March 28, 2010

Obama Care and American Life

I should be used to the MSM reporting--but I still always get PO'd. I saw earlier today on FOX that there was a pretty decent turnout protesting. But on ABC nightly news the headline was that one protester spit and there were racial and homophobic slurs against congress men--t they put on a clip to show these slurs--which amusingly did not show anything.

It has been suggested that the MSM, Obama, and I guess Congress are so out of touch they don't realize how angry Americans are--and it is not the kind of anger that is just going to disappear.

But actually they do see it, and in their arrogance don't care. The little people will get over it. while the adults courageously take care of business.

But seriously, by all that is right and honorable, we should be doing more than slurring and spitting at politicians. It is not an exaggeration at all to say that we are more oppressed and less free than were the colonists who took up arms against the British Empire.

If those revolutionaries could see what is going with us who know better(and that includes myself) they would be disgusted.

Even though we know better our efforts are pitiful and willingness to sacrifice comfort and safety nonexistent. We are really not worthy to carry on the flame of the Revolution--and are getting the type of government we deserve.

Becky Chandler, Facebook, March 21, 2010

and

"Let me remind you this [Americans allegedly dying because of lack of universal health care] has been going on for years. We are bringing it to a halt. The harsh fact of the matter is when you're going to pass legislation that will cover 300 [million] American people in different ways it takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people."

Congressman John Dingell, March 23rd, 2010 - discussing why Congress delayed the implementation of the individual health insurance purchase mandate embedded in H.R. 3590 until the year 2014.


But one has to wonder whether Congressman Dingell's legislation will in fact do what it was intended to do. Two weeks ago, the Wizard learned that there was going to be a last minute rally in Washington to oppose the health care bill. Upon learning about this, I volunteered to pay $1,200 for the flight of two of my friends (who subsequently made the news) to go to Washington to join the mob, and watch as Nancy Pelosi - all smiles - paraded her big gavel as she waltzed her way to the Capitol to continue - but not finish - the grand project of all Americans having to have health insurance. I stayed at home during the weekend, cut myself in several places when I fell while running a workout, and built some bookshelves for my study room to hold all the tomes I've accumulated over the years.

Yet, when I read what Ms. Chandler wrote, she struck the Wizard with words that are harder than steel. Charles Krauthammer went on television and said that Mr. Obama's health care bill will not be repealed. Why? One very good reason is that what the "Progressives" did during the sausage grinding was ugly (and possibly unconstitutional), but they were very smart. They made sure that the old folks would get all of their pills paid for right away, and that they would not be left with any donut holes, unlike that evil Mr. Bush did to them. If an attempt to repeal the bill is tried, the Democrats will tell the old folks that those evil freedom types are trying to take their Medicare from them. Progressives can get away with government rationing, but woe be to liberty and freedom types if we were to do the same. Yet, even some liberal bloggers are writing that H.R. 3590 is a bad piece of legislation, and list plenty of reasons why that's the case.

The politics of repeal are easy to understand. As long as Mr. Obama sits in the White House, the mathematics of getting a coalition together to repeal are well nigh impossible. That will have to wait until 2013. Meanwhile either lawsuits will have to commence, but more intriguing is the idea that the States should call a convention to offer and ratify amendments to the United States constitution to curb Congressional power. The state legislative races will be just as important as federal ones this November, but judging from Governor Perry's reaction to the health care bill, I doubt he will have the courage to call for a convention of the states. Governor Perry wants to sit in the White House.

And so it was that my puny efforts to defend liberty were, I suppose, not entirely for naught. I rarely watch television anymore and did not watch television on that Sunday night, but rather I took a walk to the grocery store to do my weekly shopping. It was sunny out, but cold and blustery. It was busy in the store, but there was no sign amongst the hundreds of people whom I saw that a momentous decision was being made by their federal government, something that would affect their entire lives. No shouting, no picketing in front of the store. Nothing. Just a traffic jam on Westheimer and lots of people going about their daily lives. It was as though it was just another day and that nothing had ever happened. One of the subtle ideas of the Founders was that government would be far away and out of sight. Only those who had interests, or had the interest and the fire, would care to travel and contest the issues of the day. It worked once again.

It occurred to me that if I really were to have the guts to defend liberty, I should have gone to Washington with a gun, as Becky stated. I did not. None of us did, despite baitings of our opponents and of politicians. We hold ourselves in and resolve to fight against this breathtaking assault on our liberties peacefully. We receive encouragement from sympathizers in Britain, stating that Americans must fight back, and we will. One thing that this issue has raised, is the reawakening of a titan, that of ordinary Americans starting to ask questions all over again about the meaning of the United States and its Constitution.

I have something to say about the issue of people raising objections to ordinary Americans shouting obscenities at their elected officials. An elderly black woman whom I met through the Metro Rail issue did just that to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee back in late 2007. When she found out in that Metro had changed their rail plans to run a rail line down her street, she called up Mrs. Jackson Lee and let her have it - full bore, with guns a blazing - the only way that a Gospel filled, fiery old black woman could. The result was that Mrs. Jackson Lee dropped everything she was doing to race back to Houston, where she proceeded to call an emergency meeting with Metro brass and the community over the issue. That Saturday, I watched from the back row of an auditorium, the only white boy in an auditorium room filled with black people, as Mrs. Jackson Lee's constituents slugged it out full bore with her and Metro's brass for 4 hours over light rail. It was a night to remember.

If the passion is high enough, public officials should be sworn at. After all, public officials are in no position to be lecturing Americans about swearing.

Auto insurance verses health insurance

Many supporters of the health care bill, in speaking of its favor, have tried to raise the point that Americans are required by governments to purchase insurance for their automobile. They also have raised the issue that Congress has required that automobile makers require that Americans purchase cars with safety belts. So what's the difference between that and Americans being told they must buy health insurance? Aren't you pesky Tea Baggers a little late - like 75 years too late - to the show? We abuse the Constitution every day, so what else is new? This is the way things have been for a long time!

Well maybe, but just because Washington has been trashing the Constitution and doing business as usual since the New Deal doesn't make it right. People who make these arguments are missing some very important points. Arguing that people are compelled to buy car insurance by governments overlooks the simple observation that Americans are not compelled by law, as a matter of being a citizen of the United States, to buy cars. So if you happen to be like my downstairs neighbor, an old lady who does not work, does not have a car, and walks around to do her needed tasks, the mandate to purchase auto insurance does not apply to her.

The mandate to purchase auto insurance comes from State governments, following in the tradition that doing something like this was not an enumerated power given to Congress, and that State governments possess what are called police powers. Generally, police powers are understood where governments can act to protect the health, safety, and morals of the populace. In the case of owning and operating a car, it quickly became clear some 100 years ago that operating an automobile had many ramifications. A driver had marvelous new found mobility, freedoms, and power at his or her disposal, but they could also evade law enforcement or aid and abet illegal activities. Drivers also had it within their power to destroy the property of others with ease, and could take their own lives or the lives of others.

Clearly it was within the public interest to come to some kind of remedy to handle this matter. Therefore, State governments used their police powers to require that would be drivers pass a driving test, require them to submit to safety inspections, and they required that drivers carry insurance as a way to compensate others in the event that a driver were to cause harm to the life and property of oneself or others, but would otherwise not be able to pay. State governments also consider driving to be a privilege, and as such those privileges can be granted or taken away from you.

It has also been pointed out that the governments required auto companies to make cars come equipped with safety belts as a feature of a car. As the wikipedia entry notes, however, safety belt legislation, including requiring someone to wear a safety belt while driving, is a state matter, consistent with the idea of States wielding police powers, in this case that being of safety. But once again and more importantly, this is a separate idea from requiring someone to buy something.

Americans really need to consider very carefully the full ramifications of the claim that Congress has it within its power to compel Americans to buy something. Already, talk has been floated of requiring Americans to use their 401-k monies to buy U.S. Treasuries, and putting Americans on Social Security. Great. So all the money I've saved through my 401-k the past 15 years, and which I could give to my heirs, would be swiped from me and I would then be wholly dependent on government in my old age. If you are someone who still agrees with the idea that Congress can require Americans to buy health insurance, then what happens if you are told you must by a car or a house, all of course in the name of the common good? Even the Washington Post points out that the legislation raises non-trivial issues of federal authority over individuals, and the ideology that the common good somehow always trumps individual rights is not compatible with our deepest beliefs as expressed by our founders.

Misplaced priorities

David Brooks wrote a very interesting column after H.R. 3590 passed where he said

The Democratic Party, as it revealed of itself over the past year, does not seem to be up to that coming challenge [of cutting federal deficit spending] (neither is the Republican Party). This country is in the position of a free-spending family careening toward bankruptcy that at the last moment announced that it was giving a gigantic new gift to charity. You admire the act of generosity, but you wish they had sold a few of the Mercedes to pay for it.

Many people have questioned the Tea Party movement in one way or another. We've been labeled racists, astroturf (thanks Nancy, I'll take back my $1,200 then), amongst other things. Little do such people know that some of my friends have had to yell at social conservatives, upon hearing that gay people who wanted to be a part of the Tea Party movement were left feeling unwelcome. As Mr. Boggs stated,

We have to decide as a Party what concerns us more. The fact that the country is being driven into socialism, or who someone sleeps with.

And so it was with Obama Care. I find it breathtaking that Congress spent a year furiously battling over this issue when we have a yawning federal deficit that threatens to put us into taxation rates of 40-50 percent of all our incomes, hyperinflation, or debt repudiation. Nor have we dealt in any meaningful way with the Baby Boomer Social Security and Medicare tsunami, the first laps of water were felt this past year. Many people want job creation to be the first order of business, but job creation is very hard when you're so busy affecting change that people don't quite know what's going to happen next. But of course, if you really want to affect change, you follow the advice of Vladimir Lenin, who wrote

The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.

Will Americans finally owe up to the mess we have created since the time of the New Deal, or will we have another civil war amongst ourselves with 100 different groups pitted against each other? I don't know. All I know is that this past week, I've been up every night, far into the night, wondering about the future. I've started to read the Federalist Papers and Hayek's Road to Serfdom. We have set for ourselves, in the name of alleviating suffering, policies that encourage us to live for today and not think about tomorrow because tomorrow is not my problem - we'll leave the problem of the future to our children and anyway in the long run we're all dead. The problem with that train of thought is that there's no such thing as a free lunch, and that tomorrow has now come upon us.

I foresaw that this would happen 20 years ago, but even though I knew it would happen, it still hit me like a ton of bricks when it did happen. All I can say is that I haven't felt this afraid for my country since I grew up with the nuclear nightmare, but this time the problem is a cancer that comes from within. Our country is being ripped apart by two parties that are daring each other by walking an incredible high wire act, all while playing with fire. America, it's time to grow up.

Posted by The Mighty Wizard at 09:13 PM
This entry was posted in the following categories: America , Because they can , Living a life worth living

March 08, 2010

Why Americans don't vote

Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction... The instability, injustice, and confusions introduced into the public councils have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished.

James Madison The Federalist Papers, #10

So, the Texas primary season is over, or at least it is for those whose races did not leave them in a position to face a runoff. But with the season being for the most part over, there comes the usual grumblings and wailings from my friends about low voter turnout whenever Americans hold elections. Several months ago, after the City of Houston elections, there was the same complaint - some 15 percent of registered voters in Houston bothered to vote in the City of Houston general election for Mayor and Council. So, Felicia Cravens asks, "why donít people vote in primaries?"

The Wizard has a confession to make. Years ago, I used to get incredibly upset about the same issue. "Why don't people vote?", I'd go screaming to myself. Don't they understand! It matters so much! It's the end of the planet if they don't vote! A woman named Jackie Juntti complains on Facebook of suffering from the battered voter syndrome.

At the same time, the leftist "progressives" have been complaining recently that America is "ungovernable", which really means that they are going absolutely bananas because the Democrats hold three out of five seats in both the House and the Senate, as well as the Presidency. Yet incredibly, the Democratic Party has not been able (yet) to push through Obama Care, nor have they been able to push through Cap and Trade.

So what has led America to this sorry state of affairs? Better yet, one might want to ask whether this is a sorry state of affairs to begin with?

First of all, we need to go back and reread the words of the Founders. Madison had done his homework when he traveled to Philadelphia in 1787. Madison knew from reading history that establishing America as a pure democracy would create a serious danger whereby the fiery passions of the public would end up invoking whipsaws of policy, egged on by the mob. The turbulence that lurks in all of us would be erupting constantly. Peace and tranquility, which is a precursor to happiness and progress, would be a rarity.

Therefore, Madison and the rest of the Founders rendered a Republic. But more importantly, they also knew that even though many Americans would declare that they love liberty and freedom, their actions would often belie their words. So, being ten steps ahead of the rest of us, as they always were, the Founders created a political system that made it very difficult to get anything done. Two bodies of Legislators, along with an Executive, and all the affected interest groups, all have to come to some kind of agreement that this is the way in which things are going to be. Passing legislation on big issues that affect large swaths of the populace in America is like trying to herd around a bunch of cats. You have to corral them all in order to get something done.

"But wait, Wizard!", comes the objection. And yes, I know, somebody out there is going to come up with some point where some President or some lower level public official did something quite easily. But people who do that are missing the forest for the trees. How many times have Presidents in America tried to push through universal health insurance? Truman, Kennedy, Nixon, Clinton, and now Obama? Remember, compulsory universal health insurance was something that was enacted decades ago by just about every other wealthy country in the world - except the United States.

That in turn should lead us to examine the political regimes of other countries. Why is it that other countries found it relatively easy to enact such legislation, whereas in America, the progressives have tried over and over and over again to reach the summit?

In the United Kingdom, for example, we don't have such lofty notions such as judicial review of laws, but rather we find such concepts as Parliamentary Supremacy. In other words, Parliaments in Britain and some other countries can make laws on just about anything they damned well please, and they can't be questioned by courts. In contrast, in the United States we have a Bill of Rights and judicial review. Governments can't always do what they want and sometimes legislation is struck down. In other words, there are more barriers in the United States to doing things, but it also means that each branch of government has to pay at least a little bit of attention on whether other branches of government will stomach what each other is doing.

Moreover, we also inherited from Britain the idea of single member representative districts, whose officials are usually elected by a plurality, an electoral system otherwise known as winner take all or first past the post. SMP style electoral systems can produce some stunning results. In the 1997 UK general elections, the Labor Party led by Tony Blair, came to power off of an election where the Labor Party won 43 percent of the votes, yet got 63 percent of the seats in Parliament. Because the Labor Party got over 50 percent +1 seats in Parliament, they got to make all the rules, and since Britain is a unitary state and not a federal state like the United States is, nearly all the power is embodied in one political body - Parliament. Parliament also controls well over 90 percent of all taxation spending in the UK, with town councils being responsible for the petty remainder. To put things bluntly, if Britons decide to elect a Labor government, they are going to get more government than they would if the install a Conservative Party government. In other words, it matters who gets elected.

In contrast, because we have a federalized nation, the political power is far more spread out and atomized in the United States. There is a central government in Washington, but there are fifty states, and thousands of towns and cities. The federal government has taken in some two thirds of all taxes since WWII, but state and local governments are responsible for the other one third. States and local governments also set rules on policing, criminal justice, land and water use matters, transportation, amongst many other issues. The result is what Madison intended - a political system where an attempt to preserve liberty and freedom to put into place by limiting the power of any one political actor or body to do damage to others. Californians may run themselves into bankruptcy and enact all kinds of kooky rules, but the fact that California is doing so is not necessarily going to harm other states or localities. Furthermore, Californians can move if they get fed up with their state of affairs and go elsewhere. In other words, our Founders set up a system where they tried to make it where it didn't quite matter so much who is in charge. How many times have you heard the old phrase, you have a choice between twiddle dee dom and twiddle dee dee?

So, we have single member legislative districts, but does it have to be this way? Of course not, and in many countries it isn't. In Germany, voters cast two votes - one for a district representative and one for a political party. 50 percent of the seats in the German Bundestag are apportioned by single member districts, and the other 50 percent are apportioned by how many votes each party receives in the election in what is called a mixed member proportional electoral system. One result is that there are more political parties in Germany, but another result is that in order to obtain a ruling majority, parties often have to form coalitions with other parties, whereas in the United States that doesn't happen. One of the two parties wins a majority and wins power, but even then, the ruling majorities in Congress are often uneasy majorities, as can be witnessed in the liberal / blue dog coalitions of Democrats that Nancy Pelosi presides over in Congress. Pelosi has big problems holding her coalition together, which again makes it hard to get things done.

Then there's the United States Senate, where as everyone knows, a band of Senators can filibuster legislation. Yes, Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts Senate race, making him the 41st Republican senator, mattered and it mattered greatly. Some elections do matter more than others, and sometimes when the balance of power is very precarious, as it is right now in Congress, a Senator's power can rival that of a President in certain matters. Sometimes being a Senator can be a fine thing to be, but the Senate is also the repository of where the voice of the minority is to be heard in American government. And if that minority is determined enough, it can be enough to bring matters to a halt.

But to give an example of how things could be different in American government, take the election of John Culberson in November 2008 in the Texas 7th congressional district. Mr. Culberson beat Michael Skelley by a margin of 56 - 42 percent. So a Republican wins the district, but what about the Democrats who voted against him? How are their views represented, or ask yourself whether theirs was a wasted vote? If it was a wasted vote, then why bother to vote in legislative districts where parties have incentives to gerrymander to gain as many seats as possible, packing votes into the seats held by the minoritity and cracking the districts held by the majority, thereby marginalizing the votes of many.

In a proportional representation system, there would be other ways of capturing the sentiment in that vote and people would find voting more meaningful. If there would have been five members apportioned in each district instead of one, the outcome might have been that three Republicans and two Democrats would have been elected to represent the 7th district. One thing Americans might want to consider is adding more seats to our legislatures in an effort to better capture the public sentiments of a growing population. The U.S. Congress has been stuck at 435 members for quite a while now. America gets trade offs - we lose the far edge sentiments of the left and right, but America gains stability and coherence in its government.

This state of affairs also leads into the question of whether any particular election had any meaning or not? I'll be up front: Most people are not going to know the difference, nor are they going to care, who sits on the Harris County Probate Court #3, or some other random court. In general, the higher up the political ladder, the higher the turnout rates are going to be for an election because there is more at stake. More people are going to turn out for a U.S. Senatorial election than one for a local Justice of the Peace court, because a U.S. Senator has more power than a local JP does.

Ask yourself this: In any one particular election, ask yourself what's at stake? Does a particular election have any meaning, or is it basically meaningless? How much power does a particular office holder have? In the November 2009 City of Houston general elections, what was at stake was who was going to be sitting on the deliberative body of a major city. Under Houston's form of government, the mayor has the power, hence one should expect greater competitive pressures to obtain the job verses that of a city council member.

But, here is another point: What difference was there amongst the candidates? Did any of the four candidates - Annise Parker, Peter Brown, Gene Locke, or Roy Morales propose any radical changes in city governance? Did any of them propose to sell off Houston's two main airports? Did any of the mayoral candidates propose going to Austin and asking for legislation empowering Houston to collect 20 cents of gasoline taxes to solve Houston's transportation woes? No. Did any of them propose doing away with property taxes and implementing sales taxes? No. Did any candidate propose scrapping rail and rethinking Metro Rail? The closest thing to that was Roy Morales stating that Metro was a bully and that we should examine elevated rail for safety reasons. Peter Brown was specifically going to implement greater land use controls if elected, but otherwise there was not that great of difference between the candidates.

So, if there was not that great of difference between the candidates, what else was at stake for the public in competing for a job that one person once described at the Houston Chronicle website as being a glorified dog catcher? If you had to call the fire department because your home or your neighbor's residence had caught on fire, and they showed up, would it have mattered whether Annise Parker, Peter Brown, Bob Lanier, or Roy Morales were the ones sitting in the Mayor's chair when that happened? What about your City Council member? Probably not. So ask yourself - what difference does it make to you who sits in the Mayor's chair or on council, and hence why bother to vote?

In the 2009 Texas primaries, what was at stake? Both main parties (and there are two main parties, because we have single member districts, right?) chose their candidates for the Texas legislature and Governor, but not who was going to be the Governor! And what if you are an independent voter who does not subscribe to either party? Why should you have voted?

Another issue at stake is asking how much does you vote really matter? In the 2008 Presidential and congressional elections, 60 percent of eligible Americans, over 120 million in all, voted in the Presidential election. How much of a probability is your vote going to be the one that mattered? Ask yourself the same thing in any election - in the 2006 Texas primaries, there were over 600,000 voters who voted, a far smaller number. But you still needed to ask yourself what was the probability that your vote was the one that mattered? It was non-existent.

So, do you want people to vote? It is possible to force people to vote, indeed compulsory voting is the law in a number of countries. Such laws are usually enforced by small fines, or threat of disenfranchisement if someone habitually fails to vote. But one needs to ask whether such notions are compatible with liberty and freedom. Do you want to live in a country where it is compulsory to participate in politics? Better yet, how much knowledge do people really possess about political issues? Yet compulsory voting would be compelling them to participate in the political arena.

Admittedly, this entry is a mess, but America's political system was designed to make things bland and unexciting, thereby discouraging participation in politics. Yes change could come, but it would come slowly and in increments, not through sudden explosions or radical change. Elections and voting do matter in America, but they usually don't matter as much as people think, because of systemic barriers to more political parties, of fractured government power, and barriers put in the way of the expansion of the state. By doing this, our Founders wanted people to dedicate their energies into commercialism, to solving problems through private means or by charity, and not by force of the state, and for them that was the way in which liberty and freedom would be preserved. Did it work? Well, for 140 years it generally did, but WWII changed everything.

Barring a meltdown and a revolution, which is a distinct possibility, it will take another 70 years to roll things back and even then there are plenty of interest groups and people favoring bigger government that will stand in the way of liberty, freedom, and personal responsibility. And so it goes that the great American experiment roll onwards.

Wizard

Posted by The Mighty Wizard at 02:10 PM
This entry was posted in the following categories: America , Because they can , Houston and Texas matters