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The Lobbyist Does Not Speak the Peoples’ Voice

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-07-23 21:55:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The Constitution lays the foundation for a relationship between the people and their government. This relationship is, to a significant degree, founded on the trust that each citizen places with their elected representatives. These representatives, whether local, regional or national, by being elected to their posts, accept the responsibility of supporting their constituents’ ideals, goals and principles. They become servants of the people, an extension of their individual voices in the collective government they comprise.

There is a game we used to play as kids called “echo,” where each player would whisper something in their neighbor’s ear, who in turn would whisper what they thought they heard to their neighbor, and so on. Inevitably, a humorous concoction of snippets of the original sentence would emerge at the end of the line. A completely innocent game of listening and interpretation, with each player having only one objective – to relay the message with as much accuracy as possible. Even with only three players – a source, middle and recipient – very rarely would the recipient receive the original message intact.

Now let’s inject an agenda into the game. How would the outcome be affected if the middle player was induced by the school bully to distort the message and to influence the recipient’s apprehension of the original message’s content? Surely meaning would be lost. In the innocence of the game, one might even ascribe humor to the outcome. But what if the stakes were higher, much higher?

In the dynamics of communications between the people and their government, a highly biased and results-motivated middle man agent is injected. He is called The Lobbyist and he enters directly into the path of the people’s voice. His intentions are indeed highly motivated. His agenda has nothing to do with accurately communicating the people’s voice. His intentions are in fact highly distortive to the communications process.

Most sources attribute the birth of the Lobbyist to the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant would often walk to lobby of the Willard Hotel not far from the White House to enjoy his favorite cigars. His routine was quickly picked up by politicians who would find this time a perfect opportunity to solicit him with special requests for support of various matters. The term “lobbyist” emerged from these interactions.

Political lobbying has historically been regarded as an “unclean” activity, shunned away from by most politicians who otherwise prided themselves on the purity of their intentions and reputation. This attitude changed dramatically in the 1980’s as political lobbying became more and more lucrative (and thereby corrupted), and professional lobbying firms sprouted all across the political landscape, backed by large enterprises and their financial sponsorship of various causes. According to a Washington Post article, “The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750 while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent. Only a few other businesses have enjoyed greater prosperity in an otherwise fitful economy.”

In the first 2 weeks in office President Obama nominated 17 professional lobbyists to several key advisory positions in his administration. These included Eric Holder as attorney general, Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture, William Lynn as deputy defense secretary, and fourteen others. Notwithstanding his campaign promise to keep his administration clean of ex-lobbyists, he continues to follow, with perhaps even more vigor than his predecessors, the practice of surrounding himself with influence-peddling bureaucrats. As HotAir.com points out, the president has conspicuously offered himself “For Sale” to all interested (and willing to pay-to-play) interest groups, and his actions since then, including the scandalous deal with the UAW in connection with the GM bailout, are a testament to the fact that he is indeed a player.

Are all lobby activities necessarily bad? Don’t lobbyists sometimes also represent the people’s interest on important issues? Doesn’t the NRA, for example, do good work on behalf of citizens concerned about protecting the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution (our right to keep and bear arms)? What about the lobbies that work to protect the rights of the underprivileged, to protect our borders, to promote education?

Inasmuch as many such lobby organizations may be motivated by righteous ideals, the institution of the lobby system is by its own formulation corrupt. When influence is bought with currency, if not directly into a politician’s pocket, then through the barter of monetize-able influences, good intentions are quickly polluted by commercial transactions and ethical compromises. The lobbyist necessarily becomes the undesirable relay agent a political game of Echo, placing himself in line of the people’s communication path with their government.

In a government “of the People, by the People and for the People” (Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) there is no place for a translator of the people’s voice in government. Our elected representatives are our channel of communication. With the rise in the influence of the lobbyist, it seems we’ve empowered a commercially incentivized third party to interpret our voice. And while our elected representatives have become too lazy to directly listen to our needs and calls for action, the lobbyist-translated messages do not reflect our original interests, meaning and intent.

There is increasing peril in allowing our representative form of government to continue to be warped by the influences that a financially motivated and ethically tainted system of lobby influences has on our relationship with our government. While attempts to reform the present system by imposing registration requirements, disclosing contributions and other transparency measures are a good first start (see Ethics and Lobbying Reform Act of 2006 and Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act of 2007, they fall far short of tangibly reducing the influence the lobby industry has on the activities of our government and re-connecting the people back to their elected representatives.

If our elected officials want our respect, trust and vote, then engage with us in a real and direct dialog without the middle man. Playing “echo” was fun when we were kids. Now let’s grow up and take responsibility for having a serious, adult conversation.

Mr. Government Representative – please look me straight in the eyes, listen to me and tell me what you stand for. You might be surprised to find out that I might actually believe you.


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The Anatomy of a Revolution – The Slogan

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-08-16 22:27:20. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

norbertatwork2
August 16, 2009

Some revolutions are eruptive. They gestate over a relatively short period of time, from the conception of an idea, a goal, a promise or an objective, they quickly transform from intellectual concept into mass action. The shorter the gestation period, the more violent the eruption.  These are usually bloody revolutions, executed with the kind of force that dramatically changes the landscape of a society, a nation, or in the most extreme cases, the world.  From a historical perspective, the Soviet revolution of 1917, while initially having a somewhat limited national objective (the abolishment of the tsar and the Russian monarchy), few would argue its final impact as being anything less than global. These types of revolutions are remarkably akin to a volcano – while the underlying pressure may have been building up over a long time, its explosion to the surface has an unmistakable identity, objective and effect.

And then there are the subtle revolutions, which instead of erupting, creep into existence. They are spoken about with subdued voices, introduced into circles of conversation without the participants even being aware that the revolution is in fact the topic of conversation.  These revolutions quietly introduce new words into the vocabulary, ones which once had a different meaning, but are now transformed to inject new ideals and thoughts, and a call-to-action tension. They may be silent at their birth and through most of their progressing stages of maturity, but their outcome can be just as wide-spread and impacting as their more violent cousin.

These are the revolutions which, once they progress to an advanced stage, create a rude awakening in a society with a “how did we allow this to happen” reaction.

For the revolutionary, language is his most powerful arsenal. And within language, the slogan is his most effective weapon.

The revolutionary has honed the slogan to be his most potent instrument. He uses it to inject his philosophy into the dialog. He uses it to introduce new meaning sympathetic to his agenda into the language. And ultimately, once society has been “softened up” with acceptance of the new terms of the conversation, he uses it to polarize society, creating an “us” and “them” division between his supporters and opponents.

In the early stages, subtle revolutions are almost always fought with slogans. Conversations are generally not welcome since they create a platform for a dialog where the revolutionary’s philosophy can be debated and usually defeated. However, ideology slogans are weapons to which there are few countermeasures.

An astute citizen will spot ideology slogans easily. Depending on the level of societal “softening” to the revolutionary’s agenda, they are either transparent and direct in their presentation of the ideology (“All Power to the Soviets” – a Bolshevik slogan used in the eve of the October revolution) or quite subtle and non-committal (“Change we can believe in – Slogan used by the Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign).

Slogans usually comprise very few words, so as to appeal to all levels of literacy and intellect. The power (and at the same time treachery) which slogans present lie in their simplicity and clever obfuscation of the real objective which they promote.

Below are a few more prominent slogans used at different stages of the respective revolutions. I urge the reader to ponder the words of each and determine the level of subtlety or directness  and from it derive the stage of advancement of each revolution from which these slogans are taken:

Arbeit Mach Frei” – Used by Nazi Germany in 1933-45, posted over the main gates at a number of Nazi concentration camps. In English, the slogan means “work shall set you free”.

“Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” (“One people, one country, one leader”) — Nazi Germany.

Every Man a King – Introduced in February 1934, the wealth and income redistributionist platform slogan used by Louisiana Governor Huey Long.

“Hasta la victoria siempre” (“There’s always a victory to be achieved”) – a Che Guevara-associated Communist slogan

Yes We Can – 2008 U.S. presidential campaign slogan of Barack Obama.

With the recent elections, we have unintentionally given a platform and a new spark to a revolution that has been going on in the United States for the last eight decades. It is of the subtle, slow and long-lasting kind, and is one that is no longer in its early stages, as president Obama is building on the momentum of many of his predecessors to abandon the principles of our founding and replace them with alien programs and platforms which have lead many a nation to the brink of collapse, and in some cases extinction (e.g. the U.S.S.R.).  And the slogans which accompany this stage of the revolution (or statist counter-revolution, as would probably be a more suitable term) are beginning to lose their subtlety. With “Yes we Can” Obama abandons any pretension of ambiguity and instead expresses a bold new horizon of socialist opportunity. There is no more indecision expressed in this slogan.

But if we understand the dynamics of the statist’s actions and his true intentions beyond the cleverly worded slogans, we arm ourselves with the necessary weapons to fight back in this war of ideologies.  When exposed, most Americans will see the statist’s intentions as opposite to their own core beliefs. As the recent highly animated town halls on the subject of socialized health care can attest to, an educated electorate, armed with facts and information, can engage the statist in the kind of conversation he is most uncomfortable in having – one of truth and historical experiences.

Below I leave the reader with a few artifacts of both past and present. Next time you see a colorful highway billboard on your way to work, a placard in the subway or backdrop on your local evening news, imagine it being replaced by one of these graphic slogans. What emotions does this evoke? More importantly, how does your intellect and value system react to these images?

Albanian communist poster

“Victory of Socialism over Capitalism” — still adorns many billboards in Albania

Soviet communist-poster

“Country and Party – Together and One”

Chinese Communist Party Sign

“Long live the Chinese Communist Party”

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The Pain In My Wallet

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2010-04-25 19:42:21. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

cost of medicineby Norbert Sluzewski
Editor – NakedLiberty.com
April 25, 2010


Ouch! That was pretty much the only sound I could make getting out of bed that March morning after having overdone on the previous day’s lawn work. My back didn’t want to cooperate with what I otherwise needed to do, which included attending several business meetings and other private events. So without considering many alternatives, I dragged myself to my car, painfully scrambled into the driver’s seat of my SUV and drove off to see a local specialist.

I’ve not seen this doctor before, but he came highly recommended by my primary care physician. The office was pleasantly quiet and subdued and the chairs meticulously aligned in the waiting room were all properly hard so as to accommodate folks arriving in conditions similar to mine.

The doctor was quick to call my name and we soon found ourselves in an appropriately sterile but functional examining room, which comprised of nothing more than an examining table, wooden chair and a small supply closet. In a few quick and efficient motions, the doctor felt around my lower back, checked my knee and ankle reflexes and showed me an impressively realistic model of the human skeletal structure, exposing the nerves and arteries which criss-cross its length. I was duly impressed with the doctor’s description of my condition (a story which he likely has memorized from repeating dozens of times a day) and I was prescribed an anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant pill and a dose of physical therapy. From arrival to departure, the entire episode lasted exactly 11 minutes.

I am fortunate to have a reasonably good medical insurance plan, so the bill for the doctor’s services went directly to the insurance company. At no time was I concerned about the amount of the fee, nor did the pleasant medical administrator in the doctor’s office disclose to me what the fee for the doctor’s services would be.

And so several weeks have passed. My back has recovered to its nimble self (at least until my next gardening adventure) and all is again well in the world. Ah, but there is more.

A letter from the doctor arrived a few days ago, which politely explained that the insurance company will be applying the doctor’s fee against my annual deductible (hmm, how conveniently I’ve forgotten about that part of the coverage provisions). As a result, they are requesting payment of the full amount of the doctor’s services which (now take a deep breath) amounted to $575.

Ok, now this got my attention. At no time was this amount disclosed to me. Frankly, at the time, I didn’t really care. I was in serious pain and, after all, I wasn’t really going to be paying for it myself, right? If I had been told, would it have changed my intention and would I have walked out of the office? I don’t know – maybe, maybe not; but perhaps I would have considered alternatives, like a hot compress or an “Icy-Hot” patch.

Now that it looks like I am going to be out of pocket a few hundred bucks, I am beginning to question the value ascribed to the services rendered. Sure, in the end they provided me with medicine to ease the pain, and the physical therapy (for which I haven’t received the bill yet, but am sure it’s en route to my mailbox) did help me get a bit more strength into those achy back muscles, but $575 for 11 minutes of service? That’s a whopping $3,136 an hour. My expensive lawyer would gasp at an opportunity to bill his clients that kind of an hourly rate. Is there any profession that can top this? (No, not even that one – and I know what you’re thinking).

So it’s clear to me that the doctor’s fee is not driven by market forces, but instead by an opportunity to “get away with it” since in most cases there is very little vested interest by any of the parties in the transaction to keep the amount of the fee consistent with the effort expended or value of service provided.

Is there something broken in this type of a fee-for-service system? You bet there is.

The answers to bring sanity back into the doctor-patient relationship (particularly the financial part of it) are so glaringly simple and have been so widely discussed. Among these the most significant and most consequential solution includes removing employer co-sponsorship of medical insurance coverage for its employees and replacing it with tax deductible health savings accumulation accounts (HSA’s, FSA’s or similar). In this case each individual is directly responsible for maintaining their personal financial reserve for medical care. Supplemental insurance could certainly be offered for extraordinary expenses and catastrophic events, including government subsidies for those not able to afford them directly. Employers could easily continue to sponsor employee health maintenance benefits for their employees by offering contributions to the employees Health Savings accounts, similarly to how they incentivize retirement savings through 401k contributions.

One thing is irrefutably true and has been tested time and time again. The best way to keep costs at a reasonable level is to have parties in a transaction directly involved in agreeing on the cost and value of the transaction itself. Whether for medical services, education, housing or groceries at the local farm stand, the market is the optimal arbitrator of the value of any transaction. The more intermediaries are introduced into the transaction, and particularly when it’s the government acting as a proxy for what it determines to be common good, the less optimal (ergo, expensive) each such transaction becomes. At the scale of a society, these incremental costs attributed to involvement of the intermediaries add up pretty quickly and dramatically.

Now that I have a strong incentive, I amwriting to my doctor to request a reduction of the fee charged to an amount that we can both agree is more reasonable for the 11 minutes of time (and yes, his 6 years of medical school and overhead, etc. etc.) he devoted to me on that painful day in March. Instead of being angry at him for the clearly inflated fee, I actually appreciate this opportunity to engage with him in a conversation about cost and value. We’ll see if he feels likewise.

Stay tuned. I’ll post an update to this article once we’ve resolved our billing differences.


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Let’s Not Confuse Equality and Fairness

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-06-13 19:56:44. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

With this opening statement in our nation’s Declaration of Independence, its 56 signers, represented by such great minds as Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and John Adams, established a core founding principle for what was to become a new nation; a nation different in its beliefs, values and government structure than any other at the time.

As is the case with many words in the English language, the word “equality” lacks certain precision and has historically been interpreted through different lenses. For example, mathematical equality assures sameness in quantity, but does not ascribe value to the equal results. An equal amount of rain having fallen over a rain forest and over a desert, although mathematically equivalent in volume, does not produce an equal effect. Nor is the magnificence of Niagara Falls’ cascade of water the same as that of a lazy river flowing through the plains, though again the volumes of water may be equal.

Equality as a doctrine in the 18th century was indeed a revolutionary concept. Not since the ancient Greek and Minoan cultures has equality been written into a societal code of beliefs. So therefore, the opportunity to build a new nation on such beliefs was in and of itself a revolutionary step forward.

In order to understand the intentions of our founding fathers, we have to understand the psychology of the times in which this concept of equality was being presented. Indeed, we need to use the prism of an 18th century intellectual to affix the proper meaning to the word. In particular we know that such prism would filter out any notions of equality in the context of modern day social systems such as welfare or affirmative action.

A reasonable and arguably most credible interpretation of the founding fathers intended meaning of equality is one where the goal of equality is defined as one of opportunity and not necessarily of results (or outcome). This is fundamental, in that it underscores the principle of giving each individual an equal opportunity to improve his own state but does not mandate that the results of such efforts be held to the same standard of equality as for others. In fact, an argument can be made that enforcing equality of results is fundamentally unfair in that it unjustly rewards low performance and is eerily akin to Marx’s “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” formulation, which would not be written until 100 years later (1875, Critique of the Gotha Program). The distinction between opportunity and results equality was recently taken up and extensively discussed by British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson at the 2009 Fabian Conference at the Imperial College in London.

In our modern society we can observe countless examples of divergence from the principle of equality of results.

  1. Affirmative action, previously mentioned, is perhaps the most glaring example of the up-side-down interpretation of equality, where results trump all other objectives – a starkly Marxist construct indeed
  2. Progressive taxation, though widely accepted as fair and equitable, in fact is not ubiquitously fair as it creates disincentives to higher productivity and redistributes the output of the individual’s labor to those who have not contributed to its creation
  3. Compensation pay grade systems such as within the government and many older companies, where rewards are defined within pay scale boundaries, regardless of the value of an individual’s contribution

A society which does not respect equality of its citizens is frail and cannot sustain itself indefinitely without the degeneration of its social fabric, inevitably leading to massive resentment of government and eventually social unrest. By misinterpreting our founders’ meaning of equality, we are at risk of steering our social policies toward the statist objectives of government welfare and control over our means and our lives. Our Constitution is a finely tuned and time proven instrument of democratic government with ideals interwoven such that in concert they support and amplify each other’s meaning and value. A misinterpretation or misapplication of one of these fundamental ideals not only diminishes its individual value, but also jeopardizes the document’s role as a compilation of our guiding values.

Next time you’re engaged in a discussion with someone who is justifying their position with arguments of equality, make sure to ask them: “What do you mean?”

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We welcome your comments and suggestions, either directly inline, or via email to editor@nakedliberty.com. If you would like to have your article published in Naked Liberty, please contact the editor at the above email address.

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On the Health Care System We Aspire To

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-06-24 12:22:44. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Today I got a call from my Mom. She and my Dad both live in the city I was born in – Warsaw, Poland. They are both elderly and live off of a government pension akin to the US social security system. The reason she called was to let me know of an excruciating pain she has recently been suffering from, resulting from a progressively degenerative neurological condition in her wrist. As all Poles are, she is entitled to free medical care in government health care facilities under the country’s universal health care insurance program. Trying to get help for her condition, she has visited with several general practitioners covered under her free plan, all of whom admit she needs to see a specialist. The last one finally crafted a referral for her and she is now scheduled to see a neurologist … in three months. Ouch !

Her options now include continuing to suffer the intolerable pain for the next 3 months or pay out of pocket to see a private specialist. The fee for a consultation with a neurologist in private practice exceeds two months of her pension income, but under the circumstances she will have to do just that. The costs of any resulting treatments, if not covered under the government health care plan, may have a devastating financial effect on her and my dad’s retirement lifestyle.

My parents could have opted to purchase private health care insurance coverage which provides access to services in private hospitals and clinics with the most skilled specialists but, because the government program is so dominant and pervasive, the cost of the private alternative is beyond the reach of most middle-class Poles. As a result, it is accessible to only the most affluent (or motivated by dire circumstances and lacking other options) individuals.

Interestingly enough, in many European countries the Polish medical system as a whole is actually touted as one of the better and when compared with the British system in particular, it receives accolades for efficiency and quality of care. What is underscored is the diminishing role of the public plan option and the progressively increasing percentage of services being offered under private insurance. The availability and increasing popularity of the private health care option is viewed with envy. A good summary of these changes in the Polish medical system can be found in this article from CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). With this shift, as more competition is introduced in the private sector and the dominance of the government program is lessened (or eliminated), my mom might yet one day be able to afford a private insurance plan and access to the highly skilled medical professionals in Poland, heretofore not accessible to her under her existing plan and her present means.

But in the US exactly the opposite direction is being proposed. There can be very little doubt, and certainly countless examples of dysfunctional government programs across Europe and other countries serve as an example, that a private health care system necessarily offers superior services at a competitive price. As I have written in a prior Naked Liberty article on the Dangers of Comparative Effectiveness, instead of experimenting with proven failed systems, the US should adopt targeted approaches to improving those parts of our current system which offer opportunities for improvement, such as for example the implementation of a national electronic medical records system and tax incentives to support wellness and health awareness.

What’s being proposed is like trading in your comfortable and dependable SUV for a Yugo just because you happened to have gotten a flat tire. Let’s fix the tire and get on with our lives without any more government intervening in it.

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Quotation of the Day:

“We should manage our fortunes as we do our health – enjoy it when good, be patient when it is bad, and never apply violent remedies except in an extreme necessity.“

Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613 – 1680)

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We welcome your comments and suggestions, either directly inline, or via email to editor@nakedliberty.com. If you would like to have your article published in Naked Liberty, please contact the editor at the above email address.

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