Posts filed under ‘Society’

Tech Privacy Rights As Fundamental As Gun Rights

Your private data isn’t a physical product. If someone steals your laptop, you can get a new laptop, or get it returned. It may have sentimental value, but it’s just a replaceable physical item. Information is not something that can be returned.

The value is not in the laptop, it’s in the private data contained within it. Do you have images or videos only meant for your eyes or your partners? If your laptop is stolen, count on those being shared online, count on the fact that anyone you see in your day-to-day life may have seen them, and recognize you from them. Still think that can be reversed and no harm done if you get your laptop back or get a replacement?

Continue Reading Wednesday, 2012-August-15 at 13:26 1 comment

The Health Care Law: When Is A Door Not A Door?

Originally posted in January 2010 on Xanga: When Is A Door Not A Door? | lnxwalt on Xanga

I have been watching this health care bill with both anticipation and some dread. I have to say that the dread now tops the anticipation.

It all starts about sixteen years ago. William J. Clinton was President, and a commission led by his wife Hillary R. Clinton was working on a proposal to bring health coverage to nearly all Americans. There was a loud roar, “let the market solve the problem, private industry will do a better job for a lower price”. Clinton’s health bill collapsed, and we got the medical insurance industry of today.

Did this solve anything? Not really. You see, health care insurance is generally too expensive for those who are not covered under an employer-sponsored plan. Those who are covered find that their insurer’s cost-control processes are illogical. There are a number of Americans who are no longer with us whose demise should be blamed on insurance company “death panels”.

The health bill, as covered in the press, has these characteristics:
(1)No “government option”. This means that only the same companies whose incompetence and greed keeps 1/3 of Californians away from medical care are going to be the sole beneficiaries of this policy. Unlike the right-wing, who think this is “socialized medicine”, I recognize this as 1940s-style fascism. Requiring people to patronized a favored group of privately-owned businesses is not only wrong, it is scary. What industry will be next? Will we soon be required to buy automobiles, even in places like DC, where it makes no sense to drive? Will the dairy industry require us to buy milk products?
(2) Mandatory insurance. One would think that our experience with mandatory auto insurance would show people that this is a bad idea. Lower-income employees, including younger workers, will face the choice of whether to pay their rent and buy food or pay their insurance. Unless they are already in poor health, most of them will make the (wise) choice to pay their rent and buy food. Using the IRS to punish the young and the lower-income worker is not an acceptable answer when coverage for some level of “BasiCare” should be be available without any direct reference to the patient’s wallet.
(3) Insufficient attention to preventive care. Sixteen years ago, insurance companies promised that “health maintenance organizations” would focus on preventing illnesses, that this would be the way they would ration care… by making much of our medical care unnecessary. I ask you, where is the emphasis on diet, exercise programs, addiction-management (including smoking, prescription drugs, recreational drugs, and so on), management of chronic illnesses (e.g., diabetes, obesity, hypertension), psychological counseling (which can help avoid domestic violence and other violent crime)?
(4) Leaves up the dividing line between on-the-job medical coverage (worker’s compensation, disability insurance) and off-the-job coverage. As long as that line is there, people on both sides will continue to try and cheat the other side’s coverage. It is said that people come to work concealing an injury in order to “get hurt at work” and get treatment. It is also common for someone who really has been hurt at work to use their personal medical coverage because they fear retaliation by their employers. What is needed is a single, overall coverage.
(5) No workplace / classroom ergonomics requirement. Have you seen the little seat-desks that have a little area for a right-handed student to write upon? How often have you seen a lefty dealing with a seat that isn’t designed for him / her? What about office chairs and desks whose height cannot be adjusted properly for the employee assigned to them? When this kind of design violation affects workplace machinery, it can cause killing or maiming accidents. Even when such accidents don’t occur, human-centered design can reduce the number and severity of repetitive strain injuries.
(6) Exemptions galore. There are exemptions from the national plan for members of Congress, for those covered under government employee plans, for those covered under Medicare and Medicaid. There needs to be a single plan that provides “BasiCare” to everyone. Extended coverage (beyond what is contained in BasiCare) can be handled by today’s dizzying array of medical payment solutions (e.g., privately-owned or government sponsored health insurers or even Visa / MasterCard) separately from BasiCare, but some basic level of care, including preventive and chronic illness care, should be handled through a central BasiCare system.
(7) Constitutional violation. No, I’m not a lawyer. But I can read, which is more than can be said for most judges, congress-members, or presidents. Continuing to overload the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution can subject us to easy takeover by a “Roman emperor”-style tyrant. Instead, this should be something where Congress approves of a “joint operating agreement” by the states, territories, DC, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, but without any direct federal involvement.

In this, I see echoes of Massachusetts’ failed plan. Their plan was based on persuading “I’m invincible” young and healthy workers to pay premiums, so that older and sicker workers’ costs would be lower. The problem was that younger workers don’t avoid joining health insurance plans because they don’t believe they’ll be hurt. They avoid joining health insurance plans because they find it difficult enough to pay for all the things they need (food, clothing, housing, transportation, tuition), plus all the things they don’t need but are required to pay for anyway (auto insurance). Adding another “you hafta pay me” to their overstretched budgets didn’t work for MA, and it won’t work for USA.

Is this the best we could do? A massive giveaway of your income and mine to the insurance companies? This could have been such a boon to our economy. Think about your co-workers who are coming to work sick and in pain, and how much more productive they could be if they received medical / dental / vision / hearing care.

Here are some things that a national health care plan should have included:
(1) All other insurers off the hook. Anything covered under BasiCare should be only covered by BasiCare. Other insurers shouldn’t collect premiums for anything within that area. This would both reduce premiums and reduce insurance company costs.
(2) Medical price parity. Right now, if you walk in and pay for your treatment with your credit card, you pay the most of any patients. In effect, you are subsidizing the discounted rates received by insurers. Medical care providers should have one rate for everyone who pays for a particular treatment.
(3) Direct and speedy patient recourse against medical payment organizations (that is, insurers and other payment intermediaries). This would help avoid situations such as a transplant recipient whose insurer refuses to pay for regular liver enzyme tests or the person whose insurance is canceled once she is diagnosed with cancer.
(4) Treatment incentives: A person’s need for care will be influenced by his / her lifestyle choices. I’d rather pay for someone to get a free slow-cooker and healthy menu choices / healthy cooking classes now than pay for treatment later. I’d rather see someone joining an exercise program now than having to be carried on a flatbed truck to the hospital. We have to ensure that cost is not an obstacle to healthy living, and that someone who chooses to live unhealthily despite the availability of assistance doesn’t use up all our treatment resources.
(5) Centralize payments. There should be one third-party payer for all BasiCare treatment. This doesn’t mean that direct patient payment will be prohibited, although they should get the same prices and payment terms as BasiCare does and that payment should be accepted as full payment, just as with BasiCare. (That is, no double-billing. Fraud should subject a treatment provider to permanent ineligibility for payment, including ineligibility to directly bill individual patients.)
(6) Universal coverage. Every individual in the country, whether young or old, male or female, citizen or not, should be covered for BasiCare. No exceptions or exemptions. This includes congress-members, military, state / federal employees, and even certain employees of religious organizations who are (for some curious reason) exempt from Social Security.
(7) Non-federal organization. It is time to start following the Constitution. States are closer to the voters, and present a more dispersed target for those who would corrupt the process (such as the major health care insurance providers).
(8) Premiums paid through state taxes, not federal taxes, and not directly by the covered patients.
(9) Co-payments encouraged. If it costs you nothing to go see the doctor, you’ll be there when you get a scratch or when your toenail is about to come off.
(10) Personal responsibility. When you refuse to care for your new piercing, you should have to reimburse BasiCare for the treatment of your infection, or even better, be made to pay some portion of it up front and to repay whatever you didn’t prepay. Personal choices have consequences, and you should pay for those, not everyone else.

Somehow, I doubt that the imperial Congress will hear my voice. They are too busy listening to big insurers and centralized government advocates. But they should be listening to me and millions of others like me, because we’re the ones who will get stuck paying for their mistakes if they fail to hear our voices.

When is a door not a door? When the government shuts it and keeps you from using it.

Thursday, 2012-June-28 at 19:23

On SOPA, PIPA, and Copyright Maximalism: How We Must Respond

Joel Spolsky – Google+ – Two things about SOPA/PIPA and then I’ll shut up 🙂 (1) …

(1) The internet seems to ignore legislation until somebody tries to take something away from us… then we carefully defend that one thing and never counter-attack. Then the other side says, “OK, compromise,” and gets half of what they want. That’s not the way to win… that’s the way to see a steady and continuous erosion of rights online.

The solution is to start lobbying for our own laws. It’s time to go on the offensive if we want to preserve what we’ve got. Let’s force the RIAA and MPAA to use up all their political clout just protecting what they have. Here are some ideas we should be pushing for:

  • Elimination of software patents
  • Legal fees paid by the loser in patent cases; non-practicing entities must post bond before they can file fishing expedition lawsuits
  • Roll back length of copyright protection to the minimum necessary “to promote the useful arts.” Maybe 10 years?
  • Create a legal doctrine that merely linking is protected free speech
  • And ponies. We want ponies. We don’t have to get all this stuff. We merely have to tie them up fighting it, and re-center the “compromise” position.

Mr Spolsky is expressing thoughts that all of us should be thinking. In fact, I’ve partially expressed some related concepts before. Only, now that they’ve been expressed, we need to discuss them, modify them as needed, and then implement them. I encourage you to go to his post on GPlus and read the whole thing.

Sunday, 2012-January-22 at 20:18 3 comments

Travel And Personal Technology

A blog posting by Bruce Scheier is interesting. Many of us travel on business. Typically, when I travel, I am away for two to four months.

In such a situation, you do what you can to prevent it, but you are always aware that what you pack may end up in some TSA employee's garage. I have generally had the opinion that if you do not buy the newest, shiniest items, thieves will tend to go after someone else's stuff. It is a variation on the practice of not carrying a lot of cash around. (In my case, there is a 20 year-old at home, so there isn't much cash anyway.)

Until fairly recently, I had a Dell laptop with 320MB of RAM that did not even do wireless. Over the past year, that became my stay-home laptop because the hotels have all gone wireless now. I then pulled out a newer computer, purchased about three years ago, which has 512MB of RAM. Just recently, it proved inadequate, so I am now travelling with a modern computer.

It is not just computers where I practice this. My phone is a prepaid, so that I can only lose so much if it gets lost or stolen. What is this American thing of travelling with expensive toys dangling like costume jewelry? If our cities were anywhere near as dangerous as we believe them to be, a lot of clearly visible potential victims would no longer be "potential" victims.

The Rolex, fake or not? Dump it. Get a $30 special from Target. A lot of our problems come from our obsession with owning expensive toys and displaying them in public to enjoy the envious looks from other people. Once you stop trying to impress others with your toys, you can get back to trying to make the world a better place for the next generation, and the next generation better people.

My granddaughter is walking. That is far more important to me than the most expensive toy.

Friday, 2008-July-04 at 14:02

EU Does What DOJ Will Not

If anyone had any question about whether corporations owned our Department of Justice, today’s events should settle them.

Microsoft over the past several years has committed several violations of US and foreign antitrust laws. How do I know this? They have been found guilty repeatedly of illegal behavior. This is not just some kind of sour grapes reaction by competitors whose products were rejected in the market. This is detailed and documented by government prosecutors in this country and other countries.

Watching the corrupt tactics in trying to push OOXML through the ISO process, I can imagine that this anticompetitive behavior continues. As the recent NFL signals-taping episode illustrates, even those who may have gotten away with anticompetitive behavior in the past are facing new scrutiny today.

As Andy Updegrove records, the European Court of First Instance ruled against Microsoft in almost every part of the European antitrust case against Microsoft.

The DOJ, charged with enforcing the US antitrust laws that Microsoft was convicted of breaking, instead sides with Microsoft. If you favor free enterprise and competition, you must also favor strict and speedy intervention to stop those who abuse the system to suppress competition. Instead, DOJ is selling American consumers to large corporations for a song.

EU Business quotes Thomas Barnett, head of the Justice Deparment’s Antitrust Division:

“The decision is both lengthy and complex … It will therefore be some time before the full impact of today’s decision on antitrust policy in Europe will be apparent,” Barnett said in a statement.

“We are, however, concerned that the standard applied to unilateral conduct by the CFI, rather than helping consumers, may have the unfortunate consequence of harming consumers by chilling innovation and discouraging competition.”

Is that right? Did DOJ “protect competition” in the browser market when it reversed course after a new administration took over? Did DOJ “protect competition” in office suites? What about media players? Did DOJ “protect competition” there? I know, workgroup servers—that’s got to be the place where DOJ has “protected competition” against anticompetitive tactics by Microsoft. What? They haven’t done that either? What is it about that company (Microsoft) that gets our government to start playing footsie in the mens room? Just get a motel room, burn some hormones, and then do your job for once.

Isn’t it funny that every time there is an issue where a dominant corporation is facing some kind of constraints to “protect competition” that DOJ always comes down on the side of the corporation? Do you see DOJ standing up for consumers? I read the business section almost every day and I don’t see DOJ protecting consumers, which is the whole reason they should be “protecting competition.” Instead, it looks to me like DOJ is protecting the largest competitors in key markets (operating system software, office suite software, workgroup servers, telephones, Internet access, broadcasting, music, movies) and preventing either consumers or smaller competitors from slowing the growth of those largest competitors.

Let me clue you in, Mr. Barnett. there are plenty of “innovations” out there, but they generally come from smaller competitors, and are quickly buried by anticompetitive practices of the incumbents. A good example is Verizon’s crusade against Vonage and also Microsoft’s anti-Linux / anti-FLOSS / anti-ODF moves (including threats reminiscent of the scumbags at SCO). [Disclosure: I am (by accident of residence) a Verizon customer, but not a Vonage customer.] If your department was doing its job, we consumers would have more choices and options for broadband Internet access, but since DOJ opposes net neutrality, I guess we’ll never catch up with foreign nations.

And yes, James Robertson, this is ten years after the fact—this needed to happen no later than 2002, and best if it happened in the 1990s when the events began. It does not change the fact that the company’s anti-competitive behavior has changed the software landscape, crippling otherwise viable competitors and raising prices for consumers. It has given the company a kind of arrogance that I have never seen before in my lifetime. (Why else would they secretly push out their Genuine Disadvantage snoopware to all Windows computers, including government computers that might contain some secret information? Why else would they put anti-consumer TUR into their media player and operating system?)

I encourage you to read Andy’s take on the story, as well as James’s take and Sam’s take. I encourage you to read some economics books, so you will understand the issues at play here. Read about antitrust laws as well.

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Monday, 2007-September-17 at 22:02 4 comments

Atlantic League Baseball: Road Warriors Vs. Patriots

Baseball: The Sport

As you probably know, other sports are what people do while awaiting baseball season.  In my part of the family, we do baseball, while another part does soccer.

Sam has written about the Phillies a few times this year.  I may see them before I go back home to California.

Tonight, I went to watch the Road Warriors, a team without a home field, play the Somerset Patriots.  I was surprised to find that the Atlantic League is independent, rather than being an official minor league.  I find that reminiscent of the Golden League on the West coast.

The stadium is magnificent.  It held 8,021 of us tonight, the season high and third-highest ever.  It felt full, but not overstuffed.  There were a few empty seats near me (I was in the fifth row, on the first base side).

Fun Time At Commerce Bank Stadium

The Road Warriors scored one in the first and were pretty tame after that, scoring two more runs in the eighth.  The Patriots were quiet until they scored seven runs in the third, followed by another in the fifth and two more in the eighth.  Final score: Road Warriors 3, Somerset 10.  I wish the Road Warriors played a little harder.  There were a few times where they just seemed to give up.  The third inning was like watching someone pounding on a defenseless little girl—no fun—but in the seventh and eighth innings, they played like they thought they had a chance.

The night featured dance performances by a local dance studio, "Gotta Dance," which also sponsored fireworks after the game.

It was a good night.  People would enjoy life more if they’d get out and watch their hometown baseball team (like the High Desert Mavericks) a little more often.

Sunday, 2007-August-12 at 06:48 2 comments

The Emerging Conflict: Corporate Interests Vs. Your Interests

Have you noticed the way that Microsoft and its shills are trying to stuff the ballot box of national standards committees voting on Office Not-so-open XML (OOXML)?  That the technique is so close to success tells us that there are radical reforms needed in the international standards process.  To be sure, they did not win outright in the INCITS V1 committee, but they are certainly going to press for a backroom win.  In some countries, such as Portugal, the packing the court technique appears to be more successful.

Control Of International Standards

According to Rick Jelliffe, who has had some prior involvement in standards-setting, standards are a sort of gentlemen’s agreement, in which members of a particular industry voluntarily decide to make their products conform to a certain set of specifications and requirements.  That may have been true in the past.  In some situations, that may even be true today.  However, in many industries, industry standards become legal responsibilities or prerequisites for government purchases.  For example, when you go to buy a 16 oz. beverage, you are actually getting 500 ml (about 16.9 fl. oz).  Your 12 oz. can is actually 355 ml.  A government edict obligated products to be produced in the nearest metric size instead of our traditional measurements.  That, my friends, is a government-mandated standard.

Why is Microsoft manipulating the ISO standards-setting process?  Because they can see a time coming when an international standard might be used to actually require interoperable file formats and interchangeable software in government purchasing.  Once that happens, goodbye monopoly.

Watch also as Microsoft tangles with Adobe over PDF vs. XPS as standards.  Adobe’s PDF format has been ubiquitous, with a number of independent implementations.  You can walk right into nearly any office-products store and come out with boxed non-Adobe PDF writer/printer software.  Likewise, if you are using OpenOffice.org as your office suite, you can export PDF files directly from the application.  As of yet, I have seen only Microsoft’s Windows-only XPS printer, with zero documents actually created/exported in that format.  If OOXML is created to preserve the Microsoft monopoly in office software, XPS seems to be created to displace Adobe and extend MS Office’s hegemony into another realm.

Ecma even markets itself as a way to buy a standard.  That has got to be humiliating to have to sell yourself that way.  I imagine Ecma wearing a tight red miniskirt, standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, waiting for johns (e.g., Microsoft) to come by.  But it isn’t just about Ecma.  Microsoft is misusing the ISO standards process, having its proxies join and vote on the OOXML issue.

Control Of Internet Content

There is a closely-related process going on in the U.S. Congress right now.  Telephone and cable companies (communications service providers) wish to use their control of the “last mile” of wire or fiber to decide which content providers and which content their customers can obtain.  While they may claim that this is a way to pay for the cost of their networks, the truth is that those costs are already paid by their customers.  Instead, this is regarded as “free money,” similar to owning a record company a few years ago.  Think about it–consumers wish to use content from sites like YouTube, but that content has to come across wires owned by Verizon and friends.  So Verizon wants to tell YouTube to pay Verizon a fee so that Verizon won’t obstruct YouTube content heading for Verizon subscribers.

Ordinarily, Congress would have immediately called the CEOs of those companies in for a reaming, followed by a bill to increase the regulatory oversight authority of the FCC.  Of course, the current FCC is merely a subsidiary of big business.  Even if it was not, Congress is doing its best Nero impression, while service providers wait for the issue to blow over.

Net neutrality is the only option that is good for SLOBs [Small, Locally-Owned Businesses] and consumers.  If smaller competitors are unable to pay the fees to the gatekeepers, they’ll be blocked out.  Likewise, companies that provide content that is competitive to content provided by affiliates of service providers

Citizens & Consumers Need Protection

The current disputes over whether to continue expanding or extending the power and control of large privately-owned enterprises over the lives of Americans (and our government agencies and smaller businesses) shows one thing.  Given the power to do so, most entities will seek to control the world.  (Cue the theme song from Warner Bros.’ “Pinky and the Brain” cartoons.)

This is especially true when an entity has already gained enormous power and riches and feels that a consumer-oriented initiative threatens that power–the entity will counter-attack to preserve what it is accustomed to having and will seek to extend it even further.  The advance of the consumer-friendly ODF standard threatened the dominance of MS Office–if multiple vendors make software that fully-understands the same file format, why pay more for a certain vendor’s product?  Likewise, the rise of VOIP and video-on-demand services (content providers) threatens the dominance of the telephone and cable companies.   The rise of peer-to-peer and digital music distribution threatens the dominance of the big music companies. In each case, the dominant industry or enterprises with an industry have reacted to trends that are giving consumers more power by trying to lock consumers into some sort of situation that benefits only the industry or enterprise that is already dominant.  (The RIAA seems to be willing to kill off Internet radio so that their control of “content” can be maintained.)

Because standards affect end-users and purchasers of software and computer systems, these groups need to be represented in the process of setting and approving standards.  Because restrictions on what content and what content providers consumers can access affects the consumer, representatives from this group need to be involved in the process of setting the rules which govern the wires over which service is provided.  Because restrictions on digital “content” affect the ways in which the purchasers can use the content they buy, consumers (that is, purchasers) need to be represented in the process of setting the rules under which content may be distributed.

We don’t need to have out-of-state corporations deciding whether our government agencies will use open standard file formats–this is a decision for the citizens and residents of a state, and not corporate “interoperability” representatives.

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Sunday, 2007-July-22 at 16:07 1 comment

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