Virginia is for lovers irresponsible government

Virginia is supposed to be a bastion of limited government. We like gun rights, fiscal responsibility, freedom from government intrusion and all the other classic hallmarks. Unfortunately, the way we paint ourselves and the way we behave reveal a disingenuous streak. Whether it’s trying to impose pass a majoritarian ban on individual marriage rights or a bigoted dictate that only married women may conceive through medical intervention, we’re more interested in a limited social environment than we are a limited legal environment.

When I was a kid, a study came out indicating that the Richmond business community was twenty years behind the times … and proud of it. That sums up the state more than any rhetoric we may offer. So it’s unsurprising that this is the proposed solution for Virginia’s transportation problems:

Some Republican leaders in the Virginia Senate will propose as early as Friday a series of tax and fee increases that could grow to about $1 billion a year for road and transit projects, once again setting the stage for a bitter clash over taxes with the House of Delegates.

Based on tax increases pushed through in the last budget by former Gov. Mark Warner (Democrat) and the General Assembly (Republican), Virginia now has a surplus of more than $1 billion. There’s a lesson there and I don’t like it.

An endorsement for poor leadership and government intrusion?

Skimming the news this morning, I came across this editorial. It’s about health care reform and an apparent coming push from President Bush in his State of the Union address. There are several angles to this, all of which the writer approaches. The whole piece is so discombobulated that I can only offer a few bits and try to make a little sense out of them, which is something I think the writer forgot. Consider this opening paragraph:

This time last year, President Bush was preaching Social Security reform; that got nowhere. This time six months ago, his team was thinking tax reform; it soon got cold feet. Now the new theme is health reform. “This is a big priority for the president,” Al Hubbard, the White House national economic adviser, told me Friday. “The system has got to be reformed.”

If that’s the path President Bush is going to pursue, there’s a lesson in how leaders (leadership in character, not title) behave. Flip-flopping around to every new issue, hoping to make a mark, only to abandon it when it becomes apparent that it might be challenging is not the mark of a good leader. A leader sets his course and then moves in the direction of its achievement. That clearly can’t be said of Social Security and tax reform, so I fail to see how health care will be different. But let’s continue:

Some look at the U.S. health mess and see a failure of the market, but the authors [R. Glenn Hubbard of Columbia University and John F. Cogan and Daniel P. Kessler of the Hoover Institution] insist that government clumsiness prevents the market from working. Modest tort reform would free doctors from practicing expensive defensive medicine. Tougher antitrust policies would prevent price-raising alliances among hospitals. Pruning mandates on health insurers — which often reflect lobbying by doctors’ groups — might free insurers to cover only the most cost-effective procedures.

Enter the authors’ really big idea — the one on which the White House is likely to build a story about its grand health-reform vision. To make the health market work, the trick is to create and then empower consumers. You create them by making individuals pay more out of pocket. And you empower them by forcing hospitals and doctors to publish information on quality and price.

As I read this I thought this plan might be a start. My experience backs up much of what they’re saying in some form. Essentially, I read this as a way to make the free market work. Wherever an obstacle exists, figure out a way to remove it. Mostly, I see the government’s role as removing governmental obstacles to free market success. Beyond that, a solution that involves individuals in making choices relavent to them is the most logical. One specific example I’ve offered in the past is breaking the paternalistic link between employer and health care. Mr. Hubbard seems to propose that with an imaginary scenario.

The idea appeals to Al Hubbard, a bluff, no-nonsense business type with a genial, uncomplicated style. Hubbard invited me to imagine a world in which companies paid for their staffs’ groceries: Employees would load up with more food than they needed; supermarkets would seize the chance to mark up groceries; pretty soon, they wouldn’t even bother posting their prices. So it is today with medicine. You don’t know the cost of your hospital visit until a few days later, when the bill arrives.

Too extreme an example? Possibly. Too far-fetched? I don’t think so. The writer goes on to explain a supposed weakness in this. I’m simplifying, but he posits that the system is too complex, whether for consumer intelligence or consumer knowledge for decision-making. Throw in a dose of “people won’t take care of themselves” if they have to pay for it, and the proposed outcome starts to take shape. The market works, but only if people are smart, which leads to this conclusion:

Beyond the imperative of restraining prices, the biggest challenges in health care are to get insurance to everyone and to create incentives for preventive treatment — even though prevention may pay off 30 years later, by which time the patient will have gone through multiple switches in health plans. The most plausible subsidizer of universal insurance is government, and the only entity with a stake in lifelong wellness is the government. Is the administration ready to see that?

Somehow we’ve gotten to a situation where waste, inefficiency, and bureaucratic largess resulted in a health care crisis in need of urgent reform. The logical conclusion is to hand that over to the government to eliminate those problems? Are we talking about the same government? The United States government? I would not have come to that conclusion, although I fear the Bush administration will. (See: prescription drug benefit) Right, great idea.

I didn’t know I’m a gay loving liberal professor

In my circumcision posts, I’ve certainly been angry at times. However, I’ve always told the truth. I deal in facts because I’m willing to think and am capable of making up my own mind. I trust others to do the same, but some people aren’t quite so willing. I read this editorial the other day, arguing against circumcision with valid support. When I saw that the site allowed feedback posts, I knew it would get interesting. I replied to a few posts that contained either inaccuracies or lazy thinking, but one message deserves no response, because arguing logic and reason would be useless. Consider the wonderful comment left by Lee from Omaha:

Freaking Liberals can’t stay out of the bedroom. Where do they get off saying this time tested procedure isn’t necessary. Of course it has health benefits and makes men more attractive, but NO, they have to think alnatural. The gay loving liberal professors ought to just let folks be and not worry about natural things. If they need to do something, have them figure out why Homosexuals can’t be converted to Heterosexuals. With all the problems in the world, like being homosexual, why do liberals think they need to stick their God hating noses into our bedrooms?

I wonder if is still available. That would be even more descriptive for me than if I used my own name. Even people who don’t know me would know how to find me immediately.

Sometimes, people scare me.

People everywhere refuse to learn from history

This isn’t going to end well.

Bolivia’s president-elect said his government plans to seize oil and gas reserves owned by international companies, leaving other assets such as pipelines and refineries in the hands of foreign operators.

“The state will exercise its right of ownership, and that means it will decide on the use of those resources,” Evo Morales told reporters yesterday in Pretoria, South Africa, where he is visiting the country’s President Thabo Mbeki. Oil companies “will be partners, not owners,” he said.

The comments clarify plans Morales has discussed since his election Dec. 18 to “nationalize” Bolivia’s oil and gas reserves and boost government revenue on output. All reserves are now in the hands of foreign companies such as Spain’s Repsol YPF SA, which owns 35 percent of the country’s 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and Brazil’s Petroleos Brasileiros SA (Petrobras), which holds 17.5 percent. Bolivia has Latin America’s second-largest gas reserves.

Morales said he will cancel any contract that gives foreign companies ownership rights to oil and gas. His plans do not call for confiscation of multinationals’ technology or other assets, he said.

Bolivia attracted $3 billion of investment for its oil and gas industry since privatizing the state energy company in 1996, helping increase its natural gas reserves sevenfold, according to the Bolivian Hydrocarbon Chamber. Investment in the oil and gas industry dropped to $135 million in 2005 from $236 million in 2004. In 2002, the year Morales lost a presidential runoff against Sanchez de Lozada, investment reached $345 million.

Will socialists ever realize that state-run monopolies aren’t the most efficient method of distribution? Destroy contract and property rights and incentive disappears. The dream is always that everyone will suddenly prosper and receive a “fair” share of the nation’s wealth, but all it does is divide a now-finite amount of wealth. Factor in that most of that wealth transfers to the few in power, the dream doesn’t seem so brilliant.

State legislators have too much free time

Two pieces of legislation passing through the Virginia General Assembly are worth mentioning. First, this fine Commonwealth is well on its way to a voter referendum on same-sex marriage in November. This is just further proof that today’s conservative government movement is about nothing more than wielding State power to achieve social objectives. Here’s the text:

Constitutional amendment (voter referendum); marriage. Provides for a referendum at the November 2006 election on approval of a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage. The proposed amendment provides that “only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.” The proposed amendment also prohibits the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions from creating or recognizing “a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage.” Further, the proposed amendment prohibits the Commonwealth or its political subdivisions from creating or recognizing “another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.”

Next, this bill is interesting not because of its subject, but because of how it defines what its terms to achieve its objective. Consider:

Action for wrongful death; pre-born child. Creates a cause of action for the wrongful death of a pre-born child.

The merits of the bill are entirely separate, but I thought we still referred to “pre-born” as “fetus”.

Verification and justification are different

This news from the Commonwealth relevant to the death penalty debate:

DNA tests released this afternoon confirmed the guilt of a Virginia man who had proclaimed his innocence in a slaying and rape even as he was strapped into the state’s electric chair in 1992.

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) said modern-day genetic analysis that was not available in the early 1990s proves that Roger K. Coleman was present at the crime.

“We have sought the truth using DNA technology not available at the time the Commonwealth carried out the ultimate criminal sanction,” Warner said in a statement. “The confirmation that Roger Coleman’s DNA was present reaffirms the verdict and the sanction.”

I’m happy this was done now that DNA testing has progressed since Virginia prosecuted the case and executed Coleman. Gov. Warner made the right decision. However, that does not alter my opinion of the death penalty. Everything I’ve said in the past still applies. Contrary to what Gov. Warner said, this reaffirms only the verdict. The sanction continues to stand as an uncivilized abomination.

He who pays, decides. Even in government.

With all of the talk of Jack Abramoff and Congressional ethics lately, I’m amused at how some members of Congress have now found the religion of restraint. Consider:

House Republicans, seeking to recover their standing with voters in the wake of a lobbying scandal, are considering a total ban on privately funded congressional trips, the lawmaker leading the reform effort said Wednesday.

Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., said GOP leaders were “seriously considering” the need to eliminate all privately financed travel. “That would be a very strong statement. We want to be bold,” said Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee.

Current congressional rules prohibit lobbyists from paying for travel for members of Congress and their staff.

But qualified private sponsors can pay for food, transportation and lodging when members of Congress travel to meetings, speaking engagements or fact-finding events in connection with official duties.

“There’s a difference between a fact-finding trip that you do with the Aspen Institute and these trips funded by lobbyists and corporations where you do an hour of work and then play golf at St. Andrews all day,” said Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

I’m amazed that such principled individuals needed a scandal to come up with such an obvious proposal, but I’m more stunned that this is somehow “bold”. If a trip is connected to official duties, the people for whom the representatives are acting should pay for the trip. If the people don’t like what their representatives consider official duties, they’ll let their representatives know. It’s not particularly complicated.

Editorializing can be premature

Reading through more analysis of Marcus Vick’s recent troubles, I found a useful fact in this column. It refutes a little of the heated, holier-than-thou rhetoric some have used over the last few days. Consider:

And for what it’s worth, Vick and Tech coach Frank Beamer did wait outside the Louisville locker room in hopes of apologizing personally to Dumervil and Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino. They were told by a U of L official that Dumervil and Petrino weren’t interested in discussing the incident.

I’m not going to start defending Vick because of that, but I think it shows that indicting the entire Virginia Tech football program, as some have written this week, is excessive. Facts still matter. Everyone, including me, forgets that at times. This is just another example of why we should strive to be smarter and less reactionary.

Facts matter. Providing them matters more.

I promise this will be the last sports-related post today, but I want to comment on this column by Michael Wilbon in today’s Washington Post. Mr. Wilbon is one of two sports columnists I look forward to reading when any significant topic (to me) occurs in the sports world. I can always count on Mr. Wilbon to offer an insightful, well-written editorial. Reading today’s column on Redskins safety Sean Taylor spitting in the face of Michael Pittman, I figured I’d get the same, since a $17,000 fine is ridiculously low. The column started out well, comparing Taylor’s fine with the $20,000 fine running back Clinton Portis received for wearing non-regulation socks. So far, so good. It’s when Mr. Wilbon got to the example of Marcus Vick as further proof. I agree that Vick is a useful comparison, but there are two serious issues I have with how far Mr. Wilbon takes the argument. Both exist in this paragraph. Consider:

So you’ll pardon me if I’m not going to give school and athletic department officials a standing ovation for throwing his butt out of school . . . eventually. He should have been thrown out months earlier. And university officials, if they have the guts, ought to be taking a serious look at the entire football program because there’s way too much trouble involving the football players on that campus.

As for Virginia Tech “throwing his butt out of school,” this is the second time Mr. Wilbon mentioned this. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Virginia Tech dismissed Marcus Vick from the football team, not from Virginia Tech. Vick did nothing to help himself in the last week, but there’s a difference. But that’s more a trivial complaint than anything.

More disturbing is the last part of that paragraph. With the phrase “way too much trouble involving the football players on that campus,” Mr. Wilbon presents the Virginia Tech football team as a troubled program, one that coddles thugs and criminals while putting only money as a priority. Maybe that’s true; I’ve heard such statements in abundance over the last week, so I’m not surprised. I expect proof with a statement like that, though. Simply stating something does not make it true.

Without facts, it diminishes our reputation with people who are paying only marginal attention to our program. It implies that we care only about athletics and victories, with academics of little consequence. If that’s true, Mr. Wilbon should provide support for statements like that. If it’s not, he should understand that making such throwaway lines for hyperbole hurts Virginia Tech unfairly with potential students, as well as athletic recruits, because his words have influence. Whichever impression the facts support, I can accept it. I can’t accept that Marcus Vick alone is an indictment of the entire program, not without more proof.

What’s next, “Washington football club”?

Reading The Washington Post today, I came across this article about the Seattle Times. Consider:

To avoid insulting native American heritage, the Seattle Times decided to limit severely the use of the term Redskins in the paper — even if a team with that name will dominate news coverage this week. The Times will not use the moniker in headlines or captions. Reporters can use it only once, as a first reference, in all stories. The Redskins will be referred to almost exclusively as Washington — which could get a little confusing for local readers who also live in that state.

It’s especially stupid when noting that linebacker Marcus Washington is the best Redskins defensive player. Rather than prattle on further, I think it’ll be interesting to point out how this supposed sensitivity reads as journalism. From this article, “Gibbs’ guys beat back Buccaneers”, the ridiculousness becomes clear.

“It’s been a tough fight these last six weeks,” said linebacker Marcus Washington, who recovered a fumble and had a fourth-quarter interception. “We ain’t ready to go home yet, so we’re going to keep sawing wood.”

The Bucs got one more chance, taking over at their 46 after a 14-yard punt with 1:05 to go. But Simms’ first-down pass was tipped at the line and intercepted by Washington, and Washington ran out the clock.

Washington stopped Carnell “Cadillac” Williams for a 1-yard gain, forcing a fumble that the linebacker recovered before scrambling to his feet and taking off with the ball.

Tampa Bay’s Dan Buenning punched the ball loose from Washington at the 41 before Taylor scooped it up at the 49 and raced to the end zone for a 14-0 lead. The Bucs challenged the TD, but the score was upheld by replay.

Why exactly is the name “Redskins” so bad? Is it better to potentially not insult a portion of readers, or to provide a persistent lack of clarity in that article? I’d go with the notion that the Seattle Times would better serve its readers with information than morality.

For more insight into the paper’s political correctness, enjoy this screenshot of the header for Saturday’s game.