CBS 60 Minutes Report Comparing American and German Prisons

Visiting a prison in Germany, in a recent telecast, CBS 60 Minutes reported the stark differences between American and German prisons and “stark” barely describes the comparison. Even prisoners serving long sentences for violent crimes have an enormous amount of freedom, compared to inmates in American inmates, and reside in comfortable quarters that are closer in comparison to a retreat spa than to an American penitentiary. Some prisoners, CBS 60 Minutes reported, even possess keys to their own cells; if you can even call them cells.

Some notable questions for the piece were, “how do we explain the contrast between American and German prisons?” and “what can we learn from the German penal system?”

My response would be that there is not much we can learn that can be translated into changes in American penitentiaries because the differences in penal systems are nothing more than a reflection of the differences between German and American society.

Americans like to think that we live in the greatest nation on earth but that is more of a long-held assumption than a reality. This is particularly true if you are Black, Muslim, Mexican or other minority. The same can be said if you are poor, of poor health, or are the victim of a gun related crime. The German government, much like many of the other industrial democratic nations of the world, actually takes care of all of its citizens, rather than a privileged few, and it provides a much safer environment, the threat of terrorism notwithstanding.

Racial tension and prejudice permeates American society. German society is much less diverse and while there are certainly racists among the German people, recent incidents like Ferguson and Baltimore are, arguably, much less likely to happen. The German people, probably, are far more charitable to President Obama and his family than “conservative Americans” who view the President as evil.

I have not been to Germany but I would be surprised to learn that one would find the same long lines that we see at community food banks in cities around the U.S. Similarly, the disturbing failure rates among American public school students, particularly on the part of poor and minority children, are not part of the German socio-cultural experience.

One of the other differences in the two societies is the prevalence of guns in the U.S. There is an old but not very funny joke that, in a country like Germany, citizens have a right to healthcare but will find it difficult to get their hands on a gun. In the U.S., we have a right to purchase a firearm, even an assault weapon, but may well find it difficult to get access to or be able to afford healthcare for our families. The freedom to purchase and carry anything from handguns to assault weapons creates a whole different level of violence on American streets.

It would be prudent for Americans to acknowledge that our over-crowded prisons and the violent nature of our inmates are symptoms of jagged rips in the fabric of the great American democracy. They are evidence of an expanding chasm between rich and poor, healthy and sick, white citizens and people of color. This rift between the haves and the have-nots is a source of the deepening resentment some Americans have for others. It is a division that threatens the very principles of democracy. They threaten our ability to work together and to find solutions that work for common good.

If there was ever any doubt of the divisions between us, the emergence of Donald Trump as a legitimate candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination should settle the matter. Donald Trump’s appeal is his pledge to take drastic action in response to some of the problems we face as a society. As we pointed out in a previous blog post, that so many Americans are willing to embrace the authoritarian nature of such a candidate may pose the biggest threat to American democracy, its principles and traditions in our lifetime.

Donald Trump: The Antithesis of Positive Leadership

As an American who has spent his entire career as a student, advocate, and practitioner of the principles of positive leadership, it is staggering to think that not only is a presidential candidate spreading a message of prejudice and hatred but also that he is garnering the support of a significant percentage of Republican voters. The man behaves like a bully and a name-caller of the same ilk as a rising political leader in Germany, eighty-five years ago. If you do not agree with someone, call them names, threaten to do harm to them, persecute an entire religious group, or deport millions of others.

Over the last couple of decades we have seen the emergence of bitter enmity on the part of Americans who are so full of hatred and prejudice that they will believe even the most outrageous accusations against President Obama, a man whom they despise. No doubt, someone recently spouted that “Obama probably paid protesters at a recent political rally for Trump” and now those accusations are sweeping across the internet, taken as gospel. Equally ridiculous are the accusations that “Obama arranged and paid for the assassination” of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

How can people be so full of hate that they are willing to believe such unsubstantiated nonsense about the President of the United States?

The sad thing about Donald Trump is that the man is correct about some of the things that need to happen to keep our nation healthy and “return it to greatness.” Support of Trump on these few issues becomes impossible, however, when the man preys on the ignorance and prejudices of millions of Americans and when his political strategy poses the biggest threat to democracy in my lifetime.

We do need to put the restoration of the U.S. infrastructure at the top of our nation’s priority list. We do need to take control of immigration. We do need to put people back to work. We do need to replace politicians who have become little more than puppets of some of our nation’s richest and most powerful political action committees. We do need leadership that is beholden to no one other than the American people.

We desperately need positive leaders who recognize that the issues with which we struggle, today, did not just happen rather that they are the consequence of 65-years-worth of ineffectual policies, whether liberal or conservative, republican or democrat.

What we need most of all is a positive leader with a vision for the future. A leader who recognizes that poverty is a consequence of an obsolete educational process that has set generations of American children up for failure and that makes it almost impossible for even our best teachers to do what they dreamt of doing when they chose their profession. It is an educational process that can only be further damaged by reforms focused on privatization and standardized testing.

We yearn for a positive leader who understands that the strongest economy during the latter third of the 21st Century will be the one that has ended its reliance on fossil fuels and has mastered the production of renewable sources of clean energy. It will also be an economy that is committed to responsible stewardship of the environment.

We hunger for a positive leader who believes that all Americans are entitled to comprehensive healthcare and prescription drugs as a right of citizenship and who understands that we can provide such healthcare without socialized medicine if only we open are hearts and minds to a new way of thinking.

And, finally, we need a positive leader who can help us renew our faith in democracy and in each other; a leader who can show the American people that our greatest strength as a nation is, has always been, and will always be our diversity. We seek a leader who can rebuild a nation in which the American dream is an achievable reality for all of its citizens; not just a privileged few.

My novel, Light and Transient Causes, is about one way things could go horribly wrong if a man like Donald Trump was elected President. https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/light-and-transient-causes-a-novel/ The reader is invited to take a look.

Pope Francis – A Remarkable Man, Visit, and Message

By eschewing many of the trappings of his office and reaching out to all people, Pope Francis has positioned himself to speak with unprecedented moral authority. If one were to boil down the essence of Pope Francis’ ministry it is a message of hope, of respect for the sanctity of life, of the dignity of human beings, and a call to action to leaders everywhere to accept responsibility for finding solutions to the problems of mankind.

His charge to leadership, whatever their venue, is to build bridges that bring people together in search of shared interests. He challenges leaders to set aside personal agendas and to develop a process whereby people can work together toward the common good.

This message is of particular importance to the leadership of democratic governments because democracy demands cooperation among those with opposing points of view. Pope Francis’ support of the negotiations with Cuba and the controversial Iran agreement regarding the use of nuclear power are examples of this process. The Iran agreement is far from perfect but it is the outcome of a commitment of the parties to find common ground and to begin the process of replacing suspicion and mistrust with cooperation and goodwill.

Maybe this is why Pope Francis was chosen at this particular point in history; a time when so much is at stake for humanity. We live in a world that is in desperate need of solutions that benefit all people and not just a select and privileged few. It is almost as if the Pope senses that democratic governments are teetering on the precipice of collapse. This is most certainly true in the U.S.

We have become a people divided at almost every turn, filled with bitterness and resentment for people who are different than us whether rich or poor; white or black; Muslim, Jew, or Christian; citizens or immigrants, legal or illegal; conservative and liberal. The inability of our elected representatives to put the interests of the whole before the interests of the few places our democracy at risk.

When some leaders seem compelled to impose their points of view on others, the very premise of democracy is threatened. The more difficult it becomes to find common ground the more imperative it is that we do find it.

The U.S. population is more diverse than it has ever been in almost every conceivable way and never again will it be less diverse than it is today. As a result, certain segments of our population are at odds with other segments and the differences threaten our society at its core.

Whether issues of race, poverty, government spending, immigration, healthcare, public education, aging, social welfare, or the environment the issues that divide us are cavernous in their extreme. The irony is that each of these problem sets have solutions that will not only serve the interests of all parties but can also transform American society to a new level of prosperity and world leadership. They are solutions, however, that can only be found beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

Not one of us has the right to put our own selfish interests ahead of the interests of others whether we are elected representatives of a legislative body, a president or governor, or even a county clerk in Kentucky. Neither do we have the right to play God and sit in judgment of others. Perhaps sharing this message is one of the things Pope Francis has been chosen to do.

We all have a responsibility to give the best of ourselves to our brethren and to our communities. We have a duty to accept responsibility to do what is right and just, knowing that if any judgment is passed it is we who will be held accountable.

Open Letter to All Presidential Candidates

What is the matter with you people?

Right now, in this 2nd decade of the Twenty-first Century, Americans are in desperate need of a new kind of leadership. People know, intuitively, that the leadership of the last half century, whether democrat or republican, conservative or liberal is not working. What they do not yet grasp is that the outdated policies of yore are the cause of the problems we face today, not the solution.

The appeal of Donald Trump is an expression of the frustration of the American people and their thirst for a new vision. We can only hope they wake up and recognize that Donald Trump provides only an illusion of new leadership before he actually gets elected to anything.

What we so desperately need is a leader who can articulate a new vision of the future that unites Americans behind a common cause, not leadership that divides us even more than we are already disunited. We need someone who embraces policies of inclusion not exclusion of people who look, think, or worship differently than we do. We need leaders who recognize that our diversity is our greatest strength, not our biggest weakness.

The issue with the county clerk in Kentucky provides a perfect example. While she has an absolute right to her beliefs, she does not have the right to foist those beliefs on others. When one takes the oath of public office, one pledges to abide by the constitution and by the laws of our state and nation, irrespective of one’s faith. If we cannot then we need to exit public life and this principle applies as much to presidents, legislators, judges and governors as it does to county clerks.

The truth is that we cannot turn back the calendar to a simpler time. We must live in today’s world with our eyes on tomorrow.

The world population is exploding and is projected to reach between 10 and 16 billion by the end of this century. Combined with the diversity of the world community; the complexity of its marketplace; the fragility of the ecosystem; and, the speed with which everything is changing we can be certain that the policies of the past will be as ineffectual as first generation antibiotics are in treating the exotic bacterial and viral diseases sweeping the planet.

In the face of the challenges of dealing with international relations, terrorism, hunger and poverty, crumbling infrastructure, civil liberties, immigration, public education, healthcare, overburdened justice system, crime, drugs, violence, the environment, our dependency on fossil fuels, racial and religious discrimination, and the need for unprecedented leaps in technological development people who believe we can solve our problems through cuts in spending are childlike in their naivety.

If we are going to survive the balance of this century as a free and democratic society then we need the absolute best from every single man, woman, and child. We must make enormous investments to bring everyone on board as full and equal partners in the American enterprise and we must forge agreements and partnerships, even if imperfect, with the people from every nation across the globe.

The last thing we need is the kind of encapsulated thinking and uninspired leadership that has been paraded across our television screens in recent debates or that has emanated from our nation’s capitol.

Who knows what the next 80 years will bring but if we cannot elevate our game that future will not be pretty. Most of us will not be here to see what life will be like in the year 2100 but our grandchildren will and they deserve better. Will someone please step up?

Donald Trump: Illusion of Bold Leadership

The willingness of so many Americans to embrace Donald Trump as a legitimate candidate for President is evidence of just how frustrated Americans are with the leadership in Washington, whether President Obama, whom so many demonize, or a dysfunctional Congress.

Trump’s immediate popularity is also a function of a desire for quick and easy answers to the seemingly overwhelming cascade of challenges facing our nation, its people, and the world community.

We do need bold, new leadership with fresh insight into the unprecedented number of issues of the Twenty-first Century but Donald Trump provides only the illusion of bold and fresh thinking; the kind one would expect to find on any of the inane reality shows on television.

The more frustrated we become with the challenges facing our society the more tempted the masses are to abandon good judgment and also the core principles of democracy. The truth is, the more complicated and critical the issues become the more important it is to cling to our democratic principles. Relinquishing those principles, however briefly we might envision doing so, is the single-most dangerous strategy a free people can contemplate.

The problem is heightened by the fact that we often confuse our democratic principles with over-simplified political dogma, catch phrases, and clichéd solutions. I love, for example, the assertion that we can turn our country around if we just cut spending or balance the budget. How could the logic be any simpler? Is it not common sense? The answer, of course, is only if we ignore the realities of society.

The reality is that a full third to nearly half of the American people depend upon their government for their economic survival. The underlying theme of conservative ideology is to cut off the poor, the infirm, the disenfranchised, and illegal immigrants because we can no longer afford to support their dependency. We quietly include the growing population of the elderly in this sweeping agenda but we are careful not to mention them too loudly. Neither do we draw attention to the fact that so many of the poor are minorities.

It would be one thing if the proponents of such radical spending cuts offered up alternative solutions to the problems facing the unfortunate members of our society but, of course, they do not. Rather they offer up the metaphoric equivalent of “Let them eat cake!” And, we have not addressed the enormous cost of protecting our environment and rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Sadly, this burgeoning population of Americans, many of whom have lost all faith and hope in the American dream, are the product of 65 years’ worth of dysfunctional policy making; both democrat and republican and both liberal and conservative.

If we cut them off, where do our leaders think these people will go? Will they quietly disappear and let the rest of us go on with our lives?

The growth of this population of vulnerable Americans will accelerate in the aftermath of our nonsensical policies regarding public education, poverty, healthcare, aging, employment, immigration, and Social Security. The greater their number the louder will be their clamor and the more reactionary will be the response of “middle Americans” and the government representing them.

The greater the enmity between the “haves” and the “have nots” the more incendiary our society. The social wildfire that will burst forth as a result of an inevitable spark will rage more furiously than anything we have experienced to date. How can a nation survive leadership that so egregiously neglects the needs and interests of such an enormous segment of its population while claiming to represent and serve the American people?

If we do not find meaningful solutions to these challenges the future will not be pretty and the more vulnerable we become as a nation the bolder will be the response of the nations that compete with the U.S. for economic, political, and military supremacy.

If we are to have any hope of sustaining the great American democracy throughout the balance of the Twenty-first Century we must find a way to bring our entire population on board as productive members of a fully participatory democracy. Not an easy task, to be sure, but it is impossible only if we fail to pull our heads out of the landfill of the past century’s failed policies and outworn platitudes.

Our future can be secured only if we reach beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom for real solutions to public education, healthcare, poverty, immigration, discrimination, and the environment using all of our imagination and ingenuity. Only when we learn to think exponentially will new and innovative solutions be discovered that can meet the challenges of the Twenty-first Century and beyond.

In addition to this blog, Mel Hawkins is the author of Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, a nonfiction book offering a blueprint to fix public education and transform American Society; and a novel, Light and Transient Causes, about what happens if we don’t.

The Wide Disparity of Pricing for Healthcare Services is Just a Taste of the Problems Yet to Come

This past week, ABC News reported on the practice of the Northside Hospital System in Atlanta of charging outrageous prices for their services. They cited the bill of one patient where they did a line by line analysis of charges. What they found were many examples of line items for which the patient was charged exorbitant prices for things that the hospital could purchase through its suppliers for a tiny fraction of the cost. One of the most glaring examples was a pill for which the patient was charged several hundred dollars in spite of the fact that the hospital could purchase it for less than a nickel.

Hospitals across the country engage in such pricing strategies, to one degree or another, in order to make up for losses as a result of low reimbursement rates by health insurance, managed care companies, Medicare, and Medicaid and also as the result of the cost of doing business in a dysfunctional system.

This practice is considered a strategy of necessity by providers of many healthcare services simply because that is the way the fee-for-service, zero-sum billing game has evolved. Payers establish reimbursement rates that enable them to stay in business, which means making a profit. And, do not be confused by hospitals that claim to be not-for-profit for even these providers must be able make money if they want to stay in business. The only differences are the uses of the profits and the bank accounts into which the dollars must inevitably be deposited.

Every billable medical or hospital procedure results in high-stakes competition to determine where those dollars will end up. Health insurance, managed care companies and other payers set reimbursement rates and also make providers jump through hoops as part of the claims processing strategy to look for any reason to justify denial of the claim. This forces providers to develop coding and billing strategies to optimize their revenue generation and also requires them to file and refile claims. It is a zero-sum game in which there are winners and losers in the competition for each and every healthcare dollar, not counting the patients who almost always are losers in the billing game.

What charges are not reimbursed by the various third-party payers are then billed to patients. Some of the money is eventually collected and much of it must be written off. Families burdened by outrageous medical and hospital bills is the single greatest cause for most of our nation’s personal bankruptcies. The write-offs necessitate new and more innovative charging and billing strategies. It is a vicious circle that drives up the cost of care enormously. Although we have seen some improvement, in recent years, in the rate of increase of aggregate healthcare costs, for at least two full generation the rates of increase have been substantially higher than the Consumer Price Index (CPI). There have been many years when the rate of increase has been double- or triple the rate of the CPI. Higher costs require providers to increase prices, which requires insurers to increase premiums on a merry-go-round that is anything but merry to the patients.

When we think about the number of healthcare dollars that never end up in the hands of providers of actual medical, hospital, or ancillary care, it can be a staggering amount. The insurance, managed care, and government payers always underestimate the percentage of dollars that are allocated to the administration process relative to those spent on direct care to patients. That cost is not just the cost of doing business for the private and public payers (which for the private payers must include profits) it also includes every dollar spent by providers for the purpose of coding, billing, claims processing, and management of receivables.

It truly is an outrageous process but it is the inevitable companion to the practice of fee-for-service (FFS) medicine in a market driven by health insurers and other third-party payers and processors.

The process is so complex that, in spite of claims on the part of health insurance and managed companies to the contrary, there is no accountability. Incompetent and inefficient providers pay no penalty for their poor performance and both the best and the worst providers survive no matter what the level of patient satisfaction.

Free market forces, in the true sense of the concept simply do not function in healthcare.

The biggest problems in healthcare in America, whether speaking of quality, cost, or access are the inevitable outcomes of a system driven by health insurance, Managed, care and other third-party providers; both public or private.

That Obamacare or, more correctly, the Affordable Care Act, (or more appropriately the Affordable Health Insurance Act) commits us to a health-insurance driven market is a recipe for continuing and escalating disaster. The motivation of Obama and the members of congress who finally chose to act was admirable if misguided. We have tried to fix a system driven by forces that even our smartest people seem unable to comprehend with a solution that can only aggravate an already tragic reality.

It is, truly, a national embarrassment that so many citizens of what we consider to be the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world must deal with illness and injury of themselves and their families without access to what we also describe as the highest quality healthcare on the planet.

What makes the situation most ludicrous is that it is our stubbornness and our prejudices that keep us from embracing a solution that will provide comprehensive healthcare and prescription drugs to every single American man, woman, and child, without relying on socialized medicine, at a cost that will save the American people trillions of dollars.

My book, Radical Surgery: Reconstructing the American Health Care System, lays out a healthcare plan that will give us everything we need, at a reasonable cost, without any of the things that the American people seem to fear, pathologically.

Don’t believe me? Check it out!

A Healthcare Story: A Health Insurance Victim

A young woman in Indiana, twenty-eight years of age, seemed poised for a good life. She liked her job in a small professional office where she was respected for her consistent performance. She enjoyed the people with whom she worked and she was engaged to be married, in only a few months, to a young man with whom she was thoroughly in love. Life was happy, busy, and could hardly have been better so she paid little attention when she experienced occasional dizziness and a slight numbness in her left arm and leg. These symptoms were followed by blurred vision and headaches and, at the urging of her family and her fiancée, she went to her doctor.

Although she had no health insurance—her employer was a small business and offered no employee benefits—her physician was able to arrange for a stream of increasingly more sophisticated and more expensive diagnostic procedures and, a referral to a neurologist. The diagnosis was Multiple Sclerosis. By this time the young woman’s symptoms had progressed and her physician pronounced her disabled and unable to work. Reluctantly she quit her job—at that time she truly was unable to perform her duties–and applied to Social Security for a disability.

After a lengthy process, during which her symptoms began to abate, the application for disability was rejected by Social Security. Although she felt much better, and was able to return to work, she was told that the MS symptoms might recur and could be even more debilitating. She was now a twenty-nine year old woman whose life was not so promising. She was unemployed, thousands of dollars in debt, and lived with the fear her health could deteriorate at any time. Her fiancée had stuck by her during the ordeal but the couple was advised to postpone their wedding, as a husband would become liable for her indebtedness. Heartbroken, frightened, discouraged and deeply in debt, she filed for bankruptcy.

Eventually she found a new job – her previous one no longer available – and although she didn’t care for the work or co-workers nearly as well as her prior job, a group health plan was offered. Unfortunately her MS was ruled as a pre-existing condition that would not be covered, at least during the first year. The monthly payroll deduction for the health insurance premium reduced her take home pay by twenty percent.

This young woman had become a victim, not only of her illness, but also of the system. The healthcare providers who took the financial risk to provide care for this patient were left with little choice but to write off a portion of the charges for their service. Although not visible to the public, costs such as these must be born by the system and they fuel the fires of medical inflation. There is no such thing as a free service, and someone, somewhere must pay.

Are Free Market Forces Good for Healthcare?

Contrary to popular belief, the problems with the American Health Care System are not the result of market forces run amok. In fact, just the opposite is true. The American health care system languishes because the forces of the free market are unable to exert their influence. Imagine, if you will, how our free market system would look if it functioned like our health care system.

Imagine that you are sitting at home, watching television, and something feels out of sync. You can’t put your finger on what it is you are feeling but it is nagging at you and keeping you out of sorts. After a few days, the problem seems to be worsening and you are really beginning to worry. Finally, you pick up the phone and place a call to your local retail professional and make an appointment.

On the appointed day you arrive at your local mall or shopping center and you describe your symptoms to your retail professional. Your retail professional listens intently, asks a few questions, and then diagnoses your problem and offers a treatment protocol to make you feel better. Your retail professional tells you that the problem is that your home entertainment system is not meeting your minimum daily requirements. As a solution, your retail professional tells you that what you need is a new home entertainment system with state-of-the-art technology.

Now, it just so happens that you retail professional has the perfect home entertainment system to sell to you and guess what? It’s covered by your retail insurance policy. In checking your benefits it turns out that you’ve already satisfied your deductible so your insurance is going to cover eighty percent of the total cost of your new system.

What your retail professional may not explain to you is that your home entertainment system exceeds the usual and customary charges for such items so the insurance is not going cover your retail professional’s full cost. She’s not worried, however, because there are a number of accessories she can sell to you that are covered and these will more than make up for the difference.

I know this sounds a little silly, but think about how our free market economy would work if the merchants with whom we do business would decide for us what we need and how much we are going to pay, and that we would be happy to accept their decisions without question because our insurance is going to pay for the merchandise, anyway. This is exactly how the healthcare system works today and we wonder why costs continue to rise at or above the rate of the Consumer Price Index.
The problem with the American health care system is not that doctors make too much money, the problem is that the incentives in healtcare reward the wrong behavior. The problem is not that health insurance companies, managed care, Medicare or Medicaid absorb huge chunks of our health care dollar, the problem is that these entities exist at all.

Think about it for a moment. If we really want to provide universal health care what value do health insurance, managed care, Medicare and Medicaid contribute? Don’t these entities exist to restrict access to care to only those who are eligible for coverage? Don’t these entities exist to limit care to only those services that are covered by our schedule of benefits and for which we have paid?

If we want to provide comprehensive health care to all Americans we have to change the way we think about our health care system. There is a solution but it resides outside the boundaries of conventional thinking.

Visit my website atwww.melhawkinsandassociates.com and check out my book, Radical Surgery: Reconstructing the American Health Care System. In fact, tell all of your friends about it.

Obamacare aka the Affordable Care Act Mis-Named!

The Affordable Care Act, affectionately or not so affectionately called Obamacare has been misnamed. It should have been called the Affordable Health Insurance Act because it addresses the issues of healthcare, only indirectly.

What Obamacare does is allow people to purchase health insurance coverage for themselves and their families. “Allow” is not the right word, however, as the law is set up with penalties for families who do not enroll in a health insurance plan within a designated time frame.

The types of health insurance coverage that will be available to people will vary as each individual or family will be shopping for coverage that seems to best fit their unique requirements.

The ACA also asks health insurance providers to incur more risk by eliminating provisions like pre-existing conditions. Apparently, it is a trade off for being assured of getting more business.

We admire the sentiment of the act, which was intended to reduce the number of Americans who are uninsured and, therefor, not able to get the medical or hospital care that they need.The logic is somewhat confounding, however.

Rather than make health care available to all Americans as a right of citizenship, as so many other nations have done, it was decided to require everyone to have health insurance. How they arrived at the next logical conclusion, which was to penalize people who are unwilling or who think themselves unable to pay for the now more readily available coverage, is somewhat of a mystery.

The problem with Obamacare is that it will commit our nation to a future in which we are tied to the health insurance industry. Almost certainly, the people of other developed nations must be shaking their heads in bewilderment at those crazy Americans. I’m sure they must be asking themselves why we think it a good idea to do business with a middle man who only adds cost and complexity to the process of delivering needed healthcare to people.

It is hard to come up with a comparison that illustrates the absurdity of the concept but here’s an example that at least comes close.

Earlier I used the example of fire protection for citizens and asked the reader to imagine a scenario where the fire department pulls up to your burning home and asks to see your fire insurance card before they will turn on their hoses.

In most communities in the U.S., people have determined that everyone deserves fire protection and that the community will pay for that protection with tax dollars.

I have heard of a few communities where citizens are asked to pay a direct fee for fire protection. Now imagine that, in these latter communities, a problem has developed because not everyone is willing to or can afford to pay the fee for their fire protection. This theoretical community could decide to solve the problem the way most American communities have, by paying for fire protection with local tax dollars even if this initially requires an increase in property tax rates, the adoption of some type of local option income tax, or even some type of earmarked sales tax. Whatever the method of taxation, these communities have made fire protection a right of citizenship.

Now, lets consider that there is another community that still requires individual property owners to pay a separate fee for fire protection and that this community is also concerned that not everyone seems willing to pay for fire protection. The leaders of this community are not willing, however, to make fire protection a right of citizenship in their community.

Instead, someone comes up with the idea that requires insurance companies to provide at least a minimal level of fire protection coverage, no matter what the condition of individual properties, and also requires all citizens to purchase fire protection insurance coverage or pay a penalty.

Now, it is difficult to imagine that any community would choose such an approach because common sense would dictate that it will almost certainly cost more to pay a middle man for fire protection insurance than it would be to pay for it directly, through tax revenue. After all, the middle man has to cover their operating costs and, because we live in a free market society, make a profit.

Why is it that so many Americans seem so wrapped up in their daily activities and challenges that they are unable to step back and think about what they are doing and why?

The Acts of a Faction of Elected Officials Places Democratic Principles at Risk!

Forget, for a moment, how you feel about the Affordable Care Act (we should call it the Affordable Health Insurance Act but that is a discussion for another time). Forget about what you think about the national debt, government spending, entitlements for the disadvantaged, national defense, public education, or protecting the environment. All of these issues are important, to be sure, but not one is anywhere near as important as what you think about the principles of democracy in a world where powerful men and women can force a government shutdown to get what they want.
The principles of democracy are based upon the premise that our government is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. It is based on the principle that the American people exercise their precious right to vote and that the majority vote prevails. And let us not get distracted, here, by the fact that because so many Americans fail to exercise the right to vote that very often it is the will of a plurality rather than of a majority that prevails. The point is that important decisions are supposed be made by American citizens, in a ballot booth, or by our elected representatives in a roll call vote in their respective houses of Congress.
The underlying premise of the Constitution of the United States, which may be the most important political document written in the history of mankind, was to prevent the powerful from usurping the will of the people just because they have the power to do so. The Constitution was meant to protect the American people from despotism under any guise, even in the disguise of elected officials who strive to exert their will when they disagree with a decision that was lawfully and constitutionally determined. Make no mistake; forcing a government shutdown is an act of despotism.
The acts of a single faction of one of our two main political parties in shutting down the federal government, leaving millions of American citizens injured in their wake, is no more appropriate than it would be if our military decided that they do not like how the elected government went about its business. It is just as wrong as it would be if our generals and admirals would use the incredible power of Armed Services of the United States to coerce our elected representatives into giving them the decision that they want.
The issue, today, is not how we feel about the budget, the ACA, or the federal deficit; it is about how we feel about our elected representatives forcing a government shutdown with total disregard for democratic principles.
Imagine a future in which the tactics displayed, today, by a political minority became the accepted way of conducting the business of the people. How long will our right to vote matter in a world in which powerful men and women can disregard the voice of the people and use coercion to get what they want?