Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hasn't anybody noticed government bureaucracy is out of control?

Last week this news article appeared on Yahoo Sports. It was a tale of a Green Bay Packer player, Desmond Bishop. If your team wins the superbowl, and I assume Green Bay won this year, you are rewarded with a trip to the White House and get to have your picture taken with the President. It seems Desmond Bishop didn't get to see President Obama with his team mates. He forgot his drivers license on their chartered plane. The Secret Service would not let him in without it. The story goes on to say what a shame he forgot, and so on.

What I am amazed is that this story is about the unfortunate Mr. Bishop. It was not, contrary to what I would have assumed, about the rule based bureaucracy of the United States Secret Service. Weren't there thirty team mates of this guy who could have vouched for him. It's not like some 6' 4" 280 pound look alike terrorist was somehow planted on the team plane in disguise. Did the White House staff just say "no, sorry you don't have your papers" and walk away?

Has the world gone so mad that this kind of thinking is viewed as normal? How an inflexible, unable to apply common sense, rule following gatekeeper was able to become in charge of security at the White House should be the real story. If I were the President I wouldn't feel too comfortable sleeping at night with this level of adaptive thinking protecting me. Never mind the poor hospitality the White House projects to the American people or the disappointment to the unfortunate Desmond Bishop, did his being turned away really serve a security purpose?

Have we become so numbed to government rules and regulations that we don't see anything wrong with this picture?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Health Care Legislation

I am fascinated how the health care bill debate has shifted focus since it was presented in Congress on a take it or leave it basis in August, 2009. As I understand, the reasons for the bill were twofold. First, many Americans (the number is in dispute) does not have health insurance coverage. Second, the amount society pays for health care in America is growing at an alarming rate. The various bills in Congress have one feature in common. They all serve to separate the "who pays" side of the equation from "who receives".

The proponents have recently steered the debate from universal coverage to cost savings. I think the source of public skepticism is centered on the concept that more government involvement in health care will save money. If there has been an instance in history where government administration of anything has been more efficient than private industry, I am not aware of it.

The Obama administration points to the huge administrative burden hospitals and insurance companies operate under as being the major source of potential savings. It's hard to imagine a government can function with less bureaucracy but let's imagine the government can administer its health care contribution with zero overhead. This leaves two avenues for the government to pursue to reduce costs. First they can take business away from insurance companies. The administration stresses their plan will not take away insurance coverage from private industry. So, this is not a direction they plan to exploit. Second, they can reduce the administrative burden on the insurance companies. To see how this may be possible one has to examine the reason the current burdens exist. I don't think insurance companies want to generate miles of paper. They want to be as efficient as possible in order to earn profitable returns. They must be forced to. Why? The simple reason is the current system was formed as a continuous response to the thousands of pages of government regulations and legal judgements that shape the health care landscape. An example is the different forms, standards and practices of different hospitals, doctors and insurance companies. Insurance companies are powerless to improve them. Are you aware that it is illegal for doctors and hospitals to get together to establish best practices to deliver services? Insurance companies similarly are legally prevented from standardizing forms, eligibility requirements, terms of plans, reimbursement policies, developing industry best practices, etc. It seems a lot of excess costs are do to the government being involved in health care.

A simple suggestion to legislators might be to examine existing legal obstacles to efficiency as a path to a more efficient and effective health care system. If government can reduce costs in the existing system by getting out of the way, perhaps the American people will become more receptive to plans to provide insurance coverage to everyone.

Then again, who said insurance is the best way for people to pay for their health care? Speaking for myself, my marginal cost to consume health services is lower than the marginal costs of producing it. From where I stand, insurance coverage increases demand, perhaps beyond what is strictly necessary for good health. Insurance executives can describe the phenomenon of moral hazard that is created when entities take out insurance policies. The best I can do here is offer an example of homeowners insurance. If there is a tree threatening a house the homeowner must pay to have it removed. But, if the tree falls onto the house the insurance company will pay to have the tree removed as well as repair the damage. There is little incentive for the homeowner to mitigate the risk. It is cheaper for the homeowner to wait for the tree to fall. The loss, when it does occur, is borne by all policy holders.

What do you think?

Richard L Ellis, Jr.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Open letter on health care

I am concerned about the direction of the health care bill. First it seems that it is being rushed through Congress. At 615 pages of legalese it is impossible that anyone could have read it, let alone understood the implications of the inevitable unintended consequences in the short time the text has been public. Have you read it? Please, do not vote for any bill you have not read. Second, I am concerned about the idea of having a Government insurance policy. The Government has advantages over private enterprise which will inevitably drive them out of business. These advantages include the fact the Government doesn't pay taxes, many labor and other laws do not apply to it, doesn't need to earn a profit the Government's cost of capital is lower and its balance sheet infinite. Even with the inefficiency of a Government administered program, private insurers will surely loose out. Third, the bills now before Congress are projected to cost Billions or Trillions of dollars. Why is there any cost at all? Isn't the problem stated by the administration that health care is too costly? Cutting costs within the existing system will provide more than enough money to cover the health care of all uninsured Americans. Government laws, rules and regulations are the reason health care is so expensive. Change the laws governing health care providers and insurers and costs will come down dramatically. Please DO NOT VOTE FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM currently proposed in Washington. There is a better way. Thank you. Kind Regards, Richard L Ellis Jr

Monday, April 27, 2009

Terror in the skies over New York

Dear General whoever you are,

As a survivor of the September 11 attacks in New York City I can't express how sickening I find your secret photo op over Manhattan.  I can't comment on the need or wisdom of the flight but to keep it a secret from the public, in light of what happened to us eight years ago, was an error in judgement.  Imagine if I woke you up with a recording of Viet Cong yelling to each other to coordinate a raid on your own troops and you just might come to realize the heartache you so needlessly caused.  I do hope you conduct your operations overseas with a greater sensitivity to the population than you do at home.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Immigration Reform to Reform the Reforms

Like most Americans, I am concerned about the problem of illegal immigration. The debate seems to be between those who feel we can do nothing about the problem and those who feel we need to enforce existing laws. Sneaking across the border is a criminal offence. Not paying taxes would land you or me in jail. Pending immigration reform plans in Congress are amnesty plans. They just legislate away immigration crimes and tax evasion.

In 1986 Congress passed the Immigration Control and Reform Act (IRCA). It was designed to solve the problem of illegal immigration once and for all. Congress estimated there were 1 to 1.5 million illegal immigrants who would be affected. The plan was to give existing illegal immigrants amnesty and offer them the right to apply for citizenship. Companies would be prohibited from hiring future illegals. Employers would be required to check the status of newly hired workers so there would be no jobs for future illegals who came to the United States. With jobs unobtainable to future illegal immigrants, people would stop coming here without applying to come here legally. Problem solved, or so it at first seemed.

We will never know if Congress's estimate of 1.5 million illegal immigrants was accurate. After the act was passed, there was a flood of new illegals who came across the border to get in on the amnesty plan. As illegals are by definition undocumented, who was to say they weren't here before the cut off date? In the end three million people applied under the amnesty plan. A further inflow occurred when these new citizens applied to bring their relatives to the United States.

People come here because they can get jobs and utilize our services. If companies refuse to hire them, the problem will go away. Under the Immigration Control and Reform Act of 1986, companies are required ask employees for identification and documentation that are authorized to work in the United States. I know I cannot get a job without it.

In recent days some large companies have said they employ large numbers of illegals but can do nothing about it. Why? They say they will be sued for racial bias if they try to verify documentation and the applicant turns out to be here legally. If what they say is true, the Congress needs to protect them from such litigation and insist they perform the required checks. If what they say is not true, Congress should provide funding to the Justice Department to sanction these companies and direct Homeland Security to deport any illegal workers found.

An amnesty bill for an additional 20 to 30 million more illegal aliens is not the way to fix the failures of the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act. If the Federal Government could not control illegal immigration and illegal hiring with that amnesty and enforcement plan, what makes people think more of the same will solve the problem?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Global Warming

I am the person my friends and family ask when they have questions about science or technology. I can discuss cosmology, engineering, nuclear power, the space program and other topics with confidence. But when asked "Is global warming a real problem?", I really do not know what to say. I see a lot in the news and on various websites on the subject but have no way to evaluate the positions proponents and skeptics put forth. There are entrenched positions on both sides of the issue. Each camp claims noted climate scientists support their view. It is impossible for a layman to poll experts on the issue as one would have to estimate the credibility of each one to create a valid survey. Like most public discourse, the loudest voice attracts the most attention. There are a number of videos on the web on each side of the issue. Of the ones I have seen, they all start out making their case quoting scientists and measurement figures, then they tend to break down into wild accusations of the motives of those who take a different view from the author. This is not the way scientists work.

To get an understanding of the issue I have thought about some of the questions one must ask to get a handle on the issue.

The first question is "Is the climate getting warmer?".

If so, "Is this part of a normal cycle or a natural variation?".

Would a warming climate be a net positive or negative for humanity and all life on Earth?

Can carbon dioxide levels affect climate?

Are the quantities of CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere sufficient to cause a detectable effect?

Will CO2 levels continue to rise as we put more into the atmosphere. Will concentrations level off or reverse and be reabsorbed through natural processes such as dissolving into the ocean or be taken up by an increase in photosynthesis?

If we are negatively affecting the climate by our actions, can we do anything about it short of ending our use of fossil fuels?

I don't have the answer to any of these questions. As I work on this blog I will attempt to fill in some of the blanks.