Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Christmas Spirit

You know, it's funny how a small change can sometimes have a huge impact. For example, the giving of gifts on Christmas was originally intended to mimic the wise men who gave gifts to Christ. Now modern society seems to have turned it from giving gifts to getting gifts and created a multi-billion dollar industry around the Christmas season. There is so much pressure to give bigger and better things, to make sure people get better gifts than last year, or to out-do somebody else.

I think too many people ask "what did you get for Christmas?" and not enough care if we actually get closer to Christ on His birthday celebration. It's so close. We try to have the spirit of giving at Christmas and we try to live up to expectations. However, I think that many expectations of the Christmas season are not about Christ at all. Perhaps that is where we got lost.

This Christmas season, in celebration of Christ's birthday, are we giving Him anything? The things He asks for are so simple, have no cost, but seem so hard to give. Do we strive to be better people or simply give better presents? Do we help the less fortunate or simply help ourselves? I know there are many people who sincerely help others and it is thanks to them that we have such an outpouring of goodwill at Christmas. That's the true spirit of Christmas. May we all strive to be a little better this Christmas and all through the year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

GM Gets Their Bailout


When the bailout bill failed in the Senate, the cynic in me said that it was sabotaged. That's right, deliberately killed. Why? So that the White House would be forced to use the financial bailout money, which would be given with far fewer strings attached. Well, it looks like that's what happened.

I sincerely hope that the cynic in me was wrong and this wasn't deliberately staged, but I still have to wonder. Where are the union concessions? "Laid off" union workers, as far as I know, are getting 95% of their wages for doing no work. That should be stopped immediately. What about the car czar? Will anybody hold them accountable for their actions and/or keep them on the right track. They have until March to prove that they're "viable", and if they can't - will the government let them fail then? I doubt it. From where I'm standing, this bailout has no real teeth. If I'm wrong, please let me know.

It seems to me that the Big 3 swaggered into Washington DC and demanded money. There was a lot of yelling and screaming about no free lunches, but they are going home with just about exactly what they demanded.

Is this just how things work?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Finding The Balance Between Today And Tomorrow

Do you know anybody who seems to be wasting their whole life waiting for tomorrow? How about somebody so absorbed with today's problems that they're decisions don't anticipate future consequences? Both paths tend to make a person less successful/happy than they could be.

So what's the appropriate balance? OK, that's rhetorical. There probably isn't a general, perfect balance. However, some amount of balance is essential. The nearsighted person is the one who doesn't see the train coming. The farsighted person keeps falling into holes. How do we fix our vision?

The trick is to see both the present and the future (oh, and learn from the past but that's another topic). Have you even seen "The Dead Poet's Society"? That was the first time I heard the term "carpe diem" or "seize the day". We should strive to live today to the fullest, however, we also need to make sure that we can live tomorrow to the fullest as well.

First I want to clarify something. Living to the fullest is not the same as focusing on maximum gratification. Eating out at expensive restaurants, buying designer clothes, getting more house than you can afford, etc. are not seizing the day, they're wasting it. That's where looking to the future comes in.

There are many things in life that bring enjoyment. Sometimes sacrifice can actually make you happy. Consider the purchase of a new vehicle. Buying a more expensive car than you can afford (but it's fast or big or safe or stylish!) is not getting the best for yourself. It's introducing a monthly dose of high financial stress as you struggle to make payments, argue with your spouse about finances, cut back on food and other things, max out your credit cards, etc. I submit that seizing the day is as much about understanding the real consequences of your actions as it is about enjoying every possible aspect of the day. After all, how much nicer is a dinner out when you know that you don't have any past due notices waiting for you at home.

So, my advice to you is to seize the day, not to waste it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Could Universities Help Government Be More Effective?

I had a really interesting idea the other day. I'm currently a graduate student in information management at ASU. As part of the curriculum we are required to complete a project that has the students working with a company to "transform a business through information technology." This is a great idea and the project (I'm about half done) has really helped me understand business and technology better. I'm sure other business schools and other universities do similar projects. Well, here's my idea: instead of focusing on private companies, why don't we have some of them focus on government agencies.

Government has become synonymous with waste and inefficiency. Most people extend that into the belief that government employees are lazy and incompetent. However, as I've worked with some of Arizona's government agencies, I've found the opposite to be true. Many of the people I've worked with are dedicated, hardworking people who are try to look out for the best interests of the people they serve. So why isn't service so much better? Government agencies tend to hire people that focus on the mission of that agency. Social agencies look for social workers, law enforcement looks for police officers, etc, but how many government agencies look for business minded individuals with MBAs and management experience? Many government agencies are dedicated to helping people but don't have the tools to help them run more efficiently.

So, suppose university business programs started creating projects where business students worked with government agencies to reduce waste and increase efficiency. Their focus would be to determine the most effective outcomes and then engineer processes and procedures to get there efficiently. If implemented effectively, this has the potential for reducing red tape, speeding up government functions, and saving tax payers money - all without reducing services (and possibly even increasing some services).

I believe this is an idea with a lot of potential. I spoke to one of my State Representatives to get his thoughts on it and he thought it was a great plan. However, he also pointed out some of the barriers to a program such as this.

1) It cannot be run by the Legislature. Government agencies don't trust the Legislature (after all, they always trying to cut government budgets). This would have to come either from the universities and or from the agencies themselves.

2) Not all agencies are amiable to change. Some agencies just want to keep things status quo. It's human nature to resist change and adopting business principles and accountability into government is a large change. While I stated that there are some very dedicated, hard working people in government that would welcome increased efficiency, not everyone is like that.

3) It can be difficult to keep large projects going. Every time the governor changes, there is a chance that agency leaders will get replaced. If the governor's office switches parties, those chances are really good. So how do you keep a project going when your boss changes? Especially if the new boss wants to head in a totally different direction?

These are very real but not insurmountable obstacles. This program would, most likely, be tricky to implement but I think the benefit potential is huge. I say we quit complaining about government waste and get to work.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Irony of the Automaker's Situation


OK, maybe it's just inconsistency but have you noticed the differences between the bank bailouts and the automaker bailout? To me, it seems like our Treasury is writing blank checks to any bank that's big enough to warrant the label "can't be allowed to fail." On the other hand, the automakers are being grilled mercilessly by Congress, forced to prove they're viable long term, and being offered few assurances that they'll get anything.

Some may say that it's not fair to the automakers. I say it's not fair to the taxpayers. All of these financial institutions out there should not be getting blank checks. They should be grilled mercilessly and be forced to prove their viability. Why the double standard?

So here's the irony: the automakers, who actually produce something (cars and trucks), are being asked to justify their existence while financial companies, who don't actually produce anything (they just move money around), are deemed too important to fail.

So what's more important, money or the things that money buys?

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Irony of Napolitano as Head of DHS


I can't be the only one who sees the irony here. Our governor, Janet Napolitano, looks to be the next head of the Department of Homeland Security. That's right, our governor. The one who has spent the last six years blaming every single immigration problem on the federal government. Now it's going from an issue she's been dodging to her responsibility.

I'm not sure if this is funny or sad.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do We Bail Out Automakers?


Right now the Big 3 automakers are begging Congress for billions in bailout money. In the Wall Street Journal, Rick Wagoner - President of GM - makes an impassioned plea for the money he says will be a short term bridge to help GM get over this rough patch. He points to some amazing things that GM has done and he's right, GM has done some amazing things. However, the are still bleeding cash like there are no arteries left to cut. In 2006 their net loss was almost $2 billion. Not content with that, their net loss in 2007 was almost $39 billion. Assuming a US population of 300 million (I think that's pretty close), it would take about $103 from every man, woman, and child in the country. Do you like GM that much?

On the other side of the coin, there's the case to let the automakers fail. Mitt Romney, who made his millions turning around failing companies, has written an opinion in the New York Times on why we should let the automakers fail. He points out that it costs American companies about $2,000 more per car in labors costs. So, not only do they have to design a better car than Toyota, they have to build it for $2,000 less. No wonder they're having a hard time. He says that allowing them to go into bankruptcy will let them restructure themselves into a far more competitive company than any bailout would allow.

After reading both sides, I think that I have to agree with Mr. Romney. Yes the automakers are changing but they're not changing fast enough to compete. In fact, they aren't allowed to change fast enough to compete. Will it hurt? Yes. It's like heart surgery: it hurts a lot and takes a long time to recover but, when the alternative is a heart attack, most opt for the surgery.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Our New President

Well, I'm not exactly surprised that Barak Obama won. He had the momentum and a message that really resonated with the American people. I'm actually surprised that McCain did as well as he did (46% of the popular vote when I last checked). This election marks a huge shift in the political direction of the country.

Now I am not an Obama fan. I did not vote for him and, while I expected that he would win, I was hoping for an upset. That said, I think we could have done a lot worse. Yes, I believe that he is a socialist - not in any evil way, just that he believes in expanded government control and more social programs - but I also believe (call me an optimist) that he will honestly try to serve this country to the best of his ability.

I was really impressed with his victory speech. He was very upfront about the work that we have ahead of us. He didn't act like he would be able to solve all of our problems (which may be disappointing to some of his supporters) but called for everyone to work together.

And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.


He also called upon Americans to exhibit a trait that many seem to be avoiding, responsibility.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.


If he can affect the kind of change it takes to get us all to work together and to think of others and not just ourselves, I will be happy. If he can do it without socializing medicine and over-regulating businesses, I will be even happier.

While I may not agree with his policies, I respect him as a person. He is smart, well organized, and very capable. Most importantly, however, come January, he will be our president.

Let's resolve to put away any disappointment, rancor, or other negative feelings and move forward. I choose to believe that most of us want our country to be successful and prosperous. Let's work together for that goal. Don't give up your principles or your convictions, just understand that while others may have different ideologies, most are working toward the same goals: happiness, prosperity, peace, etc. We can disagree without being disagreeable, we can build on commonalities without getting bitter over differences.

The easy part is over, now it's time to get to work.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

An Allegory About Our Tax System


I stumbled across this neat allegory that compares (in an oversimplified form, of course) the US income tax system to 10 guys drinking in a bar. While some call it right-wing propaganda, I think it is a fairly good representation of our income taxes.

Here it is:

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do. The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve.
"Since you are all such good customers", he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20". Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.
The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his "fair share?"
They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so:
The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.
"I only got a dollar out of the $20," declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, "but he got $10!"
"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than I!"
"That's true!!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!"
"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"
The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.
The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!


I'm not sure of the author (the comments from the link above say the author given is fictional) but I was impressed at the simplicity of the allegory while fairly accurately (in my opinion) reflecting the attitudes of a lot of people.

You may or may not agree with it, but is should make you think.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What Do We Expect To Get From This Election?

Change has been the big theme of this election. Both candidates are promising fundamental changes from the current administration. People are worried and frustrated and the prospect of change seems to be giving them some hope. However, I have to ask, what changes are we hoping for?

It seems to me that we got ourselves into this mess by spending more than we earn and creating a lifestyle that we can't afford. Wisdom says you can't borrow money forever and not expect your debt to come due, but that seems to be what the entire country is doing. Where did this credit crisis come from?

Selfishness and Greed.

Millions of people bought homes they couldn't afford. Now, when they can't pay for them, they blame "predatory lenders" and "greedy bankers". Sure, some were simply victims of circumstance. They lost jobs or had other things happen that rendered them unable to make payments that they could previously afford. That always happens but those are a small minority. Most saw an opportunity for easy money or a really big house and jumped on it without considering the consequences. Blame who you want but, at the end of the day, the fault lies with the millions of individuals who are now clamoring for the government to save them from their own shortsightedness.

So, back to change. What change are the voters hoping for? Are we hoping for those mortgage payments we can't afford to magically disappear? Are we hoping to stick it to those rich snobby people and arrogant corporations for ruining our fun? Are we hoping for somebody else to step in and solve all of our problems? Because if those are the things we're hoping for, we're going to be very disappointed.

Each candidate has ideas that may or may not help but, in the long run, it is up to us to change. We want a strong economy, but are we willing to sacrifice to get it? Are we willing to cut our spending so drastically that we can actually build our savings? Are we willing to be honest and fair in our business with others even if there's nothing in it for us (or worse we lose money from it)? Are we willing to show actual patriotism and learn about our constitution, study the issues, and vote for the candidates that will best serve the country? I know we're pretty busy with our lives but, if we're too busy to really find out what we're voting for, why are we voting?

So get out there and vote. Vote for the candidates you believe will do the best job. Just don't stop there. The best change is from the bottom up. Take care of yourself, your money, your family, and your country. It is the responsibility of every American to make this country great. It's time to take that responsibility seriously.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

AZ Proposition 102 - Does it discriminate?


For those that have read my earlier post on marriage, it should be obvious that I support proposition 102. What's great is that I can support it unequivically. Why? Because it doesn't have anything else tacked on. It doesn't restrict benifits, it doesn't outlaw civil unions, it doesn't have any of the riders that killed the last attempt. It simply defines marriage to be what society has defined it as for thousands of years.

There may be concerns with some that defining marriage in the State Constitution is somehow an attack on alternative lifestyles. I can't speak for everyone, but for me, proposition 102 is a defensive move. Marriage has been relentlessly attacked for years. It has become progressively weaker as the laws have changed. Marriage now requires less commitment and less responsibility. It has become a more of a selfish than a selfless thing. However, deep down, people recognize marriage and families as the building blocks of society and yet it gets weaker and weaker. Now it seems that even the connection of marriage to families is under attack.

Marriage is between a man and a woman because that's what it takes to start a family. Proposition 102 is not attacking a lifestyle choice but defending the fundamental unit of society.

Vote YES on Proposition 102!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

AZ Proposition 105 - Does it take away our vote?

Proposition 105 is very controversial.  On the face, it looks to take away the power of the voter initiative by forcing 50% + 1 to pass any initiative that has spending provisions.  We all know that just getting 50% voter turnout is pretty good (some elections have less than 11%) so isn't requiring 50% + 1 the same as taking away the voters' right to approve an initiative?

I've gone over it quite a few times in my head.  At first it was obviously bad.  After all, it virtually insures that no voter initiatives pass.  However, as I found out more about it, I found that it only applies to initiatives that raise taxes (like a cigarette tax, property tax, etc.).  OK, so it's not as bad as I thought but still very limiting for any initiative that costs money.  So I talked to my legislators about it.  The result was very interesting.

As everybody knows, we're in a bit of a bind on the budget.  However, billions of dollars of that budget can't be touched because it's voter initiative money.  So, no matter how useless, inefficient, or backward the program is, it can't be cut.  Everybody complains that they always cut education but that's one of the few areas where their hands aren't tied (or at least aren't as tied).  There's something to think about.

In addition, somehow we accept that Congress must have a two thirds marjority to raise taxes but the voters can do it with a 6% turn out (if only 11% turned out for an election, 6% of the voters could raise our taxes - it's kind of scary).  It's like a special interest dreamland!

So, in the end, I support it.  I feel strongly that anything raising taxes should have serious barriers.  That's why it takes a super-majority in the legislature.  Shouldn't we also have barriers to ourselves?  I heard an old saying once that said that a democracy can only last until the people realize they can vote themselves money.  Are we getting to that point?

Let's make it hard to create programs that our children will be required to support.  Let's be wise with our money and our power.  Let's support proposition 105.

NOTE:  More information can be found at ballotpedia.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

AZ Proposition 202 - Stop Illegal Hiring?

The "Stop Illegal Hiring" proposition (202) sounds great at first.  After all, it makes the penalties more severe for hiring illegals, it gives the money collected in fines to hospitals, and increases the penalties for identity theft.  Doesn't this sound like a great proposition that everybody should vote for?  It sure does and that's the problem.

As I understand it, proposition 202 actually makes the employer sanctions law virtually unenforcable.  It makes is harder to prove that a business knowingly hired an illegal which makes it easier for a business to get away with it.  The information I heard from my state representatives and senator is that the law is basically sponsored by low-wage employers that have been profiting from illegal labor and it's purpose is to sound like it's strengthening employer sanctions while in reality, it's hobbling our current law.

I encourage everybody to read this one very carefully before voting on it.

More information can be found on ballotpedia.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Some Perspective on the Credit Crisis

I saw a blog today that really got me thinking about the credit crisis and how we're all caught up in worrying about our bank accounts, mortgages, etc.  Sure that stuff is worrisome but, most of us have a roof over our heads, food for our families, leisure time to relax, cars for transportation, AC and heating to keep us comfortable.  How many thousands of families don't have any of that?  How many struggle just to have enough to eat?  How many spend their nights at the mercy of the elements?

My point (and I believe the point of the blog), was that we get so concerned about ourselves that we forget others.  Is our house big enough, are our cars new enough, should I go to restaurant a or restaurant b?  We think we have it tough when we have to waste all that time taking one of our cars in to get an oil change.  We base our votes (we can vote! there's another privilege!) on what the candidate has promised to do for us personally.  I think we get so wrapped up in ourselves, that we make ourselves miserable.

So here's my challenge:  let's get outside of ourselves.  The blog I read encouraged helping others in poorer nations.  That is an excellent and worthy cause.  However, I'm going to ask something harder.  I challenge anybody who reads this to sacrifice their time and do something nice for somebody else every day for at least a week.  It doesn't have to be big.  Offer encouragement to someone who's down.  Get the door for someone with their hands full.  Even the little things can have quite an effect on both the receiver and the giver.

In this time of crisis, let's look outward to how we, personally, can help those in need.  I think you'll find that your problems become less and your happiness will increase as you focus on helping others.  Give it a try!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Who Pays for Healthcare?


I know what you're thinking, "We do!!!"  However, that's not exactly true.  You see, I recently did an analysis of the healthcare industry for a graduate course I'm taking and I was surprised at what it showed me.  As I gathered information, one of the things I asked was "why does quality of care seem to be going down while prices are going up?"  That's just the opposite of what a capitalist economy is supposed to produce.  What I found is interesting.

Everybody who has health insurance knows that costs are skyrocketing.  Not only that, doctors seem more and more interested in moving you through as opposed to really getting to know you.  Why is that?

As I studied how things work, I found out something very interesting.  We (individuals) are not the customers of healthcare (doctors, hospitals, labs, etc).  Sure we go in for treatment but who writes the check that actually pays for the services?  The insurance companies.  Healthcare providers, like all businesses, tend to focus on who is paying for their services.  In this case, it is insurance companies.  The more patients a provider can run through in a day, the more money is billed to insurance companies.  The incentive for a healthcare provider is to get the patient out of the exam room as quickly as possible.  We're not people any more, we're $150 reimbursements.  OK, that's a bit cynical but that's where our healthcare is.

But wait, it gets better.  See you might be thinking that, since we are paying for the insurance, that we should get better treatment.  Right?  Wrong.  Once again, the individual or family is not the primary customer of insurance companies.  Their primary customers are businesses.  According to 2006 census bureau statistics, only 9% of us have individual healthcare plans.  The rest of the market is made up of business and government (Medicare and Medicaid).  Once again we, the individuals, get the short end of the stick because insurance companies don't care about us, they're trying to sell to HR departments.  If you don't like what your company offers, too bad because you probably can't afford to get it yourself.  After all, the government has made premiums tax free if they're paid for by businesses but not for individuals.

Another feature of our healthcare system is that insurance companies are limited to a specific state (it's not Blue Cross Blue Shield, it's Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona).  Thanks to government intervention, there's not as much choice in insurance.  If I want to get individual insurance, I have 7 choices instead of hundreds.  Which of those options creates the kind of competetion that improves services and drives down prices?

These are just a few of the issues with our healthcare system.  If you'd like more information, there is an excellent sight sponsored by the Harvard Business School that has even more data on our healthcare system.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

McCain Obama Debate


So I just finished watching the second debate between McCain and Obama and I have to say that I'm impressed with McCain.  I'm not a big McCain fan.  While I'm a Republican from Arizona, I really haven't been that impressed with our senator.  He was my last choice in the primary (I liked Romney - who would do really well at dealing with our economy) and it was disappointing to see him win.  But he's getting better.

On the other hand, I've always liked Obama.  His calls for hope and change are infectious.  He's smart and charismatic.  He had my vote.  That is, until the specifics came out.  His policies are change in all of the wrong directions.

To shore up the economy, he would expand government and increase regulation.  His logic is that any business left to itself will crumble.  However, I have to point out that one of the most regulated economies in the world is that of the former Soviet Union.  When pitted against a far freer economy (the US economy) it could not compete and collapsed.  The cold war ended with an economic, not a military victory.  However, Obama's plan is model our economy more like the old Soviet economy with stricter goverment control and less freedom.  His stance would stifle innovation, make it harder to start a new business, reduce choice in the marketplace, and hobble our economy.  It sounds nice now but I just don't see it working in the long run.

McCain's plan for eliminating some of the tax and regulation burden that businesses are under allows them to innovate figure out their own ways out of this mess.  I've already been hearing about how smaller banks and filling in the lending gaps from the larger banks.  The real beauty of a capitalist economy is that it's self correcting.  It hurts because it lets businesses fail but it always finds a way to supply the demand.  The big goverment plan tries to make sure that nobody gets hurt but it also stifles creativity and, in the end, people usually get hurt anyway.

On foriegn policy McCain was excellent.  He came off as experienced and capable while Obama came off as hopeful and perhaps a bit naive.  I know Obama supporters will disagree with me on this but he said nothing of substance apart from saying he'd send troops into Pakistan to get bin Laden and that he was confident that he could talk Iran and North Korea out of their nuclear programs.  Somehow, I just don't see that happening.

However, there was nothing overwhelming on either side.  If you're an Obama supporter, you will think he won the debate.  If you support McCain, you'll think he won the debate.  If you're really concerned about the issues, you'll think we all won the debate as it stayed on the issues and usually on topic.

All in all, a good debate.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Politics, Marriage, and Christianity


There is a lot of misinformation out there about the aims of Christians in politics.  I see opinions from the left who are afraid that devout Christians running for office are simply doing it so they can ram their belief system down everybody's throat.  Unfortunately, there are some people on the far right that feed those fears by responding "You're darned right!"  However, I think the bulk of the Christians in this country (at least from my point of view) are not like that.  We do not want a theocracy.  We've seen the issues in other parts of the world and we've looked at our own history and have concluded that theocracies seem to always end up oppressing their people.  We agree with our Founding Fathers that religion should not control government and government should not control religion.  However, we also feel that religion should be the moral compass of our country.  

One of the fundamental tenets of Christianity is to love God and love your neighbor (Luke 10:27).  If we could truly live this principle, the world would be a much better place.  However, loving your neighbor does not mean compromising your principles because they're not the same as your neighbor's.  That's where the controversy around marriage comes in.

Marriage is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) institutions in Christianity starting with Adam and Eve as the first husband and wife.  Marriage then was about family as God commanded Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28).  I submit that marriage continues to have the same purpose today; it's about creating and nurturing the next generation.  While many people may say that marriage is a commitment between two adults in love, I say that marriage is still about family.  Yes, the love between a husband and wife is extremely important but, at the end of the day, you get married to raise a family.  Government supports marriage because it recognizes that a child has the best chance of becoming a responsible adult citizen if raised by both a mother and a father.

Today there's a lot of controversy about marriage and what it really is.  Some groups have attacked traditional marriage saying that it is prejudiced and denies people's rights to marry whomever they wish.  So they call upon government (usually the courts) to change marriage into something that supports that lifestyle.  Their arguments sound logical, are very persuasive, and paint those that do not agree with them as ignorant and intolerant.  The problem is that their arguments are fundamentally flawed.

Marriage is not a government institution.  Marriage is a religious and a cultural institution.  Government does not have the right or authority to redefine marriage because government never defined it in the first place.  However, because marriage creates the next generation, government has a vested interest in supporting it.  After all, government wants the next generation to be a generation of good citizens.  A child's chances of becoming a drain on society (on welfare, in prison, etc.) are lowest when the child is raised in a stable home with both a mother and a father.  This is government's aim when it passes legislation supporting marriage and family.  I realize that there are a lot of instances of kids from non-traditional homes becoming good citizens and kids from "ideal" homes becoming some of the worst kinds of criminals, however, statistically speaking, if you grow up in a home with a mother and a father, your chances for success are the greatest.  There is no perfect solution but stable families with both a mother and a father give our children their best shot.

Another fundamental flaw with the justification for changing marriage is the assumption that marriage is about two adults falling in love and making a "special commitment" to each other.  Historically, marriage has been a man and a woman committing to each other in order to start a family.  While the two are similar, the difference is that the purpose of this new idea of marriage is to show that two adults are committed to one another and the purpose of traditional marriage is show that a  man and a woman are committing to one another to bear the responsibility of raising a family.  Although the difference in definition is slight, the difference in implication is enormous.

Those are the social reasons, but there are also religious reasons.  Marriage is between a man and a woman because that's the way God designed it.  I firmly believe that God instituted the family and that no alternative institution has ever been found that can raise children as effectively as a family comprised of both a father and a mother.  Once again I echo the sentiment that government needs to stay out of religion.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, expecting government to stay away from marriage is a futile hope.  Right now, the state of Arizona has a marriage amendment that will be voted on this November.  It alters the State Constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.  I really wish it didn't have to come to this.  I wish that government had left well enough alone.  But it didn't.  Courts in various states have declared that traditional marriage is unconstitutional.  The only way to fix and/or prevent this mistake is to amend the State Constitution.  So now I am compelled to make marriage supported by law in order to keep it from being destroyed by law.

Now, to all those out there who ask what a homosexual couple who are committed to each other can do to have the same legal protections afforded to married couples.  To them I say that, as I understand it, all of those protections are currently available to them in one form or another.  If I am wrong or they are too difficult to get, contact your elected representative to see if there could be appropriate legislation to streamline the process.  Go about the process the right way.  The law was meant to be changed and improved through the legislative process.

Finally I want people to know that the push to preserve marriage is not a vendetta against homosexuals.  While it is true that I feel very strongly that homosexuality is wrong, I don't hate homosexuals.  They are just as human as I am and deserve to be treated with love and respect.  Remember, when Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, he taught to love ALL of our neighbors, not just the ones that believe the same way we do.  However, if a group of people attack an institution that I feel is sacred, as traditional marriage is currently being attacked, they can't expect me to sit idly by and do nothing.   This is an institution that is both culturally and religiously one of the fundamental pillars of civilization and it deserves to be protected and preserved.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Governor Calls Arizona A State Of Losers?


OK, it wasn't exactly like that but, at the Democratic National Convention, Janet Napolitano (the governor of Arizona) stands up and states that: "Barry Goldwater ran for president and he lost. Mo Udall ran for president. He lost. Bruce Babbit ran for president. And he lost. Speaking for myself, and for at least this coming election, this is one Arizona tradition I’d like to see continue." I know that's only supposed to be a cheap shot at Republicans, but it's hard to listen to that and not hear "Arizona is a state of losers and failures. Let's keep it that way." It just seems that our governor has no respect for the history and accomplishments of Arizona. We've done some great things in this state but all the governor can come up with is that she hopes Arizonans keep losing. Thanks.

That's not even the end of it. She then goes on to criticize McCain on the economy. That's great coming from a governor whose policies put Arizona $2 billion in the hole and her solution is just to borrow money and raise taxes. Who doesn't understand the economy?

It seems to me that our governor and the whole Democrat National Convention is all about rhetoric and nothing of substance. I suppose the Republican National Convention will be the same way but that only makes it more disappointing. Will we ever see real substance in politics?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Does Your Vote Count?


I was listening to Ron Silver this morning on Sirius (Indie Talk, channel 110) and he was chatting with a caller about how people vote. The crux of the conversation is that many people don't vote for who they think is the best candidate. They vote for a candidate they think can win. It was agreed on the show that this was an awful thing that happens far too often. I agree 100%. People today are being taught that if they don't vote for one of the major parties (Democrat or Republican) that their vote doesn't count. This is patently false and I'll tell you why.

First, you don't have to win an election to influence change. The change may not be immediate but if candidates start seeing significant blocks of votes for people that support specific issues, they will start looking more seriously at those issues. Do you think there was change in the Republican party when Ross Perot caused George Bush to lose his re-election? I guarantee they immediately began trying to determine how to win those disaffected Republicans (and independents) back. The change may not be immediate and it may not be as much change as you hoped for, but change can happen. However, if you just line up with one party or another, how will anybody know where your true convictions lie?

I submit that your vote counts less if you submit to the pressure of voting for a major party when your convictions tell you to vote for more of a fringe candidate. The parties don't care nearly as much about the votes they have as they do about the votes they don't have. Look at McCain and Obama. They are trying their best to appeal to independents and moderates. They already have their party's votes, they need votes outside of their parties to win. You don't need them, they need you.

If you want change, vote your conscience. If you want a more balance political system, vote your conscience. If you want our elected officials to truly be accountable to the voters, vote your conscience. If you want America to be truly great, vote your conscience. We are not sheep. We are independent members of an independent society. I we want to keep it that way, we MUST vote our conscience!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

T-Mobile @ Home Experience

About a week and a half ago, I signed up for T-Mobile's @Home phone service. For those of you who don't know what that is, it replaces your current home phone for $10 per month. Here's how it works: Instead of plugging into your phone line, it plugs into your internet connection. It is a voice over IP or VOIP service similar to Vonage, or the phone service offered by your cable company. It was such a good deal (I was paying $30 per month for dial tone and voice mail, now I'm paying $10 per month for dial tone, voice mail, caller ID, and free long distance) that I decided to go for it.

I got my startup kit on Wednesday. It came with a router (plugs into your internet connection and has regular phone jacks as well as internet jacks in the back) and the new Dect 6.0 phones I ordered (these phones don't interfere with wireless networks). It only took two days from order to reciept so I was pretty happy.

The installation directions were simple. First plug the router into your broadband modem or into your existing router. I already had a router so I just plugged it in there. Second, plug your phone into the router. Third, you're done! So, in just a few minutes, I went from boxes to complete setup. Then the trouble started.

I asked T-Mobile to switch my home number to the new phone service. They told me it would switch over at 9:00 AM on Thursday. So I waited. After work on Thursday I got home and found that the line still hadn't activated. I waited some more. On Friday afternoon, I finally called up tech support to see what was going on. I was told that it can take up to 7 days for the phone service to switch over. So why ask me what day and time I want it switched if it can take up to 7 days? Also, you'd think with all of the small print items I had to agree to that it could have been mentioned, but no, I had to call tech support to find out. OK, so I wait.

On Sunday afternoon, the line switched over. I noticed the blue light on my router (which lights when you've got an active phone line) came on and my new phones worked. Woohoo! Everything is good in the world. Well, for a couple of hours anyway.

So, a couple of hours into my new service and the blue light goes off and my phones go dead. Not cool. I unplug the router, plug it back in and everything comes back. OK, just a glitch, no big deal. Well, a few hours later it does it again. By the time I notice it and restart the router, I've got voicemail. Well, at least that's working. I try calling tech support but, after being on hold for about 15 minutes, the phone cuts out in mid-call. I keep hoping the problem will just go away but it doesn't. By Wednesday I'm really frustrated. OK, time to get serious.

Fortunately, I'm a bit of a geek. I fire up the configuration program for the router and start disabling all of the services I'm not using. I cut out the wireless (I'm using my original router for that) and just about everything else except for the phone lines. No good. It still cut out every now and then. However, I did notice that it cut out more when I was using the internet. Hmmmm... So I started to think that maybe my original router was the issue. So I unhooked my original router and hooked everything up to the new router. OK, now nothing works. No internet, no phone, no wireless, nothing. I mess with the settings and finally, after a couple hours of fiddling, I get the internet back. Once that's done, the wireless and phones turn back on. It's Wednesday afternoon and FINALLY everything seems to be working.

Well, it's now Thursday afternoon. As near as I can tell, everything is still working. It looks like the problem was my old router. Couple that with overwhelmed tech support (I'm sure I'm not the only one who had issues) and it made for a very frustrating week. My suggestion to T-Mobile is to set up a better online help system with forums and other collaboration tools to help customers who can't be on hold for 15+ minutes. However, even with all the setup woes, the system now works and seems to work great. The voice quality is good, I love having caller ID, and I spent a couple of hours last night chatting with family in different states. So, while the setup was a headache, I now have more features for less money. Overall, I'm quite happy.

****** UPDATE ********

It's been a couple of weeks and everything is still good. I have had zero disconnections. Everything just works. I don't think about my phone service any more. I don't worry about phone service. I just enjoy the features and the smaller phone bill. It's very nice and I would recommend it to anyone.

In fact, if you are interested in signing up, my T-Mobile representative would love to help you out (this is probably just for the Phoenix, AZ area). She gave me permission to post her contact information here:

Shannon Gohler
Major Account Executive
T-Mobile USA
(C) 480.720.9952
(F) 480.638.2851

Shannon.Rittenhouse@T-Mobile.com


Just tell her you got her information from Jeff's blog and she will take good care of you.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Iraq Officialy Wants US Out - What Do We Do?


I saw an article today that I just have to comment on.  It seems that the Iraqi government is officially demanding for a timetable for withdrawing US troops.  So what do we do at this point?  The current administration has been very adamant that timetables are wrong and will only encourage insurgents, that the government is still to weak to protect itself.  Now it's not just the Democrats but the Iraqi government that's disagreeing.  What do we do?

One option is to ignore them.  We are trying to keep the country stable and a withdrawal of US troops could be catastrophic.  It could spark a civil war that kills thousands.  Do we want to be responsible for such slaughter?  For the good of the country, don't our troops need to stay until the job is done?

The other option is to submit to their demands.  Are they independent or a US vassal?  Shouldn't they be allowed to determine their own fate?  The government of Iraq was elected by the people of Iraq and, as representatives of the will of the people, they should have the final say in the future of their country.  Will it cause civil war?  Maybe.  Will the result be the death of thousands?  Maybe, but isn't the real question: Do the people of Iraq have the right to choose their own destiny?

Both options are compelling but which one do we choose?  I submit that the best course for the US is to accept the Iraqi government's request and work with them on a timetable for withdrawal.  The consequences may be drastic but to me, the moral imperitive is clear.  We set out to make Iraq an independent democratic country.  How can we accomplish this if we don't treat them as such?  Part of being free is being responsible for one's own actions.  We cannot claim the Iraqi people are free if we do not allow them to make their own choices and accept the consequences of those choices. 

Yes there may be quite a bit of violence.  Yes, a lot of people could die.  However, they will be in a situation that they chose.  If you remember early US history, there was quite a bit of violence in the days of the Articles of Confederation.  It is an unfortunate part of the growth process.  We can't babysit them forever.  I believe that we need to respect the will of the people and allow them to be truly free.  As a freedom loving people, how can we do anything less?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Democrats, Oil Prices, and the Environment


The Democrats have a bit of a problem right now.  Gas prices are shooting through the roof and they want to say they're doing something about it.  Their plan is a windfall tax on oil companies.  This tax (which the Republicans blocked so it probably won't happen anytime soon - if it happens at all) is kind of a "feel good" tax.  Why?  Because it punishes the oil companies for making too much money but it doesn't help the consumer at all.  Think about it, will gas prices drop because oil companies may have to pay more taxes?  I don't think so.  So it's a tax that makes "the masses" happy because our benevolent government is sticking it to "big oil" but doesn't really help the consumer at all.

So who does it help?  It helps the government by giving them more revenue and it also helps the environment because a way to avoid the tax is to invest in alternative energy.  Hmmm... the environment.  Coincidentally, there are a large number of Democrats who believe that burning oil in all of its forms, as well as other fossil fuels, is killing the environment.  Their solution is to find alternative forms of energy and to stop any expansion of current oil and gas drilling operations.  While they have been successful at blocking the expansion of drilling and making it nearly impossible to build new refineries, they haven't been able to do much for alternative energy beyond a few tax credits.  So what's happened is they've increased our dependence on foriegn oil by not allowing us to drill for our own oil.  This dependence also puts us at the mercy of the world oil market and any price fluctuations that happen there.  However, that's not all bad because what many of them long for is to have oil prices high enough that alternative energy is economically feasible.  I have heard many a Democrat wishing that the government would raise gas taxes so that gas prices would go up.  This would encourage people to conserve and/or use alternatives.

Well they got their wish.  Oil and gas prices are skyrocketing and so, by comparison, alternatives are becoming better values.  Unfortunately, the people who are the hardest hit by these high prices don't have the luxury of converting to alternative energy.  They can't just sell their truck for a hybrid - they don't have that kind of money.  They are struggling to make ends meet and the cost of fuel is killing them.  What's worse is that a huge number of these people are Democrats.  Uh oh!

So what do you do?  Why you blame it on Republicans, of course.  It's easy.  The current President is a Republican and he's only slightly more liked than a bout of malaria (and yet he still gets higher ratings than the Democrat controlled congress - go figure).  So it's the President and the Republicans.  They've engineered this gas crunch to line their own pockets.  They are pure evil!

The truth, however, is much more complex.  There are so many factors that it would be naive to assume that only one set of actions is responsible for the current crisis.  Some blame the war in Iraq and OPEC for the high prices but OPEC is saying that they are meeting demand just fine and have no need to increase production.  So is it Iraq?  Well, if plenty of oil is being produced with out it, maybe Iraq isn't the problem either.  What about market speculation?  What about a shortage of refineries?  What about the strategic oil reserve?  What about world competition?  What about our restrictions on drilling?  What about US consumers' unwillingness to conserve?  I'm sure there are a thousand more "what about" questions that can be asked.  I think the truth is that there's enough responsibility to go around.

The environmentalists, which are mostly Democrats, have been working for years to regulate into extinction the production of fossil fuels.  They have many people who believe their rhetoric and support their proposed policies.  However, making fossil fuels harder to get to makes them more expensive and contributes to our current problem.  Personally, I think it's ironic that these same people who have really pushed to raise oil prices are the same ones that want to punish the oil companies because prices have gone up.

This isn't to say that the Republicans are innocent here.  The war in Iraq has had a destabilizing effect on the middle east which has spurred speculation and is also partly responsible for high oil prices.

However, it's the Democrats who are in a bit of a bind.  They have to figure out how to deal with an issue that they helped create and that many of them think is a good thing.  What's worse, is they have to find a plan of action that doesn't endorse high gas prices (which punishes their working class constituents) but doesn't hurt the environment (which angers the environmentalists).  So far the best they've come up with is to try to punish oil companies for having the audacity to actually make a profit.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Too Much Regulation Hurts A Free Market

Keeping a free market going is a bit of a balancing act.  On the one hand, if it is entirely unregulated, monopolies start to form.  These monopolies will then prevent other businesses from competing by either buying them out or underselling them or something similar.  This in turn stifles innovation and takes choice away from the consumer.  On the other hand, if you have too much regulation it stifles a business.  When a company can no longer choose how it acts and is forced to spend a large portion of it's income on compliance with regulations innovation suffers and barriers to entry are created.  You can't just start an insurance company, there are certain rules and regulations you have to follow.  The same with any other business.

It is government's job to make sure that business stays competitive by creating appropriate regulations.  However, if government goes too far, it runs the risk of having the solution be worse than the problem.

The other thing about regulation is that it doesn't always do what was intended.  For example, when the government first gave businesses tax breaks to insure their employees, it was to encourage them to offer insurance.  It was supposed to give people more access to insurance.  Today it is almost the only way a person can afford insurance.  It takes away our choices because we only get to pick what our employer offers.  It stifles competition because insurance companies aren't catering to people any more, they cater to HR departments which usually choose the cheapest plans not the ones that are best suited to all of their employees.

So how do we fix bad regulation?  Well, one of the problems is that once it goes on the books, nobody ever goes back and checks to see if it is working like it should.  Therefore, I believe that all regulation should have an expiration date.  If a regulation is passed, it will automatically expire in two years.  At that point it can be extended but not for more than five years.  This forces the legislature to review regulations regularly.  They can ask if they are doing what they were intended to do and if they are a help or a burden to businesses and the consumer.

As for existing regulations, expire them at the rate of five or ten a year, starting with the oldest.  Basically, enough that meaningful change can happen but not enough that the legislature is overwhelmed with a hundred years of regulation.

Not all regulation is bad but there is a risk whenever government dictates how the market is to operate.  Lets mitigate that risk by insuring that all regulations are periodically reviewed and by allowing unnecessary and counterproductive regulations to expire.  This helps business which lowers cost for consumers.  It's a win win proposition.

Monday, May 19, 2008

How Do We Help The Poor in America?


Poverty is a tough issue.  Unfortunately, it's an issue that has been oversimplified.  Granted, it's really easy to oversimplify.  The conservatives tend to think that the poor should get jobs and work for a living like everybody else.  The liberals think it's unconscionable that a person starve and/or live on the street simply because they don't have the means to take care of themselves.  Therefore, it's the government's responsibility to feed and house them (or at least provide them with the resources to feed and house themselves).

So who's right?  I admit that I side more with the conservative view.  People need work, not handouts.  However, I recently learned that the issue is more complicated than that.  

My original idea was to eliminate welfare and have that money go toward employment.  So, if somebody qualifies for welfare, instead of giving them money, you give them a job.  Doesn't matter what the job is - they can clean up the streets, paint over grafitti, run day-care for other people with "welfare jobs", etc.  The point being that people worked for their money.  Free hand-outs only encourage sloth and dependence in the long term and doesn't help people to help themselves.

I figured that my plan would be the best of both worlds.  It makes conservatives happy by putting people to work and it makes liberals happy by giving help to those in need.  So, in my plan, if you starve to death it's because you're not willing to work, not because you can't find work.  Best of all, it encourages the poor to get better jobs (welfare work would only pay minimum wage or something like that) so that they can earn more money for the same amount of work and get off of government support.  So it helps people and the economy.

So what's wrong with my idea?  It operates off of the assumption that those who have grown up in poverty are simply middle class Americans with less money.  Well that's simply not true.  My wife recently went to a conference where one of the speakers had actually started out poor and was able to work her way up to financial security.  From that speaker my wife and, by association, I learned that poverty is as much a mental as it is financial.  The poor see the world differently than those who have enough and it's this mindset that has to be changed before the poor can really improve themselves.

So how do we do it?  I don't know for sure but my best guess at this point would be to add education/counseling to the work program.  Maybe for an hour a day (part of the work day so they get paid for it) we teach the people.  Teach them how to manage money, teach them how to live in middle class society, teach them what their potential is and help them develop a drive to reach that potential.

Although we may never be able to truly eliminate the poor from among us, we should be trying our best to help them help themselves.  Welfare, as it currently stands, is not a long term answer.  If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.  If you teach a man to fish, he may end up starting a seafood business that employs hundreds of people and revolutionizes the fishing industry.  We should never sell anyone short on their potential.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Party of Opportunity


Thanks to the leadership of Barak Obama, the Democratic Party has been effectively positioning themselves as "The Party of Hope".  However, when you look at their policies, it seems to really be the party of security (as in social security/social programs) or the party of entitlement.  I don't want to be too negative because I know many democrats and they sincerely believe that government intervention is the solution.  Personally, I don't agree with that point of view (which is why I'm a Republican).  However, it seems that my party has lost its way over the last few years and it's time to come back to our roots.

Here are some of the values that have drawn me to the Republican Party:

  • Lower Taxes:  Most everything we buy has been taxed two or three or more times by the time it get's to us (not even counting sales tax).  It's too much.
  • Smaller Government:  Of course our high taxes are paying for a huge, bloated government.  Government needs to be smaller, less redundant, and more agile in order to respond to the needs of the national and international issues facing us as Americans.
  • Less Regulation:  Just as a pure capitalistic economy promotes monopoly and stifles innovation, an over-regulated economy promotes bureacracy, inefficiency, and stifles innovation.  The trick is to find the proper balance.
  • Individual Liberty:  Most Americans don't want to be told what to do.  We don't want to give up our freedom for "the good of the whole" because, at the end of the day, it's "the whole" that suffers.

I see the Republican Party with the potential to help people help themselves.  Our policies should be aimed at giving people the tools they need to succeed on their own.  We are not the party of security but The Party of Opportunity!  

Now I don't know how my points stand up to the official principles of the Republican Party but they're the closest that I've found so I'll stick with them as well as sticking with my personal values.  I think the party is moving in the right direction and I find that very encouraging.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Political Direction


You know, knowledge is a funny thing. No matter how much we think we have, there's always more out there to get. No matter how well we think we understand something, there always seems to be more to it than that. Political issues are much the same; at least with me.

When I first look at an issue, I see the surface of it. Usually it's fairly simple which makes it easy for me to see a solution. However, as time goes on and I learn more about the issue, sometimes my "solution" turns out to me not as much of a solution - in fact, sometimes it makes the problem worse in the long run. This is one of the reasons I blog, I want people to see my ideas. Not because I want to be famous, but because I want the good ideas to be implemented and the bad ideas to be corrected. As fun as it is to think that all my ideas are perfect, I know they aren't. However, what I don't know is which ideas are wrong and where they go wrong. If I did, I'd fix them.

Recently I've been going to a seminar put on by the National Center for Constitutional Studies. This seminar focuses on the Founding Fathers and what they were thinking while debating the Constitution.  While I'm not in 100% agreement with their conclusions, the information taught has changed a lot of my perspective when it comes to government. Perhaps I should correct myself and say that it's changing my perspective. I'm not sure where I'll end up from this but it is challenging some assumptions that I never thought to question before. That's a good thing. Perhaps after pondering this new information, I'll draw the same conclusions that I drew before. Perhaps I'll change them. The important thing is that I'm thinking about them.

Knowledge, ideas, issues, and solutions should never be assumed infallible and left unquestioned. We should not be afraid of challenges to our ideas/beliefs. As we re-examine them we will either become more convinced of their correctness and better able to share them with others, or we will see the error of our ways and be able to change before any more harm is done.

The problem with today's political climate is that it's too polarizing.  If you're a Republican, it's assumed that you feel that any idea from a Democrat is wrong and visa versa.  There doesn't seem to be any real debate, any compare/contrast of different ideas, or even any agreement.  Why is bi-partisan legislation such news?  Shouldn't it be the norm?  Why is it that if a Republican has an idea that Democrats feel they have to fight against it and visa versa?  Why can't we discuss our ideas like human beings instead of yelling and fighting all of the time.  I think some more honest discourse would do our country a world of good.

So what I'm saying is that I've started to re-examine some of my ideas.  I'm trying to apply some of the thoughts and views of our Founding Fathers into my thinking and see if I reach the same conclusions.  Stay tuned, this might get interesting.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Little Perspective on the Abortion Debate

Representative Warde Nichols of the Arizona State Legislature gave an impassioned floor speech supporting a ban on partial-birth abortions.

He tells the story of a baby who was born prematurely to a drug addicted mother in 1969 (pre roe v wade). This baby was adopted and went on to live a very successful life.

All children have the potential to be great. Who are we to deny them that based on their circumstances before birth? Read the speech, it's very good.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More Help for Health Insurance Reform

I can't help it. Maybe it's because our health insurance system is so broken. Maybe it's because the proposals from the left sound a lot like socialized medicine (not good). I don't know what it is but every now and then I get more ideas for how to fix the insurance system. Here's my latest thoughts.

Let's get rid of the overhead from all of that massive paperwork. How? Let's turn insurance cards into something akin to credit cards. You go to the doctor and the front desk runs your insurance card just like a credit card, inputs the code for your visit, and the insurance pays its amount. At this point you can either be done or pay a co-pay.

For this to really work, we would also need unified billing codes so that a physical for one doctor's office doesn't show up like brain surgery for another. Once all of the codes are the same, you run the card, input the code, and it shows you how much the insurance covers. Subtract that from what the doctor charges and you have your copay. Simple.

The infrastructure is already there (how many doctor's offices DON'T take credit cards), you just partner with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc. to handle the transactions and get some slightly updated equipment that gives feedback on what the insurance covers.

The nice thing about this is that a doctor wouldn't need a professional staff just to handle insurance claims. The would be handled automatically. The doctors also wouldn't have to wait weeks to get reimbursed, it would be immediate. So less staff and less waiting is going to translate into lower prices and more convenience for us.

My plan also helps insurance companies. With claims handled automatically, there's less staff for them as well. Less staff means less overhead and lower prices for insurance. We save money there too.

So, assuming this would actually work, it saves the doctors money (which lowers medical bills) and it saves the insurance companies money (which lowers premiums). So that leaves us with lower health care costs. How's that for a reform?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How do taxes affect us?


I was commenting on a blog entry about a property tax repeal that the Arizona Legislature just made permanent but which the governor is likely (in my opinion) to veto and it got me thinking about how much we really pay in taxes. After all, almost every product we buy is from a taxed business that employs taxed laborers. So guess who is paying those taxes? That's right, it's us!

A lot of people mistakenly think a tax hike that doesn't affect them directly is ok. In fact, many get a sense of satisfaction if they see the government sticking it to "big oil" or "big business" but who is really paying that tax? That's right, we are. Businesses that have to pay higher taxes will do one of two things (usually):

1) Raise prices to cover the cost. This means that the tax that was affecting businesses is being paid by you and me when we make our purchases.

2) Move their business to a less expensive environment ( different city, different state, or even a different country). This means loss of jobs, loss of income, and possibly higher taxes to make up for the new shortfall.

I think it's naive to assume that taxing "big business" doesn't affect us as consumers. For example, if you purchase a brand new car, here's a list of some of the taxes you are paying (assuming the car was made in the US):

1) State, county, and city sales tax on the car (the obvious tax).
2) Property tax for the dealership.
3) Federal and State income tax for the business running the dealership.
4) Federal and State income tax for the employees of the dealership.
5) Sales taxes/tariffs (possibly) for some or all of the parts in the car.
6) Property tax for the factory that made the car.
7) Federal and State income tax for the business that made the car (GM, Ford, Chrysler, etc).
8) Federal and State income tax for the factory workers that built the car.
9) Federal and State income tax for the rest of the workers in the company (management, research and development, testing, administration etc).

Well that's everything I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure if tax experts looked at it, they could come up with quite a few more taxes that go into a car. However, this isn't just about cars, every other item you buy is going to have a similar list of tax expenses.

The point is that every single tax change affects you and me to some degree. To assume a tax that mostly affects businesses doesn't affect tax payers is extremely short sighted. Taxes affect everybody, either directly or indirectly.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Idea to help FEMA

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has come under a lot of fire for it's response to Hurricane Katrina. Now I'm not an expert, but it seems to me that FEMA's issues were not simply poor management but a fundamental issue with its setup. What I mean is that throughout its history, FEMA's response to disasters has been money. For example, if you're hit by a natural disaster, FEMA gives you money to help get you back on your feet. Yes there's a bit more to it than that, but that is the gist of it. At least that's how it seems to me. If I'm dead wrong, please let me know.

So where's the problem? Well, if a natural disaster affects a couple hundred of fewer people, it's not a problem. There are enough nearby resources that simply writing a check can take care of food, water, and shelter for those affected. However, in Katrina's case, there were thousands affected and no nearby supplies that were sufficient to help. So the problem is that you can't eat, drink, or live in money. What the Katrina victims needed was basic necessities, not money.

So here's my thought: FEMA's problem is that it has money but no infrastructure. It doesn't have food, water, etc. It simply hopes to be able to purchase it for a disaster affected area. So the solution is to create an infrastructure. Create storehouses spread all over the US that are stocked with food, water, water purifiers, blankets, etc. The locations of these storehouses would be linked to disaster prone areas, etc so that in the event of a disaster, the supplies would already be available and close by. Then you can have supplies to people in hours instead of days.

Of course this is an expensive alternative to the current low cost infrastructure of a few people with checkbooks, but there are things that can be done to mitigate the cost. My thought would be to combine it with the welfare system. Once again, instead of giving money/food stamps to people on welfare, you distribute FEMA supplies to local welfare offices (or maybe even grocery stores) and use those supplies for the people who are down on their luck. This way you are cycling through your perishables while keeping up a distribution system that can be accessed in the event of a disaster. This creates a system that is useful today as well as when disaster strikes.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Do Term Limits Help or Hurt Government?


I used to be a staunch supporter of term limits. Get 'em out of there! We don't need career politicians! However, the more I've learned about how government works, the more I've had to question whether the benefits of term limits outweigh the drawbacks.

Pros:
  • Gets rid of corrupt politicians - The main advantage to term limits is it keeps individual people from having too much power for too long. You don't have the "entrenched" politicians to try to deal with. You have less corruption because the corrupt politician doesn't have enough time (hopefully) to do any real damage. No matter how good the bad guy hides his true nature, eventually, he'd kicked out.
  • Brings in fresh ideas/perspectives - By insuring that you constantly have new people in government, you get a constant influx of new ideas, new ways of solving problems, and new perspectives. This can create a more vibrant government that really is concerned with helping the people.
Cons:
  • Throws the baby out with the bathwater? - Although effective at getting rid of bad politicians, term limits also get rid of good politicians. Those people that are truly dedicated to our city/state/country are also removed from office to make way for some unknown person to take over. Is this what we want?
  • Loss of experience - They say those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Well, if your maximum tenure in government is 10 years, how many issues would be needlessly revisited because nobody knew that it was tried and didn't work 15 years ago? How much do we lose when the most experience people in government are the journalists and the lobbyists?
  • Limits the rights of the people - Term limits remove from the people their right to decide who goes and who stays. If somebody is doing a bad job, the people should vote that person out. If somebody is doing a good job then the people can keep voting for that person. Do we trust the people to make their own decisions?
As I have thought about it more and more, I've come to realize that term limits can potentially do more harm than good. We need experienced politicians in government. We need people that understand the details of our laws - people who can see the long term effects of proposed legislation. Perhaps on a national level, where the doings of government are harder to track for the average voter, term limits might be a good thing, but for state and local governments, I think we should still trust that the voters will be able to discern who it truly helping and who isn't.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Why Good People Don't Run for Office


Everybody sees what wrong with politics. Some see more than others. However, what good is seeing the problems if you don't/can't fix them? If everybody running for office is corrupt, why don't honest people give them a run for their money? Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Money - No I'm not talking about raising enough money to campaign, I'm talking about feeding your family while you're in office. In Arizona, the annual salary for legislators is $24,000. Sure a lot of people say that since the State Congress is only is session half the year, the salary should be low. However, if legislators were really fulfilling their responsibilities, they would (and some do) spend their off time researching issues, getting feedback from their constituents, planning for the next session, etc. So how does someone afford to be a legislator on that salary? Well, the middle class is out; that salary probably wouldn't pay most middle class mortgages much less buy food, power, etc. So you have people who are already low income and people who are rich enough that they don't need the money. I submit that right there you have precluded a large portion of the population: people who would like to help but can't afford to.

  • Exposure - Once a person is running for office, privacy doesn't exist. The media will research their entire lives and bring up mistakes made years ago as though they were made yesterday. A politician's every move is watched - they're just waiting for a mistake or even the appearance of a mistake. Most people don't want to have to constantly deal with that kind of scrutiny.

  • Knowledge/Experience - The expectation for elected officials is high. They are expected to know everything about economics, foreign policy, trade, local issues, etc. If they vote on a bill that doesn't end up doing what they thought it would do, they get blamed for it - they might even get accused of trying to use it for personal gain. That's a lot of pressure.

  • Campaigning - The most adept politician may be a horrible campaigner. Conversely (and I'm sure we've all see this) the worst politician may be a brilliant campaigner. What does that leave us with? A government full of good sales reps who we hope a somewhere close to as good at politics.

For these and other reasons, many people who could be assets to the State and the people simply don't run - or they run but are out-campaigned by a better salesman. If we want to reform government, let's make it attractive to reformers.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Volvo's BLIS

A while ago I blogged about my new favorite car being a minivan - more specifically, the new Chrysler Town and Country. While it's an excellent car, it is more suited for hauling around the family than for use as a commuter. My current commuter, a two year old Chrysler PT Cruiser, is great and I hope to have it for another eight years or so before I start thinking about replacing it. However, after a friends wife got into a car wreck (she was not hurt) and the friends response was "Thank goodness she was in a Volvo!", I started to wonder.

When I purchased my PT Cruiser I was basically thinking about how cool it looked, how roomy it was, and how fun it was to drive. What I wasn't thinking about was safety. So, after hearing about my friend's wife, I started thinking more about safety. For hauling the family around, I'm really happy with our Honda Odyssey. We've had one totaled and everybody in the car was fine (just bumps and bruises). However, what about my commuter car? When it comes time to replace it, what do I want to have? Well, I'm thinking about safety now so I thought I'd look at what Volvo has for options.

I have to tell you, I like the C30. It looks nice, has a 227HP engine (compared to my cruiser's 150HP engine), and still gets 19/29 mpg. What's really cool though, is all of the safety equipment. Not only is the chassis built with safety in mind, but it has all of the air bags you can think of - driver, passenger, side-curtain, etc. It also has traction control, anti-lock brakes, a whiplash prevention system, pretensioners on the seat belts, etc, etc. It also has a feature that I think is really cool. It's called BLIS.

BLIS stands for BLind-spot Information System. It's a little camera mounted in your rear-view mirrors that turns on a warning light when a car is next to your car - in your blind spot. How cool is that!? You're driving down the road and need to change lanes, you can just check you mirror, do a head check and you've got a BLIS light to let you know if you missed anything. That's technology working for you.

So am I saying should everybody run out an get a Volvo? No. I'm saying that I think safety should be a far larger factor in a vehicle purchase than it is. Most companies (and people) seem to put safety as an afterthought and I don't think that's right (even though I've been guilty of it). So I'm not saying you should buy a Volvo - they are a bit expensive - but you should consider the safety options in the vehicle you're looking at as well as being aware of what options are out there.

Let's all be safe out there.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Levels of Motivation


I have this emerging theory on how to motivate people. Looking at the greatest world leaders, how did they get people to follow them? How do we get people to follow us? How do others get us to do things? When you do something, what is your primary motivation? Is it fear? love? duty? Which is the most powerful?

The following is a list of common motivators in order from least to most powerful.

5. Guilt - Guilt is a lousy motivator. I promotes slothful action and can even engender resentment. Although it may work for short-term tasks, those looking for long term results would be better served to look elsewhere.

4. Fear - Fear is only an effective motivator in the short term. When people act out of fear, it builds resentment and animosity. They will look for ways not to complete (i.e. to escape) their tasks. Granted this may not be universally true, but in general fear is a lousy long-term motivator but an excellent short term one. I also think that fear's effectiveness is inversely proportional to a person's self esteem. In other words, the greater one's feeling of self-worth, the less effective fear is as a motivator.

3. Duty - People do a lot of things out of a sense of duty. A person motivated by duty does not need constant supervision. They willingly (although not always enthusiastically) perform their tasks. There are also many levels of duty. I general, it can be as low as fear or as high as love but is usually somewhere in between. Duty is a good long-term motivator as it doesn't usually produce resentment but insures a good relationship.

2. Greed - Greed can be a very powerful motivator. In many instances is can and will subvert fear and duty. It's even been known to trump love with some. Greed is the ultimate embodiment of selfishness. When one is consumed with bettering oneself (with money or power or whatever) at the expense of all else, nobody is safe. Greed is not a good long-term motivator as greedy people tend to self-destruct while they alienate those around them. Eventually they just crash and burn and are of no use to anybody (assuming they aren't already in jail).

1. Love - True love is the best motivator. It works in both the short-term and the long-term. Those motivated by love are innovative, enthusiastic, and sometimes reckless in their zeal for accomplishment. They would only need supervision if you worry that they would go too far in their zeal for accomplishing their tasks. This is not the "if you love me you'll..." sort of love. That's manipulation border on a fear (fear of losing a loved one) motivation. This also isn't the same as a child not doing their chores. A child has full confidence that the love from their parents is not contingent on chores (and if it is, well then, I think we're back to fear). This is a genuine respect and loyalty for the motivator.

I've said for a while that while fear is a good motivator, love is the best. Unfortunately many resort to fear and greed because they can be established quickly while love and duty can take a long time to build. We see that a lot in elections. How many political ads prey on fear instead of trying to build on love? Fear is easy, love is hard. However, fear doesn't last and love just keeps growing.

If you want to be a leader, take a good hard look on how you would lead. Are you in it for now or are you looking to stay in it for the long haul?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Healthcare: Part II - More Insurance Reforms


About a year and a half ago, I blogged on healthcare or, more specifically, insurance. Looking back, I still agree with my main ideas but there's more. As I have learned more about the insurance industry and government regulation of it, I've learned more about some of the limitations that could be fixed. So here are some more ideas on fixing insurance in America:

1) Extend insurance deductions to all of the insured. Right now, if you get insurance from your employer, your premiums are taken out pre-tax. However, if you're buying your own insurance, you are taxed on the money you spent. Yes there are tax deductions for insurance, but I don't think it's the same (I actually hope I'm wrong here but I assume I'm not). Therefore, ALL insurance premiums should be untaxed, not just ones through your employer.

2) Eliminate employer contracted insurance policies. Insurance isn't a free market. I don't get to choose my insurer. I have the choice of the one insurer my employer uses and that's it. I think a centralized insurance agency for employers should be established that makes a central point that all employers could go to for all insurers in the state. That way an employee could pick whatever insurance coverage fits their needs and all the employer needs is an insurer code and a plan code. This makes it easy for employers to offer all insurers to employees and makes it easy for employees to choose the insurance plan that will meet their needs. It would also make the insurance companies have to compete against each other for customers. No more wining and dining HR reps, they have to appeal directly to the people they want to insure.

3) Standardize billing codes. Right now, each insurer has its own billing codes for doctors' offices. The office staff needs to know that a physical, for example, is AA127 for insurer A and 45B723 for insurer B and 0357128876 for insurer C, etc. This creates conditions that make it really easy to make billing errors that can cost you hundreds of dollars or more and hours of you time trying to fix the issue. If all of the codes were the same, the office staff wouldn't have to worry about looking it up every time they billed. It would save them work which would result in fewer errors and possibly even lower insurance premiums (assuming it saved enough work that doctors' offices wouldn't need as much staff).

Although I feel that the market for insurance should be as free as possible, there are a few places where standards should be enforced. As long at the standards/regulations are well thought out and beneficial, I think that they're completely appropriate. Let's just make sure we're helping, not hurting.