“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Friday, June 19, 2009

Protecting The Minority: New Ideas on Congressional Legislative Rules

The prospect of a Democratic majority and president adding healthcare to the legislation it has rammed through without any significant Republican involvement or agreement- stimulus and budget bills- brought me to consider how this could be remedied.

The Constitution is largely silent on margins for passage of legislation. This website provides the following information,

"Note 41. The U. S. Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of both Houses to pass a resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution, to pass a vetoed bill, or to remove political disabilities; a two-thirds vote of either House to expel a member; and a vote of two-thirds of the Senators present to ratify a treaty or convict on an impeachment. The House requires a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules, but is obliged to allow a majority to order the previous question or to limit debate, as otherwise its business could never be transacted. Still, a bill cannot be passed without at least forty minutes of debate, as that is allowed after the suspension of the rules or the previous question has been ordered."

The preceding text involving Roberts' Rules of Order refers to majorities as a compromise between the will of the assembly and the rights of the individual.

Perhaps this is what we need in the Constitution. Provisions for legislation over a certain dollar amount, or length of bill requiring a 3/4 majority to pass.

It would be senseless to require some sort of multi-party involvement, because that allows small parties to hold the country hostage via Congress, much like the Greens did in Germany in the last decade. And we can't know how many, or few parties may exist in the future of our Republic.

Rather, in our era of mass, ubiquitous and instant communications, voters know very quickly whether one party stiff-armed the other, as the Democrats have done this year, or invited serious bi-partisan involvement in crafting legislation that significant numbers of both parties will support.

Today, the Democrats hold just shy of 60% of the House seats and 60-61 Senate seats. Yet numerous polls show voters do not agree with many of the actions taken legislatively by what has been essentially just the party currently in power.

Perhaps an amended Constitution should require 3/4 majority, thus forcing compromises, or no action whatsoever.

In time, voters will either keep party majorities below the required threshhold for legislative passage, in order to avoid the sort of behavior we've seen this year by Democrats in Congress and the White House, give one party the majority to ram its approach through, or elect different Representatives in no particular proportion, in order to shake up the dynamics in Congress.

What's clear, though, from this year, is that some better, stronger protection is required from surprisingly small party majorities forcing party-line legislative votes and ignoring any representation of minority views.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

On Universal Healthcare and System Design

Wonderboy's proposals, albeit hopelessly and dangerously vague, for universal healthcare got me thinking this morning about systems design.

I've had a fairly extensive career in large- and small- organizations. I worked for AT&T when it was a million people strong. I've worked in a small hedge fund shop of less than a dozen people.

In my AT&T and Chase Manhattan days, I was involved in plenty of projects which featured systems design, operation or redesign.

While not a veteran IT systems designer, I've had a fair amount of experience with general systems design involving people, organizations, processes, goals, etc.

From all of that, I've learned a few things.

One is, systems have to be designed to the least-competent people's level, because it's rare that systems end up being operated by geniuses.

Another, of course, is something sensibly taught in most IT management courses- start with pilot projects and pilot groups. Be honest and open about what works and what doesn't. I did pilot strategy assessment projects with product managers at AT&T. They were a small, highly-motivated, bright group of people. Even so, we changed things in the process of completing the pilot. It wasn't a rubber stamp exercise.

Finally, before designing a mega-system, it's a really good idea for the chief visionary/architect to have completed at least one smaller system design and implementation prior to 'the big one.'

Entire books, like Tracy Kidder's famous "Soul of a New Machine," have been written about the process. It's not a trivial undertaking.

Which brings me, of course, to Wonderboy's brand spanking new mega-project, universal healthcare.

Our First Rookie hasn't, to my knowledge, designed and implemented an extensive system before. As I understand it, he's a lawyer by trade, after having drugged his way through Columbia undergrad. He then 'organized' communities.

Nothing so far to suggest deep, extensive experience with even medium-scale systems design and development.

Now, add to this the fact that there are 50 states.

Doesn't it seem reasonable to insist that the Democrats, led by Wonderboy, should have a more-experienced systems designer doing universal healthcare? And perhaps one of the more zealous liberal Democratic Senators from say, New York, California or Illinois should visit the new mega-system on their state for, oh, say four or five years before we evaluate it?

Of course, you could look at the failed TennesseeCare program which had to be scrapped. Or the ailing and failing, ever-more expensive program in Massachusetts, unwisely fathered by former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Or the California system that has engulfed the state's budget.

My point is pretty clear, though, isn't it? If something is so important, according to Wonderboy, as to affect even US business competitiveness, which has yet to be proven, isn't it sufficiently important to be done according to the 'best practices' which our president promises to use in the new healthcare system?

That would mean, for a start, naming a confirmed cabinet official with systems design and implementation experience to devise the new program, then choose one or two states on which to test it for several years.

Not pass a single, untested omnibus bill, authored by inexperienced (in systems design) Congressmen, egged on by equally an inexperienced president, to be simply unleashed on the nation without any testing?

This violates every best practice ever conceived. It's a disgrace to our nation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two Unspoken Future Consequences of Universal Healthcare

I wrote recently, here, about the coming Democratic legislative assault on private sector healthcare. As I discussed the post with a friend today, I realized that two important aspects of the debate have been missing so far.

They are, of course, state-directed abortions and euthanasia.

Let me explain.

Once all healthcare is insured/provided by the government, all ability to de-politicize the use of scarce medical resources be gone. Elected officials will appoint the overseers of the program, and those overseers will become the allocators of healthcare dollars and resources.

How long will it be before those overseers note that some births will be more problematic, using more resources, than others? Or that, given genetic information from pre-natal testing, some babies may be born with a higher probability for disease or expensive medical conditions?

Because the healthcare system will have become focused on allocation, rather than an individual's choice for his/her own healthcare, there will be no defense against these developments.

Expect the same at the other end of the age spectrum- euthanasia of the old. It will occur by weighing the expected contribution of older people to society, versus what we all know to be increasingly-expensive late-life and -disease care.

Ironically, a party that thinks it is for the individual, the "little guy," the liberal Democrats, will, in the end, create and operate the machinery for treating individuals as consumers of societal resources, to be denied those resources when deemed too expensive, individual desires be damned.

Will this not be the ultimate intrusion of the state into personal life? Of course.

This is the logical endpoint of the much-desired liberal single-payer healthcare system. Control over who is born, and who dies when.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Obama Fires Inspector General

Gerald Walpin, an Inspector General recently tasked to investigate Obama supporter, former NBA player and Sacramento, California Democratic mayor, Kevin Johnson. An article reporting on the firing may be found here.

A New York Post piece explained the administration's position, reporting,

"We also highlighted numerous questions and further investigation they needed to conduct, including the fact that they had not done an audit to establish how much AmeriCorps money was actually misspent," Acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown said in an April 29 letter to the federal counsel of inspectors general.

Walpin's office made repeated public comments just before the Sacramento mayoral election, prompting the U.S. attorney's office to inform the media that it did not intend to file any criminal charges.

The U.S. attorney's office reached a settlement in the matter. Brown cited press accounts that said Johnson and the nonprofit would repay half of nearly $850,000 in grants it received."

However, that passage makes very clear that Johnson was mishandling the funds.

On the other side of the issue, the Fox News article notes,

"Obama's move follows an investigation by IG Gerald Walpin of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is an Obama supporter and former NBA basketball star, into the misuse of federal grants by a nonprofit education group that Johnson headed.

The president didn't offer any more explanation, but White House Counsel Gregory Craig, in a letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, cited the U.S. attorney's criticism of Walpin to an integrity committee for inspectors general.

Alan Solomont, a Democrat and the board chairman of the government-run corporation, and Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican and the board's vice chair, said they strongly endorsed Obama's decision."

It's pretty clear that this is a classic case of scandal at a government-funded agency which is striking someone close to a sitting president. The agency's heads of course want the IG canned. The target, a Democratic mayor close to the president, wants help quashing the developing investigation.

Despite his many promises of running an administration with heretofore-unapproached ethical standards, and transparency, Wonderboy is covering up scandal and is silent on the reasons. While also violating the law which is in place precisely to prevent this sort of cashiering of IG's for doing their job and uncovering abuses of funds which are embarrassing to an administration.

Hopefully, this story will blossom, rather than die. And develop into a major scandal for the administration, Johnson, and Americorps.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Great Expectations

As I hear the rising din of calls for universal healthcare, and the necessity of passing legislation this year, a basic truth keeps coming back to me.

While catastrophic care may be something the US can probably afford to supply to all its citizens, government-paid total healthcare is not.

The fact is, healthcare is a consumer good. It is something that is bought and consumed. It has a price, and, in the past, many simply consumed less of it. Especially in older age.

To suddenly guarantee everyone that the government will pay for their healthcare, and that they may consume what they wish, is simply not going to happen. One of the facts of economics is that free resources are prone to abuse.

Many argue, and I agree, that the natural consequence of the Democrat's rush to undermine private healthcare options will be rationing of publicly-supplied healthcare by bureaucrats.

When people are responsible for funding their own healthcare costs, they tend to live more healthy lives. I can remember reading a Journal sob-story of a retired union worker in either steel or autos complaining about losing healthcare benefits. But the ailments mentioned were the type that any individual with common sense would know stemmed from an unhealthy lifestyle while younger. In effect, it seems that much of the health issues of many former union members resulted from their not expecting to ever pay for the consequences of their lifestyle choices while younger.

Simply putting a government brand on this sort of behavior and subsequent healthcare spending won't be affordable. Or change anything.

The fact is, decades ago, people simply expected less in terms of lifetime healthcare. Technology has allowed advances in age as various diseases have become treatable. But to afford these treatments, one has to earn the ability to pay for them.

Even a hundred years ago, there surely were people who did not have access to then-state-of-the-art medicine. People died from illnesses that, theoretically, could have been treated, had they the money.

But sooner or later, everybody dies. Why we should spend increasing percentages of society's wealth to extend lives just because it's possible is unclear to me.

I could live with a government-supplied, actuarially-determined, annual tax credit to fund a health savings account. When the government's contribution is spent, the individual is left to his/her own means.

We can provide some basic level of healthcare funding for everyone, but society can't afford to spend unlimited funds until a person dies. I'd rather have control over my own healthcare decisions, than let a government functionary ration my care.

Wouldn't you?