The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It's crazy!

On the one hand, there are online posts like Lanhee Chen's on the Bloomberg site, entitled “If 2013 Was Hard on Obamacare, Just Wait for 2014,” giving us the news that “Obamacare” is on its way down the tubes, and giving us some hope that this colossal mistake will be repealed soon. On the other hand, there are also posts like Jonathan Cohn's, on the New Republic site, entitled “We Don't Know if Obamacare Is Working Well. But We Know It's Working.” This post seems to imply that things are back on track with it, that we just have to let it work out some rough spots. They can't be looking at the same facts.

I wish I had all the facts. But what I've seen mostly confirms the first position. “Obamacare” is a disaster, and needs to be put out of its misery — quickly. But how to do so, with Obama in the White House? I do have to admit, I don't really know. Until President Obama is replaced by a competent chief executive, like Chris Christie, it looks like “Obamacare” will limp along, with temporary postponements of its worst features. And the United States will limp along too, with nobody knowing what will be the rules in a month. A shame, but too many people were dazzled into electing this total incompetent — people said Sarah Palin was inexperienced in 2008, but she was a seasoned veteran in gevernment executive experience compared with Barack Obama!

All one can do is hope that a Republican Senate will be elected in the coming year to go along with John Boehner's Republican House, and between them, as much of President Obama's agenda as possible will be frustrated.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

As the year approaches its end...

…there has been good and bad news.

For people who believe that anyone should be allowed to marry whoever they want to, it has been very good. There are now 18 states and the District of Columbia where marriage equality is the law — and who would have thought Utah would be in such a short list? — up from 10 at the start of the year. That is certainly good news.

The start of “Obamacare” is mixed news: it is certainly unfortunate that so many people are finding they can't keep the insurance they like, despite President Obama's promise, but the good thing is that even Democratic poluticians are having second thoughts about the law, and there might be enough delaying of its provisions that by the time they are ready to take effect, President Christie might be able to sign a repealing act.

Speaking of Chris Christie, more good news is that his re-election by a landslide, in a very blue state, shows that a Republican can win Democrats' votes while governing according to his own values.

The other gubernatorial race, in Virginia, has to be considered bad news, though Ken Cuccinelli is hardly the one I would have liked to see win. His nomination, of course, was really bad news, because it gave the GOP another candidate in the Todd Akin/Richard Mourdock/Christine O'Donnell mold, someone who drove away a lot of voters that a more moderate Republican could have won over. But the fact that Cuccinelli came as close as he did goes to show how poisonous “Obamacare” is. If the Republicans had nominated a Bill Bolling, they would certainly have won this election.

We will have to see what 2014 brings. I think we have to prepare for anything.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The biggest reason to nominate Chris Christie in 2016

There are a number of recent polls that show that in a race with Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie would win, and every other likely Republican nominee would lose.

Please, let us keep that fact in mind. We need to have a new President who would turn this government away from the direction which Barack Obama has chosen. If this is so, we need to have a GOP nominee who can win in 2016, not one who will lose to Hillary. We need to be sure that the GOP nominates a proven winner: Chris Christie.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The right to marry advances

Six days ago, a Federal court forced the state of Utah to legalize same-sex marriage, a day after another court decidid the same issue for New Mexico. There are now eighteen states, more than a third of the fifty total, with legal same-sex marriage.

Utah is a major surprise. It is a very conservative state, heavily Mormon, and the Mormon church has strongly opposed the right to marry for same-sex couples. A poll in 2011 found Utah citizens strongly opposed to same-sex marriage. If a judge can legalize same-sex marriage in Utah, it may well be the case that nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage will follow sooner than I would have thought.

The division among the people will still persist, and this may well become as divisive an issue as abortion has become since Roe v. Wade. Yet there is really less reason for that. In the case of Roe, I can really understand some people's conviction that a fetus is a person and abortion is murder — I can understand it, though I think they are totally wrong! But I do not understand how allowing John and Joe (or Jane and Joan) to marry affects anyone else's marriage. No clergyman is forced to perform a same-sex marriage, any more than a rabbi who will not perform an interreligious one is forced to, and if a florist or a baker is made to provide his product for use at such a marriage, he is not being called to recognize such a marriage as a marriage,: he is only selling a bouquet or a cake to some people having a party. I can't see how his religious freedom is being impacted, as some conservative columnists have intimated.

But things are moving faster than 'd expected!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A note to Christians reading this blog

While I am on many points in agreement with those on the political Right, there is one point on which I find us at serious odds. I recall having read Rush Limbaugh complaining about an “assault on Christmas,” and as far as I'm concerned, I'm proud to join that assault.

Now get my point correctly. I have no problem with your celebrating the birth of the founder of your religion privately, at home, or in your churches. Where I object is your attempting to make those of us who do not share your religion take part in that observance. I don't want to be wished a Merry Christmas — how would you appreciate being given some other religion's equivalent? I don't mind the idea of you having a Merry Christmas, or wishing it to each other — but can you take the trouble to find out whether someone celebrates Christmas before wishing someone a Merry Christmas?

Christmas is a time of sadness for me. I think of the time I was, at age 10, suddenly ostracized by a music teacher who had liked me enough to teach me songs to sing outside of class, simply because I refused to sing carols with words like “O come let us adore him, Christ the lord,” as contrary to my own religion. I think of the time, many years later, when in graduate school in Charlottesville, Virginia, I could eat, on one December 25, only what I could get in vending machines because not a single restaurant in that city was open. (At least, here in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D. C., I know of some places that will remain open; I think I'll be eating Chinese food this year.)

So please let alone those of us who are not Christians. Let me try to make this just a plain old Wednesday, not a festive day at all. We have our rights too.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A bad year for President Obama?

People are saying that this is a bad year for President Obama, with the botched rollout of Obamacare, various setbacks abroad, and such. But (unfortunately for the American people) it's not bad enough, and will not become bad enough. He is protected by the provisions of our Constitution that fix the term of office of the President. He has a sympathetic Senate, so he will not be removed by impeachment, despite the unconstitutionality of the way he's run his office. So he will serve until January 2017, more than three years from now.

I love our Constitution. It's survived longer than any other written constitution in history, and generally served us well. But once in a while, it leads to unfortunate consequences. And right now, we're in such a time. A president who, whether through incompetence or sheer malice, is wrecking the country, but who cannot be restrained. And three years more remaining in his term. It may have been a bad year for President Obama, but it's also a bad era — not just one year, but eight, of which we're only in the middle — for the American public.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Yet another Obama suspension of Obamacare

President Obama has suspended for one year the individual mandate in Obamacare — for some people. He will not allow the Congress — which the Constitution says has this responsibility — to delay or repeal the worst of the Obamacare disruptions, but he feels he has the power to make such delays unilaterally. Just one more case where the President thinks he is the Mayor of Chicago, who operates under a charter which provides for a weak mayor but actually exercises almost the power of an absolute monarch, rather than a Constitution-bound chief executive.

Yet it is senseless to try to impeach him. Because impeachment requires the agreement of two thirds of the Senate to remove a President, and there just won't be that two-thirds vote. Sad news for those of us who believe in our Constitution.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Polarization and divisive Presidents

Before George W. Bush was elected President, he remarked “I'm a uniter, not a divider.” Yet the country was more divided and polarized during his Presidency than it had been for a long time. And his successor, Barack Obama, had also expressed similar rhetoric:

Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.

There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.

But under this same Barack Obama, the polarization increased even more, to the point that it is hard to believe that it can ever be repaired. The United States Senate, for example, recently adopted a change of rules to throttle the minority's ability to filibuster executive nominees for some positions.

George W. Bush believed he could unite Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D. C., because he had done so as Governor of Texas. But Texas Democrats are a different breed from the Democrats he faced in the Nation's Capital: conservative enough that Bush could work with them without compromising his principles. In fact, George W. Bush's lieutenant governor during much of his service was a Democrat, Bob Bullock, and yet they were able to work closely together. But Bullock was not the vicious partisan that Bush faced in Nancy Pelosi in Washington, D. C. So he could not unite the parties in D. C.

And similarly, Barack Obama didn't understand the task when he became George W. Bush's successor as President. He had never been a chief executive. And his experience in south-side Chicago politics had never exposed him to the principles that Republicans hold dear. He assumed they shared his values, and tried to sell them his plans based on those values — which of course failed utterly.

So what would it take to be a unifying President? For one, someone who has been a chief executive in a state where the other party has a lot of power — a Democrat in a red state, or a Republican in a blue; and it would also take someone who has actually worked with the leaders of the opposite party to accomplish what he set forth as his program. Mitt Romney would have been someone who had a chance to fill that role; unfortunately, he faced an African-American opponent who brought out his co-race voters in 93% proportions, and with historically high turnouts. In the absence of this factor, he would be President now, and we would not be going through the throes of agony over “Obamacare's” launch. But we can't turn the clock back to 2012 and rerun it, and it is obvious to me that this nation's most likely path toward unification is to have Chris Christie as the next president. It is devoutly to be hoped that the hard-line conservatives in the GOP do not thwart the nomination of the one Republican who seems likely to win in 2016. And if the 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election is any clue, if the Republicans do nominate Christie, he will win, getting a lot of votes from people who normally support Democratic candidates.

And that is the path to a united Unoted States.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Competence - sorely deficient in the Obama administration

Peggy Noonan runs a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s site which posted, on December 17, 2013, a column called “Incompetence.” It is really worth reading.

Everyone is doing thoughtful year-end pieces on President Obama. Writers and reporters agree he’s had his worst year ever. I infer from most of their essays an unstated but broadly held sense of foreboding: There’s no particular reason to believe next year will be better, and in fact signs and indications point to continued trouble.

I would add that in recent weeks I have begun to worry about the basic competency of the administration, its ability to perform the most fundamental duties of executive management. One reason I worry is that I frequently speak with people who interact with the White House, and when I say, “That place just doesn’t seem to work,” they don’t defend it, they offer off-the-record examples of how poorly the government is run. One thing that’s clear this holiday season: New York’s Democrats, to the degree they ever loved the president, don’t love him anymore, and have moved on. They are not thinking about what progress he might make in Washington next year, they’re talking about what Hillary might do the year after that.

My worries came home with a certain freshness after the Mandela memorial, where the United States Secret Service allowed the president of the United States to stand for 19 minutes next to the famous sign-language interpreter who, it was quickly revealed, was not only a fraud but a schizophrenic con man who is now said to have been involved in two deaths. In fairness, the event was in another country and the Secret Service wasn’t strictly in charge. That said, it still looks like very basic negligence, as if no one is keeping enough of an eye on the Secret Service, no one’s checking the quality of the advance or sending emails asking: “Hey, what do we know about the sign language guy—any chance he’s a mentally ill criminal?”

It all looks so lax, so loosey-goosey. In the place of the energy and focus that would go into the running of things, the administering and managing of them, we have the preoccupation with spin, with how things look as opposed to how they are. The odd thing still is that the White House never misses a speech, a list of talking points, an opportunity to shape the argument on TV. They do the talking part, but the doing? They had 3½ years to make sure ObamaCare will work, three years to get it right top to bottom, to rejigger parts of the law that they finally judged wouldn’t work, to make the buying of a policy easy on the website. And they not only couldn’t do that, which itself constitutes an astounding and historic management failure, they make it clear they were taken aback by their failure. They didn’t know it was coming! Or some knew and for some reason couldn’t do anything.

And it’s all going to continue. One reason this scandal isn’t Katrina is that Katrina had a beginning and an end. The storm came, the storm left, the cleanup commenced and failed and then continued and succeeded. At some point it was over. ObamaCare will never be over. It’s going to poison the rest of the administration. It’s the story that won’t go away because it will continue to produce disorder. Wait, for instance, until small businesses realize it will be cheaper to throw their people off their coverage and take the fines than it will be to reinsure them under the new regime.

I’m worried, finally, that lines of traditionally assumed competence are being dropped. The past few weeks I can’t shake from my head this picture: The man with the football—the military aide who carries the U.S. nuclear codes, and who travels with the president—is carrying the wrong code. He’s carrying last month’s code, or the one from December 2012. And there’s a crisis—a series of dots on a radar screen traveling toward the continental U.S.—and the president is alerted. He’s in the holding room at a fundraiser out west. The man with the football is called in and he fumbles around in his briefcase and gets the code but wait, the date on the code is wrong. He scrambles, remembers there’s a file on his phone, but the phone ran out on the plane and he thought he could recharge in the holding room but there’s no electrical outlet. All eyes turn to him. “Wait—wait. No—uh—I don’t think that’s the code we use to launch against incoming from North Korea, I think that one takes out Paris!”

I have to say, I’ve never worried about this with any previous administration, ever.

“They mistook the White House for the government,” said an experienced old friend, a journalist and Democratic sympathizer. We were having holiday dinner and the talk turned to White House management. His thesis was that Obama and his staffers thought they could run the government from there, from the White House campus, and make big decisions that would be executed. They thought the White House was the government, but the government is a vast web of executive agencies that have to be run under close scrutiny, and within their campuses, to produce even minimally competent work.

I have come to see this as “West Wing” Disease. Young staffers grew up watching that show and getting a very romantic and specific sense of how government works. “The West Wing” was White House-centric. It never took place at the Agriculture Department. But government takes place at the Agriculture Department.

Anyway, my friend made me think of a story about Harry Truman. On leaving the White House after the 1952 election of Dwight Eisenhower, Truman made a small prediction about the general and his presidency. From memory: Eisenhower, Truman said, will pick up the phone and say do this and do that, pull this lever, and he’ll be shocked when nothing happens.

Ike was a general used to giving orders within an organization that takes the order and executes. But a government has to be leaned on every day, through management talent earned by experience. Generals can issue orders but federal agencies must be gently guided and clubbed around the head, every day.

People who run big businesses learn these facts of executive leadership early on. So do leaders of small businesses and great nonprofit organizations, and local political leaders in charge of local agencies whose success or failure can be charted.

Most of the Obama people just don’t have a background in executing. They have a background in communicating, not doing. That’s where their talent is—it’s where their boss’s talent is—and it’s a good talent, but not one that will in itself force a government to work well.

Whatever we look for from the Administration, we would like to see competence. The President may not agree with us on the direction the Government should go, but it’s particularly bad when it cannot even lead us in the direction they want us to go.

That’s just one more reason we need for Obama to be replaced in 2016 by the likes of Chris Christie. We need a competent President.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Obamacare -- a backward step?

Supposedly, the reason for implementing “Obamacare” was to expand health insurance coverage for Americans. But it looks as though it’s been a backward step in this direction, too. A post by Megan McArdle on the Bloomberg site, dated December 17, and entitled “Is Obamacare Really an Improvement on the Status Quo?” makes interesting reading. It begins:

By Jan. 1, fewer people may end up having insurance than before Obamacare.

Bob Laszewski, an insurance industry expert who has become the go-to guy for the news media on the rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (because the insurance industry is extremely reluctant to talk), tells the Weekly Standard that he thinks come Jan. 1, more people will have lost private insurance than gained it:

"Insurers privately tell Bob Laszewski that they think more people will have lost insurance by January 1 than the number who have signed up for Obamacare by January 1.

“‘I was out making some client calls this week with a number of different carriers and they know exactly how many policies they canceled and how many who reupped. And they know how many people have come in through the exchange,’ says Laszewski. ‘And I didn't find one of them who thought they were going to be net ahead on January 1. They all think they're going to net behind on January 1. That's where it's trending so far.’

“So far, at least 4.8 million Americans have received insurance cancellations notices, but Laszewski predicts that the total Obamacare enrollment will be less than half that number on January 1.“‘My guess is that we'll have somewhere around a million and a half people signed up for Obamacare on January 1 in the states and in,’ he says. The big question then, he adds, is 'why have we gone through this whole dislocation of the American health insurance system if only a million and a half to two million buy health insurance?’”

This is, of course, pretty bad news. And the post then continues:

Maybe we’ll make up some of the gap with Medicaid. But at the current pace of enrollment, it would be a big hurdle to make up all the losses. Which means that we may well start the year with fewer people insured than we had in January 2013. There’s reason to think that that may be what the administration is seeing in the latest enrollment numbers.

Get that? “[W]e may well start the year with fewer people insured than we had in January 2013.” If that isn't a backward step, I don't know what is!

One of the major defenses being offered for Obamacare — botched rollout and all — is that the status quo was so awful. Obamacare may have its issues, but at least it’s not the bad old days.

The problem with reformers is rarely that they’re wrong about the status quo; there are a lot of awful things in the world that could use fixing, and the reformers have usually correctly identified at least a few of them. The problem with radical reformers is that they tend to forget that things can get worse, as well as better.

That's one thing that the Obama campaign, with its “change” theme, refused to admit, but let me repeat it: “[T]hings can get worse, as well as better.” Conservatives understand this; radicals don't.

If I’d sketched out the current scenario last summer — computer systems don’t work for months, millions lose insurance, and by the beginning of December, only 1.2 million people have picked up coverage from the exchanges and Medicare combined — the law’s supporters would have rolled their eyes and shaken their heads at the wishful thinking of the law’s critics. And now they generally assume that it will of course get better — that by March 31, if not sooner, we will see a measurable and substantial reduction in the number of uninsured.

But while that’s certainly very possible, it doesn’t exactly seem inevitable. To be sure, I myself find it hard to believe that the number of uninsured people will actually rise, even temporarily, as a result of the law. On the other hand, the administration has been pretty quick to leak whenever they had good enrollment numbers, and we haven’t heard a peep since the beginning of the month. So however incredible, it’s at least a real possibility that we’ll see a net decline in coverage on Jan. 1 — or even on April 1.

That has implications beyond just the people who would be uninsured next year. A lot of these insurance pools are already pretty small. If enrollment is much lower than expected, many markets may not have enough customers to make a viable pool. Even if the insurance pool isn’t older and sicker than expected, a pool that is too small can be wiped out by a couple of unlucky and expensive illnesses.

If the December numbers show a net decrease in enrollment, the administration will probably offer reasons to hope that we’ll see a late influx of young, healthy customers by March. Or maybe they can argue that this is a down payment on the future, and things will really get going in 2015. If they can keep premiums low heading into Obamacare’s second year, then it’s probably reasonable to think that more people will sign up.

But you can’t just keep making down payments on the future forever; at some point, you have to close the sale. If the administration can’t deliver a substantial net enrollment expansion by winter’s end, Democrats are going to have a very hard sell with voters come next fall. And that, in turn, is going to make it harder for Democrats to actually build Obamacare into the coverage-expanding, cost-lowering, voter-pleasing program they thought they passed in 2013.

Of course, one thing I've been hoping is that “Democrats are going to have a very hard sell with voters come next fall.” That way, perhaps a Republican Senate will join the Republican House of Representatives in making it hard for Pres. Obama to continue his assault on the American people. But of course, unless Obama is replaced in 2016 by the likes of Chris Christie, we can't hope this mess is going to be cured.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Let’s help people, not force them!

Supporters of “Obamacare” take the Republicans and, in general, opponents of the act to task for trying to “sabotage the act rather than making it work better.” But there is a long and honorable precedent for this kind of activity, trying to sabotage an undesirable law rather than simply acquiescing in it and making it “work better.” Back in the early 19th Century, there was a Fugitive Slave Law, requiring people to turn over escaped slaves to their masters. But people who did not believe in slavery did not acquiesce — they actively worked to “sabotage” the law, by operating the “Underground Railroad” to get escaped slaves to Canada and freedom. “Obamacare” may not be quite as evil as the Fugitive Slave Law, but it is still bad law, and sabotaging it is a good end to strive for.

The goal of “Obamacare” is supposed to be universal health insurance, where everybody is insured — whether they want to be or not! And yet, even so, it is conceded by even its most fervent supporters that this goal will not be attained. I say that this is probably a good thing — it’s not a desirable goal in the first place — and a far better goal is to make sure that everyone who wants it can afford health insurance, while allowing those who don’t think they need it to “self-insure.” As I say in the title of this post, “Let’s help people, not force them!”

The guiding premise of “Obamacare” seems to be that the American people are like children, unable to figure out what is in their best interests, who need to be forced to do what is best for them. Not only the individual mandate, but even the rules that say that policies must cover thus-and-so, the ones that are forcing cancellations because existing policies (which their policyholders thought were right for them, but which the Obama administration has decided are “inadequate”) do not meet the standards, evince this philosophical attitude. A sensible plan would scrap this attitude and instead let the people decide what sort of health insurance plan is appropriate for them.

I am not going to write a total replacement law for “Obamacare” — I am not a Congressman, and my own Congressman is so strongly pro-Obama that I would never be able to get him to introduce a law on my behalf. But I have a few ideas which I think need to be expanded on.

The idea of “exchanges,” basically, is a good one. But it never should have been a state-by-state thing. Why can a resident of one state not be able to buy a policy that another person a few miles away can? While it might make sense for one state to establish a law that companies may not market a policy within a state if it fails to meet state standards, health insurance should be more like other commodities. If I see something I like that is only sold in one place, I can go there and buy it, and even, these days, buy it online from the place where it is sold. The exchanges — or rather, a national health insurance exchange — ought to work that way.

It has been stated that the requirement that preexisting conditions not preclude coverage requires an individual mandate. People, supposedly, will put off coverage until they are sick, and only enroll then. However, there is a better idea — which is already part of the way Medicare Part D (the prescription drug part of Medicare) works. You are not required to enroll in a prescription drug plan, but if you do not when you are eligible, then when you finally do, your premiums are raised, in proportion to the number of years you have not taken advantage of your eligibility. This is a far less coercive idea than making people pay a tax — and avoids the IRS being involved.

These are just a couple of the ideas that a replacement for “Obamacare” ought to consider.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

The world is mourning the death of South Africa's Nelson Mandela. And he deserves to be considered among the great.

In so many cases, the leader who brings a country to independence becomes a dictator. In the African continent alone, we have seen people like Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah and the still-serving Robert Mugabe of South Africa's neighbor, Zimbabwe. In the world's history, there have been very few George Washingtons — leaders who brought freedom to a colonized people and then showed, when the people brought them to power, that they truly believed in freedom and ran their governments appropriately. Nelson Mandela was one of the rare ones. And this despite being treated by the former governing class of his native land as a traitor, sentenced to life term in prison (though eventually freed), which could have made him extremely vindictive (once again, look next door, to Mugabe).

All one can say is that Nelson Mandela was one of the people that one wishes more would emulate. He was one of the great ones.