Saturday, December 26, 2009

Why Universal Health Insurance Is Better Than Health Care Reform

I have a simple understanding of insurance: the larger the pool of lives insured, the lower the rate paid by each member of that pool.

Is there anyone who works with insurance more directly who can confirm or correct that understanding? Because if that is an accurate understanding, than we should be looking to cover as many people - as many lives - as possible. We shouldn't be looking for silly things like, "this person over here is not a citizen" or "that person over there has a pre-existing condition". Insurance by its nature recognizes that some people will face illness more acutely than others - we just do not know whom. This is the sole purpose for providing insurance: to prepare - in advance - for that risk of the unknown. Once the unknown has become known, is not the time to begin severing people from the commitment. Rather, that is the time to fulfill the promise made: whichever one of us is felled by the random dangers of life, the rest of us will be there for you.

You can count on us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

FISA, continued

In an effort to continue the dialog on what we need to convey to our President, I posted this comment to the blog on Get FISA Right:

I look forward to the call today, during which I hope we will continue to advance the development of our Open Letter to the President.

I was heartened to view President Obama speaking before the press in China, side by side with President Hu; the President of the United States of America and the President of the People's Republic of China - conducting a joint press conference before the media - and this after having held a town hall with students from across China.

I am sure the intelligence community anticipated this change years ago and so when they heard the president say:

"Finally, as I did yesterday in Shanghai, I spoke to President Hu about America's bedrock beliefs that all men and women possess certain fundamental human rights. We do not believe these principles are unique to America, but rather they are universal rights and that they should be available to all peoples, to all ethnic and religious minorities. And our two countries agreed to continue to move this discussion forward in a human rights dialogue that is scheduled for early next year."

They were well prepared to accept the notion that these are universal rights and "they should be available to all peoples."

It is not our residency or our citizenship in America that bestows upon us the right to not be searched - without cause - by the government of America. No, that is a right that belongs to us as a member of the human family and it has been bestowed upon us - irrevocably - by our Creator. This right is mine through birth - not through citizenship in the United States of America. Now, citizenship in the United States of America provides me with the knowledge that I live in a republic that recognizes this right - and it harms America by acting as though this right is of a political, transitory nature as opposed to one that is eternal and unchanging. That would be taking a top shelf right and placing it on the bar; on which level is it more likely to be broken?

We need not make any change to this letter at all, but if liberals do not support the notion that the all people throughout the world are endowed with certain inalienable rights, then we certainly have no cause to wonder when conservatives choose to ignore that central, organizing principle of our Republic. Conservatives blather on and on about the "power of free markets"; we should seek to take as many of our arguments back to free people as we can. This is how conservatives have taken and tarnished the concept of freedom, so much so that they can pretend to argue for freedom, while arguing to imprison "terrorists" indefinitely.

Liberals must wrest the notion of freedom back from those who have little understanding of the word and we must do so under the auspices of increasing our security: a police state can never be free.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More thoughts on FISA

As a means to developing a common understanding of what is meant by 'Getting FISA Right', Jim Burrows was kind enough to level set the scale and scope of the issue in this post here. I thought I might pivot off his work, to expose my own ideas about broadening the metaphor of our Republic: separation of powers.

At the end of the day, we are tasking our Government with the charge to defend our Republic against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Email may be one form our enemies choose to use for communication of whatever plot they might be developing - but it is still just communication between enemies that is of interest to us. And with that in mind, perhaps we need to return to the first step and assess our initial decisions, for a misstep at the start can lead us down the wrong path in the end - which is the problem we are here to address, no?

Our Constitution seeks to address this thorny issue of surveillance. It says:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

In practice, this has meant that:

"[E]xplicit search warrants based on probable cause and sworn testimony must be used for:

  • Any surveillance by the government within the US
  • Any surveillance by the US government upon “US persons” anywhere in the world.

On the other hand it is relatively well accepted that we allow the government to spy on the nation’s foreign enemies, and that the US courts need not issue warrants for spying on foreigners outside the US."

Is not our problem found right here? These words:

"well-accepted that we allow the government to spy on the nation's foreign enemies and that the US courts need not issue warrants for spying on foreigners outside of the US"

Take us away from the notion that there is an inherent right of People, to be free from unreasonable and invasive searches by Government.

Please note: I am not arguing that this is some new practice, or that this is some change in how the law was applied in the past. Rather, I am arguing that it is because 'this is how its always been done', that we have been led into this hornets nest of an issue.

In the days and nights when our Republic was founded, long distance communication was limited to mail delivery. Approaches that worked well then - assumptions that sufficed at that time - are now foundering on the volume and variety of long distance communication options available today. Additionally - and even more important than the varied communication platforms - is the reality that our world is more interconnected at both an interpersonal level and an international level, across all strata of our society. The transformations that our world has undergone - aided and abetted by our efforts to develop new (and hopefully, better) tools for communication - must also be accompanied by transformations in our understanding of our Laws, especially those we have codified into our Constitution.

So while previously, we have held that the Fourth Amendment only applied to US-persons, wherever in the world they might be, is not now the time to recognize that the better option is to define the scale and scope of those Constitutional protections as universal verities? When we say:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

We must realize that we can actually implement the full meaning of those words, in a world of email and text messages, can we not?

Take the example of a Sender and Recipient: is not the thorny issue of whether or not to get a warrant resolved by always getting a warrant? In this scenario,

  1. The Government (represented in example by the form of the Spy) has a reason behind his or her desire to intercept the communication of one or both: Sender and Recipient;
  2. The Spy - presumably an Agent-member of the Executive branch - operates under a set of rules codified into law by;
  3. The Legislators, one of which requires him or her to present that reason to a member of our Judiciary, as a request for a warrant to intercept and search the communications sent from/to the aforementioned Sender and Recipient;
  4. The Judge approves or denies the request for a search warrant, guided by the knowledge of past history fully presented by the Agent of the Executive.
Why is this not the better approach? If the Executive can be convinced of the rationale for a search, why cannot the Judiciary be convinced as well? And there can be no concern within the Executive about sharing this information with the Judiciary: just as Patriots can be found to serve within the Executive, so to can Patriots be found to serve within the Judiciary. Rather than search for exceptions to the rules, why not attempt to apply the rule more broadly?

Our Republic was founded under the principle of balancing Federal authority amongst three separate, but equal branches of government. What we have today is an Executive that frequently says to the other two: "Trust me". This should be abhorrent to us, as we know historically that this is what the Executive always says (in truth - it's what the Legislature and the Judicial powers always say as well). We need to force our Legislators to codify the rules of the road into laws, such that search warrants are always required for the interception of communications; we need to force our Judges to develop processes based upon these laws whereby they can support the volume and velocity of these requests; and we need to force our Executives to faithfully conduct themselves according to these laws, under the guidance of our Judges and the supervision of our Legislators. This will unite our Federal authority in common cause, but it will imbue them with separate responsibilities. This separation of concerns, will allow each of them to responsibly fulfill their duties, while preventing any one branch from asserting some inherent and innate position of dominance over the other two.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Do's and Don'ts of FISA Reform

So, the fine folks over here - are working to hold our President's feet to the fire, on comments he made during the campaign and even once in office. They have made great stride on the letter being composed by an interested group of individuals and I have made some small - minor, really - proposed changes.

Recommended changes:

Paragraph One, sentence one - replace 'executive' with 'Executive'

Paragraph Three, sentence one - restructure the sentence so that the specific date can be included, as in: "Two bills were the subject of the House Judiciary Committee Patriot Act hearing on Wednesday, XX/XX/2009"

Paragraph Four, sentence one - include the specific month, after the phrase: "last month"

Paragraph Seven, sentence one - can we just say: "In the House Judiciary Committee Hearing of XX/XX/2009, "?

Letter overall: let the word 'liberty' stand by itself. Preceding it with 'civil' just weakens the word; we have a Statue of Liberty, not a Statue of Civil Liberty. This is the 'sweet land of liberty' and that is what gets people out of the chairs to sing about!

These may all seem to be at the level of a nit-pick and perhaps they are; so herewith:

We need this letter to make clear in no uncertain terms, that the trade-off between security and liberty is false. Can we include the Franklin quote, even just by reference or allusion? Before our Republic was even Declared, much less founded, Franklin was in the Pennsylvania Assembly, noting -

Yet this is the very tradeoff that FISA asks us to make? We must always question the Executive, when it attempts to usurp authority from the other, co-equal branches of our federal authority! How can it be, that lawyers in the Executive branch can be completely convinced of the necessity for a search and yet lawyers in the Judicial branch cannot be similarly convinced? And lawyers in the Legislative branch need not even be consulted or informed? How is that possible?

And we cannot be cowed by exigent circumstances - not in a world in which I can get 24/7/365 answers to questions as mundane as "who was the Red Sox first baseman in 1987"; not when children as young as four have cell phones; not when people read tomes as lengthy as 'War and Peace' on screens that fit in the palm of their hands - no! 'Exigent circumstances' is naught but a process question and any society that has a 911 system to reach police officers at any hour of the day, is surely adept enough to divine a means to reach a judge from anywhere at anytime!

So, I hate to say: "Take it back. Make it stronger." - but there it is. We did not knock on doors and cajole our neighbors, so that this president might stand by and acquiesce to all of the inane ideologies that pass for conventional wisdom, within the confines of the four corners that are the design of our nation's capital - if no longer the practice. We put in that work, to elect this President, as we had some specific actions we needed him to take. One of those actions - just one and perhaps the most important one - was to restore our republic to a nation made of laws and not of men. We have bourn the brunt of what it means to be led by the hearts of men and we know that even the heart of the best of us can be turned by the darkest of circumstance. We did not vote for that.

No, we voted for a republic (if not a Republican) and a republic that holds dear and uplifts the notion of liberty.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Can we end the purportedly progressive war against Rahm Emanuel?

The Huffington Post has been engaged in rear-guard actions against Rahm Emanuel, ever since he was quoted as telling the left-wing to "Shut Up". Putting aside the wisdom of that remark, how does this war help the President reach his goals?

I used to think the incessant sniping from liberals, would help to make the President appear more centrist to independent voters; today's election results in VA have changed my mind. Congress has been slow-walking legislative requests from the President and this lack of success has destroyed the enthusiasm of the under-40 voters who pushed Obama over the top and we saw the effects of that in VA today.

That is the macro-level analysis. At the micro-level, the most recent assault on Rahm relates to a carve out of exemptions to Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX); here are some of my thoughts on that:

Not that I seek out parades, just to rain in them, but this story is pointless.

This key, "post-Enron" reform - has never been enforced!

Not once has any of the companies being permanently exempted by this bill, ever done what they will no longer be "required" to do.

Hard for me to see how central this provision is, when we saw last year bankruptcies that dwarfed Enron by huge orders of magnitude, bankruptcies on a scale that threatened the very foundations of worldwide economic activity - and not a single advocate has ever said: "Thank God we had Sarbanes-Oxley, or this would have been much worse".

In 2001, at the dawn of the Bush administration, Enron was the largest bankruptcy in the hisory of recorded economic history; by 2008, at the close of the Bush, it was no longer in the top five. The five who now lead Enron, were all larger than Enron and so all were subject to SOX-compliance; didn't mean a thing.

Who cares about SOX-compliance, when leveraged financial firms are creating assets of such toxicity that the wealth of nations are threatened?

Wake up, there is a real threat out there and these repetitive and silly attacks do naught but preclude the very outcome you profess to desire.

Rahm Emanuel was selected by Barack Obama; presumeably, you voted for Barack Obama to be the president for four years: how about you give him mire than ten-months to rectify all of the damage done by eight years of Bush the Lesser?

And you know what the worst part of this story was? The closing paragraph, the nineteenth and last paragraph of this assault on Rahm and, by extension, our new President was this:

"While this issue is small potatoes compared to other issues currently under debate, such as reforming the derivatives markets or overseeing financial institutions that are 'too big to fail,' it tells us a lot about what we can expect. Their message that regulation is just too burdensome and too costly should send a chill down the spine of anyone who still held out hope that this Administration is serious about regulatory reform."

Excuse me? While this issue is "small potatoes"? Every previous sentence decried this move as an act so traitorous, Benedict Arnold would foreswear ever being so vile - and at the end of it all, they mention it doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

I don't know the purpose of this attack on Rahm; I do not know the reason why: but in light of today's election results, can I be the only one questioning it?

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Ain't that America?

Home of the free, baby.

This is a nation 14-months removed from the demise of our investment banking sector. They all disappeared last year: first Bear Stearns crumbled under the weight of debt contracts - those toxic assets linked to CDO and CDS contracts that the finance boys talked them into writing; that was just an appetizer. Then, Lehman Brothers went belly up, after a desperate search for an acqusitiin partner. When Bear had gone under, folks thought it was just a temporary problem. But when Lehman fell, the remaining players scrambled for the warm embrace of the Federal Reserve. Those that survive - Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley - do so as bank holding companies, supposedly locked into golden handcuffs which prevents them from making the same, wild bets that felled their former compatriots.

The President then - George Bush - thought he was presiding over the end of the American republic. The Treasury Secretary scribbled some hasty notes on the back of a napkin and asked the Congress for hundreds of billions of dollars, which he could use to save the world - or at least the banks.

Well, that plan didn't really work and the backup plan didn't really work and the fall back plan has only been able to keep banks alive, not so much on economic activity.

But one thing has happened: the immediate threat to our economy - the worlds economy -is over. But the crazy thing is - instead of celebrating with a modicum of joy, people are out in the streets whining about debts that won't come due until decades after their death.

Bruce Bartlett has put more economic rigor into this conundrum:

Take a quick review and let me know if you can figure out why people - still mired in the effects of the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression are so eager to stop spending. It looks to me like we need to increase spending.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hi - my name is Derrick. And I'm a crank.

Isn't that my right, as an American? No, I'm not saying that there is - or even should be - a section of the Constitution, which expresses all of the rights and privileges of being a crank. What I am saying is this: the essence of our seperation of powers, federalism of rights reserved to the states and ultimately - the People, is that each of us as citizens has the right to be a crank.

In fact, with our Bill of Rights - speech, religions, guns, warrants, juries, silence and libraries full of rights unenumerated - it is clear that it is our duty as citizens to be cranks.

If we are not cranks - if we do not chafe at the bridle and spurs of authority - then we are not free.

And if we are not free, then we are slaves.

Me? I'm a crank.

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Obama and Biden Making Dollars

Morning Glory!

Have you heard your conservative friends rail against what they see as the excessive (outrageous) levels of expenditures from this administration?

Have you suspected that the hordes of "Tea Party Protestors" might somehow have allowed their fervor to exceed their analysis of the intracacies of the federal budget?

I mean, if they are so upset at a bill that runs 1000-pages in length, surely they grow faint upon direct encounter with all of the pages it takes to print out the entire federal budget!

Never fear, that inner voice in your head, telling you those protestors have a degree of truth equivalent to a curve with an inverse relationship to the volume of the hubub they have caused - is absolutely true!

And thankfully, we have former Reagan advisor Bruce Bartlett to make the case for us:

Now, we all know that there is no better way to lie than with numbers, but as this is mere subtraction, there is no room for wool to be pulled over our eyes on this one.

And there it is: our faith has been confirmed. More than merely appearing to be more competent than the Bush administration, the Obama administration has proven that to be true after mere months in office.

Happy days - as the song says - are here again!

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It's not over


Initially, I was elated with the announcement made by the Majority Leader of the Senate, when he said a public option will be included; and the fact that Medicaid has always been opt-out, convinces me that not a single one of those silly governors will even pursue asking their state legislatures to back out - and I would hope that Democratic candidates in every election between now and 2014 would make clear the folly of that behavior. Additionally, once we make it past that date, states will be locked into the national public option; how many Republicans can we run from office by pointing out that their very presence is a threat to the health of their citizens?

So that is the good news.

But I will not join in the cavalcade of those seeking to shower our elected representatives with praise for this eminently pitiable act. This option does not tie premiums to Medicare rates (which no one is forced to take, by the way. If a single nurse, doctor or hospital does not know how to make money on Medicare rated - then they can elect not to take Medicare patients. I would hope we would run from providers do incompetent, rather than plead to keep them.); but this refusal to tie public option rates to Medicare shows the hollowness of this victory. Furthermore, it is the very definition of a partial victory, as only those without healthcare will even be eligible to elect to walk away from their more predatory policies with private insurers; the rest of us will be forced by our employers into paying more of our hard, earned money to private insurers - all for the privilege of them doing . . . ?

Nothing. It is just the government guaranteeing profit for industry, which I used to think we only did for utilities, but has now expanding like a virus across our financial sector - and make no mistake: in our modern, looking-glass world, health insurance is a function of the financial sector of our economy. We should set our timepieces so that we might observe the onset of a similiar CDS/CDO meltdown of the health insurers; who knows - perhaps they will pull the life insurers down with them!

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Just in case

At times, my meaning can be obscured by the volume, so:

I am sure my goal is not clear, so let me place it here: raise the level of the debate from over any specific legislation up to a call to act to save our Republic itself.

2009 appears like it will close with a legislative victory on health care and that auger well for more legislative victories to come, but we know these things to be true:

- 2010 is an election year;

- Republicans are addicted to running on a meme of, "Democrats are traitors".

What better way to launch into an election year with a call to restore our Republic? Why cannot Democrats wrap themselves in the Constitution and make the simple case that the USA PATRIOT Act needs to be repealed as it is un-Constitutional. Furthermore, why should not Democrats turn the tables and reveal the hypocrisy that underpins FISA itself: the notion that communication can be viewed by agents of our government - merely because it is electronic as opposed to paper - is insulting to our Constitution and completely unnecessary to our security.

Think about it: the original FISA legislation is predicated on the notion that one branch of our government is absolutely convinced that somebody is about to do something extraordinarily dangerous to the lives of Americans and the order of our society, so they need to surreptitiously surveil this somebody. The Constitution absolutely considers this case.

The Judiciary is also a branch of our government. If the left hand cannot convince the right hand that the stove is hot, then maybe the stove is not hot. Access to Judges or time to wait before Judges can rule is naught but a worse case scenario used to define an entire solution - but the original FISA approach ignores the very technology that can provide a simple solution. Imagine that: the complaint is that technology is "different now" and so the old rules "no longer apply" and that "the Constitution is not a suicide pact"; these are all memes trotted out to obscure people from one simple fact: the government has access to and use of the most sophisticated technology on the planet. In most cases, the use of this technology is limited to the Executive branch, which then allows them to snow technology-inept judges with scary stories.

Today - and for many years now - we have 911 lines staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week; it is more than plausible to see how we could construct a hotline to access judges at any time and at a moment's notice. With existing technology, we can set up an instantaneous online conference call, with video recording and audio recording as well. A shared workspace can be put up to allow the Judge to see just what the agent of the Executive in need of a warrant is seeing and this workspace - and the edits made to it by both the Judge and the Agent - can be recorded as well. Heck, if we need to ensure that an on-call attorney is there to represent the interests of the person (perhaps even anonymously) who owns the property to be searched, that can be accommodated with just one more line added to the bridge.

This is America; surely we have a surfeit of lawyers to fill these roles and all of them easily can be outfitted with proper technology - phones, computers, PDA - to enable them to complete their tasks.

You want a search, get a warrant. If you cannot convince an "unelected judge" of the necessity for your warrant, then your information is not as good as you think.

An Open Letter to Barack Obama, President of the United States of America

So, I hooked up with some cats who think that FISA is wack and as I happen to agree, I penned the below and offered it to them. In the expectation that this is the sole place it will ever be published, I present to you:

In the hope that we can tweak the President's adherence to his first, last and sole responsibility, I might introduce our ask like this:

Dear President Obama,

On a bright and cold day from earlier this year, 'round the world was heard a man to utter this oath:

"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Was that man you? Our ask is not impudent. We ask because our Constitution was written to constrain executive power - not to expand it; it was written to ensure that the people retained as much of our Natural Rights as were granted to us by the very presence of Life itself - and to reserve to government solely those rights as needed to ensure - as our Constitution describes our work in forming "a more perfect union"; to:

". . . establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity[.]"

You sir, as someone who has spent many years teaching the meaning, the core concepts that guided the development of the document that defines our very Republic, know far better than most how central the idea of restrained and contained Executive authority is to our Republic; and as such you know full well the scope of the crime that was foisted upon our Republic by the passage of that Orwellian-named USA PATRIOT Act. No, with your history you need not citizens such as us to remind you of either the Tenth Amendment - and its closing clause - or even of the Ninth Amendment and its import to our Republic, along with every other word contained within our Constitution; words are the means to meaning and you have this knowledge already within you. With this knowledge and with your words across the long campaign season of 2007 and 2008 and with your actions as President of these United States - you know full well that the time to change our errant Path has come.

And with that, we ask of you the following:

- begin now, work on repealing the USA PATRIOT Act;

- task your legislative director with drafting language that will restore to us our Fourth Amendment protections and end the fallacy that presumes merely because communication is electronic, it has naught the power of these words -

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

- explain to the public, the scale of the insanity that has taken ahold of our body politic and of our agents we have put forth to serve our nation now, in this new, "national security" era; an insanity that has engendered the fear that merely because communication is electronic in form rather than on paper that somehow the government is then gifted with the authority to rifle through personal communications, with naught but unsubstantiated allegation in hand;

- and finally, we ask that you prepare to announce your proposed legislation - including a summary of the text and a full discussion of the supporting rationale - during your first State of the Union Address next year.

Mr. President, when you step before both Houses of Congress, on that last Tuesday in January, we need you to commit to us that you did not merely recite the oath of office, but that you understood the meaning of the words you uttered. Mr. President, we need you to convince us of your intentions and that you are indeed committed to the faithful execution of your duties as President of the United States of America. Mr. President, you should not leave that platform before our assembled Congress on that night until you have spoken exhaustively on how - from the moment you awake each day and through to until you return back asleep each night, across every single day of your Presidency - you have done, intend to and will do: ". . . to the best of [your] ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Show your commitment to us by showing your commitment to upholding the Constitution that defines us as a Republic. Demonstrate your understanding of the principle that you cannot "save us" by acts that destroy the very fabric that unites us as a people.

Thank you, Mr. President. We are praying for your success and for the continued success of our nation. We make these prayers not at the expense of others but in concert with them, for we seek shared success with all of the children of the world, for we know that these political constructs are but comforting fictions and the Truth is that we are all one human Family. Mr. President, we hope you do wish as we do wish, that God continues to shed his grace on this nation we call, America and upon all of the Peoples of the world.

You have much work to do.

Godspeed, Mr. President.

The Assembled Citizens of the United States of America

It's been a long time. I shouldn't of left you

That's it? 2009 is over?

But I'm just getting started!