What Should The Role Of Government Be?

September 3, 2012

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There have been many comments on the President’s statement about businesses, that “you didn’t build that, someone else did.” The right wing talking heads claim that this is obviously a socialist statement that all is owned the collective. The left wing talking heads will defend the statement by rephrasing the lead up comments, that without the aid of government, the roads, electric, internet, educated workers would not be available for the success of the business. Both are correct and both are wrong.

Business of any kind is the action of human beings on raw materials to increase the value of a product and provide it to others for the benefit of the business. The raw material can be ideas, services or actual physical resources. Can you actually say that the government provided someone with the cleaning business that they have built up? Most would claim that the government has done almost the reverse with regulations. But again, could that business exist without the guarantees of property, the enforcement of laws and the security provide by the armed forces?

The government only took over the maintenance and building of roads in the last 100 years. Government education is also about 100 years old. Before that, individuals and businesses built the road that they needed and educated themselves through apprenticeships or the world of hard knocks. What about the raw materials? Most people do not understand that the ownership of resources has only been sure for about 300 years. Prior to the British commonwealth, the strongest person or group owned the resources, usually obtaining them through force and violence or the threat of violence.

Let’s look at the simplest form of a business, the small farm. The farmer claims some land, by his own strength, he plants seeds, raises animals and gathers his harvest. He can live off of his produce and trade is excess for goods he cannot make himself, such as better plows, stronger horses, etc. It all looks like the perfect growth plan. But he has to defend his land from predators, not all of them wild animals. If he is not well enough prepared, someone else will take what he has, and if he is fortunate enough to escape with his life, he may start the process all over again.

So both camps are right in that each can point to points that support their argument, but both are also wrong in stating it is an either/or argument. Without government programs, no business can succeed very long without becoming a government of their own (see the Mexican drug cartels or the British East India company). Claiming that the government has come claim over a business beyond the taxes paid to fund the services that make running the business easier and those government functions that allow the business to exist, is statism (whether you call if fascism, communism, socialism, despotism, does not really matter).

Now no part of this essay suggests that government has no part in business. Government is essential in providing security and restraint on business. If a business becomes too powerful, excesses can result that are harmful to the community that the government is expected to protect. In the United States, the government has stepped in to support the rights of workers from abuse. The government has also intervened when one business becomes too powerful within an industry, resulting in artificial increase in cost for what could be considered an essential product or service.

Recently (within the last 50 years), the effort to protect workers has migrated at times to punitive actions against businesses that are not for the good of the worker, but for the good of the individual political office holder or the organizational hierarchy of the labor organization. Also (within the last 25 years) the government has started to protect businesses that are “too big to fail” rather than harnessing those businesses into manageable sizes.

As examples, in the early 1900s, intervened to help workers including assisting in establishing work weeks and holidays. Now the emphasis is on increasing the minimum wage. The stated goal is to get people more money to spend, but the minimum wage is for entry level jobs, not full time careers. The result of increases in the minimum wage is the loss of entry level jobs until the market can adjust to absorb the increased costs. So the net result is a loss of opportunity, not an increase. But, there is a side effect. Most union contracts have a wage clause that pushes up the cost when the minimum wage is raised. The biggest effect is on contracts with government agencies resulting in a positive feedback.

Also in the early 1900s and as late as the 1970s, the government broke up large businesses. Standard Oil became 7 separate companies, Bell telephone was broken up, and railway crossings were regulated so that one company could not block common roads with trains to prevent their competitors from getting their raw materials. In 2010, the government was bailing out car companies and financial institutions.

As with any political action, there is some good and some bad for everyone involved. With unions, workers are protected, but now have to pay heavy dues to fund a top heavy highly paid administration. With unions, businesses cannot set the wages across and industry and have to provide certain benefits to lure skilled workers to their doors. With government interference, large businesses have been broken into smaller pieces for some short term pain for their customers, but overall better climate for all concerned. With government interference, large businesses have been “saved” to continue along flawed business plans that can only result in additional bailouts in the future.

The point of this essay is not to suggest that we return to the 1800s. The point is to expose that both the left and the right are both correct and incorrect in their interpretation of the role of government and business. We must have government protection of workers, communities, and other businesses. We must also avoid the idea of a collective. Each worker and business should be rewarded for the value of the work they do. It does not matter what you perceive the value of your effort is, only what the community determines the value is. If you have spent a lot of money on a college degree that will not get you a job, then you have prepared poorly. It is not the responsibility of the government or anyone else to assure that you effort is rewarded. If on the other hand, you build up a business that fills a need in the community, you should not be penalized. Restraint should only be applied if you are harming someone in the process of you effort.

Why The 1st Amendment Doesn’t Protect Westboro Baptist Church

July 3, 2010

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[Update: on March 2, The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of Phelphs (Westboro’s pastor).  This particular article was written in July of 2010.  An article relating to the SCOTUS ruling will appear on The Soap Boxers in the coming days.]

The Westboro Baptist Church (which has no ties to mainstream Baptist churches) is an organization which spends its time spreading hatred.  The group has gained much of their notoriety for protesting at the funerals of soldiers who have died fighting for their country.  The protesters carry anti-gay signs, which tends to cause a bit of confusion.  A while ago, my wife asked me what the connecion was – since the soldiers, in almost every circumstance, are NOT gay.

Her mistake was trying to apply logic to a situation where none exists.  WBC claims that dead soldiers are God’s punishment for the country’s tolerance of gays.  As someone who is a proponent of equal rights for all, the assertion that the US is tolerant of gays seems to be not particularly accurate.  Certainly, we are not as tolerant as many of our European allies.

This issue has caused me quite a lot of internal conflict.  I am a firm believer that free speech is a very important personal freedom.  However, I also believe that one person’s expression of free speech should not infringe on the rights of another.  While the right to mourn in peace is not granted by the Constitution, it IS granted by the concept of “being a human being.”

I have even gone so far as to wonder if perhaps the 1st Amendment was in need of some revision.  While I believe that the Constitution is a very important document, I also believe that the founders would have wanted this to be more of a “living” document than it has become.  What’s my evidence of this?  The fact that they made ten changes (The Bill of Rights) before the ink was even dry.  223 years later, the total number of amendments stands at just 27 (and the purpose of the 21st was simply to repeal the 18th).

After a bit of searching, I now realize that we don’t need to change the constitution to prevent hate mongers from using it as a shield for their speech.  There is already a restriction in place.  In 1942, in the case of Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire, the United Stated Supreme court unanimously ruled that this sort of speech is not protected.

There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or “fighting words” those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Chaplinksy is going to get another test soon.  WBC protestors were present at the 2006 funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder.  Three months after the funeral, the family sued for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  A jury ruled against WBC and awarded $10.9 million in damages.  In 2009, an appeals court ruled that the WBC’s action were protected by the first amendment and ordered the plaintiff (the dead soldier’s father) to pay WBC’s attorney fees ($16,000).

Not surprisingly, many people have lined up behind the Snyder family.  Political commentator Bill O’Reilly has offered to pick up the tab, and thousands of others have pledge donations.

The US Supreme Court has granted certiorari to the case of Snyder vs. Phelps (Fred Phelps is the head of WBC) and the case will be on the docket when the Court convenes in the fall.

The list of people filing amicus (“friends of the court”) briefs is a who’s who of political bigwigs, including 43 US Senators and the Attorneys General of all but two states (Maine and Virginia).  It is my hope that the Court will rule in favor of the Snyder family and further clarify and reinforce the thoughts first addressed by Chaplinsky.

While we wait for the decision of the Court, the Patriot Guard Riders are not standing idly by.  Members of this motorcycle organization gather at the funerals of veterans (at the request of the family) and rev their engines in an effort to drown out the protestors.

Should Sex Offenders Be Locked Up Forever?

May 18, 2010

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On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 (with Thomas and Scalia dissenting) that the federal government has the power the keep some sex offenders behind bars indefinitely if officials determine that those prisoners may “prove to be sexually dangerous in the future.”  (Note: this affects only inmates in the federal system, not those in state prisons.  See United States vs. Comstock for more information).

I think that most people would agree that sex offenders do pose a threat to society and that they should be dealt with harshly by the justice system.  I agree with this, and the rest of this article should not be construed as condoning any of the actions of the offenders.  I most certainly do not condone their actions.

I do, however, have a problem with this Supreme Court ruling.  The primary building block of justice in this country is the jury trial.  The accused is entitled to a trial, and if convicted, is sentenced appropriately.  At the end of the sentence (or, more often, earlier), the prisoner rejoins society.

This SCOTUS ruling appears to subvert the decision made by the jury.  The ruling makes a complete mockery of the sentencing process.  Why should the jury waste their time determining an appropriate sentence when, in the end, it really won’t matter?

I understand the severity of sexual crimes, and also am familiar with research that suggests that it may not be possible to rehabilitate these criminals.  However, murder is also a severe crime, and we do set some murderers free after they serve their sentences.  This will continue to be standard operating procedure for all other crimes – criminals will be arrested, be convicted, serve their time, and then rejoin society.  Only sex offenders in federal prisons will be at risk of having their sentence extended indefinitely.

Are the current sentences handed down by juries too short?  If that’s the case, there is a better way to fix this.  Have congress and state legislatures impose more strict punishment for those crimes.  Then, from this date forward, impose those sentences upon those convicted of sex crimes.  However, I do not feel that it is appropriate to retroactively impose the law upon those whom have already been sentenced.

Am I defending sex offenders?  No, certainly not.  I am, however, defending justice.  It brings to mind a line from the movie Ghosts of Mississippi.  The defense attorney, defending the killer of civil rights leader Medger Evers, reminds the jury that “if the system doesn’t work for Byron De La Beckwith , it doesn’t work for anyone.”  If the system doesn’t work for sex offenders, does it really work at all?

I have discussed his ruling with several people, including a couple of hard-on-crime guys with backgrounds in law enforcement.  At this point, everyone seems to agree that the prisoners should be set free when their sentence is complete – while at the same time acknowledging the serious nature of the crimes and the high probability that the criminals will re-offend following their release.

I expect this Supreme Court ruling to remaining in place for many years.  The fact that it was a 7-2 decision means that change 1 or 2 members of the court will not swing the court to the other side.  The president’s Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, actually argued the case on behalf of the government in her role of Solicitor General.

It seems, then, that it would be left up to congress to pass a law that would neutralize the impact of this ruling.  I’m not holding my breath – supports of such a law would no doubt be painted as supporters of sex offenders by their opponents.  I doubt that any politician is willing to risk being slapped with that label.

The Most Important Qualification for a Supreme Court Justice: Life Expectancy?

May 12, 2010

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This week, we found out that President Obama’s nominee will be current Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

Let’s get one question out of the way. What, exactly, does the Solicitor General do? She represents the government of the United States before the Supreme Court in cases where the government is one of the parties involved in the lawsuit.

Kagan is coming under fire on a few different fronts. Kagan hired 32 tenured and tenure-track professors when she was Dean of Harvard Law School. Only seven of these faculty members were female, and only one was a racial or ethnic minority. This could be explained by a relatively small sample size, or simply by the overabundance of white males in the law school ranks. Or it could be indicative of bias during the hiring process.

Kagan’s lack of judicial experience is also a concern to many. Although Kagan has considerable experience in academia, she has never presided over an actual trial.

Despite this, it is quite possible that Kagan will be confirmed by the Senate. If she joins the high court, it would have three female justices for the first time ever (Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor being the other two).

Perhaps more important is her age. At 50, she would be the youngest justice currently serving on the court (although she’s considerably older than Justice Joseph Story, who was just 32 when he was appointed by President Madison in 1811).

Age is an important consideration in a Supreme Court Justice because the justices are appointed for life. A justice cannot be fired. There is a good reason for this, of course – to insulate a sitting justice from political pressure. An influential senator cannot strong-arm a justice with any threats.

While the judicial branch is separate from the executive and legislative branches, it is nonetheless affected by those branches. Justices are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The end result is that the justice often represents the views of the president who appoints them. It would be nice if justices were selected based solely on merit, but this simply is not the case. Every president attempts to influence the court with the justices they appoint.

Appointing a Supreme Court Justice is perhaps the most impactful thing a president can do – influencing important judicial decisions for decades after the president leaves office. I’m not a big fan of having the other two branches exert so much influence over the judicial branch, but I’m also not sure how this could be achieved in a more fair manner, aside from setting the confirmation bar very high (80%?) to ensure bipartisan support? I’m not sure if even the ghost of George Washington could get 80% approval in the Senate.

The justices are also not oblivious to political ramifications. Justices will often time their resignations to occur during the tenure of a president who is likely to replace them with a similar justice. When a justice is unable to this – for example, if they die suddenly – there can be a seismic shift in the makeup of the court.

From a partisan perspective, then, the perfect justice would not only align with the beliefs of the President and Senate, but would also be young and in good health in order to influence the direction of the court for many years to come before voluntarily stepping down at the perfect time for a suitable replacement to be seated on the court. The next step in vetting a nominee (if it isn’t already being done) may be a deep look into the medical history of the nominee and the nominee’s family, in an effort to determine the nominee’s susceptibility to heart attacks, strokes, and other ailments that could kill or incapacitate a justice.

I wonder what sorts of birthday presents a justice gets? Perhaps a health club membership and a fruit basket from the leader of the party that aligns with their beliefs – and an annual membership at the Gorge Yourself 24 Hour Buffet from the leader of the opposing party?

Tossing the Political Football Back

January 18, 2010

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On January 14, 2010, Zarberg posted an article that used two examples to show how politicians “put other’s lives on the line so they can get more money.” I could have posted comments, but I would have needed too many. Instead I have opted for a rebuttal, not a refutation.

I also was profoundly affected by the events of 9/11. I was not in New York City at the time, although my sister in law was. She is a doctor and immediately attempted to render aid. She was sent to Columbia Medical Center, so she was never in any direct danger, though none of us knew that at the time. I was at work and watched the second aircraft impact live on TV. I watched what I thought was my employment opportunity exploding as I am an aerospace engineer working in the aircraft field.

Unlike many of the extremists on air and on line, I never wanted to make a glass parking lot anywhere. I quickly realized that the people who had perpetrated this crime were a tumor that had to be surgically removed to save the people around them. So my first contention with Zarberg is that we went into Afghanistan to perform that surgery (still on-going), the Iraq war was almost a year later.

Admittedly, the arguments for going to war with Iraq were suspect, mostly because no one would listen to anyone else. If we look at Colin Powell’s UN speech, there is no talk of Nuclear Weapons being on hand (the only weapon of mass destruction NOT found in Iraq), only the effort to obtain them. The idea that the BUSH administration was deceitful is interesting as most of the evidence came directly from Saddam Hussein through his speeches, declarations and USE. His best defense would have been “yeah I had them but I used them all on the Kurds and Marsh Arabs.” Instead he claimed to have them, was going to use them on any invader and dared the rest of the world to stop him. That is exactly what the US, UK, Poland and 15 other countries did after getting permission from the UN.

With all of that, I still think that the US was wrong in the argument to go to war. We were already at war. The Iraqis had violated every element of the cease fire they had begged for. They had fired upon allied units, killed civilians, blocked UN inspectors from doing their job, violated the no fly zones and been caught diverting money for food to arms.

I wish I could rebut the one trillion dollar price tag, but the costs are all lumped together. These costs include every penny spent in both Iraq and Afghanistan but are routinely associated only with Iraq. Part of that cost would have been incurred regardless as we have ships at sea and troops deployed even when we are not at war. A lot of money has been spent rebuilding both countries not just from war damage but from the ravages of 30 years of dictatorship. The New Jersey and Missouri National Guards have paved more miles of road and built more bridges than exist in New England. The US has built water and power plants (two commodities that Sadam used to control his people) and repaired the other civil structures that were left to languish so that one man could build himself numerous palaces. All of this is included in that price tag.

One of the things that Zarberg did not comment on, is that the US hired “Contractors” to arrest and detain people. Under what laws? These people are exactly what the Hague and Geneva Conventions dating back to 1866 were meant to stop. They are mercenaries, who are a law unto themselves, providing a buffer of responsibility for the hiring nation.

As far as the trend in US politics to be nasty just because the other guy proposed something, I agree with Zarberg completely on his observation but not his conclusion. I do not believe that politicians are out to hurt anyone, even for their own gain. All of the politicians I personally know (from both sides) truly believe that what they are proposing will be good for people. Each of them is, of course, blinded by their own convictions. The problem that most politicians run into is that they fail to recognize unintended consequences. The reason for this is that if they truly studied every possible affect before acting, nothing would ever get done. My biggest complaint about recent political action is that everything has to be a crisis, and every crisis has to be solved by spending a lot of money.

It seems that the most authoritative spokes persons are those people who have plenty of time to be on the 24 hour news stations. This is not news, nor is it authoritative, it is just opinion usually included in yelling matches where neither side listens or hears.

The discussion of Joe Lieberman being for and against expansion of medicare and the implied verdict of him being paid off is hard for me to discuss. I personally like Joe Lieberman. To be aghast that he received campaign donations from insurance companies is like being aghast that a senator from Nebraska received donations for the grain industry or that one from California received donations from internet companies. The biggest industry in Connecticut is insurance. His apparent change of support for the medicare expansion has to be viewed in light of the latest version of the health care reform bills. Most of these bills go way beyond what he supported (expansion down to age 50) to include every person in the US, citizen or not. Joe is a fiscal conservative (which is why I like him) so he does not like the huge price tag for this all encompassing effort. He is a social moderate (another reason I like him), which is why he is supportive of helping those people who are close to medicare age, and are in need of healthcare coverage.

Zarberg’s conclusion that all is bought and paid for by greedy corporations that don’t care about individuals is interesting. It is also self defeating if true. When a corporation truly doesn’t care, their product will have nothing to do with what people want. That product will not be purchased and the company will either have to change its product or go broke. The only benefit corporations get from paying politicians is the promise not to be punished by regulation or taxation. The only product anyone has ever proposed that each of us would have to buy on pain of fine or imprisonment whether you want it or not is up for a vote right now – health care.

News, Entertainment, Sports trifecta

May 26, 2009

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GOP infighting

A battle continues within the  Republican party, with Rush Limbaugh lining up on one side and guys like Colin Powell lining up on the other side.  Some feel that this is a necessary battle being fought in order to separate the chaff from those who hold the true Conservative Repblican ideals at heart.  This might be true if you’re simply trying to build the most united party possible.  However, there is a large contingent of unaffilated voters in the middle of the political sprectrum.  It is difficult to win a national election without snagging a large chunk of these voters.  Will the GOP infighting make many of these voters stay away, for fear of jumping onto a rudderless ship?  I’ll admit that I’m biased, as I am a unaffiliated centrist and probably overvalue our importance as a voting block a bit.

Dancing with the Stars

I’m not a big fan of the show, but it was nice to see fellow Iowan Shawn Johnson on the show.  It was even better to see her win.  On the first night of the show, I declared to my wife that Johnson would win, because the balance and footwork she uses in gymnastics would serve her well on the dance floor.  Obviously she still had a lot to learn, but it seemed like she had a leg up on the other competitors.

I was disappointed to see Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak sent packing early, though (and pretty much stopped watching after that show).  Woz is just a cool guy.  Not only is he a technical genius, but he does a lot of good works in the community.  It would have been cool to see him stage an unlikely upset.


Helio Castroneves picked up his second biggest win of the year  by winning Sunday’s Indy 500.  His biggest win of the year, however, was his recent acquittal on tax evasion charges.  Danica Patrick finished third, the best ever finish for a woman.  I think it is just a matter of time before she wins an Indy 500 – unless, of course, she bolts to NASCAR first.

NASCAR’s Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte was scheduled for Sunday but was bumped back to Monday because of rain.  The race got started on Monday, but was interrupted several times by rain.  Finally, the NASCAR gods decided to call the race on account of rain.  The win was awarded to David Reutimann, who was in first place at the time the rain began.  Reutimann’s crew chief gambled and decided to forgo a late pit stop when other cars were getting tires and fuel.  The gamble paid off, as Reutimann was  able to hold off the pack until the rains came.  It was Reutimann’s first win in the Nextel series.  I understand the reasons for the decision to call the race, but I still hate to see a race end this way.  Perhaps domed race tracks are in the future.  (Kidding, just kidding.  Maybe.)


Fans were treated to a great pitcher’s duel in Milwaukee on Monday.  Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter took a pefect game into the 7th inning.  He was nearly matched by Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo, who still had a no hitter alive into the 6th.  The winning – and only – run finally scored as Brewers rookie Casey McGeHee scampered home on a Bill Hall pinch hit in the 10th inning.  The batters combined for 5 hits and 5 walks in 10 innings (along with 18 strikeouts – 10 by Carpenter).  And for those who like quick game, it was completed in a zippy 2 hours and 26 minutes.

News Recap

May 18, 2009

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Auto dealers

Nearly 2000 auto dealers were informed by GM or Chrylser of the manufacturer’s plans to terminate franchise agreements.  The impact to GM and Chrysler is not likely to be very large.  For example, 90% of Chrysler’s sales volume come from about 50% of their dealers.  Stand this stat on its head, and it tells you that Chrysler could terminate agreements with half their dealers and lose only 10% of their revenue.  For the dealers affected – many of them longtime family businesses – the impact will be much larger.  Some dealerships were diversified with agreements with multiple manufacturers and should be able to make up some of the shortfall by focusing on selling the other brands.  Others, however, had all their eggs in one manufacturer’s basket and will simply be unable to sell new cars unless they are able to procure a franchise agreement with another manufacturer.

Gay marriage

Gay marriage continues to be a hot topic.  California’s supreme court is set to rule on whether or not to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage that was enacted by proposition 8.  The court overturned the previous ban on gay marriage last May.  New Hampshire’s governor has said that he would approve a gay marriage bill if the legislature changes the bill to allow certain protections for churches.  The legislature will vote on the altered bill this week.  Gay marriage is being debated in several other states.  Currently, gay marriage is legal is 6 states – California, Connececticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachussetts,and Vermont.  Once this numbers gets to about 15, I think there will be a tidal wave of states that pass bill allowing it.  With Democrats (who are bigger proponents of gay rights) in control in many states, this would be the ideal time for them to move forward with gay marriage bills, expecially with a currently high level of public support.

Governors and Senators

Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson has decided resign in order to run for governor in 2010.  On the flip side, Florida governor Charlie Crist has decided to run for senate in 2010.  As critical as Florida has been in recent elections, a Democratic pickup in the Florida governorship could be just what the Dems need to tilt the balance a bit more to the left.

On the Bunning front, Kentucky Republican senator Jim Bunning has decided that he will indeed run for re-election, in spite of previous reports to the contrary.  Ron Paul’s son, Rand, may join in the fray in the Republican primary.  Circle this one as a race to watch.  Hall of Fame pitcher Bunning has become an embarrasment for his party, and his won party make seek to undermine his efforts at re-election.  Bunning narrowly won in 2004 and would likely lose to a strong Democratic challenger.

Farrah Fawcett

There’s another reason to like Farrah Fawcett.  She became convinced that someone at UCLA medical center was leaking her medical records to the press.  In order to confirm her suspicions, she intentionally withheld news from her family and friends when her cancer returned in 2007.  When the information found its way to the National Enquirer, Fawcett knew that someone at UCLA was the source.  An investigation found that employee Lawanda Jackson was responsible for the leaks.  Jackson was convicted, but died of cancer before she could be sentenced.

Fawcett’s actions have raised awareness of the seriousness of patient privacy and the need for harsh penalties for those who breach that privacy.


Note: inaccurate information regarding the California Supreme Court has been corrected.

A small victory

May 12, 2009

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Senators Charles Schumer and Mark Warner have announced that the FTC is close to filing a lawsuit against companies that use deceptive telemarketing techniques to sell extended car warranties.  Additionally, these companies are often in violation of the federal Do Not Call list.  I receive at least a few of these every year – interestingly, the representatives can never tell me what type of car I own.

I try not to get overly political in The Soap Boxers, but I ask you to contact your Senators and Representatives not only to voice your support for this lawsuit, but also to urge them to pass more stringent rules regarding telemarketing.  I have a couple of specific recommendations.  Feel free to suggest additional rules in the comments section.

A total ban on robo-calls and auto-dialing.  Many states already have bans on these computer-assisted techniques.  I would broaden this ban to include political calls.  If your message is important, hire a human to tell me about it and add some jobs.  If you can’t afford this, the your message really isn’t that important.

Impose stronger penalties for violations of the Do-Not-Call list.  Send some executives to prison.  Many telemarketers I speak to have no concerns about DNC violations, and a couple have feigned ignorance of it.  This must stop.

Obama, Specter, Bunning, Kemp

May 4, 2009

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We are past the 100 day mark in Barack Obama’s presidency. The country continues to find itself in a recession. The housing market slides further downward, and more Americans find themselves unemployed.  Detroit finds itself at the epicenter, with Chrysler filing for chapter 11 (reorganization) bankruptcy and GM taking drastic steps of its own – planning to shut down 16 of its 21 plants for 9 weeks during the summer and also planning to buy out 40% of its franchise agreements.

The country is divided on the job that the administration is doing. On Saturday, billionaire Warren Buffet said that he felt the government was taking the right steps to move out of the recession, although Buffett was not sure what the immediate future might hold.  On the other side, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh continues to criticize the vast majority of moves that the Obama administration makes.

The central them that I have observed, however, is that the discussion of the administration has been centering on the policies they are implementing or intending to implement.  The fact that our president is African-American – something that were were constantly reminded of during the election – appears to be completely lost in the melee.  For that, I am pleased.  I feel that this does not diminish the importance of this step in our country’s history, but instead enhances it.  I optimistically believe that we are judging the president on his merits (or perceived merits) with little regard to the color of his skin.

On an Obama tangent, singer LaShell Griffin, who sang for Obama on the campaign trail, is giving free concerts.  Griffin asks that concertgoers donate to the homeless instead.  I know absolutely nothing about this woman, but that sounds pretty cool.

Arlen Specter

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania turned a few heads by switching parties and becoming a Democrat.  Specter had actually been a Democrat in long-ago days, but had been a Republican since 1966.  Assuming that Al Franken eventually prevails in the Minnesota senate race, and furthing assuming that all Democrats follow party lines on cloture votes, the Democrats would have a filibuster-proof majority, as 60 Senators can invoke cloture to end debate on a bill and force a vote.

The wife of a co-worker was quite disappointed in Specter, saying that this should not be allowed, as people had voted for him as a Republican, and were now getting a Democrat instead.  I am an unaffiliated voter, and would hope that people would have voted for Specter based on his stance on the issues, rather than simply his party (although I realize that this is hopelessly optimistic).

So, why did Specter switch parties?  Most likely, because he was afraid of losing a primary contest to Pat Toomey, who is considerably more conservative.  Pennsylvania has been trending more democratic lately, and his views are moderate enough to win as a Democrat but probably not conservative enough to win as  Republican.

Jim Bunning

In news that is likely to make Republicans happy, Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning (a former Major League pitcher who threw two no-hitters, including a Father’s Day perfect game) appears to retiring at the end of his term, choosing to support Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the Republican Primary.  Bunning has exhibited some erratic behavior in recent years, and the GOP leadership has been trying to get him to agree not to run in 2010 for fear of losing the seat that Bunning narrowly defended in the 2004 election.  He had responded by threatening to step down immediately (which would allow Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (a Democrat)  to appoint his replacement.  Beshear would likely have appointed a Democrat.  It appears that Bunning has decided to take the high road.

Jack Kemp

Jack Kemp,  former MVP of the American Football league and longtime congressman from New York, has died of cancer at the age of 78.  Kemp was a long shot to ever have a meaningful football career, being drafted in the 17th round of the NFL draft and being cut by several other teams before landing with the Buffalo Bills of the AFL (a league that competed with the NFL before they eventually merged).  He led the Bills to titles in 1964 and 1965.  After retiring from football, he ran for congress.  He served 9 terms in the House of Representatives before serving as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George H.W. Bush.  Kemp ran unsuccessfully for president in 1988 and vice president (with Bob Dole) in 1996.  For further information on the interesting life of Jack Kemp, check out his Wikipedia page.

News wrapup

April 13, 2009

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For those of you who are paying attention, I am going to swap the news and sports days.  News will be on Mondays, Sports on Tuesday.

Minnesota Senate

I have already lampooned this situation once, but this election continues to be contested.  Al Franken leads Norm Coleman by 312 votes.  Coleman is very likely to appeal to the Minnesota supreme court, and if he loses there, the US Supreme Court (although I’m not sure why the SCOTUS would hear a case that appears to be fundamentally a state issue).

I’m not going to put one party at fault.  If Franken was 312 votes behind, it is likely that he would be following the same steps.  However, as months and possibly years go by as this election is sorted out, Minnesota will be have only one US Senator.  It would be beneficial for the citizens of Minnesota if a quick solution could be hammered out, although I am not sure what that solution would be.

Palin / Johnston

Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, the father of her child, recently broke up.  Certainly that is unfortunate.  What is even worse is that the Johnstons and Palins have been taking pot shots at each other in the media.  Come on, folks, let’s keep the dirty laundry behind closed doors.

Gay Marriage

Last week, the supreme court in my home state of Iowa struck down a legislative ban on gay marriage.  Iowa is the first state outside of New England to legalize gay marriage.  Republicans in the legislature would like to add a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (which would invalidate the Court’s opinion that the existing law was unconstitutional).  This is not likely to happen for a while, though.  Such an bill would have to be passed in two consecutive sessions of the legislature before being place on the ballot.  The majority leaders seem to not be interested in pursuing such a course of action.

In Vermont, the legislature legalized gay marriage.  This is the first instance of a legislature, rather than a state court, legalizing gay marriage.  The bill had broad support in the legislature, as they needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

I personally applaud these decision.s  Many people say that this will tear apart the fabric of traditional marriage.  I disagree.  Divorce and domestic violence are the problems that are tearing apart the fabric of traditional marriage.  I have come to believe that sexual orientation is largely a biological issue.  I do not believe that the vast majority of gays choose that orientation.  If it was a matter of choice, why would people choose a path that is filled with so much hatred and so many obstacles?  Recent polls show that public support for gay marriage and civil unions is on the rise; I feel that it is a matter of time before gay marriage is legal in all states (although it may taken a few more decades).

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