Political Rant: What Do You Believe?

Yeah, I know the first rule they teach you in Blogging 101 is “Never Blog About Politics.” But, here we are, election week in America in what is becoming an increasingly polarized and divided society. As I fill out my ballot with my favorite #2 pencil, I look at a bunch of candidates that are completely uninspiring, a list of initiatives which are completely pointless, and a democracy which is completely broken. It’s as if as a nation we got together and said “Hey, here’s a fun idea. Let’s let the ABSOLUTE CRAZIEST parts of this country conspire together to cobble together a useless bunch of bullshit policy objectives that absolutely 80% of the country hates, but we’ll make the environment so toxic that absolutely nothing remotely positive can occur!”

Well, mission accomplished guys. You’ve totally broken the sane part of the electorate that wants some prudent governance and is appalled by the hypocrisy, grift, and erstwhile shenanigans that we now call the “US Federal Government.”

It would be one thing for me to sit here and bitch about how screwed up it is. Anybody can do that, and indeed twitter is full of one liner drive-bys and ‘Gotchas!’ on a daily basis. That’s not helpful in anyway to the dialogue, nor is it in anyway remotely cathartic for me as a writer.

So, I’m going to lay it all out on the line. This is what I believe in. A semi-coherent, centrist platform that I support, and one in which I feel has absolutely zero voice. So you tell me, who exactly should I be supporting this week?

Let’s just tackle them all one by one.

Immigration

This is the most mind-blowing of all. This is so unbelievably simple of a compromise that if ever there was a canary in the coal mine about the state of our democracy, it is this. And that badboy is dead, has taken a header off the perch into the feces-crusted newspaper inside its cage, and decomposed fully.

You want to address immigration? Stop talking about building multi-billion dollar walls in the desert, stop talking about caravans that represent no threats that are 1000 miles away from anybody. Furthermore, stop talking about ABOLISH ICE as a platform. Is anarchy and the absence of law somehow the new goal that our republic should aspire to? What the hell is wrong here?

C-O-M-P-R-O-M-I-S-E. Cut the problem off at the source. Levy massive financial penalties, or potentially jail time against anyone employing illegal labor. In return, expand the immigrant pool and availability of green cards. We are a nation of immigrants, and I’m hard pressed to explain why we should pull up the ladder behind us now when much of the good fortune I’ve had in my life comes solely because of the decision of my great grandparents to bail on the morass of early twentieth century Eastern Europe and come to America. But let’s control and manage the process and know who we are bringing in.

Strengthen the border. Expand availability. Is this really that hard? Next issue.

Second Amendment

Look, I’m a reasonable guy. I don’t understand the desire to need to own paramilitary weaponry with high capacity magazines as some kind of defense against government overreach. You know, the government does have these things called “nuclear weapons” that apparently are not given second amendment protection that are going to be pretty tough to match if they decide to go rogue and enslave us all in the dawn of the new world order.

I’m damned tired of mass shootings and I shudder with how I will explain to my children why this country is just a place where 20+ 5 year olds can be murdered or 500 people wounded at a concert, and all we can manage is a collective national shrug.

But I’m a Constitutionalist. It says it right there in print, the people have the right to arms and it’s important to a lot of people. So let’s split the difference. Keep all of your guns but let’s use some big data to stop the crazies. Integrate weapon and mental health data. If anyone makes an online threat to kill a bunch of people, expresses violent thoughts to a therapist, or otherwise has that vapid detached look that every single mass shooter seems to have, they are immediately banned from the system. If we find out they own a cache of 40 or 50 high powered semi-automatic weapons and more ammunition than the exiles had at the Bay of Pigs, confiscate it immediately.

There is no perfect legislation. That doesn’t mean we need to make it as easy as possible for crazy assholes to keep racking up the body count.

First Amendment

Sacrosanct. Impenetrable. Utterly holy to me. There was a reason it is the ‘first’ of the amendments and that is because its position in the Bill of Rights is the core of what matters to a well functioning democracy.

Nowhere in the Bill of Rights are you guaranteed the ‘right to not be offended.’ The world evolved from a violent Hobbesian state where life was ‘nasty, brutish, and short,’ and now we cannot even handle trivial microaggressions of free speech. The backlash and implied censorship occurring across the country in the press and across college campuses is anathema to the creative destruction required in a republic such as ours. Don’t like what someone says? Good. Explain why. Debate them. Discredit their logic. Persuade others to see your point of view. Laugh at the stupidity and the simplicity with which your opponent makes his arguments. Destroy them intellectually.

But at any cost, don’t pretend that we must shut down those which say things that we disagree with. I may not agree with what you say (a great many of you probably disagree with most of this article) but I will defend utterly your right to say it. Who will represent this?

Drug Policy

I find the sinews of a good solid rant are lubricated with a liberal application of alcohol. I love a few drinks, but the stuff is damaging. Gives you a hangover, makes you do dumb things, gives you the beer shits. More seriously, causes cancer, liver failure, kills 10,000 people a year in automobile accidents.

Accordingly, I’m hard pressed to justify any legitimate grounds for why marijuana is illegal but alcohol legal. And I’m a total weed prude. Never tried it, would never dare to test it (and the drug policy of any potential employers) now, but cannot comprehend why obtaining highly addictive opioids or benzos is somehow a better outcome for society than a fairly innocuous drug with clear medicinal benefits. It’s as if we’ve just decided to go ahead and formally sell our national souls to the pharmaceutical companies as if those assholes don’t already own the second mortgage on our bodies and minds (more on this coming later).

The least bad outcome is decriminalization of possession of drugs. Treat it as the Europeans do as a health crisis and not a penal crisis. Take the money out of enforcement and spend it on treatment. For marijuana, take the money out of the cartels pockets and give it to American entrepreneurs and companies. What’s the alternative? Pragmatism must rule the day.

The rest of the stuff like heroin or meth? If you deal in it, you’re going to prison for a very long time.

The Federal Debt

As this article demonstrates, I’m appalled at the total lip service paid to paying down the debt by each party. It’s an even split of political douchebaggery and hypocrisy, and to me this is an issue of drastic national importance. Yet I sit by, year after year, utterly dumbfounded watching them screw it all up while finger pointing at each other with the same asinine talking points. Who actually believes the shit they say? Of the two worthless parties, the Republicans are more dangerous because they actually pretend to give a shit when a Democrat is in office only to completely return to spendthrift profligate bullshit when they return to power.

Remember when Obamacare was destructive, ruinous to the debt, and the rallying cry for Republicans for 8 years? Remember when no legislation could be passed because it was too damaging to the debt? Remember how the Republicans then won both houses and the Presidency and did nothing to reform anything but instead BLEW A FIVE TRILLION DOLLAR FURTHER HOLE INTO THE DEBT WITH A TAX CUT? Yeah, so do I.

I point this out because I want to underpin my views on what is to come as a debt conservative. I want to live in a world where my kids aren’t totally irrevocably screwed from the ways of a bunch of elder statesmen who can’t think of shit to do other than ‘More spending! More tax cuts!’ Where is the sanity? Where is the reality check?

I want a government that has a plan to spend about as much as it makes. Is that so insane? And so, I’m willing to listen to any policy that results in higher revenue (tax increases) or lower costs (spending cuts). Prepare yourself accordingly.

Military Spending

For the last 20 years, our military has been tasked with the unenviable mission statement of fighting insurgencies. First, we need to quit fighting these wars and quit seeing every two bit dictator in the world as the military equivalent of Hitler. I’d like to think the lessons of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have finally been learned, but then I see people still giddy about the prospect of a war with North Korea or Iran since our prior land wars in Asia have turned out so well.

Given the nuclear deterrent has rendered war between major powers unthinkable, do we really need to continue to spend at this clip? Russia appears to have no issue influencing global events and does it with a military budget that is 1/10th the size of ours. Two stories recently have driven home the absurdity of the American military machine to me.

First, we use B2 bombers flying out of Missouri to drop bombs on a few pick-up trucks in the Libyan desert. We could have strapped a couple of 1,000 lb bombs to a Cessna Skylane and done the same thing. Second, apparently the Air Force uses $1,300 coffee mugs. If anyone from the Air Force procurement department is reading, the Yeti coffee mug is $29.99 and does the same thing. Maybe look into it.

They always say we need to spend more to keep the country safe. How much more safety am I buying for an incremental 100 billion? Can you explain how much more safe I should feel when we spend nearly 40% of the entire world’s arms budget? How much is enough? When will I be safe enough? Dial the spending back.

Medical Care

Our system doesn’t work. It is not some kind of deep seeded political failure to admit it does not work. It’s not a failure of capitalism. It’s not some existential threat to your most intensely guarded political ethos.

Our system does not work because it simply is not set up to let markets work. If you set out and tried to come up with the most possibly screwed up system rife to be exploited by multiple agents with their hands in the trough, you’d be hard pressed to do better than the US healthcare system. People love to pontificate about the ‘free markets’ nature of the United States healthcare system, and yet these same people signal that they have absolutely zero knowledge about economics because they leave out 1 very important word in that clause.

‘Free markets’ are not good things. They lead to shit like Standard Oil, robber barons, monopolies, domination of a single entity. ‘Free COMPETITIVE markets’ ARE good things. They lead to low costs, efficient allocation of resources, and the triumph of innovation over the stagnation of old.

That one 1 word makes all the difference. It’s a hallmark of the most elementary high school course in economics and yet somehow it is lost in the mania, zest, and zeal to defend the US healthcare system. I will rant at length about this in the near future as it is near and dear to my heart, but the chief 3 failings that come to mind are as follows:

Price Transparency – Competition requires price transparency. It doesn’t exist without it. Want to buy a car? Go to a dealership, they’ll tell you how much it is before you buy it. Buy a house? Ditto. Need to go to a doctor? Here, sign this form that signs you up for UNLIMITED financial liability and WE DON’T HAVE TO TELL YOU A GD THING ABOUT HOW MUCH IT IS GOING TO COST!

Wait, what?

Why does the medical industry get to be the only industry in the world that doesn’t give an estimate at all about what they plan to charge? Why can’t I call around and shop for pricing on routine procedures? Why is this all hush hush?

And they’re for-profit too? Well thats peachy. Makes me feel REAL warm and fuzzy. An entity who wants to make as much money as possible off of me gets to tell me after the fact how much they are going to charge me. Failure #1 of what is required for competition. Which leads to #2.

Failure to pay actual costs – Even if I knew the true cost of a procedure, it’s going to be subsidized by insurance. A $3,000 procedure might have a $100 co-pay but a huge associated premium. According to the laws of demand, people consume more at lower prices; the insurance premiums + low marginal costs model means nobody ever pays the true costs and we get overconsumption and price inflation. Which leads to:

2 For-Profit Entities – It would be bad enough to be at the mercy of 1 group of profit maximizers, but we’ve got 2. Insurers and care providers, both with an interest to charge the patient the maximum amount while providing the least possible care, and both getting to hide under the opaque nature of medical billing. When in doubt, just send the poor bastards a couple hundred explanation of benefits and trust they won’t bother to double check! What a perfect system!

So what to do about it? I think fundamentally this system needs to be completely blown up.

My dream system would be one in which catastrophic, high deductible insurance is available at a fair price. Routine procedures, doctor visits, and tests are paid by the patient who is able to freely and transparently shop for pricing. You own car insurance so that you are covered if your car is destroyed in a hurricane, not to pay for oil changes or new tires. Why should health care be any different?

A complete remodel will never happen because the very people who need to exit the business are the most capable of paying for lobbyists.

So, as a compromise and a first start, I think legislation is required to mandate that all healthcare must provide good faith estimates of cost of service. As a second measure, I think a public option for health insurance is required. Not free health insurance for all, but simply a not-for-profit entity that has to cover me, is powerful enough to negotiate favorable terms with providers, and is transparent in its pricing to viably compete with private market insurers. Can it really be any worse than this:

Education

Universities fail like medicine above: they are not free COMPETITIVE markets. For one, they are not for-profit and therefore have no incentive to reduce costs. State universities will build and fund to their heart’s content and pass the bills on to students, who get the sad joy to know that their debt burden is one of the nastiest hockey stick graphs I’ve ever seen:

Look, lets cut the crap. For better or worse, college in America is a place where the young now pay dearly to attend while they memorize a bunch of nonsense so that one day, maybe they’ll get a seat at the corporate spreadsheet factory. If that’s what it is, then so be it. But let’s at least make it 1) relevant and 2) financially feasible.

I support freezing tuition at universities for a period of 5 years. Perhaps they can make do with the 1 lazy river they already built. Furthermore, let’s overhaul the curriculum. Make a 3 year degree program instead of 4. Make it relevant and cut out the fluff. Attending school for business? Take business classes and ditch the literature and philosophy classes. Seriously, when is the last time you sat around on your family vacation and talked about the eminent genius exhibited in John Donne’s sonnets, anyways. These departments will probably struggle to survive but their right to freeload off of a generation jumped the shark in 2010 when the student debt load went asymptotic.

Education needs to rediscover the business of providing American students with the opportunity to succeed and compete globally in the twenty first century, not sustaining the business of financially crippling their attendees so mortally that they will never be able to recover.

Entitlement Programs

In a utopia, I’d give everyone a million dollars, a Ferrari, a yacht, and free drugs of their choice. Unfortunately we don’t live in a utopia, we live in a world where the government is insolvent and can no longer afford the benefits it wants to hand out.

Disability – Much more aggressive policing of disability eligibility to separate the scammers from true hardship cases.

Social Security – The age for benefits needs to go up to at least 70. The life expectancy when Social Security was rolled out in 1935 was 61 years of age. It is currently nearly 79 years of age. We must align social security with its original aim of providing a late life pension and not let it fund multiple decades of retirement.

Medicaid/Medicare – I think the first attempt at addressing these programs needs to be by addressing the cost issues discussed above. Greater price transparency, increasing competition in the medical space, and streamlining the backoffice burdens of medicine. Despite my desire to close the federal deficit, I think healthcare for the poor and elderly are perfectly reasonable roles for government. I see no other entity capable of addressing these issues.

Low Income Assistance Programs – I don’t have a great line of sight into this. The ideas of drug testing beneficiaries and applying maximum benefit periods seem like reasonable steps.

Taxes

They need to go up. The supply side, Laffer curve analysis is nonsense. If cutting taxes always led to more revenue, think how much revenue we could get if we cut the tax rate to 0%.

I don’t like paying taxes. I dread April 15th because I have a perverse fascination with converting my effective tax rate into a number of days so I can see just how many months of my life I cede to the government so it can piss away the fruits of my labor. But the simple reality is the no good spineless politicians of yesteryear have seen to it that my generation and my kids generation have a $21 trillion bogey hanging around their necks. The reality is I’m going to have to pay more, and it pisses me off, but its necessary.

Hope you guys enjoyed….. whatever it was that you bought for $21 trillion. It sure looks like a huge heaping load of jack squat from where I sit.

Conclusion

So there it is. 3,000+ words of ranting and enough there that I’ve probably offended every single reader of this post at some point. But I’ve laid it all out. Disagree or agree with it freely, but please stop the demonization and hate. There are a great many of us stuck in the exhausted middle that cannot help but shake our heads at the national silliness, watching the politicians seethingly fiddle against each other while the country burns.

Please find some sanity and some normalcy and address the problems before they become terminal. And, if its not too much to ask, please find me a candidate that I can support.

 

 

2 Responses

  1. Team CF says:

    Gosh, you are way too sensible.

  2. w8jcd says:

    Immigration: Cannot because business controls (both sides of) government, business likes the current system and therefore it can’t be changed. Additionally, that won’t fully solve the problem. Even if immigrants cannot get work, they can get other human needs like food shelter, clothing and security that they cannot get in their nations of origin.

    Weapons: I don’t think any nation will ever nuke itself. It’s an interesting thought experiment to imagine what would follow if it actually did happen.

    Drugs: The current marijuana ban I think is due to influence of tobacco companies a long time ago. It will likely become federally legal and a regulated, dangerous product for adults similar to how cigarettes are now, once it’s been legalized in half of the states.

    Military Spending: We could do without 2/3rds of our nuclear weapons. Enough weapons to nuke the world only twice over should do. Tactical nuclear weapons have never been used in combat, and I don’t think they ever will be, so those should be decommissioned.

    Medical Care: So you would make price discrimination (charging different people different prices) illegal? I feel like the current high deductible plans satisfy this a bit. The company I will be using next year negotiates prices, but require their providers to publish prices. Then, as the customer, you choose the provider, and pay a portion of the cost according to a recipe (full amount up to a deductible, a portion up to an out-of-pocket limit, and nothing thereafter). They do the same thing with pharmacies and medicine.

    Education: It’s a competitive world out there. It’s not about knowledge, instruction and skills. John Stossel (news personality) says you could go to Princeton if you live in Princeton, NJ and receive all the instruction paying students get, you just couldn’t get the degree. That isn’t true, but it kind of is. Some universities and colleges post courses online for the non-paying public to consume. It is all about the piece of paper.

    For what I do, it could be done by an 11th grader. The 11th grader will have completed English, algebra and science courses, which is all required knowledge for what I do. Yet my employer requires a college degree for what I do. If I did say something, I’m sure they’d insist that they’re HR experts and a degree is appropriate for the position. What I’m trying to say is, there is a problem on the demand side too. Degrees of different kinds are more highly demanded than they should be.

    Entitlements: A Ferrari is luxury goods. If everyone deserves resources, they deserve resources that will help them produce other things, like basic food, basic housing, basic clothing, basic transportation, basic telecommunications etc… I would support giving people these basic goods, because it gives them a chance to produce value. For them to enjoy and the rest of us, too. A Ferrari won’t help anyone produce more goods, so it’s not a good investment. The UBI idea is, you could pay everyone a stipend, say, 10k, to procure these basic needs for themselves on the open market. Talk about giving people enough rope, but it would theoretically work.

    Yes, the SS age needs to rise to 70. That still leaves the program more generous than when it was created in 1935. It also fully funds the program, moving the insolvency date out to an indeterminate point in the future (will be determined by demographics changes). It feels like we can’t do this because we’re a democracy. If you promise this you can’t win. You can try to sell it as responsibility or the right thing to do, but your opponent can sell it as cutting Social Security.

    Taxes: I did the math and someone earning 64k, and taking full advantage of 401k and IRA programs, will pay 3% federal income tax (effective rate). Also, this person is in the 0% capital gains tax bracket (12% marginal income rate).

    We can’t make things harder for rich people because they control the politicians on both sides. But if we could, I’d support eliminating the step-up basis on death for heirs. That would go a long way towards eliminating dynasties. That way, the government, or a qualified charity, could get the money eventually, rather than heirs.

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