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.
While I’m not a Mac user, it is important that we all learn to encrypt all our communications and that we actually put this learning into practice. I applaud the author at PillowFortress for this tutorial. If you’re a Mac user, I encourage you to head over there and read (and follow) this post.
Three people launch independent careers in their fields of interest. The first person becomes an independent farmer. He works long hours, produces quality food, and sells it to processors as well as to individuals who patronize the local farmers’ markets. Once someone pays him for his food, he’s done. The buyer can sell or give away the food without the farmer getting any more money out of it.
The second person becomes a carpenter, creating beautiful hardwood desks to support people’s computers. She works long hours, produces quality hardware, and sells it to wholesalers as well as to individuals who patronize her occasional showroom sales. Once someone pays her for her furniture, she’s done. The buyer can sell or give away the furniture without the carpenter getting any more money out of it.
The third person becomes a musician, creating stirring and poetic music to unleash people’s emotions. He works weird hours, records his music and provides it by digital download to people who have paid for it. Once someone pays for a copy of a song, he’s just beginning the process. Thanks to technological usage restrictions (TUR, often euphemized as DRM or digital rights management), if the buyer wants to play the song on a different kind of device, they have to re-buy the content.
The question for Americans is why should they music, movie, software, and publishing industries get to re-sell you the same content over and over? Why should they prevent you from selling or giving the content you purchased to someone else (as long as you don’t retain a copy after the sale)? Why should they?
I would suggest that we really need to take another look at copyrights and patents, with an eye toward making it easier to comply with the rules and with rules that balance society’s benefit (e.g., more public domain works, which is the justification the Constitution uses for permitting monopolies such as copyrights and patents) and the interests of creators. Not the interests of large media and software and publishing corporations who create nothing and divert the bulk of the royalties to fatten their own coffers. Society and creators.
This appeared in Network World:
… According to this report from Seculert Research, the makers of Citadel, a variant of the Zeus Trojan are using open source models to hone their code and make the Trojan more dangerous.
Not only open source, but the Citadel creators are also deploying it from a SaaS model and using a CRM type of system with forums and message board to communicate with the consumers using the Trojan to commit criminal activity. You have to hand it to these guys, they are using cutting edge techniques to make their product better. Too bad they don’t put this much effort into a legitimate business, but then again they probably wouldn’t make as much money.
Those who have followed this blog over the years or who know me in person, know that I personally believe that freedom preserving software, otherwise known as "free software", or freedom-respecting software, otherwise known as "open source", should be the only type of applications used in government agencies, including taxpayer-funded schools. I believe that the advantages in terms of being able to see what the software actually does and to legally change it if desired are so important that it far outweighs "well this is what they are using in private industry" factor.
Likewise, I think that the "many eyes makes all bugs shallow" aspect of open source would really help in enhanced security environments. I do note that in order to partake of these advantages, said organizations need to have people who are can read and write computer code. That is probably not the case at this time, although I do know of a higher education institution whose technology instructors adopted Moodle in place of Blackboard, and actually contributed back code to the project.
I just find it funny that schoolkids are learning where to click on the "ribbon" toolbar to find a particular function in a particular proprietary office suite, knowledge that will be obsolete within a couple of years when software versions change. Yet, the bad guys have gotten past protecting their "supersekrit™ IP" and are using open source to build, improve, and develop their malware.
As Against Monopoly points out:
If you want to know what the world would be like without IP: look at the criminal world where they can’t easily sue each other for patent and/or copyright violation. Is there software innovation in that world? The virus producers are innovating faster than the anti-virus vendors.
Isn’t it funny how flimsy the arguments for government-enforced monopolies like patents and copyrights begin to fall apart when they are closely examined? I believe we need to make the case, loudly and publicly, that "intellectual property" hinders both innovation and the invention / creation of previously unknown products and services. We need to make the case to politicians, so that they will be less eager to pass the latest "kill the Internet to protect corporate IP" bill. We need to make our case to the public, via the Internet and the news media. And we need to make our case to the artists, writers, authors, composers, and performers that organizations like the RIAA and MPAA prey upon (all the while telling them that they’d make no money without the organizations and their copyright maximalism). We need to counter their claims that stronger copyright and patent enforcement increases the number of domestic jobs with anecdotes and studies that show the opposite.
#SOPA and #PIPA Prove: Corporations Are Dangerous To Our Constitution, Our Freedoms, And Our Government
#SOPA and #PIPA Prove: Corporations Are Dangerous To Our Constitution, Our Freedoms, And Our Government
The year was 1776. In the British Isles, Adam Smith published the work that still defines much of the framework for economics. In the North American colonies, a small group of individuals published the American Declaration of Independence, a document whose ideals we still aspire to, but never have made a priority.
King George III (http://whoknowswho.channel4.com/people/George_III) and Prime Minister Lord North sought to retain their power over the colonists (http://www.number10.gov.uk/history-and-tour/lord-north/), who were aggravated over taxation and the power of a monopoly, the British East India Company.
It is no surprise then, that the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution all fail to mention corporations at all. We know that they were aware of the supposed benefits of corporations. Yet they chose to ignore them entirely in setting up the new country’s governance.
Unlimited Lifespan Allows Resource Accumulation
Corporations are not constrained by the natural life (and death) of any particular person, so that their lifespans may be as close to infinite as is possible for a human institution to attain. Corporations typically combine resources and talent from many different individuals. These two factors give corporate-style organizations a significant advantage over individuals and families, as they effectively gather and retain quantities of resources that far exceed what most individuals and families can attain without a corporate-style organization.
Division of Responsibilities
Corporations often reach the point where their financial backing, management, and talent (labor) come from nearly distinct groups of individuals. Since division of labor is the primary proven way to sustain and advance human economy and society, they tend to do better financially than comparable partnerships and sole proprietorships do.
By dividing up responsibilities, authority, and rewards, corporations spread benefit among a larger group than the previous aristocracy and feudal societal structure did. Corporations, by virtue of their tendency to gain more and more financial and other resources, can afford to undercut non-corporate competitors on price or to bundle additional products and services into a single price.
If Joe, the owner of Joe’s Pizza, wants to open another location halfway across the country, he generally needs to depend upon some close friend or family member to manage the operation for him. A corporation still needs to place trusted individuals in charge of such expansions, but there is a larger pool from which to draw.
Corporations are well-suited for geographically-dispersed operation, even to the point of setting up “international” operations in foreign countries. In the past two or three decades, many corporations have even sought to transcend nations, calling themselves multinational or even transnational corporations. In a MNC/TNC, a corporation is no longer “American, with significant operations overseas” but becomes rootless, with no intrinsic loyalty to any nation or government. This allows them to freely move operations wherever their leaders feel will bring the most profits, the cheapest or most compliant workers, the most reliable suppliers, the least taxation, the least regulation, or other such goals.
No Morals, Regulation Required
However, not every effect of corporations is beneficial. Corporations are naturally amoral. Over time, they tend to lose any scruples which they formerly may have had. Thus, it becomes necessary, whenever corporations are allowed to exist, for governments to regulate their behavior. Corporations need to be regulated. They need to have limits set by the government for what they can and cannot do.
Frequently, people who claim to be in favor of free markets will speak disdainfully of labor unions, believing that unions are merely cartels, meant to prevent hard-working people from reaping the rewards that are due them as well as raise the price of labor to unsustainable levels. Frankly, anyone who says this is ignorant, for corporations themselves are merely mercantilistic cartels which seek oligopsony power to force suppliers (including suppliers of labor, otherwise known as employees) to take artificially low prices. (Mercantilism: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Mercantilism#Domestic_policy).
Further, this anti-competitiveness extends to prices paid for raw materials, services, and even the land, buildings, and equipment that corporations rely upon to generate their profits with. Is it any wonder that so many suppliers for that big blue discount chain have closed their domestic production facilities in order to utilize foreign production facilities without enforceable environmental, labor relations, child labor, or wage and hours regulations.
However, because of something known as regulatory capture, over time, regulations often become tools that the regulated corporations use to stave off competition and restrict supplies, and even force customers to buy from “certified” companies instead of independents, leading to higher prices and higher (or at least, guaranteed) profits
Corporations in general exist primarily to limit competition, eliminate free markets, and to achieve monopolies and monopsonies. This is because of a mandate to maximize shareholder returns, which generally means the highest possible profits (and a predictable level of profit each quarter). Profit is maximized when all or nearly all substantial competitors have been absorbed, put out of business, or enmeshed into a common cartel.
Again, it was Adam Smith who wrote something to the effect that the way to tell how well a nation’s economy was doing is to examine the lives of the common people. We don’t evaluate North Korea’s economy by the lifestyle its recently-deceased dictator led. Instead, we look at satellite photos that show that NK’s residents do not appear to have electricity available to run lights after dark.
Domestic mercantile economic policies hurt the general populace because they are deprived of the price reductions and product development that a modern market-based economy brings. Instead, people are confronted with government-endorsed monopolies. Remember: monopolies are always bad. Government-endorsed monopolies mean that the monopolist is supported and shielded by the government in its efforts to thwart competitive pressure, often even including suppression of replacement goods.
Furthermore, monopolies tend to be unresponsive to customers, the same way that monopsonies are unresponsive to suppliers. In either case, the corporation recognizes that the other party has nowhere else (or almost nowhere else) to go.
When De Beers controlled the market for diamonds, it did not matter what you dug up, if you wanted to sell it, you had to go through them. Likewise, if you wanted to buy, the merchants all got their diamonds from De Beers. (See Wikipedia for more about De Beers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Beers)
Copyrights And Patents Are Grants Of Monopoly
Copyrights and patents give one party exclusive control over the production, reproduction, or distribution of a particular product. Such laws give that party the power to invoke government powers to prevent and penalize the production, reproduction, or distribution of that particular product by competing enterprises.
Copyrights, Patents, And The Constitution
We have always been taught that these are good things. They are even enshrined in our Constitution. (See previous article here: https://lnxwalt.wordpress.com/2009/08/01/copyright-as-presently-defined-is-unconstitutional/ ) However, I am faced with the reality that monopolies are always bad for society as a whole. While I realize that the intention (as written in the Constitution) was that creators and inventors should enjoy monopolies for a short period of time, and that those rights to create, reproduce, adapt, modify, and distribute would thereafter belong to the body public, I question the benefit of the system as they apparently envisioned it.
The unconstitutional, corporate-controlled mess that these things evolved into should be scrapped.
Abusing Monopoly Power
The Robbers In Adamantium Armor (otherwise known as the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA) is comprised of mega-corporations in the recorded music industry. Together with their counterparts in movies (MPAA) and software (BSA), they have continued to seek extensions to the length of the term that copyrights last, they have sought the power to prevent reuse and remixing of content, and they have sought ever more draconian punishments against those accused (not necessarily proven) of infringement.
I haven’t time to document the many times that the copyright abuse industries have sought to sue or prosecute someone for illegally downloading content when it was clearly not possible (person had never had a computer, never had Internet connection, etc). Nor will I document all the DMCA takedown notices filed against dancing toddler videos because of a song in the background. These kinds of actions characterize a schoolyard bully, particularly one who knows some secret that the school principal does not want revealed.
These copyright abusers sought to obtain the right to shut down much of the Internet merely based on accusations. Former senator Chris Dodd, director of the MPAA, recently threatened to stop “campaign contributions” (better known as bribes) to politicians who refuse to stay bought. ( http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120120/14472117492/mpaa-directly-publicly-… ) I think we have allowed these creeps to go too far. It is time to take the battle to Hollywood.
Joel Spolsky wrote something very relevant and very important since I started working on this post. It inspired me to write a little bit here: https://lnxwalt.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/on-sopa-pipa-and-copyright-maximalism-how-we-must-respond/ )
I agree with Mr. Spolsky. In fact, I am laying part of the foundation here for restricting or even eliminating copyrights and patents entirely.
No Or Limited Corporate-owned Copyrights and Patents; No Corporate Lobbying
First of all, a common-sense reading of the relevant section of the Constitution supports ending copyrights and patents–at the latest–soon after the individual creator or inventor dies. The founding fathers were very aware of corporations and monopolies, having fought a war in part because the British East India Company had obtained a monopoly on sales and distribution of tea in the new world. Yet, they refused to express any recognition that corporations had any claim to patents or copyrights, or even that corporations should be allowed to petition the government for redress of grievances (e.g., the right to lobby).
I believe this was intentional, and that the Constitution, properly interpreted, forbids lobbying, campaigning (e.g., the currently active “super-pacs”), and contributions by corporations and corporate-style entities. This, of course, means that the Supreme Court erred in the Citizens United case.
Mercantilism Failed 150-300 Years Ago; Let It Go
We have already seen that domestic mercantile policies harm the economy. They hurt individuals, families, and small businesses. Picking a certain group of businesses and shielding them from competition and changing tastes & technology is a fool’s errand that is destined to fail. In the meantime, it will hurt musicians, actors, writers, songwriters, photographers, artists, painters, inventors, and other creative individuals, because Hollywood is infested with corporations.
Copyrights and patents do not have a sound basis for continued existence.
As a FLOSS advocate (free/libre and open source software), people will say that copyright is what makes free software licenses (like the GPL and the Apache license) possible. Advocating for the end of copyright will necessarily end software freedom. To this, I say that most such licenses don’t even require that source be provided to end users. All other requirements of such licenses are meant to limit the impact of copyright. If copyright is eliminated entirely, merely the availability of source will grant users all the rights that any FSF or OSI approved license grants.
Well what about “innovation?” Aren’t copyrights and patents necessary for innovation to occur? In a word, no. Invention, or creation, occurs when someone sees a need and figures out how to fulfill that need. Innovation is merely the repurposing of those inventions. So when you read about patents on things like rounded corners on tablet computers, realize that all they did is take something that was already available in a competitors’ product and repackage it in their own. If you want to see more innovation, take down the barriers to repurposing, so that smaller, locally-owned businesses can compete without fear of legal conflicts with deep-pocketed corporations.
Well, without copyrights and patents, how will artists, musicians, inventors, and other creators be rewarded for their work? If you’re asking this question, you haven’t met many college art students, especially in the first few years after graduation, before they give up and try something different. Musicians know that most of them make their money on performing, just like they did before there was such a thing as recorded music. Painters make most of their money when people attend exhibitions of their works and purchase originals or prints to take home with them.
Inventors make money when their product is produced and sold in the market–or when a potential competitor-slash-investor buys the rights from them–and the end of patents will not change this.
The current system primarily benefits lawyers and corporations. Sure, big content companies lift a limited number of “stars” to unprecedented wealth. But their wealth comes at the expense of many thousands of equally talented performers who are not smiled upon by the corporate brass and never get the exposure or promotion. And even then, most of the reward for their work goes to the corporations’ wallets, not the performers’ wallets.
As I said, there is no sound basis for the existence of copyrights and patents.
Having said all this, I must admit that photographers will take a hit to their income once they can no longer depend on “stock photo” licensing. Even there, many of them are already suffering, as former customers (generally corporations) forego paid licensing and rely upon image-sharing sites (e.g., Flickr) for their photo needs.
This is just the beginning. There is much more to write, but I need to be at work in a few hours.
(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.