-goal of full Socialism will probably have worse long-term on our children than one day of indoctrination. Reversing the damage Obama is reeking on our economy will surely take longer than teaching the very important lesson that people, especially politicians, lie a lot.

Yet, for some reason, using your position to brainwash children with your propaganda seems worse than all those things. For me, it's kinda the ultimate low, worse than virtually any other damage you can do. Not that I needed another reason to think Obama was bad for the country, but this moves him from irresponsible and misguided to straight-up evil.

Remember when $40,000,000,000 seemed like a lot of money?

I had a somewhat amusing conversation yesterday, talking about government oversight on a defense project a while ago, and it was mentioned that because the government was spending $40 Billion on a project, they demanded some oversight (which naturally led to complications and waste, but that's beside the point). I was struck with a kinda sentimental nostalgia for the times when $40 Billion was considered a significant amount of money, something which required some oversight and planning before spending, and an amount which would appall people if the government squandered or flushed. It wasn't too long ago when that amount was considered a lot of money for the government to spend; yet now, it seems almost insignificant.

Consider recent government wastes:
- $180 Billion to bail out AIG, so they could pay off gambling debts of other banks
- $700 Billion for TARP, so the taxpayers could absorb the losses from the banking industry as repayment for causing the economic meltdown
- ~$60 Billion to buy up the failing auto industry, and prevent it from needing to be competitive
- ~$900 Billion in "stimulus" handouts for "tax rebates", green incentives, kickbacks, bribes, etc.
- $3 Billion for the Cash for Making Nationalizing the Auto Industry Look Good Historically program
- A few more billion in handouts to help prop up the real estate industry, as a "thank you" for creating the massive housing bubble
- $100+ Billion pending to the FDIC, to cover all the unrealized losses they have absorbed due to lax and/or nonexistent oversight
- $100+ Billion for the GSE's, so we can keep underwriting bad loans, cause that was such a good idea
- ?? Billion for FHA, so they can give more horrible loans to people who shouldn't be buying houses, and keep housing unaffordable for everyone else
- $10? Trillion pledged by the Fed to who-knows-what banks, corporations, private persons, hedge funds, or whatever other people/entities have received taxpayer bailouts in secret
- $1000+ Billion for socializing health care, as a down-payment toward socializing the rest of the country
- oh, let's not forget the ~$1000 Billion annual deficit for "normal" spending this year, before all the extra spending, handouts, kickbacks, bribes, corruption, accounting tricks, etc.
- etc, etc, etc.

Picking on $40 Billion in government waste today would be kinda like pointing out some dirt on top of the enormous pool of sewage we're swimming in. It makes me long for the "good ol' days" where our national debt was conceptually re-payable, and national insolvency was only a "long-term" problem.