05.21.12

Unintended consequence of employer provided health care

Posted in , Society at 17:33 by RjZ

Have you been reading how various state and federal legislatures are trying various strategies to limit access to birth control? Missouri, for example, recently voted that employers shouldn’t be forced to offer insurance that covers birth control (or abortions) if their religious convictions oppose such activities. Check out that article, but read the comments too.

Folks are pretty angry that conservative legislators are waging a war on every other religion and women are the casualties. According to the article Rep. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo says “This is about sending a message to the federal government that we don’t like things rammed down our throat,” which is interesting, because, most people reading this think that’s exactly what they’re doing: forcing others to tolerate an essentially Christian notion of when and how birth control should be used.

I don’t see this as a volley in the so-called war on Christianity, but rather a response to big government ideals and how conservatives see those manifest in Obama-care. It’s a bizarre response, because it seems to insert government into yet another private decision, but, to be fair, the claim is that employers aren’t required to do something (even if it’s fair) and not that they’re being subjected to an increased burden. Employees remain free to gain insurance in some other way that covers their needs.

The real problem here, is our horrible system of employer provided health care. Companies with moral convictions shouldn’t be obligated to offer health care that is abhorrent to them; and the rest of us should feel free to condemn their antiquated beliefs and stop patronizing them or working for them. Unfortunately, freeing employers up to pick and choose which health care requirements they will meet and which ones they don’t like results in people with very scattered coverage, because they have no where affordable they can turn.

Imagine, if instead of trying to fix the existing system of employer provided health-care (which Obama-Care settled upon as a solution) we actually cut the employers out of the picture completely. Such unintended consequences as these silly bills wouldn’t even be on the table and personal choice might be available for all.

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05.19.12

Children of capitalists

Posted in Liberty, Society at 16:52 by RjZ

Ask your average American about communism and, after they’re done spitting on the ground, you’re likely to hear a smug: “Communism isn’t such a bad idea… it’s just that it doesn’t account for human nature.” They may like the idea that everyone could benefit in a fair an equitable society, but they know human nature will throw a wrench in the works. Some will take more than their fair share without contributing themselves, or people won’t work if they’re not incentivized.

Ask your average American about U.S. politics and, after they’re done pulling out their hair in disgust, you’re likely to hear how “politicians are in the pocket of special interests. They care more about raising money and getting re-elected than doing what is right.” Folks are dissatisfied with politicians but, even after inadvertently hinting at the problem, and here I mean money, they miss the connection.

Society’s ills don’t stem, as some will claim, from elitists out of touch with average Americans. The Founding Fathers were absolutely elites of society. And it’s not just the wealthy. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, a few lucky individuals fell into success, but the majority of our historic captains of industry rose to prominence through sweat and savvy. Back then, the free market system naturally separated the wheat from the chaff; the cream from the milk.

No, elitism is part of what made this great country. Smart, hard working Founding Fathers went out of their way to install a system that protected the rights of people they would likely never meet let alone deign to associate with. Ruthless elitism, the notion that one’s ideas are better than everyone else’s, drove early industrialists to invent products and even whole business models that have (and often continue to have) vast, and usually positive, influence over our lives.

But lately, we’ve started to see a problem or two with “the system”. To see what it is, let’s look at an exception.

Peter Buffet describes himself as a “composer, author, and philanthropist” He’s also the son of one of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffet. Peter Buffet tried working in his father’s firm but it wasn’t for him. Like the rest of the Buffet children, he received Berkshire Hathaway stock valued at $90,000 when he was 18 years old. He decided to invest that tidy sum into his own happiness and pursue his career as a musician. Today, Peter Buffet is 53 years old and that $90,000 would have been worth $70 million had he simply left it where it was but, he says he “would much rather have invested in [himself]…as opposed to having a pile of money that essentially belongs to someone else’s success.”

Peter Buffet is happy and down to earth but almost as rare as his father. Warren Buffet describes the problem that results from what happens to the offspring of many wealthy, successful people as “the ovarian lottery.” “The odds of having a son or daughter, who is as passionate and excited and driven as the founder of a business was…are incredibly small.”

The odds of your daughter being the best person to run your successful company are tiny, but the list of companies run by children of founders is long and uninspiring. Successful people give their children every opportunity they can and often bequeath large amounts of money on them as well. The problem is that there is no reason to believe that these children will be the most efficient recipients of the capital. Paris Hilton is merely a celebrity example of wealth being squandered significantly less productive children, but she’s hardly alone.

It’s not only the kids of rich industrialists. Politicians do their best to pass influence and power on to their descendants. Just look at the George Bush Sr. and Junior, (not to mention brother Jeb), George and Mitt Romney, or the Kennedy’s. After the first generation, little has changed since the days of royalty; people pass power and influence on to their children who have done nothing to earn this opportunity beyond being born of powerful parents.

None of this is how capitalism is intended to function. The free market is about having a level playing field where the best will be rewarded for their genius and effort. (Note: even in this purest form, it’s still just an “ovarian lottery” where those fortunate enough to have been born smart and ambitious will be more successful. Few will likely have much problem with that, but I digress.) It’s just human nature to pass on the fruits of our labor to the most treasured people in our lives, our children. Unfortunately, it’s no good for capitalism. Remove this incentive to pass on our empires and you take away a critical motivator for success. Unfortunately, the power that wealth brings no longer remains in the hands of elites, born with skills and abilities beyond the masses. Instead, that power is handed down, to the next generation, regardless of worth, who may squander it, or worse, misguide our economy, even our democracy to despair.

Loyal readers will know I am a strong supporter of markets and individual freedoms. Capitalism may be the best of the flawed systems available to us. Still, I’d like to hear from readers if they agree and what they suggest as a solution to this problem.

Meanwhile. I find myself imagining a parallel universe where smug, successful, soviet intelligentsia are sitting around the kitchen table ticking off their thoughts about alternative economic systems. “Capitalism,” they opine, “isn’t such a bad idea. It’s just that it doesn’t account for human nature.”

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05.17.12

Traveling blind

Posted in Travel at 10:42 by RjZ

I am in the waiting area, getting ready to board a flight to Israel. All around my is an enthusiastic group of Americans, most with pleasant southern accents and a polite smiles. They’re chatting excitedly with each other and many are wearing an ID stick of the “Hello, my name is…” type so that they can get to know the rest of their tour group. Standing next to me is an amiable gentleman who is stuck behind me and thus slightly isolated from his group. So I ask him, about his trip.

It’s his first time to Israel and he’s very happy to see everything there. The tour is going to be busy, but great. I ask about what they have planned and he rattles off a typical list: “Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Sea of Galilee, oh, and the Wailing Wall of course.” “Oh, that’s right next to the temple mount too,” I add. “The what?” comes his puzzled response. “Um, it’s the site of the Dome of the Rock, from which Mohammed is supposed to have ascended to heaven on his horse. It’s one of the holiest sites of Islam, right next to the holiest site in Judaism and walking distance from the spot where Christ is to have been crucified.” “Oh. I don’t know if we’ll have time for that…” he trails off.

His tour was arranged by a southern Baptist ministry and, obviously, will be concentrating on the Christian sites. I suspect they will see the Wailing Wall in passing (it’s hard to miss) and, who knows, the tour guides might have a different view about the golden dome of the Temple Mount, his sadly myopic view is embarrassing at best, and more likely, a bit sad.Religion has an uncanny knack of separating us into individual tribes yet even the modern internet makes it easier than ever before to put blinders on, sorting news for us so we don’t even have to learn about what we’re not interested in.

And it keeps the peace

Officially, Jews can’t visit the Temple Mount area. They can’t visit any churches in Jerusalem either, because, according to the rabbinical authorities Christianity is polytheistic (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and all). Normally, they’re allowed to visit Mosques (as Muslims and Jews vigorously agree about their being just one God), but the Temple Mount sits atop the site of the Second Temple, which traditionally houses the holy of holies, the Ark of the Covenant, the star of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Today, many agree that this particular ban is actually good for peace, reducing inevitable friction between Jews and Muslims in tense Jerusalem, but some folks shared with me they wouldn’t visit any Mosques anyway, “as a Jew, I don’t feel safe there anyway.”

Each of the Abrahamic religions may teach “Love thy neighbor,” while their followers travel half way around the world or live right next door, and yet still can’t get to know each other.

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05.15.12

Losing North Carolina means losing the White House

Posted in , Liberty at 11:16 by RjZ

Forget what you think about homosexual marriage, Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, is right. Obama may have sealed his fate as a one term president by admitting he is for equal rights for all citizens.

  • Votes in several states, not just fly-over states but California, have time and again gone against marriage-equality.
  • Evangelical voters weren’t motivated by Mitt Romney. Now they have a reason to be.
  • Conservatives can simultaneously claim to be more focused on the real issues facing Americans (the economy) and still claim to be the only reliable support of conservative social values.

All the posters about being on the wrong side of history won’t do much good if Obama wins by a landslide in liberal states and loses everywhere else.

Instead of being on the right side of history, perhaps we should be asking how to convince the religious conservatives that they, too, benefit from a country that is not a theocracy. That the government deciding who should and should not be married is exactly not the place to stick its nose.

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05.14.12

Don’t worry America, Israel is behind you

Posted in Society, Travel at 15:58 by RjZ

“When we were young,” my Israeli colleague told me “we lived in an apartment with both Jews and Arabs.” This is around 1993, after the first intifada in Israel and my colleague was about 9 or 10 years old at the time. He told me that the house superintendent was an Arab and, for the most part, an amiable friend to the families living in the apartment together. One day, alone with my colleague, the older man told the boy “if this were my country, I would kill you.”

Regardless of what you think of the the ham-handed responses of the Israeli government, even if you’re sure the Israeli army has waged war on innocents in southern Lebanon, and although Israeli’s themselves will admit that Arabs in their tiny nation are not always treated fairly, one thing remains clear. It’s easy to criticize, without having to experience living there.

Has Israel treated the Palestinians with fairness and respect? Perhaps not, but imagine living within rocket firing distance from the Gaza Strip. Israel is slightly smaller than New Jersey. What happens at the borders is local news! Even rioters in the streets of Los Angeles aren’t equipped with rocket propelled grenades or suicide bombing vests. Can you imagine an American, brought up with American exceptionalism and rugged individualism, not to mention liberal freedoms to possess guns, even considering just leaving things up to the government? Who knew? The average Israeli is the picture of moderation!

I’ve sometimes wondered why Israel doesn’t exercise its superior military power to simply eradicate its neighbors. Of course this would make them an international pariah for some time, but couldn’t the country, arguing it’s very existence, justify such a vehement reaction to the threats that surround them? I put this question to my colleague. He brushed it aside. In Israel, military service is obligatory. “We don’t want more war. People will die on both sides.” “But, Israel is certainly stronger than its neighbors,” I protested. “No one wants more people to die” he simply insisted.

Remember, this is the same man who, as a boy, was threatened by his neighbor. Can you imagine yourself reacting with so much restraint?

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05.11.12

Same Bible, different views

Posted in , Society at 13:45 by RjZ

Obama brought gay marriage right back to the forefront of U.S. political discourse when he took a stand and admitted favorable opinion. As I’ve written before, I am no more for homosexual marriages than heterosexual ones. The government ought to get out of the marriage-business as it is a religious construct which has no place in a government which separates belief from state.

During the Bush II era, I had believed that the focus on homosexuals was simply a ploy by the religious right and conservatives to gin up support for their politicians. It is almost surprising we’re still talking about this issue, after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Limiting the rights and privileges of legal marriages only to heterosexual couples is unfair prejudice and the president is particularly brave to stand up to those who would force their religious opinions on everyone else. Still, the president has suggested no policy changes to accompany his admission. North Carolina has banned the practice and Colorado is working on passing same-sex partnerships, all unperturbed by the president or the presidential race.

There is no denying that, even in the face of an ongoing war, thwarted terrorist attacks, a failing Euro, and struggling U.S. economy, that gay marriage is still a hot-button issue. For me it is merely further proof of how useless the Bible is when governing a country and a brilliant example of the value of church-state separation. Christians, many of whom are the most angered by Mr. Obama’s statements, can’t even agree among themselves. “When you read the Bible, you can find justification for almost anything, including slavery, the subjection of women and an argument that the sun actually revolves around the earth” vs. “the Bible continues to have authority, and [that] we are obligated to submit ourselves, our wills and our desires to it”

Let me know when they get their story straight. In the mean time, let’s keep expanding freedoms where ever possible. Seems to me, that’s how Jesus would have wanted it.

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