George Sarant

A raw feed of material that may be updated or appear elsewhere.

Posts Tagged ‘government

REFLECTIONS ON HEALTH CARE

leave a comment »

What is the proper role of government with regard to the health care of its citizens? How should costs be allocated?  These are questions that are still up in the air in the USA, but how these questions are addressed still applies everywhere.  The Republicans appear to have painted themselves into a corner on this subject, while the Democrat-imposed Obamacare is collapsing from its own defects. This legislation was deeply flawed and fundamentally unjust insofar as it expanded coverage for some uninsured people, largely by expanding Medicaid, while otherwise imposing steep additional costs on other individuals in a haphazard fashion. But the Republicans are the governing party now and are stuck with having to come up with solutions they have not adequately provided. They should know by now that it is virtually impossible to get rid of a benefit once it has been established, and the plan passed by the House is going nowhere in the Senate and fails to provide the fundamental overhaul they promised. 

There is a desperate need to rationalize the American health care system by going back to the drawing board and starting from scratch. Republicans first need to concede that everyone ought to have adequate health care, giving that to the Democrats, who might then be brought on board. But this does not necessarily mean that health care should be provided by the government. Nor should it be provided because it is a “right;” it is rather a benefit. Why then should the state in some fashion underwrite such a benefit? 

The short answer is that a developed society can afford to, and we must increasingly come to grips with the consequences of technological change, which is far more salient than “globalization” in causing economic disruption. Given that inequality is an inevitable consequence of a truly free society, those who lack higher skills and who are left behind by the consequences of automation, AI, and other developments- something that can happen to  anyone, need to provide a basic level of support. If growth and economic dislocation eventually benefit everyone, then those who have disproportionately suffered the consequences ought to be provided with some level of adjustment. This is a different population than the poor, who already get everything for free. It is a population we want to prevent from falling into the ranks of the poor. As society develops and grows richer overall, it is reasonable to provide basics for everyone through some mechanism that does not overly burden everyone else. 

The way to do this is to resolve to get the government completely out of the health care business and let market forces do what they do best- rationalize the distribution of goods and services. The state would instead provide a graduated insurance stipend to those who cannot afford it, who would then be able to purchase whatever health care they want or need. For this to work the government would no longer provide any other services directly or indirectly; no more mandates, no more policies, just a cash benefit and there would no longer are any pre-existing conditions. Since everyone is obligated to pay taxes, insurance and medical costs would be deductible, and medical savings exempt from taxation, but anyone who fails to purchase coverage would be charged with the cost of providing a policy for them, which would at least cover catastrophic circumstances, which otherwise would be passed on to everyone else. This does sound like the Obamacare tax but you cannot have universal health care without universal participation and no one is here being compelled to do anything. 

This is not socialism, which is unworkable. Socialism would be government control of all health care, and hence ownership of the system. This is the opposite of that. Government is completely removed from any operational role and only would  only maintain the principle that everyone be covered, by providing direct cash transfers where needed. This would dismantle the administrative state, save billions, and allow a rational system of costs and services to develop, leading to a reduction in overall expenses. There are many details to be worked out and this is preferred only as a roadmap. There are only two fundamental principles that must be adhered to: that everyone be covered and that the government gets out of the health care business. 

Advertisements

POLITICAL JUSTICE

leave a comment »

The failure of the FBI to file any criminal charges in the blatant targeting of the administration’s political opponents by the IRS is deeply troubling. The investigation is a sham, given that many of the targets themselves were never interviewed. As the Wall Street Journal noted “That’s like investigating a burglary without interviewing the burgled.” The Justice department is also stonewalling the congress, refusing to provide any witnesses involved in conducting the investigation. 

None of this is surprising. Apart from counter-terrorism activity in recent years, anyone who has ever had any dealings with them knows that, contrary to their TV image, the FBI essentially consists of messenger boys for the US Attorneys. It is not all that different than the relationship between the local police and district attorneys. 

 The US Attorneys are in turn political appointees, and decisions as to whom and whom not to prosecute are very often political. The notion that there is impartial justice at this level is laughable, at least when it comes to government or political activities. There is a frivolous argument floating around that other administrations have behaved politically as well. True enough, but none have been anywhere near as extensive as this one, which has clearly crossed the line in terms of blatant political calculation. Under Eric Holder the Justice department is driven by ideology more than the law. 

 Consider the ramifications here, whatever your political viewpoint. Sooner or later the other party will return to power. What if they behave the same way? If justice becomes a political process, based upon friends and enemies, then the legitimacy of the entire legal system is undermined. If politicians and bureaucrats can act arbitrarily according to what they want, believe in, or oppose rather than what is legally mandated, then the law becomes something of an afterthought, to be applied when convenient, and ignored when it is not. This is the kind of behavior used by authoritarian regimes. It only becomes a difference of degree between what is left of the constitution and a banana republic. These factors, along with extraconstitutional actions that are actually being applauded by radicals puts over two hundred years of law and precedent in jeopardy. 

Furthermore a serious abuse of power, by any measure, has been grossly underreported, with very little follow up and even less explanation provided about  this scandal. What happened here was harassment of political opponents, leaking of their confidential taxpayer data to political allies, lying to congress by senior officials claiming there was no targeting, then claiming it was only the work of low-level employees, and otherwise deliberately obfuscating what transpired. We are talking about the IRS dealing with taxpayers based upon political considerations rather than objective facts, thus undermining the legitimacy of that institution, perhaps irreparably. The seriousness of these infractions cannot be overstated, for if they were to become commonplace the constitutional system would be fatally undermined.

 This all stems from an administration that seems to be permanently in campaign mode, where it is quite effective, but disastrously inept when it comes to actually governing. International affairs are rudderless, and domestic policy is in complete disarray, in large measure because everything is perceived through an ideological framework. When the justice system is run this way it is simply no longer just. If the rules are ignored by those in charge there is every incentive for everyone else to do the same. Thus, political justice ultimately means no justice for anyone. 

 

HALF-CENTURY PASSAGES AND JOHN F. KENNEDY

leave a comment »

50 years ago this day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and this fact has been much in the news. I remember the day well, as does everyone who was alive at the time. For those who weren’t, I won’t offer the sort of reminiscences that are ubiquitous at present, but rather explore some aspects of the man and his legacy, as well the experience of those decades. This compels us to consider the phenomenon of fresh memories of an event half a century ago, as well as its continued presence across that span of time. This has happened before, though not frequently. For example, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were able to recall the American Revolution fifty years later. The Civil War was vividly etched in the national consciousness for the generations who experienced it, so that living veterans were ceremoniously reconciled fifty years later.

We think we live in times of rapid change, but 1963 is still part of the broad national experience, whereas in 1963 the decades back to 1913 were remote, and change was far more pronounced during that period. in other words the world of 1913 is much further away from 1963 than the latter is from 2013. For following 1913 the great shocks of the century manifested themselves. Just a year later the most seminal event in modern history began, namely World War I, or the “Great War,” as it was known before World War II. The latter was but a consequence of the preceding war, if not a continuation of it. In the world of 1913 Europe was at the pinnacle of its power, while America was still a relative backwater, though emerging as a world power. The old European civilization totally collapsed as a consequence of WWI, and its repercussions are still being felt today. Its former glory was gone forever, following an unbelievably costly mass slaughter over four years of pointless war. By the end of World War II the continent was completely exhausted.

John F. Kennedy served gallantly in the second war, and then went on to the political career we are all still familiar with. Kennedy was never a man of the left, despite subsequent claims. He was a political moderate; Hubert Humphrey was the “liberal” candidate in 1960. JFK would have some difficulty fitting in with today’s Democratic party given that, among other things, he did not raise taxes but cut them, and ran to the right of Nixon on defense in the general election. The Kennedy family “liberal” tradition really began with Bobby, when he was radicalized in the late 1960s, and then continued with Teddy. The notion that JFK was some sort of liberal is simply a myth sustained by those who have an interest in maintaining it. Another myth is the notion that somehow “right wing hate” brought about his assassination, when in fact he was killed by a dedicated Communist. Following his death endless speculation began about whether or not Oswald acted alone. The preponderant evidence suggests that he did, notwithstanding various conspiracy theories. and in truth the assassin was an early prototype of the “lone wolf” killer we have become all too familiar with in our own time. Indeed we can see how much more plausible the notion of a lone killer is today than we could back then, when it was too hard to believe that the great could be brought down by an insignificant, (but for the assassination), nonentity.

 JFK came into office after an extremely close (and possibly fraudulent) election victory, but so charmed the nation that he was very popular across the board at the time of his death. He was a very appealing man, but one wonders how he would have fared in today’s media world. Would his reckless behavior and chronic infidelity have remained secret? Or his compromised physical condition? Would his human frailty have been apparent?  In those days the press was far more deferential and protective of the presidency, in a way that is unimaginable today. It is also rare that you see anyone with his aristocratic bearing today. For he was a man of his times, a product of the years he lived, as well as his father’s ambition. He is not a transcendent figure, in the sense of being outside of time, but rather a man who was in his prime half a century ago. Some of his characteristics would not translate well today, and whether that says something good or bad about our own time, is up to the reader.

THE MAN ON THE WEDDING CAKE

leave a comment »

The President seems increasingly clueless as to what his job responsibilities are. It is as though all the ceremonial aspects of the presidency have superseded the substantive requirements of the position, so that being president consists of photo-ops, giving speeches, and other ribbon-cutting type affairs. He remains detached from everything else, whether it be meeting with members of congress, solving problems, or otherwise dealing with the substance of things. Whenever things go wrong he says he is “angry” about them, but does little to rectify the situation, deflecting blame elsewhere, even though many of these problems originated in his own administration. He thereby absolves himself of any responsibility for Benghazi, the IRS scandal, the NSA spying revelations, fumbling over Syria, presiding over five of the six largest deficits in history, a sputtering economy, and, of course, Obamacare. It is deeply troubling that none of these things have been adequately resolved. The President may be genuinely angry about these things, but many of them, at the very least, are a consequence of who he appointed to office, including zealots who were obsessed with radical reform, based not upon empirical evidence but ideological presumptions as to the way things ought to be. As Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here,” (in the office of the President).

But disengagement cannot be an excuse for ineptitude that is broad and consistent. One would be hard pressed to identify anything within the purview of the president that is going right these days. This is a result of some degree of competence at the superficial aspects of the presidency, i.e. ceremonial pomp, but complete incompetence at everything else. It is also unsurprising to anyone who could see through the glow of media cheerleading, given that he never ran anything in his life before. Yet he was elevated twice to what was, until he assumed office,  the most powerful position in the world, but now, at least according to Forbes, that distinction belongs to Vladimir Putin. During this presidency the US has been seriously weakened in the world, as well as at home, and it will take a lot of time and effort to undo what has transpired.

He did belatedly, and superficially assume responsibility for Obamacare, which he and his party obviously own, but he remains a true believer in his own narrative, and is the most partisan occupant the White House has ever seen. Seldom have we witnessed more confidence with less actual justification for it. He is like the man on top of the wedding cake, peering down on all below, oblivious to the meltdown that is happening. As we witness the government unraveling before our eyes he does not shoulder all the blame, but he has done nothing to fix the damage, and too often has made things considerably worse than they had to be. What is remarkable is not that his approval ratings are at an all time low, but that 41% still view his administration positively. The real tragedy is that we have to endure years more of this presidency while the situation in the US and the rest of the world remains dangerously rudderless, at least until the next election. In the interim congress may gain more power as the president becomes more of a lame duck, a prospect that is not all that reassuring. We can only pray that no serious crises explode abroad in the meantime. What we need to identify in the time ahead, is someone who is capable of competently running things, solving problems, and working congenially with the congress in order to undo all the damage that has been done. Until that happens we can’t even think about moving forward again.

Written by georgesarant

October 31, 2013 at 11:57 PM

HELPING THE FEW BY PUNISHING THE MANY

leave a comment »

The Obama administration forced through a radical overhaul of the health care system despite public opposition, and the results have been disastrous. Not only does the system not work, but it is actually causing real harm to people, particularly individuals who purchased their own health insurance. Under this dysfunctional system they are being dropped from their existing policies since their existing coverage does not conform to Obamacare, thus losing their coverage while facing steeply increased premiums. But it gets worse. Since the website does not work they cannot even get a new policy at the Obamacare “exchanges,” leaving them with no coverage at all. All of this is happening while the president promised that people could keep their existing plans under Obamacare, but he knew, it now develops, as far back as 2010, that this was not true.

This is a sad example of the consequences of the warped thinking of the left, which demanded that the entire system of coverage for 80-85% of the population be upended because a minority did not have health insurance. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of people were satisfied with what they had, and the number of people lacking coverage was fluid; it didn’t matter, because the left-wingers cannot abide any distinctions. In other words, they insist on disrupting society if a minority (pick any one you want) is somehow allegedly not included in what prevails among the majority of the population. So we must endure continued social, cultural, and political disturbance for some misconceived sense of justice. The state must ameliorate any discrepancies, no matter what the cost. In addition, the true cost has been buried, for in order to pay for the minority in this instance, the costs for the majority must inevitably go up, bearing what effectively amounts to an additional tax.

It is also part of the liberal delusion that they know what is good for you better than you do yourself. For the left, government is an instrument through which they can impose their policies, values, and beliefs on other people. If the government manages more of our lives and the world around us, they think it is good. For them any flaw in society can only be changed for the better by the state, usually with some costly, vast new program. This faith in government planning and supervision remains unshaken by the facts.

To achieve such ends it is apparently okay to misinform, mislead, and even to lie to reach a desired goal. In the case of health care, the administration was, at the very least disingenuous in its claims. Given the foreknowledge of what was going to happen to individual coverage, suspicion can only be aroused that the intention all along was to force everyone into government health care program. I cannot subscribe to the notion that Obamacare was somehow designed to fail to achieve this end, because I think the people responsible thought they were doing good. It is rather a glaring case of ineptitude, overreach, and an example of what happens when ambitions far exceed the abilities that are applied to them. No, what is insufferable here is the conceit that they still know best and the continued smugness of the administration in the face of cascading failures.

They continue in damage control mode, while the rational answer would be to pull the plug on this monstrosity and cut their losses, or at least postpone implementation until they are presumably able to do so competently. The latter is unlikely to ever occur given the ill-conceived nature of this whole fiasco. The Democratic party will likely pay heavily for this, having forced it through when they controlled the congress, at least in the next election. The media also have a lot to answer for as well. They have been carrying water for the administration since its inception. Only now are they beginning to report on the magnitude of the problems, although they still have not come to grips with the fundamental flaws of the whole endeavor. What we need now is some public humility, if not contrition, across the board.

Written by georgesarant

October 29, 2013 at 8:48 PM

GOVERNMENT FAILURE (AND PAST SUCCESSES)

leave a comment »

Now that the dust has cleared from the partial government “shutdown” the administration’s failures are glaringly clear. This would have been apparent sooner had the standoff not occurred, which also seriously damaged the Republicans as a viable alternative to incompetent government. The best thing that party could do would be to shut up and stand back until next November, and let the magnitude of failure become clear. For the administration has lost credibility on several fronts.

The disastrous roll-out of Obamacare is getting worse and worse by the day, creating havoc in the health care industry while failing to provide the promised coverage to individuals. What was unpopular to begin with is even more so today. The Health and Human Services administration appears to be clueless with regard to implementation, and few of the President’s promises are being realized. 

The President has lost the confidence of much of the rest of the world that once provided such an enthusiastic greeting when he first appeared on the scene. The Germans, French, and other Europeans, as well as the  Brazilians are outraged over NSA snooping in their countries, particularly on government officials. The Saudis are breaking away, feeling they have been misled on policy toward Syria, i.e. drawing red lines, threatening intervention, etc. and then reversing course, while also cozying up with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Iranians. The last has rattled the Israelis, who, with their very existence on the line, have no confidence in this administration. On and on it goes as much of the world’s leadership has been alienated, and the standing of the United States has been weakened.

Under this administration government agencies have been blatantly political in their actions. The IRS has been caught targeting opposition individuals and groups, yet this agency is being charged with enforcing Obamacare mandatory coverage and fines on everyone. The SEC, under a long-time Democratic party hack is levying unprecedented record fines, while the Justice Department has been shaking down banks for billions largely for lending money to people the government forced them to lend to in the first place.

Economic growth is being severely hampered by ill-considered regulations, and stalling big projects like the Keystone pipeline. Unemployment remains high and job opportunities few. Then there was a trillion dollar stimulus that appears to have gone down a black hole. Can anyone find a single new bridge or major infrastructure project out of this?

Worst of all is the leadership failure. The President, instead of being above the fray, has been insidiously partisan in his words and deeds. Rather than the promised unity he has sown deep divisions, reducing himself to being a posturing ideologue that his affability can no longer mask.  But in all of this there are lessons to be learned. You cannot ram through radical change with no input or cooperation from the other side. Government works best when there is consensus and compromise by all parties. For it is not as though differences are unresolvable.

This president does not seem to understand that he owns everything that happens on his watch. He has said he wants to be a transformational president, like Reagan. He has been transformational in some sense, but not like Reagan, as successes are pretty hard to identify. In any case, though people often wish it, it is a different world today and we don’t need another Reagan now. What we need is an Eisenhower.

Eisenhower was a great president who has been grossly underestimated by historians and the press, based upon the false notion that he was stupid, largely because in response to questions he would sometimes mumble or say something irrelevant. But he was actually crafty, insofar as this  was his method of not dealing with things it was not necessary for him to deal with. Greatness does not always come from bold actions, but also from prudent inaction. For he always strove for consensus and letting things work themselves out. He never acted rashly, indeed he never acted unless he absolutely had to. This was also a man who held together the alliance of very different countries to achieve victory in World War II, and thus was very skilled in managing often sharp differences. As a result he was immensely popular and presided over some of the happiest days this country has ever known. The world would be a much better place today if we simply had someone like that in office.

 

 

 

Written by georgesarant

October 24, 2013 at 4:24 PM

STOP THE SHUTDOWN AND DON’T DEFAULT

leave a comment »

It is time to end the federal government impasse. One of the cardinal rules of strategy is to avoid getting involved in a war you can’t win. That is where the Republicans find themselves now. There are principled people who insist that they hold the line, but they are missing a far brighter, bigger picture. I am not suggesting that Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats, as well as the administration are not more at fault, but rather that occasionally a tactical retreat in battle leads to victory in the greater war. Since the Republicans currently do not have the votes to carry the Senate, their focus should be on winning the necessary votes in 2014. Given that the prevailing narrative is stacked against them, contributing to public disapproval, there is no dishonor in a temporary retreat, when a larger gift is waiting in the wings. 

That gift is Obamacare. The rollout has been disastrous, the Affordable Care Act is more unpopular than ever, and public ire is still growing. If it were not for the partial “government shutdown” and threatened default, the leading story in the news would now be the colossal ineptitude of the Obamacare administration. A ridiculously expensive website that doesn’t work, unexpected rising health care costs for individuals, enrollment failure, administrative incompetence, etc. would be dominating the headlines. The only thing preventing that from happening is the continuing drama of the failure of the congress and administration to reach an agreement. Yes the President himself is culpable for refusing to negotiate or discuss anything, where a more skilled politician might at least pretend to consider compromise. Yes the Senate Democrats have moved the goal posts by throwing the sequester into the mix. But being in the right means nothing if the perception of it is not there. Life isn’t fair.

Unfortunately some people are too stupid to recognize when they have a winning hand. The implementation of Obamacare is the gift that will keep on giving through 2014, and perhaps beyond. As one problem after another manifests itself, it may collapse to the point where most people realize it is unworkable. The blame for this will rest squarely on the Democrats, since they forced it through when they had a majority in both houses without any input or a single vote from the other side. That would portend huge losses in the elections next year, because they effectively own Obamacare. Consequently it makes no sense to maintain a scenario where public anger is directed towards congress and the Republicans as long as this stalemate lasts. It is time to put an end to this and get out of the line of fire, and thereby reap the rewards. 

More serious is the prospect of default, which is undermining the dollar and causing deep anxiety in the rest of the world. If the US cannot maintain full faith and credit, if it is no longer perceived as being a rock solid oasis of stability, the damage will be immense, and the international reserve currency role of the dollar will be diminished. Serious damage has already occurred, and it will take some effort to repair and re-establish confidence. On this question the President has to give something, if only to avoid going down in history as the official who presided over a disastrous default that could have been avoided. Any reasonable person can see that averting this ought to have top priority over any other considerations. 

Those trying to make the government more accountable are completely right, but brinksmanship tactics are wrong and will only backfire. Far better to let the administration sink under the weight of its own pretensions and take a sober, longer-term view that is far more likely to produce the desired objectives. 

Written by georgesarant

October 16, 2013 at 11:35 AM