Author Archives: Quincy

Barack Obama’s Newspeak on Health Care

Tonight’s speech on health care was a doubling down on the part of the administration. All the bad policy, all the economic voodoo, and all the flat out repression remain in the President’s platform. So does all the newspeak:

Since health care represents one-sixth of our economy, I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn’t, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch.And that is precisely what those of you in Congress have tried to do over the past several months.

Employer provided health care does not work. It is the primary reason people are uninsured in this nation. Every sob story about someone losing their insurance when they lose their jobs, or about someone being unable to get insurance when they get a new job, traces back to this core fault of our health care system and our tax code.

First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.

Nothing, except the public option. The above statement cannot be true given the current state of health care in the US. Remember, most people have no control over their health insurance. Their employers do, and employers can certainly force employees onto the public option if its more economical for them.

What this plan will do is to make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies – because there’s no reason we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.

In other words, there will be no actual health insurance in the US. There will be subsidy plans called insurance with no mechanisms to control how much they pay out. American “insurance companies” will become no-limit ATMs for doctors and patients. This is supposed to lower costs?

Also, with regards to the previous point, Jim the office manager will certainly be forced off his insurance when it goes under because of these rules.

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Honduras sheds light on Obama

Juan Carlos Hidalgo asks the question of the day in a post at Cato@Liberty:

What Principle is Guiding Obama’s Honduras Policy?

The Obama administration is threatening not to recognize the result of Honduras’ presidential election in late November unless Manuel Zelaya returns to the presidency beforehand.

The presidential poll was already scheduled prior to Zelaya’s (constitutional) removal from office last June. The candidates had already been selected by their parties through an open primary process. The current civilian interim president, Roberto Micheletti, is not running for office and plans to step down in January as stipulated by the Constitution. Both major presidential candidates supported the ouster of Zelaya. The political campaign is playing out in an orderly manner, and there’s a significant chance that the candidate from the opposition National Party will win the presidency. The independent Electoral Tribunal is overseeing the process.

And yet the U.S. Department of State is signaling that it won’t recognize the result of the poll in the name of defending Zelaya’s return to power.

The Obama Administration has been going out of its way to be on the wrong side of both the law and morality when it comes to Honduras. Obama has his first chance to rebuke the shameful history of the US being propping up dictators in Latin America and what does he do? He goes out of his way to prop up a would-be dictator who had neither the support of the people nor of the Honduran Constitution. He’s laid sanctions on the Honduran people. He refuses to recognize the legal, constitutional government of a country.

Why would he do this? Zelaya was the elected President of Honduras. He had been given the power, through the vehicle of democratic election, to shape Honduras.

Let’s cast it again: Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. He has been given power, through the vehicle of democratic election, to shape the United States.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Remember this incident from the early days of the Obama administration:

President Obama listened to Republican gripes about his stimulus package during a meeting with congressional leaders Friday morning – but he also left no doubt about who’s in charge of these negotiations. “I won,” Obama noted matter-of-factly, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

Obama won. Zelaya won. To the victors go the spoils. There is no higher principle behind the US Government’s abuse of the Honduran people, just that.

Even more worrisome, though, is what the Obama Administration’s treatment of Honduras means for us when we try to hold them to the limits of our Constitution.

Quote of the Day

From former GAO head David Walker in the WSJ:

Mr. Walker’s own speeches are vivid and clear. “We have four deficits: a budget deficit, a savings deficit, a value-of-the-dollar deficit and a leadership deficit,” he tells one group. “We are treating the symptoms of those deficits, but not the disease.”

Remember, this is from someone who has seen the books of the Federal Government.

Real Solutions for Health Care, Part I – The Problem

If one looks at Barack Obama’s principles for health care, the basic ideas are right. His three principles are:

  • Reduce Costs
  • Guarantee Choice
  • Ensure Quality Care for All

Unfortunately, the health care measures the president is backing shows he clearly doesn’t understand the main problem with American health care.

In America today, doctors rarely answer to patients. Instead, they answer to layers of faceless bureaucracy that ultimately answer to either employers or politicians. This makes doctors unresponsive to patient needs and results in ham-fisted results to control costs like senseless denials from private insurers and underpayments by government health care programs.

This system also presents a clear incentives for patients to get as much as they can without regard to cost. Since costs are borne by insurers and the government, the patient seeking treatment is shielded from them and have no incentive to seek only the treatment they need. In addition, they are further spurred to get “their share” by being set up as adversaries of insurance companies, employers, and the government.

The result of this incentive structure is a completely dysfunctional price system in health care. In a functioning price system, buyer and seller are competing for opposite purposes. The buyer wants to get the most product for the least money, while the seller wants to deliver the least product for the most money. When the price system is working, these incentives balance each other out and prices are controlled.

In health care, insurers-both private and government-try to deliver coverage as cheaply as possible without regard to quality because that’s what their masters want. Patients try to get as much value from their insurers without regard to cost. The result of these crossed incentives is a health care system that doesn’t meet the needs of patients while becoming ever more expensive.

Barack Obama’s health care plan does nothing to change this, and in fact goes to great lengths to make this incentive structure inescapable. Barack Obama, like many before him, is proceeding with good intentions but a poor understanding of what he’s trying to fix. The result is a health care plan that takes our problems and apply them to everyone.

Coming soon: Part II – Divorcing Health Care from Employment

Lies, Damn Lies, and California Budget Proposals

The news out of Sacramento appears good for the California middle class:

The good news, Schwarzenegger glowed, is no new taxes.

Digging a little deeper, of course, reveals the truth:

REVENUES

* Accelerate income tax withholding — $1.7 billion
* Increase estimated tax payments for businesses and the self-employed — $610 million

Between now and the end of the year, $2.3 billion will be extracted from the economy in more aggressive tax collection. Where is that money going to come from? Everyone who works:

It also raises $4 billion by in part accelerating personal and corporate income tax withholdings and increasing income tax withholding schedules by 10 percent.

The state will take 10% more than it does today out of every paycheck issued in the State of California. That means that the Californian trying to stay afloat on a mortgage, pay medical bills, or send a kid to school will have less money to do it. The Californian out trying to support local businesses will have less money to do it. The Californian who lives paycheck-to-paycheck will have less money to survive.

Since this is a withholding change, the taxpayer should get the excess withheld back on next year’s tax return. That, though, won’t undo the foreclosure that happened because a Californian couldn’t pay his mortgage. It won’t make right the bankruptcy that occurred because a Californian couldn’t pay her medical bills. It won’t bring back the corner store that went under because people couldn’t afford to shop there.

The simple fact is that this budgetary shell game will cause each and every worker to pay more to the State of California in taxes. The state is so desperate to pass a budget that it is almost certain that this tax hike will pass. All I ask is that the clowns in Sacramento have enough respect for the taxpayers to level with us and admit that their budget contains $2.3 billion in tax hikes…

Fat chance.

California’s problem is taxation

Instapundit links to a NYT Magazine propaganda piece about governing California, and the part about taxation reads as if it were written by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, right down to euphemistically renaming taxes “revenue”:

In the view of many, the origins of the mud slog began with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the landmark referendum that capped property taxes. “Over 50 percent of our revenue is dependent on personal income tax, and that’s a very important part of explaining the boom-and-bust cycle,” according to another Republican candidate for governor, Tom Campbell, an immaculately credentialed policy marvel who graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude and who later studied under the conservative economist Milton Friedman before going on to represent Silicon Valley for five terms in the United States Congress.

This dependence on income tax was the first thing Dianne Feinstein mentioned when I asked her to assess California’s problems. “In most states, it’s one-third property tax, one-third sales tax and one-third income tax,” Feinstein said. “It’s 55 percent income tax in California. And 45 percent of that comes from the top brackets.”

When the economy is booming, the stock market soaring and jobs abundant, relying on income taxes is not a problem. That was the case in the years after Schwarzenegger first became governor in 2003, and he was hailed as a “postpartisan” leader who cut taxes and appealed to Democrats by aggressively tackling issues like global warming. But in today’s cratering economy — in which California faces a decline in personal income for the first time since 1938 and unemployment sits at 11.5 percent — the state’s coffers have shriveled up quickly, along with the governor’s popularity.

Passing a budget or increasing revenues in California is dicey in the best of times. The state constitution requires that two-thirds of the Legislature agree on a budget or higher taxes — the kind of overwhelming political consensus, in other words, usually reserved for amendments to the federal Constitution. (California is one of just a handful states that require a two-thirds vote to pass a budget.)

These words were written not by Speaker Bass, but rather by the Times’ own Mark Leibovich. He gets some of the facts right, but draws from them a woefully wrong conclusion. Where Liebovich sees a state that would be better off if only politicians could increase property taxes without limit or one party had total control of the budgeting process, I see a state that manages to overtax its citizens despite some pretty robust taxpayer protections in the state constitution. What’s the difference between me and Mark Leibovich? I actually have to pay for the excesses of Sacramento.

Let me list out for you the taxes and fees I remember having to pay in the last year:

  • Income tax
  • Sales tax
  • Property tax
  • Gas tax
  • Vehicle License fee

This doesn’t include the various line items about government surcharges and fees on every utility bill I pay, some of which I’m sure is attributable to the state. Even so, the taxes and fees I listed above still amount to about 25% of my income. On top of the 30% of my income that goes to Washington D.C., that’s more than half my income.

You might think that such a fate could only happen to someone who was rich enough not to worry about only having 55% of his income go to Washington and Sacramento. You’d be wrong. I’m very solidly in the middle class, and it would be even harder making ends meet if California’s political class could force me to surrender even more of my hard-earned income. I hear the same from nearly everyone I know.

I’m a Californian, and I pay more for government than I do for anything else. From the perspective of a citizen, California’s problem is taxation–too much, not too little.

A Vote for Revenue

Politicians are usually most revealing when speaking off-the-cuff, and so it was with Karen Bass:

Q: How do you think conservative talk radio has affected the Legislature’s work?

A: The Republicans were essentially threatened and terrorized against voting for revenue. Now [some] are facing recalls. They operate under a terrorist threat: “You vote for revenue and your career is over.” I don’t know why we allow that kind of terrorism to exist. I guess it’s about free speech, but it’s extremely unfair.

The California Assembly Speaker was talking about California’s budget crisis. There is a simple problem here. Decades of runaway spending by both the democratically-controlled legislature and voters during the boom years has the state government scrambling to meet its commitments now.

The solution, however, is more complex. Democrats have been the majority party in the legislature for decades, and this budget mess falls squarely on their backs. The solution, deep cuts to wasteful and often useless state bureaucracy, is simply not an option to them. Cutting the bureaucracy would be a loss of political capital for the Democrats, making the entire enterprise of state government less profitable. Instead, we have people like Karen Bass pulling stupid politician tricks:

The Golden State is one of only three in the nation which requires a two-thirds majority vote to raise taxes. This is forcing Democrats in Sacramento to try to recruit a handful of Republicans to pass their current plan to close the state’s gap with a combination of cuts and taxes. So far, no GOP legislator has broken ranks.

Then came Plan B. This week, the Democratic leadership mustered enough support to pass a series of budget bills with a simple majority, hoping to send them onto Governor Schwarzenegger.

Some of these bills do raise revenues, but legislators believe they can avoid the necessary two-thirds majority by reclassifying some taxes as “user fees”, while raising taxes elsewhere and claiming the end result is “tax neutral”.

A call to the Legislative Counsel’s office pointed to the part of the State Constitution which explains the need for a two-thirds majority: “any changes in state taxes enacted for the purpose of increasing revenues collected pursuant thereto whether by increased rates or changes in methods of computation must be imposed by an Act passed by not less than two-thirds of all members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature, except that no new ad valorem taxes on real property, or sales or transaction taxes on the sales of real property may be imposed.”

But when pushed for an explanation as to where the law allows a simple majority, by creating “revenue neutral” taxes and exchanging a tax for a user fee, we were directed to the Assembly Speaker Karen Bass’s office.

Her office did not return calls or emails (though the emails were read). Other calls asking for guidance were met with silence, and another reference to the section of the state constitution cited above.

So, this is what Karen Bass means when she says Republicans have been terrorized into voting against revenue? Let’s revisit her quote and fill in what’s actually happening:

The Republicans were essentially threatened and terrorized against voting for a law that deliberately violates taxpayer protections in the Constitution. Now [some] are facing recalls. They operate under a terrorist threat: “You vote for a law that deliberately violates taxpayer protections in the Constitution and your career is over.” I don’t know why we allow that kind of terrorism to exist. I guess it’s about free speech, but it’s extremely unfair.

Karen Bass is saying that pressuring politicians to simply follow the law is terrorism. As Instapundit would say, the state is in the best of hands!

Public Schools and the Public Option

Imagine a private school where students sat in a math class for weeks misbehaving and learning nothing. Imagine that school gets on TV news because the administrators suspended the young lady who blew the whistle by taking a cell phone video and giving it to her mom who confronted them. Do you think that school would have enough students to start the next school year?

Well, this happened at a public high school in the SF Bay Area:

A freshman at Clayton Valley High School in Concord, California says that’s just what she had to endure in algebra as her classmates went wild.

“People smoking marijuana in the classroom. They smoke cigarettes.” Arielle said. “There was one kid who peed in a bottle and threw it across the room.”

Clayton Valley High School is a public high school, and I have no doubt that it will open with just as many students next year as it did this year. When parents pay for an education, they absolutely will not tolerate a school run like Clayton Valley HS. When the state provides an education for free, a vast majority of parents will generally take what they can get and call it good enough. They might picket and protest for improvement, but they won’t take their kids out of the school.

What does this have to do with health care? The public option being created as part of “ObamaCare” is rather similar to public schools, in that it is designed to undercut private health insurance on the basis of price:

The Lewin Group crunched the numbers through their health care model and found that premiums for the public option plan would be 30 to 40 percent lower than private plans.

A price difference of that magnitude would lead employers to throw their employees into the ObamaCare option:

Overall, the Lewin Group estimates that if Medicare reimbursement rates are imposed, the number of Americans with private health insurance would decline by almost 120 million, leaving only 50 million Americans in the private insurance market.

That would leave approximately 15% of the population in non-government health care, just slightly more than the percentage of students that go to private school. At that point, ObamaCare will have similar monopoly power to the public schools. I expect abuses and incompetence similar to that captured by Arielle Moore at Clayton Valley High when the public option achieves its monopoly power. The scary difference is that instead of not learning algebra, the people who have to suffer that abuse and incompetence will be missing out on life-saving medical treatments.

A human life is too important to waste on government health care.

Update: John Calfee compares ObamaCare to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the WSJ. Yet another sterling example of how we don’t want our health care managed.

Trust, blogs, and the FTC?

So, the FTC is coming after bloggers who make money and don’t adequately disclose it:

New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the agency can go after bloggers – as well as the companies that compensate them – for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.

It would be the first time the FTC tries to patrol systematically what bloggers say and do online. The common practice of posting a graphical ad or a link to an online retailer – and getting commissions for any sales from it – would be enough to trigger oversight.

The Federal Government is the least trustworthy enterprise in the United States. Its leaders and representatives work solely for the benefit of the enterprise, circumventing its own rules and all standards of decency and honesty whenever they deem it necessary. Heck, just this week I received a bill–with penalties and interest–for a tax balance I paid before April 15. Really, how can Washington have any moral standing on this one?

A boot stamping on a human face…

…forever.  But, if San Francisco’s most famous street vendor has anything to say about it, that boot will be well-shined:

He sleeps under a bridge, washes in a public bathroom and was panhandling for booze money 11 months ago, but now Larry Moore is the best-dressed shoeshine man in the city. When he gets up from his cardboard mattress, he puts on a coat and tie. It’s a reminder of how he has turned things around.

In fact, until last week it looked like Moore was going to have saved enough money to rent a room and get off the street for the first time in six years. But then, in a breathtakingly clueless move, an official for the Department of Public Works told Moore that he has to fork over the money he saved for his first month’s rent to purchase a $491 sidewalk vendor permit.

“I had $573 ready to go,” Moore said, who needs $600 for the rent. “This tore that up. But I’ve been homeless for six years. Another six weeks isn’t going to kill me.”

The bureaucrat told Moore that she found out about his business after reading about his success in this paper.

Most amazingly, Moore was not even indignant and sought to play by the rules, only to have more barriers thrown in his path:

Moore is nothing if not dutiful. He attempted to work his way through the byzantine city government channels, although he didn’t get much help.

“I guess my gripe is that when the city came by and told him to get his papers in order but couldn’t tell him how to do it,” said Travis See, who manages the Custom Shop Clothiers on the corner of Market and New Montgomery. “This lady couldn’t even tell him which building to go to so he could stand in line and waste all day.”

When Moore found the permit application, he got a money order and headed down to the appropriate department to pay. But because he didn’t have a valid ID card, they wouldn’t take his money.

Through all this, Moore maintains a positive attitude and wants to be an upstanding citizen:

The only one who isn’t furious about this is Moore. He insists that city functionaries are giving him a break because they are letting him continue to shine shoes while he waits for a copy of his birth certificate to be sent from Kansas. Once it arrives they will allow him to get an ID card and then hand over almost every cent he has.

I feel compelled to say that Moore is a better man than I. He’s faced the tyranny of the petty bureaucrat with incredible composure, and he deserves every shred of respect and help he’s gotten for this. Fortunately for Mr. Moore, the situation seems to be working out for him:

Reiskin told him his department would help set up the permit, the Homeless Outreach Team van pulled up to see if he wanted to talk about supportive housing, and homeless coordinator Dariush Kayhan sat down in the chair as soon as Reiskin’s shoes were shined.

Moore said he was honored to see them but still charged them his usual fee, $7. (It’s $5 if you are unemployed.)

Moore has set aside the $491 for the permit, which he’ll get as soon as his birth certificate arrives from Kansas and he can get a municipal ID card.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how this mess started. Usually when a city worker tells a street vendor to get a permit, the response is excuses and vague promises. They didn’t expect Moore to take them seriously.

But Moore is a man on a mission.

“I want to be on this corner,” he said. “But you know what? You need me on this corner. You got people in this city getting a free room and free medical but they aren’t doing nothing with their lives. I want people to see me and say, ‘There’s a guy working hard.’ ”

If you’d like to see that, stop by his stand on Market. He starts at 9:30 in the morning, although he might sleep in a little today.

“I am going to go get a room tonight for the whole week,” he said. “I deserve that. At least I think I do.”

I’m very glad Larry Moore will end up sleeping in a bed tonight, and that in the end the generosity of the people of San Francisco has made sure he will be able to pay both his rent and the city.

However, that resolution is a case of the exceptional, while the bureaucracy remains the way of life in San Francisco.  As this case shows, it’s a way of life that deserves to be questioned.  Are the people of San Francisco better off because Larry Moore had to waste time and money having a birth certificate sent 1,500 miles so the city could verify his identity? Are the people better off with $491 of this man’s money going to the city rather than a landlord?  Will Larry Moore suddenly provide service any better because he now has the benediction of the Department of Public Works?

These questions raise the most important one… Just who are these permits supposed to serve?

RFID and Privacy

Yesterday morning I was sent an article written by Michigan House Representative Paul Opsommer regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s push to implement Enhanced Drivers’ Licenses:

The Department of Homeland Security is coming to Detroit to push their new “Enhanced Drivers License” (EDL) program on Tuesday as a way to make Michigan licenses compliant with the federal Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). If you don’t pay to enhance your license, you’ll need a passport in order to continue going across the Canadian and Mexican borders in June (you’ll still need a passport to fly).

Opsommer argues that it would make better sense to lower the price of a passport instead of trying to graft the purpose of a passport on to a drivers’ license. Then, he gets to the heart of the DHS proposal:

Instead, they’re offering to “enhance” our license by having a security interview, paying more, and then getting a wireless RFID chip in your license. While the first two requirements seem reasonable, if the part about the wireless RFID chip has you scratching your head, you’re not the only one. We already wisely don’t issue licenses to illegal aliens, but with the enhanced license you have to be able to not just prove your citizenship, but prove it via a wireless chip. Everyone who applies will have a new unique federal ID number assigned to them in addition to their current Social Security Number. The wireless chip then carries that new number, which can be wirelessly scanned by common readers up to 30 feet away, even while it’s still in your wallet.

In theory this will get you through the border faster, but then you are left with an unencrypted chip in your license for the other 12 hours a day you carry it.

He says the following about the privacy implications:

There is currently nothing in the law prohibiting the government from using this to track people away from the border, and also nothing in the law that would prohibit banks, hospitals, hotels, or others from linking you with the number and using it for their own marketing purposes or selling it.

Technically, this technology never tracks people, it only tracks the license. The assumption is that the license is being carried by the license holder when out in public, thereby being a good proxy for tracking the person. However, wallets and purses can be left at home, lost, or stolen, at which point the assumption breaks down.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the RFID-chipped license will be carried by the owner 99% of time. This is the equivalent of forgetting one’s license three or four times a year, which is not uncommon for most of the folks I know.  In cases where identity verification is considered critical, such as at a border crossing, a 99% accuracy rate isn’t good enough.  Therefore, the system isn’t designed to operate by reading the license alone:

Enhanced drivers licenses will make it quicker and easier to cross the border back into the United States because they will contain

  • a vicinity Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip that will signal a computer to pull up your biographic and biometric data for the CBP Officer as you pull up to the border, and
  • a Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) or barcode that the CBP officer can read electronically if RFID isn’t available.

If the system is working as designed, it will accurately identify the person carrying the chip only when a person (or computer) can compare the features of the holder with the features on file. In any other case, the identity of the holder cannot be known for sure. That, however, doesn’t prevent someone from relying on the assumption that a license is always carried by the license holder and not another person.

This is an important point to make before addressing Opsommer’s argument about a “more secure” form of RFID license. In his comment above, Opsommer uses the word unencrypted to imply “less secure”. This is not the case. To fulfill the identification role specified by DHS, the government reader would need to be able to decrypt the encrypted value returned by the chip with no other information. This requires the use of an encryption algorithm that produces a unique encrypted number for each unencrypted number submitted to it.

The tracking opportunity is the same in either case. People are running around with unique RFID signatures that can be read from up to 30 feet away. The first piece of information a would-be tracker would get is the RFID signature. Once the signature is encountered, the tracker can start gathering information about the holder of the RFID-chipped license.  The interesting thing to consider here is that a third-party tracker piggy-backing on the DHS-sponsored license system would not need to match the ID number to a pre-established identity, meaning the encrypted value is just as useful for third-party tracking as the unencrypted value.

Imagine that a supermarket chain wanted to track its customers using the RFID signature of a drivers’ license.  They set up a scanner to read in the area where a patron would stand to interact with the checker and read the license every time payment was accepted.  It would be possible to track a patrons buying habits by linking the data saved from the register to the RFID signature.  In the case a club card was used, the drivers’ license would be linked back to the name on that.  If a check or credit card was used to pay, that financial information could then be linked to the RFID signature.  The store would now have an entire identity built around the unique signature that has nothing to do with the DHS database.

Taking this hypothetical to the next level, imagine that a diverse array of businesses such as banks, hospitals, hotels, casinos, restaurants, and bookstores began employing similar tracking techniques.  Each would build an identity around the unique signature of the chip.  The bank would know one’s financial habits.  The hospital would know one’s health problems.  The hotel would know when one visited.  The casino would know when one gambled.  The restaurant would know what one ate.  The bookstore would know what one read.  And the supermarket from before would know what one bought.

At that point, there would be an opportunity for an information clearinghouse to buy tracking data keyed to the unique RFID signature from different sources and build an amazingly detailed profile of the license holder/carrier.  The clearinghouse would know everything from their name, telephone number, and address to the fact that they bought a box of 24 donuts on Tuesday despite having diabetes.

In the extreme, it would be possible for the government itself to leverage the work of the clearinghouse by purchasing the data and crossing it with the DHS database.  This scenario is both technically possible and consistent with previous DHS behavior.  Encryption would make no difference in this case because DHS can already decrypt the RFID signature.  Imagine what the government could do with all that information about how a citizen lives his life?

Remember that this detailed profile grew out of exposure to a single unique signature.  The businesses doing the tracking started knowing nothing about the person other than the unique number emitted by their RFID-chipped license.  The only measure of safety encrypting the number provides is that the RFID tag could not be used to query the DHS database.  Of course, since one’s name would be revealed in one of many transactions, even this layer of protection is transitory since the DHS database would contain both name and ID number.

Back to Rep. Opsommer’s article, he laments the situation by saying the following:

[A]t the very least they need to offer enhanced licenses in two varieties, one that has RFID and one that doesn’t, and then let taxpayers decide which they want to choose. DHS has instead chosen a take it or leave it approach that bullies taxpayers with fiscal coercion and a one-size-fits-all policy that doesn’t allow Michigan to use more secure forms of RFID or to skip the chips altogether. Since an EDL will also technically be a limited passport, how the biometric data on the computer system gets shared with the governments of Canada and Mexico is also important.

I would submit to Representative Opsommer that encryption simply doesn’t matter.  Any RFID license that can be read without the holder’s consent is a threat to privacy.  Metallic sleeves and other devices that shield the license are not good enough, since they can be lost or forgotten.  The Ontario government has found a good solution to this problem, though.  They are looking at an Enhanced Drivers’ License that can be read only when someone holds it a certain way:

Seattle-based RFID chip manufacturer Impinj Inc. has demonstrated a prototype vicinity RFID card with a switch.

The design activates the RFID chip when someone places their finger on the corner of the card.

A mechanical switch – with moving parts – would be too frail, says Kerry Krause, vice-president of marketing at Impinj. So they took a different approach.

“With our technology, all you have to do is touch it,” he says. “The tag is only readable when a person is holding the driver’s licence and pinching it in the right spot. Your fingers are completing a circuit and turning it on.”

Such a license offers true privacy, as the person holding it has to take an explicit action for it to be read.  Anything short of this is simply a privacy violation waiting to happen.

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Update – 4/22 @ 1:35 PDT – Thanks to Jeff Molby in the comments for pointing out that the government leveraging privately-collected tracking data is already happening.  Post updated with this information.

Update – 4/22 @ 6:21 PDT – Commenter “Encryption could matter” mentioned the use of push-button technology.  I’ve found info on this and it has been added.

» Read more

An Open Letter To Jan Schakowsky

Dear Representative Schakowsky –

I’m a taxpayer.  The Tea Partiers are also taxpayers.  We are the people who make the enterprise of government possible.

People in government would object to that statement.  They would say that the US Government has multiple revenue streams:  the income tax, other federal taxes, the Social Security Trust Fund, other intergovernmental funds, external bond sales, bond sales to the Federal Reserve.  They’re right, on a technical level.  Year to year, the full burden of federal spending doesn’t rest on the taxpayers.

There’s more to the story, though.  Any money borrowed by the US Government is borrowed in the name of its taxpayers.  The more than $2 trillion that will be borrowed to close the deficit in Obama’s first budget is being borrowed in our name.  The same goes with the undisclosed billions borrowed to pay for the Bush bailout plan.  We currently have a national debt of $11,194,472,663,030 that the Congressional Budget Office projects will grow to over $20 trillion under the Obama spending plan.  As one of the approximately 138 million Americans who paid taxes last year, I look at the Obama deficit of $2 trillion and realize that almost $15,000 was borrowed in my name alone, just this year.  Over 10 years, the Obama plan will borrow over $65,000 in my name.  As scary as those numbers are in the aggregate, they are frightening when made personal.

I imagine it must be a pretty amazing job, being one of the 536 people that direct an enterprise with a limitless credit card that will be paid off by others.  Unlike every corporation and citizen in the country, Congress and the President don’t have to worry about where the money’s going to come from.  You have the authority to fund anything you want by pretty much any means you want.  Max out the credit card?  Just write a bill that increases the credit line!

From the perspective of this ordinary, hard-working taxpayer, that authority has gone to your heads.  You never bother to stop and ask us whether we want your spending anymore.  When Obama debuted his budget, it faced severe opposition from the taxpayers of this country.  Instead of wielding the power granted to him responsibly and reconsidering based on that opposition, he began moving to ram his budget down our throats without even a moments pause.  He tried to sic his campaign machine on us to “persuade” us that the irresponsible borrowing and spending was for our own good and that we should take it with a smile.

Between that and Bush’s TARP debacle, it became clear to ordinary taxpayers all across the country that we had no voice in Washington anymore.  Democrats and Republicans were spending all their time pandering to core constituencies and special interests while ignoring the people who pay the freight.  In fact, it’s gotten so bad that we taxpayers are not even perceived as an independent group anymore.  This is shown so clearly in your own comments on the Tea Party protests:

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) blasted “tea party” protests yesterday, labeling the activities “despicable” and “shameful.”

“The ‘tea parties’ being held today by groups of right-wing activists, and fueled by FOX News Channel, are an effort to mislead the public about the Obama economic plan that cuts taxes for 95 percent of Americans and creates 3.5 million jobs,” Schakowsky said in a statement.

“It’s despicable that right-wing Republicans would attempt to cheapen a significant, honorable moment of American history with a shameful political stunt,” she added. “Not a single American household or business will be taxed at a higher rate this year. Made to look like a grassroots uprising, this is an Obama bashing party promoted by corporate interests, as well as Republican lobbyists and politicians.”

We are in an age of taxation without representation. The taxpayer has no voice in Washington. The charade of democracy fostered by the two major parties has no place at the table for ordinary, hard-working Americans.  If you’re a Wall Street executive or an ACORN organizer, you have a say in how much money is borrowed and spent in America.  If you’re a simple plumber, electrician, or office worker, you have none.

You and the rest of Congress are gambling with our futures and you couldn’t care less what we have to say about it.  That’s why the Tea Parties are happening.  You want to deny us our voice?  Our place at the table?  Fine.  We’ll take it back from you.  Tea Party after Tea Party, letter after letter, column after column, we will make ourselves heard again.

The only shameful and despicable thing here is the fact that we have to take back our voice at all.  You and the rest of the ruling class have ignored the people who make your existence possible for far too long.  I’m sure your comments will be the first in a long line of bleating on the part of the ruling class, that we will have to endure rhetorical slings and arrows far worse than yours before we are heard again, but it doesn’t matter.  We WILL be heard, whether you like it or not.

No more irresponsibility.  Not in our name.  Not without a fight.

Sincerely,

A Taxpayer

Debts, Deficits, Taxes, and Tea Parties

In watching the MSM coverage of the Tea Party protests, the following arguments are used to try and debase the factual arguments of the protests:

  1. Obama plans to lower taxes on the majority of Americans while raising them on the rich.
  2. Obama’s budget cuts the deficit in half over the next 10 years.
  3. Right now tax rates are the same as they were when Obama took office.
  4. Most Americans are OK with their taxes.

These are all true, but none invalidate the point of the protests.  The protests are not talking about current taxes, they are talking about future taxes.  Each and every dollar borrowed today is a dollar taxed out of the economy at some point within the next 30 years.  This is a simple, undeniable fact.

When trying to figure out bad our future tax burden is, one number concerns us:  The National Debt.  This number is staggering, standing at $11,176,642,012,673 at the moment I type this.  According to the CBO, Obama’s budget will increase this debt by over $1,800,000,000,000 in just the next year.   So, while Obama is correct that his budget cuts the yearly budget deficit in half by 2019, that means that his spending plan will add a mere $900,000,000,000 to the national debt that year.  If the CBO estimate holds, the debt will top $20,000,000,000,000 in 2019.  This means that between 2009-2019, the amount of money borrowed against the full faith and credit of the US taxpayer will almost have doubled.

Say it to yourself… twenty trillion dollars.  That’s the massive future tax liability for the citizens of the United States being protested today.  The anger about this future tax liability is very real among those who see it.  While the tea party movement might get co-opted by big-spending Republicans and fade away, the sentiment that started it is as genuine, grassroots, and truthful as any protest movement in American history.

Government and Cyber-Security

News came out this week of a deeply troubling new bill from Sens. Jay Rockerfeller (D – WV) and Olympia Snowe (R – ME):

The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 introduced in the Senate would allow the president to shut down private Internet networks. The legislation also calls for the government to have the authority to demand security data from private networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule or policy restricting such access.

According to the bill’s language, the president would have broad authority to designate various private networks as a “critical infrastructure system or network” and, with no other review, “may declare a cyber-security emergency and order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from” the designated the private-sector system or network.

The 51-page bill does not define what private sector networks would be considered critical to the nation’s security, but the Center for Democracy and Technology fears it could include communications networks in addition to the more traditional security concerns over the financial and transportation networks and the electrical grid.

Maybe it’s not so bad. I mean, this could only be used in regards to our “critical security infrastructure” in a “state of emergency”, right? Yes, but (from Legal Insurrection):

The standards in the Act as to what constitutes an emergency, and what the President can do with the information, are unacceptably vague.

This is as bad as it looks. Once a president, whether it be Obama or a successor, wants to invoke these powers, a suitable emergency will be found. Any bets on what the first one will be? Obama is already using Chicago mob-like tactics to keep control over the banking system.

Actually, it’s worse. Not only does the bill grant the president dictatorial powers over the cyber-infrastructure of this nation, it weakens the security of that infrastructure:

The bill would also impose mandates for designated private networks and systems, including standardized security software, testing, licensing and certification of cyber-security professionals.

“Requiring firms to get government approval for new software would hamper innovation and would have a negative effect on security,” Nojeim said. “If everyone builds to the same standard and the bad guys know those standards it makes it easier for the bad guys.”

Maybe they won’t have to create an emergency. If they make the entire critical infrastructure open to the same exploit, a real one will come along in due time.

Also, notice our old friends licensing and certification. These practices are inherently slow and stifle innovation. To get a government-issued cyber-security license, one would have to toe the government line on what good security practices are. Cyber-security, though, is an ever-changing field, with the good guys and the bad guys locked in an eternal game of cat and mouse. Threats evolve in hours and days, while licensing can take weeks and months.

What happens in this new world of licensed and regulated security professionals when a self-taught hacker or college kid is playing around with some software and finds and exploit? Will it still be taken seriously, or will it be ignored because the discoverer doesn’t have the necessary license?

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, this bill assumes that the government is never a security threat. The US Government has already shown itself to be a threat to the security of private individuals with its insatiable need to snoop. Anyone remember warrantless wiretaps? Telco immunity for snooping on behalf of Washington? The PATRIOT Act? Carnivore?

For those who think that those were all abuses of past administrations, and that we now have a better man in power, think again. Obama and crew are currently negotiating the highly abusive Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. ACTA, as it’s called, obligates the US Government to conduct searches for pirated music and movies with no warrants or probable cause and criminalize the infringement of copyright.

By crafting this agreement, the Obama Administration is granting to the Presidency the power to snoop on any citizens’ computer at any time simply to prevent people from copying music and movies. While this might seem almost farcical, it opens up the argument that if the “crime” of piracy of digital files requires such sweeping interventions, then so must more serious threats to national security.

It gets worse, though, because we have another slippery slope of government that will intersect this. At a point in the future, using the justification of cyber-security, the US Government will mandate that all citizens run government-approved security software. The Rockerfeller-Snowe Cyber-Security bill is the first step towards this, requiring approved security software on “critical infrastructure”. Soon enough, though, some congressman will realize that the attacks on our critical infrastructure are coming from virus-infected PCs and that the government must do something about this. Then, it will be a crime to run a machine that is not secured in a government-approved fashion.

At that point, the government will be securing itself while compromising the security of each of its citizens. The private lives of each person who installs the government-approved solution will be open to the inspection of looky-loos and busybodies in the bowels of the leviathan. Those who choose not to, or worse, choose to secure their systems against the government, will face reprisal and even arrest for endangering the cyber-security of the nation.

Cyber-criminals are smart, decentralized, innovative, and agile. Our cyber-security must continually match or exceed this. Our cyber-security, as a nation, a society, and as individuals, is too important to entrust to the government.

Common Goals

I’m watching Barack Obama’s press conference, and he urged people to remember “their commitments to each other” and our “common goals” as a nation. Collectivist economic actions, by not focusing on individuals and their best interest, actually increase economic inefficiency and destroy wealth.

Instead of urging the people to change how they act and to support ever increasing government authority, Mr. Obama should focus on reestablishing the rule of law and stable money supply upon which our wealth creation engine depends. Every subsidy, every ad hoc regulation and program, and every run to the printing press do more to harm the economy than all the greed on Wall Street.

Many Americans are giving up luxuries to survive this economic crisis. The governing class, led by Mr. Obama, need to give up some luxuries too. They can no longer give themselves the luxury of using the Federal Budget as a social engineering tool. They can no longer give themselves the luxury of spending beyond tax revenue. They can no longer play Enron-like accounting games with the budget spending. Most importantly, they can no longer use laws and regulations as a tool for personal and political gain.

The population, which is the foundation of the economy, is weary of politicians acting as if they still have the luxury of legislating and spending for personal and political benefit in this time of crisis. For every restaurant dinner, necklace, vacation, suit, computer, TV, pair of shoes, or couch given up by an American consumer who has to stick by a budget, a politician should give up an earmark, a line item, or a pet program that does nothing to forward one of the US Government’s constitutional duties. Sadly, we will sacrifice luxuries while they take even more.

Logic Problems for the Single-Payer Cabal

Believe it or not, Jay Leno is not the biggest clown with that particular last name.  No, really, he’s not.  That dubious honor instead falls to my State Senator, Mark Leno.  Leno’s latest clown move is again introducing a single-payer health care measure that would impact all Californians:

The new version of the bill, SB 810, would provide medical, dental, vision, hospitalization and prescription drug benefits to every California resident and make state government the single payer of all benefit claims. Both employees and employers would be required to contribute to pay for the coverage.

So, in Leno’s California, every person would be dependent on a single agency to get health care. He sidesteps the issue by saying the following:

“It is not socialized medicine. Your doctor doesn’t change. Your hospital doesn’t change. Your clinic doesn’t change. The only thing that changes is who pays for the health care provision.”

That’s wonderful. It really is. I can choose my doctor, my hospital, my clinic, my medical marijuana club, and anything else. But to actually pay them and get anything in return, I have to crawl to a bureaucrat in Sacramento. That sure sounds like socialized medicine to me. However, I don’t just want to argue semantics about what is and isn’t socialized medicine. I want to take a look at how single-payer health care squares with some other sacred cows of the political left.

First, let’s take a trip back to the late 1990s. The fashionable thing among the left was to bitch about the big, evil corporation Microsoft and their monopolistic behavior with their operating system. I don’t dispute that monopolistic behavior is bad, but it must be remembered that this monopoly dealt with bits in a computer and was never complete. The fact that I’m typing this from Mac OS X is proof enough of that.

In comparison, the Leno bill comes off just a bit worse. Where the maligned Microsoft monopoly allowed other OS players in the space, the Leno bill creates a true, iron-clad monopoly. This brings up logic problem number 1: Why is a quasi-monopoly on computer software evil while a real monopoly on medical services is good?

Next, let’s come back to the present day and talk about the death penalty. Even after all the appeals and reexaminations of the evidence, innocent people still wind up on death row. The left, along with libertarians, argue that systems composed of human beings cannot justly hold the power of life and death in their hands.

However, the Leno bill would require that the State of California to hold the power of life and death in its hands in the form of authorizations and declinations of medical care. Here’s logic problem number 2: Why is it unjust for the courts to decide whether criminal defendants should die but just for a bureaucrat to decide whether an innocent person should die?

Finally, let’s visit a topic rarely touched on the pages of the Liberty Papers–abortion. The left argues that it is a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. There are legitimate questions about when a life begins, and that’s part of why the debate continues to rage.

The Leno bill places the choice about what happens to my body in the hands of a bureaucracy in Sacramento. This brings us to logic problem number 3: Why is choice for abortion sacrosanct while choice for all other procedures can be sacrificed for the common good?

How can the left support single-payer health care when it seems to go against their own principles? Discuss.

Reagan v. Obama: The quote-tacular showdown

Over at Pajamas Media, Roger Kimball offers up a nice compare and contrast of quotes between a great president and our current bumbler in chief.  Here’s an example:

Reagan: “One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. Most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can’t afford it.”

The current President of the United States: “As President, I will sign a universal health care plan into law by the end of my first term in office.”

The full piece is worth a read.

Stimulus vs. Stability

In Barack Obama’s first press conference, he says the following:

“It is absolutely true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth. That is and must be the role of the private sector…But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life.”

This shows a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the crisis.  The economy is driven to prosperity by those who plan for the present and the future, those who produce wealth today and deploy capital to continue producing wealth in the future.

The US Government has a role to play in this production of wealth, even though it is utterly incapable of producing wealth on its own.  It provides, at least it is supposed to provide, the stable foundation upon which an economy can thrive.  The US Constitution provides for the post office, post roads, the defense of the nation, the commerce clause, and a common currency–the physical foundation, the legal foundation, and the financial foundation.

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Who must suffer so others may profit?

One of my favorite TV shows is Babylon 5.  It offered interesting plots and much to think about.  The episode “Deathwalker” comes to my mind when thinking about the stimulus.  Jha’dur, a scientist from a vanquished enemy species, has become known as “Deathwalker” for her terrifying bioweapon experiments.  Now, she appears on Babylon 5 with the promise of immortality.  The price, it is revealed, is that for every life extended another must end.  Jha’dur knew that once this discovery was available, people would turn against each other, seeking to exploit each other for their own immortality.

The stimulus strikes me as being similar to this.  Obama, Pelosi, and the other Democrats selling this plan are focusing only on the gains certain parties will see.  No one is talking about where the wealth to fund this package will come from.  Notice I said wealth, not money.  While it is easy for the government to conjure money out of thin air, it cannot do so with wealth.

So, where will the wealth for this come from?  It will come from you, me, and anyone else who holds US dollars.  All our wealth stored in dollars will be diminished via the inflation tax.  Those who have saved, invested, and otherwise sought to provide for themselves in the future will be punished.  These are the people who have provided economic stability and prosperity for the nation for two centuries.

In addition, the productive workers of the future will also be punished, as they will be the ones paying back the interest on the wealth redistributed.  The current generation of people under 35 will spend their entire working lives paying the price for the excesses of the Obama stimulus plan.

This plan is a declaration of war on those who produce wealth and live responsibly, now and into the future.  Who must suffer so others may profit?  We do.

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