Archive for the ‘Privacy’ Category

Dana Milbank is a snarky leftist who writes for the Washington Post, but I have to give him credit for an amusing column today about the new big-brother diet guidelines from our incompetent federal government. Here are a few excerpts.

In the late 1970s, before the government began telling us what to eat, 15 percent of adults and 4 percent of children were obese. Now, after 30 years of Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines, 34 percent of adults and 20 percent of children are obese. …Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was a nutrition evangelist Monday morning as he rolled out the latest version of the dietary guidelines at George Washington University. …Vilsack said he can help fellow Americans to do the same – as long as they are willing to share with the government a few intimate details about themselves, such as how much they weigh, every morsel of food that passes their lips, and how they occupy themselves every minute of the day and night. …Undoubtedly, Americans would be healthier if they would follow the recommendations, but this sounds like TMI at the USDA. Using the drop-down “activity” menu on the website, you are asked to enter how many minutes a day you do such things as “dressing/undressing,” “sitting on toilet,” “sleeping,” “sitting quietly and watching television,” “slow dancing,” “singing in church,” “casino gambling,” “coal mining,” “washing dishes,” “wrestling” and “butchering animals.”

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Freedom, liberty, and common sense are all good things, which explains why I criticize the TSA’s bureaucratic approach to airport safety.

But I’m a glass-half-full guy, so here’s one good argument for the TSA’s new guidelines.

And since we’re having some fun at TSA’s expense, here’s how the Taiwanese interpret our policy.

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One of John Boehner’s first announcements after the GOP House takeover was that he would continue to fly commercial. This is in sharp contrast to Nancy Pelosi, who insisted on using luxury jets operated by the military. Boehner deserves praise for that decision, but he only gets two cheers rather than three since, like many other government officials, he is spared the indignity of being groped by the TSA.

This is wrong. The political elite should have to live under the rules that are imposed on the peasantry. Yes, it will be stupid and pointless for Boehner and other officials to be harassed by TSA, but it’s equally dumb for TSA to be frisking little kids from Minnesota, grandmothers from Kentucky, and frequent business travelers from Dallas.

And if we want to force the TSA to use common sense, letting politicians get some first-hand experience (no pun intended) with the process is a good idea. Here’s a blurb from an article in the New York Times.

The Republican leader, who will become the second person in line to assume the presidency after the new Congress convenes in January, took great pride after the midterm elections in declaring his man-of-the-people plans to travel home as other Americans do. In a time of economic difficulty, it was a not-so-subtle dig at Ms. Pelosi, who has access to a military jet large enough to avoid refueling for her flights home to San Francisco. But he is not giving up all the perquisites of power. …Congressional leaders or members of Congress with armed security details are allowed to go around security. The same privilege is afforded to governors and cabinet members if they are escorted by agents or law enforcement officers. Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said the Republican leader had neither requested nor received special treatment at the airport security line.

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We should always remember that the federal government may be the biggest problem, but that does not mean that state and local governments should be exempt from scrutiny. A good (or perhaps I should say bad) example of bone-headed stupidity by bureaucrats and politicians outside of Washington comes from Texas. A local school bureaucrats has given a student a detention for the horrible offense of eating a piece of candy her parents packed in her lunch. That clearly was a stupid move by the local official, but don’t forget that state officials also deserve some blame for a state law that limits so-called junk food in schools. I can understand if states (or, more preferably, local governments) try to serve healthier foods in cafeterias, but the foods that parents prepare for their own kids are not any business of politicians and bureaucrats. Period. Case closed:

A third-grader at Brazos Elementary was given a week’s detention for possessing a Jolly Rancher. School officials in Brazos County are defending the seemingly harsh sentence. The school’s principal and superintendent said they were simply complying with a state law that limits junk food in schools. But the girl’s parents say it’s a huge overreaction. “I think it’s stupid to give a kid a week’s worth of detention for a piece of candy,” said Amber Brazda, the girl’s mother. “The whole thing was just ridiculous to me.” Leighann Adair, 10, was eating lunch Monday when a teacher confiscated the candy. Her parents said she was in tears when she arrived home later that afternoon and handed them the detention notice. According to the disciplinary referral, she would be separated from other students during lunch and recess through Friday. Jack Ellis, the superintendent for Brazos Independent School District, declined an on-camera interview. But he said the school was abiding by a state guideline that banned “minimal nutrition” foods. “Whether or not I agree with the guidelines, we have to follow the rules,” he said. The state, however, gives each school discretion over how to enforce the policy. Ellis said school officials had decided a stricter punishment was necessary after lesser penalties failed to serve as a deterrent. http://www.khou.com/news/Candy-Gets-Third-Grader-A-Weeks-Detention-93033319.html

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David Paul Kuhn recently wrote about an interesting new approach to tax collection in the Keystone State:

Pennsylvania has a common problem. Hundreds of millions in unpaid taxes. And it needs that revenue. The state took the offensive with a $3 million ad campaign.

The television ad begins with a satellite view of earth. A serene computerized woman’s voice is heard. It sounds like a female version of HAL from the film and novel “2001.” The fictional Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic Computer. Yes, that HAL. There is a target in the ad. It’s centered on a homing beacon. The computer zooms in on the United States. Female HAL: Your name is Tom. You live just off of Fifth Street. Nice car, Tom. Nice house.

The satellite zooms. Target trained on southeastern, Pennsylvania. Beeping. Female HAL is locating you. 

Female HAL: What’s not so nice is, you owe Pennsylvania $4,212 in back taxes. Listen, Tom. We can make this easy.

 Zoom. We see a topographic city view. Beeping.

 Female HAL: Pay online by June 18 and we’ll skip your penalty and take half off your interest.

 Zoom. It’s a neighborhood block. The target is now on Tom’s house. Birdseye view. Beeping.

 Female HAL: Because Tom? We DO know who you are.


 The target buzzes over the word “YOU.”

 Creepy. And one does not have to believe black helicopters circle overhead to draw Orwellian conclusions. It’s reminiscent of Will Smith and Gene Hackman running from the rogue National Security Agency in “Enemy of the State.” The satellite follows them. Big brother knew where they were too. Pennsylvania’s problem is real. The state budget depends on $190 million from its tax amnesty program. It is yet another state starved for cash. Lawmakers are debating massive layoffs for state employees. Pennsylvania is pushing for tax revenue to fill the gap. Thus far, it’s working. In the first week, about 13,000 tax-amnesty applications were completed online. After all, female HAL knows where “YOU” are. The ad is a caricature of itself. It’s how Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” would skewer some crazed conception of Orwellian America. But like Pennsylvania’s problems, this ad is also all too real.http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2010/05/04/pas_orwellian_tax_hunt_theyre_tracking_you__105413.html

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In a great article written in response to the passage of the health care bill last week, Thomas Sowell argued that perhaps the biggest problem with a government controlled health care system is the inherent threat to privacy. 

The same argument can be made regarding increased government involvement in any area of life, including financial matters and banking, even if such intrusions are done in the name of “righteous goals” such as stopping tax evaders. 

Even the massive transfer of crucial decisions from millions of doctors and patients to Washington bureaucrats and advisory panels — as momentous as that is — does not measure the full impact of this largely unread and certainly unscrutinized legislation. If the current legislation does not entail the transmission of all our individual medical records to Washington, it will take only an administrative regulation or, at most, an executive order of the president to do that.

With politicians now having not only access to our most confidential records, but also the power to grant or withhold medical care needed to sustain ourselves or our loved ones, how many people will be bold enough to criticize our public servants, who will in fact have become our public masters?

Despite whatever “firewalls” or “lockboxes” there may be to shield our medical records from prying political eyes, nothing is as inevitable as leaks in Washington. Does anyone still remember the hundreds of confidential FBI files that were “accidentally” delivered to the White House during Bill Clinton’s administration?

Even before that, J. Edgar Hoover’s extensive confidential FBI files on numerous Washington power holders made him someone who could not be fired by any president of the United States, much less by any attorney general, nominally his boss.

The corrupt manner in which this massive legislation was rammed through Congress — without any of the committee hearings or extended debates that most landmark legislation has had — has provided a roadmap for pushing through more such sweeping legislation in utter defiance of what the public wants.

Too many critics of the Obama administration have assumed that its arrogant disregard of the voting public will spell political suicide for congressional Democrats and for the president himself. But that is far from certain. http://article.nationalreview.com/428968/point-of-no-return/thomas-sowell

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Here’s an excellent idea for all American readers. One of the guys who posts on National Review Online is urging everyone to identify themselves as “some other race” on the census form. And writing “American” next to that box would be an added bonus. The goal, he explains, is to undermine the government’s racial bean-counting intrusiveness. Forward this to every American resident you know.

Fully one-quarter of the space on this year’s form is taken up with questions of race and ethnicity, which are clearly illegitimate and none of the government’s business… My initial impulse was simply to misidentify my race so as to throw a monkey wrench into the statistics; I had fun doing this on the personal-information form my college required every semester, where I was a Puerto Rican Muslim one semester, and a Samoan Buddhist the next. …Instead, we should answer Question 9 by checking the last option — “Some other race” — and writing in “American.” It’s a truthful answer but at the same time is a way for ordinary citizens to express their rejection of unconstitutional racial classification schemes. In fact, “American” was the plurality ancestry selection for respondents to the 2000 census in four states and several hundred counties.

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According to the Sacramento Fox Network affiliate, a car wash in Sacramento recently came under investigation by the IRS and even received a visit from federal agents.  The cause:  The car wash owed a whopping four cents in backed taxes.  Certainly there is a valid “law-and-order” argument that even small infractions need to be addressed, but there is no reason that this case could not have been handled by a letter or telephone calls.
An unexpected visit from the IRS? That’s exactly what happened last Wednesday at Harv’s Metro Carwash in Midtown.

“I come to work, and my manager says, you’re not going to believe this. A couple of IRS agents just came in here demanding payment for back taxes,”said carwash owner Aaron Zeff.

And even more incredible – the amount.

“I looked at the letter and I couldn’t believe what I saw. The number was astonishing. Four cents,” Zeff said.

Coupled with late fees and penalties – coming to a total of $202.35.

“If we knew anything about it, if we received any correspondence we would’ve immediately addressed it,” Zeff’s attorney, Ashley West said.

They only learned about the delinquent debt this week, West added.

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Do my eyes deceive me? Has you-know-what frozen over? Something strange clearly has happened in the universe, because the Washington Post’s editorial page has published a very sensible piece about the Postal Service, noting the system is fundamentally unsound and stating that privatization is the only realistic long-term option:

Approaching the limits of its federal credit line, the USPS must change drastically or go bust. …Postmaster General John E. Potter…has acknowledged the scope of that challenge, and last week he proposed new product lines, efficiency improvements and workforce attrition to generate $115 billion in revenue or savings between now and 2020. But that’s not even half the projected losses. To really transform, the Postal Service needs congressional action. Some 26,000 of the Postal Service’s 32,000 post offices lose money. …There is only so much that can be accomplished without tackling the item that accounts for 80 percent of the Postal Service’s expenses: labor costs. To be sure, 50 percent of postal workers come up for retirement in the next decade, and that will help cut costs. But attrition has its limits. Management and labor must aggressively tackle uncompetitive wages, benefits and work rules — including no-layoff clauses that cover most personnel. …Given the state of technology, privatization is probably the only long-term solution for the USPS. But it is so saddled with legacy costs that no investor would touch it. If Congress gives management the tools it needs to meet the crisis, and if management uses them effectively — two big ifs, we admit — the Postal Service will have a chance to get its house in order and one day attract private capital, as European postal services have done.

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Andy Morriss, a professor at the University of Illinois Law School, is having a debate about so-called green jobs at The Economist. For some strange reason, the British magazine picked the nutjob Van Jones as his opponent (you may remember that he was forced to resign from the Obama White House after he was exposed for thinking the U.S. government was complicit in the 9/11 terrorist attacks). Andy has a much stronger argument, but see for yourself. And if you agree that government should not be engaged in corrupt, special interest pandering that destroys more jobs than it creates, then cast a vote for Andy’s side of the debate. Here’s an excerpt from his opening statement:

…virtually none of the analyses supporting green jobs programmes make calculations of net jobs. Shifting power generation from coal to solar undoubtedly boosts employment in solar energy but it also reduces employment in coal industries. Since solar power is more costly than coal power, the increase in energy prices wipes out jobs in other industries. If their employment effects are a reason to support these programmes, we need to know that the expenditures will actually create more new jobs than they destroy. …We know how to improve energy efficiency, develop new technologies and create new jobs: unleash entrepreneurs and take advantage of markets to solve what the Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich Hayek called “the knowledge problem”. Put simply, Hayek’s point, on this issue, is that we do not know enough to plan on the grand scale green jobs that proponents propose. http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/477

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