Monday, August 17, 2009

Congressman Boldly Defies Pleas of Constituents

A video released by the Washington Times shows Representative Eric Massa, a New York Democrat in a predominantly Conservative district, saying to a riled Town Hall gathering, "I will adamantly vote against the interests of my district if I actually think what I'm doing is going to be helpful."

Repeatedly, concerned citizens in the crowd challenged Rep. Massa on his determination to pursue a single player system despite his district's majority opposition. Time and time again, even facing an 80/20 hypothetical majority against single payer, Rep. Massa rejected their pleas and stood firm. He will vote according to his own desires.

Not only does Massa appear to have no regard for the Constitution, his plain willingness to make the will of his constituents subordinate to his own bears more than a slight resemblence to socialist leadership.

I won't name names.

However, this is just the sort of thing that continues to drive HR 3200 into the ground and further divide the DNC.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Knee-Jerk Boycott of Whole Foods over Op-Ed.

I wondered if this would happen. Within days of John Mackey's thoughtful editorial in the Wall Street Journal, explaining his opposition to Obama's health care reform plan while offering a detailed free market alternative, customers are enraged and planning to boycott. An ABC News report provides some eye-opening quotes from former-Whole Foods customers.

One comment left on the Whole Foods online forum called the editorial a "slap in the face," and suggested that Mackey "...remember who butters your hearth-baked bread. Last time I checked it wasn't the insurance industry conservatives who made you a millionare a hundred times over."

I can only guess whether or not these angry former customers actually read the piece, at least further than the point where it expressed Mackey's problems with the Obama plan (or Obama, in general.)

One former patron said, ""While Mackey is worried about health care and stimulus spending, he doesn't seem too worried about expensive wars and tax breaks for the wealthy and big businesses such as his own that contribute to the deficit."

The ignorance runs thick among the growing mob, who seem unaware of Mackey's remarkable social conscience. In 2007, Mackey reduced his annual income to $1.00, began donating his company stock portfolio to charity and even created a $100,000 emergency fund for staff members who fall on hard times.

Another former Whole Foods customer said, "I think a CEO should take care that if he speaks about politics, that his beliefs reflect at least the majority of his clients."

Funny. Considering the great measures Whole Foods has taken to improve animal welfare through the Animal Compassion Foundation (which helps producers raise their animals naturally and humanely) and become more environmentally-friendly (The EPA confirmed Whole Foods is the second highest purchaser of green energy in the country), the millions of dollars donated to community charities every year (at least 5% of annual profits), the Whole Planet Foundation (which combats poverty in rural communities) one would think Mackey's beliefs certainly reflected those of his clients.

Additionally, Whole Foods pays 100% of health insurance premiums for all employees who work more than 30 hours a week.

John Mackey respects his patrons and all Americans enough to encourage the federal government to empower them, to establish and protect an affordable, competitive health care market that offers choice and inspires innovation. The kind of choice and innovation that built the remarkably socially-conscious Whole Foods Market.

Slap in the face, indeed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Give War A Chance

With so many pressing issues at the forefront of American politics it is easy to forget some of the less immediate things, some of which should never be forgotten. While citizens grapple over health care reform and economic recovery, young men and women are on the other side of the world fighting to protect our right to do so.

My guess is the average American couldn't pick out Afghanistan on the map. I admit it would take a little poking around to do so myself. Yet nearly a decade ago, the Afghani Taliban regime, through their protection and support of Al Qaeda, declared war on the United States. We responded, and in cooperation with NATO dismantled the Taliban in short order. But, as the War on Terror has revealed over and over again, like shattered glass, a broken terrorist organization only scatters, their resolve ever sharpened. Thus the war rages on.

This year alone, 261 soldiers have died. Last year brought the deaths of 293, up from 232 in 2007. More soldiers died in Afghanistan in 2008 than in the first four years of the conflict combined.

If the average American can't pick out Afghanistan on the map, they likely also can't explain our current objectives there, or name the operation itself (Operation Enduring Freedom). How can it be that an ongoing war, started by the most horrific attack on US soil in the nation's history, be of such little consequence to the American people?

This lack of attention is nothing new. The prelude to the American invasion of Iraq quickly overshadowed our efforts in Afghanistan, which were reaping immediate and decisive results. As the case for war in Iraq became more contentious, further dividing an already fractured American people, the military efforts in Afghanistan continued unnoticed. And American soldiers continued to fall.

But Iraq is a whole other story.

On September 11, 2001, for the first time in more than half a century, since stories of Nazi atrocities found their way into our homes, since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor without mercy or cause, the American people were forced to look hard at themselves and their country and take stock of their blessings. To remember where they come from. For many young men and women the call of duty rang out loud and clear. And so they answered.

As much as these brave individuals deserve our utmost respect and gratitude, to an even greater extent they deserve our attention.

The most popular Post-9/11 slogan was, simply, Never Forget. But how much have we already forgotten? How much do we fail every day to ever know at all?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Republican Senator Murkowski Calls Out Sarah Palin


Though, given the relationship between these two, it is hard to assume Sen. Murkowski's motive was purely ideological. Either way, glad to see the GOP stand up against one of its own. Doesn't happen too often.

Whole Foods CEO A Corporate Fat Cat?

Who'd have thought this guy was a cold-hearted capitalist? Wonderful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. He reiterates the quiet alternative to ObamaCare, creating growth and competition in the private sector while using tax incentives to encourage voluntary donations into public programs.

Read Mackey's op-ed here.

For further insight into his ideas regarding the social responsibility of businesses in a free market economy, check out this 2005 debate between Mackey, Milton Friedman and TJ Rogers in Reason Magazine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fat Fish in a Shrinking Barrel

Wow. Where to begin.

Sarah Palin took to Facebook recently to share some of her thoughts (or whatever you wish to call them) regarding Obama's proposed health care legislation. "The America I know and love," said Palin, "is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

If this scenario sounds more like an episode of the Twilight Zone than the legislation in question, that's because it is very similar to an episode of the Twilight Zone ("The Obsolete Man", original air date June 2, 1961) while it has no factual or even rational connection to the legislation. Worse than securing her position as the fat fish in a shrinking barrel in which many love to fire away, there is an even greater political danger in Palin's wacky proclamations.

She has thrown a red herring into the health care debate that liberals could only dream of. And it worked.

Now an alarming number of conservatives are riled up, railing against provisions that do not even exist. Meanwhile the clear and present dangers of the bill, the cost-cutting smoke and mirrors neatly tucked away, the overwhelming increase in spending (and subsequent necessary tax increases) and bureaucratic sprawl, and the considerable damage all of this will do to an a private health care sector that is poised for one hell of a collapse, are increasingly ignored.

These things may not be as sexy as an imaginary death panel, but for the thinking conservative they should loom as a far more ominous threat. A threat that Sarah Palin either chooses to ignore or fails to see, which seems characteristic of her relentless supporters.

Palin's Facebook page is full of their posted wisdom:

"Thank you Sarah Palin. At last we have someone who speaks for the people!"

"No weapon formed against you shall prosper......rock on!"

And my personal favorite...

"PALIN/LIMBAUGH 2012??!!!"

Sometimes I get the impression these Republicans are profoundly confused, and perhaps believe they're only following some kind of elaborate reality television program. Does Sarah Palin reflect the Republican Party or does the Republican Party merely reflect Sarah Palin? I can only hope the latter is true, and temporarily so. We're all a little hungover after the Bush Administration, after all (see: the Presidential Nomination of John McCain).

But so long as Sarah Palin remains at the forefront of Republican politics, tossing red herrings into already complex policy discussions, the Republican voice in Washington may grow louder, as it also grows benign.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How To Become Famous in North Korea

Entrepreneurship is often the savior of a down economy. The explosion of new media has not only created new opportunities for entrepreneurs, but a new breed of entrepreneurs who peddle, well, absolutely nothing. Nothing more than themselves. The internet and reality television have changed the very nature of both marketing and celebrity. Before America could fully accept how Paris Hilton achieved widespread relevance (book deals, television shows, etc.) we were left to wonder where Perez Hilton came from and how his opinions could so drastically alter the course of Miss California's career, and influence the national discussion on the definition of marriage (in addition to book deals, television shows, etc.).

Despite the current boom of blogger celebrities, for millions in the blogosphere the prize remains elusive. However, recent events in North Korea have paved the fastlane for two fortunate unknown journalists. No blog necessary. Right now, Laura Ling and Euna Lee are fielding six figure offers for interviews and million dollar book deals, the fruits of a four month self-inflicted misadventure in Pyongyang. The stakes are high, but for anyone seeking celebrity status there appears to be no quicker way. After closely examining their story, I believe I have uncovered the formula.

Behave Stupidly In A Foreign Socialist Nation
Upon returning to the United States, Laura and Euna were greeted as heroes, beacons of hope and a uniquely American brand of courage. Held as political prisoners for 140 days by one of the world's last remaining freak despots, they were ultimately rescued from 12 years of hard labor and returned safely to their families and their freedom.

But the question remains: why were Laura and Euna in North Korea to begin with?

Working for Al Gore, of course. The two women were on assignment for Gore's little-known Current TV, covering refugees crossing the border between North Korea into China. However, what few press credentials they have between them are meager, to say the least. Laura Ling is younger sister to Lisa Ling, former co-host of ABC's "The View", and had done only minor reporting for Current TV prior to her capture. Euna Lee, on the other hand, had no journalistic experience whatsoever. This could explain why Laura and Euna took it upon themselves to cross casually into one of the most dangerous and isolated countries on earth. As Laura tweeted upon landing in the Seoul airport, "Hoping my kimchee breath will ward off all danger." Further, Rev. Chun Ki-won of the Seoul-based Durihana Mission warned them not to venture into North Korea. "I told them very clearly not to go to the border," he said.

Thus their error was not one of ignorance (which would still be inexcusable for any news outlet worth its salt) but of plain stupidity.

Perhaps in a healthier economy the American people would make a bigger deal out of their return home. The lack of attention suggests that people realize they have far more important things to focus on. However, what bothers me isn't that their story is receiving insufficient coverage, but that the nature of the coverage is so celebratory, as though the United States has claimed some sort of victory.

The only winners here, in this order, are: Laura Ling and Euna Lee, Bill Clinton and, last but certainly not least, North Korea (honorable mentions go out to the highest bidding talk shows and publishers). For Laura Ling and Euna Lee, their act of stupidity not only thrust them into the middle of a major international conflict, it may well have 'made' their careers as journalists or, at the very least, public figures (a far more lucrative profession these days).

For Bill Clinton, the clean slate has received a fresh coat of polish. Yet, at what cost? The official word on Clinton's visit to North Korea is that it was a private, strictly humanitarian effort, with no connection to the the United States Government or the Obama Administration. However, according to Daniel Sneider, associate director of of research at Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Clinton's arrival in Pyongyang was merely the icing on the cake. "[Clinton] didn't go to negotiate this, he went to reap the fruits of the negotiation," Sneider said.

But congratulations are certainly in order for President Obama, who once again was able to navigate through controversial matters and accomplish his goals indirectly, without his name attached.

However, the true winners are North Korea and, more directly, Kim Jong Il. Not only did he enjoy the honor of capturing, trying and sentencing two United States citizens, under threat of a horrific twelve year sentence, he was able to extend the United States a kind gesture by staying his own misguided hand. Further, the private nature of Clinton's visit has kept a tight lid on the details of their negotiations, which many believe could have catastrophic implications regarding our ongoing nuclear tug-of-war. After all, we kind of owe him one.

So what can we take away from this international clusterfuck? The Clinton Administration has still got it -- Al Gore sets 'em up and Slick Willy knocks em down. President Obama can put off dealing with North Korea for a little while longer. Meanwhile a couple of bumbling so-called journalists can consider their celebrity tickets officially punched.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Discussions abound regarding American health care reform, and most hinge on one fundamental question: should we or should we not implement socialized medicine? Both extremes of the political spectrum are out in full force, consciously or unconsciously employing misdirection in an attempt to disprove one another, rather than arguing in favor of their own points (assuming they have any to begin with).

Liberals continue to hammer home Obama's statement that his plan only offers a public option, which will compete with private insurance and encourage lower costs, greater efficiency and happier, healthier Americans.

Conservatives argue that Obama's public option is nothing more than a Trojan horse, a giant step toward socialized health care, and ultimately a socialist America.

Here's the problem: Neither side is correct, nor can they hope to be correct. Regardless of the favored solution, both arguments are fundamentally and irreparably flawed from the get-go. This has never been uncommon in American politics, which could explain why the recent town hall meetings have gone so disastrously awry. Perhaps White House deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, summed it up best when he told Democratic Senators, "If you get hit, we will punch back twice as hard."

Once again, it has come to this. It was barely 150 years ago that Congressman Preston Brooks beat Senator Charles Sumner on the House floor with a wooden cane over a speech regarding slavery. Now stories are flooding in from across the nation of town hall meetings quickly degenerating into violent, uproarious mobs.

But let's suppose we can remove violence and vitriol from political discussions and get down to business. Conservatives oppose the so-called public option on its own merit as an un-American federal encroachment on the free health care market. Thing is, the American health care market is not even close to free and hasn't been since the Great Depression. As the late, great Milton Friedman points out in this eye-opening 2001 article, federally-imposed wage and price controls forced businesses to offer employer health benefits as an incentive to workers. Employers kept these medical benefits off the books long enough that when the IRS finally caught on, the sluggish wheel of industry could not be turned back. This ultimately led to the tax-exemption of employer benefits we enjoy today (which makes individual health insurance inaccessible and unaffordable and has created a monster of the insurance industry).

Partially-socialized health care took root in 1965 with the advent of Medicare and Medicaid and today operates as a virtual black hole for tax revenue (like any good social program).

The third-party payer system is hardly a free market. A free health care market would arguably require an even greater overhaul of the current system in both the public and private sectors. To suggest that preventing the passage of Obama's proposed health care plan somehow preserves our freedom is either ignorant or naive or both.

On the other hand, liberals who argue that the public option would be just that, an option, are only kidding themselves. As Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute points out, the idea that the federal government has any incentive, or is in any position to compete with private insurance companies is laughable. By manipulating its own cost while driving private companies into financial and economical ruin, the public option would likely become the only tenable source for health care coverage. The network tactics used by private insurers to encourage physician involvement will look like child's play compared to awesome, unbridled power of the United States Government.

And anyone who openly supports socialized medicine also stands to be sorely disappointed as the audacious hope for ObamaCare fades a little more each day. Which is to say that no matter where you stand in the American health care debate, you will lose. It is as quintessentially lose/lose as any important issue that has ever faced the American people (see: slavery, abortion, energy, Vietnam, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc.)

With this in mind, I am surprised that Town Hall violence hasn't escalated more quickly. But there is certainly time for that, as the health care debate has no apparent end in sight.