Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Gerrymandering vs. Acceptable Ideological and Partisan Legislative Redistricting

           It has become common lately for all partisan considerations in federal or state legislative redistricting to be labeled as “gerrymandering,” but this misuse of the word fails to make a distinction between what is legislative redistricting that is influenced by an acceptable degree of partisan consideration and gerrymandering, which is the result of excessive partisan motivation.           

Gerrymander is a portmanteau of Elbridge Gerry and salamander.  It refers to a legislative district drawn by the Founding Father that resembled a salamander.  Gerrymandering is the process of drawing legislative districts that are oddly shaped with “tails,” such as possessed by salamanders, corridors or otherwise in such ways that make the districts not compact in order to include as many voters of the same political party of those drawing the boundaries as possible as residents of the district.  Therefore, redistricting those residents who are voters of a particular party into the same district is not necessarily “gerrymandering,” unless the district is thus shaped.

By federal and state law, legislative districts must be contiguous.  It may be desirable that districts be compact, but it makes sense to draw boundaries along lines that follow county or municipal boundaries or that include areas that have a common commercial interests or that share history or culture.  

One of the aspects of culture is political ideology.  Including as many voters as possible who share ideology in a legislative district gives those voters a greater opportunity to elect someone who would represent their political beliefs.  Thus, redistricting along partisan lines can be a form of proportional representation within a state. 

Drawing legislative boundaries along partisan lines, therefore, is not problematic, unless it causes a district not to be compact, to overlap too many political subdivisions or links people who do not share commercial interests, history or other cultural values.  And it is not necessarily gerrymandering.

There is a temptation for lawmakers who have the responsibility to draw legislative boundaries to redistrict them in favor of incumbents generally, which can lead to districts that are gerrymandered in favor of both major parties, or at least drawn in order to provide incumbents with an electoral advantage.  Districts should not be drawn primarily for such temporary considerations and not for self-serving legislators to give themselves or their immediate successors a competitive advantage for the next election.

Gerrymandering should be opposed, but the ideology and partisan affiliations of voters should not be dismissed as they are legitimate factors in drawing legislative boundaries.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pro-European Conservatives Win the Bulgarian Parliamentary Elections

           A pro-European center-right party that is led by a former Prime Minister defeated the ruling Socialists in Bulgaria’s parliamentary elections today. 

Both parties had pledged to restore economic relations with Russia, with the Socialists going further, to the point of orienting away from Europe.  Therefore, the election results were a defeat for Russia, which had heavily interfered in the election, as it typically does.  The Russian Federation has tended to back far-right nationalist, anti-European parties, but sometimes leftist ones are understandably more sympathetic to Communist ex-KGB Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.  Pro-Russian nationalists lost parliamentary elections in Austria last year and nationalists lost the Dutch parliamentary elections this month.  

The conservatives won a plurality of seats in the Bulgarian parliament and will have to form a coalition with smaller nationalist parties to govern.  The Socialists had also lost the presidential election last year.

Repeal the Federalization of Health Insurance and Replace It with Market-Based State Plans

           Now that the federalization of health insurance, which was approved by a liberal Democratic Congress in 2009 and signed into law by United States President Barack Obama and is also known as “Obamacare,” has still not been repealed, a few thoughts on the issue of government health insurance policy are timely.

            Obamacare federalized health insurance by making it a federal requirement that people purchase health insurance and for large employers to provide coverage for their employees, as well as requiring certain benefits and coverage eligibility and prohibiting the denial of health insurance for pre-existing conditions.  The federalization of health insurance also includes a complex system of regulations. 

            However, health insurance is not generally a federal issue.  Therefore, there must be a transition away from federalized health insurance back toward private health insurance regulated by the States, not a replacement with some less-burdensome federal health insurance regulation regime.  The transition must be done in such a way that people do not lose their health insurance coverage through government actions.  It is not a federal responsibility to provide health care or health insurance or to require health insurance, but the federal government ought not to harm people by causing them to lose coverage through no fault of their own, such as has happened because of Obamacare.

            It is necessary to transition away from federalized health insurance not only because of a lack of constitutional authority for it, but because the system is flawed in every way: it has caused some people to lose the insurance plans they liked, some of whom have not been able to find replacement coverage, has increased health insurance premiums and deductibles, has increased taxes and limited freedom, has come between the doctor-patient relationship by substituting the judgment of bureaucrats for that of doctors, has caused some patients to lose the freedom of choice of medical providers and has increased to the federal budget deficit.  In addition, because employers have been reluctant to employ more than 50 full-time employees, which would meet the threshold for Obamacare, the federalization of health insurance has retarded employment growth and thus economic growth, which, in turn, has reduced tax revenues.  All of these results have come in exchange for minimal positive tradeoffs in terms of improved coverage, as millions of Americans remain uninsured, the supposed problem of which was the excuse for the heavy federal regulation of health insurance.  Obamacare is essentially a wealth redistribution mechanism and a political tool for politicians to provide more largess and control more areas of peoples’ lives.

Most Americans had liked their health insurance before Obamacare.  The many who were not covered either did not believe in health insurance for religious reasons, were wealthy enough not to need it or were young and healthy and calculated the cost of coverage was not worth the expense of the premiums, not because of some economic difficulty or some cruel neglect by government.  Some problems, such as the high cost of medical practice insurance, defensive medicine and overspending by patients, that led to higher healthcare and health insurance costs were unaddressed by Obamacare.  Obamacare also mostly fails to incentivize healthier choices by patients.

In addition to eliminating federal requirements to purchase health insurance and for employers to provide it for their employees, the federal government should decouple health insurance from employment in terms of tax policy.  Health insurance benefits should be taxed like any other income, instead of being the exception, which would inform employees of the value of their health insurance and discourage overspending for unnecessary matters and encourage healthier choices.  It would also be fair to those whose employers do not provide health insurance.  At the least, the U.S. should provide proportional tax breaks for those whose employers do not provide health insurance, as a matter of fairness. 

The federal government should eliminate Medicaid, a federal welfare program, or at least reform it to make it less unappealing to medical care providers and less expensive.  One way to accomplish these goals would be to block grant Medicaid money to the States and give them the flexibility to reform Medicaid, which would at least be less violative of the constitutional principle of federalism.

Federal and state tort reform would address the high cost of healthcare because of the high cost of medical malpractice insurance and discourage defensive medicine. 

With the return of health insurance to the States, free market principles, such as competition and freedom of choice between insurance plans and medical providers, should be followed, as well as the doctor-patient relationship restored. 

Covering patients for their pre-existing conditions is not health insurance.  This provision of Obamacare is not one of its “good” parts, despite its popularity and the phony moral case made for it.  It is a corruption of the language and an abuse of health insurance.  Such patients should not lose coverage for other medical needs, but health insurance companies should not be mandated to cover patients for an illness the patients already had.  Instead, it should be more difficult for people to lose coverage in the first place, which should be more portable generally.  Those left uninsured can be helped in other ways than by destroying health insurance.

Medical providers should provide health care for emergencies, as is legally required, and then bill the patients who do not have health insurance or who lack adequate health insurance.  Perhaps better methods of payment collection could be authorized or made less unappealing, if necessary.

Relatively less-expensive catastrophic health insurance should be encouraged, especially for those who are younger and healthier. 

As was the case more before Obamacare, healthy choices by patients should be incentivized with lower health insurance premiums.  

The federalization of health insurance can be repealed and replaced with market-based state-regulated health insurance plans that address all the problems of health insurance, especially the cost, and that increase the freedom of patients, with less burden on the taxpayers.

Grim Anniversaries in Syria and Ukraine

            The sixth anniversary of the Syrian civil war was last week.  Of the nearly half-million dead in the rebellion against the Baathist dictatorship of Bashar Assad since 2011, 200,000 civilians have been killed.  They have overwhelmingly been killed by the Assad regime.  Syria’s allies, which include Iran, Hezbollah and
Russia, have added to the civilian death toll.  The Syrian dictatorship and its allies deliberately target civilians, such as the Russian bombing of hospitals.  The Assad regime even uses chemical weapons against civilians.  The Syrian civil war has caused the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

            The rebels include moderate Sunni Arab Muslims who oppose dictatorship, as well as Kurds.  The rebels are backed to a slight degree by an American-led coalition.  Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and other violent jihadis have taken advantage of the chaos and lack of adequate support for the non-Islamist rebels. 

Syria’s Assad regime is a state sponsor of terrorism and is Iran’s best ally.  Russia has a base on Syria’s coast. 

            The third Anniversary of the Russian annexation of Crimea was also last week.  Russia seized the territory in 2014 through a covert invasion and a hasty plebiscite conducted without a legitimate campaign after suppressing freedoms and under the duress of Russian arms.  The invasion and annexation, which is not internationally recognized, was in violation of the Russian Federation’s treaty with Ukraine, in which the former agreed to respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea.  As in Russia itself, there have been numerous human rights violations in Crimea committed by the Russians. 

In addition to Russians, Crimea was inhabited by Tatars, who are a Turkic people, and Ukrainians.  The Black Sea peninsula had been part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire before being conquered by the Russian Empire and colonized.

Economic sanctions have been imposed by the United States and European Union, among others, on Russia, but there is pressure to lift them, despite no improvement in Russian behavior.  

The Russians, who are led by an ex-KGB dictator, have also been backing pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, whom they have supported by covert invasion, as in Crimea, with the goal of seizing the territory from UkraineRussia has recently stepped up its offensive operations in Ukraine.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Conservatives Defeat the Populist Far-Right in the Dutch Parliamentary Elections

           The party of the center-right Prime Minister of the Netherlands yesterday defeated the populist anti-establishment far-right party whose leader had associated himself with Donald Trump, as well as with other Russian-backed populist Eurosceptic parties in Europe.  

           The far-right leader has long been concerned about the dangers of militant Islam, but has increasingly expressed xenophobic sentiments and has failed to distinguish between non-militant Muslims, who are the majority within Islam, and violent jihadists. 

The Netherlands’ ruling party is currently in a grand coalition with a center-left party, as well as with centrists and two moderately Eurosceptic Christian conservative parties.  It will have to form another coalition.  The far-right populists gained only a few seats, but more at the expense of the center-left junior coalition member party than the ruling conservatives, as the Prime Minister’s party remains the largest in the Dutch Parliament.  Another center-right party gained more seats than the far-right and is expected to join the government, which will thus be more conservative overall than currently.

Relatively prosperous Netherlands is a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member and an ally of the United States as well in the War on Terrorism.

           A wave of populist far-right nationalism, usually backed overtly and covertly by Russia, has swept Europe and the West, most notably in the United States presidential election, which has threatened liberty, representative government, European cohesion, NATO and the global economy.  Since Trump’s election, however, despite strong efforts, such far-right parties have come up short in Austria and the Netherlands and appear to be headed for defeat in the upcoming French presidential election.  The results in the Dutch parliamentary elections suggest that conservatives can defeat the far-right elsewhere, without losing to the left.

European Union Digest: EU Presidential Election, Italian Abortion Objections, Hungarians Protest, United Kingdom EU Separation Plan Approval

European Union Presidential Election
            Conservative Donald Tusk of Poland this week was reelected President of the European Union, with the backing of all of EU member states, except that of his own.  The far-right authoritarian Polish government objected to his reelection.

Italian Abortion Objections
            Abortion is legal in Italy, with relatively few restrictions, but not widely used, as Italian culture is pro-life.  In fact, so many doctors and other healthcare workers conscientiously object on moral grounds to performing abortions that the European Union recently chided Italy for the lack of availability of abortion.  As Italy, like other industrialized states, suffers from a decline of its non-immigrant population, the EU instead ought to be encouraging Italians to reproduce more.

Hungarians Protest the Illiberal Government
            The Hungarian Supreme Court recently ruled this week that a protest against the far-right nativist authoritarian Hungarian Government was constitutional.  The self-described “illiberal” Government had attempted to ban the protest.  Thousands of Hungarians then conducted the protest against Hungary’s ruling party in an exercise of the freedoms of assembly and speech. 

United Kingdom European Union Separation Plan Approval 
           The plan of the Conservative British Government for the separation of the United Kingdom from the European Union by 2018 has been approved by Parliament.  Britons had approved leaving the EU in a referendum in 2016 and Parliament had approved a measure to separate.  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Health Insurance Coverage for Care One Hopes Never to Use vs. for Care One Could Never Need

           As debate has been renewed about repealing the federalization of health insurance (known as “Obamacare”), its defenders have attempted to dismiss the concerns of those of us who have been required to pay higher insurance premiums for health insurance coverage for certain health care services we could never possibly use.  These dismissals are based upon a false understanding of insurance.

            The liberals who defend Obamacare, which was approved by a liberal Democratic Congress and signed into law by liberal Democratic United States President Barack Obama in 2009, insist that insurance is defined by customers paying for services they may never need, as the point of insurance is for the healthy to pay for the coverage of the ill.  They cite examples, such as paying for organ transplant coverage, even though most people never need such a procedure.  This liberal argument is based upon their goal of wealth redistribution from the wealthy to the poor, forced by government—the federal government—and not upon the true purpose of insurance. 

           Although it is true that the healthy pay for the coverage of the ill, the liberals miss the point that customers pay for insurance in order, at the least, to have peace of mind that, in case of the need for a particular health care service, the costs will be borne by the insurer.  There is no peace of mind to be obtained by paying for a health care service that one could not possibly ever need, as in the case, for example, of a man being having to pay a higher premium for individual insurance for women’s health care services.  Therefore, there is a difference between coverage for health care which one hopes never to use and care that one could never possibly use. 

            As a result of this difference, health insurance coverage does not necessarily work the way liberal defenders of Obamacare insist it does, even apart from the difference on whether one obtains peace of mind through coverage.  Before Obamacare, not only could healthy customers join together in a pool based upon their lower level of risk, which lowers their cost, just as safer drivers pay less for automobile coverage than those who are more accident-prone, but their coverage can exclude those health care services they could never need.  Health insurance was analogous to other kinds of insurance.  For example, one could insure one’s home, but not necessarily one’s jewelry, unless one wanted to pay an additional premium for such additional coverage.  Obamacare, however, has eliminated insurance underwriting and limited choices, which are only based upon whether or not a customer is a smoker.  It thus does not incentivize other healthy behaviors, as the health insurance industry did before, despite Obamacare’s claimed emphasis on “preventative care.”  

           People should be free to purchase only what they need or want, as is the case with nearly everything, except health insurance.  Health insurance ought not to be an exception.  It is not fare to force customers to pay extra for additional health insurance coverage for health care services they could never possibly use.  Health insurance is not wealth redistribution.  Furthermore, healthy people should be rewarded for their behaviors as an incentive to remain healthy and there should be financial disincentives against poor health choices.