Monthly Archives: September 2009

Baucus Bill Insurance Mandate

Last week, Senator Max Baucus released for public consumption the health care reform legislation that was crafted by a group of bipartisan senators over the last six months.  Evidently because the proposal goes beyond what the Republican members of the Finance Committee’s “gang of six” sub-group wanted, the final draft did not obtain the endorsement of any of the group’s three Republicans.

Initial media reactions have been mixed, with applause for the seriousness of cost containment provisions and concern for what those very same provisions will mean to average Americans.  (Paul Krugman, is a good example)

One aspect of the proposal is eliciting discussion of the freedoms and obligations of participation in democratic society.  The proposal includes a mandate, backed up by substantial fees, that requires that everyone obtain health-care insurance.  Of course, most people receive insurance through their employer, and of those who don’t, many want insurance, if they can get it at a price they can afford.  But it would no longer be a choice under this proposal.  Those who cannot afford to purchase insurance would have their costs subsidized, but everyone would be required to make a substantial commitment of household income towards insurance coverage, which may or may not be in line with the spending choices that they are currently making.

Voices in the media, from the progressive left’s Robert Scheer of to Washington Times columnist Tony Blankley on the conservative right, reacted to the proposed impingement of freedom.

From KCRW’s: “Left, Right & Center” podcast, Scheer and Blankley:

Robert Scheer:

What I don’t understand is . . . and here let me put on a libertarian hat, you’re forcing people to buy health insurance; you’re penalizing rather substantially if they don’t have; so your making it a crime to live without health insurance; a crime.  At least when you make it a crime to drive a car without insurance you can stop driving a car.

That’s not considered socialism when the government delivers people to private industry but when you have a robust public option that’s considered socialism to the lobbyists.

Also distinguishing auto insurance requirements, Blankely said:

This proposal would mandate that everybody has to buy insurance as a condition of living, which is not a condition and not a privilege the government has but a right we have given to us from god.

President Obama, in his weekend talk show blitz, recognized that this part of the proposal would raise questions, but called it very important for cost cutting.

From “Meet the Press” interview with David Gregory:


What are the hard choices that you are now asking the American people to make?

President Obama:

What I have said, for example, on what is called an individual mandate.

During the campaign, I said “look, if health care is affordable, then I think people will buy it.”  So we don’t have to say to folks “you know what? You have to buy health care.” And when I talk to health care experts on the left and the right, what they tell me is that even after you make health care affordable, there’s still going to be some folks out there, who, whether out of inertia or they just don’t want to spend the money, would rather take their chances.

Unfortunately what that means is that you and I and every American out there who has health insurance and are paying their premiums responsibly every month they have got to pick up the costs for emergency room care when one of those people gets sick.

So what we have said is “as long as we are making this genuinely affordable to families, then you’ve got an obligation to get health care, just like you have an obligation to get auto insurance in every state.”


Are these the hard choices?

President Obama:

That’s an example of a hard choice.  That’s not necessarily wildly popular, but it’s very important.

Mr. Obama cites the costs that are being paid by the insured to cover the uninsured.  Moreover, it has also been reported that people with insurance manage their longer-term illnesses more effectively, potentially lowering emergency and overall health system costs.  But is something lost by way of individual decision-making in return for these financial gains?

Forcing everyone to participate in insurance will bring more customers to existing insurance companies, one of the reasons that they are generally supporting reform efforts, which they objected to in 1994. This could allow lower rates, as insurers earn more and have more premium income to use to pay claims.  Will the benefits be passed on to consumers?

Commentators have also questioned whether the subsidies for those who cannot afford insurance are large enough; the high cost of health insurance could create an unmanageable burden for many Americans.

Of course, we all pay taxes, thus making contributors towards, police, fire, civic authority and other shared costs in society.  But the insurance requirement, even in a system maintaining private insurance coverage, will be a fundamental change in our rights and obligations as Americans.

Eight Years Later, Conspiracy Theories about September 11, Live on

By Marc Seltzer; originally published September 14, 2009, at

. .

As we acknowledge another anniversary of September 11, our national attention focuses on various aspects of the 9/11 experience. From personal grieving and reflecting to rekindled feelings about political ramifications of the 9/11 response — two wars, increased security, intrusions into privacy, and controversial treatment of detainees, to name only the most obvious — the date has meaning for nearly everyone old enough to have experienced the 2001 attacks.

A significant number of people in the United States, and likely worldwide, are captivated by alternative stories of 9/11 events and their aftermath. According to those referred to as “9/11 doubters,” or “truthers” the cause of the destruction was not foreign political extremists, but a yet undiscovered conspiracy.  For these conspiracy theorists the investigations since 9/11 have been part of a cover-up, to keep the true plotters hidden.

Having conflicting and alternative views is nothing new in the American experience. Freedom of thought and belief were so fundamental to the founding of the nation that they were institutionalized in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights as freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The Founding Fathers had seen mayhem and destruction result from the conflicting beliefs of Catholics and Protestants in 17th and 18th century Europe. Their solution was not to reconcile the different beliefs, but to guard against abuse protect those who express them.

Civilizations have come to demand decision-making based on reason in dealing with issues of engineering, law, economics, medicine, security, etc. The numerous and thorough investigations of 9/11 have answered the questions about what happened that day.  Continuing disputes over responsibility for the government’s failure to anticipate the Al Qaeda threat and disagreement over the appropriate military response illustrate that people can reason differently from the same facts.

What can be disturbing about conspiracy theories is that they are maintained in the face of substantial factual evidence. Claims such as Holocaust denial, the belief that the Apollo Moon landing was a fabrication, President Obama’s foreign birth or that 9/11 was perpetrated by a secret U.S. government program seem as wildly improbably and unrealistic as science fiction or fantasy literature to those who judge them on a scale of reason.

It is worth remembering that logical reasoning is only one human approach to understanding. Love, friendship, religion, philosophy and politics are largely governed by intuition and cultural beliefs rather than logic.

9/11 conspiracy theorists, who disregard a mountain of evidence to maintain their belief in mysterious acts, demonstrate that intuition and belief are alive and well in the 21st century.

Have the Military Responses to 9/11 Been Equal to their Costs?

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on September 11, 2009, at

. .

Reflecting on 9/11 includes thinking about eight years of foreign policy. What concerns me is the massive commitment we have made in two foreign wars and the uncertain accomplishments we have to show for it.

In Afghanistan and then Iraq we invested tremendous human and economic resources.  We may in the long run succeed in giving Iraq the opportunity to create a functioning democracy, but the cost was high.

In Afghanistan, it is still not clear that a positive outcome can be achieved, although the committment of sufficient resources may also bring results that were not possible previously.

During President Ronald Reagan’s eight years in office, he responded to various threats without engaging in a substantial ground war.  When he chose to react with force to Libyan terrorism, he bombed Moamar Gadaffi’s compound.  Gadaffi survived, although immediate family members were killed in the attack.  One military act, with small risk to our forces and cost to our economy, backed up by economic sanctions.  We did not attempt to replace a regime or transform a society.

Since then, Gadaffi has renounced terrorism and sought to comply with international norms. Gradually, sanctions have been removed and Libya has begun its return to the community of nations.

President Reagan did commit tremendous national resources to oppose the Soviet Union, the major Cold War threat.  But despite “Star Wars’” failings, the U.S. investment in missile-shield technology fostered American economic and technological superiority, which ultimately forced the Soviet Union to change.  Not all former soviet states are success stories today, but many are, and the 30-year threat of nuclear war subsided.

Since 9/11, the loudest complaints about our use of force have been over justification for our invasion of Iraq.  Those who believe that military action wasappropriate focus on security to be gained from defeating the enemy and establishing stable government.  What about the security to be lost, if we demonstrate that we are unable to accomplish our mission or unwilling to face new threats (Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs), because we have already given too much?

Our military proves itself every day in discipline, bravery, organization and tactics.  But do our political leaders have the strategic wisdom to use force so that we achieve the most for the least expenditure of precious resources?