Thursday, July 12, 2007

College Cost Reduction Act - Is It The Right Approach To Reduce College Costs?

Yesterday I was channel surfing and I came across on C-SPAN the house discussing the College Cost Reduction Act. A few things have jumped out at me. I haven't put enough thought in to have coherent plan for higher education, so these are just some musings.

I continuously heard almost every Democrat who spoke say that it comes at "no new cost to tax payers." No matter what the issue, I cringe when I hear our leaders talking about something not costing tax payers money. Everything that Congress does costs money. I'm not saying that our government shouldn't spend money on worthwhile issues, but don't talk about it not costing money. "Taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society," as Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr said, and I'm fine with that. But I want the government remembering that it is our money they're spending, even if they have cleverly appropriated so as to make it appear that its not coming from out taxes.

The last thing concerning the Democrats, they kept comparing this bill to the GI bill. There is a big difference that should be pointed out, that seems to have been overlooked. The GI bill paid for college for people who served our country. I'm not saying I'm against helping out students, nor cutting college costs, nor improving education. But I do dislike incorrect analogies. It reminds me when I heard presidential candidate in 2004, I forget who, say we need a Marshall Plan for America. The Marshall Plan was foreign aid, you can't give your own country aid.

The bill increases financial aid. Among things, it raises the maximum Pell grant. But some of the Republicans raised an interesting point, as financial aid increases colleges just raise their tuition to capture more of that. I haven't studied the issue in depth, but it is interesting and deserves more analysis. I will whole heartily agree that we need to spend more money on education, both K-12 and higher education, although along with that we need to dramatically improve that education so to ready America for competing in our globalized world. So if financial aid, including student loans, is driving up tuition instead of actually reducing the cost, or at least stabilizing the cost, perhaps we need to rethink how we fund colleges. Perhaps what we need to do is keep scholarships for those who truly can't afford college, but to keep tuition down we give more funding directly to universities. This will keep people in the between qualifying for student aid and being rich enough (or rather their families) to afford college from having to take out more student loans, their only recourse.

That we have so many students leaving college with so much debt is unacceptable. If college tuition was rising at a reasonable rate, with inflation, or at least below the growth in our economy. Parents have some 18 odd years to save up to send their kids to college. If tuition was reasonable and below the growth in the economy, you could start setting a couple thousand dollars away each year tax free in mutual funds, etc., and have a return on your investment which would give you more money to spend on your kids college than if you waited to pay all of it when they hit college. But with tuition rising above rapidly, you're going to effectively lose buying power each year. If the current trend keeps up, tuition costs will more than have doubled in 10 years.

Another interesting point raised is with student loan forgiveness and capping payments. When you forgive loans students don't care how much their education costs and don't factor that into a decision. When I was choosing college, I had to make a choice. I could go to one of the more prestigious schools and go into debt, or I could go to a good school but not the best school in-state and stay out of debt. I chose to stay out of debt. Are students entitled to a blank check for their education, that will cover either a state university for $6000 a year or a private school for $60,000 a year? If I could have gone to any school that I could get into regardless of cost, I would have chosen a more prestigious, expensive school.

Indeed, this is the very problem with the idea of making higher education totally "free." Do we want to move to a merit system where if you can get into a college, you can go for free? And so the best students will all go to the best, most expensive universities for free, and the worse students will go to less prestigious, cheaper universities. If we did that, is the government and thus each tax payer going to cover the costs of expensive schools like Harvard? Or do we put price controls on college tuition, including private schools? Or perhaps we only cover public universities, and hope that there lower tuition drives the cost down of private schools? And if we have a fully tax payer paid (and what money schools can get from their alumni) system, but universities that set their tuition, what will keep costs from skyrocketing even further? We still have the best university system in the world despite our problems, and if our government takes too much of a role in determining their budgets, we will upset that balance. So despite its allure, the idea of free college is riddled with problems.

I'm not sure on a particular solution. Yes, we do need to spend a lot more money no doubt on higher education. But we need to do that without raising tuition a lot more, which more financial aid seems to do. If we are going to compete in the 21st century as a nation, more of our children are going to need to go to college and more of our children are going to need to be better educated in college as well, all of which costs money. In the past we had lots of decent jobs that don't require college degrees. That is changing. The cushy high paying factory jobs with nice health and pension benefits are moving overseas to where they are cheaper. And not only that, many white collar jobs are also moving overseas or being automated. We can no longer let just the smartest children and the children of families who can afford college be the ones getting higher education. We need most of our children to be the brightest not at home, but the brightest in the world, if we are to continue our high standard of living that we have come to expect and perhaps, take for granted.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Reforming Health Care: Part 2 - Preventative Measures and Insurance

I previously established that we should require every legal US resident to have insurance. This would be coupled with requiring health insurance companies to cover without penalty those with pre-existing conditions that are not caused by their lifestyle. This would ensure that the un-insurable could get insurance when this is implemented. When your house burns down, you can't go out and buy fire insurance, likewise, its unreasonable to expect insurance companies to insure people after they're sick. By requiring everyone to have health insurance, when they do get sick they would not be stuck without insurance and become un-insurable, and would contribute their fair share. And this would be paid for by giving individuals the tax rebate that corporations already get for insuring their employees but that individuals do not qualify for. But this alone is not enough. Other steps must be taken to prevent diseases, or at least catch them early, which would reduce overall costs. Today we will deal with what measures insurance companies could take to help accomplish this.

In addition to these measures, I'd give insurance companies the power to require certain preventive measures. If they wanted to, they could require an annual physical, not for the purpose of charging you more but with the purpose of catching problems earlier when they're easier to deal with (meaning better quality care) and cheaper to deal with. And for example, women could be required to have a mammogram or men to be screened for prostate cancer. Obviously this would have to be carefully regulated, to prevent abuse. If you preferred not to be forced to do all these preventative measures you could elect for a more expensive plan (since its covering more losses that occur from lack of prevention) or a plan that doesn't require them but offers a discount for each preventative measures voluntarily taken. That might be the better route since if you were fine with most measures but objected to one, e.g. the controversial HP vaccine for cervical cancer, you would still be overall more healthy.

Insurance only works when a few people are obtaining losses while they're are others to cover those losses. If most people are suffering losses, then the underwriter won't be able to cover them. Take Hurricane Katrina, insurance companies can't afford to cover everyone hit since the damage was so widespread. Likewise, health insurance becomes ineffective if everyone is sick. And what we have in America is an epidemic of obesity. Health insurance is getting so expensive because so much money is having to be paid out to cover health problems caused by obesity. Thus, we really need preventative measures to address this problem in particular.

Insurance companies can turn down or charge higher premiums to sick people right now, but they can't make such decisions on lifestyle issues like obesity. The exception is smoking, which is as much a choice as overeating and not exercising. This is completely backwards. You should not be charged more for being sick which you may not be your fault, you should be charged more for living unhealthy which increases your chance of being sick that is your fault. (not society's) If someone should object and say that being fat is a disorder and it would be unfair to discriminate against them, I'd reply that smoking is addictive and yet no one seems to have a problem doing the same to them. This plan would just restrict it to differentiating based on factors within your control, which would be fair and more effective at encouraging healthy living which will lower the cost and raise the quality of health care for everyone. Which is easier, telling a man to lose weight or telling a man not to have a hard attack? We could provide a grace period, perhaps a year, to get healthy by exercising and eating right before this part would be implemented. (Undoubtedly it would take more than a year to get it through Congress, so that could be the grace period.) And of course, it there was a proven medical reason why it was not possibly to lose weight, that would be exempt. (Then everyone will say they have some phony medical condition in this age of ADHD and IED. I kid you not, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, or road rage.) If it helps, instead of charging unhealthy people more we're giving healthy people a discount. Effectively the same thing, but more politically correct.

People are probably more likely to take advantage of preventative measures like vaccines and screenings if their insurance covers them. On the other hand, catastrophic insurance (high deductible after which your completely covered) is attractive since it has lower premiums, especially so to the young and healthy who are less likely to get sick. When you couple that with health savings accounts (which allow you to save tax free like with an IRA for out of pocket health expenses) you can save up your deductible for if and when you do get sick. So which route people take is up for them to decide when buying their coverage. If some combination could be created, high deductible but certain required or optional preventative measures are covered, that would lead to healthier people and thus lower costs without the significantly higher premiums incurred when every little cost is covered. But again, that is outside of government control and up to the individual, although it should be studied in order to make recommendations.

These measures would first and foremost put an end to discrimination by insurance companies against the sick. Conversely, it would give them the ability to fairly place more burden on those who are by choice living unhealthy lifestyles. It would allow them to cut long-term costs by requiring preventative measures or at least offering discounts to those who take advantage of them. This is a win-win situation since it leads not only to lower costs for insurance companies and those paying premiums, but to higher quality health care. Indeed, it would truly bring us into an age of health care out of the darkness of sick care that for so long has reigned.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

And All This Time We Should Have Just Been Paying Students

New York City is planning on a pilot program to pay students for doing well. Actually, not only will they get paid for doing well on standardized tests, they'll get paid just for taking the tests and for going to class. 4th graders will get up to $25 per test, 7th graders will get up to $50 per test. That's up to $500 per year for the 7th graders. What a novel, new approach to pedagogy.

That is the problem with education in America after all. Students aren't getting paid. Basically what we have established is forced slave labor of our children. (We'll ignore the fact that their work isn't actually used for anything.) Its unconstitutional and immoral. We thought we ended slavery back in the 1800s, but its still going on folks. We've had the civil rights movement, women rights movement, is the student rights movement coming now? Children are just little adults after all. They do have to make ends meet too. (They are after all getting cell phones younger and younger.)

We've been wasting so much money paying teachers to be task masters over their enslaved students. When in actuality, students have not been doing well because they're not being rewarded financially. If you didn't get paid at your job would you try very hard? So we could save so much money and improve education so much in this country if we just paid students directly. We just need to take a handful of the best teachers in America for every grade and subject, have them put their lectures on video podcast for a school year, with nice slides and video clips and other multimedia content, and then fire all the teachers in America. (We'll have to be sure to record the lectures and lesson plans before we tell the top teachers what we're planning.) Put all this along with the students' textbooks and assignments on a laptop, hand it to them at the beginning of the school year, tell them to go through it all by the end of the school year when they will show up for standardized tests in person. Remind them that they'll get paid for doing well, and of course they'll be disciplined and self-motivated enough to learn all they need to learn so they can get paid. What could possibly not work with this? There's been a lot more flex time at people's work these past years, as long as you get your work done, work whenever. Why not let the students have flex time since school is just work.
Of course, the students might have questions. So we'll hook each on up with tutors in India to answer any questions. (Using their laptops with built in web cams) And they'll have to turn in assignments via e-mail, the grading of which will be outsourced as well, as the teachers will be too pissed to work part time. Some really good software will give teachers a run for their money, which of course will be going to the students (and back to taxpayers) and more than make up for the difference.

Think of all the money being saved. We exchange the salaries of teachers, principals, janitors, lunch ladies, bus drivers, superintendents, and the costs of building and maintaining schools, lunch, power, water, gas, diesel for school buses, for $500 cash plus the cost of new laptops every couple of years. (The cost of the laptop we could offset with advertisments in the podcasts, as the children will need ideas on how to spend their money.) And most importantly, our students will learn better when motivated by greed. What an antiquated idea, learning for the joy of learning, learning being fun and exciting, satisfying curiosity, exploring, and discovering. Learning just for the sake of learning must date back to at least Socrates, so its clearly an outdated idea in our HD, surround sound, WiFi world in which we live. Instant gratification as an impetus, that's more like it.

You have to love some of the objections raised. Ernst Logan, the president of the principals' union says that “We are troubled by additional pressure being placed on children to achieve perfection. What really matters in education is continued student progress, not perfect test scores.” I don't remember anyone saying anything about having to get perfect test scores to get paid. Actually, I seem to remember something about getting paid just to show up. Which, as Woody Allen said, "Seventy percent of success in life is showing up." We seem to be doing a pretty good job of teaching children that. I thought education was about learning. If you're learning what you're suppose to then yes, you are progressing, but just because you're progressing doesn't mean you're learning sufficiently all that you need to learn. But now I, once blind, can see clearly that education is only valuable for the sake of making money. When I grew up though that money was far off, how I envy tomorrow's youth who will get a taste of that satisfaction while they're learning.

America is built on capitalism. Why shouldn't we introduce children to this at an early age? What could be wrong with sending the message that it doesn't matter if you enjoy what you're doing, as long as you're getting paid for it. Never mind that when you enter the real world you have to pay for college or some other form of training so you can get a decent job. And paying them to just show up to class, that's even better. Not only are they getting paid to take the tests, they get paid to go to class which I assume they need to do in order to pass these tests. If they don't need to go to class in order to pass them, why fool with class at all? How about we try dragging their asses to jail if they don't show up to school? "This is where you're going to end up in a few years if you don't try in school." Some have said this could work if the money is put into a scholarship fund. That seems to defeat the whole point of motivating them with immediate payoffs versus being able to get a well paying job when they graduate. If we're going to pay them to motivate them, we need to give them cold, hard cash. Forget all the pizza parties, scholarships, and other gimmicks that we try using. Money is the American way. And we have to cut out this self-esteem crap and this just showing up BS. If we're going to bring our children into capitalism, then lets do it. Last I checked, corporate America doesn't pay just for showing up, at least not for long. There's not smiley face sticker on your pay check saying, "Good Effort." Corporate America is a cold, competitive, and cut-throat place. So too then should our schools be. Let's increase the competition to get more out of our kids at a young age by posting all their scores and giving a bonus to the top students. Nothing like a little gloating and flashy new iPhone to shame the poor (now quite literally), failing students into studying.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Reforming Health Care - Part I - Evil Insurance Corporations

I think we can all agree that our health care system in America is broken, and that something needs to be done to fix. Health care costs keep going up higher and higher, but the quality of the health care does not go up. There are some 45 million uninsured Americans, and many more under-insured Americans. Last week I saw Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko." It was a great piece of propaganda for socialized medicine. I left the theater trying to figure out what we can do besides resorting to this extreme measure. I'm happy to announce that I have figured out a solution that I believe would work. This will be the first of several posts addressing the issue of health care in America, today looking specifically at those ostensibly evil insurance corporations.

I would break down an analysis of health care, or rather sick care, into several parts, the actual work done to help people, the costs associated with that, and the payee system. The actual work done breaks down further into treatment and prevention, both screening to catch health problems early and preventative measures to stop them from occurring at all. The costs would be the costs of prescription and generic drugs, the cost of equipment, who how much doctors and hospitals charge, administrative costs, etc. Finally you have who is paying (or not paying) for the health care, HMOs (Health Management Organization), traditional insurance, individuals, businesses, the government, or a combination of these. To fully address the problem, we need a plan that addresses all of these parts. We hear a lot about universal health care, which attempts to address only the payee, not the costs and quality of the health care. I think despite people's differences over whether they want government run or private run health care, we can all agree that we need to cut costs either way.

It should be pointed out that there is no such thing as free health care. No matter what approach we take, you're paying. If your business pays, you really pay with a deduction in your salary. If the insurance company pays, you paid them to do so. And if the government pays, you pay in increased taxes.

Let's look at the concept of insurance, as right now in America we have for-profit insurance companies. The basic idea of insurance is to spread out a particular loss, e.g. car accident, fire, disease, etc., so that no individual person, business, or organization bears the full amount when it happens to one of those individuals. Thus it is a way to cope with risk. For example, there's a chance your house burns down. So you buy home owner's insurance that covers among things a house fire. You along with many other people have pooled your money together, and when someone's house burns down some of that money is paid out to that individual. How much you pay takes into account the chance of various covered events happening and their severity and your own particular circumstances. So if you have an expensive house you have to pay more for your home owner's insurance, if you have a pool your liability insurance goes up a lot, if your in an accident your car insurance goes up, etc.

So some people may be tempted to say, why should they pay more for other people's health problems when they themselves are quite healthy. Well, that is the nature of insurance. If you don't like it don't buy it, but don't complain when your bankrupt because you became sick without insurance. So when you do get sick why should you have higher premiums and deductibles? I don't think you really should, if its a health issue out of your control. If its because you smoke or are severely overweight not for any medical reason but because you lack self control, you should. But I don't feel you should pay more because of family history and other factors out of your control.

So should insurance companies charge more or simply flat out deny people with a pre-existing condition? It seems awfully cruel and unusual. Why doesn't Congress pass a law banning this practice, and require that they don't make decisions based off of people's health? Its more complicated than simply the health insurance companies lobbying Congress not too because they want bigger profits, which no doubt they do want. You don't buy home owner's insurance after your house burns down and expect that the insurance company to cover it. And in this light the practice of insurance companies of turning people down or charging more is not unfair. If you could wait until you were sick to buy insurance with no penalty, then no one would buy insurance when they're healthy and the whole system would break down and go broke. If only sick people are paying in, its not going to spread the losses out. So although insurance companies maximize profits by not covering people with pre-existing conditions, this practice is not unreasonable.

So clearly the real problem is not that insurance companies refuse or charge more to people who have pre-existing conditions but didn't have insurance when they were healthy, for whatever reason. If you maintain a continuity of health insurance then you should be protected from your insurance rates skyrocketing when you get sick. I believe most insurance companies only raise your rates based on age and gender, not based on a change in your health. So I think the solution consists in part of requiring that everyone, all legal US residents, have health insurance. Every parent would be required to obtain health insurance for their children before they are born and thus before it is known if they will be born with a serious complication that would prevent obtaining health insurance for them. This would be coupled with requiring insurance companies to accept people, without penalty, with various pre-existing conditions at the time of the passage of the law. Whereas if we only required people to have health insurance, then sick people wouldn't be able to get health insurance. And whereas if we only required insurance companies to not penalize sick people, people wouldn't get insurance until they were sick and the system would break down. These two measures have to come together if either one is to come at all. It should be pointed out that many states have "high risk pools" for the un-insurable, but I believe it would be better if they had access to private insurance instead of having to have a public system to deal with them. And once everyone is insured continuously, pre-existing conditions would be a thing of the past, which would cut down on denied claims.

This addresses the problem of getting the sick insured, but it doesn't address the problem of people who can't reasonably afford health insurance. As you are probably aware, the best deal for insurance is through work, if you are lucky enough to work for a large company that offers health insurance. Why is this? One reason is you have a large pool of people being insured and as it is cheaper to sell a large volume it is cheaper to sell a company a policy than an individual or small business. If your sick its definitely cheaper because they're not allowed to charge you more, your additional health costs are spread out over the company's employees. But, a major reason is also because companies get a tax break on their employee's health coverage, but individuals do not qualify for the tax break. This seems a bit unfair. President Bush has said that he's in favor of allowing small businesses to form pools together to buy health insurance. But why not simply give individuals the same tax benefits that large companies get?

My plan would be to give people a tax rebate equivalent to the cost of an average health insurance policy, what companies get now, which they would then use to buy health insurance. You could not use this money for anything but buying health insurance. If you wanted to buy into you company's plan, you could, or if you wanted to buy individually a plan that you felt better met your needs, you could. And of course if you wanted to buy a plan that costs more than your rebate, you could use your own money to cover the difference. A certain level of minimum coverage would be required, some sort of catastrophic insurance, where once you've paid so much of a deductible you'd be covered for good. That would protect against people going bankrupt. If people wanted plans to cover all their costs, they could do so, good luck finding that plan though. The rebate would adjust each year to keep up with rising costs, ideally inflation only, but probably not. Health insurance voucher might be a better description, but I hesitate to use the term since they haven't had the best run.

As every American individual and family would be receiving money for health insurance, we would get rid Medicaid (for the poor) and phase out Medicare, reducing the size of our government. Now your insurance can be independent of your job. If you lose your job job, quit your job, get fired, you'll still be covered. In the past, health insurance through your job made more sense, since most people didn't move around. But today, people don't work for one company their whole life, they change jobs pretty frequently. So it no longer makes any sense to tie insurance to your employer. Think of the freedom this offers people. If you don't like your job, change jobs, without fear of how are you going to get health insurance. And if you change jobs, you can keep going to the same doctor since you'll be on the same plan. The same goes for retirees. If we get rid of Medicare, when you retire you can still go to the same doctor you're comfortable with and who knows you better than a government bureaucrat.

Additionally, I would change health savings accounts, which allow you to put aside money tax free to cover medical costs, such as visits to the doctor, contacts or glasses, and prescription drugs. The problem I see is that you loss your money after a year. So while these encourage saving what you know you're going to need, it doesn't encourage saving for the long-term. I would take away the expiration date on your money. Then you would be encouraged to save enough money that in the event of a major medical emergency, you would have enough to cover your deductible. Obviously there would be a limit on how much you could save away. Health savings accounts encourage people to use insurance only to cover big expenses, reducing premiums for all of us.

I believe this plan would work, making sure every American is insured and can afford it without resorting to government-run health care. Keeping competition would help make health care more efficient, cheaper, and of higher quality than it is now and than if we had socialized medicine. Of course more has to be done to fix the system than make sure everyone is insured. That alone will not cut costs by much, and in later posts we will address this.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Was the Revolutionary War a Justifiable War?

Today honors the birth of our nation, the day that we declared our independence from Great Britain. (Coincidentally, its also the date that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died, both on the fiftieth anniversary. Weird, huh?) I hope that you have an excellent day remembering this and barbecuing with family and friends or whatever is your tradition. In the meantime, I turn my attention to the special, obscure, largely esoteric topic of whether we were justified in declaring our independence, from a Christian perspective. I must be careful here, this is largely my opinion. I will be looking largely at what is said by Paul in Romans, and what is said in the Declaration of Independence. Below is the whole chunk of Romans on submitting to the authorities, so I may not take it easily out of context. Although I use both Romans and the Constitution, I must make it clear they are not on the same level, Romans was divinely inspired, the Constitution is written by man and is not infallible. Nor is my reading of Romans divinely inspired, and so I may very well be wrong, in which case feel free to put your two cents in.
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is
owed." Romans 13: 1 - 7
To begin with, a Christian group is under obligation to submit to the government. To rebel in the name of Christ would be to rebel against God. My church, if under attack by the government, could not resist with armed force. If the government were to pass anti-Christian laws, against all outcries of Christians, we would be obligated to submit to the extent that the laws do not call for us to commit sins. We should not put up an armed resistance in such a case. During the reformation, there were Protestants who fought against Catholic governments. That was wrong. But we are not dealing with a group of Christians rebelling, although our founding fathers had Christians among them, there were also non-Christians. This is the first distinction I draw. But, I should be careful to point out here, lest you object, that a Christian is always under obligation to submit to the word of God, not only when in Church among other believers. Without further justification, Christians could not justifiably have participated in the Revolutionary War on the side of the colonies and later United States of America.
We were not simply a mob fighting the British government, an insurrection.. Our war for independence, although a civil war, was waged by authorities. We had colonial legislatures and the Continental Congress directing the war effort. I believe this is justifiable. At the end of the Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers' assumption of all the powers of a legitimate state is clearly carried out.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

So Paul says to submit to the authorities. But from the very beginning we were resisting Great Britain with the authorities of the colonial governments and Continental Congress. We had effectively set ourselves up as a separate, sovereign state. So what we really had was the authorities of colonial America fighting the authority of Great Britain, not the people fighting the authority of the government of Great Britain. If the authorities of the colonies can't go against the authorities of Great Britain, then perhaps you should apply the same logic to the United States not being able to resist the United Nations. After all, the colonists never chose to be part of Great Britain, but the United States did join the United Nations, so we gave them authority. Now I know a many a Christian who scoff at the United Nations, I'm included, and who would never want to see the United States give up its sovereignty to that body.

Paul says that "for rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad." Does this mean then that a government is always right, and everything that it does is not a terror, by definition? I need not go any further than to pull out the old trump card of the Nazi government. Clearly it was a great terror to those of good conduct. Its own people should have rebelled more, not submitted more. So perhaps when a government ceases to do good, and becomes a tyranny, it can lose its authority to another authority. I should stress it doesn't necessarily lose its authority unless there is another new government to assume that authority, lest we have anarchy.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Although I doubt Thomas Jefferson had Romans in mind, (I don't believe he was a Christian) the same kind of reasoning can be seen here. If a government is doing good, then it is protecting those rights more or less, and if it ceases to do good and becomes a terror, it is destructive to those ends. Therefore, no longer being a terror to the bad but to the good, it ceases to be a legitimate ruler. At this point, the people may alter or abolish it, and institute a new government. They may not simply abolish it without instituting a new government. But in America, we had governments in place when abolishing Great Britain's authority upon us.

Now I turn away from matters of absolute right and wrong, black and white, and turn to matters of prudence. For one cannot simply overthrow the government every time April 15 comes around and you feel it in your pocketbook, or when you get angry watching the news. Nor can you simply replace your government if you're living under a monarch, whom you never elected.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Why does prudence dictate all this. Because whenever great changes come about there a many problems that arise. Only when the situation reaches a certain point is it worth a great deal of disruption to throw out the old system with its problems only to replace it with a system of problems you never knew about. To put it another way, the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. I applaud the British here, of never having thrown a big revolution to get rid of their monarchy so they could worship at the idol of democracy. Most of their people over time weren't involved in giving the King power to begin with, and yet each generation did not demand they be able to choose a new form of government to their likely, that would be very impractical and imprudent. But back to the Revolutionary War, the Americans didn't just declare independence on a whim, a great many grievances stacked up (which they list in the Declaration of Independence) and there many efforts to reconcile with the King were rejected. Only then did they seek independence, a very wise move on their part.

I hope reading this was to your enjoyment and sparked some thought. I'm sure many people will disagree with many either for having gone too far in justifying our independence or for not going far enough. And if you do disagree please, give me your reasoning for why it was or wasn't a justifiable move upon the part of America's founding fathers. Although I imagine most people could care less whether we were in the right or wrong, that was some two hundred and thirty-one years ago, to date. But those who forget the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Also, I must recommend the book 1776 by David McCullough on the founding of the nation, it is quite interesting and enjoyable. That's all for this Fourth of July.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Commuting Libby: Too Far or Not Far Enough

Yesterday, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was told he could not delay his prison term until after his appeal. Less than five hours after this, the President commuted Libby's sentence, removing the two and a half years of prison time, but leaving the conviction and the $250,000 fine. There are people on both sides upset about this. On the left, those who think his sentence shouldn't have been commuted, on the right, those who think the President didn't go far enough and pardon him.

To those who say he didn't deserve the pardon, I ask this, how do you deserve a pardon? You can't deserve a pardon. If you weren't guilty you should be exonerated, not pardoned. A pardon is forgiveness, something not deserved. And yet, our founding fathers invested within the Presidency the pardon to power and commute. Perhaps they shouldn't have. I personally disagree with the tons of pardons that President Clinton signed before he left office. But that's within the President's power. If he wanted to, and if he had enough time, the president could pardon every person in prison in the United States. Total chaos would break out, but its theoretically possible. The very notion of pardon is unfair in a sense. That one person found guilty of a crime should be released from prison and have the conviction removed from their record while another should be left to remain in jail. But I would not remove this power if it was a choice.

I would have to agree that Libby's sentence to two and a half years was excessive. His crime was perjury, but lets keep in mind that not even those convicted in Watergate served two and a half years in prison. So on that grounds alone I think I have to agree with Bush.

Then you have man people thinking Libby took the fall for those higher up in the Bush administration. I'm not sure they were wrong. Some of the jurors have said that they felt the wrong man was on trial. Well, you don't into a trial deciding whether anyone committed a crime, you try the person before you. If you've got the wrong man then return a verdict of not guilty and let another trial be done for the right person. You don't punish someone for a crime, you punish the perpetrator for the crime.

But Libby did commit perjury, and although not deserving of two and a half years, he still broke the law. Some will point out that President Clinton also committed perjury but was never convicted. Perhaps he should have been, although I think it dangerous ground to start putting president's on trial. He was however impeached, and if I remember correctly, had his law license revoked. Libby, if not pardoned by Bush or found not guilty in his appeal, will almost certainly lose his law license as well. (I doubt Libby will earn as high a speaking fee as Clinton does.) If he hadn't lied he wouldn't have been convicted. So I fill forced to agree with Bush's move.

Politically, Bush has most the nation upset with him. He wasn't going to gain any approval and political capital by letting Libby rot in prison. He does however, lose support from those few left by not pardoning him. So perhaps the best political move would be to go ahead and pardon him. I'm sure he kept some of that with the commuting, but I think many are still upset he didn't go far enough.