Monthly Archives: May 2013

Common Sense Or Tyranny?

Big Brother

Big government folks, people from gun control guys to vote control guys, should appreciate the idea of a biometric database.  The libertarian in me isn’t sure sure about this idea:

The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.

Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf)  is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.

Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.

This piece of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is aimed at curbing employment of undocumented immigrants. But privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in.

The ramifications are pretty scary.  How far are we willing to go for the sake of security?

The Logical Conclusion

Drones are here to stay.  You can go to Amazon and get your own for about $300.  And then, when it comes in the mail, you can do this:

Back in October, Alexis wrote a piece asking what rights do we have with regard to the air above our property. Walk onto someone’s lawn and you’re trespassing; fly over it in a helicopter and you’re in the clear — “the air is a public highway,” the Supreme Court declared in 1946. But what about the in-between space? Does the availability of unmanned aerial vehicles (aka drones, aka UAVs) throw a wrench in the old legal understandings?

Well, here’s where the rubber meets the road for this abstract line of questioning. The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog is reporting a complaint it received from a resident in the Miller Park neighborhood. She writes:

This afternoon, a stranger set an aerial drone into flight over my yard and beside my house near Miller Playfield. I initially mistook its noisy buzzing for a weed-whacker on this warm spring day. After several minutes, I looked out my third-story window to see a drone hovering a few feet away. My husband went to talk to the man on the sidewalk outside our home who was operating the drone with a remote control, to ask him to not fly his drone near our home. The man insisted that it is legal for him to fly an aerial drone over our yard and adjacent to our windows. He noted that the drone has a camera, which transmits images he viewed through a set of glasses. He purported to be doing “research”. We are extremely concerned, as he could very easily be a criminal who plans to break into our house or a peeping-tom.

The site adds, “The woman tells us she called police but they decided not to show up when the man left.”

We aren’t going to get the government to move on the drone thing until we start seeing private citizens begin to fly over private homes like this.

A funny aside?

As for the privacy concerns, one of the most important questions is what was being photographed. “If the camera on the drone was always aimed at the public street,” Villasenor writes, “then that’s very different than if it was capturing images into the home through the window.”

That’s illegal.  But this is art:

Residents in a multimillion-dollar Tribeca building are upset after learning a photographer who lives across the street has secretly been snapping pictures of them through their windows for a Chelsea art exhibit.

Photographer Arne Svenson, who lives in a second-floor apartment on Watt Street, told The New York Post his behavior does not violate his neighbors’ privacy. He compared himself to a birdwatcher.

“They are performing behind a transparent scrim on a stage of their own creation with the curtain raised high,” Svenson, 60, told the Post. “The neighbors don’t know they are being photographed; I carefully shoot from the shadows of my home into theirs.”

Svenson’s photos, which do not show his subjects’ faces, are being sold for thousands of dollars each at a new exhibition called “The Neighbors” at Julie Saul Gallery.


“But They Are Terrorists…”

I think that Coyote sums it up nicely:

There won’t be any direct order found telling the IRS to go hassle Conservative groups.  That’s not the way it works.  Obama’s style is to “other” groups he does not like, to impugn their motives, and to cast them as pariahs beyond the bounds of civil society.  Such and such group, he will say, opposes me not because they have reasonable differences of opinion but because they have nefarious motives.  Once a group is labelled and accepted (at least by your political followers) as such, you don’t have to order people to harass them. They just do it, because they see it as the right thing to do to harass evil people.  When Joe Nocera writes this in support of Obama in no less a platform as the NY Times, orders are superfluous

You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them.

These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America’s most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn’t care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that’s what it took…

He concludes by saying

For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests. But rest assured: They’ll have them on again soon enough. After all, they’ve gotten so much encouragement.

There are probably some deeply confused people in the IRS right now — after all they were denying tax exempt status to terrorists, to enemies of America.  They should be treated like heroes, and now they are getting all this criticism.  So unfair.

Jay Carney mentioned the other day that the White House and Barack Obama is responsible for setting “tone.”

I think that Obama has been clear that the Tea Party is the bad guy.  That’s the tone.

Legit Scandal


Recently ReflectionEphemeral posted on the IRS scandal:

On a scale of 1-10, the IRS scandal seems to me about a 3. It is improper to focus on one side’s fundraising groups. An overall examination of supposedly tax-exempt organizations would probably be worthwhile. But they didn’t audit or persecute people; they sent them additional questionnaires.

Recently, nickgb got me thinking that perhaps profiling groups isn’t that bad an idea.  In fact, it’s an idea that I have been a proponent of in the gun debate.  As such, RR may have a point.  Overtly political groups may need to be audited.  However, it might be nice if such political groups were audited in equal measure based on their ideology; right and left groups.

However, in RR’s post, he pointed out the fact that there maybe a bigger scandal:

If someone at the IRS actually took confidential information and sent it out, that’s unequivocally a crime.

Well, as it turns out:

ProPublica on Monday reported that the same IRS division that targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny during the 2012 election cycle provided the investigative-reporting organization with confidential applications for tax-exempt status.

That revelation contradicts previous statements from the agency and may represent a violation of federal guidelines. Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS sector that reviews tax-exemption applications, told a congressional oversight committee in April 2012 that IRS code prohibited the agency from providing information about groups that had not yet been approved.

As an interesting experiment I Googled “ProPublica IRS”:

Not one single major news source on the first page.  And when I include “CBSnews” in the search I do get a New York CBS affiliate and, at the bottom, a story about how the scandals benefits conservatives.  And even that story is lifted from Slate.

Anyway, it would seem that we now have a legit scandal.  We’ll see if it goes anywhere.

Wherein Obama Discovers The Market


During the healthcare debate, one of the alternatives to a government based solution was one where the market would be more free to act.  Right now, whether through insurance, private or one of the Medi’s, people are really spending someone else’s money.  This leads to two bad results:

  1. Over consumption
  2. No shopping based on price

When I’m the one paying for the services, I’m more careful on the services I buy.  Take my vision [please!  ha] coverage for example.  As I’ve aged I’ve gone through 4 phases of vision:

  1. Needing no glasses
  2. Requiring glasses to read – though my vision remained stable
  3. My vision began to deteriorate requiring new glasses often
  4. Full on transitional glasses that allow for gradient lenses.

In the past, when my vision transitioned from great to merely “kinda bad” I wouldn’t need new glasses every time I had my eyes check; my eyes did not get worse.  But because I had insurance that covered the cost of glasses, I would get a new pair each visit.  One for the bedroom, the home office, the work office and so on.  Today, however, my vision is changing.  Each visit requires a new pair of glasses.  And the cost of the new glasses is significantly more than the cost of those glasses; I am paying the large share now.

The result?  I push my vision purchases out as long as a I can.  I don’t get new glasses each visit – I push my way through older glasses for as long as I can before buying new.

On top of no longer over consuming vision services, I shop on price.  Because I now care how much the glasses cost, I find the best value.  In the past, I couldn’t care less how much the frames cost because I wasn’t paying for them.  To me, convenience mattered and if the office I was at had a product I liked, I bought ’em.

No longer.

Why is this important?  Because the government recently released how much hospitals charge for services:  [Hat tip to Ryan Grace]

For the first time, the federal government will release the prices that hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures. Until now, these charges have been closely held by facilities that see a competitive advantage in shielding their fees from competitors. What the numbers reveal is a health-care system with tremendous, seemingly random variation in the costs of services.

In the District, George Washington University’s average bill for a patient on a ventilator was $115,000, while Providence Hospital’s average charge for the same service was just under $53,000. For a lower joint replacement, George Washington University charged almost $69,000 compared with Sibley Memorial Hospital’s average of just under $30,000.

Virginia’s highest average rate for a lower limb replacement was at CJW Medical Center in Richmond, more than $117,000, compared with Winchester Medical Center charging $25,600 per procedure. CJW charged more than $38,000 for esophagitis and gastrointestinal conditions, while Carilion Tazewell Community Hospital averaged $8,100 in those cases.

Now, if we can just get a system that builds in market forces, the price of healthcare will come down without the need of a massive government solution.

Barack Obama And Being A Manager

Barack Obama

Listening to the back and forth that the Obama White House is contributing to surrounding:

  1. Benghazi
  2. IRS
  3. AP

I have noticed a pattern.  In each of the three scandals he’s facing, Obama has been eager to point out that he’s not been involved or knew of the activities.

Which brings me to the point:

What exactly DOES he know about?  What on earth does this man do if he isn’t aware of the activities of his direct reports?  How does he not know that Eric Holder is confiscating AP phone records as a result of an investigation of leaks?  How does he not know what Hillary Clinton is doing surrounding Benghazi?  And how in the name of heaven does he not know what the IRS is doing?

As nickgb help me realize, this may not be a case of scandal, rather, Hanlon’s Razor might be at work:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Though in this case, I like Napoleon’s version better:

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence


Introductions And Climate Change

Global Warming.Polar Bear

I have found a great new liberal voice, writer and thinker.  Further, he’s local.  Professor Steve Greene is a Political Science prof here at NC State University.  I firmly believe that the boys at PYM and the good Professor Scott Erb will find Steve’s insights, hopefully here, and at his own place, to be interesting and enjoyable.

I hope to see Steve here often.  Even if he’s wrong 😉

Anyway, while over at Steve’s place I saw one of his posts on climate change.  In it, I was reminded of a story that I’ve had in my stack for some time now.

Which is that global warming has stopped over the last 10-15 years:

OVER the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.”

Temperatures fluctuate over short periods, but this lack of new warming is a surprise. Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading, in Britain, points out that surface temperatures since 2005 are already at the low end of the range of projections derived from 20 climate models (see chart 1). If they remain flat, they will fall outside the models’ range within a few years.

Economist.climate change.1

I think it’s important to point out that this gets to the skeptic’s whole point.  That while the science that suggests higher levels of CO2 contribute to a warming planet, the positive feedback that is central to the alarmist’s argument is not at all understood or accepted.

The mismatch might mean that—for some unexplained reason—there has been a temporary lag between more carbon dioxide and higher temperatures in 2000-10. Or it might be that the 1990s, when temperatures were rising fast, was the anomalous period. Or, as an increasing body of research is suggesting, it may be that the climate is responding to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in ways that had not been properly understood before. This possibility, if true, could have profound significance both for climate science and for environmental and social policy.

I think that the jury is still out.  I don’t see indications of a catastrophic change that has or is going to occur.  Until then, I think that we need to continue to watch, to observe and accept the fact that perhaps humans only have so much influence on the climate of Mother Earth.


Financial Aid: Merit or Need


There is no question that education, through college, is critical to economic success in America.  Income and wealth are clearly linked to education achievement.  Therefore, it makes much sense to make sure that as many college ready kids actually make it to college as possible.  Even if this means that we provide financial resources, financial aid, to those college material kids who may not have the resources to pay for that education on their own.

However, the devil is in the details:  College Material.

We do not want to provide financial aid to kids who aren’t going to succeed at the collegiate level.  But you would never know it from reading media stories of what is going on in America:

WASHINGTON — Low-income students are increasingly bypassed when colleges offer applicants financial aid, as schools compete for wealthier students who can afford rising tuition and fees, according to a public policy institute’s analysis of U.S. Department of Education data.

The study by The New America Foundation said that colleges, in their quest to advance their U.S. News & World Report rankings, are directing more financial aid to high-achieving applicants in a bid to elevate the profile of their student population.

I had to read that twice:

  • schools compete for wealthier students
  • directing more financial aid to high-achieving applicants

How does a journalist for Reuters miss this badly?  On the one hand she is claiming that schools are competing for wealthy students.  Why?

…wealthier students who can afford rising tuition and fees…

Never mind that wealthy or not, the student attending the school is going to pay either with their own money or with the money given to them by financial assistance programs.

Yet, on the other hand, she reports that colleges are recruiting the smartest kids they can find.

Which is it?

It continues:

As part of their strategy to compete for the best students, colleges use merit-based aid, which does not take into account financial need. Under this strategy, institutions may, for instance, give four $5,000 awards to lure four wealthy students rather than award $20,000 to one needy student, the organization said.

Okay, so colleges want to admit the best and the brightest.  In order to do this, they invest on high achieving students.  I’m not sure why this is controversial or even surprising.

Now, the interesting question that I think Nawaguna misses is why are high achieving students coming from “students from the rich suburban schools”.

THAT would be an interesting study.

Obama’s Tyranny Speech

…hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some seperate sinister entity that’s at the root of all of our problems Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works.  They’ll warn that tyranny is just around the corner.

You should reject these voices.

Obama is talking about conservatives in general.  Republicans in congress and Tea Party republicans in specific.

He is referring to people who feel that we must ever be careful that government is only one day away from becoming a tyrannical mechanism that will restrict liberty.  He is referring to people, specific people.

Think those voices need to be rejected now?


Taxation And The Laffer Curve

This has been on my stack for some time.  I came across a story after reading a post by Dan Mitchell of CATO:

CIGARETTE-smuggling continues to soar in Ireland, with new Department of Finance figures showing that tobacco excise tax receipts are falling dramatically short of targets, even though taxes have increased and the number of people smoking has remained constant at 29 per cent of the population.

I especially enjoyed the assumed fact that economic gain made by the voluntary trade in an open a free market somehow first belongs to the government:

What Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins called “Premiership-style criminality” is behind the latest upsurge in smuggling, which is costing the state hundreds of millions in lost revenue.

Not one pause at the idea that the profits realized by selling tobacco from those who have it to those that want it should first be the property of the sellers.