Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Political Marketing & Branding (part I)

Through Their Disastrous Marketing & Branding,
Republicans Have Led Some Americans To Believe that
Cletus, the Slack Jawed Yokel is the Embodiment of
Conservative Values & Visions, Thoughts & Traditions.

The consumer choices of most people are driven to a large degree by the powers of marketing and branding. Even intelligent and informed consumers are swayed by extraneous images that advertisers skillfully utilize. At the most base level these advertisements encourage consumers to connect their product to a certain emotional response. And on a deeper level they seek to engage the consumer's sense of self identity with their product. Think back to the images of cowboys and rugged men than figured prominently in the old Marlboro ads. What does that have to do with the product or even the consumer? Presumably less than 1% of smokers were cowboys. Clearly, the marketers wanted consumers to relate their brand to masculinity and self reliance, not emphysema and lung cancer. And other cigarette brands utilized entirely different imagery that sought to envoke a different sense of self, even though their products were virtually identical. The tar and toxins in Parliament cigarettes are no more sophisicated that those found in other brands, yet Parliament utilized images of sophisticated, urbane men and women.

During political discussions with some friends and family members, I came to realize that these same dynamics increasingly figure prominently in our political decisions. They were truly aghast when I revealed to that I had opted for a libertarian or even a republican candidate. What most surprised me was that these otherwise educated and open minded individuals based their critique not on the policies pt philosophies of the candidates, but largely on vacuous cultural generalizations, which I have come to believe are a product of the marketing efforts of both political parties.

When I presented a close friend of mine with a long litany of clear critiques of specific policies of the Obama Administration, the gist of his response was "how can you vote with those gun totting, bible thumping rednecks and racist red state republicans" against "caring, educated, urbane blue state democrats." Half jokingly he asked me if I now "drink Coors, chew tobacco and watched Nascar with Billy Bob." I would have gladly accepted a rebuttal that defended Obama's policies, but instead I was treated to trite generalizations, to which I responded:

1. It's problematic to make broad generalizations against conservatives, because conservatism is a remarkably broad tent that includes everything from secular, free-market civil libertarians such as Ron Paul, to harsh and xenophobic economic and social protectionists like Pat Buchanan. Furthermore, very few if any of the horrid policies of leaders like George W Bush reflected fundamental conservative beliefs.

2. It's just as unacceptable to spew hateful generalizations against Americans who reside in rural and southern communities as it is to do so against Jews and African-Americans.

3. You cannot judge the merit of a political philosophy or policy by the wisdom or foolishness of its followers. History is filled with examples of otherwise enlightened individuals supporting terrible parties and politicians. The Noble Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda's was an outspoken supporter of Stalinism and the philosopher Martin Heidegger was openly sympathetic of nazism. And conversely, in spite of his brutality and banality, the ex-leader of Chile, Augusto Pinochet promoted economic reform that contributed to Chile's development as the most economically stable and prosperous nation in Latin America.

With great effort, I pushed my friend to focus on the merit of competing political philosophies and policies. His response was "unlike conservative republicans, liberal democrats aren't war mongering tools of big business...and don't waste time and money chasing harmless cannabis users..." Even the most basic knowledge of past and present politics shows that these are also tired, generic generalizations.

For good or for bad, progressives like President Wilson and FDR supported America's entry into World War I & World War II, liberal democrats like President Johnson escalated the War in Vietnam, President Clinton launched the questionable bombing of Serbia and the vast majority of Democrats were in favor of the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. So, clearly no party has a monopoly on war mongering. And sadly, the majority of democrats and republicans are beholden to big businesses. In fact corporations, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have strategically contributed millions of dollars to to candidates of both parties. And it's abundantly clear that the Obama Administration, like the Bush administration before it, drew many of its members from Wall Street, the Federal Reserve and the Bilderberg Group. And needless to say, very few members of either party have openly challenged the war on drugs.

After much thought, it became apparent to me that the biggest difference between both parties lay not in their policies, but in the rhetoric and images that they market to the public. This was highlighted during the presidential race when it was revealed that a member of the Obama Campaign asked the Canadian Government to disregard speeches in which he railed against free-trade and Nafta, because it was just for public consumption. So, we see that both parties fundamentally hold the same trade policies, but most republicans speak of the merits of free trade, whereas many democrats fall back on protectionist rhetoric.

Bush may have paid lip service to ideas of limited government and free markets, but like most of his democratic counterparts, he supported the expansion of fiscally irresponsible entitlements like the Prescription Drug Plan. And in spite of progressive fears, the "conservative" Bush administration did not persecute gays, outlaw abortion, attack immigrations, put automatic rifles in the hands of 5 year olds or tear down the wall between church and state. And conversely, in spite of his lofty rhetoric, the Obama Administration has done little to challenge the status quo regarding the aforementioned issues. And like George W Bush before him, Obama has been an unrelenting supporter of the corporate welfare and cronyism that progressives abhor.

The source of this divergence between rhetoric and reality lay in the marketing and branding efforts of both parties. The "tobacco that both party sells" is remarkably similar, but the phrases, images and sense of identity that both parties utilize in their marketing is quite different. Obama, the Democratic party's Marlboro Man is a handsome, charismatic figure that was marketed as the embodiment of change, progress and populism. And by voting for him, the "political consumer" affirmed their sense of self, their image as being urbane, progressive and compassionate. In contrast, the Republican parties lackluster marketing campaign relied on a gray and withered Marlboro Man. The incoherent campaign apparently sought to affirm the consumer's sense of patriotism, duty and tradition. And not only did both parties play on the hopes of consumers, but they sought to cultivate and capitalize on their fears. Whereas key republican marketers cultivated the fear that we are moving away from traditional values, towards secular socialism, democratic marketers capitalize on fears that the country is moving towards "unfettered free-markets and the imposition of theocracy."

My associates then interjected "oh yeah, democrats like Obama are worldly and intelligent and Bush was a Texan yahoo." My response was "Bush is a Harvard and Yale educated east coast blue blood and I suspect that the good old boy image that he projected is more marketing than reality. But, even if he were a yahoo, that would have remarkably little on impact on government policy." When formulating his trade and economic policy, he did not sit down with a banjo playing inbred named "Uncle Kleetus." As flawed as his policies may have been, he appointed ivy league educated experts to formulate and execute them. And the "brilliant Obama" did not author the exhaustive and complex provisions of his programs and policies; he too relied on a team of experts. To a tremendous degree, the policies of both parties simply reflect the conglomeration of interests that lobby and support them. The fact that Obama effortlessly transitioned into and expanded Bush's bailout measures leads me to believe that there is far greater convergence between the advisers of so called conservative and liberal administrations that most people realize.

So, why is to blame for the negative emotional reaction that the term "conservative" elicits from so many educated, urbane Americans? I would have to say that a large part of the blame lies in the deeply flawed marketing efforts of Republicans. I would venture to say that in modern American politics, the selection of a candidate is more reflective of a parties marketing strategy than their political vision. Why? Because, the powerful factions within a party could have selected any one of many politicians to promote the same policies. The Republicans could have easily chosen a more urbane politician like Giuliani. Or, they could have emphasized Bush's identity as a Harvard & Yale educated man with old New England roots, rather than a Texas Cowboy. The cultivation of the Bush Brand reflects the efforts of the choice of the party to sell the image of a "down to earth, G-d fearing patriot that is just like you and me..." Naturally, this turned off my friend and many other Americans, causing them to associate conservative policies with "anti-intellectual yokels like Bush."

A republican candidate will automatically capture their demographic core, so I would strongly urge the party to re-brand itself and select more articulate candidates to reach out to voters like my friend who are understandably turned off by anti-intellectual marketing. Such candidates could emphasize the rich tradition of conservative intellectuals from Jefferson to Hayek, from Mises to Milton. Such candidates could clearly and intelligently expound on the merits of limited, constitutional government and social and economic freedom of individuals, families and communities. And in order to maintain a shred of credibility, the party would have to put these visions and values into practice, because as we saw with George W Bush, preaching the merits of limited government while dangerously expanding the national debt, is the surest way to discredit conservative thought.

A exploration of political marketing would not be complete without a discussion on religion. Republicans must cease using piety and religion as marketing tools. To do so not only alienates many Americans, it cheapens and corrupts religion. They should emphatically state that while Judeo-Christian traditions are a vital part of American life, beyond guaranteeing the right to the free expressions of faith (and faithlessness), religion and government should not mix. In our great republic, faith should be the realm of the individuals, families and communities that form of the foundation of our vibrant civil society. Diverse communities will never see eye to eye on cultural and religious issues like gay marriage, abortion, drug use and a host of other issues. So, enlightened conservative candidates must emphasize that (with very few exceptions) it is a violation of the constitution and rights of self determination for any one side to use the federal government to enforce their cultural and religious values across the entire nation.

Only with a drastic change in their marketing strategies can Republicans hope to win the hearts and minds of the many voters who are alienated by the fiscally and economically destructive policies of liberals. And until Republicans change their marketing strategies I ask them to disavow themselves from the term "conservative," so that Americans won't wrongly equate conservative values and visions, thoughts and traditions to backwards, anti-intellectual yokels.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Questions on Obamacare

Unless supporters of ObamaCare can provide satisfactory answers to the following questions, they should be forced to wear dunce caps in public:

1. Government run entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare have massive unfunded liabilities, in other words they are fiscally unsustainable. What leads you to believe that ObamaCare will be any different? Is it not absurd to undertake a whole other entitlement program while Social Security and Medicare are so deep in the red?

2. An underlying problem in private and public health care is sky-rocketing costs. What leads you to believe that ObamaCare will be able to address this issue without rationing? And if ObamaCare does not address this issue, will rising costs not make this program unsustainable?

3. ObamaCare will add at least $1 trillion dollars to our record national debt. Would it not be more reasonable to first cut the deficit (by at least $1 trillion) before we so drastically expand government spending?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ruhollah Khomeini Anagram

Ruhollah Khomeini stands for "Revolution Unleashed Hell, Ousted Liberal Leaders, Attacked Hostages. Koo-Koo, Hurriedly Organized Mullahs, Executed Iranians, Nation Invaded."

Anagram: Shah Reza Pahlavi

SHAH REZA PAHLAVI stands for "Should Hang Ayatollahs. Hesitated, Revolution Erupted, Zealots Assumed Power, Arrested Hoveida, Liberals Annihilated, Velayet-e-Faqih Imposed"

Amir Abbas Hoveida was one the Shah's more adept Prime Ministers, who was arrested and executed by Islamic Regime.

Velayet-e-Faqih or "guardianship of the Islamic Jurists" is one of the foundational concepts of the Islamic Republic; the ayatollahs rule on behalf of the Hidden Imam.

Obama Health Care Plan Expands Choices Available For Seniors

Obama: Health Care Plan Would Give Seniors Right To Choose How They Are Killed

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama held a nationally televised address Tuesday to "clarify any misunderstandings" about his health care proposal, assuring Americans that under the new bill senior citizens—and not the federal government—will have the right to choose how they are executed.

"Let me dispel these ridiculous rumors once and for all and set the record straight: Under my plan, seniors are going to be killed the way they want to be killed, end of story," said the president, who acknowledged that "wiping out" the nation's elderly population has always been his No. 1 priority. "If your grandmother would rather be euthanized in the privacy of her own home than be gutted and hanged on a high school soccer field, she is entitled to that right."

"Once again, let me be perfectly clear," Obama continued. "Seniors, rest easy knowing that I will never, under any circumstance, sign a bill that doesn't give you the option of being murdered by my administration in a manner of your choosing. I promise you that."

During his 45-minute address, the president repeatedly stressed his deep and abiding respect for the nation's 65-and-over citizens, saying that murdering them in ways they wouldn't want to be murdered would be both un-American and "flat-out wrong."

Obama also accused his opponents of using scare tactics to score political points, manipulating seniors' fears with misinformation about their upcoming state-mandated deaths.

The president said he sympathized with and related to the fears of older Americans, adding that if a politician told him he could only be killed by being forcibly removed from his home and shot in the street like a dog, but left out the fact that he could also be put down by painless lethal injection, he would be scared, too.

"Folks' concerns over my plan are all based on bogus claims that we intend to set up death panels to kill off senior citizens," Obama said. "Well, that is preposterous. A death panel is only one of many ways we can exterminate the elderly. Under my plan, they can be beaten or poisoned to death. They can be murdered by the Marines or the Air National Guard. They can die fast or they can die slow. They can even be drowned in their own bathtubs."

"The point is," Obama continued, "there is a way to die in this plan for everyone."

According to the 970-page bill, seniors would have access to more than 600 methods of execution, all of which would be covered by Medicare. The legislation would also allow aging Americans to keep their own primary care physicians if they prefer to be euthanized by their family doctor.

The bill also calls for the creation of government-run carbon monoxide poisoning clinics, termination chambers in all YMCA basements, and a new giant pit in the Nevada desert where seniors can be dumped and buried en masse.

"Let the record show, I am opposed to the government getting more involved in people's lives," Obama said. "But in times of great change government has typically stepped in to lend a helping hand. That is why free shuttle buses to school gymnasiums pumped full of sarin gas will be provided for all of our seniors."

Following the speech, White House sources said they expected full party support for the proposal. However, some far-left-leaning Democrats have openly criticized the president for backing down from his initial policy of death panels, arguing that a system offering multiple execution options completely undermines their ideal of a single, universal senior-killing policy.

"The president has watered down a perfectly reasonable plan in hopes of placating the opposition," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said. "Look, we started this health care crusade because we believe that death panels are the very best way to eliminate the senior population, and I, for one, stand firm in that belief."

The Republican reaction was even more sternly worded.

"Seniors!" House minority leader John Boehner (R-OH) said. "Run for your lives! Obama is coming to kill you! He will kill all of you!"

However, many older Americans lauded the president for finally speaking to them like adults on the matter, and said that for the first time in months they felt they weren't being taken advantage of.

"It was refreshing to feel like I wasn't being used as a pawn to settle one political party's score against another," 74-year-old Florida resident Rose Benzio told reporters. "I didn't agree with everything President Obama had to say, but I think there is probably an option in his plan that will suit me. Decapitation sounds interesting."

Ayatollah Khameini Anagram

Ayatollah stands for "Attacking Yazdegerd, Arabs Terrorized Our Land, Leaving Aryans Headless"

Yazdegerd III was the last Sassanian Emperor of Persia who was overthrown by the Islamic Invasion.

Khameini stands for "Khayr, Hated Arabs Mistakenly Enforced Islamic National Identity"

In Farsi Khayr means "donkey".

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Immigration & Entitlement (part II)

Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies presented an important point; in the last 50 years, immigrants haven't changed, rather the manner in which we treat immigration dramatically has. Specifically, large segments of government, corporate and academic elites no longer emphasize the importance of social, cultural and (to a lesser extent) economic assimilation. Rather, they have adopted an ideology of multiculturalism, ethno-identity-politics and an expanded welfare state that provide incentives that discourage healthy social, cultural, political and economic assimilation. And like all rational human beings, immigrants respond to incentive structures. So, those who are frustrated with our immigration debacle should not direct their hostilities at immigrants, but at the members of the political elite who foster deleterious policies and ideologies.

Eric Holder Anagram

Eric Holder stands for "Equal Rights Ignore Color, Hopelessly Outdated Liberal Dogmas Encourage Racism"

In other words, Mr. Holder's promotion of affirmative action and hate crime laws do not encourage a free and color blind society.

Ahmedinejad Anagram

Ahmedinejad means "A Horrible Monkey Enjoys Dooky, Islamo-Nazis Encourage Jihad and Destruction"

Progressives & Libertarians: Eye to Eye

Although their philosophical foundations are dramatically different, there are a surprising number of issues that progressives and libertarians see eye to eye on. Whereas the majority of Democrats and Republicans have implicitely supported America's increased military presence across the globe, most progressives and libertarians are aghast at America's transition into an empire. The founding fathers wisely admonished the United States to not get embroiled in the military and political conflicts of other nations, sentiments that both of the said groups share. While not everyone is as isolationst as Dr. Ron Paul, that Iraq and Afghanistan have became black holes swallowing up countless lives and billions of dollars with few benefits. Yet, we continue our expansionist policies, as seen by America's increasing military presence in Pakistan, Yemen and even Colombia. I am hoping that progressives and libertarians can join together to oppose this expansion, because very few Republican and Democrats are willing to do so.

Increased U.S. Military Presence in Colombia Could Pose Problems With Neighbors


Published: July 22, 2009

CARACAS, Venezuela — A plan to increase the American military presence on at least three military bases in Colombia, Washington’s top ally in Latin America, is accentuating Colombia’s already tense relations with some of its neighbors.

Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua, which are members of a leftist political alliance that is led by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and backed by his nation’s oil revenues, have all criticized the plan, saying it would broaden the military reach of the United States in the Andes and the Caribbean at a time when they are still wary of American influence in the region.

Despite a slight improvement in Venezuela’s relations with the United States in recent months, Mr. Chávez has been especially vocal in lashing out at the plan. Speaking on state television here on Monday night, he put Venezuela’s diplomatic ties with Colombia under review, calling the plan a platform for “new aggression against us.”

Colombia’s foreign minister, Jaime Bermúdez, on Tuesday defended the negotiations, which are expected to produce an agreement in August, asking neighboring countries not to interfere in Colombia’s affairs. “We never expressed our opinion in what our neighbors do,” he said, pointing to Mr. Chávez’s attempts to strengthen ties with non-Western nations. “Not even when the Russian presence became known in Venezuelan waters, or with relations with China,” he added.

The United States has been negotiating the increase of military operations in Colombia in recent weeks, faced with Ecuador’s decision to end a decade-long agreement allowing E-3 AWACs and P-3 Orion surveillance planes to operate from the Manta Air Base on Ecuador’s Pacific Coast.

While American antidrug surveillance flights would sharply increase in Colombia, the world’s top producer of cocaine, the agreement would not allow American personnel to take part in combat operations in the country, which is mired in a four-decade war against guerrillas. A limit of 800 American military personnel and 600 American military contractors would also remain in place, officials involved in the talks said.

Still, depending on how the accord is put in place, American troop levels in Colombia could climb sharply. The United States currently has about 250 military personnel in the country, deployed largely in an advisory capacity to Colombia’s armed forces, William Brownfield, the United States ambassador to Colombia, said last week.

Colombia, which has already received more than $5 billion in military and antidrug aid from the United States this decade, has found itself isolated diplomatically as Mr. Chávez presses ahead with his efforts to expand Venezuela’s oil diplomacy while eroding American influence in the hemisphere.

Other countries chafe at Colombia for different reasons. Colombia’s diplomatic relations with Ecuador have soured since Colombian forces carried out a raid on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebel camp on Ecuadoran territory last year. A festering boundary dispute with Nicaragua has also made for tensions between Colombia and Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, an ally of Mr. Chávez.

But with Venezuela itself, Colombia remains locked in a complex game of interdependence.

Its sales of manufactured and agricultural goods to Venezuela remain resilient despite Mr.Chávez’s occasional outbursts directed at his ideological opposite, Colombia’s president, Álvaro Uribe. And faced with disarray in its oil industry, Venezuela relies on imports of Colombian natural gas, narrowing the possibility of a severe deterioration in ties between the two countries despite their sharply different views of cooperation with the United States.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Clinton Anagram

Clinton Means "Chinese Loans Immediately Negate Tibet’s Oppressed Nationhood" In other words, we can assume that our dependence on Chinese loans was the primary reason why the Madame Secretary did not meet with the Dalai Lama.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Immigration & Entitlement (part I)

Heather MacDonald is a writer who is always armed with hard facts, clear logic and honest analysis. In her essay she deconstructs the demands and arguments put forth by proponents of immigration amnesty as examples of the inflation of rights and the expansion of entitlement that underlie many of America's economic and social ills.

This helps explain my seemingly contradictory positions on undocumented immigration: I am not so troubled by the violation of immigration laws, yet I am bothered by protests against the application of immigration law.

The majority of people take calculated risks and violate the law for personal gain. For example, late one night I was driving through an empty road and decided to exceed the speed limit by 15 miles per hour to hasten my journey home. Unfortunately, I was pulled over and ticketed by a police officer. My first instinct was to argue that I should not be punished because my behavior didn't pose a real and present danger to the public. But, later I realized that the police officer did have the right to punish me to the full extent of the law. Why? Because even an imperfect system of traffic laws protects the public. And in order to uphold that system, the law has to be objectively applied at all times, even when its violation poses no immediate threat to the public. Although I was unhappy with the costly punishment that I received, I could not argue against the law itself. To do so would be paramount to saying that traffic laws are not vital to public safety. And in a larger sense my protest would have implied that the application of laws should be determined by those who violate them and not by the general public via their elected representatives , which is clearly an indefensible position.

Even more so, these same principles apply to the violation of immigration laws. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are decent, hard working individuals who do not pose a threat to the American public. These individuals took the calculated risk of violating American immigration laws in order to flee the dire economic circumstances of their native countries. In most cases they do so in order to provide for the most basic needs of their families. This is something that I and the majority of American citizens would do if we faced similar circumstances. Accordingly, I refuse to pass judgement on these individuals.

But, just like with traffic laws, we cannot deny that the enforcement of immigration laws is vital to the safety and welfare of the United States. And I have yet to hear a reasonable argument against a nation's right to determine who enters and works in their territory. In order to maintain the integrity of a system, the cost of violating its laws must exceed the benefits that a law breaker hopes to enjoy. In other words, those who violate immigration laws have to face consequences. And to protest against those consequences represents an inflated sense of rights and an expanded sense of entitled that are not grounded in reason.

But, some will argue that the punishment that violators of immigration law face are too harsh. Returning to the example of traffic laws, we can say that the heavy fines imposed on violators of traffic laws (who were not involved in traffic accidents) impose undue burdens on individuals who posed no direct threat to the public. After all, the majority of people who modestly exceed the speed limit do not get into serious accidents, so a $250 fine and a day at court seem excessive, especially for a working class driver.

So, why not reduce the fine to a reasonable level of say $50? Or better yet, why not offer an amnesty and eliminate the burden of past traffic tickets? The problem is that a "reasonable fine" or an "amnesty" would lead to a systematic increase in the violation of traffic laws and ultimately increase the numbers of accidents, injuries and deaths. The same can be said for immigration law; more lenient fines would lead to a sharp increase in undocumented immigration. And although an amnesty would pull millions of good, hard working people out of the shadows, within 10 years the "shadows would be filled with millions more" and we would be back at square one.

So, the purpose of penalizing those who violate immigration laws is to decrease future violations of immigration laws. And although the majority of undocumented immigrants are positive, hard working people, the phenomena of massive undocumented immigration has negative economic effects. And clearly it represents an erosion of the the rule of law.

Those who protest the application of immigration laws possess the implied belief that laws should be determined by those who violate them and not by elected officials who purportedly represent the broad interests of American citizens. Whether we are discussing traffic law or immigration law, this is clearly an indefensible position. Changing a law by subjecting it to public debate and the legislative process strengthens democracy and the rule of law. But, when a law is negated by permitting the systematic violation of its tenants, democracy and the rule of law are eroded. And if the impetus of that change originates from the efforts of non-citizens, a nation's sovereignty is also eroded. The great irony is that the very rule of law that has (at least indirectly) drawn millions of immigrants to the United States has been eroded by the pandering politicians who have allowed uncontrolled immigration.

Postmodern “Rights” en Los Estados Unidos

By Heather Mac Donald

With last month's mass demonstrations of illegal aliens, the United States has entered the era of postmodern rights. The protesters looked like conventional rights demonstrators, with their raised fists, chants, and banners. But unlike political protesters of the past, the illegal-alien marchers invoked no legal basis for their claims. Their argument boils down to: "We are here, therefore we have a right to the immigration status we desire." Like the postmodern signifier, this legal claim refers to nothing outside of itself; it is, in the jargon of deconstruction, a presence based on an absence.

The consequences of this novel argument are not insignificant: the demise of nation-states and of the rule of law. Remember: The only basis for the illegals' demands is: "I am here." The "I am here" argument could be made by anyone anywhere — a Moroccan sneaking into Sweden could make the same demand for legal status. In one stroke, the border-breaking lobby has nullified the entire edifice of American immigration law and with it, sovereignty itself. None of the distinctions in that law matter, the advocates say. The conditions for legal entry? Null and void. The democratically chosen priorities for who may enter the country and who not? Give me a break! In other words, the United States has no right to decide who may come across its borders and what legal status an alien may obtain upon arrival. Those decisions remain solely the prerogative of the alien himself. The border no longer exists.

The American legal tradition has until now assumed that it takes a congressional enactment or a judicial ruling to overturn a duly enacted law. With the ubiquitous chant, "No person is illegal," first popularized by Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney, that tradition is over. Pace Cardinal Mahoney, under existing immigration law, a person may in fact be "illegal," if he has broken into the country without permission or has overstayed his visa. Mahoney and the hordes who have taken up the "No person is illegal" slogan beg to differ. No law has the power to confer illegal status on an alien law-breaker, they say. Therefore, the existing laws are void — simply because the illegal aliens and their supporters do not like them, not because Congress has decided to withdraw them. This alleged power to overturn laws based on sheer presence is a remarkable new constitutional development.

Efforts to analogize the illegal-alien protests to the civil-rights movement are ludicrous. Blacks were demanding that state governments end the unlawful deprivation of rights that they already possessed under the Constitution, and for which the nation had fought a traumatic civil war. The illegals are claiming rights to which by law they have no right and for which they can make no legal argument whatsoever. If their movement succeeds, it will not be possible to deny any future rights claims in any sphere of life or activity. The claim for same-sex marriage, opposed by many of the same conservatives who so genially support the illegal-alien movement, rests on far stronger Constitutional grounds than the "I am here" claim for legal immigration status. And we will have no basis for opposing the demands for legalization by every future border trespasser, who, along with today's illegal aliens, can simply state: "I am here."

It is easy to understand why the multicultural lobby, with its antagonism to American identity, is pushing so hard for illegal-alien rights. It is less easy to understand why many conservatives, who otherwise stand for unfettered American sovereignty in all matters international, are so eager to dissolve not just our immigration laws but the principle of lawmaking behind them. They may soon discover that a postmodern conception of rights leads to a postmodern conception of nationhood.

Biden Anagram

Biden means "Boy I Do Enjoy Napping"

Barack Anagram

Barack means "Bankrupt Americans Really Adore Communist Klowns"

Geithner Anagram

Geithner means "Government Economists Inflate, Tax, Hurt Normal Economic Recoveries"

Bernanke Anagram

Bernanke means "Butthole Economists Reject Needed Authorization, Kleptocracy Expands"

On Entitlements (part IV)

In the last post I laid down some general principles of balancing the benefits of social mandates with their economic costs. In order to understand my opposition even to some relatively reasonable policies of the Obama Administration we need to explore the "dayenu principle."

"Deyenu" is a Hebrew term and title of a Passover song which translates into "it would have been enough for us." This refers to the multiple miracles that G-d performed for the Jewish people during the Exodus from Egypt. If G-d had simply performed one of the miracles, such as the parting of the red sea, it would have been enough for the Jewish people, but the multiple miracles demonstrates his overflowing magnanimity.

In the context of the Obama Administration, "dayenu" takes on a negative connotation. We can debate the benefits of each initiative, but not the fact that each one imposed a fiscal burden on the American public. Perhaps more importantly, each one consumed a little more of the American public's dwindling faith and Obama's dwindling political capital. So, if it had just been the bailouts, "dayenu" and if it had just been the stimulus plan, "dayenu" and if it had just been the expanded war in Afghanistan, "dayenu," but taken together all of this "change" is too much for the American public to bear.

So, by the time we arrived at Obama's push for health care reform, cap-and-trade, many Americans who would otherwise have supported these initiatives are weary and skeptical of the wisdom of further ballooning our national debt. If Obama had presented the American public a choice between directing our limited resources towards cap-and-trade or expanding health care coverage to millions of Americans or escalating the war in Afghanistan, I may not have agreed with him, but I would have respected his candor and fiscal responsibility. But to simultaneously pursue all three is an irresponsible attempt to please multiple constituencies that may earn him political points among the fiscally illiterate, but will surely leave our country bankrupt, exhausted and unable to deal with the challenges that the future holds. Mr. Obama please heed our cry "Day Dayenu!"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Abolish the Federal Department of Education?

This may sound radical, but the more I analyze the facts, the more reasons I see for abolishing the Federal Department of Education. I have provided some questions and answers that lead me to this conclusion. If you can come up with answers that prove that the benefits outweigh the costs of the Department of Education outweigh th I encourage you to post them.

Question 1: Is the the existence of the Federal Department of Education constitutional?

Answer 1: The federal role in education is a violation of the 10th amendment of the United States Constitution which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government delegated the power to regulate or fund elementary or secondary education.

Question 2: But isn't the promotion of education a historic role of the federal government?

Answer 2: No, it was founded in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, douchebag extraordinaire.

Question 3: Has the American public received a good return on its investment?

Answer 3: Between 2000 - 2008, under the "conservative" George W Bush, the Department of Education's budget increased from $37,524, 346 to $68,574,594, a whopping 54.72%. This represents a large increase in per-capita spending, coupled with little or no improvements in the academic performance of American students.

Question 4: Are there any good examples of federal government mandates improving the quality of public education at state and local levels?

Answer 4: I do not know of a good example. But, federal programs like"No Child Left Behind" have by most indications burdened cities and states with additional bureaucracy and hindered their autonomy, while offering few if any real improvements in the performance of students.

Question 5: What are some other possible consequences of the federalization of education?

Answer 5: Increased federal control of any activity usually leads to less local involvement of parents and teachers in addressing the educational ills that face their communities.

Hey Governor Quinn!

Hey Governor Quinn, Illinois's debt rating was just downgraded and we now have the second lowest rating in the country! This will mean higher interest rates when Illinois seeks a loan to plug its huge deficit. Now go put on your dunce hat and write 100 times on the blackboard "deficit spending is for dunces!" and "I will not tax and spend Illinois into oblivion!"

Moody's downgrades Illinois debt ratings

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Moody's Investors Service on Tuesday downgraded Illinois' general obligation bond rating to A2 from A1, citing the state's financial woes stemming from the U.S. recession.

Moody's cut other Illinois ratings, affecting about $24 billion of outstanding debt, including the state's Build Illinois sales tax revenue bonds, also cut to A2 from A1.

The downgrade gave Illinois the second lowest U.S. state rating from Moody's, with California having the lowest at Baa1, a Moody's spokesman said.

Moody's said Illinois has yet to take action to tackle a structural budget gap of more than $11 billion, equal to about 35 percent of its expenditures.

"The downgrades are the result of high structural imbalances and little time to effect modifications to the budget in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2010, as well as evidence of significant weakening in the state's 2009 results," Moody's said in a statement.

With an 11 percent jobless rate in October, Illinois was among half a dozen U.S. states with double digit unemployment.

Other states, such as California and Michigan have also suffered debt rating downgrades this year as the recession and unemployment punched holes in their budgets.

Moody's revised the outlook for Illinois' GO and related ratings to negative, "reflecting the continuing likelihood of large structural budget deficits, growing negative year-end fund balances, strained operating fund liquidity and mounting pressure from pension and retiree health benefit obligations."

Moody's put the state on review for a potential downgrade shortly after Illinois enacted its fiscal 2010 budget in July.


Other rating agencies took action on Illinois' GO rating this summer. Standard & Poor's Ratings Services rates Illinois AA-minus with a negative outlook it gave the state in August. Fitch Ratings dropped Illinois' rating two notches to A in July, citing the state's "large structural budget deficit."

With Illinois facing a growing backlog of unpaid bills, Governor Pat Quinn has proposed a $500 million cash-flow borrowing, which would add to the $2.25 billion in outstanding short-term borrowing the state must pay off in June.

A spokesman for Quinn did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the downgrades.

Illinois has slated a nearly $155 million Build Illinois competitive sale for Thursday, followed by a $375 million negotiated sale through Cabrera Capital Markets next week.

Ahead of the $530 million sale of Build Illinois bonds, S&P affirmed an AAA rating, while Fitch affirmed an AA rating based on strong debt service coverage provided by the sales tax.

Take Me Back to Constantinople

With over 140 military bases across the world America, contrary to the wise advice of the founding fathers has become an empire. The only thing worse than an empire isone that is poorly run. Edward Luttwak wrote a very interesting article on the lessons that the American Empire can learn from the Byzantine Empire. To our misfortune, Bush and now Obama have ignored many of these lessons. I have presented the most relevant excerpts, but to view the full article, click on the following link:

Take Me Back to Constantinople

How Byzantium, not Rome, can help preserve Pax Americana.


Economic crisis, mounting national debt, excessive foreign commitments -- this is no way to run an empire. America needs serious strategic counseling. And fast. It has never been Rome, and to adopt its strategies no -- its ruthless expansion of empire, domination of foreign peoples, and bone-crushing brand of total war -- would only hasten America's decline. Better instead to look to the empire's eastern incarnation: Byzantium, which outlasted its Roman predecessor by eight centuries. It is the lessons of Byzantine grand strategy that America must rediscover today.

I've spent the past two decades poring over these texts to compile a study of Byzantine grand strategy. The United States would do well to heed the following seven lessons if it wishes to remain a great power:

I. Avoid war by every possible means, in all possible circumstances, but always act as if war might start at any time. Train intensively and be ready for battle at all times -- but do not be eager to fight. The highest purpose of combat readiness is to reduce the probability of having to fight.

III. Campaign vigorously, both offensively and defensively, but avoid battles, especially large-scale battles, except in very favorable circumstances. Don't think like the Romans, who viewed persuasion as just an adjunct to force. Instead, employ force in the smallest possible doses to help persuade the persuadable and harm those not yet amenable to persuasion.

IV. Replace the battle of attrition and occupation of countries with maneuver warfare -- lightning strikes and offensive raids to disrupt enemies, followed by rapid withdrawals. The object is not to destroy your enemies, because they can become tomorrow's allies. A multiplicity of enemies can be less of a threat than just one, so long as they can be persuaded to attack one another.

V. Strive to end wars successfully by recruiting allies to change the balance of power. Diplomacy is even more important during war than peace. Reject, as the Byzantines did, the foolish aphorism that when the guns speak, diplomats fall silent. The most useful allies are those nearest to the enemy, for they know how best to fight his forces.

VI. Subversion is the cheapest path to victory. So cheap, in fact, as compared with the costs and risks of battle, that it must always be attempted, even with the most seemingly irreconcilable enemies. Remember: Even religious fanatics can be bribed, as the Byzantines were some of the first to discover, because zealots can be quite creative in inventing religious justifications for betraying their own cause ("since the ultimate victory of Islam is inevitable anyway …").

On Entitlements (part III)

Over the years I casually catalogued the platforms of a progressive associate of mine, which included: affordable housing, a living wage, universal health care, free daycare for working mothers, expanding the use of green energy, stringent environmental regulations and so on.

I do not inherently object to any of these policies, but I am troubled by my associate's implied belief that an unlimited burden can be placed on our economic system without imposing substantial costs on the public. And on a deeper level my associate's platform implies a belief that prices, production and wages are arbitrary and can be simply dictated by politicians and activists without creating serious economic consequences.

Entitlement programs directly paid for by employers raises the cost of labor, which inevitably lead to a lower demand for labor (higher unemployment). And when such programs are paid for by general taxation they limit the capacity of businesses to invest and the public to consume, the end result being higher unemployment. In addition, they inevitably draw funds away from private and public research and development, which are vital to capacity of the American economy to produce new innovations that create wealth and employment opportunities.

Environmental mandates raise the cost of production which inevitably increase the outsourcing of high paying industrial jobs. The promotion of "affordable housing" usually implies rent controls, which inevitably decreases the quality and availability of housing. Mandating that employers pay for child care make it less desirable for employers to hire women. Forcing employers to hire women under such mandates raises the cost of labor, which also leads to higher unemployment.

The point is not that we should not pursue social mandates, but simple that we must carefully weigh the costs and benefits that they offer to the public. We must affirm that the source of America's high living prosperity is the productive force of its comparatively free market system. What this means is that we must be judicious on the burdens that we place on free enterprise. And given this reality, more progressives need to be cognizant that their programs are not complimentary; they compete for limited public resources and simultaneously limit our capacity for economic expansion. Ignore this reality as the Obama Administration has and you will be faced with massive debt and lingering economic malaise.

On Entitlements (part II)

I recently came across a story that highlights the difficult dilemma inherent in the issue of health care entitlements. Over a period of three years, a hospital spent over $1.5 million dollars to provide health care for an undocumented immigrant who was seriously injured by an errant driver. The hospital felt that it had no choice and chartered a $30,000 flight to send this young man back to his native Guatemala. After briefly being treated by a Guatemalan hospital, they also decided to release him.

It deeply saddens me to see a human being's dreams of a better life tragically shattered. And the hospitals actions are unsettling on an emotional level, because we know that this young man will experience deprivation and vastly inferior medical attention in rural Guatemala. But, my rational side says that our system is one of limited resources that cannot provide unlimited care to an unlimited number of individuals, which necessitates painful decisions. All individuals are equal in the eyes of G-d, but in a world of limited resources our first obligation must be to our own families and then to our countrymen.

One troubling side note, rather than show gratitude for all the time and money that the hospital spent caring for this young man, the family sued the hospital for $1,000,000. Of course they did not sue the Guatemalan hospital that released him from their care, because they know that outside of the United States there is no chance that their sense of entitlement would be validated by the courts of by society at large. And surprisingly, an American jury ruled in favor of the courts.

I do not entirely blame this family for their ingratitude, because it stems from the inflated sense of rights that they developed in the United States, not in their native Guatemala. It reflects the pervasive sense of entitlement that plagues modern American society and has even taken root among undocumented immigrants. I must emphasize that the issue at hand is not America's decision to provide free medical attention to its native born and immigrant populations, but the fact that so many individuals demand these services and feel that have unlimited rights to the limited resources of others. And dare we withhold these entitlements, we provoke rage, indignation and endless lawsuits. Clearly Milton Friedman was correct "you cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state."

US jury favors hospital that deported immigrant

Thu Jul 23, 2009

MIAMI — A hospital that sent a seriously brain injured illegal immigrant back to Guatemala — over the objections of his family and legal guardian — did not act unreasonably, a jury found Monday.

Deputy Court Clerk Carol Harper said the unanimous six-member jury found in favor of the Health care and immigration experts across the country have closely watched the court case in the sleepy, coastal town of Stuart. The hospital had cared for Jimenez, who was uninsured, for three years. But it was unable to find any nursing home to take him permanently because his immigration status meant the government would not reimburse his care. Hospital and against the guardian of 37-year-old Luis Jimenez, a Mayan Indian from Guatemala.

"Hospitals are not intended to become long-term housing," said Linda Quick, president of the South Florida Hospital & Healthcare Association. "The issue is that there are no long-term providers required to take people for whom they know they are not going to be paid."

She said that as a result of the case, hospitals will likely begin planning for discharge as soon as they admit patients they suspect cannot pay and could require long-term care.

The lawsuit filed by Jimenez's cousin and legal guardian sought nearly $1 million to cover the estimated lifetime costs of Jimenez's care in Guatemala, as well as damages.

The hospital said it was merely following a court order — which was being appealed at the time — and that Jimenez wanted to go home.

Jimenez's cousin, Montejo Gaspar, was named his legal guardian because of his brain injury. Gaspar's attorney Bill King said he was extremely disappointed with the ruling and was reviewing all options including whether to appeal.

"There is no doubt that the state government and the federal government has to address the situation," he said. "They can't let something like this happen again."

Martin Memorial Medical Center's CEO and president Mark E. Robitaille said in a statement the hospital was pleased with the ruling.

"We have maintained all along that we acted correctly and, most importantly, in the best interests of Mr. Jimenez," Robitaille said.

But he agreed lawmakers must step in to ensure hospitals are not put in the same position in the future.

"This is not simply an issue facing Martin Memorial. It is a critical dilemma facing health care providers across Florida and across the United States," he added.

Robitaille, who was not yet head of the hospital when Jimenez was send back to Guatemala, said he was concerned that none of the health care reform proposals being debated in Congress address the issue.

Like millions of others, Jimenez came to the United States to work as a day laborer, sending money home to his family. In 2000, a drunk driver crashed into a van he was riding in, leaving him a paraplegic with the cognitive ability of a fourth grader. The man who caused the accident — which killed two people — was driving a stolen van. An insurance policy ended up paying a total of $30,000 in compensation to Jimenez and the families of the three other victims.

Under federal law, hospitals that receive Medicare reimbursements are required to provide emergency care to all patients regardless of their ability to pay and must provide an acceptable discharge plan once the patient is stabilized. But the hospital couldn't find anyone to take Jimenez. Eventually, backed by a letter from the Guatemalan government, the hospital got a Florida judge to OK the transfer to a facility in that country.

Fearing the Guatemalan letter held an empty promise, Gaspar appealed. But without telling Jimenez's family — and the day after Gaspar filed an emergency request to stop the move — Martin Memorial put Jimenez on a $30,000 charter flight home early on July 10, 2003.

Gaspar eventually won his appeal, with the court ruling a state judge doesn't have the power to decide immigration cases and that Jimenez should not have been sent back. By then, Jimenez had been released from the Guatemalan hospital and was living with his 73-year-old mother in her remote one-room home in the mountainous state of Huehuetenango.

King said he believed some good had come from bringing both the initial appeal and the most recent case.

"We've shown that state judges cannot authorize what is tantamount to private deportation of undocumented immigrants, and that hospitals have to follow the federal requirements that are in place for the discharge of all people, including undocumented immigrants," he said.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

On Entitlements (part I)

As a realtor I regularly process rental applications, which entails a conversation about their credit. I am frequently told "I have a few bad marks on my my credit, but don't worry they're only medical collections..." The majority of these collections do not reflect an individual's inability to cover the costs of seriously medical treatments. A surprising number of them are for minor treatments or delinquent co-payments that are under $250. Before turning over a medical bill to a collections agency, most doctors and hospitals offer payment plans that allow individuals of moderate incomes to fulfill their financial responsibility.

So, I have concluded that many of these individuals do not feel the need to pay their medical bills, because they feel that medical treatment is a right that doesn't entail any responsibility. Many rationalize their behavior with the belief that "doctors, hospitals and governments have deep pockets and can afford to pay for the little guy," conveniently avoiding the fact that the cost of their unpaid services are passed on to responsible citizens in the form of higher insurance premiums and higher taxes.

So, we come to the terrible dilemma - how does a humane society ensure that all its members receive vital services without fostering the very costly belief that these entitlements are rights bereft of equally important responsibilities? I fear that this dilemma is so difficult to address because it stems from changes in culture and values more than government policies.

I recall an interview with the actor Jerry Stiller in which he spoke of the intense shame his father felt during the Great Depression when he had to receive government assistance. Accompanying this shame, many individuals spoke about the heartfelt appreciation they held for those who provided them private or public assistance. On an individual level this sense of shame may not be healthy, but on a societal level it is a key component of a functional welfare state. If shame is the "brake" that keeps the welfare state under check, then our growing sense of entitlement is the "gas pedal" that is fuelling our impeding collision course with an unmovable wall of fiscal reality.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Clash of Goods: Diversity & Economic Equality (part II)

A More Appropriate Sign Would Be: Adios Middle Class

Interesting article that documents the growing educational and economical inequality in California, which is well above the national average in post doctorates, as well as high school dropouts. Needless to say the educational bifurcation is strongly connected to growing economic inequality. The growing economic inequality has a strong ethnic component, because:

1) Approximately 65% of California's Mexican immigrants have not completed high school, which means that the large growth in the said population has swelled the number of low skill, low income workers.

2) A disproportionate number of California's Asian immigrants are high skill, high income workers.

3) And as California has greatly raised taxes and spending to expand costly entitlement programs to address this growing economic inequality, which has accelerated the exodus of middle class, mostly white Californians.

The end result is that California is becoming an increasingly diverse and unequal state. And surely this phenomena has increased since the publication of the article in 2001. But, unfortunately few progressives are willing to reconcile, yet alone acknowledge this clash between two social goods: diversity & economic equality.


Analysis: California's new education gap


LOS ANGELES, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- New Census Bureau figures show that California,traditionally America's trendsetter, is pioneering a new kind of class structure, one somewhat reminiscent of highly unequal Latin American countries such as Brazil or Mexico.

Although California was long viewed as the promised land of the American middle class, it is slowly developing a novel U-shaped social system featuring relatively large numbers of both the well-educated and the badly educated sandwiching a shrinking middle.

Although this trend toward greater inequality would seem to be at odds with the ideals of the Democratic Party, it might bode well for Democrats' success in the voting booth, if results from 2000 prove an adequate guide to the future. California, the state that bequeathed Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to the Republican Party, gave Al Gore an impressive 54 percent to 41 percent victory over George W. Bush last November.

According to a Census Bureau Supplementary Survey of 700,000 households across the country, California boasts 2 million recipients of graduate degrees (master's or Ph.D. or professional diplomas such as M.D. or J.D.).Yet this sophisticated state also is home to 2.2 million adults who never even attended high school. Their ranks are up 7 percent from 1990. By contrast, in the rest of America, the number of adults who had never seen the inside of a high school dropped by 30 percent over the past decade.

In California, 10.7 percent of grownups have no more than elementary schooling, compared to only 6.4 percent in the other 49 states. Of all the states in the Union, California now has the lowest percentage of its population with a midle level education consisting of at least a high school diploma or some college, but not a bachelor's degree from a four-year college. Further, the Golden State is now one of only three states with above average percentages of people who never got past elementary school and of holders of graduate degrees. The other two are New Mexico and Rhode Island.

California's educational inequality is driven by both foreign immigration and domestic migration. The state has attracted the top and the bottom of the schooling pyramid, while repelling the middle.Silicon Valley and other technology centers attract the highly educated from Asia and across America. More surprisingly, a prestigious degree is now often expected in Hollywood.A veteran sitcom writer who worked for years on "Married with Children"complained privately about the "Harvard mafia" that she feels increasingly has controlled TV joke writing ever since the Harvard Lampoon-laden screenwriting staff of "The Simpsons" emerged in 1990.

California's upper-middle-class newcomers tend to be liberal, especially on cultural issues. In contrast, Mexican immigrants comprise much of California's huge number of less-educated people. According to a 2000 Census Bureau survey, 65 percent of America's Mexican immigrants never finished high school versus only 9.6 percent of natives. According to the Voter News Service exit poll, California's Hispanics voted 68 percent to 29 percent for Gore.Meanwhile, as immigrants move in, native-born Americans leave California.

From 1990 to 1999, according to University of Michigan demographer William H. Frey, 2.2 million more California residents moved to other states than other Americans moved to California. Frey, who is also with the Milken Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., pointed out, "Another cause of the rise of the California Democrats is selective out-migration of the more rock-ribbed Republicans. The folks who have been leaving California's suburbs for other states have the white, middle-class demographic profiles of Republican voters. California's middle-class families are being squeezed out by real estate prices. And Republicans are heading for whiter states where they won't have to pay taxes for so many social programs for the poor.

"What's at work in New Mexico and Rhode Island, the other two states that are above average in both graduate degrees and adults who've never been to high school? Ever since the Manhattan Project built the atomic bomb during World War II,New Mexico has had a social chasm with Los Alamos physicists and Santa Feglitterati on one side, and poor Mexican-Americans and American Indians on the other. Rhode Island is demographically split between the workers in New England's intellectual-industrial complex and the state's many blue-collar immigrants from the Portuguese-speaking world, most notably the very poor Cape Verde Islands off the coast of West Africa.

California's "education gap" also shows up in income statistics. In California, 6.8 percent of all households make more than $150,000 per year versus 4.1 percent elsewhere. In contrast, 14 percent of California households are poor compared to only12.3 percent of households in the other 49 states. And this measure actually underestimates California's poverty problem, because the federal government uses the same poverty level nationwide, despite California having a higher cost of living. For example, the state's median rent is 30 percent greater than elsewhere.

The evidence from the 2000 election suggests that inequality might be good for the Democratic Party. Gore carried California, New Mexico and Rhode Island. In fact, New Mexico was one of only two states that Gore carried west of the Mississippi River and east of the Pacific Coast states.A plausible consensus has emerged that the 2000 election offers abundant insights into long-term political trends. That's because both parties ran fairly generic candidates and no major crises or issues roiled the race. This allowed underlying regional and class differences to emerge in sharp relief.The Voter News Service exit poll showed Gore carrying the educational extremes.
Nationally, the former vice president won 59 percent to 39 percent among voters without high school degrees. Similarly, he beat Bush 52 per cent to 44 percent among those with postgraduate degrees. In contrast, Bush carried the middle. He beat Gore 49 percent to 48 percent among high school graduates and 51 percent to 45 percent among both those with only some college and those with a bachelor's degree. Strikingly, the percentage of residents with graduate degrees proved one of the strongest predictors of whether a state would vote Republican or Democrat. Gore won only three of the 25 states with the fewest graduate degree holders, but 17 of the 25 highest states. Utah, the destination of so many disgruntled ex-Californians, is emerging as the anti-California. It leads the country with only 2.4 percent of its residents never having attended high school.Paradoxically, this staunchly Republican state, where Gore won only 25 percent of the vote, exemplifies some of the traditional egalitarian ideals of the Democratic Party. A 2000 study by the Economic Policy Institute found Utah to have the most equal income distribution of any state. Still, Utah is more likely to be the anomaly and California the harbinger of the United States' future. If so, this suggests that the Democratic Party's politicians will be better served than the party's ideals of educational and economic equality.

-- Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved. --

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lessons from the Ottoman Empire

I have always been fascinated by Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, which was a fascinating nexus of Islamic, Christian and Jewish civilization. Ottoman music, cuisine, art and architecture represented a fascinating amalgamation of the diverse groups which made up the empire, which included: Turks, Tatars, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Albanians, Kurds, Bulgarians and many more. And of course the Ottoman Turkish culture left a linguistic and cultural mark on the said groups.

But, as someone well versed in Ottoman history, I am painfully aware of the downside of diversity. The experience of the Ottomans shows that ruling diverse populations is only possible with a strong, centralized and undemocratic state. As the empire came to include diverse populations that lacked common interests, values and visions, the heavy hand of the state became increasingly necessary. Routinely inter-communal conflicts were suppressed by the Ottomans, such as blood libels issued by Greeks Christians against their Jewish neighbors.

Endemic tension between ethno-religious groups contributed to the revolution of 1908, which led to a more democratic and representative state. Unfortunately, democratization did not lead to a decrease in inter communal tension, but a marked increase. In the remaining European territory of the Ottoman Empire, not only did the Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Macedonians and Albanians battle the Ottoman State, but also against each other. Ultimately inter-communal tensions led to the death and displacement of millions of individuals in Anatolia and the Balkans.

Sadly, it was determined that the only way to create lasting peace by Greece and Turkey was to institute a population exchange in 1923 via the Treaty of Laussane. This treaty stipulated that 1.4 million Orthodox Christians of Turkey would be exchanged for 0.4 million Muslims of Greece. In addition, a three way population exchange occurred between Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria. And within the Turkish Republic, as the unifying Ottoman-Muslim identity was supplanted by individual Turkish and Kurdish identities, violent uprisings erupted that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals. Similar outbreaks of violence occurred in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq and other nations, as shared identities and interests were cast off and individual ethno-religious identities were reaffirmed. In all of the cases we learned that only a heavy handed government was able to hold diverse groups together and accordingly democracy heralded disorder and conflict.

So, I am understandably skeptical when Americans promote policies that increase diversity and philosophies that highlight it, while eschewing integration and our shared identity. When I hear our academic, political and corporate elites extolling us to "celebrate diversity" my response is that they should temper their positive optimism with a better understanding of history. This is increasingly true as the American government seeks to redistribute wealth and employment along ethnic lines, as seen in affirmative action. Even the most tolerant individuals become chauvinists when you touch their wallets.

The underlying problem is that we take it for granted that we have maintained a diverse society that is free, peaceful and prosperous, when it is the exception to the historical rule. This does not mean that individuals and groups shouldn't be free to determine and express their identities. It merely means that we as a society must be optimistic, while also being cautious and skeptical about claims based in utopian visions rather than the real experience of empires that came before us.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Whole Foods Solution (part III)

Any serious exploration of reducing spiralling health care costs has to explore the factor of undocumented immigration. In 2004 it was estimated that the cost of providing health care to undocumented immigrants and their families in California was $1.4 billion, a figure that has certainly risen in the last 5 years. In the context of severe state and federal budget shortfalls, this is an issue that we simply cannot ignore. And we cannot continue acquiescing to the efforts of other nations to outsource the responsibility of providing for the health, housing, education and employment needs of their poorest citizens to the American taxpayer.

A surprising number of people believe that it is the duty of health and human service providers to report non-legal residents to immigration authorities. Under this scenario many individuals would not seek needed medical attention, which would lead to needless death and suffering. Not only is this inhumane, but it's politically impossible.

A humane and fiscally sound solution would be to treat all individuals regardless of their immigration status and simply bill foreign governments for the treatment of their citizens. Everytime we offer tax payer funded medical services to undocumented immigrants we could mail out a bill, along with a letter that stated:

Dear foreign government,

As a humane nation we are committed to providing medical treatment to all individuals, regardless of their immigration status. However, due to our staggering national debt, we do not have the financial capacity to offer quality health care to all of our own citizens, let alone citizens of other nations who have violated our immigration laws. We are sure that you share our belief that it is the responsibility of each nation to care for the health and welfare of their own citizens, accordingly you should have no problem reimbursing us for the cost of the medical treatment that we provided to your compatriot. Failure to do so in a timely fashion will result in: an immediate suspension of all aid and assistance that we provide your government and a halt to all future immigration from your nation. We thank you for your cooperation.


President X

Since it's far more expensive to provide health care in the United States than any other country, this policy would add costs to the many benefits (economic remittances and reduced social welfare costs) that undocumented immigration provides to foreign governments. In addition, it could increase incentives for foreign governments to provide health and human services to their citizens within the boundaries of their own countries. Most importantly, the end result would be reduced expenditures to the already strained American health care system, without relying on inhumane measures against undocumented immigrants. The first instinct of governments is to compel with force and fear, whereas economists looks to incentives.

The Whole Foods Solution (part I)

Fruits, Vegetables And A Fresh Approach
To Health Insurance?

For a brief, but interesting interview with John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods on health care insurance, click on the following link:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Whole Foods Solution (part II)

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods,
Animal Rights Activist &
Health Care Reformer?

Hold on to your seats, I agree with the Obama Administration: the current health care system is unsustainable and it's vital that the government enact reforms that address issues of expanding access to health insurance for the uninsured, controlling spiralling costs, while maintaining the quality of care.

The fundamental problem with the proposed reforms is that they are based on claims that they can simultaneously accomplish all three, which defines basic laws of economics.

I will give the Obama Administration credit; I anticipate that the plan will accomplish the noble goal of expanding access to health insurance, but there is no way that it will keep costs down. To bring millions of new people into a public or even private plan will increase demand for health care which will undoubtedly raise costs. And if the government addresses this with price controls, as their counterparts in England and Canada have done, wait times will increase.

If the Obama Administration hopes to create a sustainable and compassionate system, the first step is to separately enact reforms that address the issue of spiralling health care costs. Once we have accomplished this, we can pursue the noble goal of expanding access to quality health care to uninsured Americans.

In regards to cost inflation, the Obama Administration has failed to address the basic economic truth that most public and private third party payer systems destroy incentives for consumers and providers to engage in economically sound behavior. Most people who are enrolled in government or employer sponsored health care with low deductibles rarely engage in rational economic behavior fundamental in the purchase of any other good or service.

For example, few if any of the said individuals have ever inquired about the cost of a medicine or the availability of a more affordable generic option. And few if any shop around for the most affordable doctor or even have the slightest idea what their doctor charges them for a visit or a procedure. Why should they, when there are few if any financial incentives to do so? And if they don't have to directly pay for the treatment of their type II diabetes, what financial incentives do they have to watch their weight through exercise and a better diet? The aggregate effect of the aforementioned behaviors is rising costs and irrational consumption for all consumers.

Most third party insurance plans also kill incentives for hospitals and doctors to keep costs down. Why should they? Since few consumers enrolled in the said plans shop around, there is very little competition among hospitals and doctors to provide good service for a low cost. And since they do not have to face the prospect that rising costs will lead to a decline in demand for their services, a major incentive for cost control is missing. Landlords in Chicago have dropped rents by upwards of 15% or more, not because of charitable impulses or government mandates, but because if they were to charge more than the public was willing or able to pay, their apartments would remain vacant. The only instance of a comparable drop in medical costs that I know is seen in areas in which insurance does not cover Lasik Eye Surgery. Why? Because without the involvement of a third party payer, providers are forced to compete for consumers and to keep their prices in line with the financial capacity of their consumers...or...go out of business. Obviously this principle does not equally apply to all medical procedures, because (for example) consumers cannot opt out of cancer treatment, but never the less important lessons are found in this example.

One organization that has devised and enacted a health care plan that has used these principles to help control costs and expand individual choice is Whole Foods. This plan is based on the following policies:

1. Catastrophic Coverage for serious illness or injury.

2. A High Deductible which almost immediately changed the behavior of employees, who started to ask what things costs and if there were more affordable alternatives. Employees immediately started to shop around for the best deals in health care. And some believe that it even encouraged them to engage in healthier behaviors, a logical outcome of having to face the economic consequences of your behavior.

3. A Health Savings Account in which Whole Foods offers a yearly contribution. Whatever the individual doesn't spend it in the course of the year is rolled over into the next year and added to the yearly employer contribution. Money accrued in this account can be applied to any medical procedure that the employee desires. This encouraged them to view the expenditures as coming out of their own pockets and not the "corporate pockets," which led to wiser individual expenditures and lower aggregate costs.

Here are some additional principles and policies that Mackey recommends for any viable national health care reform:

1. "Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair."

2. "Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable."

3. "Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care."

4. "Rather than increase government spending and control, we need to address the root causes of poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health. Unfortunately many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and one-third are obese. Most of the diseases that kill us and account for about 70% of all health-care spending—heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity—are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices."

Keep in mind that this is but the 1st step in achieving a sustainable, humane health care system for all Americans. Once we address the issue of rising health care costs then we can begin the necessary and noble task of expanding access to quality, affordable health care for millions of uninsured Americans. To simultaneously attempt both is a recipe for failure that will compromise the physical and economic health of our great nation.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

John Stossel - Always Original

John Stossel is a true free thinker who does not fall prey to conventional thinking. Love him or hate him, he's always original. To view the full article, click on the link at the end of the post.

Hating Free Enterprise

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

by John Stossel

Why is selling an organ "radical"? Banning the sale of kidneys kills thousands of people a year. That should be considered "radical."

Today, 74,000 Americans wait for kidney transplants while enduring painful, exhausting and expensive hours hooked up to dialysis machines. The machines are technological miracles that keep many alive, but dialysis is not nearly as good as a real kidney. Every day, about 17 Americans die while waiting for a transplant.

Yet plenty of Americans would give up a kidney if they could just be paid for their trouble and risk. Ruth Sparrow of St. Petersburg, Fla., ran a newspaper ad saying: "Kidney, runs good, $30,000 or best offer." She told "20/20" that she got a couple of serious calls, but then the newspaper refused to run her ad again, warning her that she might be arrested.

Why isn't someone with two healthy organs allowed to put one on the market? Because in 1984, U.S. Rep. Al Gore sponsored a law making the sale of organs punishable by five years in jail. Congress couldn't contain its enthusiasm; the bill passed 396 to 6.

So giving someone a kidney is a good deed, but selling the same kidney is a felony.

When I confronted Dr. Brian Pereira of the National Kidney Foundation about that, he said, "The current system functions extremely well." I asked him how the system could be working "extremely well" when 17 people die every day because they can't get kidneys. He said that the "desperate (situation) doesn't justify an unwise policy decision."

The Kidney Foundation fears that poor people would be "exploited." But what gives the foundation the right to decide for poor people? The poor are as capable as others of deciding what trade-offs to make in life. No one forces them to give up an organ. To say the poor are too desperate to resist a dangerous temptation is patronizing.

But gatekeepers like Dr. Pereira say there should be "no barter, no sale of organs. That's where we have to step in." When I asked him who that "we" is that has the right to "step in," he replied, "The government (and) the professional societies."

That conceit -- that the government and "professional societies" must decide for all of us, and the underlying hostility toward commerce -- kills people.

Money shouldn't make giving up an organ suspect. As one kidney patient told me before he died, "The doctors make money, the hospitals make money, the organ procurement organizations make money. Everybody gets something except for the donor!"

If you think it's immoral to sell an organ, don't do it. But sick people shouldn't have to die because some people despise markets.