Friday, July 04, 2014

The Declaration of Independence

It is reasonable for any nation to commemorate the date most associated with its attainment of political independence.  So July 4 celebrations in the USA are readily understood.  I write from a non-American perspective however so although I see much to celebrate about  America I see little to celebrate about the Declaration of Independence.  Australia got its independence just by some old men signing papers so starting a war in which thousands died seems to require heavy justification to me.

And when I look at the Declaration I find that the body of it is a desire for more power for the local American legislatures.  And the war got them that.   But what good did that do the average American in return for his blood?  All they got was some flowery words from their existing grandees, roughly the same people who were in power both before and after the war.

Both in the preamble and the subsequent Constitution some magnificent ideals from Europe's liberal enlightenment were enshrined.  The Declarers may even have believed in them.  Be that as it may, the ideals served well to sanctify a thoroughly selfish power grab by the existing American elite.  Many Americans still believe in those ideals, as well they might, but, functionally, they are just the propaganda of yesteryear.

And ideals and words are a poor defence against government. The constant denials to this day of rights granted under the first and second amendments are evidence of that. The "rights" that Americans have are only what the elite of the day are prepared to allow. "The original intent of the founding fathers is being violated on a daily basis". See an example below.


If you like your GPS … tough, you can’t use it

"Remember the frustrating old days of trying to drive while reading, or having a co-passenger read, a map that may or may not have helped you find your destination? Well if some in Congress have their way, those days may be coming back. You see language in the draft Transportation bill that will soon be considered in Congress would give the National Transposition Safety Administration new power to regulate apps like GPS, Google Maps, and Waze. Potential federal regulations including limiting driver’s ability to input information while the car is in motion, or requiring people to certify they are a passenger before being able to use the device making people click a button saying that they are a passenger."



Labels & Liberals

By Jonah Goldberg (I agree with Jonah. I think all Leftists have authoritarian motivations  -- JR)

I am very sympathetic to Charles Murray’s desire to split off the merely wrong “liberals” from the more sinister (my adjective) “progressives.” I’m also immensely flattered by his kind words for my book. But I also know that he is a good liberal in the classic sense and so he has no problem with good faith disagreement.  He writes:

As a libertarian, I am reluctant to give up the word “liberal.” It used to refer to laissez-faire economics and limited government. But since libertarians aren’t ever going to be able to retrieve its original meaning, we should start using “liberal” to designate the good guys on the left, reserving “progressive” for those who are enthusiastic about an unrestrained regulatory state, who think it’s just fine to subordinate the interests of individuals to large social projects, who cheer the president’s abuse of executive power and who have no problem rationalizing the stifling of dissent.

Every libertarian I know indulges an occasional moment or two of melancholia over the fact that they lost the word “liberal” to the left and must carry around the label “libertarian” — a term that clanks off the American ear like a steel wrench bouncing off sterile a concrete floor. Even Friedrich Hayek didn’t like the word, preferring “Old Whig.” (I searched in vain, but I could swear I read an interview in which Hayek complained about how “un-euphonious” the term libertarian is). A great many conservatives think we are all “classical liberals.” Hayek would have largely agreed, as he famously argued that America was the one place where one could be a conservative and still be a champion of liberty (that’s because American conservatives conserve classically liberal institutions).

Now, if Charles could get everyone to agree to his taxonomy I’d be more than happy to go along. I certainly agree there’s a distinction between the two factions of the left he describes. I usually just use liberal versus leftist.   But liberal and progressive is more than fine by me. Either way, though, I think there are two problems with Charles’ idea.

First, leftists refuse to raise their hands when called upon as such. Over the last ten years or so it has become very difficult for those of us on the right to tell the players apart in the opposing league. It used to be that there were, to name a few,  conservative Democrats, progressive Democrats, vital center liberals, moderates, Scoop Jackson Democrats, McGovernites,  Naderites, Jesse Jackson Democrats and DLC Democrats.  On the more explicitly ideological side, and going further back, there were also socialists, Communists, this, that and the other kind of Marxists, Stalinists, Trotskyites, and anti-Communist liberals and anti-anti-Communist liberals.  I love reading about the vicious splits between and among American socialists and American communists in the 1930s or the particularly venomous hate the 1960s left had for 1960s liberals. But today, such distinctions are very hard to find on the left.

Today, the spirit isn’t so much pas d’ennemis à gauche (no enemies to the left) as is its a rejection of labels altogether.  They think ideological commitments are something only crazy people have – and by crazy people I/they mean rightwingers. They all say they’re just fact-finders and empiricists, problem-solvers and non-ideologues determined to do good things. When people on MSNBC say they are “progressives” they don’t mean they ideological descendants of Comte or Croly, they mean they are the good guys (in a non-heteronormative way, of course).

The second problem is that even if you could get everyone to wear a sandwich board laying out their ideological commitments like today’s specials, it wouldn’t matter. Because they all get along! Question about the prominent liberals Charles Murray had dinner with: Have they openly complained about all of the horrors their progressive confreres have unleashed upon the country? If this distinction is as real as Charles says it is, why hasn’t the left been roiled with ideological and factional squabbles the way conservatism has been over the last few years? Where is the Occupy Wall Street vs. establishment brouhaha to correspond with the Tea Party vs. establishment “civil war”?

We talk a lot about fusionism on the right, but the real fusion has been on the left. Barack Obama’s intellectual lineage comes directly from the 1960s left (Ayers, Wright, Allinsky, Derrick Bell, SANE Freeze etc). But he is an altogether mainstream liberal today. To the extent mainstream liberals complain about Obama it is almost entirely about tactics and competence. When was the last time you heard a really serious ideological complaint about Obama from, say, EJ Dionne or the editorial board of the New York Times? I’ll go further. When was the last time you heard liberals have a really good, public, ideological fight about anything? I’m sure there have been some interesting arguments between bloggers and the like. But I can’t think of anything – on domestic policy at least – that has spilled out onto the airwaves and op-ed pages in a sustained way. The Democratic Leadership Council – once committed to moving the Democratic Party rightward — closed up shop in 2011. They muttered something about accomplishing their mission, but that was basically sad office talk over cake and packing crates. Al Gore was once considered a conservative Democrat, but he moved to the left and has stayed there. Hillary Clinton was once a committed leftist. She moved toward the center for entirely mercenary reasons. But by the time she got there, the tide of her party receded leftward leaving her on a lonely atoll with her pile of Wall Street lucre.  John Kerry was the most liberal (or progressive) member of the senate in 2004, and he was his party’s nominee for president. In 2008, the same could be said about Obama and, well, you know how that story goes.

The best way to get the measure and value of ideological distinctions is to see what the ideologues are willing to fight for, in public, at some reputational risk. On the right today, those metrics are on full display. Not so on the left. Everyone gets along, all oars pull in the same direction. And what disagreements there are – between liberals and leftists or liberals and progressives – they’re overwhelmingly about tactics or insufficient zeal toward “common goals” and they are kept to a dull roar.  I’m all for drawing the distinctions Charles wants to draw, but they only become meaningful when liberals and leftists are willing to admit them.



Veterans Will Suffer Another Scandal As Long As Bureaucracy Runs Their Health Care

by David Hogberg, Ph.D.

The Federal Office of Special Counsel recently revealed that a mental patient at the Veterans Affairs facility in Brockton, Massachusetts, had to wait eight years before he received a psychiatric evaluation.1 This was while he spent those eight years actually living at the VA facility!

This story is curious in light of Phillip Longman's explanation for the VA wait-times scandal. Longman is the author of the book Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours that is partially to blame for the scandal.2

Longman claims the scandal isn't due to any problem stemming from the VA but from failure by Congress to spend enough money on the VA facilities with the most need. He states that the scandal...

...results from large migrations of aging veterans from the Rust Belt and California to lower-cost retirement centers in the Sun Belt. And this flow, combined with more liberal eligibility standards that allow more Vietnam vets to receive VA treatment for such chronic conditions as ischemic heart disease and Parkinson's, means that in some of these areas, such as Phoenix, VA capacity is indeed under significant strain.3

He argues that the standard of a maximum 14-day wait for seeing patients that the VA is supposed to meet might make sense in areas such as New England, but "trying to do the same in Phoenix and in a handful of other Sun Belt retirement meccas is not workable without Congress ponying up for building more capacity there."

However, Brockton is not in the Sun Belt. Indeed, neither are many of the VA facilities that have had problems with wait-times.

The states that are generally considered to comprise the Sun Belt include Alabama, Arizona, California (Southern), Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. But even using a more expansive definition that includes Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Virginia and Utah doesn't lend support to Longman's argument.

For example, the VA's Access Audit cleared a number of facilities of wrongdoing. But pages 38-40 of the audit list 81 facilities that require "further review." Forty-one of those facilities are in the Sun Belt, while the other 40 are not.4

A review of Government Accountability Office and VA Office of the Inspector General reports that examine wait times shows a similar pattern. Examining reports from 2000-2014 that contained wait-time data on specific locales reveals 21 in the Sun Belt and 22 located elsewhere.5

In short, the evidence shows that the problem is one that infects the entire VA system regardless of geography. Factors inherent in the VA cause wait-times and not lack of money or migration patterns.

Yet, Best Care Anywhere suggests that this wasn't supposed to happen. Longman gives much of the credit for the great strides the VA supposedly made in improving care during the 1990s to its Undersecretary of Health, Ken Kizer. One of Kizer's reforms was pushing...

...budget and policy making authority away from the [Veterans Health Administration] central headquarters in Washington. As part of this decentralization plan, he created a series of twenty-two regional administrative districts... Decentralization, combined with the VHA's state-of-the-art information systems... meant that it became possible to hold regional administrators accountable for a wide range of performance measures.6

The administrative districts — called Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) — now number 23. According to the VA's Access Audit, 20 VISNs contained VA facilities that needed "further review." So, why were the administrators of the VISNs unable to stop wait times from proliferating?

Bureaucracies behave in certain ways regardless of how they are structured. Even if authority is dispersed, as it is in the VA, the administrators are still only accountable to Congress and the Administration since that is who provides their funding. If Congress and the Administration believe that the VA provides great health care — as many of them did due to the influence of Longman's book7 — then they're less inclined to worry about wait times at the VA, if they hear about them at all. Administrators won't address concerns that Congress and the Administration don't have.

Another problem with bureaucracies is they don't get their funding from the people who are seeking their services. In the private sector, those people are generally called "customers," although in the health care sector they are usually referred to as "patients." If customers have to wait too long to receive a service from "Business A," they will take their money to businesses that offer shorter wait times. Business A will see its revenues decline and either have to shape up or go under. Like most bureaucracies, the VA has no such "feedback loop" since the people seeking their services aren't the same ones paying for them. In short, there is no financial consequence for poor customer service.

Finally, most government employees have a greater incentive to cheat, since most have civil service protections that make it exceedingly difficult to fire them. In the case of the VA, many employees manipulated wait-times data so that their facilities appeared to meet the 14-day waiting standard. When employees have goals they can't meet and not meeting them means they don't receive promotions, raises and bonuses, the incentive to manipulate the data is much higher when they can't be fired. We'd like all people to be honest, even those who have civil service protection, but the odds are on honesty going down the drain when there are few consequences for dishonesty. Thus, it's little wonder VA employees created false data on wait times.

While the proponents of the VA having the best care anywhere would like to believe that the wait-time scandal is limited to a specific geographic location, the data indicates otherwise. Rather, the scandal is the result of the incentives faced by bureaucrats. Given the nature of bureaucracies, those incentives won't change, meaning that future veterans will suffer from wait-times as well.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


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