Wednesday, September 26, 2007

SCHIP Update

According to an AP article in the N.J. Star-Ledger (9/26/07), the house has passed the latest State Children's Health Insurance Program expansion bill (see my post of 9/08/07) The vote was 265-159. The opponents, all Republicans, have been taking a pounding by Democrats for being "anti-children", etc., with the Dems even using sick children as props to aid in their drive toward socialized medicine.

The tactics have worked as at least 40 Republicans switched their votes to favor this bill (the original vote was 225-204), including, to my dismay, my rep Michael Ferguson. These "moderate" (read "unprincipled") Republicans are in tight races for re-election next year.

The jubilant Democrats, meanwhile, are getting more open about their agenda. Said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, the House's most powerful member, "It hardly matters that the expansion would be expensive or a step toward socialized health care...the question is, Were you with the kids or were you not?" (emphasis added) Thus Rangel has brazenly declared that the rights of parents, patients, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and health clinics, etc. "hardly matter". He and the Dems now assume that the American people have lost the knowledge of what individual rights actually are (mostly true)...that appeals to emotion over logic is a winning political strategy (judging by the cowardly actions of many Republicans, this is also true)...and that a truly principled, intellectual opposition is nowhere to be found.

And with at least 40 Republicans willing to snatch an extra term rather than stand on principle, Rangel is probably right. On what grounds can these GOP congressmen now stand when they face the coming Clinton/Democrat assault on medical freedom? I have seen this before, and it doesn't work. Winning at any cost just paves the way for the opposition while demoralizing your supporters.

The Democrats may be starting to overplay their hand but only a Republican Party willing to risk losing a few seats in the short term by standing up for the free-market principles I thought they stood for can expose it. SCHIP is supposed to be "for the benefit of the children", according to its advocates. But no one who would sacrifice the future freedom and quality of health care of today's children can claim to be their champions. Only those who oppose SCHIP and support free-market reforms and individual rights in medicine are the true champions of children.

President Bush has vowed to veto this bill and when he does, Republicans will be under unrelenting public pressure to over-ride it. Most Americans, not having been given a true alternative, are currently on the side of the Democrats. The Republicans face a defining moment and should seize it by not only opposing the expansion but working to, as Michael F. Cannon of the Cato Institute advocates, call for the end of SCHIP altogether. This will allow them to begin to present a true alternative to the Dem's statist health care agenda.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pavarotti and Rand

Recent essays about Luciano Pavarotti and Ayn Rand have pointed to some intriguing similarities of these two great and influencial figures.

An Investor's Business Daily editorial, describes how Pavarotti brought opera from the stuffy world of the European elite to the average man around the world.

Similarly, a post on Ergosum brilliantly describes how Ayn Rand brought philosophy down from the ivory tower to the average man around the world.

Where Pavarotti was derided by the operatic elites, Rand was derided by the intellectual elites.

Both Pavarotti and Rand produced prodigious volumes of work that sell in large quantities to millions around the world year after year.

Pavarotti has inspired and influenced millions to explore opera.

Rand has inspired and influenced millions through her philosophy Objectivism and her classic novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

Both achieved huge commercial success never before seen in their respective fields of opera and philosophy.

Luciano Pavarotti's recent death has left a legacy that I believe will only grow in stature and influence.

Ayn Rand, who died in 1982, has already achieved a stature as one of the most important and provocative thinkers of modern times. Interest in and serious study of Objectivism, which she called "a philosophy for living on earth" and which I have adopted as my own, has in recent years been growing in academia despite lingering hostility. Her classic novel, Atlas Shrugged (which will reach its 50th anniverary in October 2007) is ranked by Library of Congress and Book-of-the-Month Club surveys as the second most influencial book in America, after the Bible. Her philosophical legacy and influence will, I believe continue to grow strongly over time.

The parallels in the careers of Rand and Pavarotti illustrated in these two essays just struck me as quite interesting.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Excerpts 4- On "Hate" Crimes

"When the McCain-Feingold law empowered government to regulate the quantity, content and timing of political campaign speech about government, it was predictable that the right of free speech would increasingly be sacrificed to various social objectives that free speech supposedly impedes. And it was predictable that speech suppression would become an instrument of cultural combat, used to settle ideological scores and advance political agendas by silencing adversaries."

"Congress is currently trying to enact yet another "hate crime" law that would authorize enhanced punishments for crimes motivated by, among other things, sexual orientation."

From an op-ed by George F. Will

This piece by Will needs little commentary. However, I would like to elaborate on a point that he touches on, the issue of "hate crime" legislation.

By accepting "hate crime" legislation, America has accepted the principle that the government can prosecute someone based on his beliefs, above and separate from the actual, objective facts of a criminal case. It is this precedent, possibly more so even than the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that infringes on free speech rights up to 60 days before an election, that is in play here. Using the understandable abhorence of any decent person toward an act of violence by one human being against another based on race, religion, gender, etc., as a springboard, the statists have managed to establish into law a crucial building block of totalitarianism- the criminalization of ideas.

With "hate crime" legislation, coupled with the prohibitions against public criticisms of incumbent politicians by private individuals or groups during an election season (McCain-Feingold, or the "incumbent protection act" as free speech advocates call it), we can see, in the Oakland case, the power of legal precedents (and of philosophical ideas) which, once established take on a life of their own. If "the terms 'natural family,' 'marriage' and 'family values' are considered intolerably inflammatory" (i.e., "hate speech"), then it is only a matter of time before terms
like "limited government", "free enterprise", or "color-blind society" will be "intolerably inflammatory" toward recipients of welfare-state largess, environmentalist "protectors" of raw nature, or advocates of racial quotas and preferences, respectively.

McCain-Feingold and "hate crime" legislation have established the principle that free speech and thought are privileges rather than inalienable rights. This has paved the way for a full-fledged assault on the First Ammendment which is just beginning. The dire long-term consequences of these and any similar laws for our republic cannot be overstated and cannot be contained. The only antidote to this ominous trend is to attack it at its root; i.e., to repeal the McCain-Feingold and hate crime laws.

Post References 8

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Of SCHIP and Poison Pills

If you have ever wondered how socialism can advance in a country founded on the principle of inalienable individual rights, take a look at the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Created in 1997 by a Republican congress and signed into law by President Clinton, ostensibly to extend government health insurance coverage to uninsured children of the “poor”, this federal program is now up for renewal in Washington.

The reauthorization bill, which as of this writing has passed both houses of congress, greatly expands the program beyond its original intent. The Associated Press reported on the intent of the program’s advocates earlier this year: “[Senator Hillary] Clinton said she would introduce legislation to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program to all families, regardless of income.” ( N.J. Star Ledger, 1/22/07, emphasis added). On the face of it, this would seem to make no sense. Why, it’s opponents ask, would one want to set up an incentive for parents to drop their private insurance and shift their children’s coverage to the government-run program? Indeed, President Bush has vowed to veto this legislation on these very grounds.

Viewed within the context of the motives of the bill’s sponsors, however, this is precisely the point. It is intended to drive out private insurers. As syndicated columnist Robert Novak reported in a June 28 op-ed in the New York Post, “this proposal is the thin edge of the wedge to achieve the longtime goal of government-supplied universal health insurance and the suffocation of the private system”. As noted by Novak, SCHIPs already has been expanded to cover some adults, and this provision will be extended and presumably expanded in the reauthorization bill. Likewise, Investor’s Business Daily (8/01/07) reports that coverage would be extended “to include those who can afford private insurance for their children”, as well as “children of illegal aliens…which would extend coverage to 70 percent of America’s children “ (emphasis added).

What one must understand is that socialism is being introduced into this country by the almost imperceptable process of incrementalism. The small, original CHIP “poison pill” is following the same growth path as other Federal social programs, with the same incidious results of increasing the cost to families outside of the program via higher taxes and the increased cost of private insurance due to the inevitable price spiral that results from any “free” government service. (Never mind that SCHIPs will be “paid for” by increased cigarette taxes, so that only evil smokers will pay. Smoking has been declining for decades in America, and it is dishonest and fraudulent to base an expanding federal program on a declining revenue base. The “cost” of the program will eventually have to be borne by all other taxpayers and parents. Besides, smokers are using a legal product and shouldn’t be singled out for special punishment to camouflage the politicians true intentions”.) The increasing burden on the private sector whose taxes pay for the Federal welfare-state programs pushes more and more people out of the private market and eventually into the government-run system. Like the circular wave pattern of a stone dropped in a pond, and helped along by employers all-too-eager to pass along to the government the ever-rising cost of their employee coverage, SCHIPs is set up precisely to take advantage of this process, steadily expanding as the private market shrinks.

There are a number of reasons why the advance of socialist despotism can procede despite the fact that there is no appetite for it among most people in this country. For one thing, the tactics used by the socialists represent a kind of package deal that makes it very hard for modern politicians and most Americans to oppose. In the case of SCHIPs, the program’s proponents equate the desireable goal of getting all children covered by health insurance with the creation of coercive government actions that violate individual rights. Should one protest by questioning why some parents should be able to impose the cost of their obligations to their children on other people; or to rebel against the state’s intrusion into and usurpation of the parent’s right to make the health care decisions for their children; or to oppose the unfairness of forcing parents who have provided their own children with coverage (or people with no children) to pay higher taxes for other’s children, he is immediately smeared as being “anti-children”.

In a culture where a selfless concern for others is considered a virtue and selfishness is automatically evil, this blatant appeal to emotion over reason is enough to silence most of the opposition. After all, what is concern for justice, individual rights, and the dangers of an expanding predatory state in the face of the charge that “you don’t care about the children!”? To stand up against such a charge requires a vigorous, principled commitment to defend one’s own right to decide if, when, and how one will offer help to others, and to reject the socialists’ claim that, in essence, compassion and charity grow out of the barrel of a gun. The issue, Ayn Rand writes, is not “whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar….The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime…. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. (Philosophy, Who Needs It, page 61)”.

And this is the crux of the matter. This “popular” bill is supported by a majority of Americans because of their inability to see the forest for the trees. It is Americans’ sense of compassion and generosity that is being turned against them and is being used by the socialists to sacrifice their freedom (and, for that matter, the future freedom of the children they claim to care about). The failure of Americans to understand the broad principles and long-term consequences involved here (the “forest”) is making the advance of socialism possible. It’s not whether children should or should not have health insurance. This battle is rather a small part of a much bigger war- between whether an individual’s life belongs to himself or to the state; i.e., between individualism and collectivism.

The consequences of ignoring the “forest” can be seen in the disgraceful performance of the alleged enemies of socialism, with at least 17 Republicans, including top GOP senators Charles Grassley and Orin Hatch (who said, incredibly, “It’s difficult for me to understand how anyone wouldn’t want to do this.” N.J.S.L. 8/02/07) joining the Democrats in passing this bill by a veto-proof margin of 68-32. (To be fair, the House GOP took a stronger stand against this legislation, with the final vote being a much closer 225-204 in favor, making it likely that a Bush veto can be sustained.)

The most deplorable, and dismaying, aspect was the action taken by the organizations representing the people who would be socialized medicine's greatest victims, the doctors. Both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are supporting SCHIP. Undoubtedly, there are doctors within these groups who oppose this legislation, but they are apparently in the minority. In any event, if the doctors, who should be at the forefront of the battle against socialized medicine, are actually siding with the statists, then our health care freedom may be all but doomed. Whatever short term gain the AMA and the AAP think they will achieve by making this deal with the devil, they have in essence sold out the rest of America, and their own professional futures, by failing to vigorously defend their own independence and rights.

In addition to advancing their drive toward socialized medicine, there is an ominous parallel between the SCHIP issue and Hillary Clinton’s pre-school bill. In my post of 7/29/07, I said “ She has brazenly declared that the primary responsibility for the education of American children rests with the state, not the parents”. If you want to see an example of the power of ideas in action, and how the identification of basic principles can provide you with a bridge of understanding between seemingly unrelated issues, this is one. Whereby Clinton’s pre-school bill would drive a further wedge between parents and their children on education, SCHIPs drives a wedge between parents and their children on health care. The state will have Soviet-style control over the content and method of your childrens’ health care, as it has control over the content, method and curriculum of your childrens’ education, if their agenda is allowed to be carried out to its logical conclusion.

An example of how the left’s health care agenda is being advanced through the state’s hammerlock on this country’s schools, I offer this bit of information from a report by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons;

"As Task Force documents showed, 'Kids First is really a precursor to the new system.' It could be implemented through Medicaid or another plan. The Task Force advocated school-based health services, built upon 'the highly successful models sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.' The school- based clinics are a 'point of access to comprehensive systems.' About 60% of children who receive services from a school-based clinic located near a health center eventually become health- center users.
The latest pilot program is now underway in Pennsylvania- without so much as a by-your-leave from the legislature. Involved officials have been less than cooperative when legislators try to find out what is going on.
'The more questions we ask, the harder it is to get information,' stated Rep. Sam Rohrer.
HillaryCare is coming in as an educational program. The Department of Education is receiving 'free money' by billing Medicaid directly for 'mental health' services provided in a school setting. Eligibility for Medicaid has been extended to any child who is 'learning disabled,' including anyone who does not meet the goals of 'Outcome-Based Education.' " (emphasis added)

This is why the left is so violently opposed to any attempt to undermine the government’s monopoly on education. This, not some well-intentioned desire to “save” the public schools or to guarantee a quality education for the children. The public school system is a political institution that is being used to advance, on many fronts, the political agenda of the Left (and in some cases, the Right as well).

The steady drift toward statism in this country is and has for decades been carried on one small step at a time. Terrified of being exposed as the authoritarians that they are, the socialists hide behind compassionate-sounding slogans to appeal to peoples’ emotions, while loudly proclaiming their support for free enterprise “There is no greater force for economic growth than free markets”, blustered Hillary Clinton, as reported by Bruce Bartlet. (N.J.S.L. 8/14/07)

They know that socialism would never be accepted by the American people if presented openly and boldly, at least not yet. Their brazen attempt to impose socialized medicine in 1993 (“Hillarycare”) collapsed because most people saw it for what it was. So they fell back on their long-time strategy of creating “poison-pill” programs that expand incrementally over time.

One may suggest that I am being overly dramatic in my assessment of the dangers posed by the SCHIP legislation. For years I have believed that a little statism or socialism couldn’t do much harm. After all, this is America where freedom and Capitalism reign. But events of recent years have demonstrated to me that Ayn Rand was right. Principles matter. “There can be no compromise”, she writes, “ between freedom and government controls; to accept ‘just a few controls’ is to surrender the principle of inalienable individual rights and to substitute for it the principle of the government’s unlimited, arbitrary power, thus delivering oneself into gradual enslavement… There can be no compromise on moral principles” (The Virtue of Selfishness, pages 79&81). If you look around at the slow but persistent erosion of control over our lives, not just in health care and education but on free speech (campaign finance reform), property rights (eminent domain), and a whole host of areas right down to what kinds of ingredients can be used in restaurant foods and wondered at the seemingly unstoppable trend toward even more loss of personal freedom, then perhaps you should give serious consideration to the above quotation

I have come to believe firmly that to stop and reverse the trend toward statism, it is vitally important to recognize that the battle cannot be fought on the enemy’s ground. To oppose this SCHIP expansion while upholding the validity of the original program (as do President Bush, the “free market” Galen institute, among others), is to concede defeat. The GOP, which created SCHIP, has all but collapsed as a meaningful force against the socialist advance, and is now reduced to quibbling merely over the size of the glass of poison America must swallow.

Health care has become, to borrow a phrase, the central front in the war between freedom and statism. Socialism’s advance, after having stalled following the rise of Reagan, is now experiencing renewed vigor in America. But, fueled only by appeals to emotion and resting on a foundation of widespread evasion, it is advancing in an intellectual vacuum left by the implosion of the Bush-led Republican Party that has abandoned it’s Goldwater-Reagan principles of defending the individual against the state, and thus has become a lapdog for the resurgent Left.

Beneath the cultural surface, however, are the rumblings of a new intellectual movement that recognizes that the struggle against Socialism can only be fought, and won, on the philosophical battlefield: that it is a moral fight based on the principle of the supremacy of the individual’s, and every individual’s, right to his own life and liberty; which means, in this context, to be free from the imposition by force of any requirement or obligation to satisfy the needs of others. To paraphrase the above-stated quotation- The issue is not whether you should or should not assist others in getting their children insured. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving that assistance. The issue is whether the health insurance needs of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence.

It is impossible to determine or predict if and when our country (and consequently, the world) will collapse into despotism: whether it will be this generation or the next, or not at all. The intellectual/philosophical underpinnings for a second enlightenment are gathering. But the current trends are ominous. And, as Ronald Reagan has said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction”. It is only through a principled rejection of the altruist-collectivist premise of the individual’s subordination to the group (i.e., the state), and the embrace of the principle of individualism, i.e., of each person’s right to self-determination and the pursuit of his own happiness free from the forceable interference by others, that our freedom can be saved.

And the counterattack must begin, here and now and in the name of individual rights, with the demand that the SCHIP expansion bill be defeated, and the original program be killed through non-renewal. (As of this writing, different versions have passed Congress and are currently being reconciled in a House-Senate conference committee). The intellectual vacuum can and must be filled by the rise of a principled opposition resting on a foundation of moral certainty, because only a movement armed with the right philosophical ammunition can reverse the disastrous trends currently under way in America.

I will close out this essay with yet another observation from Ayn Rand, a philosopher whose perspective is that of the broad intallectual trends of history spanning centuries. These words were written 46 years ago, and they remain as a warning to anyone who still clings to the illusion that socialist despotism can be averted without a full rejection of its collectivist premise and simultaneous embrace of its ideological opposite, individualism. In these 46 years, we have seen the collapse of American Liberalism, the Conservative Movement which led to the Reagan Revolution, and the rise of the Republican Party to virtual national majority status from 1994-2006. Yet in this period we have seen the size, scope, and intrusiveness of government at all levels expand exponentially, conclusively demonstrating the power of ideas left fundamentally unchallenged by better

I quote from For The New Intellectual, page 46;

"If America perishes, it will perish by intellectual default. There is no diabolical conspiracy to destroy it: no conspiracy could be big enough or strong enough...There is no national movement for socialism or dictatorship in America, no 'man on horseback' or popular demagogue, nothing but fumbling compromisers and frightened opportunists. Yet we are moving toward full, totalitarian socialism...moved by nothing but the sluggish inertia of unfocussed minds."

Post Reference 7