Thursday, August 28, 2008

Commentary 45-Vision of a Better America

Vision of a better America becoming a reality

Posted on Wed, Aug. 27, 2008reprint print email
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'I knew that I was witnessing something special,' Bob Adelman says of watching Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous 'I Have A Dream' speech. 'King had put down his prepared remarks and was speaking from emotion.''

He spoke of the promise before he spoke of the dream.

In the first part of the momentous speech he gave at the Lincoln Memorial, the part school children don't memorize and pundits never quote, Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded a watching world that in writing the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the founders were ``signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

''This note,'' said King, ''was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'' His evocation of this great American promise may be less well-known than King's description, moments later, of his great American dream, but there is, nevertheless, a straightforward clarity to it that compels.

Because where race is concerned, what is American history if not the story of how that promise was repeatedly broken? As King put it five years later in the last speech of his life, 'All we say to America is, `Be true to what you said on paper.' ''

But America never did.

Except that now, here comes Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan and a Kansan, striding to the podium to accept the nomination of his party for president of the United States. It comes 45 years to the very day after King said he had a dream America's promise might someday be fulfilled, 100 years and a day after the birth of the president, Lyndon Johnson, who helped nudge that dream toward reality. The timing requires you, if you have any music in your soul, any soul in your soul, to reappraise both the promise and the dream.

That's what we've been doing lately in our various ways in our various Americas. On the sidewalk outside a Gladys Knight concert, a vendor sells a T-shirt depicting King and Obama shaking hands above the legend, ''Sometimes, dreams come true.'' Meanwhile, they are passing around a ''joke'' on the Internet that has Obama picking Sylvester Stallone as his running mate: ''Rambo and Sambo,'' goes the punch line.

The two extremes have one thing in common: slack-faced disbelief. Could it be? Could it really be?

Apparently, it could.

The realization coalesces something some of us never dared hope and others never dared fear: the idea that one day America would take its promise seriously.

And if that realization requires African-Americans to recalibrate their cynicism about what ''they'' will and will not allow black folks to achieve, it seems plain that the greater shock and sense of dislocation is borne by ''they,'' who must now recalibrate their assessment of what black folks can achieve. Small wonder ''they'' have responded frantically, crying with ever more shrillness that this Obama character is something other, something foreign, something strange. Something not really, truly American.

They have grown used to defining ''American'' as a certain skin color, a certain religion and heritage. They have forgotten that ''American'' was, first and foremost, a certain ideal.

Thomas Jefferson stated it thusly: all men are created equal.

The Pledge of Allegiance says: liberty and justice for all. And King, in that speech 45 years ago, spoke of the day ''all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics'' would harmonize upon a song of freedom.

Not truly American, they say? On Thursday, a nation whose credo holds equality to be a birthright will see a brown-skinned man, son of Kenya and Kansas, assume leadership of a major political party. No, it is not the panacea, not the End of Race in America. But it is striking evidence of a promise fulfilled, a dream redeemed.

How could anything be more American than that?

My Commentary:

MLK's reaffirmation of America's founding ideals was a vital foundation for the success of the early civil rights movement in abolishing legal segregation. But his later embrace of socialism as an ideal seriously undermined his legacy.

That is because socialism (i.e., collectivism) in all of its forms...communism, fascism, nazism, welfare statism, et incompatible with those ideals. Collectivism means the supremacy of the group, and the subordination of the individual to group whims. The "the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"... which includes property rights, without which no other rights are possible...belongs to the individual human being, and only the individual human being. Collectivism is the denial of individual rights.

Rights are a moral concept that defines one?s freedom of action in a social context...i.e., in relation to everyone else. Socially, rights impose a single moral obligation on all of respect the same rights in all others. Unalienable means that each individual is free to act in his own interest according to his own judgement free from coercive predation and exploitation by others...i.e., his rights are absolute. This means that there is no right to the healthcare, to an education, to a job...provided by someone else, except in the case of voluntary, uncoerced charity. There is only the right to be free to achieve those things by one's own effort, and in voluntary association and trade with others. To be free from coercion means to be free of all coercion, including governmental coercion. The government's proper job is to protect those unalienable rights-"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men"- which are possessed by all people, at all times.

There is only one social system under which these conditions are possible. That system is laissez-faire capitalism.

Obama embraces the opposite. He implores Americans, especially the young, to abandon their own personal pursuit of happiness...their dreams, career goals, and desires...and instead embrace the theme of his campaign. Service and sacrifice, he says, are what America is about. But a call for servitude to one's neighbor, one's community, the state or the nation...and the call for Americans to sacrifice, not to pursue, their individual values and as alien to American ideals as one can imagine. It is the siren song of socialism, not capitalism...of tyranny, not freedom.

Obama should correct the contradiction in MLK's legacy, by calling for policies that are consistent with every individual's unalienable rights to his life, his liberty, his property, and the pursuit of his own happiness. He won't, though, because he is a collectivist through and through. Obama's America is one of servitude and sacrifice, not the pursuit of happiness. His is a vision not of a better America, but of a poorer, less free America.

Yes, it is a significant American milestone that "a brown-skinned man, son of Kenya and Kansas, [will] assume leadership of a major political party." But only when all Americans recognize the true meaning of the words "the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" will we have "striking evidence of a promise fulfilled, a dream redeemed."

How could anything be more American than that?

Posted by: Zemack

8/28/2008 6:51 PM

Other's Commentary:

Zwemack labeling any program to even out the playing field and the wealth of this rich country with names such as socialism, communism welfare state or what ever is a shameful behavior in my opinion and only play for people who already share your world view.

Here is another label for you oligarchy as in the form of government we are now enjoying under the Republicans where we have government for and by the top 1 percent of the economic population.

Sorry if I am more concern about the sick and poor then I am for the shareholders and CEO of the health insurance companies and therefore wish us to join with the rest of the Western world and get universal health care for all.

Sorry if I don?t think that anyone should need to sleep and find food in a garbage container even if they are too mentally ill to take care of themselves.

Sorry if I don?t think that we should continue a system that have the top few percent of the population owning and controlling the whole country for their and their children benefit and the hell with the rest of us.

Yes you are right we could go too far in the other direction but I will start worrying about that after we start acting like a caring society for the least people amount us and stop the decline of the middle class.

Posted by: WRM
8/28/08 8:02pm

My Commentary:


"Zwemack labeling any program to even out the playing field and the wealth of this rich country with names such as socialism, communism welfare state or what ever is a shameful behavior in my opinion and only play for people who already share your world view."- WRM

Welfare statism is based on the principle that the state, acting for the "good" of the collective, holds the unlimited power to confiscate the privately produced wealth of its individual citizens and that that principle supercedes the good of those citizens. It holds that rights are a collective (i.e., group), not individual, attribute. It is the negation of individual rights. "Any program to even out the?the wealth of this rich country" is welfare statism. It is a form of socialism different from communism or Nazism only as a matter of degree, not substance. If you can tell me how welfare statism is fundamentally...i.e., in principle...different from any other form of socialism, I'd like to here it.

"To even out the playing field" is the very purpose of the words of the Declaration of Independence that Mr. Pitts, and MLK quote. That all men are created equal possessing the unalienable rights of life, liberty, [property,] and the pursuit of happiness is intended to do just that. It means that rights are inseparable (unalienable) from each as an individual, and are held equally, by all people, at all times. You can't get a more level field than that. All wealth is produced by people exercising those rights, and "any program to even out...the wealth of this rich country" through the coercive power of the state is nothing more than legalized theft and violates the principle of "unalienable rights" and negates this country?s founding ideals.

"Sorry if I am more concern about the sick and poor then I am for the shareholders and CEO of the health insurance companies..."- WRM

That statement inverts an immutable fact of nature...production comes before consumption. The wealth that humans need to live and flourish...from nails to computers to food to healthcare...does not just materialize in nature but must be produced through a process of reason and productive work. Wealth production requires certain social conditions to occur...freedom and a rights-protecting government. Every individual must be free to think and act on his own rational judgement, to set his own goals and to strive to achieve them by his own effort, and to engage in voluntary trade with others, free from coercive interference by others. The American ideal of unalienable, equal rights is the principle that guarantees the proper social conditions for man to produce. Anyone who disregards the unalienable rights of life, liberty, [property,] and the pursuit of happiness of "shareholders and CEOs and the top few percent of the population" or any other producers cannot claim "concern about the sick and poor." Production comes before consumption, and individual rights comes before production. That is not my worldview. That is an indisputable fact of man's nature and of reality.

It is not your concern for the sick or of those down on their economic fortunes that I object to. It is your means of helping them. Charity is a worthwhile pursuit only if it is uncoerced and voluntary. Each individual, possessing unalienable rights, must be free to decide who, when, and in what capacity he will assist others based on his own value-judgements and his own available resources. Someone who wants "a caring society" would not force his own idea of worthwhile charity on others. Claiming "concern about the sick and poor" and then demanding a government program to force others to pay for the luxury of your compassion makes you out to be thoroughly PHONY.

If charitable help for the down and out and increased economic opportunity for the poor is your goal, then increased production of wealth should be your first goal. This means unalienable rights and capitalism, not welfare state programs that confiscate wealth and violate rights and thus diminish production and economic opportunity.

Posted by: Zemack

8/29/2008 6:14 PM

Other's Commentary:

Zemack the society as a whole set the structure for wealth creating and as such, we all therefore have a right to share in that wealth. No individual have the power to create wealth without using the inter-structure that the social as a whole had build.

Is it not strange that the granting of public lands by the millions of acres for example to the railroad companies in the 1800s for the public good is fine but not the transfer of some of the wealth to the poor also for the public good is somehow wrong?

It is somehow fine to grant land and share the cost of a ball park in down town Miami to a private firm to the tune of hundred of millions of dollars but not to build low income housing costing millions!

The poor should not to have to plea for health care it should be their right to not die due to being on the bottom of the economic ladder and that right is accepted by every Western Country but for our.

There is a balance in everything and maintaining a strong self interest in creating wealth to benefit you and your family is in the society interest, however so is taking care of the mentally ill and the sick even if they are on the bottom of the economic pile.

Posted by: WRM

8/29/2008 10:30 PM

My Commentary:

WRM, 8/29/08

The "structure"...the proper social conditions...for wealth creating are "set" by nature and the requirements of man's survival, not "society as a whole". Those social conditions need to be discovered, not "set" by the arbitrary whim of "society as a whole" or any group or individual. There is no "society as a whole", as opposed to its individual members. The great achievement of the Enlightenment thinkers and of America?s Founding Fathers was to discover, and implement, those social conditions. The result was the first nation on earth to be established based on the supreme value of the individual...all individuals...his unalienable rights, and a government designed to protect those rights. They recognized the power of every person's rational faculty...his reason...and established the individual freedom to act on his reason, which is nature's requirement for man to survive and thrive.

All wealth is produced by individuals, whether acting alone or in voluntary cooperation with one another. It is not produced, nor owned, by "society as a whole". There is no "whole," no supreme tribe, in America. There are only individuals possessing rights to freedom of action and freedom from predators. The only proper way to "share" wealth in a free and just society is through voluntary trade to mutual advantage...not by force, governmental or otherwise. Likewise, America's infrastructure (roads and bridges) was built mostly by private contractors and paid for by taxes. If your property rights are forfeited because you use the roads and bridges that your taxes helped pay for, as you seem to be claiming, then that is one of the best arguments for why governments shouldn't own or finance any infrastructure.

The building of the railroads was a great achievement of productive industrial geniuses who brought great benefits to their fellow men and helped lay the foundation for the great prosperity to come. Unfortunately, that achievement was marred by government interference. Some of the railroad builders used political connections to obtain government grants, subsidies, franchises, and legal protection from competition (which created the infamous coercive railroad monopolies). That was wrong and so is taxpayer funding of sports stadiums and a whole host of socialism-for-the-rich schemes. Corporate welfare handed out by politicians flush with taxpayer money in the name of "the public good" is a violation of individual rights.

There is no right to healthcare. There is no right to any manmade product of any kind. There is no right to wealth created by someone else. For a right of that kind to be ensured, the government would have to force others to pay for it through taxation, and force producers of that product to provide it...I.E., to rob and to enslave. A power of that kind in the hands of politicians is the path to tyranny, which is where we are heading. The government's only proper function is to protect individual rights, not violate them. People who are not poor should not be punished for their economic achievements, by being forced to support people who have the same freedom to achieve but didn't.

I agree on this much, WRM. Acting in your own self-interest to create "wealth to benefit you and your family" is, indeed, a benefit to "society." That is because of one simple reason?"society" is only so many individuals. And you, and every individual, is a part of society. When an individual benefits himself through his own productive work, he thus benefits society because he is society. He benefits ?society? in another very important providing a product or service that others find valuable enough to buy (to trade for). By "maintaining a strong self interest in creating wealth to benefit you and your family," you are lifting others up as well. And the most productive individuals?those that grow businesses (without government favors) provide jobs as well. But you cannot reverse cause-and-effect. When the state starts violating, rather than protecting, your right to the pursuit of your own self-interest and happiness by confiscating your wealth for someone else?s unearned benefit...however needy...then the engine of prosperity and freedom is headed for destruction. There is no balance between wealth creation and wealth confiscation?between production and theft...between voluntary charity and forcible redistribution...between the protection of individual rights and their violation. Once you?ve granted to government the power to trample the people's rights some of the time, you have crossed the line to where rights are no longer unalienable. And once you?ve abandoned the principle that rights are unalienable, where do you draw the line on government?s expanding power and the people's shrinking freedom? You can't. You no longer have any principle to stand on.

Voluntary, private charity is the way to help those few who are truly unable to help themselves. Destroying the freedom that enables wealth production will not help them, or anyone else, except the rulers.

Posted by: Zemack

8/31/2008 7:58 AM

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Commentary 44-Parker on Warren Interview

A public forum in a religious context has no place in politics

Kathleen Parker | Washington Post Writer's Group
August 21, 2008

At the risk of heresy, let it be said that setting up the two presidential candidates for religious interrogation by an evangelical minister -- no matter how beloved -- is supremely wrong.

It is also un-American.

For the past several days, since mega-pastor Rick Warren interviewed Barack Obama and John McCain at his Saddleback Church, most political debate has focused on who won.

Was it the nuanced, thoughtful Obama, who may have convinced a few more skeptics that he isn't a Muslim? Or was it the direct, confident McCain, who breezes through town hall-style meetings the way Obama sinks three-pointers from the back court?

Suffice it to say, each of the candidates' usual supporters felt validated in their choices. McCain convinced and comforted with characteristic certitude those most at ease with certitude; Obama convinced and comforted with his characteristic intellectual ambivalence those most at ease with ambivalence.

The winner, of course, was Warren, who has managed to position himself as political arbiter in a nation founded on the separation of church and state.

The loser was America.

In his enormously successful book, The Purpose-Driven Life, Warren begins: "It's not about you." Agreed. And this criticism is not aimed at Christians, evangelicals, other believers or nonbelievers -- or at Warren, who is a good man with an exemplary record of selfless works. Few have walked the walk with as much determination or success.

This is about higher principles that are compromised every time we pretend we're not applying a religious test when we're really applying a religious test.

It is true that no one was forced to participate in the Saddleback Forum and that both McCain and Obama are free agents. Warren certainly has a right to invite whomever he wishes to his church and to ask them whatever they're willing to answer.

His format and questions were interesting and the answers more revealing than the usual debate menu provides. But does it not seem just a little bit odd to have McCain and Obama chatting individually with a preacher in a public forum about their positions on evil and their relationship with Jesus Christ?

The past few decades of public confession and Oprah-style therapy have prepared us perfectly for a televangelist probing politicians about their moral failings. The Warren Q&A wasn't an inquisition exactly, but viewers would be justified in squirming.

What is the right answer, after all? What happens to the one who gets evil wrong? What's a proper relationship with Jesus? What's next? Interrogations by rabbis, priests and imams? What candidate would dare decline on the basis of mere principle?

Both Obama and McCain gave "good" answers, but that's not the point. They shouldn't have been asked. Is the American electorate now better prepared to cast votes knowing that Obama believes that "Jesus Christ died for my sins and I am redeemed through him," or that McCain feels that he is "saved and forgiven"?

What does that mean, anyway? What does it prove? Nothing except that these men are willing to say whatever they must -- and what most Americans personally think is no one's business -- to win the highest office.

Warren tried to defuse criticism about staging the interviews in his church by saying that though "we" believe in the separation of church and state, "we" don't believe in the separation of faith and politics. Faith, he said, "is just a worldview, and everybody has some kind of worldview. It's important to know what they are."

Presumably "we" refers to Warren's church of fellow evangelicals. And while, yes, everybody has some kind of worldview, it shouldn't be necessary in a pluralistic nation of secular laws to publicly define that view in Christian code.

For the moment, let's set aside our curiosity about what Jesus might do in a given circumstance and wonder what our founding fathers would have done at Saddleback Church. What would have happened to Thomas Jefferson if he had responded as he wrote in 1781:

"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

Would the crowd at Saddleback have applauded and nodded through that one? Doubtful.

By today's new standard of pulpits in the public square, Jefferson -- the great advocate for religious freedom in America -- would have lost.

My Commentary:

We’ve come a long way since 1960, when JFK jumped through hoops to assure the nation that his Catholicism would not influence him in his capacity as president, thus re-affirming his commitment to church-state separation. Had Kennedy engaged in a Warren-type public interview with his priest, he would have been soundly defeated. We’ve come a long way indeed…in the wrong direction. Today we have a president who openly declares that America’s foreign policies are guided by his Christian beliefs.

That both 2008 major party candidates have agreed to this discussion with the influencial evangelical pastor Rick Warren highlights the growing cultural and political power of religion in America. Perhaps most significantly, Obama's presence here, as well as his previously announced support for so-called "faith-based initiatives," may signal the breakdown of the Left's commitment to preserving the wall of separation (one of the few areas of agreement, albeit a major one, that I have with them).

Kathleen Parker has hit a walk-off homerun here. To understand what the "wall" protects us from, one need only consider the consequences of the failure of the Founders to build a wall of separation between economics and state. America is no longer a free, capitalist nation, but a semi-free mixed economy, where an explosion of economic pressure groups battle for control of the government's ever-widening power over production, trade and commerce. Each is attempting to gain some economic advantage over all others by legislative force. The result is an ever-more-powerful state, and steadily shrinking individual freedom, in the field of economics.

Imagine now an explosion of religious pressure groups. Considering the fact that religious beliefs are based on faith, rather than reason, the consequences would be far graver than in the field of economics. At least economic pressure groups are open to rational argumentation. Religious groups would not be, having abandoned reason for faith. Religious beliefs, in essence, amount to-“It is so, because I say it is”. The Founders understood this, and explicitly disconnected religion from political power. A re-connection would lead to the same kind of bloodless civil war of pressure groups as in the economic realm, with religious factions fighting to impose their own particular creed on everyone else. The big loser, again, would be the individual and his rights.

Just as the endless array of economic special interests can now, to paraphrase Jefferson, "pick your pocket and break your leg," so to would the new array of religious pressure groups. Just as the state's growing taxing and regulatory power led to our dwindling economic freedom, so to would the state's growing power in the field of religion lead to an end to freedom in the field of ideas. An end to the "wall" would mean an end to the First Amendment, including religious freedom, which includes the right to hold no religious beliefs at all.

The Religious Right...i.e., political at least as great a threat to freedom in America as is the socialist left. Both lead to the same end- dictatorship.

I heartily applaud Ms. Parker's perceptive and insightful analysis of the Rick Warren interview.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Commentary 43-The Real America

'Real' America has been here all along


A few words about the search for America.

Meaning not the piece of land bounded by Atlantic and Pacific but, rather, the one that exists as a fixed point in the communal psyche, the one that registers true north on our shared moral compass. It is the America where Beaver Cleaver lived, the America of manicured lawns and neat three-bedroom homes bordered by fences made of white pickets. It is the monochromatic America where dad worked and mom kept house and the family went to church together every Sunday, the America of once upon a time and never was. Some of us have been trying to get there (get back there?) for a very long time.

Conservative bloggers and pundits have exploited the longing for this America with shrill desperation to make voters fear Barack Obama, he of the ''funny name'' and exotic parentage. The lies have been brazen and prodigious, vivid illustration of the axiom that untruths big enough, repeated persistently enough, become true. So the airwaves and the Internet swarm with mendacity: Obama is a Muslim; Obama does not salute the flag; Obama mocks the Bible; Obama is not a citizen; Obama is the anti-Christ. Amazingly, the lies do not crumble under the weight of their own fatuity. Amazingly, they fester instead.

It is not surprising to see such tactics from the people who managed to paint a war hero as a traitor in 2004. But last week brought news that similar tactics were considered by one of Obama's fellow Democrats: Sen. Hillary Clinton. According to a story in the Atlantic Monthly, Mark Penn, one of Clinton's senior strategists, issued a memo urging her to attack Obama's ''lack of American roots'' during the party primaries.

'' . . . [H]is roots to basic American values and culture,'' wrote Penn, ''are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American . . . '' In other words, Obama was born in Hawaii (is that even a real state?), spent part of his childhood in Indonesia and does not resemble the presidents on the currency. Ergo, Obama is not American.

It is to her credit that Clinton never picked up on this line of attack. It is to Penn's lasting dishonor that he, even in the midst of a hard-fought campaign, offered it. He is toying with dangerous forces.

Perhaps it's enough to note by way of illustration that according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in this country has risen by almost half since 2000.

Yes, economic dislocation drives that rise, as do terrorism and a rancorous debate over immigration. But that rise also reflects the bone deep terror of those who feel that the further you get from true north -- true normal -- on the compass, from picket fences and church on Sunday, from a white middle American wholesomeness of once upon a time and never was, the further you get from America. To them, anyone who doesn't fit that America -- Muslims or Mexicans or gays or liberals or businesswomen or American Indians or India Indians or any guy with a funny name and exotic parentage -- represents a clear and present danger.

That's wrong, of course. And Penn knows it's wrong, but thought to exploit it anyway. That's beyond cynical.

One can only imagine how that cynicism plays with the Muslim who fights for this country because he thinks this country is worth it, or the gay man who petitions for change because he knows that here, change is possible, or the Indian woman who came here because, she felt, this is where opportunity lives. Their faith gives the lie to the cynicism of political calculation.

And proves that some of us have no need to search for America. Some of us know it's been right here all along.

My Commentary

The America that always was…however imperfectly…is a nation founded on the revolutionary premise that man the individual…every individual…has a natural inalienable right to be free from the exploitation of, and servitude to, any king, the state, the theocrat, the democratic majority, the “humanitarian with a guillotine,” the “social justice” totalitarian, or his neighbor.

America is a nation in which, philosophically, each is his own person, not his brothers’ keeper, who is free to pursue his own welfare and happiness under his government-protected rights to life, liberty, and property.

Obama is a threat (as is McCain, who holds the same fundamental premises but with a pseudo-free market veneer) because he is at root anti-American…not in the sense that he doesn’t love America, which I’m sure he does…but in the philosophical sense. He is the champion not of individual rights, but of collective “rights”…of the power of the group over the individual.

Mr. Pitts is right about the various false stereotypes offered up as what America was (or is). But Obama (and McCain) offers up his own false stereotype…that of an America built on sacrifice and service to each other or the nation. The exact opposite is true. America’s great strength is built on the tremendous productive energy released by free individuals pursuing their own self-interest by their own effort and through voluntary association and trade with each other.

I do not claim here that America’s ideals have ever been fully attained. From its founding, many have been legally barred from access to those ideals. But those ideals, now forgotten by most, are none-the-less real…and waiting to be rediscovered.

For the first time in my 41 years as a registered voter, I will not pull the lever for either major party candidate, because in my view, neither stands for the real America.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Commentary 42-Model health legislation

Early warning system for ailing hospitals becomes law

Corzine signs four-bill package aiming for improvements in health care
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Star-Ledger Staff

Hospitals suffering financial trouble would come to the attention of authorities much sooner under a bill signed yesterday by Gov. Jon Corzine.

The bill is part of a larger health reform package that also seeks to protect the uninsured and increase accountability in hospital management.

The package of four bills signed by Corzine at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton puts into practice several key recommendations made by the Commission on Rationalizing Health Care Resources, a panel appointed by the governor to review the state's health care delivery system. Corzine said the bills signed yesterday would "ensure there is increased transparency, better financial management and long-term planning in place for all hospitals."

One of the bills, S1796/A2608, creates an early warning system that provides the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services with the authority and needed information to adequately monitor the finances of the state's hospitals, allowing it to identify distressed hospitals and take action before a crisis strikes.

The action comes on the heels of legislation signed by Corzine back in June appropriating $44 million in a special fund to provide critical support and a mechanism for working with hospitals and other financially distressed health care facilities that face closure or significant service reductions.

"New Jersey has faced an epidemic of hospital closures in recent years," said Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen), a prime sponsor of the early warning bill. "Through this legislation, the Department of Health will have an early warning when a hospital becomes fiscally unstable and will be able to intervene before the fiscal instability gives way to fiscal insolvency, and yet another health care facility in the Garden State has to close its doors forever."

Already this year, four acute-care hospitals have closed: Barnert in Paterson, Saint James and Columbus in Newark and LibertyHealth Greenville in Jersey City. A fifth hospital, Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield, plans to shut its doors on Wednesday.

Last year saw three hospitals close due to financial problems: PBI Regional Medical Center in Passaic, Union Hospital in Union and Pascack Valley in Westwood, according to the New Jersey Hospital Association.

Association leaders, while pleased with yesterday's signing, stressed that much work remains to be done to address the problems plaguing the state's 75 acute-care hospitals. Such issues include inadequate reimbursement and what the association calls the state's "chronic underfunding" of hospital care for the state's poorest patients.

"Clearly, we cannot rest on the package of bills signed into law today," said Betsy Ryan, association president and CEO.

Another bill signed yesterday, A2609/S1797, will ensure that working poor families without health insurance are not overcharged for needed hospital care by requiring hospitals charge no more than 15 percent above the Medicare rate.

Corzine also signed a bill, A2607/S1794, requiring each acute-care and state psychiatric hospital to annually conduct a public meeting for the community it serves.

Hospital board members will also be required to undergo comprehensive training in their role and responsibilities as a result of another bill signed yesterday, S1795/A2606. New Jersey becomes the first state to have such a requirement.

"The state has a responsibility to the taxpayers to ensure that the billions in public dollars distributed to hospitals are spent as efficiently as possible," said New Jersey Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard.

Angela Stewart may be reached at or (973) 392-4178.

Model Health LegislationModel health legislation

Posted by Star-Ledger editorial board August 09, 2008 10:30PM

A long-overdue measure to limit what hospitals can charge uninsured working people is the best of a package of health bills that Gov. Jon Corzine signed into law last week -- and the others aren't bad.

They include a measure that gives the state more authority to poke into hospital finances and take corrective action before a public bailout is necessary. Another requires hospital trustees, no matter how long in the post, to take a course on how to do that job. These laws say that hospitals and those who run them will be held accountable for bad management, something that is also long overdue.

In fact, as noted at the signing ceremony, the New Jersey health care package incorporates the kind of measures that Congress should study as it searches for national health care solutions.

Overcharging the uninsured is a national problem, but a study published last year found New Jersey hospitals pile on the most. Government controls the rates paid to Medicaid and Medicare, and big private insurance companies negotiate prices with hospitals. That leaves the uninsured prey to "charges" that have nothing to do with the actual cost of services rendered and everything to do with making up losses and maximizing revenue.

It is patently unfair to put such a burden on lower-income families. The new legislation says that New Jersey families with incomes less than 500 percent of the federal poverty level cannot be charged more than 15 percent above what the federal Medicare program for the elderly is charged. That protection is sorely needed. Health care bills are the No. 1 cause of personal bankruptcy in the country.

Many hospitals are also in trouble. One provision of the new law allows the state to look at a hospital's books and appoint a representative to the board of trustees, or a monitor, at the hospital's expense, when there is evidence of financial peril. That measure provides some hope of correcting financial problems -- rather than waiting for a crisis that might require a public bailout. This should help distinguish hospitals that fall victim to market forces from those with bad management.

The New Jersey Hospital Association, which did not criticize the package, contends that health reform in New Jersey will be incomplete until the state addresses the problem of so-called charity care.

New Jersey requires hospitals to take all patients, regardless of their ability to pay, but the state has fallen behind when it comes to adequately reimbursing hospitals for that charity care. The solution, however, must be in the same vein as this new set of health reforms, which put what is best for the patient and the taxpayer first. The charity care problem will best be solved by finding ways to provide health insurance coverage -- including preventive care -- to more people rather than constantly increasing the subsidy to hospitals.

That's another idea Congress should take seriously.

My Commentary

Posted by Zemack on 08/10/08 at 10:14PM
What is "patently unfair" is to ignore the cause of the current health insurance and healthcare crises...the government itself. It is absolutely ludicrous to now turn to government for the solution, which is akin to swallowing a full glass of the poison that has been killing us in small doses for decades.

There is Medicare, which violates the rights of everyone by forcing people to pay the healthcare costs of others while making them simultaneously dependent on others for theirs in retirement.

There is Medicaid, which forces people to pay the healthcare costs of the "poor," thus denying them the right to make their own decisions on charitable giving based on their own values and determination on what they can afford to give.

Both Medicare and Medicaid impose massive price-fixing on the healthcare industry, thus violating a fundamental human right...the right of producers (health care providers such as doctors, drug makers, etc.) and their customers (the patients) to contract for products and services based on mutual agreement to mutual advantage. Those price controls are now being extended outside of those programs.

There is the government-imposed third-party-payer system, in which the employer chooses the health insurance plan and the insurer (which works for the employer) determines services covered, co-pays, etc. Under this absurd system, the employee, who actually pays for the coverage (because it is part of his compensation package), is completely disconnected from the doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, etc., who actually work for the third-party payer and are beholden to them.

There are the hundreds of health benefit, community ratings, and guaranteed issue insurance mandates imposed on the industry, thus destroying anything even resembling a free market. There is the virtual ban on the interstate sale of health insurance products, thus destroying any semblance of competition in the health insurance market. As a result, the insurance market is dominated by a government regulated and protected cartel of quasi-private companies that, like the government run "insurance" programs, wield enormous control over the healthcare decisions of individual Americans.

I have only scratched the surface here. The problems in healthcare in America have grown in lock-step with government intrusions and controls. The solution begins with acknowledging this fact, not with compounding it with more of the same poison. Roe v. Wade is justified on the grounds that abortion is a private matter between a woman and her doctor. Fair enough. The same logic, then, applies to all healthcare decisions...whether medical procedures, prices paid, insurance coverage, or charitable giving. All issues concerning healthcare are private matters between each individual and his doctor, healthcare products or insurance company, and conscience. The government has no right to coercively interfere in those private decisions.

It is not the proper function of government to favor one group of citizens at the expense of the rights of others (to "put what is best for the patient and the taxpayer first"). The proper function of government is to protect the rights of all citizens...equally and at all times. This includes the doctors and other healthcare professionals who actually provide the healthcare. The current system, and the "reforms" being enacted by New Jersey, represents a massive and immoral violation of the rights of doctors, patients, insurers, taxpayers...i.e., of everyone.

We are cascading toward total government control of healthcare based on a dangerous fallacy...the alleged "right" to healthcare. Healthcare is a need, not a right. There can be no right to any man-made product, aside from what one produces himself or acquires through voluntary trade (or charity). If healthcare is a right, then the government is ablidged to guarantee that right. And there is only one way government can guarantee to anyone a "right" of that forcing others to pay for and/or provide it. In other words, to loot (tax) the productive and enslave the providers. In other words, socialism.

It's time to stop evading the true nature of where we are heading, and of those who are pushing us there in the name of "lower-income families, taxpayers, and patients." The only practical and moral solution to America's healthcare crises is to begin unwinding the labyrinth of government intrusions and re-establish something that hasn't existed for market capitalism in medicine.