Laissez Faire Links: Government Shutdown, Delaying the Obamacare Mandate, the Morality of Abortion, and Myths Against Capitalism

What would a proper government shutdown look like?  Why will President Obama need to delay his mandate provision?  Can a woman be charged with homicide for aborting her baby?  Did capitalism cause the 2008 financial crisis?

  • Ari Armstrong over at The Objective Standard talks about a government shutdown that would be welcomed.  His brief piece Toward a Shutdown to Celebrate makes the point that most government functions are superfluous, and there are many.  Beneath the umbrella of laissez-faire capitalism, the proper function of government is strictly limited to protector of individual rights.  He states, “In order to protect rights, the government needs to run an effective military, police force, court system, and the aspects of government necessary to support them. Those, and nothing else, are the essential functions of government.”
  • Forbes contributor Scott Gottlieb discusses problems the new government healthcare exchanges are having out of the gate.  Why President Obama Will Have To Delay His Health Insurance Mandate makes the case that technical problems with the virtual exchange rollout will necessitate a delay in the requirement for those uninsured to purchase coverage.  His prognosis is not optimistic: “The Administration started building these systems late, and rushed them online, without perfecting these networks. Working them out now, in real time, is going to take months, and maybe a year.”  With that large of a delay, the Obama Administration will have to backpedal on its threat to penalize the uninsured.
  • Just a little more from our friends at The Objective Standard tells us about a possible Colorado ballot measure that would effectively criminalize any and all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.  The measure would go further though.  In addition to calling for “homicide prosecutions for killing the unborn,” the “Brady Amendment” violates a women’s moral right to choose how she lives and what is best for her and her body.
  • Did Capitalism Cause the Financial Crisis?  This is a short, but invaluable video regarding the common myth that capitalism failed, resulting in the 2008 financial meltdown. Yaron Brook, Director of the Ayn Rand Institute, states that this is erroneous because a true system of laissez-faire capitalism did not exist prior to 2008.  What did exist was a degree of government intervention that distorted the market, leading to bubbles in asset prices that never would have existed under natural market forces.  It is no coincidence that the three most highly regulated industries – housing, banking, and mortgages – were those that failed.  Pay particular attention to his comments on the Federal Reserve system.  For more information, see my discussions of the Federal Reserve.

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TSA Discusses “Big Brother” Type Surveillance

Big Brother (via Google Images)

Last August Forbes blogger Andy Greenberg alerted his readers to a new and even more invasive practice from the TSA.  Scanning technology has now been adapted to fit inside “roving” vans, and talk says that stationary, walk-through units and vans will be used at large-scale events and venues as well as airports.  Officially called Z Backscatter Vans – after the x-ray technology employed – they “bounce a narrow stream of x-rays off and through nearby objects, and read which ones come back. Absorbed rays indicate dense material such as steel. Scattered rays indicate less-dense objects that can include explosives, drugs, or human bodies. That capability makes them powerful tools for security, law enforcement, and border control.”  I am sure it does, but I would not count on our government using these devices to secure our boarders.  Given recent developments with the ATF, one should not count on any degree of border security anytime soon.  According to the Center for Public Integrity, as federal prosecutors built a case against Mexican drug lords, the ATF purposely let hundreds of guns pass into the hands of “straw buyers with the expectation they might cross the border and even be used in crimes.”  Such actions by federal organizations – employing surveillance on civilians while handing over weapons to foreign drug lords – should lead to questions among the public as to our government’s priorities.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) also points to the fact that such surveillance tools have been in the works since 2006. (You can find the report they acquired from DHS here.)  Of particular concern with these surveillance methods is the illegal and invasive deployment – not to mention the potential health effects – of such technology. According to a more recent piece by Greenberg, additional plans for public surveillance have been discussed with various organizations.

“One project allocated to Northeastern University and Siemens would mount backscatter x-ray scanners and video cameras on roving vans, along with other cameras on buildings and utility poles, to monitor groups of pedestrians, assess what they carried, and even track their eye movements. In another program, the researchers were asked to develop a system of long range x-ray scanning to determine what metal objects an individual might have on his or her body at distances up to thirty feet.”

As per their website, Siemens is a global company that deals in renewable/green technologies such as electric cars. Specifically, their site will lead you to believe they deal only with industrial infrastructure, energy technology, and health care.  Perhaps roving vans capable of scanning thirty feet to peer inside one’s bag or purse, inside one’s pockets, or even analyze a person’s eye movement is now considered by those in Homeland Security as a necessary part of infrastructure. Not to mention the fact that these vans will not be marked, but will undoubtedly remain as inconspicuous as an unmarked policy cruiser.  Such practices are not ‘extra’ security measures; they are invasive, offensive, and unacceptable.

Rapiscan Eagle M45

Another organization awarded contracts in the deal is Rapiscan Systems, a long-time favorite of the TSA.  Headquartered in Hawthorne, California, they also have additional facilities in Finland, India, Malaysia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.  Moreover, their surveillance technology is employed in numerous venues including airports, government and corporate buildings, correctional and prison facilities, postal facilities, military zones, sea ports and border crossings.  In concern over the TSA’s increasingly invasive scanning and pat-down practices, The Hill reported Rapiscan’s presence in the government surveillance industry last year.  In 2009, the company was rewarded a contract worth up to $173 million and has spent nearly $3.6 million in lobbying since 2007.  According to the article, “Their parent company, OSI Systems Inc., “has an active political action committee. During the 2010 campaign, it made more than $60,000 in campaign contributions to candidates and committees, according to FEC records.”  However, more startling figures are available from Reason Magazine. Brian Doherty published the following on March 3rd:

“Rapiscan and its parent OSI Systems, and their subcontractors have donated a combined $1.75 million to federal politicians in the past decade, according to data provided by the MapLight Foundation, of Berkeley, California. Rapiscan and OSI also spent $2.2 million in lobbying from 1998 to 2010, MapLight found.”

Such figures suggest at least the possibility of a moral hazard (and I believe I am being generous here).  Moral hazard or not, such procedures blatantly violate Fourth Amendment rights protecting citizens from unreasonable searches. Regarding the program itself, EPIC’s staff counsel Ginger McCall stated, “These technologies are a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches, as travelers undergo a search without any suspicion of wrongdoing.  Whether or not this program has been rolled out or could be rolled out in the future, it needs to be shut down for good.”  Moreover, EPIC’s lawsuit against the TSA, filed last year, is concerned also with the potential health effects of “backscatter and active millimeter wave technology,” the primary concern being the effects of a concentrated dose of radiation on the skin.  Some fear this could result in increased rates of cancer cell generation.  Hearings begin on March 9 in Washington D.C.

When privacy becomes a matter of political penetration (via orwellsdreams.wordpress.com)

We should all be following this development. If we allow such policies to be implemented, they will certainly follow us (pun intended). One more point to make, and perhaps the most important.  Surveillance of this type is yet another example of government expansion into forbidden areas.  The evidence is out in the open: a decade of eroding our rights and trampling the Constitution beginning with the US Patriot Act, perpetually catering to the elite neoconservative agenda typified by increased defense spending and U.S. interventionism under both parties, and a media organization so embedded within government itself that watching the nightly news is no more democratically effectual than voting for the lesser of two evils.  What we are left with is a country not our own. We pay taxes to an outdated institution based on the traditional feudal notion of aristocratic privilege, and for what?  So that they may safeguard their interests at the expense of ours – and with our tax dollars.  The war on terror begun under President Bush was simply the new panacea of fear that replaced worries perpetuated by the Cold War.  I am not saying such attacks are not a threat.  What I am saying is that such threats are vastly overstated, and to take the word of a Washington bureaucrat whose campaign contributions are dependent upon defense contractors is counterintuitive to liberty and sound judgment.  One must judge each and every situation according to what they know, not what they are told.  Until we learn to learn for ourselves, we are at the mercy of the Court.  Think of your children.  What will their futures be like?

See my related post – TSA: Is Privacy an Ultimatum?

Internet Censorship on America’s Doorstep via COICA: Free Speech in Jeopardy

via Google Images

The worldwide web is perhaps the most democratically friendly invention since the printing press was rolled out by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450.  Besides its more typical uses for entertainment, commerce, and social networking, the internet acts as a universal portal by which I can connect to a friend in Japan or a protester in Libya.  Indeed, the internet is credited with much of the mobilization across the middle east that has resulted in the manifestation of democratic principles. Many of us followed the protests in Cairo via twitter not only because this social medium is live, but more importantly, because it transmitted the protests directly from the protesters themselves – a rare phenomenon among mass media outlets around the world.  As I type this, I Facebook friends in Oregon, search for the latest read on Amazon, and follow the struggle of middle-class America in Wisconsin.  The web has revolutionized everything on the planet because it has revolutionized the one fundamental aspect of our lives – our mode of communication.  In effect, the basic premise of the internet is its inherent decentralization of information and communication – a patently paradoxical development to the centralization of our federal government.

Perhaps then, the recent bill put forward by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to censor internet traffic is considered by those behind the proverbial iron curtain as the next logical step for effective government expansion.  The Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA) has been on the congressional docket since it unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last November (a list of the 19 Senators who voted for COICA).  Backed by the recording industry and much of Hollywood, the feds claim the bill combats growing issues of copyright infringement across the net. Effectively, it would allow the Attorney General to issue an order of seizure for any domain name system (DNS) on grounds of it being “dedicated to infringing activities.” Such ambiguous language is increasingly more typical of federal statutory law and is responsible for much of the outrage, namely that the bill is a threat to free speech and privacy via censorship.  Mike Masnick of techdirt.com does a nice job explaining why COICA is not simply a bill to combat copyright infringement, but is a “bill for censorship.”

Not all of Washington is behind COICA however.  According to Media Freedom International, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) successfully blocked the bill last November.  But in December, Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized eighty-two domain names and ten more last month to much controversy on the legality of such measures.  Electronic Frontier Foundation highlights the implications of ICE’s seizures on COICA.

We’ve gotten an early glimpse of how this provision might play out through recent enforcement efforts by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) involving the seizure of domain names. The latest ICE action highlights an important point about COICA: the bill would take a seizure mechanism available under criminal copyright law and make it explicitly available in a civil context as well….

Criminal copyright infringement is infringement committed “willfully” and in the context of various specific circumstances. Significantly, the websites targeted in the most recent ICE action appear to have merely linked to infringing content. That is, they did not themselves violate any of the exclusive rights of copyright owners that would constitute direct infringement. The ICE agent who signed the affidavit explicitly states that the ten seized domains point to what he calls “linking” websites—i.e., websites that contain “links to files on third party websites that contain illegal copies of copyrighted content.” (He also points out that these linking sites “are popular because they allow users to quickly browse content and locate illegal streams that would otherwise be more difficult to find.” Sound like any search engines you know?)”

The dangers of COICA and any similar legislation are very real for all Americans.  Specifically, COICA mandates compliance from all communications services including encrypted e-mail providers such as Blackberry and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Skype.  Daily Censored’s Irene North explains the disregarded dangers to which many Americans remain ignorant or simply ignore.

“The average voter is almost completely unaware of this situation. They are either uninformed or don’t care about wiretapping. The AT&T scandal passed them by and they believe that their lives are pretty much the same as ten years ago. If they do happen to be informed, they don’t understand that this technology is directed right at them…

Americans in particular should be concerned, given the fact that the government is trying to legalize spying on its own citizens. They can already declare American citizens as terrorists simply by what they say, as well as trying American citizens as terrorists outside of civilian courts. Given the privacy implications to remove secure and private communications, the government can determine on their own whether or not you are a threat. This means any type of political dissent could potentially be quashed by labeling you a terrorist and removing you from public life?”

Moreover, North highlights a repeatedly ignored aspect of broad legislation, namely that the targets of such legislation will be the only parties equipped with effective workarounds.  “Any terrorist who knows what he/she is doing will have written their own encryption that isn’t accessible to any government and they certainly aren’t giving out the master keys for decryption.”  This familiar complaint is also made clear over Second Amendment rights to bear arms. Simply outlawing guns is not going to deter an individual already engaging in illegal activities.  In addition to COICA’s infringement of liberties, it also has economic consequences as well.  The Cato Institute notes the extraordinary burdens this legislation would place on outside parties, particularly increased transaction costs.

“Under COICA, when the attorney general accused a domain name of being “dedicated” to copyright infringement, the courts would issue orders not against the owners of the domain name (who may be overseas) but against domain-name registrars and the operators of DNS servers here in the United States. This means that thousands of systems administrators would be required to maintain a large and constantly-changing list of blacklisted domains. This is a significant and unfair administrative burden on private parties who have absolutely no connection to infringing activities.”

Degrees of ambiguity in legislation leave more room for statutes to be used for equally ambiguous purposes, which often entail additional bureaucratic burdens on outside parties.  Perhaps then such burdens beg the question as to why the legislation is deemed necessary in the first place.  Senator Leahy’s original rational played on the financial fears of the public.  He stated:

“Copyright piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods are reported to cost the American economy billions of dollars annually and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. That is why inaction is not an option, and we must pass online infringement legislation in this Congress before rogue websites harm more businesses, and result in more lost jobs.”

This seems to be the ace-in-the-whole for Washington politicians and bureaucrats alike.  Just scare the public into submission via scenarios of terrorist plots and financial Armageddon, and they will back any legislation proposed, no matter how invasive.

Check back for more to come on this fascinating betrayal of liberty.

Update:

Considering that the COICA bill resurface in the middle of last month, here is a decent list of some more recent sources. Courtesy of the theneointellectual.

ObamaCare Misleading and Constitutionally Flagrant

Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection an...

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Perhaps one of the most dubious myths in American history is that the free-market, in most cases, leads to monopoly. Thus, government intervention has been deemed the only savior of the free-market since the early days of progressivism nearly a century ago.  Within this context, Yaron Brook and Don Watkins dissect ObamaCare’s so-called victory over “preexisting conditions.” The authors focus on three issues relating government involvement to the inefficiencies we typically see as characterizing the health care debacle:

(1) our tax code,

(2) mandates at the state level – what individual states require to be offered in any given health care package, and

(3) insurance blindfolds, which dictate to insurance companies how they should factor various risks.  In effect, this is equivalent to social planning by the government via setting artificial guidelines to determine the price of a given commodity (price-fixing).

These three areas highlight the inefficiencies associated with health care today, but are typically laid to rest within the dungeon of laissez-fair economics.  The net result of this is government expansion and takeover of health care for all Americans.

“Washington’s control of medicine has grown slowly, evolving piecemeal over decades. Even before ObamaCare, half of all heath care spending was controlled by the government.

The general pattern of the expansion works like this: advocates point to some group in real or alleged dire need and declare that Washington has a duty to act; Washington eventually does. It started with the poor (Medicaid) and the elderly (Medicare). Then came the uninsured in need of emergency care (Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act). Then came middle-class parents (S-CHIP).”

Click for full article→

F.A. Hayek was of the position that any government takeover of industry or commerce is an assault on liberty.  In his infamous A Road to Serfdom regarding the inherent dichotomy between freedom and socialism of any kind, he states:

“What our generation has forgotten is that the system of private property is the most important guaranty [sic] of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.  It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us, that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves.  If all the means of production were vested in a single hand, whether it be nominally that of “society” as a whole or that of a dictator, whoever exercises this control has complete power over us.” (my emphasis, p. 115)

So is ObamaCare really a government takeover of health care.  Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says no, as she makes an artificial distinction between federal and state intervention.  “The Affordable Care Act puts states in the driver’s seat because they often understand their health needs better than anyone else – and that is why it is so frustrating to hear opponents of reform falsely attack the law as ‘nationalized health care’.”  It seems that our leaders in Washington fail to grasp the concept that government interference is not limited to federal involvement.  Any interference with my ability to purchase a commodity, whether it concerns price, composition, or knowledge about that product, is an affront to liberty and the free-market.  Therefore, such a distinction between state and federal carries little weight in the grand scheme of ObamaCare.  Rather, the distinction we, as free Americans, need consider is that between public and private.

via Google Images

Peter Suderman makes that distinction.  He asks “what difference is there between a public system where the government taxes and spends your money, and a ‘private’ system where the government forces you to spend your money in the same way?”  If you can honestly answer that there is a difference here and that force plays no part in ObamaCare, then I invite you to recheck your premises.  Not only does force enter the equation along lines of economic freedom, but the Obama administration’s refusal to abide by Judge Vinson’s ruling in Florida renders ObamaCare constitutionally flagrant. Tracy Schmaler of the Justice Department made it abundantly clear that the Obama administration has no intention of following Vinson’s ruling.

“We are analyzing this opinion to determine what steps, if any — including seeking a stay — are necessary while the appeal is pending to continue our progress toward ensuring that Americans do not lose out on the important protections this law provides.”

However, through the end of last year, the Obama administration granted four waivers to Florida, Ohio, New Jersey, and Tennessee along with over 700 individual waivers granted to various organizations who simply cannot afford the higher benefit caps.  It seems as though Washington bureaucrats refuse to read the writing on the wall.  Despite ObamaCare’s infringement upon free commerce and liberty, its constitutional flagrancy, and its fiscal irrationalities, our leaders in Washington – and many of us around the nation – still act from and base what we regard as fact upon broken-down ideological ties to party politics rather than using our minds to make sound judgments.  Perhaps a reminder from one of our founders, Thomas Jefferson: “I am not a Federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men…Such an addiction is the last degredation [sic] of a free and moral agent.  If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all” (American Sphinx, p. 124).  After all, it is our ability to judge with a free conscience that makes us free, not our loyalties to any organization.  The issue of government outgrowth is not one of party politics.  It is nothing less than an issue of self-determination, the only barometer of a free individual.

Ignoring Florida Court Ruling, ObamaCare an Affront to Liberty

 

(via Google Images)

The Cato Institute’s Michael F. Cannon and Ilya Shapiro discuss uncertainty surrounding the debate over Judge Vinson’s ruling on ObamaCare and the mixed reactions among state officials.  Whereas Wisconsin’s Attorney General feels a sense of relief at Vinson’s decision, Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell is looking for advice. However, one thing is clear: as of now ObamaCare is unconstitutional on grounds of the individual mandate. Below is a passage stating what Vinson’s ruling means and its impact on specific areas of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Moreover, it is not unreasonable to argue that Vinson’s ruling applies to the nation as a whole. After all, this lawsuit facially attacked the law rather than just challenging its application to particular parties. This interpretation of Vinson’s ruling would stop ObamaCare dead in its tracks. Under that reading, and absent further judicial action:

ObamaCare’s so-called “consumer protections” — which are driving premiums higher, pushing Americans out of their health plans, and exposing patients with pre-existing conditions to medical underwriting — are now invalid.

ObamaCare’s tax hikes, including the 10-percent tax on indoor tanning services and higher taxes on consumer-directed health plans, are now void.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services may no longer distribute grants to states to fund ObamaCare’s high-risk pools, review premium increases, or set up health insurance exchanges.

ObamaCare’s political payoffs, including the $250 checks Medicare is sending to millions of seniors, the direct subsidies to employers who offer retiree coverage, and the infamous “Louisiana Purchase,” must now cease.

HHS must stop implementing the long-term care entitlement program that Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D.-N.D.) called “a Ponzi scheme of the first order.”

Click here for article→

As Cannon and Shapiro argue, ordinary citizens, employers, and insurance companies are at a loss.  It could be at least six months before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the Obama administration‘s appeal.  With billions of dollars and the entire restructuring of the health care system at stake, many feel the only constitutionally and fiscally prudent avenue is to rescind all aspects of the legislation until the judicial process plays out.

However, the Justice Department is not sitting down without a fight.  Peter Suderman points out that Vinson’s failure to issue an injunction has prompted clarification.  Tracy Schmaler spoke on behalf of the Justice Department: “We believe it is important to put to rest any doubts about the ability of states and other parties to continue to implement these critical programs and consumer protections provided under this statute.”

The seal of the United States Department of He...

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In addition, the brief submitted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services calls on issues of instability and uncertainty:

“The Court’s declaratory judgment potentially implicates hundreds of provisions of the Act and, if it were interpreted to apply to programs currently in effect, duties currently in force, taxes currently being collected, and tax credits that may be owed at this time or in the near future, would create substantial uncertainty. Because of the sweeping nature of the declaratory judgment, such an interpretation would pose a risk of substantial disruption and hardship for those who rely on the provisions that have already been implemented.”

As the Obama administration reinforces its familiar consumer-protection line of reasoning along with the fear-mongering associated with “substantial disruption and hardship,” it says nothing to the effects of such legislation on rising premiums and increased patient exposure to medical underwriting (see first bullet above).  Again, Tracy Schmaler of the Justice Department made it abundantly clear that the Obama administration has no intention of following Vinson’s ruling.

“We are analyzing this opinion to determine what steps, if any — including seeking a stay — are necessary while the appeal is pending to continue our progress toward ensuring that Americans do not lose out on the important protections this law provides.”

Perhaps the Obama administration should have thought about issues of uncertainty before implementing a law creating that very reality.  The act of requesting states to follow a judgment contrary to their case renders the Obama administration desperate to say the least.  Perhaps the only avenue left to the President is to follow the voice of the people.  As Cannon and Shapiro emphatically conclude:

“If President Obama shows contempt for court orders that go against him by pretending that ObamaCare still enjoys the full force of law, public antipathy toward the legislation will only grow. The course that shows respect for the Constitution, the courts, and the American people is for the administration to cease implementing the law’s regulations, taxes and new bureaucracies immediately.”

To the people and to the courts, I suspect, the issue is simple.  Is ObamaCare constitutional?  Judge Vinson says no, so for now the Obama administration ought to honor that decision while pursuing their next course of action.

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