Thursday, January 16, 2014

'Heretics and Heroes'

John Hus burned at the stake for 'heresy'
Ever wonder how and why things 'change' in human history?

That is the question put forth by Thomas Cahill, author of the 'Hinges of History' series which just added the great 'Heretics and Heroes' edition as of late 2013.

The subtitle tells it all: 'How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World'.

Let's just summarize this great book this way:
'The heretics in the past are the ones who saw some sort of injustice or wrong and did something about it. Then they became known as 'heroes'.
Take Martin Luther, for example.

He was perhaps eclipsed early in his career and life by a man named Erasmus. Never heard of Erasmus? Well, he was perhaps the first person in recorded human history to make his living solely off of his publications, not-so-coincidentally with the invention of the printing press by Mr. Gutenberg.

Erasmus also supposedly was the last human being on earth who could claim to have read all of the extant writings in terms of folios or bound books of some sort in the known world at the time. He did so in his native German, in Latin and in Greek as well.

But when it came to standing up to the All-Knowing and All-Powerful Catholic Church in Rome in 1517-18, Martin Luther did so and Erasmus did not.

That is why we have 'Lutheran' Churches still today and no 'Eramusian' Churches we have ever heard of at least.

Suffice it to say that very, very few people in history have had the guts to stand up to the existing authorities at the time and challenge the status quo which they believe to be unjust and just plain wrong.

It is a wonder that we don't read where Martin Luther was burned at the stake like John Hus and other Christian martyrs before and after him.

What has any of this 'heretic' talk got to do with anything today?

Plenty. As in the fact that our Founding Father/Brothers were 'heretics' in many ways in the way they dared to challenge the generally-accepted orthodoxy at the time that the King of England was great and he was fair and true to his word in terms of respecting the freedoms of the American colonists.

They fought the War of Revolution and won. Now they are considered heroes throughout the land and the constitutional freedoms for individuals they fought for and won have been exported and copied the world over.

What are some of the 'conventional' wisdoms generally held as sacrosanct today in American politics that are inherently 'unjust' and 'unfair' and need to be challenged by you and any other potential 'heretics'?
  1. The whole notion that there are enough self-sacrificing, self-effacing, wildly intelligent and honest political leaders who think they can go to Washington and make omnipotent decisions for the rest of us from Capitol Hill and the White House...and fix everything under the sun.
  2. The health and growth of our national economy is entirely dependent upon jump-starts and policy defibrillations from the federal government. It is not; never has been and never will be. The genius of the American innovator and worker is the fulcrum upon which all of our prosperity depends.
  3. 'We can't balance the budget'.
    Why the heck not? We either elect people who can count and add and subtract (hopefully more subtraction than addition) and then tell them to balance the budget or 'don't bother coming home again...cause we are going to vote you out of office next election!'
  4. 'Entitlements are sacrosanct! We can't touch them!'
    Again, why the heck not?  They are all programs that require money to be taken from taxpayers in the form of payroll and income taxes (Medicare is close to 85% subsidized by the general fund when you add in Parts A, B and D) or borrowed from abroad from the Chinese or whoever else is brave enough to loan us more money on top of the $17 trillion in federal debt we now have on the books.

    There are literally hundreds of billions of dollars that can be saved over the next decade just by making small, marginal changes in the copays, deductibles and Medicare Part B premium match, currently 25% enrollee/75% general fund. Going to a 28%/72% ratio would save billions per year.

    Raising the retirement age from 65 to 66 in Medicare would save billions as well. Social Security's retirement age is now age 66...why not at least make Medicare be equal to its own entitlement sister program standards?
For a more complete understanding of the myriad of budget options to reduce the size and scope of federal spending, you can go to these links: Choices for Deficit Reduction and Options for Reducing the Deficit 2014-2023.

The choices we now have to face are more difficult given that we have let close to 17 years now pass since the last time Congress did anything of any real magnitude in terms of reining in the rate of growth of federal spending in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Virtually everything we have done since 2001 has been to expand federal spending and regulation of the economy and borrow more money from overseas.

America has become like the Catholic Church of the post-Medieval days: archaic; bureaucratically top-heavy and spendthrift on things that don't directly benefit the general good of the population at large.

On a state level, the same thing has happened with programs such as Medicaid which was ostensibly set up to help the poor citizens of North Carolina have access to quality health care.

We went to a hearing yesterday where the Medicaid Reform Advisory Board took testimony from people who are mostly convinced that 'everything in the current Medicaid system is going pretty don't change a thing!'

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The state legislature appropriated close to $600 million in emergency funds just last summer to pay the overruns of the current Medicaid program in North Carolina, all of which could have been allocated to, for example, paying teachers more in the public education system (which can stand a good dose of reform and rearranging itself, come to think about it)

There was a consultant from the state of Georgia who had worked with the Medicaid reform effort over the past several years who presented convincing testimony that Georgia's adoption of managed care for Medicaid patients had not only resulted in better measurable outcomes for the Medicaid recipients in Georgia over the past 5 years but had also produced close to $4.3 billion in savings as well.

At the same time during which the North Carolina Medicaid system cost an additional $4 billion or more probably over budget projections.

Putting it in a stark way:

'There was roughly an $8 billion difference in Medicaid spending between the states of Georgia and North Carolina over the past 5 years that could have been used to help pay teachers more; fix our state roads or return tax refunds to the taxpayer in some proportion or another.'

So who is the 'crazy person' when it comes to fixing what ails us in this country and state today: 'The Heretic' who wants to change things or the person who wants to maintain the status quo just as it has been for so many years now?

There are hundreds if not thousands of ways our elected leaders can reform the way they spend your tax money in Washington and the state capitols. You have to tell them what you want them to do, however. They won't do it on their own.

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