Tom and Jerry: Defenders of All Things Right and Good

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why ObamaCare Is Unjust

My wife and I have had a PPO private insurance plan that costs us somewhere in the ballpark of 5K a year for 2 years.  There are cheaper plans (that offer less coverage), and I'm sure there are more expensive plans that offer better coverage, but we like the one we have.  Now let's say that in 18 years (when we are 60 years old) I am diagnosed with something that will cost a bundle health care-wise, and the insurance company says they won't cover it.  As I do not possess a huge sense of entitlement, I understand that there is no injustice here:  We would have paid a premium (a cumulative 100K over 20 years) to cover a certain amount of coverage (in the last 3 years, we've combined for 4 surgeries and a baby, all covered), and this large new expense exceeds it.  Of course, I can appeal this decision in a timely manner, and since the insurance company has market factors such as public perception and competition, if I can make my case well enough, I've got a shot.  If this fails, the fact that we can't get the expensive health care treatment may suck for me, but I don’t have the "right" to have an insurance company pick up my health care tab regardless of cost.

Now, before anyone takes to their keyboard to dash off an email or comment to remind me that insurance companies have denied coverage that should be granted under their contracts, have hidden all kinds of exceptions and loopholes in the fine print of their policies, or have engaged in any of a long list of unjust practices, I will concede to any and all of it.  However, there is an appeal process, and if that does not work, there is legal action, and most effective of all, the forces of public perception and market competition that encourages companies to offer a fair policy for a fair price – or go out of business.  A company which is unreasonable or high-handed in its coverage decisions will find that its unhappy customers soon become its former customers.  Furthermore, just because a system is in need of reform or overhaul, it does not logically follow that a centralized, government-operated-and-taxpayer-funded system must be the solution.  There are options available - allowing people to purchase insurance across state lines, tort reform, any or all of the options discussed here, etc. – that may not be able to achieve "universal coverage" for every American, but are exponentially preferable to the HR3200 bill that President Obama is championing, as that plan is unjust at its core.

Obama and his supporters claim that I will be able to keep my coverage under his plan, and also claim that the premiums for private plans authorized by the new federal exchange will be lower than they are now for plans with similar benefits, and that no one who applies (regardless of pre-existing condition, age, etc.) for these new plans can be turned away....and then ridicule those who point out that such a mandate placed on private insurance companies places a severe financial strain on those companies, who can neither (via HR3200) adjust premiums or restrict benefits on these new plans.  Under this financial strain (there's a reason insurance companies turn away those with pre-existing conditions or who are seen as high-risk - having more than a few of them in the benefits pool will bankrupt the company) the only recourse for a private insurance company is to

a) raise the premiums on the grandfathered-in plans
b) cut benefits on the grandfathered-in plans, or
c) cut back on payouts across the board

If you're a private insurance company, do a) or b) and you gradually strangle to death any customer incentive to stay with your best source of revenue, the grandfathered-in plans, furthering your financial strain; do c) for any length of time and your company will get its behind kicked in the courtroom, the stock exchange, and in the marketplace.  For private insurers, HR3200 is an incredibly shitty business plan.

Over time, the inevitable effect of this is that private insurance companies will be driven out of business or (even worse) have to seek government subsidies.  As anyone with an ounce of common sense knows, with financial support comes the right of the supporter to tell the supportee what to do; ergo, with government subsidies comes government control (ask American farmers how the subsidy thing worked out for them in the late '70's and early '80's).  Either way, Viola! You've got a single payer health care system.  It's been marvelous entertainment watching supporters of the bill stating in print or on camera that a single-payer system is their ultimate goal and then turn around and attack those who warn that the bill is a huge step toward a single-payer system.

In the bill, as written, the proposed Health Benefits Advisory Committee's powers include a "comparative-effectiveness review process" to monitor, research, and determine the most cost-effective treatments for which health care dollars (both private and public) should be spent.  This Committee and this "process" should look awfully familiar to anyone who has worked in the health care industry, as every health insurance company in existence has such a board (with the same type of make-up of the HBAC) that performs this same process.  The bill states that HBAC will "advise" and "make recommendations" to private insurance companies, and says nothing about the HBAC making decisions as regards to payouts.  That sounds rather benign, and defenders of the bill are correct in saying that it does not amount to a "death panel" or "rationing board".  However, defenders of the bill would be well-advised to remember that the "stated purpose" of a group or action and the "logical effect or outcome" of that group or action are rarely identical, or even in the same ballpark.  So while the bill's defenders are correct in stating that stated purpose of the proposed Health Benefits Advisory Committee gives it only limited power in regards to private policy service decisions, they refuse to answer such questions as:

• Is it at all reasonable that a committee to be headed by the Surgeon General himself and made up of a broad range of highly credentialed medical experts, including minimum of 9 and as many as 17 Presidential appointees, will, as HR3200 sets forth, be long limited to making "recommendations", especially if those "recommendations" are ignored?

• Is it at all reasonable that, as private insurance companies are struggling to provide quality benefits under the incredibly shitty business plan that is HR3200, that liberals in government and in all kinds of "advocacy groups" will not call for such a Committee - whose makeup so closely resembles that of a private health insurance company's decision-making board in the first place - to be enabled with further powers, particularly when there are no limitations to the expansion of their powers written into HR3200?

• Are the bill's defenders going to continue to deny to their opponents that the "public option" is a stealthy path to a single-payer system, even as these same defenders continue to talk and write about its ultimate purpose openly when addressing their allies?

• Given that in any health care system, SOMEONE will have to make payout decisions based on SOME CRITERIA, once the nirvana of a single-payer system - which this mammoth bill clearly lays the groundwork for - is achieved, who will be deciding who gets payouts and by what criteria, keeping in mind that the only logical "criteria" left after you've jettisoned "the ability of the individual to pay" is the criteria of "cost vs. benefit of the individual to the government"?

• Lastly, how on earth can you look at this 1,000+ page massive expansion of government's role and authority in American health care and insist that this massive expansion of government's role and authority in health care will stop there when there are no limitations to the expansion of power for either the federal insurance exchange or the HBAC written into the bill?  The framers of the Constitution, a document those on the left love in the abstract but in almost every instance ignore in the particular, were wise enough to know that government will expand exponentially, in both size and power, unless limitations on its size and power are explicitly set forth.  The framers of HR3200, either by ignorance or design, have displayed no such wisdom.

The bottom line is that HR3200, or "ObamaCare", is a very large step toward single-payer system, in which the federal government is in charge of all health care payments.

Of course, it will take a while for the private insurers to be bled out of existence, so for the purposes of a comparative scenario, let's say that after HR3200 passes, Lynda and I go with a new private option, which gives us a bit more coverage than the public option in exchange for a premium of, oh, let's say $3K a year.  Of course, this is already on top of what we will pay in taxes to help fund ObamaCare.  Again, if you read the damn bill, you will see that ObamaCare will require $544 billion in new taxes.  Last year, Lynda and I (a CPA and a software engineer, respectively) had a gross income of about $185K, and paid $32K in taxes (we live in Texas, so there's no state income tax).  There is no way on earth that Obama, with $544 billion in new taxes - plus the taxes that will be required for all his other lavish spending - will be able to keep his promise that those making less than $250K will not have their taxes raised.  Given our joint income, we're due for a tax increase; though it will almost certainly be higher, for this scenario, let's say that our taxes increase to $39K, of which (given the portion of our taxes that had been allotted for Medicare and Medicaid but would now go to ObamaCare, due to the $500 billion in cuts to those programs outlined in HR3200), let's guess, $8K goes to fund ObamaCare.

So, in 18 years (when we are 60 years old) I am diagnosed with something that will cost a bundle health care-wise, and I am denied treatment.  This IS an injustice:

• Instead of me paying $90K for 18 years to a private company that denied my coverage, I will, for 18 years, have paid $198K in total health care expenditures, $144K of which went to help fund a public option that I did not use.  Our health care expenditures would have more than doubled what they would have been without ObamaCare, and we will have received no additional benefits.  The 83% of Americans polled that said they are happy with their current health insurance will no doubt share our frustration.

• Um, what happened to "no one who makes under $250K a year will get a tax increase"?  Kinda quaint now, isn't it?

• On top of that, the 40%-50% of Americans who pay no income tax (~70 million people) will pay nothing at all in the way of health care expenditures, while Lynda and I (as illustrated by the comparative scenario laid out in this piece) will have paid double what we pay now in health care expenditures for no additional benefit; even if we were to go for the public option from day one, we would still have seen a $50K increase in our health care expenditures over the 18 year period, and received significantly less benefit from those expenditures.

• The situation gets worse once the single-payer system is in place: with each passing year, taxpayers pay into the system, and therefore the money they've contributed to the system will steadily increase; however, with each passing year, both the chances that they will receive payouts, and the amounts of those payouts, will steadily decrease.

Over the last 15 years, I've witnessed Monk Malloy attempt to turn Notre Dame into Duke, and now Obama and his supporters try to turn America into Canada.  ObamaCare is the first chapter in an American Animal Farm in which the American taxpayers are cast as Boxer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Letter to the Notre Dame Board of Fellows - Part 2

Here is Part 2 of the letter I sent to each member of the University of Notre Dame's Board of Fellows. Part 1 can be viewed here.


While those questions touch on an issue of primary concern for me, there is another concern I would like to bring to your attention. One of Notre Dame’s great gifts to me as undergraduate student was introducing me to G.K. Chesterton. One of my favorite quotes of his was (to paraphrase) that Christ must have been a truly colossal figure for so many to be able to carve "little Christs" out of Him. I mention this particular favorite passage of mine as a way of introducing another concern I have about my beloved alma mater. As a software engineer and web designer, I can often tell a lot about an organization by their website – the effort put into it, the "look and feel" of it, and what it contains and/or does not contain. Notre Dame’s website ( is a very good site, both technically and artistically, and its use of multimedia is excellent. More importantly, one could hardly visit the site and come away with any other impression than that Notre Dame’s administration is immensely invested in and immensely proud of having its students committed to a wide variety of social justice and human rights issues, all undertaken from a uniquely Catholic perspective. As it states on the "Faith and Service" introductory page, "We invite you to explore the many ways in which Notre Dame fulfills its Catholic mission through faith and service." Taking the time to start there, one can "link-walk" through the various and quite numerous student groups and campus initiatives dedicated to just about every social justice and human rights cause imaginable.

However, as someone who – being the result of an unwanted pregnancy – spent a portion of his early life in an orphanage, whose sister – also being the result of an unwanted pregnancy – was adopted as well, and whose adoptive father – yup, another unwanted pregnancy – had spent his entire pre-adult life bouncing from orphanage to institution to foster home, I could not help but notice that at no time in exploring the entire site did I encounter a single link to or even mention of a single group or initiative devoted to the protection of the lives of the unborn. This struck me as odd, as during my undergraduate days at Notre Dame, the campus Right To Life group was among the largest and most popular groups on campus; even more odd, and somewhat troubling to me, was that a school that had so much it wanted to advertise in the way of its concern for social justice and human rights had absolutely nothing that it wanted to advertise in the way of a concern that any child conceived today – or for the last 36 years – does not and will not enjoy the protections that ensured that my adoptive father, sister, and I – though unplanned and unwanted – would be allowed to be born.

A little investigating revealed that this omission was not a matter of a web design team with too much content to include and too little time to fit it all in, but rather that the administration of Notre Dame, while publicly stating when challenged that they are "of course" advocates of the protection of unborn human life, offers little in the way of support to those who undertake this cause. The Notre Dame Student "Right To Life" organization did not receive any financial support last year from the university, nor did their sponsoring faculty organization, the Center for Ethics and Culture. Additionally, the Notre Dame Fund for the Protection of Human Life, launched under the auspices of the Center for Ethics and Culture, has also not received any financial support from the University. This past spring, The Sycamore Trust requested the University’s public affairs office to describe all University-sponsored pro-life activities so that they could mention them in a news bulletin. The Trust received only a list of a handful of speeches, most by the aforementioned Notre Dame Fund for Life board members.

I called the Center to inquire why it is that they and the other groups advocating the protection of the unborn had been relegated to the status of the proverbial "red-headed stepchild" of social justice and human rights groups, and the response I received was, in so many words, "they [the ND administration] think we’re all a bunch of right-wing nuts". Perusing the Center’s listing of its Fellows, Advisors, and Staff, I found it hard to believe – unless such figures as Alasdair MacIntyre, Sr. Helen Prejean, and Stanley Hauerwas are heretofore unnoticed Ann Coulter enthusiasts or can be found frequently breaking bread with the likes of Randall Terry – that any serious person could describe this accomplished and diverse group in such dismissive terms.

From the University administration’s attitude towards those organizations dedicated to the protection of the unborn, it is very saddening to me to think that my alma mater has, whether consciously or unconsciously, engaged in the very type of behavior Chesterton wrote about in regards to carving a custom-fit "Christ" out of the real Christ; that out of the fullness of the Church’s witness in calling for justice and human rights for all from conception to natural death, it has, similarly, carved its own little custom- fit "witness" that excludes any public or monetary support, or even acknowledgement, in service to the protection of the unborn. It saddens me further to see that Notre Dame, a university whose leaders provided such strong witness in the cause of civil rights, and whose leaders continue to address many right and good and holy issues pertaining to social justice and human rights, has decided, in the case of advocating for the protection of the unborn, to sit this one out.

I thank you for taking the time to allow me to voice my concerns. I will continue my heartfelt and determined prayers that Notre Dame always strives to be the greatest institution of higher learning that is both truly Catholic and truly a university.

And our hearts forever love thee Notre Dame...

Most Sincerely,

John Gerard Beckett ‘95

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Letter to the Notre Dame Board of Fellows - Part 1

I wrote this letter earlier this week, and sent it to each of the 12 members of the University of Notre Dame's Board of Fellows, who are meeting on Friday (8/21). The letter was 4 1/2 pages long (in MS Word), so I'll reproduce it here in two installments.


Dear ___________,

As you prepare for the meeting of the University of Notre Dame Board of Fellows on August 21, I write to you as a devoted alumnus who, in conjunction with The Sycamore Trust alumni organization, has concerns about the direction the University has been traveling both recently and in the last few decades.

As the "Great Obama Kerfluffle of Spring 2009" unfolded, quite a few mentions were made, both by those who were thrilled with and those who were upset by the choice of commencement speaker and honorary doctorate in Law recipient, of the 1968
Land O' Lakes Statement that Notre Dame President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh had been a prime figure in drafting.  Depending on the writer’s position on the Obama matter, it was, as you may imagine, cited as either the greatest or worst thing ever to happen to Catholic higher education in America.  As I believe that both the vision put forth in Land O' Lakes and Notre Dame’s experience over the subsequent 40 years in implementing it are enormously important to Notre Dame’s status and future as a Catholic university that is both truly Catholic and truly a university, and therefore worthy of important discussion and reflection, I’ll begin there.

Land O' Lakes statement was a very ambitious document with a very ambitious vision for Catholic higher education, and the vision contained therein has borne a lot of good fruit for Notre Dame in particular and Catholic education in general.  However, like any ambitious undertaking, the implementation of its vision also resulted in unintended and unforeseen consequences that have served to illuminate any shortcomings and/or overreaches in that vision.  The flaw of the document, and therefore the vision, was that successful fruition of such a vision would depend upon three aspects, none of which Notre Dame (or most Catholic universities, for that matter) currently possesses:

1)  Strong Leadership At The Top - Having autonomy from the hierarchical Church without having the university veer - drastically or gradually - away from the faith that founded it will only work if you have a strong leader that will keep the whole enterprise (and the various factions within) on course.  Father Hesburgh, with his enormous clout and the (extremely underrated, in my opinion) contribution of Father Edmund Joyce, was able to provide such leadership.  It is neither novel nor mean-spirited of me to point out that, since the retirement of "Ted and Ned", there has been under the Dome a rather noticeable decline in consistent leadership from the top levels of the administration in regards to maintaining and enhancing Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.

2)  The Goodwill and Cooperation of the Faculty in Regards to Catholic Identity - Of course, without strong leadership articulating and reinforcing exactly what the clear definition of "Catholic identity" means, faculty members and groups within the faculty tend to break into factions, each with their own vision or visions. That the Faculty Senate, after a canvass of the faculty in 2008, declared that the University, in the hiring of faculty, should set aside any concerns as to the school’s Catholic identity, seems to indicate that out of this muddle of visions about the Catholic identity of Notre Dame – to even what such a phrase as "Catholic identity" actually means – the faculty’s interest in defining a such a vision in this regard has been shelved in favor of having no vision at all. To think that Notre Dame will continue to provide a full and vibrant Catholic education with a faculty comprised of more and more members that either do not share or do not value (or neither share nor value) the faith the school was founded on is to embrace a hope that is neither logically tenable nor statistically likely.

3) A Student Body Educated in their Faith - At the time of Land O' Lakes, your average Catholic college student entered the hallowed halls of ivy having had their Baltimore Catechism drilled into their heads, and now would take the next step of learning how to examine their faith (and its claims) critically.  For such a student well-schooled in the basics of the faith, voices of dissent and even hostility to Church teaching provided a challenge and an opportunity for reflection, growth, and deepening of the understanding of their faith.  However, the last 30 some-odd years of Catholic doctrinal education for elementary through high school age has been an unmitigated disaster: your average teenage Catholic, whether he/she has gone to Catholic schools or had to rely on C.C.D. (which was rather markedly reduced during this time from "Confraternity of Christian Doctrine" to "Catechetically Clueless Daycare"), enters the challenge of higher education rather ignorant as to the basic beliefs of their faith.  They are thus ill-prepared to subject the claims of the Catholic faith - something they have only a tenuous grasp on to begin with - to higher criticism; for such a student, subjecting something they have only a superficial understanding of to higher criticism will merely overwhelm them, and serve only to reinforce the relativism and unhealthy skepticism (that is, a skepticism that is skeptical of everything except its own presuppositions) that they have absorbed as the default position of modern American culture.  The students themselves seemed to have sensed this, as from my days as an undergraduate student through to present time, I have seen an almost yearly call from student representatives for additional class offerings in the fundamentals of the Catholic faith.  Therefore, the model for educating the average Catholic college student proposed 40 years ago does not match the reality of the needs of the Catholic college student today.

Given this, is it not possible that Land O' Lakes went too far in its insistence on total autonomy from the institutional Church?  Surely, for Notre Dame to be a true university, the institutional Church cannot be the only voice that matters, nor need it even be the primary voice; however, for Notre Dame to be a truly Catholic university, does not the institutional Church deserve to have a place at the table - perhaps, even a privileged one?  Could there not be a fertile middle ground between the extreme positions of either a) Notre Dame being governed by Rome or its founding order on one hand or b) total autonomy on the other?  Must every suggestion that Notre Dame’s Catholic identity could benefit from a more constructive involvement with the institutional Church be met with outcries that those doing the suggesting are trying to turn Notre Dame into a pseudo-seminary?


Tune in later this week for Part 2....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

(Belated) Credit Where Credit Is Due

Like most folks, from time to time I derive a bit of pleasure from mocking various figures in the entertainment industry - mostly for the deep fissure separating them from anything remotely approaching reality, but occasionally for being just plain unintelligent. One of those I had pegged as a permanent member of the colossal-bank-account-accompanied-by-infinitesimal-brain-activity gang was former Van Halen front-man David Lee Roth: he, it seemed, spent his entire adulthood prancing around stages as an oversexed buffoon. His career after Van Halen, whose members finally wearied of him and booted him from the band, consisted of one album that made any impression at all on the music charts, after which he (mercifully) faded from public consciousness.

However, recently I came across a piece on the First Things blog that had me rethinking my assumptions about Mr. Roth:

You’ve probably heard the decades-old tale about how the band Van Halen included a provision in their backstage concert rider that stipulated that brown M&M’s were to be banished from the band’s dressing room.

I had always assumed it was another arbitrary and outlandish demand by spoiled rock stars. But according to, the provision served a practical purpose: to provide an easy way of determining whether the technical specifications of the contract had been thoroughly read and complied with. As Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth explained in his autobiography:
Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors – whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through.

The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say "Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes…" This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: "There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation."

So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl...well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

Roth understood that putting on a a concert required close attention to a broad range of details outlined in the agreement between the band and the venue. Making assumptions about what was in the contract without having read it could get people killed.

The First Things piece then goes on to ask:
Why is it that drugged-out rock stars can understand this concept and yet our own stone-sober legislators can’t quite grasp the fact that they need to read and understand the content of the bills they are voting on?

While this is a relevant question, it wasn't what first crossed my mind when I read the excerpt from Roth's autobiography. No, my first thought was "David Lee Roth wrote a book?" I had never thought of Roth as someone who has ever read a book, let alone written one. This thought was, in rather short order, eclipsed by another one: While there is certainly ample testimony about his involvement with drugs, alcohol, and women, I was impressed with how involved, profoundly cunning and, yes, smart Roth was about the requirements of staging Van Halen's shows. Whatever else can be said about him, he certainly knows an awful lot about his craft, and devised (or, at the very least, had knowledgeable appreciation of) a clever method of ensuring that all the details pertaining to the massive production that is a big-name rock concert were satisfied.

As that sank in, it reminded me of something Arsenio Hall said on this early-90s late-night TV talk show about Sylvester Stallone. Despite a decade-and-a-half Hollywood career marked by numerous box-office successes (the Rocky and Rambo series, both of which he wrote all the screenplays for; Victory; Tango and Cash), Stallone was often dismissed by critics and otherwise intelligent people as "dumb" and/or "stupid". A guest of Hall's one evening mentioned that he had met Stallone recently and was surprised at how smart he was, to which Arsenio replied:
A lot of people think Stallone is unintelligent or stupid, but let me tell you, that man has got some serious bank [millions of dollars], and you don't get that kind of bank by being stupid....

I had long dismissed David Lee Roth as a buffoon, but (paralleling Stallone) I should have realized that one does not get to be the lead vocal for a gazillion-dollar musical act like Van Halen was in the 70s and early 80s without knowing your craft inside and out.

I suppose now I shall have to rethink my opinion about Keanu Reeves......