Government Archives

NSA Kinda, Sorta, Actually IS Spying On Us

A while back, I gave my cautious approval to an NSA program that said it was just collecting phone call metadata; information about calls – like the phone numbers, and date & time – but not the calls themselves. We can get this same information about government phones, so keeping ours didn’t seem that big a deal. Still, it seemed a bit of overreach.

Well, we now have more information coming out of the NSA telling us that, well, they did make a few oopsies. They told Bloomberg News that, over the past decade, very rare instances of willful violations of NSA’s authorities have been found. Clever use of the passive voice there; no actual names of agents were mentioned. Another spokesman said that the actions were the work of overzealous NSA employees or contractors. Yeah, and just a few “overzealous” IRS workers in Cincinnati were responsible for the entire scandal of targeting conservatives.

Like most government wrongdoing, this is going to come out in dribs and drabs. Had it stopped with the revelation of phone call metadata, I could have been OK with it. But now we’re hearing about a few slipups here and later a few there.

I know, I know. Give government power and they’ll first take more, and then abuse it. Wow, now who could have anticipated that?

ObamaCare Proponent Wakes Up

Blogger Donald Sensing noted that someone writing at the very liberal Daily Kos website was rather irked that, due to ObamaCare, she’d wind up paying over $8000 a year for what she called “crappy, high-deductible insurance” in New York state. The writer notes, “This means we will all be required to pay steep premiums and deductibles but may not have the financial resources to actually access healthcare.”

You mean ObamaCare is not going to be the panacea its proponents claimed it would be? Color me meh.

She concludes , “I am reminded on days like today, that President Obama campaigned on the idea that people like me would see something like a $2500 reduction in health insurance costs. What was I thinking?” Don Sensing surmises that thinking didn’t enter into it. I’d say, wow, now who could have anticipated that?

ObamaCare(tm) Proponents Want Exemptions

The IRS will be one of the agencies collecting data for ObamaCare. Odd, then, that the National Treasury Employees Union, whose members include most of those IRS workers, is encouraging them to write their Congressman and protest being put into those very exchanges that ObamaCare proponents consider so wonderful.

Congressman David Camp has introduced legislation to force all federal employees out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and into the exchanges. Camp actually thinks that ObamaCare should be repealed, but if what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, why should government employees be exempt from this big government program? After all, the whole point is to get more people to participate so that (so the theory goes) insurance costs will be lower for those who need subsidies, right? The fewer the participants, the higher the cost for everyone, right?

And unions were the biggest backers of this plan. So, you have to wonder why this union is trying to get out of this. Oh, and DC legislators and their staff; they’ll be exempt, too. Subsidizing for thee, but not for me, so the saying goes. Or ought to.

What the Detroit Bankruptcy Has To Say To Us

[This is the script from the latest episode of my podcast, "Consider This!"]

Detroit, Michigan, formerly the auto-making capital of the US, if not the world, filed for chapter 9 bankruptcy protection on July 18th, becoming the current capital of big cities going under in the US. What brought Detroit under water is not really debatable; declining income and spending beyond its means. What is being debated are the causes of the two.

On the spending side, I think it’s no coincidence that the city has had essentially one party rule for the past 51 years. No surprise that the party in question is the Democratic Party. Detroit’s current budget deficit is believed to be more than $380 million, and its long-term debt could be as much as $20 billion. Rather than cutting spending, Detroit ignored the common sense lesson of living within your means, embrace the Paul Krugman idea that austerity kills, and died anyway, spending like there was no tomorrow. Well, there is a tomorrow, and it’s here.

When tax and spend had to be curtailed, because of a shrinking tax base, then borrow and spend kicked in. I suppose someone like Krugman would say they didn’t borrow enough. When that wasn’t enough, President Obama said that Detroit wouldn’t go bankrupt on his watch, and he tossed boatloads of money at the union-controlled, Democrat-voting auto industry, and pronounced it, merely on the reasoning that he had written a check, that Detroit was coming back. Yeah, no so much.

Now, even the Obama administration won’t touch them. They’ve stood up for their big spending principles, in DC and in Detroit, and reality has hit them upside the head with the mother of all clue-bats, as in “get a clue”. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are. Consistently spending more – far more – than you have will one day come home to roost. And everyone – both those from whom the money was taken, and to whom the money was given – will suffer. And it will affect the poor disproportionately because the rich have the means to escape.

And they did escape, which brings us to the income side of the equation. The riots of 1967 chased citizens and businesses alike out of the city, which only accelerated and existing trend, such that in the past 60 years, it lost 60% of its residents. But the riots weren’t the only reason. With corruption, over-promising and the requisite overspending, those that could read the handwriting on the wall did what they had to do. If you can’t change the government, change your location, and they did.

And if you’re inclined to lay the blame at the feet of greedy corporations that outsource jobs, Walter Russell Mead has some information that tends to suggest a group as, or more, culpable. The city’s $11 billion in unsecured debt includes $6 billion in health and other retirement benefits and $3 billion in retiree pensions for its 20,000 city pensioners. That’s “billion”, with a “B”. But now, these folks, whose union representatives negotiated this package, and now very likely going to get less than 10 percent of that. Like I said, everyone gets hurt, ultimately, with these kinds of policies. Those who got their benefits and hit the road are not unlike the folks who start a pyramid scheme. They cash in early and often, while those who get in later either get very little return, or lose out. The pyramid in Detroit has played itself out.

Walter Russell Mead, again, has a relevant warning for those in other cities who still think such policies are a good idea, because of their good intentions.

Progressive politicians, wonks, and activists can only blame big corporations and other liberal bogeymen for so long. The truth is that corrupt machine politics in a one-party system devoted to the blue social model wrecked an entire city and thousands of lives beyond repair. The sooner blues come to terms with this reality, the greater chance other cities will have of avoiding Detroit’s fate.

I would add that the sooner DC comes to terms with this, the better, for the same reason. And, working our way back in the political process, the sooner the voters of this nation come to terms with this, the better off we will all be. It may not sound, to the untrained ear, to be very caring, or fair, or socially just. But Detroit has a 47% illiteracy rate. 60% of its children are living in poverty. Its crime rate is 5 times the national average. The murder rate is 11 times higher than New York City. Is it caring, or fair, or socially just, to pursue policies that led to that?

If you continue to vote for those policies, then what visited Detroit will be visiting you soon enough. It may already be in the process of happening. Detroit just got there first. Who’s next?

Attorney Generals Are Not Judges

[This is part of the script from the latest episode of my podcast, "Consider This!"]

The Supreme Court said that the people of California have no standing to defend a constitutional amendment that they passed if the state won’t defend it. It’s now open season on laws that state administrations don’t like. Exhibit A.

Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane announced Thursday afternoon she will not defend the state in a federal lawsuit filed this week challenging the constitutionality of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, calling the prohibition “wholly unconstitutional.”

Who promoted her to judge? Whether or not it’s unconstitutional is not her call to make. The Attorney General represents the state and defends its laws; all of the state and all of its laws.

If a state Attorney General refuses to defend those laws, that’s an abdication of his or her primary responsibility; their oath of office. AGs do not (or at least should not) have this prerogative. Otherwise you’ll have one set of laws when one administration is in power, and another set for another administration.

The Supreme Court said that they’re leaving it up to the states to decide what marriage is. But are we leaving it up to the state governments or to the state’s people?

The Supreme Court "Proposition 8" Ruling

The Prop 8 ruling was perhaps more troubling than even DOMA. The Supremes decided, cutting across ideological lines interestingly, that the people of California had no standing to bring their own challenge against the ruling of a judge that Prop 8, which created a state constitutional amendment defining marriage, was unconstitutional. Here’s a graphic I found that describes the problem the best.

While I’m against true direct democracy (the ol’ “two lions and a sheep voting on dinner” analogy), the proposition feature of California law has a high enough bar to clear to get something on the ballot to safeguard that. But now the people’s will can be simply ignored, with the ruling of a single judge, and we, the people, have no standing to challenge it at the Supreme Court. Wow.

Edward Snowden was brought to the attention of the world by Glenn Greenwald, reporter for the Guardian newspaper in the UK. From him we learned that the government has been keeping what’s called “metadata” from every phone call made in the United States. By way of explanation, metadata is basically data about the data. If the phone call is the data, then its metadata would be the number calling from and to, the length of the call, the time of day, things like that. The data – the call itself – is not kept; just the metadata.

I’m of two minds on this subject. First, there is the idea that the government is large enough, and computerization is to the point where, all this data can be compiled and stored, in preparation for a search term to be named later. Something like that strikes a chord in just about anybody. Is it legal? But more than that, is it something the government ought to be doing in the first place? Part of me says, no, this is too much. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who wrote the 2001 Patriot Act, said that something like this was excessive and not the intent of the law. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, he pointed out that the key section of the law that allows the government to obtain business records requires the information to be relevant to an authorized investigation. And clearly, not every single phone caller in the US is part of an authorized investigation. The Patriot Act is a favorite target of some, a whipping boy to bring out every time there is a privacy issue, but you can’t blame it for this. This is government overreach.

But the other “mind” I have on this goes along with someone who was interviewed on some news show that I can no longer recall. He said, basically, that when the time comes that you need to find a needle in a haystack, first you need a haystack. If we recover a throw-away cell phone from a terrorist, how do we find out what other numbers it called or called it, to track down leads? Well, we need a database of all phone call metadata to find that out.

There’s a term from decades ago called the “pen register”. That’s really what we now call phone call metadata. A Supreme Court ruling from 1979 (when I graduated from high school to give you an idea of how old that is…well, and I am) said that the use of a pen register is not an invasion of privacy. In fact, did you know that, under the Freedom of Information Act, you or I could get this information from any government phone? Well, except the classified ones. But we have access to it. It’s not illegal, and at least for the government’s part, their data is just as available as your data. How big a deal can it really be?

Overtop of all this is the question of the proper role of government, and what should it be allowed to do; the question of what should be legal vs. what is. But I would say that there’s an even deeper question that needs to be asked. Regardless of what should be legal, do we trust our government? Will it stay within the confines that we, through our representatives, have set for it? Moving more to the personal, will the individuals, the people, in our government execute their powers in a responsible fashion?

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Are ID Cards Racist?

ObamaCare will require the use of an ID card. Does that make it racist? If not, would requiring an ID card to vote be racist? Or how about this; what if we used the ObamaCare card as a voter ID card? Would heads explode?

(Recent) History Repeats Itself

The housing bubble, anyone remember it? That’s when people who would not have otherwise been able to get credit to buy a house were given it anyway because the government pressured banks to do it. Everybody gets a home, and if you’re against this policy, you clearly hate the poor. Then the bubble burst, defaults were rampant, and more government programs had to be thought up to save us from the previous government programs. And, as Bruce McQuain notes at the Q&O blog, yes, the government’s meddling is what caused that sub-prime mortgage meltdown, which then was a huge contributor to the subsequent recession.

And now we have this.

The Obama administration is engaged in a broad push to make more home loans available to people with weaker credit, an effort that officials say will help power the economic recovery but that skeptics say could open the door to the risky lending that caused the housing crash in the first place.

President Obama’s economic advisers and outside experts say the nation’s much-celebrated housing rebound is leaving too many people behind, including young people looking to buy their first homes and individuals with credit records weakened by the recession.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to … create public policy to repeat it. It’s allegedly being instituted to allow the poor to participate in the housing recover, but you can be sure that it won’t be a temporary measure, because any attempt to return to semi-sane credit checks will, will, be demagogued, once again, as eeevil Republicans throwing the poor out on the streets. This has to prove without a doubt that Democrats only care about intentions, not results. Even if the results have just finished happening.

Short-attention span voters love this stuff. Obama just thinks anything Bush did he can do better, and in this case, he very well could. We just did this, like, six years ago, and Barney Frank told us it was all good and not to worry. And then we had to bail out a bunch of banks, because we made them make loans to people who couldn’t pay them back, because, you know, racist / sexist.

That Was Then, This Is Now: Sequester Edition

The President is distancing himself from the sequester bill that will trigger automatic budget cuts. He’s trying to push the blame on Republicans for not coming up with a way to avoid it.

But this is now. Here’s what he was saying then:

"Already some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple: No," Mr. Obama said from the White House briefing room Monday evening. "I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending."

Click on the link for the video. Then, he signed the bill and would now allow anyone to tinker with it. Now, he’s blaming Republicans for not tinkering with it.


Oh, and those "cuts"? Yeah, they’re "Washington Cuts"; just a reduction in the rate of growth. And not much at that.

Click on the picture for the accompanying article from George Mason University. This is much ado about very little.

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