Critical Thinking: Obama’s Prize

November 1, 2009

I (Burr) am unilaterally unveiling a new feature for this blog: “Critical Thinking”. So much of the information that overwhelms the Internet (through blogs, twitter, and other outlets) is instantaneous reactions to breaking news. It doesn’t seem to matter if the facts of the story are accurate or if the reactions to the story are well-reasoned or thoughtful in any way. Immediacy seems to be prized above all else. And even if reactions change or the facts of the story are found to be inaccurate, these developments are often considered “old news” and overshadowed by the next immediately new story.

With that in mind, with “Critical Thinking” I will take a prominent news story that has had a chance to breathe and chart my initial reaction to the story, what I discovered after delving just a little bit further into it, and my personal appraisal of the situation after actually giving it some thought.

My blind hope in all of this is to inject a modicum of thoughtfulness into this wonderful, free, and open digital society. So feel free to steal, copy, or adapt this model as you see fit.

Now on to the inaugural “Critical Thinking” piece:

Topic: Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize (link)

Gut reaction: A few good speeches is enough to win this thing? “He hasn’t done anything”.

Upon further reflection: The Nobel prize committee has a history of using the prize a carrot to encourage future behavior rather than award past action (link). It is based on the opinion of 5 Norwegians and their decision making process is very confidential (link). Also, it isn’t as if President Obama personally lobbied for the prize (like the 2012 Chicago Olympic bid). And finally, I don’t think the importance of Obama’s reversal of official US policy on torture or “enhanced interrogation techniques” (link) should be understated.

Appraisal: The Nobel Peace Prize Committee chose to give President Obama the award on its own. He didn’t have to do anything extra or different to get it and he doesn’t have to do anything extra or different now that he has won. Ultimately, it’s interesting but unimportant.

– Burr


Private Property and Meritocracy

October 10, 2009

Apart from the obvious tenants of representative democracy, the constitutional rights, and the separation of powers between the branches of government as well as between the federal and state governments, I think the two most fundamental aspects of the American Way are the following: private property and meritocracy.

These are the two socio-political ingredients that make America what it is, or at least ought to. This harkens back to beginning of our Union with such self-made men as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton.

We are in a season of change. Indeed, as the epigram says, ‘the only constant is change’. The so-called Great Recession has had massive ripples through financial and bureaucratic systems, as well as through the personal lives of many citizens. The complex healthcare system with its many tiers and pretzeled interests is in the crosshairs of great debate over reform. Familiar programs such as Social Security are verging on bankruptcy. America appears to be waning as a military superpower, at least temporarily.

But as we move forward – passing new laws and rearranging the pieces of our society, every one of us (man, woman and politician) would be well served to keep in mind the importance of private property and meritocracy. May they be as a twin lodestar to our nation, guiding the way towards the possibility of achieving the American Dream and maintaining our truly unique form of liberty.

– Hamilton

Ted Kennedy and Succession

August 29, 2009

I have argued before in this blog (when Burris was appointed) that governors should not have the power to select replacements to vacant Senate seats.

In his last days, Senator Kennedy lobbied for a change in the election law in Massachusetts. He wants the governor to be able appoint an interim Senator to fill the seat until a special election could take place, which would happen in 3 or 4 months.

As it has been documented elsewhere (link) the law for special elections was added so then-governor Mitt Romney wouldn’t be able to replace Kerry with a Republican if he won the 2004 presidential election. The right policy was implemented for some very petty political reasons– as often happens in the messy work of democracy. But this “interim” senator appointment would not be the right policy. States have frequently gone without having full representation in the Senate for many months. Minnesota’s 2nd Senate seat was filled only last month. It was left vacant for some incredibly important legislative battles in order to assure that the voice of the voters were fairly and accurately heard. Should state law in Minnesota have allowed its Republican governor to appoint an “interim” Senator for those months? Voters should have the sole authority to appoint Senators. It is inconvenient that free and fair democratic elections take time, but thankfully the founders were wise enough to have multiple representatives in the Senate to assure that the states are never fully shut out.

If Minnesota can go 7 months without a 2nd voice in the Senate, surely Massachusetts can go 4.

– Burr

Obama, Gates, Crowley, Pointless

July 30, 2009

Surely President Obama has more important things to do, as figurehead of our country and the most powerful man on the planet, than to get himself embroiled in a somewhat petty dispute between a university professor and a police sergeant from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Had the President not commented on the local, near-microscopic issue, it would have been handled and forgotten. But now, a full-blown publicity stunt / charade has advanced to the penultimate moment of the President, Vice President (after weeks of distracting media attention), and two men in question sitting down for “a beer” at the White House. Apparently, all it takes to have a private lunch with the Leader of the Free World is to get into a controversial confrontation with a police officer, or vice versa.

Republicans have often painted a picture of Big Government Intervention under Obama, but never has there been a more salient example. The President has intimately injected himself directly into the affairs of 2 out of the 300,000,000 citizens of our country.

– Hamilton

Obama’s transparent problem

July 27, 2009

A significant plank of Obama’s platform was a more open and accessible government. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” But seven months in, the Obama administration’s actual results in opening up the executive branch’s machinations and decision making processes are mixed (link). New government Web sites are opening up reams of data for digestion and investigation by the public. But the administration was reluctant to release the names of executives who visited the White House to discuss health care reform. His promise to post bills on the Web for 5 days before signing them has fallen by the wayside. The special inspector general for TARP has criticized the openness of the government (link).

The administration has good reasons (or excuses, depending upon how charitable you are feeling) for delaying and backtracking. But it boils down to this: governing is much harder than campaigning.

– Burr

Remember Iraq? Afghanistan?

July 25, 2009

The US has withdrawn troops from Iraq’s major cities. This major milestone just happened to take place in the middle of a slate of celebrity deaths. Obama has announced that they are on track to completely withdraw by 2011. Violence has increased as militias and groups within and without struggle for control of that nation.

Meanwhile Obama has shifted troops into the widening and increasing bloody conflict in Afghanistan. July was the deadliest month yet for NATO forces. Pakistan’s Swat Valley has been ravaged as Pakistani forces have battled deeply entrenched Taliban forces on the border of the two countries. Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding out somewhere in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It’s easy to get wrapped up into our own problems (as admittedly serious and important as they may be). But we have a responsibility to keep abreast of the situations in these countries and do what is necessary to protect the US and do right by those countries, as hard or inconvenient as that may be.

– Burr

Michael Jackson vs. Iranian Freedom

June 28, 2009

Sometimes out of sight really is out of mind. I fear that the 24-hour media coverage of Michael Jackson in the wake of his death will distract Americans from showing continued support to the Iranian protestors and demonstrators, as well as voicing their concern and outrage, allowing the Iranian regime to steamroll over the freedom movement in that country – killing, jailing and silencing dissidents and reporters as they see fit – and setting the hopes for ‘democracy’ in that country back another generation.

Despite our troubles, the United States still is the world’s most enduring democracy and greatest champion for ‘freedom’ internationally. If average Americans lose interest, they will be putting less pressure on politicians and representatives to speak out or act in support of the Iranian people who are protesting a shadowy election outcome and lack of political freedom.

Don’t forget. Support the Iranian people.

– Hamilton


June 28, 2009

You can now follow Fed Locally on twitter to be informed every time we post.

The private lives of public servants

June 24, 2009

The governor of South Carolina admitted to having an affair today, finally ending speculation and confusion over where he had disappeared to after the legislative session in that state had ended (link). The admission will doubtless bring up the seemingly endless debate over how important the private actions of a public servant is to their official role in government; over what should be private and what should be public.

But in this case, that isn’t the issue. His family claims they didn’t know where he was, which at a personal level is obviously troubling. But, more importantly, neither did his staff or the lieutenant governor. He is the chief executive of the state, and if an unexpected emergency had struck, the resulting confusion and delays could have been disastrous.

In the same vein, when public officials (like the former mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick) use their power and influence illegally and inappropriately (like trying to fire police investigating him) to cover up embarrassing personal situations (like the affair he was having with his Chief of Staff), their private affairs are secondary and tangential to the more important and serious breach of public trust.

Doing something illegal to hide an embarrassment is more pertinent and a greater violation than the actual embarrassment.

Or, as the saying goes, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.”

– Burr

Hamiltoncare for America 2.0

June 18, 2009

The healthcare system in America seems to be going downhill in light of the Great Recession. Premiums have risen irrespective of wages, and now more people than ever are unemployed and thus vulnerable to life-destroying hospital bills. President Obama is making noises about reforming healthcare and some measure of reform may actually occur given the current political climate. It may not be pretty or comprehensive… but change is coming!

In light of all this, I am reposting a modified version of my previous prescription for America’s healthcare woes. Keep in mind that I do not necessarily believe that healthcare is in inalienable right that the government must provide its citizens. Still, we must look at the practical social and market realities. As it stands, healthcare in America is not an equitable or sustainable model!

Some facts: US healthcare spending is the highest in the world. Two years ago, 45 million people were uninsured. That number is certainly larger and growing now. The uninsured (who do not have access to preventative and early detection care) raise the prices for all when they use emergency services.

STEP ONE: Disconnect health coverage from employment. The wages of workers would rise. Also, citizens would not have to fear going into healthcare limbo when they switch jobs, lose jobs, etc. The flawed COBRA would no longer be needed. Workers would also have more choice and flexibility in choosing their own policies. Competition and consumer choice is good! Health coverage being attached to employment is an outdated system left over from World War 2!

STEP TWO: Make health insurance compulsory, but in a manner similar to car insurance. Car insurance isn’t mandatory in a vacuum, but has stipulations. I switched to Geico and saved hundreds of dollars! This step and step one must be realized simultaneously.

STEP THREE: Establish a privatized, government-based health insurance provider (an independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States) to compete with other health insurance providers. Like the US Postal Service competing with FedEx and UPS, etc.

STEP FOUR: When the federal government gives money for state health programs, demand that the majority be spent on preventative care. For the rest of the money, give the states flexibility (with oversight) over how that money is spent. Different states have different needs. West Virginia, for example, has a high occurrence of childhood obesity as well as health problems associated with coal mining, a major piece of the WV economic pie. Ultimately, preventative care is major and state adaptability (with oversight) is very helpful.

STEP FIVE: Digitize all medical records, patient charts and prescriptions. Go green! Go digital! Go online!

– Hamilton