Saturday, August 29, 2009

Angry Americans...part 2

"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
(Thomas Jefferson)

I have been making some written and mental notes since my original blog on the subject "Angry Americans" back in March. This was written back when the government bailouts were still somewhat fresh in the memories of most Americans. Since then we have seen more light shed on a number of these issues. We have seen the stock market rise almost 23% since that blog was written and America's attention has now been diverted to the "Healthcare" reform debate and proposed bill. The story...and the anger...continues to become cloudier as things progress without real alternatives to discuss.

The core of the political discussions/battles continue to be between big government proponents like most of Congress with assent from the executive administration...and the growing resentment of the average citizen, many of whom are finally waking up to the facts of their country's economic demise and loss of international clout. The squeeze is on and it is mostly being felt by the average "Joe" citizen. The losses of jobs, homes and bank failures continue to profligate, while "somehow" the investors and markets are "rebounding". The Fed and others are already announcing the recession as "over". I just shake my head in wonder. Is it obvious to anyone else that this is pure socialization of private losses while the gains are only registered by those private concerns?

These announcements amaze me because this month Colonial Bank and four others in the USA failed. While the DOW is up over 20% in the last 3 months...the fundamentals are just not there to support that rise...meaning pure emotion is driving the only good news in the marketplace. I guess the announcement by GM that they can now produce a car by 2011 that gets over 240 miles to the gallon should also spur hope that America's ingenuity has returned. Personally it is just another maddening...yes, angry...point to make about America's situation. It is amazing what can be done when everyone agrees it should be so...or it is a matter of survival. But, as long as everyone remains comfortable with the "status quo", innovation and creativity are just not of interest in the marketplace. This alone should have Americans seething in general at the the corporate and government powers that FINALLY get it.

Americans are also angry about the loss of jobs both to foreign countries and in many cases to foreigners grabbing jobs in the USA. In my view, Americans are displacing their anger in this regard. Instead of being angry at the foreigners or the companies that hire them, they should be angry at the educational system and lazy consumerism ideals which have caused much of our populace to be undereducated and seemingly unmotivated. There are many statistics available that demonstrate how far our system and a majority of our youth are falling behind in education compared to many foreign countries. The MTV generation has been "dumbed-down" to a perilous condition which may take 2-3 more generations to turn around. Many American companies are forced to hire qualified foreigners for key or technical positions because they cannot find enough qualified Americans to do them...or cannot pay the expected pay levels for mediocrity and still compete in the global markets.

I must interject here that we can't just blame the "educators". The deeper root to the education dilemma is the loss of leadership and parenthood in the home. The poor are having more babies than the "rich". And our system rewards that behavior. The more babies a poor family has (usually single parent/unwed mothers), the more public assistance there is for that family. If so much government money is spent on feeding and clothing those families in poverty, there is less left over for educating them and lifting them out of poverty. On this issue you have two extreme sides to American anger. The "haves" are angry that so much of their tax money is distributed as entitlement to the poor...and the poor are angry at not only the hopeless conditions many of them were born into, but also at the lack of opportunity offered them because of where they live, what color their skin is, or their age. Let's face it, American society is still full of discrimination based on race, age, sex and religion. That brews a lot of anger and resentment at all levels.

Many Americans have also had it with a Congress and the Executive office in government that continues to pursue tax and health plans that are arguably unconstitutional and overstep the role of government. In addition, these same "leaders" are not willing to fall under the same rules and health plans as they are trying to force on the rest of the Americans. This privileged mentality and claim to "diplomatic immunity" among world government leaders is sickening to the core. Graft, corruption, pay offs, PACs, and lobbying organizations all contribute to an atmosphere of impurity in government to where hardly anyone respects their leadership anymore. After decades of disappointment in the morals of our leaders (starting with Viet Nam and Watergate, on to CIA cover-ups in the "Contra Affair", Guantanamo and elsewhere, multiple undeclared wars, and including the Clinton-Lewinsky lies and cover-ups)...I think many Americans have become numb to the morality issues of their elected leaders. Now the only thing that matters to many Americans is what entitlements they can get from the government so they don't have to take care of themselves. As long as government gives them "stuff", they really don't care about morality or the issues. For those of us Americans who value our freedom and independence, this causes us great anger and discomfort. Democracy in America is dying...and some of us are damned angry about it!

On my most recent trip home to the USA, I talked to many friends who are waking up to some of these realities. No longer do people blanketly trust that there will be social security and pension funds waiting for them at the "end of the rainbow". Many are angry that the Federal Government bailed out the bad loan banks and financial companies, but not the people who depend on those mortgages to put a roof over their heads. Many of us believe that the trillions in bailout money would have better supported the economy and the "people" if they had gone directly to support keeping roofs over American's heads than rewarding bad business decisions of government cronies. Alas...we see and are angry at the motivations and lack of concern by the government for the average American.

Anger can be good, bad or a little of both. Anger is bad if it blinds us to reason or responsible actions that can be taken to counteract that which makes us angry. The pure emotion of anger can keep us from thinking clearly. We get so angry we can't even speak or think straight. We can get so angry that we just want to "tear everything down" where in some cases we "throw the baby out with the bathwater".

The kind of anger Americans need is that which brings passion and motivation to make positive change. We need to have just enough anger in order to demand change and punish those who are acting against our best interests. Angry Americans need to unite...not just around their anger, but around ideas and specific plans that will better the American way of life. Americans need to be angry enough to "just say NO" to further taxation without representation and blind spending of our government from the dwindling national coffers. As I think both the Qu'ran and the Bible teach, God is angry and vengeful sometimes...and we are made in "His image".

It's OK to be angry America. Just DO something about it besides bitch and complain.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

National Health Care Program

The hottest national debate topic has quickly switched from the economy to the governments proposed national health care plan. It is amazing to me how quickly this new administration and congress are moving towards nationalizing just about every aspect of American life. From making the government a major stockholder in the biggest financial and automotive firms and bailing out Wall Street to attempting to control the sovereign tax codes of most foreign states to avoid tax competition...this government now moves quickly to put their controls and stranglehold on the country's health care system.

The main debates seem to be what blend or form of controls the government should have in health care. Should the government go socialistic like they are doing in most other aspects of their governance policies and everyone just work for "the Government"? Should it be THE single pay source between the patients and the service system? Should it be there just as a safety net for the poor and indigent who cannot afford treatment or insurance? What role should insurance companies play in the system? Do we need them at all?

I have long believed that a prime reason for the higher costs in the USA than most anywhere else for health care are the Tort laws and costs of frivolous lawsuits. Obviously there needs to be accountability of doctors and other professionals in the system to responsibly perform their duties and distribute the right drugs to the right people as needed. And yes, hideous, irresponsible dereliction of treatment should not go unpunished. Yet, every time something bad happens to someone's health, does that mean that some doctor or practitioner was responsible and should make that patient an instant millionaire? I don't think so. As a society we need to wake up and realize that any huge payout on lawsuits one way or another come directly out of the consumer's pocket...not the systems. The system just factors in those huge legal payouts.

But back to the core question...what should the government's role be in this mind boggling challenge to our country? My core response is that centralized or socialized medicine DOESN'T seem to work that well in most places that have it. Government can never run something better or more productive than a private system can. The current effort from what I see is to socialize the costs of our populace' bad habits to the whole of society while having the government once again siphon off huge percentages for administrating huge sums of the national GNP that goes to health care. The current bill as I have read a few snippets of and more the commentary on far to pervasive and invasive of the industry. It obviously is a very divisive issue and creating the most heat when the populace feels the government is trying to control their every decision including who, how and when of their health care decisions.

The other core philosophical difference I have with socialized medicine is that it does not encourage competition or reward free market motivations for developing new cures or giving the best treatment. If all doctors or practitioners are paid the same no matter how they perform, where is their motivation to differentiate themselves? Is it supposed to be just about serving the "common good"? I have seen enough of the insides of government bureaucracies to know how it can completely stifle innovation and actually drives costs UP rather than down when it comes to service and ingenuity. Are we really ready to stake our future health on a government run, imposed national health plan?

The role I think government SHOULD take in the national health care challenge is to provide gap coverage for those that truly qualify for care they can't pay for. I think federal government should gulp down a smaller piece of the industry than they are currently trying to take on. They really need to shore up the medicare system they already have in place. Do we really need to rebuild from scratch, or can we just retool what we already have in place and make it more effective and better funded? I gotta believe that should be looked at instead of trying to nationalize the whole medical system. That dog just won't hunt.

The scariest thing to me is how quickly they have written a huge document that spells out many detailed plans of further rationing and regulating an already regulation heavy industry. Health care cannot be distributed or run like a "post office". Delivering personalized health care is a much bigger challenge than delivering the mail...and it is much more important in life. It is a matter of life and death.

I received this email with line by line "scare items" of what the current bill being entertained includes. I have not taken the time to cross check the items with the whole, do not take this as gospel. But it would not surprise me that these things are all there clearly stated or with intent...and of course if I discover otherwise, I will correct the content here. I include this more for conversation and getting some of you to help me examine and verify these points of contention...

Actual copy of House Bill H.R.3200

A Peek Inside the ObamaCare Bill

Pg 22 of the HC Bill mandates the Government will audit books of all employers that self insure.

Pg 30 Sec 123 of HC bill — a Government committee (good luck with that!) will decide what treatments/benefits a person may receive.

Pg 29 lines 4-16 in the HC bill — YOUR HEALTHCARE WILL BE RATIONED!

Pg 42 of HC Bill — The Health Choices Commissioner will choose your HC Benefits for you.

PG 50 Section 152 in HC bill — HC will be provided to ALL non US citizens, illegal or otherwise.

Pg 58 HC Bill — Government will have real-time access to individual's finances and a National ID Healthcard will be issued!

Pg 59 HC Bill lines 21-24 Government will have direct access to your bank accounts for election funds transfer.

PG 65 Sec 164 is a payoff subsidized plan for retirees and their families in Unions & community organizations (read: ACORN).

Pg 72 Lines 8-14 Government will create an HC Exchange to bring private HC plans under Government control.

PG 91 Lines 4-7 HC Bill — Government mandates linguistic appropriate services. Example — Translation for illegal aliens.

Pg 95 HC Bill Lines 8-18 The Government will use groups, i.e. ACORN & Americorps, to sign up individuals for Government HC plan.

PG 85 Line 7 HC Bill — Specifics of Benefit Levels for Plans. AARP members — your Health care WILL be rationed.

PG 102 Lines 12-18 HC Bill — Medicaid Eligible Individuals will be automatically enrolled in Medicaid. No choice.

Pg 124 lines 24-25 HC No company can sue Government on price fixing. No "judicial review" against Government Monopoly.

Pg 127 Lines 1-16 HC Bill — Doctors/ AMA — The Government will tell YOU what you can earn.

Pg 145 Line 15-17 An Employer MUST auto enroll employees into public option plan. NO CHOICE.

Pg 126 Lines 22-25 Employers MUST pay for HC for part time employees AND their families.

Pg 170 Lines 1-3 HC Bill Any NONRESIDENT Alien is exempt from individual taxes. (Americans will pay.)

Pg 195 HC Bill -officers & employees of HC Admin (the GOVERNMENT) will have access to ALL Americans' finances and personal records.

PG 203 Line 14-15 HC — "The tax imposed under this section shall not be treated as tax" Yes, it says that.

Pg 239 Line 14-24 HC Bill Government will reduce physician services for Medicaid. Seniors, low income, poor affected.

Pg 241=2 0Line 6-8 HC Bill — Doctors — doesn't matter what specialty — will all be paid the same.

PG 253 Line 10-18 Government sets value of Doctor's time, professional judgment, etc. Literally, value of humans.

PG 265 Sec 1131 Government mandates & controls productivity for private HC industries.

Pg 317 L 13-20 OMG!! PROHIBITION on ownership/investment. Government tells Doctors what/how much they can own.

Pg 317-318 lines 21-25,1-3 PROHIBITION on expansion — Government will mandate hospitals cannot expand.

Pg 354 Sec 1177 — Government will RESTRICT enrollment of Special needs people!

PG 425 Lines 4-12 Government mandates Advance Care Planning Consultations.
Think Senior Citizens end of life prodding.

PG 425 Lines 22-25, 426 Lines 1-3 Government provides approved list of end of life resources, guiding you in how to die.

PG 427 Lines 15-24 Government mandates program for orders for end of life.
The Government has a say in how your life ends.

PG 429 Lines 10-12 "advanced care consultation" may include an ORDER for end of life plans. AN ORDER from the Government to end a life!

Page 472 Lines 14-17 PAYMENT TO COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATION. 1 monthly payment to a community-based organization. (Like ACORN?)

I have a feeling that when Congress comes back from their summer recess after hearing and experiencing the obvious rage from many of their constituents, we will see quite a "watering down" of the plan. At least I hope so...and that they will focus on covering the people in the gap while letting private industry get on with developing medical miracles. A socialized system will not improve on that effort.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Drug Dilemma

The USA pays billions to Colombia each year and millions to Afghanistan's poppy addition to the huge military costs incurred in both countries. All stated as efforts to control...drugs. Is it working? Don't think so. Supply and demand is same as ever and the bloody gang and turf wars get worse each year especially in Mexico which is the main conduit for illicit drugs getting in the North American market. The Mexican government is overrun by the costs both monetarily and in lives trying to control this out of control dilemma. It has become a battle of States it seems...some governments quietly producing while others spend money they don't have trying to eradicate. Where will this all end and what is the answer?

I would argue that governments are losing the war on drugs...primarily because they have not addressed the core of the battle...the users. One also has to suspect the politicizers of this issue. For decades now various administrations have run on "get tough on drugs" agendas. They have passed more laws, built more jails which continue to be filled with sellers and buyers of illegal drugs alike. Just the prison costs alone at over $30,000 annually per prisoner are staggering to the percentage of GNP. Yet, this problem is not going away any time soon while the national deficit continues to reach unfathomable new heights.

Lets look at the "users" for a minute. Aren't they the REAL reason we have this problem? The number of drug users and abusers in our society is alarming, and I'm not talking just "illegal" drugs. Alcohol and tobacco continue to kill tens of thousands every year yet we don't see government making them illegal. Sure, they are making them more expensive and in some cases more difficult to get or use...but I suspect most of that is to just offset their costs on the other side of this battle. The game goes on as users/buyers actually drive the market just like in any other "supply and demand" situation. Users/abusers of marijuana, cocaine, opium, etc are put in jail. User/abusers of alcohol, barbiturates and other pharmaceuticals are put in halfway houses or simply roam the city streets in various levels of delirium and poverty. The jails far outnumber the clinics or hospitals for treatment of addictions...and only the rich can afford those treatments in most cases.

Why do people use drugs? Is there a difference fundamentally between the use of legal versus illegal ones? I have lost a few friends over the years because of their drug use or addictions. While I have tried not to be judgmental nor count myself a "saint" in this department, I have seen first hand the devastation of the drug culture on a few people that were close to me. I have also experienced the "wall" between "partiers" and non. Drug users have their own code and quiet club. I guess they understand each other at depths non users can't. This has always intrigued me and I have wanted to understand better the cause and effect of that reality. Yet, part of me says I probably don't REALLY want to understand it fully. I have seen enough of it to know I admire those friends and family who have recovered from their addictions or abuse. Whether it is heroin or alcohol or food...I think addiction and self control is a very tough thing to change in your life. I respect the fact that in most cases I know of personally they quit without clinics, addiction centers or otherwise. In most successful recoveries I have has been a hardcore, fundamental decision on that person's part...usually after they have "hit bottom" and paid a high personal, painful cost. It has been my observation that until people hit bottom either financially or relationally tied to their addictions...they won't change or recover. All the treatment or counseling in the world will be a waste of time.

I do find it ironic in our culture how we castigate "illegal drug users" while many of these same judges of humanity drink or eat into oblivion. Some of these same people run to the pharmacy for every little pain, sniffle or depression...and they don't equate anti depressants as another form of the same thing illegal drug users are doing. Its called "self medicating", and until we get under the skin of the pain and emptiness in the human condition that causes many of us to pursue "self medication"...we will never know how to adequately fight this battle with drugs and addiction.

As will surprise very few of you who know me, I take quite a Libertarian view on the drug issue. Every individual is responsible for their own behavior when it comes to consuming...including substances legal or illegal. I do not think it is the "State's" role or obligation to legislate and enforce these personal issues. If someone wants to drink or inject themselves into levels of unconsciousness, that is their decision. I support "Drug Control" in the form of controlled distribution. Just like alcohol and cigarettes, taxes could be collected on these substances. If the "State" wants to do something constructive for society, they could be educating children about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and help provide society with mental and medical care centers to treat addicts who want help. Yet, the fundamental responsibility for these things start at the parent/child level and extend to local community standards and discretion. I think we have wasted enough time, lives and money on legislating morality that is not working. People will be moral or immoral regardless of what the government says. If anything, most governments would be far ahead of the game to control distribution and gain tax revenues from these substances. Instead of a huge economic drain of trying to control the uncontrollable, our system would have NET gains instead. Then, out of those gains, if the government truly wanted to HELP people, they would have money for treatment centers and educational campaigns. Take away the demand in society, you immediately obliterate the suppliers.

Bottom line is...morality starts in the home, not in institutions like governments or churches. I have the right to forbid such activities in my home, but I don't have the right to tell you what to do in yours. We all need to do our humane part to encourage our friends and family towards positive self control. If we see someone destroying their lives with one substance, action or another...we need to TALK to them about it if we care. If we know someone is an out of control alcoholic, we can't drink with or in front of them. If we know someone is eating themselves to death, we don't take them to McDonalds. If everyone just worked on helping those addicts in their own circle, institutional methods would not be needed. I would even favor "safe zones" where people can go get high together if that's what they want to do. I personally believe that by decriminalizing drugs and addiction we would do more to take the sub cultural attraction out of the lifestyle and use would diminish instead of expand. Just like children, you can't take something away from them unless you replace it with something better or more nourishing.

Our world's wars have at their underpinnings the supply and demand for substances of all kinds. There are also huge industries based on governmental programs for controlling substances. The "war on drugs" at government levels is more about controlling dollars and politics than controlling drugs. I think it is immoral for a government to abscond with someone's possessions because they use or sell drugs. This has turned into a huge profit center...and I'm not sure this money gets allocated to replace the billions the USA sends in Colombia and Afghanistan. America's government is using the "drug war" to cover other political and selfish objectives.

I think it has also been proven that incarceration has done nothing to change the behavior of drug users and in many cases turns them into MORE hardened criminals. Want to get your doctorate in criminal activities...just go to prison for a few years. After going to prison, being a criminal will be the only job many of these people will get in America.

If you want to see the dismal results of all the billions in cash and lives spent on "controlling drugs", take a look at the "United Nations 2009 World Drug Report" at this link. Then tell me if you think the government's role in this issue is working or worth the price paid. I think its time to legalize and control these substances in a much more positive way.

(PS...I am not a user of any illegal substances, nor am I encouraging anyone to do so.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mixed feelings about Colombia/USA's military plans

The hot debate in Latin America right now is the latest plans by Colombia to allow USA military access to a number of bases throughout Colombia. Obviously the biggest objectors are the leftist leaders in the region, primarily Chavez of Venezuela, and the leaders of Bolivia and Ecuador...all direct and surrounding neighbors of Colombia. Even more centrist governments like Brazil and Chile are expressing their concern and this will be the hot topic in today's South American UNASUR group of nations meeting.

According to THIS ARTICLE from Reuters, the plan says the
"United States is allowed up to 800 uniformed military personnel in Colombia at one time. Those soldiers help plan counter-insurgency missions but they are not allowed in combat, a rule that will not change under the new military accord. There are currently less than 300 uniformed Americans in Colombia and the expanded deal will not push that number above the limit of 800, according to the U.S. embassy in Bogota."

While that seems like a very small increase from the status quo, it obviously has a lot of people riled up. The main problem is that the USA has lost a lot of credibility in Latin America. For the past 20-30 years our policy has been all over the board in this region and our government along with the CIA has been involved in a number of clandestine efforts that has many countries not trusting the USA as a partner or protector.

I have a number of mixed reactions and points to make on this subject.

It is understandable that Colombia would hold suspect the criticisms and "saber rattling" of their immediate leftist neighbors, Venezuela and Ecuador. Both countries have apparently supported the FARC guerrillas at various times and ways by either sheltering them over the border or funneling arms and intelligence to them. There are recent videos captured from the FARC showing the current leader discussing their actual monetary support of the Ecuadorian presidents campaign for election. So, it would seem quite justified for the Colombians to "flip off" these un neighborly actions and protect their interests with any military power and influence they can get.

My main concerns come from the intent of my own country, the USA. Our country has been spending over 3 BILLION per year in the "war against drugs" in Colombia...and while eradication has increased while supplies decreased significantly in Colombia...the supply and demand in the USA has not been affected AT ALL. I call this a waste of money and LOSING the supposed war on drugs we have been fighting for over 30 years. Now it has advanced significantly in the bigger and less controllable country of Mexico...closer to our borders. In my opinion, Colombia and South America overall is the least of America's concerns when it comes to controlling drugs in America.

Other factors that can obviously come into play in this increased militarization in Colombia is the USA's desire to promote and protect "democracy" and compete against Russian and Chinese influences in these countries. Much of our USA policy goes back to the "Monroe Doctrine" and then expanded upon by Teddy Roosevelt's "Corollary" to that doctrine that "asserted the right of the United States to intervene to stabilize the economic affairs of small states in the Caribbean and Central America if they were unable to pay their international debts. Presidents cited the Roosevelt Corollary as justification for U.S. intervention in Cuba (1906-1910), Nicaragua (1909-1911, 1912-1925 and 1926-1933), Haiti (1915-1934), and the Dominican Republic (1916-1924)."

I admire many aspects of Teddy Roosevelt, but this is one area of his foreign policy that in light of history I believe took the USA government on a negative turn towards global imperialism in the 20th century. I believe the current economic and political plight of America has been caused by this over extension of our power and trying to police the world. Just like Rome and the British Empire of only 200 years ago...the USA stands the risk of bankrupting their system and imploding from within because of these attempts to control all external governments and cultures of the world. We have done a good job of marketing our consumerism to most of the world through this influence and access...yet much of the world continues to repel America's version of capitalism, culture and lifestyle.

For me this reflects directly on what the USA is doing in and through Colombia. We are flexing our military strength and exporting our technology to a foreign country in order to force our "interests" in the region. The problem for me on this issue is not only philosophical, but practical. How many regions and countries can America really dominate in this fashion simultaneously? They are talking about large increases for Afghanistan and the fight against the Taliban. We still have huge resources sucking us dry in Iraq and the story is still out whether we have truly succeeded in our mission there after spending up to 1 TRILLION dollars and 4330 confirmed American lives. The main question for me is "have we truly affected change in that culture and region"? If not, what a terrible price to pay.

The last thing we need in my opinion is escalation of militarization in Latin America. While Costa Rica and even Panama have de-militarized, the arms race...primarily manufactured and distributed by the on full tilt throughout the Latin American region. Venezuela is countering by purchasing significant armaments from Russia. In that scenario, I understand Colombia's need for significant backup by the USA. Yet, one has to wonder who started the escalation first? And while much of it has been under the guise of "controlling drugs and drug lords", America has been losing that war for a long time now. Is the USA really ready for escalation and the costs associated in Latin America as well? I don't believe so.

I am all for supporting Colombia and other friendly neighbors against invasions and infiltrators from dark regimes. Yet, I think it best to train and equip locals to fight their own battles versus the continued shedding of American blood on every shore of the world. America has a big enough job on its hands just cleaning up the blood on the streets in all its own major cities and rebuilding its economic engine. We need to stop exporting guns...and start exporting goods to the regions and propagating economic trade. This is the best approach to achieving world peace and prosperity.