This is not an argument for more secrecy.

Give it to the Department of Homeland Security, it carries it implements its stupid ideas with a blazing gusto.

New York City is about to become a laboratory to test ways of strengthening the nation’s defenses against a terror attack by a nuclear device or a radioactive “dirty bomb.”

Starting this spring, the Bush administration will assess new detection machines at a Staten Island port terminal that are designed to screen cargo and automatically distinguish between naturally occurring radiation and critical bomb-building ingredients.

And later this year, the federal government plans to begin setting up an elaborate network of radiation alarms at some bridges, tunnels, roadways and waterways into New York, creating a 50-mile circle around the city.

If a terrorist’s goal is to create as much destruction as possible, this might help prevent that. If a terrorist’s goal is to create destruction and fear, this will do nothing. How much difference is there if a Staten Island port terminal blows up instead of a building in New York? The Bush administration has already shown it’s willing to embrace that fear of fear to a great extent. This won’t change that.

In the end, which logic do we want to embrace?

“This is just total baloney,” said Tara O’Toole, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration, where she oversaw nuclear weapons safety efforts. “They are forgetting that no matter what type of engineering solution they try in good faith to come up with, this is a thinking enemy and they will look for a way around it.”


Benn H. Tannenbaum, a physicist and nuclear terrorism expert at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, said the system would never create anything close to an impenetrable barrier, particularly for a nuclear bomb, since the required ingredients have low levels of radioactivity and can easily be shielded. But the project still might be worthwhile, he said. “If nothing else, it makes the terrorist think twice before they do something like this,” he said.

We can assume they’ll just do something else, or we can assume they’ll think twice and presumably decide against trying. Terrorists are deranged but they’re not stupid. I choose the former logic.

Subsidize¹ my broken TV remote.

Following up on an issue I wrote about more than a year ago, this entry from Technology Liberation Front mentions an interesting argument by those who favor helping Americans negatively impacted by the looming mandatory switch from analog to digital broadcasts. I haven’t seen this angle in this context, but it’s quite instructive of the nonsense politicians use to sell us every more government intrusion and control.

Commerce has been under pressure from — among other places — Congress to include these forgotten basement televisions in the program. In particular, a November letter from John Dingell and 19 other members positively waxed poetic about the issue: stating that millions of consumers would be “disenfranchised” and that the original Commerce plan “disadvantages the poor, the elderly, minority groups, and those with multiple television sets in their home.”

More on disenfranchisement and multiple televisions in a moment, but I want to challenge Congressman Dingell’s initial claim first. It’s a bit presumptuous and insulting to lump the elderly and minority groups into the poor, no? There are no elderly Americans who can afford new televisions, or at least new converters for existing televisions? There are no minorities who can afford the same? This isn’t about helping anyone in need. It’s creating an artificial requirement and then satisfying that requirement with public funds. It’s a political ploy. While that’s obvious to everyone, it’s still shameful. If we need to talk about “the poor,” let’s do that. But don’t make assumptions just to get key constituents invested in a plan they probably don’t need.

Now, to the other claims. This says it as well as I could hope, so I’ll quote the entry:

Maybe it’s just me, but I had never thought of “those with multiple television sets in their home,” as an oppressed minority. And “disenfranchise”? This isn’t voting rights, it’s television. In fact, its not even that — its the right to a third TV in your basement. In fact, its the right not to have to pay $50 (the expected price of a converter box) to get that third TV in your basement to work.

Is there any burden left that Congress expects us to shoulder ourselves? I fear the answer.

¹ Yes, I’m kidding.

Incentives Matter

I don’t understand people who refuse to believe that basic economic incentives can be ignored or legislated away with nothing more than noble intentions. First, the premise:

As you know the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not have some form of universal health care. Over the past year or so several forms of “mandated” health care have been proposed: Massachusetts, Gov. Schwarznegger in CA, Wyden, Edwards. I will diary another week on why any “mandate” plan, tried no where else in the world, cannot work well. But for now let’s quickly look at all those other systems that really are in place elsewhere.

I don’t understand why mandate is in quotes there. Both states want to require specific actions and expenditures by its citizens. That sounds like a mandate. Perhaps the DailyKos diarist meant to put health care in quotes. Moving on.

Why do we need to really know how other countries do it?

Well, they all have better quality of care and outcomes than we do. And they control costs better.

Better quality of care? Better outcomes? Cheaper? Dubious, at best. Broader scope of who gets covered, perhaps, but that is not the same as quality of care and outcomes, and certainly not costs. The better strategy here would be to look at what’s preventing us from reaching that broader scope of who gets covered with superb health care without a pre-determined solution. Supporters of universal coverage appear to have analyzed the economics and found that economics is a right-wing conspiracy imperfect at meeting needs. I disagree:

The most highly-privatized system in Europe is probably Switzerland. Even there, private insurance companies are required by law to be nonprofit, their premiums, benefit structures and plans are set by the government, they are required to community-rate (i.e. they are not allowed to screen out the sick and deny them coverage, the fundamental way that U.S. insurance companies make money), and – get this – if one of them happens to enroll a healthier population and make more money, they have to give it away to the companies that made less.

I don’t understand how this is supposed to be privatized. If the context is just that it has the least government interference in Europe, okay, I guess it could pass such a claim. But “privatized” is not a word I’d use to describe that scenario. Forced non-profit status and revenue redistribution is hardly a free market solution.

To figure out the long-term flaw, start with the foundation: there’s no profit incentive. Socialism is a bad assumption because it reduces freedom when even one person is uninterested in participating, but let’s first fight the fight further along in the process. What’s the incentive? What motivates people to keep coming to their jobs? What motivates people, once there, to control costs? What motivates people to innovate within a system designed to first control cost? I’m at a loss. Someone please explain what I’m missing.

I’m not getting that answer from this diary, so I’ll excerpt what comes next.

Can you imagine U.S. health insurance companies being any more likely to go for that than for single-payer? They might as well go out of business! The idea that a system like that is going to make a proposal more “politically feasible” is totally ridiculous. That’s why I say in the talk that just as fundamental to the idea of “one-payer” is the notion that for-profit insurers must be eliminated. Also, the added cost of the Swiss multi-payer system makes it the most expensive. The reason we advocate single-payer for the U.S. is that it saves more money, AND it is also “ready to go out of the box” because we already have one single-payer system (Medicare!) and all the infrastructure and know-how ready to make it work.

Several questions arise from that. What about the investors in those for-profit insurers? I understand that many liberals view capitalism as bad, but retirees hold shares in those for-profit insurers. Pension funds, both private and government, rely on those companies to diversify portfolios. What do we do when we eliminate for-profit insurers? What about the blue-collar workers who’ve had promises made to them? Why hate them through this plan? Whatever the solution, I bet the answer includes Social Security.

The Swiss system is the most expensive. The only alarm bell to go off here is that the multi-payer aspect makes it expensive? How intentional and pre-ordained does the path to that conclusion have to be ignore the missing incentives in the Swiss system? Without the promise of profit, there is no incentive to control costs. Someone else will presumably cover whatever expenses arise. This is not the structure of a healthy system.

The end of that excerpt is the best. We already have one single-payer system that works. Forgive me for asking dense, obvious questions, but if Medicare works, why is there complaining that poor people can’t get insurance coverage? If it works, they’re getting the health care they need. Do we care about health care or health insurance? This seems like little more than misdirection to get more government control in more areas. It’s a feel-good solution being promoted only because it feels good to tell people what they should have, without incentives. Once again, count me out. I’m not interested.

Link via Balloon Juice because there’s only one DailyKos diary I read.

Thought Experiment

In the past I would probably apologize for this week’s plethora of circumcision posts, but a wise friend reassured me that I shouldn’t be concerned with posting too much on any one topic. The message I took was that I should write what’s relevant and what I’m passionate about. Still, I try to keep the pace slower than “All Circumcision, All the Time.” I won’t pass up discussing the topic, though, when I can illustrate some useful facet or put some context on a point by making a comparison with another story. For instance:

A man who police said entered into a sex pact with his girlfriend and her 15-year-old daughter pleaded no contest to felony sex charges.

Authorities say Fitzgibbon’s girlfriend was afraid of losing him while she recuperated from gastric bypass surgery, so she arranged for him to have sex with her daughter for two months.

All three of them allegedly signed a contract that allowed the girl privileges such as piercings and hair dye in exchange for the sex acts. She testified earlier that she and Fitzgibbon had sex two to three times each week for two months last summer.

The girlfriend, whose name is not being made public to protect her daughter’s identity, is scheduled to stand trial in February on three counts of criminal sexual conduct.

Nothing needs to be said on this case specifically because the disgusting nature of both adults’ (alleged) actions is readily apparent. While everyone is focused on the behavior of the man involved, the mother’s behavior is equally appalling. But if her action didn’t involving pimping her daughter, would we be outraged? Since her (alleged) action did involve pimping, should we be outraged?

The answer to at least the latter question is simple for most people. It is for me. The distance between what would be allowed with the former versus the latter is not as great as it might appear. With infant circumcision, our societal desire to preserve a non-existent parental right pushes us close to the idea that children are property. I’ve heard parents make that claim to me, that they have the right to circumcise their children because the child’s body belongs to them as they see fit. Most people don’t circumcise from this extreme stance. Unfortunately, the outcome is the same for children boys.

I’m stuck, though, because circumcision is not medically indicated in the overwhelming majority of cases. With respect to surgical need, there isn’t one. Preventive intent is worthless because the protection can’t be known. The surgery is purely cosmetic in its effect. We disregard that and leave this non-essential decision to parents. Because it is non-essential, it should be unacceptable. It’s not viewed as such. Whether we intend it or accept it, boys are treated as property. What other actions would be logical extenstions with that realization? If children are property, why should sex be any less acceptable than circumcision or ear-piercing?

Does the answer change because the story is about a parent pimping a daughter? Would we have the same reaction if a father pimped his daughter to his (the father’s) girlfriend? The answer should be yes, so the question is mostly rhetorical, but can I expect that reactions to my scenario would resemble the distinctions provided when comparing male and female circumcision?

Unacceptable Notions

The United Nations is concerned:

More parents are turning to medical clinics to perform genital mutilation, wrongly assuming that it spares girls physical and psychological damage, a U.N. agency warned Monday.

The U.N. is specifically concerned about girls because it’s full of hypocrites. I’ve discussed that before, so no need to rehash it here. Yet, looking into its concern is informative. In this context, the United Nations is worried that parents are making female genital mutilation (FGM) more palatable by turning it into a clinical procedure. What the U.N. now fears for girls sounds painfully similar to the basic history behind the growing acceptance of male circumcision (MGM) in America. Physicians became the new priests. The technique improved, but the logic didn’t.

The practice leaves lasting physical and psychological scars, in addition to the risks it generates during childbirth, the U.N. Population Fund said.

The comparison between each procedure leaving physical scars should be obvious enough, although far too many people believe the circumcision scar(s) that remain on the penis are somehow normal. As for psychological scars, the only difference I can decipher is that female genital mutilation is often performed on girls old enough to understand what’s being done to them, whereas male genital mutilation in “civilized” countries occurs primarily on those too young to consciously remember the surgery. Many tout this aspect as a benefit.

Obaid also warned that in some nations parents were subjecting “younger and younger” girls to the practice to avoid refusals to participate. Girls generally undergo the rite before the age of 10, often without anesthesia.

If children remembering the surgery is what the U.N. is concerned with, it should cheer these parents for sparing their daughters the memory. Instead, the U.N. correctly gasps at such an obscene development. But why the disparity? Why should girls be protected, yet when the same fact pattern occurs in boys, it’s wise medical practice? In some parts of the world, males are not circumcised until they approach puberty. They’re old enough to remember the anticipatory buildup. Even then, when the comparison is particularly direct, the United Nations (and other organizations) never fail in remaining quiet. Why? I’ve argued before that basic human rights require more than a clean operating room and good intentions. Surely gender does not fall into that realm of more.

In related news, the Population Reference Bureau declared today the 4th International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Cutting (pdf), complete with a symposium. I don’t link this here to indict their work. I’m sure it’s useful and any effort to end medically-unnecessary genital cutting on unconsenting individuals will generally get my support. But the glaring omission that the other half of the population is equally at risk must be highlighted. At the symposium I attended in August, the organizers focused on non-consensual genital cutting. Boys and girls deserve equal protection from unnecessary surgery.

“Soak the rich” is not shared responsibility.

I haven’t had time to work my way through John Edwards’ proposed health plan (pdf), but I’ve read enough to know that it’s a preposterous joke that would end in fully socialized health care. No thanks. But instead of summarizing such a silly idea, I’d rather briefly explore Ezra Klein’s analysis of the plan. (Link courtesy of Balloon Juice.) I suspect it’s a fair representation of a good swath of left-leaning liberals who buy into the economically unsound view sold by most prominent Democrats. Consider:

In other words, the public sector will finally be allowed to compete with the private sector, and consumers will be able to decide which style they prefer. For Democrats, this is a significant step forward. From there, the plan offers the usual mix of sliding subsidies to ensure affordability, individual mandate to universalize coverage, pay-for-performance promises, and public health fixes. You’ve heard those bits before. What’s new, and what’s important, are the community rated health markets that include public insurance. Indeed, the plan satisfied every plank of my progressive health reform test from last week.

The plan will cost between $90 billion and $120 billion a year, and according to Edwards, taxes will have to be raised to pay for it. Readers should remember that this is the first full health reform plan from a major candidate in the 2008 election. As such, it has widened the field of the debate, and unless the other candidates want to explain why they lack the boldness of Edwards’ plan, they’ll have to offer similarly comprehensive proposals. What they will have to match is full community rating, a public insurance option, total universality, scaleability towards more public involvement, and a willingness to propose something comprehensive enough to require revenue increases to fund. In other words: The goalposts have been moved. To the left.

I don’t like this at all. The public sector has no business competing with the private sector. Aside from the centuries of data demonstrating that private markets work better, the public sector isn’t tasked with such endeavors. It must tackle public concerns like national defense. Individual choices of managing personal risk is entirely different. The public sector can’t know what my preference is for medical insurance. Inevitably, I will be forced to pay for something I don’t want or need, or I will be forced to pay for something for someone else that I don’t believe is appropriate. Why should a third-party be involved in that decision?

From what I’ve seen of Mr. Edwards’ tax plans with respect to health coverage, he believes that the rich should pay more and that the IRS can find unpaid taxes to minimize the new burden. Nonsense on both counts. The “rich” have no obligation to the “poor,” just as no man has any specific obligation to another man. That’s what individual, private sector transactions are for. People can create their own network of obligations and commitments. With such a radical shift, and massive increase in the tax burden of a few, those proposing such a change must prove why their new path is justified. If consumers can decide which version they prefer, why will some still get stuck with the bill for those who prefer the other? Using the barrel of a government gun to make me pay for someone else’s choices is wrong, regardless of how much money I make.

Of course, Mr. Klein’s entire premise is absurd, so everything preceding his final point adds little but easy counter-arguments. “Comprehensive enough to require revenue increases” is an ideological assumption, not a practical foundation. It shouldn’t be hard to see the byzantine mess that can evolve if bold vision requires only greater revenue. Too many supporting universal, taxpayer-funded health care seem confused that poor people receiving inadequate care and groups of people lacking health insurance are the same problem. They are not. You can solve one in this debate. Either everyone gets coverage and medical care becomes rationed, or people in need of medical care who can’t pay for it get the specific, immediate care they need, with the question of who pays being a separate discussion. If it’s the latter, this babble about universal health care is a utopian dream. If it’s the former, why do supporters believe that worse health care for most Americans is justifiable to give poor people what they’re generally already getting?

The short version is better. Wishing it so and making it so aren’t the same action.

I laughed at the expense of the bigots.

The ramifications if this idea passed would be horrific, but we don’t need to worry because it won’t pass. But it expertly demonstrates animosity directed at gays through public policy.

Proponents of same-sex marriage have introduced a ballot measure that would require heterosexual couples to have a child within three years or have their marriages annulled.

The measure would require couples to prove they can have children to get a marriage license. Couples who do not have children within three years could have their marriages annulled.

All other marriages would be defined as “unrecognized,” making those couples ineligible for marriage benefits.

Even the organizers acknowledge that it’s absurd, but they’re correct in what it will reveal. For example:

Cheryl Haskins, executive director of Allies for Marriage and Children, said opponents of same-sex marriage want only to preserve marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“Some of those unions produce children and some of them don’t,” she said.

But what about the children? Isn’t that what hate supporters like Ms. Haskins have argued, that same-sex marriage would harm children. So this proposal brings up a wonderful question. If not “for the children,” then what? Naked bigotry is the only answer that seems to fit.

The anti-logic of folks like Ms. Haskins could be carried further than even this plan. Why not a law that, if the two parent, one man and one woman household, breaks up or dissolves for any reason, the state takes custody of the children and places them with a one-man-and-one-woman married couple? Aren’t those children better off being raised in such a home? Let’s eliminate divorce, while we’re at it.

Someone remind me which side is being absurd.

Fiscal Denial

The Wall Street Journal’s blatant partisan blinders never stops driving me nuts amusing me. From today:

Politicians are typically late in picking up trends, so it will be interesting to see how long it takes Washington to acknowledge the big story in the Fiscal 2008 budget that President Bush unveiled yesterday: To wit, with a little spending restraint, Congress could balance the budget in no time.

Or President Bush could stop signing the spending increases. I’ve read that it can work as a constitutionally-provided strategy.

The news Mr. [Kent] Conrad won’t broadcast is that over the past three years the federal deficit has shrunk by 58%. The Congressional Budget Office–not the White House–is estimating that the current year’s deficit (for fiscal 2007) will fall to $172 billion. That’s not bad given continuing Katrina relief spending, $30 billion for homeland security, and a couple hundred billion or so to fight the war on terror.

Only a partisan would offer the White House credit for (not really) proposing to (partially) clean up a mess it created. But the best bit arrives in the conclusion:

The best news in yesterday’s budget may be that Mr. Bush seems to be rediscovering some fiscal nerve. His proposals won’t raise taxes, while using the power of the market to combat problems in health care, and putting a tight leash on domestic discretionary programs. Defense gets the bulk of spending increases, as it should in a time of war. Maybe we’ll finally get a debate over national spending priorities.

A tight leash on discretionary spending? Not so much, when analyzing the numbers honestly. Holding on tightly when the leash is fully extended is not what the Journal’s editors are saying, but it’s much closer to the truth. And about that war… America has expressed how it feels about the war and the current “extra more of the same” strategy. It’s logical to infer that it wants to fund that with a budget increase? How?

Remind me how it’s simple and harmless.

Circumcision risks are rare but quite real:

An eight-day old baby sustained serious injuries to his penis during a circumcision ceremony held at a Bnei Brak event hall Sunday evening.

The baby was rushed to the emergency room at the Sheba Medical Center, where he is currently undergoing surgery to stop the bleeding.

In the interest of fairness, also from the story:

“The baby was not in a serious condition and we brought him to the children’s ward at Sheba. I assume that the mohel had cut too much of his penis during the circumcision,” [Magen David Adom paramedic Shai] Pinchas said.

I wonder if the baby boy thinks he’s not in serious condition, given that an extra piece of his penis was removed with the original “extra” skin.

I don’t know how serious this is.

If you need to break the oppressive chain blocking you from using someone else’s property on your own terms, resourceful individuals are working to make sure you can have whatever you want. Behold the WiFi Liberator:

Wifi Liberator is an open-source toolkit for a laptop computer that enables its user to “liberate” pay-per-use wireless networks and create a free, open node that anyone can connect to for Internet access. The project is presented as a challenge to existing corporate or “locked” private wireless nodes to encourage the proliferation of free networks and connectivity across the planet. The project was inspired by the ongoing “battle” between providers broadcasting wireless signals in public spaces, in particular: corporate entities, wireless community groups, individual users, and proponents of open networks. Like my Wifi-Hog project, the Wifi-Liberator critically examines the tensions between providers trying to profit from the increasingly minimal costs associated with setting up a public network and casual users who simply want to see the Internet transform into another “public utility” and become as ubiquitous and free as the air we breath. The project targets pay-per-use wireless networks as often found in airports, other public terminals, hotels, global-chain coffee shops, and other public waiting points.

I’ve traditionally recognized such liberation as theft.

It’s irrelevant how minimal the costs associated with setting up a public network happens to be. Price and value include more than just expense. Bandwidth supply is not unlimited at any one point. For users who have a critical need, however legitimate, they can have the access they need if they’ll pay the price. Casual users need not pay or use the service if they don’t like the price. If it’s not profitable because enough people won’t pay to cover those minimal cost, the business will adjust or die. As long as there’s a profitable model, someone will find it. That is how (closer to) free access should and will arrive.

Via Boing Boing