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.

  • 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.
  • 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.