Saturday, March 26, 2005


To Representative Tom Udall, with respect. Please do not follow the general Democrat line that there is no problem with Social Security. Do not even get into the argument as to whether there is merely a problem, or whether the problem is a crisis. Do not refer to "privatization" or "private accounts." Do not argue that the administration wants to destroy social security, and is starting the privatization process by taking a portion and will be back later for the remainder. Do not try to frighten the old folks (born before 1950) with the specter that their benefits, their insurance, will be diminished. These arguments are non-productive, and of course some are unfair and misleading. You are above that, but some, a few misguided Democrats, might want you to make those arguments as you go about the State next week.

When the issue of ownership comes up, the answer is that there is no ownership in insurance premiums paid, until and unless there is a loss. How could there be anything left to leave to the heirs? If we increase the amount paid in, to allow a nest egg for heirs to build up (like a whole-life insurance policy), that is an increase in taxes. Rather than increase the payroll taxes to provide such a nest egg, let each wage earner invest her after-tax income in such a whole-life policy to provide her estate with money (ownership) which she can leave to her heirs.

The issue remains, and we submit that it is the principal issue, whether our people should be required by law to buy insurance through the government, for old age partial-subsistence living expenses, for survivor's benefits (husbands and children), and for disability benefits. Should the government dictate in this regard? Should this insurance be compulsory? The compulsory feature is the essence of the plan put into place 70 years ago. Should we change this, at least in part, so that the insurance is no longer compulsory? This should be the issue.

Some refer to personal accounts as a diversion of a "small amount" of their payroll taxes into personal accounts, and argue that this would be a good thing. Whether it would be a good thing for the individual depends on whether she can buy the insurance (with the same guarantees) for less money, or whether she would be better off in the long run without the insurance. The small amount discussed is 4% of the 12 1/2% payroll tax. Does this mean 4%, that she and her employer each put 2% into her personal account?

In such case, she is taking 33% of her support from the governnment-run, compulsory insurance scheme, and presumably will take a 33% cut in the payments when and if a loss occurs (here we include payments after 62 or 65 for partial subsistence, as a "loss" in insurance terms). The nest egg in her personal account will make up for the reduction in payments from the compulsory, government-run scheme. Does anyone have any idea what the premiums would be for private insurance that would provide the coverage of the government-run scheme? Leave aside the issue of guarantee (private corporations sometimes go under, or their CEO's steal it all), who sells such insurance (coverage as in social security) and at what price? Check on this before we go from government to private.

Our only legitimate concern here is what happens when we no longer compel people to buy insurance of the nature of social security? Maybe they will do well and take care of themselves, or their relatives or friends or members of their church will take care of them. But what if they become public charges? There is the rub. You and I will not allow them to simply lie down and starve to death or do without the necessaries of life. We will be compelled by human decency, to provide for these. That is the principle behind compulsory insurance. Sen. Robert Dole advocated a safety net (though not a hammock). How can you have a safety net without compulsory social security?

Many fought that principle (compel them to buy social security) back in the 1930's (and fought the same principle in Medicare in the 1960's), and well-intentioned and fair-minded people today oppose the compulsory nature of the social security insurance safety net. They think that they can handle their money without the necessity of the government getting involved. This is the issue that should be debated, compulsory or not compulsory? Private is okay if it is guaranteed; but if it is not guaranteed and compulsory, then government-run compulsory insurance is justified.

Is there a crisis? Irrelevant. There is a problem. To fix the problem, we must raise taxes on someone (not necessarily immediately) or cut benefits for someone (not necessarily immediately). Some have suggested a means test; say no to that. No means test for social security benefits (beyond that we already have, as the rich are now scaled down in benefits); or we are all on relief. Let us get some facts, figures, as to what percentage of increase of the payroll tax on those under $90 thousand would be necessary to fund social security as we know it for 75 more years. Let us get such figures as to how high we would have to raise the $90 thousand cap to permit social security as we know it to continue for 75 years.

Democrats, stop saying there is no problem. Admit that there is a problem, and give the administration the room to make a concrete proposal or proposals to cure the problem. President Bush has said he would consider raising the cap on payroll taxes. Seems it would be helpful to find out what effect it would have if we raised or eliminated the payroll tax cap. The bottom line is that we should say, Yes, we have a problem, and yes, we will consider whatever concrete proposal the administration wants to make (no generalities, please).

Thursday, March 24, 2005


Perhaps we should have labeling of alcoholic beverages. By that I mean compulsory labeling. Budweiser can do this voluntarily, but that is not likely.

I suggest that each alocholic beverage container be labeled to show the number of servings (12 ounce beer; or one ounce spirits; or four ounce wine) that it generally takes for a 150 pound person to have in the blood stream, to be likely to have a .08% blood alcohol concentration. Three beers; three shots; three four-ounce glasses of wine. We could require a black box on booze. In the case of Budweiser, for example, the numeral "3" would appear in large type and a logo showing a driver prohibited from driving.

In places where alcohol is served by the drink, each drink could be accompanied by a tag with the black box on it. Some margaritas might have the numeral "1." Some "beer" comes with 8% alcohol by volume; so a 12-ounce draft should have a label or tag with a black box and the numeral "1 1/2" on it.

Yes, this is a restriction on the right to do a lawful business. Yes, it is a liberal proposal, which injects government control into business. However, it is not prohibition; and it is not a teetotal measure. This proposal would result in a constant reminder to the server and to the served as to how many are too many to get behind the wheel. We cannot entirely stop drunken driving; and we cannot effectively stop drinking and driving. We can reduce driving while impaired, and this proposal may be one small step in that direction. Is it worth the loss of liberty entailed? Is it worth the intrusion into the business of sale of alcoholic beverages, a lawful enterprise? Of paramount importance, would it have any beneficial effect? Toss the idea?

A Jimmy Dean sausage, egg and cheese croissant, 4.5 ounce size, has 430 calories, 280 of which come from fat. I know because it says so on the wrapping. Why should the business of selling these breakfast biscuits, frozen for use at home, harmful, if at all, to no one except the consumer, be regulated more than the sale of alcoholic beverages?

We have discovered after decades of experience with DWI laws, that deterrence has a limit. Increase of punishment does not do the job when the punishment gets so severe that we have nullification (officers may become reluctant to apprehend and arrest; prosecutors may become reluctant to prosecute for the full offense; and Judges may be reluctant to judge offenders guilty, or may be reluctant to impose the punishment prescribed by law; and in jury cases the jury may be reluctant to find guilt, on the theory that "but for the grace of . . .").

Our attack on driving while impaired should focus on prevention by education, and deterrence by a high likelihood of apprehension, prosecution and conviction. DWI roadblocks are an unreasonable intrusion and result in some paying the penalty for the many. We could place radar-video cameras on our streets and put a practical stop to dangerous driving (including impaired driving). We could put the results on line, so that the public could have confidence in the administration of this part of our criminal laws. Take the officers out of the cherry pickers, and get rid of the mannequin officers. Use modern technology to apprehend the guilty and to establish BIG CITIZEN oversight of the criminal process. No more "May I see your papers?" No more unbridled discretion in petty officers. Rather than enslave us, the machine, technology, vigilantly used, can set us freer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


In keeping with the principle of our truth in advertising laws, perhaps we should require the operators of commercial gambling devices or schemes to post their odds. For example, take the New Mexico lottery. Its operators use a puppy and the roadrunner to encourage people to gamble, and they advertise when someone wins a jackpot. The lottery takes in $150 million a year, pays $50 million to the winners, pays $50 million for administration, and pays $50 million for college scholarships. The odds are what, three to one in favor of the house? It would be forthright and helpful to those who gamble their money, if the lottery advertisements would state in bold figures, "33 cents," which is what the house pays the winners.

The same principle could be applied to the slot machines. We have heard it said that the machines must pay 80%; and we have heard "loose slots" advertised. Assuming that the slots must pay 80%, and that someone can enforce that requirement, would it be a good idea for each slot to have stated on it, in bold figures, "80 cents?"

Is it right to allow a filling station to sell lottery tickets and post a sign stating "$18,000 paid out!" without requiring that vendor to also state "$54,000 taken in!"?

Sunday, March 20, 2005


Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy has reported that the nine-year old girl, missing three weeks, has been found. She is dead. The Sheriff apparently did a good job, and is to be commended; but it was unprofessional for him to say of the accused, as reported, "This guy is not a quality person, by any means . . . He's truly a piece of trash."

John Evander Couey, the accused, age 46, grew up during the Viet Nam War. He was an infant when we began sending "advisors" over there during the John F. Kennedy administration. Could the war have had some influence on him? We know he is capable of sexual assault of female children; and of murder (presumably to silence the witness). How did he get there? Where did his parents go wrong? All of these questions are irrelevant. He should be put to death promptly, as painlessly as possible, as a deterrent to others who have committed crimes which are punishable by long (in effect lifetime) prison sentences, and who are contemplating killing the witness.

Why should the government kill? Not because we hate Mr. Couey; not because we despise him; not because he is a piece of trash. We should kill him because to do so may save innocent lives. Mr. Couey is human, one of us. He is a product of his heredity and his environment. Things equal to the same things are equal to each other. If any one of us had his heredity and his environment, we would have made the same choice that he made, to take the little girl's life. The important thing is that his death (or whatever else happens to him) is part of the environment of each of the rest of us, and those yet of age to be tempted.

The way things are going now, with our criminal justice system, there may be problems. For example, was he given his Miranda warnings in an acceptable manner? Did he say, "I don't know; maybe I need a lawyer?" Was cajolery used? Was his request for a lawyer (someone to help him hide the truth by keeping his mouth shut) shunted aside, just temporarily, by some change of subject such as the officer calling for a sandwich or cigarette or coffee?

These officers must have been under great stress walking the tightrope, taking Couey into custody but avoiding calling him a suspect; questioning him but hoping he did not "lawyer up." If they did violate his Miranda rights, and his confession led to the body, the body and surrounding evidence (DNA perhaps; a weapon perhaps) must be suppressed, as well as the confession. These are the rules that we operate under. These are the Warren Court (1961 — 1966) rules that seem to have everyone, Congress, the Supreme Court, the President, the people, paralyzed. The idea that this case could end with Couey on death row for a decade should cause the public to rise up and shout, "Outrage!"

No, Sheriff. Mr. Couey is a human being; he should not be dehumanized by being called a "piece of trash" by the high Sheriff. Yours is a position of honor. It will be your duty to execute him at the appropriate time. No need to talk trash.