Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Insanity in Our Back Yard - Filner Must Go

There is plenty of coverage of the allegations regarding Filner's sexual harassment.  Leslie Eastman at College Insurrection has a nice summary and is chock full of articles on the subject. But Filner has demonstrated plenty of other out-of-control behavior that together paints a portrait of a man teetering on the edge of sanity.
  • Most disturbing to me, because it is such an affront to civil behavior, his ex-fiancee said that  she made the "gut-wrenching decision" to break up with Filner after she said he recently started text messaging other women sexually explicit messages and set up dates in front of her.  Bronwym Ingram, the ex, said that he had lost the ability to treat anyone with civility.
  • His ongoing feud with Jan Goldsmith that is harming the city.  His aggressive take-over of a Goldsmith news conference prompted me to predict he wouldn't finish the term.
  • The Sunroad Centrum pay-to-play investigation is still ongoing, with the FBI involved.  Citybeat has more details.
  • Jerry Navarra of Jerome's Furniture donated free furniture to the mayor's office while he has two properties in East Village that cannot be developed unless an historical designation is lifted.
Here is that Goldsmith presser video.

He has clearly shredded the norms of civil behavior.  Here is the an article about conduct disorders, including DSM-IV diagnostic criteria.  Check out these symptoms and ask how much of Filner's behavior fits:

Four types of symptoms of conduct disorder are recognized: 
(1) Aggression or serious threats of harm to people or animals;
(2) Deliberate property damage or destruction (e.g., fire setting, vandalism);
(3) Repeated violation of household or school rules, laws, or both; and
(4) Persistent lying to avoid consequences or to obtain tangible goods or privileges.
Should someone who has the symptoms of a conduct disorder be our mayor?

What You Should Be Reading:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Immigration Insanity

This article is part of a continuing series on the insanity of many of our national policies.  As immigration reform is debated in Congress, one has to wonder how we ended up with a policy whose chief results are:

  • Most immigrants come here illegally with low skills and consequently contribute little in taxes for both reasons.
  • Difficulty in bringing in skilled immigrants.  
  • Border enforcement that funnels the illegals to the most inhospitable climates resulting in many deaths.
Before we think that just changing this policy is easy, we should head the words of Machiavelli:
“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones. ”
― Niccolò Machiavelli
I have analyzed the forces arrayed against border security and immigration reform before.  Fortunately, however, it seems that reform is in sight, but the sticking point is over enforcing the border.  Given that lack of enforcement undermines the rule of law, and results in immigrant deaths, I can see why conservatives and libertarians would be in favor of this as part of any deal.  However, I wonder if it won't be a moot point soon.  First, an expanded guest worker program would reduce the number of laborers who would be finding work when they crossed the border illegally, as more of those jobs would already be filled.  Second, Mexico's fertility rate is plummeting, which should soon be relieving pressure on the border.  

The root cause for the failure to compromise is that we just don't trust the federal government and the different branches of the federal government have good reason not to trust each other.  One solution to the border control issue was to tie citizenship for current illegals to a certification of border security; but we have seen the administration choose not to enforce provisions of the ACA, so who believes in this option?  Another Republican idea is a "border-surge" which would put additional resources into border security. Since when do more resources equal better results when it comes to the feds.  Ideally, the DHS should be held accountable by the Congress for border enforcement against actual performance measures.  But as we saw in the IRS targeting of tea party and conservative groups, apparently no one can hold any part of the government accountable, it's just too damn big.  At least that's what Obama says.

In fact, government can be held accountable, but the Congress has to do its job and must do so, year after year.  To keep the DHS accountable, if illegal crossings weren't reduced each year, the Congress should cut the budget for the immediate staff of the Secretary of DHS, and impose a hiring freeze on all portions of the DHS budget except border control.  Such ruthless tactics work; I know, because I work for the government.  But the Congress is never willing to hold agencies accountable. And frankly, part of the problem is that government is so huge.  Obviously its size needs to shrink.

In the mean time, we still need to reform immigration policies.  We are going to have to accept a bill that improves border security, but without guarantees.

What You Should Be Reading

  • KT at the Scratching Post has the latest in a series of posts about Detroit.  In my view there is a theme of passivity and learned helplessness that permeates each article.  How does that happen to a whole community?
  • Dean posts the video clip of the day in which a twelve year old is more articulate than me.  The basic conundrum in Egypt is that the Islamists are unwilling to concede that anyone has rights that cannot be abrogated by Sharia.  Until the Islamists are willing to tolerate freedom of speech and the checks and balances of a constitutional democracy, there will continue to be bloodshed.
  • Who knew that social security's disability fund would be the first entitlement account to run out of money?  Apparently Michael Boskin does.  Interestingly, it is benefits per person, not demographics driving this fund to bankruptcy.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Weekend Music Chill

I have been listening music with higher energy levels of late.  I had some medical difficulties about three months ago and am starting to feel like my old self again.  Listening to decent music like this helps.

Here are Caesars with Jerk It Out.

Jack White's band The Raconteurs does a nice job with Steady As She Goes.

Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Filner WILL Resign - Some Questions for the Next Mayor

There is no doubt that Bob Filner is on his way out as Mayor.  I predicted he might not make it, but this is fast.  Today both the U-T and KPBS reported that prominent Democrats, including Donna Frye, are urging the mayor to resign over sexual harassment allegations.  There is also the little matter of an FBI investigation into a pay-to-play scandal involving Sunroad Centrum's project in Kearney Mesa.

Fading away? Probably not, but it will be ugly.

Richard Rider provides a nice summary on Twitter:
Meanwhile, let's start thinking about the issues that we want the new mayor to address. My debate questions follow:
  1. Will the candidate wholeheartedly support the pension reforms of Proposition B, including working with the City Attorney to vigorously defend the measure in court?  Explain your next steps to implement these reforms in order to save taxpayer dollars.
  2.  Will you push managed competition to reduce the cost of city services?  What would be the next of services that should be put in play?
  3. Name at least one city program that consumes over 1% of the city budget that you would eliminate.
  4. What will you do to normalize the legal status of marijuana dispensaries.
What other debate topics do we have?

With regards to the horse race aspect of the race, I see Kevin Faulconer and Nathan Fletcher as early front runners. If Faulconer wins, does that cause a daisy chain effect, with Lorie Zapf vacating her current District 6 seat to run in her home District 2?  If she won, who are the front runners in District 2?  (Like Zapf, I was redistricted from CD-6 to CD-2 when the number of council seats expanded.)  Local politicos are certainly plotting their next moves.

What You Should Be Reading

Monday, July 8, 2013

Unaffordable Insanity - The Affordable Care Act

On July 4th I posted that business as usual in our politics has lead to insane outcomes that no one would have devised from scratch.  The so-called Affordable Care Act was my first exhibit and it continues to unravel.  Dean has a great take on the latest fiasco, delaying the employer mandates for a year.

The stated reason for the delay is that the administration couldn't figure out a way to implement the reporting requirements for the effected businesses. Going on 3-1/2 years after the law was passed and they still need another year to figure out how to work one of the key provisions of the law. In Washington D.C. this is known as the “Continuing to Implement the ACA in a Careful, Thoughtful Manner.” In Placentia, California, this is known as "incompetence".
And Dean notes that young voters are still on the hook whether they think they need insurance or not, big business, not so much.  You can file this under "Obama decides what the law is or is not."

But wait, there's more.  The WSJ takes down the administration for giving up on income verification to obtain subsidies for health exchanges, calling the decision a "Liar's Subsidy."
The White House seems to regard laws as mere suggestions, including the laws it helped to write. On the heels of last week's one-year suspension of the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate to offer insurance to workers, the Administration is now waiving a new batch of its own ObamaCare prescriptions.
. . .
In other words, anyone can receive subsidies tied to income without judging the income they declare against the income data the Internal Revenue Service collects. 
I guarantee you that the Democrat running for President in 2016 will be calling for an overhaul of the healthcare law and somehow blaming those rascawwy Republicans for sabotaging it, when in fact it will have collapsed of its own accord.  The far left is looking forward to this fail to take another run at a health care system fully funded by the federal government.  Fortunately, really bad budget numbers for Medicare should be kicking in right about then.  It will be an opportunity to shape the debate on sensible policy.

I have proposed sensible reforms before, with the ACA failing, time to resurrect our plan.  Since it is  a cut and paste, I am putting my policy prescriptions below the fold.

What You Should Be Reading 

  • The details of Snowden's revelations about the NSA.  The surveillance state is coming for your liberty at full speed with the power of big data behind it.  It is not a coincidence that the big name in databases, Oracle, got its start in the intelligence field.  Screed of Momus (best blog name, ever) has a great run down on the various reasons the government is highly motivated to continue its various spying programs and to keep expanding them.
  • Doo Doo Econ does the job I normally perform and analyzes the latest jobs data.  His conclusion? Despite the seemingly good numbers, the economy is still shaky.  I concur.

What You Should NOT Be Reading

  • Anything to do with trial of George Zimmerman.  A young man is dead under murky circumstances, that is tragic.  The shooter alleges self defense.  A jury will decide. Only the MSM has a desire to pour the gasoline of race relations on this story while they light the match. Screw them, don't pay attention.
  • Anything to do with the drama of Snowden's asylum.  That's the sideshow, which distracts from the very disturbing allegations he has made about the NSA.
  • Anything about our foreign policy with respect to Egypt or Syria.  There is little we can do and no good outcomes in sight.  I despise this administration, but honestly, the situation there is so convoluted I don't think anyone could tell the difference between comptent foreign policy and Obama/Kerrry plan.  Yachting, golfing are indeed the correct response.

Liberty Movement Health Care Plan (first published in 2011):

Here is the plan that John Mackey of Whole Foods proposed, my comments in italics.

  1. "Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts." Patients who have skin in the game and market knowledge will reduce costs faster than any government program.
  2. "Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits."
  3. Allow competition across state lines.
  4. "Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover."
  5. "Enact tort reform."
  6. "Make costs transparent."
  7. "Enact medicare reform." Medicare policies that are mimicked by the private sector are strangling the medical profession.
  8. Revise tax law to make it easier to donate to those without insurance.

To expand on these points.

  1. The government could help lead this effort by reforming first Medicaid, by turning it into an insurance subsidy program for the poor. But the program would require those in the program to pay a high copay until a low catastrophic cap was reached. Such a system would create a market for a system where people have more incentive to shop for best value in medical care. This system could then be applied to Medicare.
  2. The next big issue is that health care is tied to employment. My first impulse is to forbid the offering of insurance through employment, but that would make a conservative social engineer, instead of a liberal one. Removing the tax advantage would at least set a level playing field. To date, the portion of employee compensation that comes in the form of employer health insurance isn't taxed as compensation. This ties employees to their companies and needlessly. You would think that liberals would be opposed to a scheme where tax policy gives corporations leverage over employees. However, I dislike schemes whereby the government imposes on employee relations, so I will settle for leveling the playing field.
  3. Interstate competition is not the norm in insurance. Surely the federal government has the right to "regulate" as in "make regular" this portion of interstate commerce, by insuring that any insurance offered for sale in a state would be available in the fifty states. Increasing competition will probably be opposed by the insurance industry, but freer markets benefit consumers.
  4. One size never fits all. So mandating coverage should be banned. Insurance is always tricky business, even homeowner's insurance, as Road Dawg can attest to. Along with no mandates will be the need to enforce clear language in policies and communications with policy holders. I am a libertarian, but not so naive as to believe that some insurance companies won't try to wriggle out of agreements to save money. Court is expensive for individual consumers, so regulation that enforces good practices of transparency and clarity will be necessary. But regulation should always aim for simplicity and this also needs to be part of a reform package.
  5. With regards to tort reform, we have seen positive results in Texas, where access to care increased after passage of reform.
  6. Cost transparency is important to enable process improvement and allow patient choice. Most people don't know the true cost of a medical visit, even after the visit is over. Here again, Medicaid reform could lead the way, by insisting that patients receive better notice and understanding of their bill.
  7. Medicare policies with regards to reimbursement are arcane and lead to huge misunderstandings on what is covered and unexpected bills. Transforming Medicare to save it for those who truly need it, into an insurance subsidy scheme, will get the government out of the rule writing business and free up insurance plans to compete.
  8. Allowing Americans to donate to those who need health care insurance might make little difference, but maybe not. I see lots of do-gooder millionaires wanting to pay more taxes. Maybe they could pay for poor people's insurance in the interim.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day and These Insane States of America

Happy Independence Day.  On the 237th anniversary of the founding of our nation, we should reflect on the future direction of the country.  The present may seem bleak, but I am very optimistic about the future.  Before we examine the future, here are some examples of the current insanity.
  • The Affordable Care Act has proven to be anything but.  Businesses are busy cutting health insurance benefits, young people will have to pay much more and the government's outlays are rising when it is awash in debt. No one, and I mean no one, ever proposed anything like the current law during any campaign for office.  The Congress took every flawed feature of the previous system and expanded it, and called it reform.
  • We live with a system that keeps milk prices high, and prices go even higher, if Congress doesn't set price floors for dairy farmers. 
  • Those who believe that Carbon emissions cause global warming are unwilling to use the simplest method to reduce emissions, a carbon tax, instead heaping new regulations on industry of dubious effectiveness.
  • We rely on a currency that is publicly acknowledged to be manipulated.
  • Sequestration has done nothing to change the long term budget outlook of the U.S., yet it is pilloried as draconian.  According to the CBO, "Under Current Law, Federal Debt Will Stay at Historically High Levels Relative to GDP."
So why the optimism?  First, I think that this insanity is doomed to collapse. We are already seeing the ACA start to unravel with yesterday's announcement of the delay in business penalties for failure to comply, which begs the question of the government's willingness to force individuals to comply.  

Second, we are catching a lucky break because there are no serious global competitors to our economic supremacy right now.  China's state sponsored capitalism is proving unsustainable. The Europeans are, well, European, awash in fresh crises every few months.  India isn't yet ready to grow, even if they are the chief long term rival.  

Third, I have faith in the freedom loving DNA of our people.  Eventually we figure things out and we are figuring out that big government, big labor and big business are bad for freedom; especially in combination. We are slowly, but effectively, fighting back.  

James Bennett and Michael Lotus have written a book about their own optimism called "America 3.0."  I am not particularly enamored with the title, but it is a convenient short hand for the idea that we are entering a new epoch.  The America 2.0 of big government and mass production is giving way to new modes of economic development and delivery.  The old system is collapsing due to its complexity and internal contradictions.  A new system has yet to arise, but it should value liberty for the individual, if it is to succeed.  Perhaps more on that in a future post.

Stuff You Should Be Reading

You should be reading the Burning Platform blog because the federal government doesn't want me to read it. Jim Quinn of Burning Platform had posted a decent article about hatred for Obama in Egypt on Zero Hedge so I thought to look them up and here is what I got:

Arguing for freedom is somehow suspicious?  I think it is their full throated defense of Snowden that is the real reason for getting blocked. (I deleted the full name of my B-Daddy log in, other than that, the picture is a replica of what I got.)  No, I did not submit the unblock request.