"I wish they would only take me as I am" - Vincent Van Gogh               "How Can I believe in God when just last week I got my tounge caught in the roller of an electric typewriter?" - Woody Allen              "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake" - Henry David Thoreau              "I took a speed reading course and read 'War and Peace' in twenty minutes. It involves Russia" - Woody Allen            "When promulgating esoteric cogitations, eschew platitudinous ponderosities" - Mark Rowan, my father            "Up, sluggard, and waste not life, for in the grave there will be sleep enough" - Benjamin Franklin             "What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world." - Albert Einstein            "Welfare's purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence" - Ronald Reagan            "It's odd that you can get so anesthetized by your own pain or your own problem that you don't quite fully share the hell of someone close to you." - Lady Bird Johnson              "I still want to be the candidate for guys with confederate flags in their pickup truck" - Howard Dean

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What Constitution?

Forget 1776. Forget Washington crossing the Delaware, John Hancock and the Constitution itself. The tradition of America is irrelevent, at least according to the California Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana). On Tuesday, the Assembly Elections Committee, of which Umberg is the chair, passed two bills, authored by Umberg, that would alter the way California elects the President.

One of the bills, AB2948 (.pdf) would undercut the electoral college, and thus the very constitution upon which our nation was founded and built. Several Assembly Republicans oppose the legislation.
[AB2948} would ratify an interstate compact under which California's 55 Electoral College members would agree to support the winner of the national popular vote for President regardless of the outcome of the election in California" (San Francisco Examiner, 4/26/06, emphasis added)
In other words, it would remove California's individuality in electing a President by submitting all Electors to place their vote for the candidate receiving the largest popular vote. The second bill, AB2949 (.pdf) would require that California hold the first national primary election, in an effort to compete with New Hampshire. The bill suggests that it should be held on January 2nd of the election year

"It's an effort to make California relevant again in presidential elections," Umberg said, clearly unaware of the influence California's 55 Electoral votes have when it comes to Presidential elections, and clearly disregarding the fact that California's interests, as determined by state election results would be superceded by national voting outcomes. This should be obvious, considering the goals of AB2948, so I can only assume that Assemblyman Umberg is being misleading in his statements.

The legislation presented is an attempt to eliminate the means to elect a president which have been used in our country since it's inception. The Electoral College is defined in the Constitution, Article II Section i,
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress... (emphasis added)
What Umberg fails to understand (or chooses to ignore) is the very important role the electoral college plays in regards to balancing powers between states. Much the same way that the Federal Congress is composed of two Houses with very different numbers of members, the Electoral College plays a vital role ensuring that the interests and individuality of each state are not compromised. There was a distinct reason why the framers of our constitution did not call for a popular vote to determine the Presidency in the constitution.

Four other states, Louisiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Colorado, are also in the compact to pass similar legislation.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Illegal-alien activists target Lou Dobbs

Worldnet daily, among others, is reporting that illegal-alien activist groups plan to target AOL (a subsidiary of the same company that owns CNN) in an effort to get Lou Dobbs fired from CNN. 'Ax-AOL', as it is being called, hopes to apply economic pressure on the parent company by boycotting AOL. Why AOL? Because Lou Dobbs is the largest money-maker for CNN, it is unlikely that CNN would elect to fire Dobbs; thus, top-down pressure from Time-Warner-AOL is being sought as a means to pressure CNN to let Dobbs go.

Lou Dobbs has been focused on the broken borders for years, well before the recent firestorm surrounding the issue. Over that period of time, he has championed the need for stricter enforcement of immigration policy, as well as heightened border protection. Thus, he has been a vocal proponent of HR 4437, the bill introduced by Rep. Sensenbrenner that would call for a border fence, as well as make illegal entry into the US a felony.

I, personally, am quite a fan of Lou Dobbs. I disagree with him on a variety of issues, but I recognize not only his talent as a newsman, but also his ability to approach the issues without bias, and without emotion. It is this sort of logical tact that has lead him to his stance on border security, and on that issue we coincide. However, I find it ironic that those who disagree with his logical assertions are forced to take such a back-door approach (though that is, obviously, something they are used to). As mentioned above, Dobbs is the largest money-maker for CNN. Thus, his message seems to have a large, and supportive audience. Pressuring CNN directly would yield no action, and thus, supporters must rely on alternative means.

I sincerely hope that CNN and their parent company do not bow to this pressure. He should be considered a valued assett, and firing him will be a severe restriction on their ability to legitimately present the news. Firing Dobbs would indicate that CNN lacks the ability to present one side of this particular argument. Thus, their reporting of the border situation would be severely biased towards favoring illegal aliens. This, I think, would set a dangerous precedent for the news channel.

'Ax-AOL' has also claimed that if Dobbs is fired, he will be unable to find employment anywhere, because 'Ax-AOL' will simply change their name (such as 'Ax-FOX'). More likely, his firing will only increase his value at other news-stations, particularly one without an "achilles heel" such as AOL. Being so popular would likely force various news companies to bid-up his value.

I plan write CNN on behalf of Dobbs, and I suggest that any readers who are concerned about freedom of press and balance of news-reporting do the same.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Headaches

I've decided to take a break from my political commentary and discuss a topic that is very important to me; headaches. I have had problems with headaches since I was very young. Now, as an adult, I still get them, in various forms and for a variety of reasons. If I get too much sleep, I stand a good chance at getting a headache. If I don't have coffee in the morning, I will get a headache. Both types are very different. The overleep headache will be a dull pain behind my eyes, whereas the caffeine-deficiency headache is a throb. Tense shoulders will lead to a sore neck, which morphs into a tension headache. I don't like any of these, so I drink lots of coffee and try not to sleep too long or late.

More commonly, I get headaches for no reason. They just appear out of the blue to brighten my day. Their frequency is so great that I have somewhat come to live with them, as my own very special type of handicap.

On occasion, though somewhat rare, I will get headaches that are resistant to medicine, and last for days, sometimes exceeding a week! These are not fun. I go to be with the headache, and wake up with the headache. It will last throughout the day, despite taking tylenol or ibuprofen, and it will just hang out until it decides to find someone more interesting to annoy. Fortunately, this type of headache only comes a few times a year, and the pain is usually fairly mild; more annoying than anything.

I also develop migraines, with the sharp pain behind one eye, the nausea, and the intense, shooting pain throughout my brain. I did not get them when I was younger, but now get a few a year. They are powerful, and fully incapacitating. I can't do much of anything....I become this mouth-breathing, lazy-eyed lump. My first migraine was probably in about 2001. My wife (then girlfriend) and I were on a trip and I woke up with the migraine, and thought I was going to die. I put a cold washcloth on my forehead to help, but the faint detergent smell of the washcloth put me on the verge of throwing up. Over the next few years, I found Excedrin Migraine, which is a god-send. For me, it will clear up my migraine within about 30 minutes; something that ibuprofen, tylenol, etc...couldn't do.

Anybody else out there feel my pain?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

SB840: Bringing the Failures of Canada to the Golden State Part III

In my two previos posts about SB840, I discussed the financial repurcussions (part I) as well as the social consequences (part II). This week I am going to take a slight turn, and discuss two alternative plans that I consider more apt, and less troublesome than SB840.

Since my last post in regards to this subject, Massachusetts was able to pass a bill that will require every citizen to be covered. Unlike SB840, which is a single-payer system (aka "government funded"), the Massachusetts system will not criminalize private-insurance, will still-require citizens to seek their own coverage, but will accomplish the goal of insuring every citizen of the state with heavy subsidies, federal funding, and insurance mandates for those financially able to buy insurance. Even though the government is not the ultimate source of funding, citizens and businesses are still required to pay into a government fund, and "everybody pays something. No more entire free rides...Everybody pays what they can afford.> Thus, it still requires funding based on excessive taxation of top and middle, to fund the bottom.

The Massachusetts plan is not as destructive as SB840, but will still have strong economic repurcussions for the state. Furthermore, it will encourage private insurance companies to provide "barebones policies" to the uninsured as a way to meet mandates. Because the bill will require small businesses to provide health insurance for their employees, it will have a strong impact on these small businesses, and will surely force many out of business.

Another option that has been presented is health savings accounts, HSAs. These were most recently proposed by President Bush, created in a medicare bill signed December 8, 2003. While I was initially skeptical and concerned about the proposal, the more I read about them, the more confidence I have in their success. The concept relies on the fact that many people do not utilize the full amount of money they pay for insurance. By matching a health savings account, which could be co-funded by an employer, with a catastrophic insurance policy, patients have more freedom in terms of choice of care (location, extent, etc...). Because care requires payment, there is a prevention of the overuse that plagues single-payer plans. However, HSAs are certainly not for everyone, only those both willing to be proactive in their own health care, and those willing to risk the benefits of the plan against potential for expensive treatment.

As is often the case, the complete solution will be neither of these, nor will it be in the form of SB840 or anything similar. The best solution will likely be an amalgam of private, personal, and governmental coverage, suited to each individual. Any plan that presumes to treat every person identically, or that claims to be able to provide full coverage in every instance is naive.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

US to Nuke Iran?

Telegraph News is reporting that the US is planning to use Nuclear weapons to shut down Iran's capability to develop nuclear weapons. Seymour Hersh, who broke the Abu Ghraib story, is making the claims.
Hersh claims that one of the plans, presented to the White House by the Pentagon, entails the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One alleged target is Iran's main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, 200 miles south of Teheran
It should be noted that the B61-11 is a so called "bunker-buster", designed to penetrate deep into the earth (at least a few dozen feet, up to 100 ft) before detonating, thus sending the brunt of its power into the earth, demolishing underground facilities (click here for video). The explosion would not be the typical Hiroshima style expolosion, though a significant amount of radioactivity would be expelled. The article says that this type of device may be needed in order to actually inflict damage.

Also stated in the article is that Russia will likely veto any such plans at the UN. This is no surprise.

I am torn on the issue of preemptively striking Iran. While Iran with a single nuclear weapon is startling enough, considering Pres. Ahmedinejad's anti-Israel remarks. However, Israel is heavily armed with nuclear weapons, and I think it is doubtful that Ahmedinejad is stupid enough to actually fire their only such weapon at Israel, considering the response that would commence. Nonetheless, I do think that seeking martyrdom is within his range of possibilities, and thus, not a single weapon should be allowed to be built.

On the other hand, there is talk that Iran may have already purchased up to 250 nuclear warheads from Ukraine. If this is the case, a preemptive strike may lead Ahmedinejad to fire his weapons (if they are operable).

We all hope that it does not come down to a preemptive strike, but while most European capitals, as well as Russia seem okay with appeasing a tyrant by potentially sacrificing Israel, I'm glad our country is bold enough to leave the option on the table. Let's just hope that's where it will stay.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

What Illegal Immigration Problem?

Daniel's Political Musings has the answer.

Landmark Day for The Gentle Cricket

Today was an historic day for yours truly; I actually agreed with something that Howard Dean had to say. Okay, it was only a partial agreement, but this is still a first. I am in agreement with Mr. Dean's statement regarding President Bush' role in the Valerie Plame investigation:
The fact that the president was willing to reveal classified information for political gain and put the interests of his political party ahead of America's security shows that he can no longer be trusted to keep America safe
I do not agree with Mr. Dean that this devious political ploy discredits the President's ability to protect America. Dean obviously chose to throw that in to push the Democrats recent security plan. I still trust President Bush on security issues (the border aside), though I wouldn't trust him with a personal secret.

But Mr. Dean is correct that declassifying these documents is an abuse of power if it's motivation was to discredit his opposition. Today on the Jerry Doyle show, David Corn (author of "The Lies of President Bush") helped to clarify the issue. So far, it appears that the President and Vice President did not authorize the "leak" of the name of Valerie Plame, but rather declassified documents concerning pre-war intelligence regarding Niger. Mr. Corn claims that this was done in order to stifle the surmounting claims that the President misused or misrepresented pre-war intelligence. In short, the declassification, while within the authority of the President, was used in order to discredit Joseph Wilson.

I am not taking this position in support of Joseph Wilson. I do not trust him, either. Throughout the investigation, I think he has shown himself to be underhanded, untrustworthy, and opportunistic. Nonetheless, that does not lend credence to what President Bush apparently did. If the President wanted to oppose the accusations that Wilson was making, he should have done so in an open forum, by addressing the American people; certainly not by these underhanded tactics. For that, he should be ashamed.

It will be interesting to see which Republicans come out in support of President Bush. I have a lot of respect for the President, and I support much of what he does. However, this Republican is proud to condemn these actions.

Massachusetts Passes Universal Health Care Legislation

Though the bill hasn't officially been signed into law, Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to sign his approval for a bill that would provide or require health care for nearly every citizen within his state. The bill passed through the legislature with near unanimous support. Romney has said that under the plan, "Everybody pays something. No more entire free rides...Everybody pays what they can afford." This is a very Marxist statement from the Republican Governor.

Unlike SB840 here in California, the Massachusetts plan is not a single-payer (i.e. government paid) plan, though it does require that people and businesses pay into a government fund. It creates massive subsidies to cover those who are unable to afford health-insurance (on the order of $125 just to cover the poorest of the poor), while mandating those who are able to afford it buy it. It also requires that businesses with 11 or more employees help pay for care.

While this plan is nowhere nears dangerous as the single payer plan of SB840, it is still another solution that aims to treat the symptoms, not the disease, and I predict it will also have profound economic impacts to the state.

Most restaraunts survive on margin. It's been called the easiest way to lose money. Profits from individual sales are small, and thus, restaraunts must rely on volume. When this bill becomes law, virtually every restaraunt (I can't imagine there are many with fewer than 11 employees) will now have the added cost of supplying health care. This is not a trivial expense, and I imagine it will place a heavy burden on many restaurants. If you were employed by a struggling small-business before, you won't have a job.

I also disapprove of the mandate that those who are able to afford insurance must pay for it. This limitation of choice, I feel, is unamerican. While it may be difficult for people to recognize that some people choose not to buy insurance, it is a very real and common choice. Supporters claim that it is the equivalent to buying auto insurance, however, this is an inappropriate comparison. Most states have an auto-insurance minimum, that is basically liability. Your purchase of this minimum is not to protect you, but to protect the interests of others in the event that you are irresponsible. Purchasing additional insurance - the kind that protects your investment - is optional. Thus, insurance to protect your own investment remains your choice.

While I don't think that this plan is truly in the best interest of everyone, or really addresses the underlying issues, I will say that if California is dead-set on providing socialized medicine, I hope that they drop SB840 in favor of a lower-cost, less-destructive plan such as this.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Oregon Legislator to Patrol US Border

Hat tip to Daniel is Right.

Representative Jeff Kropf, a Republican legislator from Sublimity, Oregon (and who represents the 17th district, where I used to live!) is heading down to Arizona to help patrol the US border. Rep. Kropf, a member of the minutemen, will be using his own small plane to help the patrol. Kropf said "I’m trying to do what the government ought to be doing, and that’s securing that border". Well said.

I commend Rep. Kropf for what he is doing, and I hope other lawmakers from around the country show the same commitment, even if it is not to the same extent. We cannot have any immigration policy if we do not secure our borders. Kropf is up for reelection now, and has stated that his concerns for the 2007 legislative session includes banning state services for illegal aliens, and requiring proof for issuing Driver's licenses.

The Driver's license issue should be of large concern to Oregonians. Currently, all it takes to obtain an Oregon License is a Matricula Consular card; Daniel's blog has volumes about this issue and was the source of the picture at left. With the passage of the Real ID Act, Oregon and other states will be required to actually check that those applying for the license have a right to be in the country. Otherwise, the driver's license will not be acceptable for things like entering a courthouse or boarding a plane.

I have e-mailed Representative Kropf in order to show my appreciation, as well as to get a comment about his participation. I will publish any response I receive.

SB840 Update: Huffington Post Supports California Bankruptcy

Well, no surprise that the Huffington Post supports SB840. Yesterday's "hard-hitting" article discussed unanimous support for the bill in a recent informational forum in Burbank (incidentally, the forum was put on by Health Care for All, a group that is heavily lobbying the bill). But, the article is disingenuous and misleading, mischaracterizing the debate as "Proper healthcare for all vs insurance profits," when it is nothing of the sort. The author, Steve Young, states that "everyone, no matter their medical condition, no matter their financial standing, will be covered. Who could be against that?" He's right. Everyone should be for providing the best possible care to the greatest number of people. However, SB840, which would place all health care responsibility under control of the state, is not the way to achieve that goal.
And the next sound you hear will be the insurance companies and their allies rolling out the usual scare-tactic buzz phrases.

Socialism!

Government-operated!

Small businesses will have to shut down!

Large corporations will have to cut back!

You'll lose your family doctor!

Mediocre healthcare!

No choice!

Long lines!

One word: Canada

Problem with every one of those fear-inducing caveats: NONE OF THEM ARE TRUE
Mr. Young has shown his mastery of the caps-lock button as a means of supporting a point. But, don't be overwhelmed by this; SB840 is a socialist plan, essentially by definition. I actually agree with a few of the above points - you won't lose your family doctor, and big-businesses likely wouldn't have to cut-back - though "NONE OF THEM ARE TRUE" remains false (oh the irony), despite being all-caps.

Less than a month ago the New York times reported on the failings of Canada's system. Canada suffers from frighteningly long waiting periods, mediocre equipment, facility/doctor shortages, and all at a huge cost to tax-payers (Mr. Young doesn't seem to claim that the overwhelming costs "ARE NOT TRUE"). I've posted about the costs and decline in health care (here, here, and here, with more from The Only Republican in San Francisco), which I support with facts and thoughtful arguments supporting my predictions.

Furthermore, the article demonizes insurance companies. Young seems to abhor the fact that they are allowed to make a profit. Well, I have news for you, Mr. Young; in Canada, "private insurance companies are about to find a gold mine" (New York Times). The very fact that the socialized system in Canada is so inept has made people desperate for private care.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

SB840: Bringing the Failures of Canada to the Golden State Part II

Cross posted at

Last week I introduced you to SB840, a bill in the California State Legislature that would bring socialized medicine to California. In addition to making health-care the sole responsibility of the state, the bill would criminalize private insurance companies, preventing them from operating within the state. The focus of last week's introduction was to explore the inevitable economic repurcussions - both private and public - that would befall the state of California if this bill were to pass. In summary I proposed that the bill would lead to a dramatic increase in taxes at a disproportional rate to the middle and upper class (The Only Republican in San Francisco thought the bill sounded very Marxian, “From each, according to his ability, to each, according to his needs”), and would establish a very powerful disincentive for businesses within the state. This week, I would like to speculate on the potential non-economic consequences of the bill.

Though the consequences are numerous, I will focus on three that would directly affect the way health care is delivered. Many proponents of the bill claim "the health care delivery system will not change," on the basis that the government will not be running the hospitals, just funding them. To assume that funding and operation have no connection is absurd. Like it or not, the world revolves and operates on the basis of incentives. Money is the universal incentive, and thus, with government controlling the money, the health-care industry would change dramatically.

The first, and most distressing outcome of SB840 would be a dramatic decline in the quality of health-care within the state. Canada has already seen failures in health care, and the similarities between the current Canadian and the proposed Californian systems should imply similar results. The Pacific Research Center explains one cause of this:
Incentives matter, and one need only examine the incentives of the Canadian system to predict the results: inefficient use of resources and severe rationing of expensive procedures. Patients consider health care to be free. They pay for it for sure. Canadian doctor and author David Gratzer..., estimates that the system costs each Canadian 21 cents for every $1 they earn, which translates into $7,350 a year for a person earning $35,000. But they don’t pay for it when they use it. The result is an overuse—and inefficient use—of primary care facilities.
This statement is very interesting. First, I would like to point out that despite the horrible ineptness of the system, it costs an average of 21% of the income, and still suffers from underfunding! Nonetheless, 21% is much more than the estimated 12% that Health Care For All claims (Last week I argued that the bill was planting the seeds for tax increases and new taxes). Currently, doctors and hospitals have an incentive to invest in newer equipment, and training in new procedures, despite the high costs that may be involved in these investments. Not doing so puts them at a competetive disadvantage with other facilities, and limits their ability to provide the best care possible. Yet "under SB840, large capital expenditures such as hospital wings and expensive equipment will require approval of the commissioner." In addition, caps to reimbursement and limitations on choice by patients will remove this incentive. Investing in expensive new machinery by a hospital diverts money away from payroll, supplies, and other procedures. This sort of prioritization results in a lack of investment in new technology, and thus stagnates the health care industry's ability to provide top-notch care. This situation has played itself out in Canada already, with the country grossly

However, the 12% tax figure is not the only case of HCA being disingenuous in their analysis. HCA also claims that "The health care commissioner will be authorized to raise compensation for primary care to encourage more physicians to take on that role. Some specialists may see their income reduced a little." To say that this bill would encourage doctors and actually increase the number of primary care doctors is not optimistic, it is dangerously naive. This is the second consequence of SB840. Again, looking north reveals that there is a shortage of doctors under the socialized plan. This should come as no surprise. With Government legislating where a doctor can work, putting a cap on income, and limiting the number of primary care and specialists by region, those in the health care industry will suffer from a limitation in their career choices (while the choice to relocate to Nevada or change professions is still an option).

Furthermore, while "raising compensation" sounds like a great plan, it relies on financial surplus - something that I see as an impossibility without dramatic tax increases. When health-care is perceived as "free", it becomes over-used. Demand for service certainly does stimulate an increase in supply under a free system, any increase in supply will almost certainly not be able to meet the sharp incrase in demand, particularly the income caps that will drive doctors out of the field. Yet, funding primary care doctors at the expense of specialists is a dangerous strategy. The investment that specialists make in order to attain their position (years of expensive and stressful education and years of residency) not only warrant, but demand a high salary. Without a high level of compensation, there is no incentive for specialists to make such a large investment in their education. Therefore, promoting primary care would come at the expense of losing much needed specialists. This would, undoubtedly, lead to shortages of specialists and thus long wait-times for their services. These wait times are a reality in Canada, forcing many to seek health care in the United States.

SB840 would, however, create some demand for doctors. This is the third unforseen consequence of SB840. According to a longer summary by HCA:
Doctors who participate in the system will still be allowed to take private patients who pay directly. Although it seems odd that patients would pay for medical care that the state agency would cover, experience in other countries shows that as much as 10% of the population could choose that option.
In reality, it does not seem odd that those who could afford to pay for care would opt to, considering the decrease in quality of care that would ensue. Being able to demand a higher pay, without the stress of dealing with reimbursements from and limitations by the state, opting out of the state's program would be ideal for doctors, and would likely lure many of the best doctorsaway. SB840 would thus, create a tiered system, where the richest could afford to pay for the best care (at a substantially higher cost), while the lower and middle class would be forced to rely on the inept state health care, without the choice to seek care elsewhere. It's easy to see that this will have the most prominent affect on the middle class, who will be forced to pay more in taxes, while receiving lower quality care.