The Marriage of Money and Politics – A Unified Class of Deceit

While our recession looms and nightly newscasts highlight rage over Wall Street bonuses, we’re missing a larger and most formidable storyline. The only class warfare worth mentioning is between the citizen class and our ever burgeoning political class; the latter, intent on a tyrannical control over our everyday lives by those who purportedly know best.

Our founders spoke of this very possibility. They said that the demise of the United States and our way of life would not emanate from an external force, but from a soft tyranny eroding from within. It’s sometimes our very prosperity and resultant apathetic political non-participation that affords this political creep room to infest our Constitution and our way of life.

As we drove our kids to school, took in a football game, texted our friends, and shopped on Main Street, our elected representatives and the massive bureaucracy that follow them got in bed with big business. Don’t get me wrong, big business is fine when smartly regulated by sensible policies and law, but when those government regulators turn a blind eye, we’re all in trouble. Furthermore, while we slept, our Federal government bought our banks, our car companies, our insurance companies, and our mortgages. Enough is enough.

This divergence from our Constitution has already been played. During the fear and strife of World War I, Woodrow Wilson, nearly our first prominent liberal progressive steered our nation in a path that our founders never intended. Wilson’s notion of a Constitution that was not keeping up with the times, and his contempt for its restraining powers on the Executive branch, was thankfully thwarted by Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover in the roaring 20’s – 30’s. However, by the stock market crash of 1929 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first of four Presidential terms commencing in 1932, Wilson’s ideas had pervaded the minds of many in Washington D.C. The mindset that government can or should seek to solve man’s problems instead of good old common sense solutions that only man can best devise for himself became a dominant theme in the 1930’s and early 1940’s.

It seems all too fitting that a narcissist politician such as FDR, bent on power at all costs, spearheaded a flurry of entitlements designed to control rather than aid our citizens. In the liberal progressive’s utopian world, our citizens were best cared for from cradle to grave by experts in government. FDR spoke of a Second Bill of Rights, one in which every man had “the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation” Do you see how quickly we jumped from need to desire? Where would that subjective path take us?

An often overshadowed point in the discussion over how much governmental interference is right is the fact that government didn’t enable the greatest nation on Earth to flourish, our people did. Our Constitution was unique among the World’s political documents of it’s time and now. It essentially spoke of limits on government as opposed to what its citizens could or could not do.

While government slept in our nation, we harvested resources from a bountiful Earth, forged steel, steamed commerce across our nation, and exported the fruits of our labor on ocean-going vessels built by the hands of Americans in our shipyards. While government slept, America prospered.

I’m all too sorry to say, however, that the goliath of Washington and Wall Street together, has awakened with a vengeance. It needs to be fed and its appetite is vociferous. The bigger it gets, the more it consumes, the more it consumes, the bigger it gets. You get the picture. While we slept, a tyrannical creep swept into our lives.

In reliable fashion, however, the American people have begun to respond. That’s one spirit that may become distracted from time to time, but it never dulls. For the pride the American people gain from doing for themselves feeds this ongoing spirit in a way that a handful of politicians in Washington could only dream of restraining much less containing .

You see, at the end of the day, each and every American gets to choose with whom they’ll climb into bed. We all likely learned when we were young that no means no. Right now the American people are shouting NO to big government because they know that what makes their possessions valuable are not the material items themselves, but, the effort put forth to achieve those items. America was built brick by brick with the sweat and tears of its citizens and thank God the spirit of 310 million Americans will always be sufficient to battle tyranny at home as well as abroad.

Citizens Putting U.S. in Harms Way

Those private American citizens that willingly place themselves in harms way abroad, shall have no expectation that we’re coming for them. The harm done to our nation as we’re trying to negotiate the end of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, for instance, is incalculable. While I am touched that two young ladies have recently been reunited with their families, I worry about what we gave up in the negotiations. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were convicted of crimes against the communist nation, or the DPRK in June of 2009 and sentenced to 12 years in a hard labor camp.

In a surprise to many in August of 2009, we heard news that former President Bill Clinton was on the ground in North Korea, securing the release of Ling and Lee. For the North, and Kim Jong IL, if all they received was a photo op; that was still too much to give up. Legitimizing rouge regimes, terrorist organizations, and human rights violators serve to prop them up. This further reduces the chances of peacefully securing freedoms for millions within their borders. Dictators have to fight everyday to tamp down the basic human desires and quest for freedoms from their citizens. One of their main weapons to accomplish this after their use of force is propaganda. Photo opportunities and unchallenged false rhetoric from human rights violators does nothing to support our fellow man.

For those who argue against a more direct intervention into the lives of the oppressed, I submit that their alternative answer should be an unyielding support of every man, woman, and child on this Earth whose basic human freedoms are suppressed. Our unwavering support for them now, just may gain their support in our concerns at a later date and time. This alternative is virtually free. Turning our backs on rouge regimes is not turning our backs on their citizens. Quite the contrary, the more unified our approach is in isolating these characters, the better the results for our fellow man.

Some folks have no useful solutions whatsoever, though. They say not only shall we not rattle sabers, but we should not be seen meddling into the affairs of their states. You can’t have it both ways, that’s just utopian foolishness. If we turn our backs on our fellow citizens of the world, then we become culpable for their sufferings. Photo ops, trade, and otherwise normal acceptance on the World’s stage are no way to end oppression in North Korea. Nations who let their dollars trump their ideals and continue to do business with dictators, tyrants, and terrorists fail everyone.

Now we see in the news that three American hikers have been arrested by the Iranians for purportedly crossing their border with Iraq. What will it cost us to get them back? Something tells me that if you choose Iraq for your hiking destination, you’re looking for something more than just a strenuous and picturesque walk.

The free nations of this World ought to abide by an unflinching and unwavering boycott of states who abuse human rights. Let us stand in the right while those who don’t value such basic freedoms for their citizens stand out like soar thumbs. It would be a fine divide to pit ourselves against them and call them out on such a worthy endeavor as human freedom for all mankind. So you see, nothing is ever as simple as a joyful reunion between two young ladies and their families. Euna Lee, Laura Ling, Bill Clinton, and the Obama administration all took part in questionable diplomacy last week. What now for our intrepid hikers in Iran?

Understanding the Health Care Debate

Any serious discussion of health care reform must begin with serious data. The often pronounced number of the uninsured being at 47 million in the United States just doesn’t measure up in any serious way. When you start with the Census Bureau’s latest statistics from their Current Population Survey of 2007, we find that 45.7 million people were without health insurance. A small correction, but hold on for the rest. Of that 45.7 million, 18 million have incomes over $50,000 a year and presumably can afford a policy providing at the least, catastrophic protection. $50,000 is 226% above the Health and Human Service’s 2009 poverty guidelines for a family of four. For those individuals or families with incomes of at least $50,000 who chooses to buy health insurance may at best be considered underinsured, however, that is a theoretical argument.

This author does not presume to put forth the notion that we don’t have an enormous problem with health care costs and access in our nation. Moving forward, another estimated 12.6 million uninsured are illegal aliens. Of the 15.1 million uninsured remaining, 8.1 million are under the age of 18. Their parents, whose incomes don’t exceed 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, are eligible to gain coverage for their children through Medicaid or SCHIP but have simply not signed up. The remaining 7 million uninsured citizens in the United States more accurately define the crisis portion of our nation’s health care woes.

Next we need a brief review of the major programs and legislation available for a citizen to either gain health insurance or receive medical care from hospitals or clinics. Private insurance companies insure most of our citizens in the United States. Large firms, government employees, and small business often present choices for health insurance through the private system. The exploding costs of medical coverage are putting the squeeze on everyone involved, however, and fewer small businesses are offering coverage, while larger firms are cutting back on their contributions towards employee premiums.

Medicare is a federally mandated entitlement program created in 1965 during Lyndon B Johnson’s Administration. It insures citizens age 65 and older and is partly financed by payroll taxes imposed by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and the Self-Employment Contributions Act of 1954. Medicare consists of 3 major parts to deal with the care of its members. Part A deals with hospital insurance, Part B details medical insurance, and Part D covers prescription drugs. An employee’s contribution of 1.45% with a company match of the same on all compensation only partly funds this government entitlement. Part B of Medicare has a base monthly premium cost of $96.40. This is often deducted from an individual’s social security check with the Federal government acting as facilitator. Part D contains a complex set of cost criteria depending on the prescriptions needed, the income of its participants, and the duration of the prescriptions.

Medicaid was also created in 1965 and seeks to insure low income families and people with certain disabilities in the United States. Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal government and each of the 50 states. States are free to have their own programs to meet the standards of this legislation. This program holds many different titles such as Medi-Cal, MassHealth, and TennCare; California’s, Massachusetts’s’, and Tennessee’s programs for compliance with this federal mandate.

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program or SCHIP was enacted in 1997 by co-sponsors Senator Ted Kennedy (D) Massachusetts and Senator Orin Hatch (R) Utah, with influence from First Lady, Hillary Clinton. The intent of this legislation was to insure children whose family’s earned too much to qualify for Medicaid, but were considered modest indeed. After recent amendments to this legislation, people making up to 200% of the federal poverty level or $40,100 are now eligible to insure their children under SCHIP.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act was passed by Congress in 1986 as part of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act or COBRA. It requires hospitals and ambulance services to provide care to anyone needing emergency treatment regardless of citizenship, legal status or capacity to pay. It is thought that nearly half of all uninsured that use services in emergency rooms do not pay for the services delivered. These huge costs are written off as charity by most hospitals while many others are closing their doors when there is already a shortage of emergency care facilities. COBRA is also where the legislation was born that allows us to continue our health care coverage for up to 18 months when leaving a place of employment. There is often a sticker shock on the price of this coverage though, as the participant needs to foot the entire premium, minus employer contributions.

The problems associated with the exploding costs of health care in the United States are many. First and most importantly, costs are forcing people to choose between cheaper insurance plans that could place a family in jeopardy with the advent of a disastrous illness, while other families are choosing not to insure at all. The worst position is not a choice at all, but for the estimated 7 million uninsured in the United States that simply can’t afford insurance because of their circumstances are the most vulnerable among us. These are the folks that have simply fallen between the cracks in the richest nation on Earth.

A few of the main reasons for the high and rising cost of health insurance in the US are listed below:

  • A. Inefficient administrative costs dealing with a myriad of compliance                        issues and paper health records
  • B. Malpractice insurance expenses incurred by health care professionals
  • C. Fraud and government – bureaucratic waste/overregulation by government entities
  • D. Inadequate size of insurance risk pools
  • E. Unhealthy habits of health care participants

A. We have antiquated and clunky mechanisms for the administrative of our current system of health care. From billing matters to referrals by your Doctor to a specialist, our paper based system is woefully inefficient. Inefficiencies cost more time and therefore money by health care providers simply to do their business. These costs are always passed along to the final consumer of said services. While we have come a long way in standardization with the wide use of diagnostic codes such as the World Health Organization’s ICD-10, we are still plagued with an ever-increasingly broken health care system as shown above with many participants and payers. All of those participants and payers come with their own sets of standards, mandates, and forms. You may have seen a note at your doctor’s office stating that they will no longer submit various claims to your insurance company.

An individual’s personal medical records should also be transferred to electronic means. This will promote care with fewer costs. Electronic medical records can be made available more cheaply and quickly to other health care professionals that you are referred to for continued care. Prescription medicine can benefit from an electronic system as well. An individual’s complete medical picture may be formulated with greater accuracy as triggers in electronic medical record systems can quickly alert physicians of contradictory medical procedures or prescriptions.

A system such as that would also be capable of recognizing patterns or trends in a person’s health, suggesting proper directions for care with less guesswork involved. Less guesswork equates to fewer expensive tests designed to see if you have this disease or that condition. These encrypted records can be made available online for consumers to review at anytime they desire. The consumer of health services may elect to allow their data to be collected, without their personally identifiable criteria, by The Health and Human Services department of our federal government. The HHS department can gain benefit from a cross section of our society engaging in such a data collection. This data can be used to better gauge the true state of our citizens health care needs by analyzing trends and suggesting programs to foster the health and ultimately wealth of our nation’s citizens.

B. Malpractice insurance is purchased by doctors and health care professionals to defend against lawsuits for mistakes they may or may not have contributed to. Even frivolous lawsuits are incredibly expensive to defend against as counsel needs to be sought in such matters. Many have suggested reforming our states’ tort laws such as putting caps on punitive damages. Limited tort options already exist for car insurance and that has reduced the exposure of auto insurance companies and therefore premiums to consumers.

C. A certain degree of fraud and bureaucratic waste are inherent in every government program or government regulated industry. The overregulated programs are much more likely to have high levels of waste and abuse, however. While it’s reasonable that any federal dollar spent be regulated, controlled, and held accountable, the more dollars spent by our Federal government equate to an ever-increasing cost to satisfy such mandates. This, in short, is government bureaucracy; often referred to as the fourth branch of our republic. The bureaucracy consists largely of the tens of thousands of unelected government employees responsible for running the day-to-day affairs of our massive Federal government and its programs. The further away that funding dollars for a particular program come from, the less individual accountability exists. Think about this as it relates directly to our health care problem. When was the last time that an insured person went to their Doctor and negotiated the charge for a particular procedure that was sought? When was the last time that when being referred to a third-party for blood work or an x-ray, you asked your Doctor what they charged for the procedure? Finally, if you had done this recently, did you follow up with a query about a potentially cheaper solution by a competitor? Competition in the health care industry is not alive and well and therefore we are paying too much for everything. Multiple providers for such services are only the first requirement for competition. We have to connect the consumer with the costs associated with his or her care to improve competition in the spirit of free markets.

D. Insurance risk pools are how the insurance industry spreads the cost of providing care to a group of people. Large corporations are able to command lower premiums for their employees because of the large number of employees being insured. With a greater cross section of our population, the healthy are likely to outnumber the unhealthy and therefore the ultimate costs by the insurance company would be less risky. Conversely, a group of 20 construction workers employed by a small business would be a much riskier venture by an insurance company; hence the higher rates to that group. A health care model that increases the number of participants in a risk pool would undoubtedly lower premiums.

E. Americans are unhealthy. While it is a good that we have so many choices of what and where to eat as well as so many stimulating television programs that keep us glued to the couch, it has come with great health care costs. America’s weight problem alone contributes to numerous other maladies that all cost money to treat. Our health care system in general is often thought of as reactive rather than proactive in design. When we get sick, we go to Doctor. The Doctor is encouraged to send us through his or her network of co-providers to adequately resolve our malady. Everyone makes money along the way until the consumer eventually wins by getting well. The latter is the hope, of course. The United States needs to shift to a model of preventive care where the medical industry is rewarded by aiding a healthy population rather the fixing an unhealthy citizenry. There is a massive shortage of Doctors in the United States so there would still be plenty of coin on the table to spread around in a prevention based model.

One possible solution to respond to the problems would be a proposal by The Hamilton Project. The Hamilton Project details sound solutions for evolving beyond traditional employer-sponsored health insurance. The main tenants of their proposal include:

  • A. State established “insurance exchanges”
  • B. Shift employers traditional role as sponsor to facilitator of coverage
  • C. Reform of the tax laws to more fairly handle the needs of our needy

A. A state insurance exchange can be thought of as a stock exchange on Wall Street. Although the insurance exchange would not exist to make money, it would serve to bring together the major players in health care; insurance companies, regulators, and consumers. A series of state determined minimums could be established as the ground rules and those insurance carriers wanting participation can sign on to compete with their various products. Care must be taken not to create any new regulation, enlarging the already oversized bureaucracy and costs. A simple mandate that ERISA approved health plans would also meet exchange minimums should be enough.

B. Instead of employers, small to medium sized businesses in particular, sponsoring health insuranceplans with their typically small risk pools and high premiums; they could act as facilitators as their employees gain access to their respective state health exchanges. The employee and his or her family may now have access to a wide array of health plan options which would be more likely to fit their unique health care needs. A younger couple may elect a high deductible cheaper policy while a single woman in her early 60’s may require a low deductible plan.

As facilitators, the employer would deduct the required premiums from their employee’s paychecks and transfer that to the health exchange, which in turn, would pay the respective insurance company direct. Employers are used to this role already when it comes to deducting taxes and other benefit elections for employees such as 401K contributions or health savings accounts.

As employees change jobs much more often in our postindustrial service economy, their healthcoverage would remain intact since their previous employer merely acted as a facilitator. If their new job participates in the insurance exchange of that state, it’s a simple administrative change for the continued collection of premiums. An individual or family without work could have premium payments deducted from state unemployment compensation or simply pay the exchange direct for continued or new coverage alike. Simple automatic deductions from a bank account or even a credit card could suffice as payment.

It was by accident that our health insurance became so rooted in our employers and bringing us a whole host of concerns for us to ponder before switching jobs or on termination:

  • 1. Can we afford to lose our health insurance as we endure the new employers waiting period for another policy?
  • 2. Can we afford the high cost of COBRA health insurance during the transition?
  • 3. Will our trusted family physician be equally accessible on my new employers sponsored health plan?
  • 4. Does my new employer even offer health insurance and if not how many months of COBRA continuation coverage can we afford?
  • 5. Will a previous ailment be considered a preexisting condition with our next provider of care and therefore disqualify me for coverage altogether?

All these concerns would be eliminated by providing this alternative to employer sponsored health insurance. Larger firms may still desire to offer their ERISA approved health benefits and that would be just fine. As previously mentioned, how we became so heavily reliant on our employers for our health insurance when we handle most other insurance needs on our own was incidental. From The Hamilton Project’s report, page #7, Box #1:

  • Wage controls imposed during World War II, which gave employers the incentive to offer, and employees to accept, uncontrolled fringe benefits, including health coverage, because benefits were not subject to controls
  • A series of tax rulings, later codified in the landmark 1954 federal tax law, which exempted such benefits from taxation, providing a major tax advantage for employer-sponsored coverage
  • A 1948 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that health benefits were a legitimate subject of collective bargaining, further spurring the growth of employment-based coverage, especially in unionized firms.

C. Tax laws presently favor employers and upper income earners because of the lack of any cap on an employer’s contributions to health plans. Employers receive a tax deduction for contributing to an employee’s health coverage costs. Unlike other employee compensation benefits, there is no limit on this exclusion. Therefore, the greater the coverage selected, the greater the tax break from Uncle Sam. The total revenue loss realized with this tax treatment in 2006 was said to be 208.6 billion dollars alone.

The bias in the disbursement of these 208 billion dollars exists because unless your employer offers coverage you can’t even touch the lucrative tax break. In addition, as stated above, the tax break is skewed to those in higher compensated jobs. The average annual tax subsidy for covered employees was $2778 in 2006. Low wage earners, those making less than $10.43 an hour, realized a subsidy of only $2268, while on the high-end, those earning more than $23.07 an hour, realized average subsidies of $3283. In essence, those who need the help the most don’t get it while those that seemingly need less aid receive the most tax benefit.

The Hamilton Project states the Federal government should cap the present tax exclusion for employer-sponsored insurance and create a refundable, advanceable, and assignable tax credit for lower-income families. A refundable tax credit would allow low-income families who likely have no federal tax liability to receive the credit before the April 15th filing deadline each year based on an estimated 0 tax liability. The assignability part comes into play whereby an individual is then allowed to allocate their credit towards the premiums due at the health exchange.

Here’s the least you need to know. Yes, our health care system is broken. Nearly 7 million citizens cannot afford to protect themselves or their families with health insurance. Still though, we do have the best health care system in the world. People who can afford a ticket to the United States come here all the time with health care needs that their own socialized or nonexistent systems fail adequately to address. Our technological advances in medicine alone have contributed not only to the high quality service available in the United States but to the cost of these services as well. To dummy down our medicine and procedures available would be a death sentence to millions all over our great nation and the world alike. Let’s not go backwards by devising such plans that will ultimately require rationing of health care. There is no reason our life expectancy should decline as we seek merely to counsel our seniors about alternative options rather than continue to provide for their needs. Rationing will more likely prescribe an early death sentence to our seniors than the medications they need to continue their long and we hope fruitful lives.

There is no liberal panacea that will adequately insure everyone, prevent rationing, and preserve the highest quality medical care this world knows. Medicare will be out of money by 2017 and Social Security will be bankrupt by 2035. Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan that President George W. Bush signed into law in 2006 is way over budget already. This great nation became what it is by the selfless and hard work of millions of Americans. There’s just no substitute for everyone putting their best foot forward in hopes of keeping themselves out of the inevitable cracks that plague all free and competing societies.

The Greatest Generation Holds Its Place In Front Of Us All

Not too long ago I took in the Clint Eastwood film “Letters from Iwo Jima” at a local theater. Although it had only been out for a short while I was surprised to see the tiny theater in which it had been relegated. This film, about some of the most courageous souls on Earth, clawing their way through the Pacific towards Japan, had competed with a number of pop culture movies out at the same time. No problem though, whether large or small, this theater on that evening afforded me with a closeness to undoubtedly one of our nation’s most coveted gifts, a member of the greatest generation.

We have all heard the numbers regarding the passing of some of the greatest generation. Each day, over 1000 WWII veterans die. A number that used to total 16 million vets is now estimated at 2.5 million according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Well, to a student of history and to one who reveres the selfless sacrifice of these great men and women as our most coveted gift of the 20th century, I am saddened by their passing. With each loss, we lose the opportunity to extract just what it was that made them so brave and so successful in America and thereby our hopes and aspirations of replicating them are severely dampened.

Their humility and unselfishness surely rank among their greatest qualities. These after all, seem to bind that generation together more than anything else. The movie was a stirring account of the adversity these men faced in the Pacific. This was but a microcosm of the peril our entire nation and way of life faced during the imperialism and totalitarianism of the 1940’s, however, they all rose to the occasion, without question.

I didn’t need a movie that night to appreciate the efforts of our brave men and women. On that evening, after our United States Marines raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi, and as the credits rolled down the small screen, I saw him. Across the aisle was an elderly gentleman staring intently at the screen. I instantly saw the message that was presented to me. While everyone else quickly piled out of the theater’s exits, this man was honoring the men and women of his own generation.

I stared at him with immense pride. What was he thinking about as the names of our heroes filled the screen in front of us? Had he fought in WWII? Was he searching for the names of his fallen brothers? How many names would he recognize on that screen? Or, perhaps his eyes were closed as he relived the precious moments he shared on Earth with the heroes of that time.

I was also embarrassed as my generation saw fit to scramble for the exits instead of reading the human scroll of sacrifice before us. To most of my generation, it may have just been another war movie. After all, it were these fallen heroes of WWII that enabled us to enjoy things as American as apple pie and going to movies in the first place. None the less, I could only take responsibility for myself, so I sat there beaming with pride and hoping that the gentleman would catch a glimpse of me with my reverence towards him. Thank you for your service, I thought to myself.

This man reminded me of my late Uncle as well. Sgt Thomas Mallon served in the Big Red One outfit in the European theater of WWII. He was shot twice, each time being afforded not only the opportunity to heal those wounds but to get right back into our fight for freedom. What’s odd is that with my quest for knowledge about all things war, and his late death, I know absolutely nothing else about his service in WWII. I had to read the history books and watch film to learn about the story of the Big Red One and their heroic efforts. This spoke to the embodiment of that generation’s humility and their humility is surely what lends to their greatness.

So on that night, I was reminded of just how powerful a generation’s call to duty can be. I am also cognizant of the fact that the greatest generation is quietly calling on my generation to lift the mantle of freedom above our shoulders and further its place in this world. On that night, one man represented millions and held his rightful place, in front of us all.

Korean Airlines Flight 007

On September 1st, 1983, a Korean Airlines Boeing 747 was shot out of the skies over the Soviet Union’s Eastern port area of Vladivostok near the Kamchatka Peninsula. The airliner purportedly drifted west of their intended flight path from Anchorage to Seoul, South Korea and violated the airspace of the Soviet Union. This event occurred during the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Cold War had many isolated casualties, but this indiscriminate killing of 269 people fueled the tensions even greater.

In the early 1980’s while the world’s militaries spent enormous amount of money on weapons systems and technologies such as Global Positioning Systems or GPS, civilian aviation still relied on relatively archaic methods of air navigation. Inertial Reference Systems and ground based radio beacons served the needs for decades, but not on that evening. The inattentiveness of KAL 007’s crew and the imprecision of their Boeing 747’s on board navigation systems contributed to their demise, but the 2 missiles fired from a Soviet Su 15 fighter jet did them in.

The Soviet Union naturally denied any knowledge or responsibility for the lost airliner but subsequent American and Korean investigations soon revealed otherwise. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that the Russian Federation eventually released evidence to support what the world already knew for nearly a decade.

One of Ronald Reagan’s responses to the tragedy was to avail the highly accurate global positioning system to the public at large. The satellite based navigation system was so accurate it could be used to pinpoint a spot on the earth and then subsequently demolish it with any number of weapons systems. This of course was why until the unforeseen tragedy of KAL 007, GPS was kept in our military repertoire only.

26 years later, civilian aviation navigates so precisely over the airways in the sky that we now have a collision hazard. As aircraft span the globe, they are often on organized route systems or flight paths defined by these highly accurate GPS signals from space. We now see civilian aircraft riding the wake turbulence from the aircraft in front of them due to their precision in flying the centerline of these airways. This was likely a contributing factor to a recent accident of the Amazon Jungle in Brazil. A GOL Airliner and an Embraer Legacy corporate jet collided. All aboard the airliner perished while the Legacy jet hobbled their aircraft in for an emergency landing.

Aviation authorities have actually instituted a degree of non-precision back into our repertoire. Aptly named, SLOP for strategic lateral offset procedure, it authorizes pilots to fly the centerline of their airway or deviate 1 or 2 nautical miles to the right of that centerline. This allows pilots to steer their aircraft away from areas of wake turbulence they may be experiencing as well as provides for a greater separation between other aircraft that may have deviated from their flight path in error. How ironic it is that we have gone back to some of the imprecision which in a different way and for different reasons brought down KAL 007.

I recently had the opportunity to pilot my aircraft on a similar route that the KAL flight had taken. On that night, I found myself peering out my cockpit windows watching for those same Su interceptors. What was even more ironic is that one of our emergency alternate airfields, Petropavlovsk, was the actual site where those Su 15s launched from in 1983. Yes, our world’s come a long way in 26 years.

As a side note, but not without its due reverence, one of the passengers of KAL Flight 007 was a sitting Congressman, Lawrence Patton McDonald from Georgia. He is recorded as the only sitting member of Congress killed during our 45 year Cold War.

A Nation Divided Through its Diversity

On November 4th, 2008, my political party may not have won, but more importantly, our nation did. To date, we took the largest leap forward on race relations while simultaneously distancing ourselves from an embarrassing and despicable time in our nation’s history.

The election of Barack Obama to the Office of the President of the United States made a clear statement to the world that we still intend to lead with a keen awareness of our gift of diversity. We once again present to the world’s stage our motto, from many – come one, or e pluribus unum.

The importance of our early diversity as well as present cannot be underscored. It’s easy to reach agreement among a bunch of likeminded folks, but to get a diverse population of 305 million individuals to come together is an impressive feat in itself. By the time our nation’s face hits the world’s stage, we’ve already explored an issue 50 ways to Sunday.

This unified message to the world is critical if we are to continue to attract those yearning for what we have been blessed with. To attract the attention of some of the worlds most oppressed and misfortunate alike, we must shine our beacon of freedom as bright as possible. We can only accomplish that by employing the energies and vitality of every one of our citizens.

Let us use our own political processes and forums for debate, when we venture out into the world; it’s time to speak as one. We spoke as one on November 4th, 2008, however, the debate rightly continues within our borders. We are better today for the advancement of our ideas, namely that which believes any one from any group of our citizenry is deserving of the position that which he or she attains. Congratulations to our 44th President of the United States. It should mean as much to us as it does to him.

Protectionism Versus Globalism

At a time of great concern over individual economic vitality and our nation’s economic health we hear arguments for protectionist policies. Protectionism is basically a retreat from global markets and a ramping up of rhetoric like “Buy American”. This is too simple and too emotional of a response to what amounts to far greater economic problems. In short, the “Buy American” answer lacks any serious imagination and logical thought. I was very disappointed recently to see this type of language in our trillion dollar spending/stimulus plan. If this is what we are to pin our hopes, dreams, and aspirations on, we would all do well to stop imagining now.

Certain provisions in this recent 72 hour spend-a-thon demand that various infrastructure projects be built entirely of American made resources like steel and iron. Well, I don’t know if you too have noticed, but, we don’t produce much of that anymore for a reason. So how much will we overpay to repair our infrastructure? What’s the right price to pay for components and resources that were previously deemed less viable by our own free market system? So our precious and sparing tax dollars will buy less “stimulus” because the needs of a few will trump the many. That’s no American ideal I’m familiar with.

You see, the greatest benefit of free market capitalism is the unbiased and seemingly sound decision making of its participants. When governments see fit to leave well enough alone and when governments avoid over-regulation, the price of a good or service is relative to the cost of said goods and services. The more regulation, the more tax, and the more convoluted the price points become. Eventually the price of goods and services become indiscernible or worse yet, simply not viable to manufacture, produce, or offer at home.

So how then do so many of our brightest political and economic minds and policy makers come to the conclusion that protectionist policies are what we need now? I can come up with just a few possible reasons.

  • 1. They have come so far from a notion of personal responsibility and accountability that they do not even realize its likely success as a way out of our most difficult problems, or,
  • 2. They are beholden to the interest groups and/or unions that enabled them to take their offices and policy making platforms, or,
  • 3. They don’t agree but they lack the political power and consequently the leadership required to persuade the opposition to the contrary.

All three of these possibilities seem particularly disturbing to me. In the case of the first, we have simply accepted that our predicaments must be someone else’s fault and of someone or something else’s volition. In essence, one is claiming they didn’t do it and they can’t present us with a clear plan on how to fix it so they hunker down and look outwards for a solution that will only come from within. It seems a far cry from the great thinking and ingenuity of our forefathers.

In the case of the second possible reason for our emotional ride towards protectionism, one needs only to review the enormous campaign and political party contributions to explain the positions of so many of our elected officials. These contributions don’t come without implicit strings attached. Nothing of the monetary sort comes for free in this country. The overwhelming amount of money that follows our congressmen and congresswomen continue to erode one of the pillars of the most successful government ever bestowed upon the Earth.

Finally, our third group of individuals may lay claim to the most despicable reason for our drive towards protectionism. In my humble opinion, these men and women are making a conscience choice not to succeed by their failure to stand up and take a stand. The United States has never before in history failed to meet its responsibilities at home and abroad. Well, one reason we have not failed before is due to the overwhelming amount of leaders our nation’s ideals and moral fabric have produced. That is what is most upsetting to me; our social systems are failing to create the American spirit necessary to perpetuate our greatness. And therein lies the problem, and worse yet, it creates a vicious cycle leading us right back to a nation of excuse makers.

So how bad is protectionism? As long as it is used as an excuse for our greed and as long as it masks our own acceptance of what we got ourselves into, it certainly won’t take us away from our problems. Worse yet, these ideas of protectionism were tried before at a time of tremendous suffering in the United States. During the height of the Great Depression we adopted several policies of the sort that are thought to have actually lengthened our financial hardships. In fact, after all of the New Deal measures were put in place by FDR, not one can be attributed with getting us out of our depression. It was only another brand of suffering that lifted us from the depths of our financial turmoil, WWII.

The minute our dire economic consequences were framed by our nation’s leaders and further propagated by a media full of sensationalists, all we heard was a plethora of excuses as to why we are in the mess to begin with. There will be plenty of time for these later. The excuses merely served as distractions to what we all know the problem to be anyway. Spend less and begin taking the personal responsibility for a nation addicted to credit and financial speculation. To derive these answers one need only look within what made us great in the first place. Our diversity of population with its penchant for assimilation along with our government’s ability to keep a hands off approach to our free spirits and lofty ambitions will surely right our ship.

You see, it’s precisely our unique background of diversity which has us poised for success on the international stage. We should revel at the chance to share our greatest export to the economies of the world, our unbridled and limitless enthusiasm and ingenuity. Simply put, we must be out there, because of who we are. There is no greater combination of talent and imagination worthy of bringing the world’s economies together and allowing them to work for all. Globalism if how we can best affect what happens to us and that in itself is taking personal responsibility for we the people of the United States of America.