Free Markets, Free People


Is access to the internet a “civil right”?

Well, of course anything can be declared a “civil right”.  All it takes is using the force of government via law or bureaucratic fiat (FCC imposes new rules on internet) to make something into that.  But any basic understanding of the word “right” does not include something which depends on the labor, money, services or assets of a 2nd party for its fulfillment.  Health care is not a “right”, civil or otherwise, because in order to fulfill it, one must coerce a 2nd party provider to give the services necessary whether they want to or not.

So is the internet a “civil right”?  Depends on who you ask – for the entitlement crowd, the answer is “yes”:

"Broadband is becoming a basic necessity," civil-rights activist Benjamin Hooks added. And earlier this month, fellow FCC panelist Mignon Clyburn, daughter of Congressional Black Caucus leader and No. 3 House Democrat James Clyburn of South Carolina, declared that free (read: taxpayer-subsidized) access to the Internet is not only a civil right for every "nappy-headed child" in America, but is essential to their self-esteem. Every minority child, she said, "deserves to be not only connected, but to be proud of who he or she is."

Heck, the same argument could be made for any number of things – a cell phone, for instance.  Any number of people I’m sure would argue that a cell phone and unlimited access to a cellular phone network has become a “basic necessity”.   Of course we’re sliding down that slippery slope at an amazing rate of speed.

And if internet access is a “basic need”, a “civil right”, what about the tools necessary to access it?  An account with an internet provider and a computer?  Software?  Michelle Malkin remarks:

Face it: A high-speed connection is no more an essential civil right than 3G cell phone service or a Netflix account. Increasing competition and restoring academic excellence in abysmal public schools is far more of an imperative to minority children than handing them iPads. Once again, Democrats are using children as human shields to provide useful cover for not so noble political goals.

And, of course that “not so noble political goal” is more government control which, of course, translates into more power accrued and more control of every aspect of your life.  Malkin again:

For progressives who cloak their ambitions in the mantle of "fairness," it’s all about control. It’s always about control.

Precisely – and they’ll use any trick in the book to enlarge it.  And cloaking it in the guise of a “civil right” simply points out, again, how blatantly transparent  they’ve gotten in their quest.  This isn’t about “rights” – this is about power and intrusion.



A Smarter Response to the State of the Union Address

[Note: You might have already seen this at The Next Right or mentioned at Politico.  I’m cross-posting here for more feedback and in the hope you’ll help spread the word.]

After the election, I saw several Republicans discussing who should deliver the SOTU response speech.

No one should.

First, any speech is bound to suffer by comparison to a speech before a joint session of Congress, with the Supreme Court in attendance.  Republicans tried to capture some of the same spirit by having Bob McDonnell speak before a small crowd of supporters in the Virginia House of Delegates chamber, but if you can’t match the pomp and grandeur of the president, try to avoid a direct comparison.

Not only is the venue working against you, but the president is a nationally-elected official; no member of the opposition can have the same stature.  Appearing to try to match the president’s status just plays to his strengths.

And finally, a speech, to be delivered immediately after the president’s carefully-planned opening move, puts the responder at a disadvantage.  Since the response speech is written without knowing exactly what the president is going to say, what is supposed to be a criticism of the president’s speech or agenda is relayed in vague terms, not pointed responses.  A prepared speech can only talk past the president, appearing deaf to what the president just said in the marquee event.

This precious free airtime could be spent dismantling the president’s argument, then pivoting to counterattack and providing alternatives.

How can the opposition do this?

Take advantage of the fact that they have fewer restraints.

First, make it a table discussion with more than one responder.  As a suggestion, include at least one governor to remind the audience that there are independent sources of authority, laboratories of policy that should retain their power to handle local problems (a big-city mayor could also do), and also include a legislator representing the opposition in Congress to directly address the president’s agenda on the federal level.

This also takes the pressure off of any one person to speak for the party, and signals that the opposition is having a frank conversation, not speaking press-release style through the great filter of lawyers and focus-group-tested language.  Make good use of stars like Paul Ryan and Chris Christie who have shown they’re champs at off-the-cuff communication and aren’t afraid to take on big issues.  Bobby Jindal would have been far better suited to this than talking into a camera solo.

Second, use resources the president doesn’t have.  The president is limited by the tradition of giving his speech in the chamber of the House of Representatives, which only affords him a microphone, a teleprompter and an audience.  Instead of trying to beat the president at his own game, use a modern-looking studio, where the responders can make use of supporting staff and visual aids like charts and video.

And this extra content should come from a well-coordinated rapid-response team who provide ammunition for the response.

  • The model for responding to a speech in progress is liveblogging.  Certain people, by some mix of expertise, encyclopedic memory and quick wit, have proven they can tear apart a carefully-crafted speech in real time.  Identify these people—bloggers, political operatives, think-tankers—and (with their advance permission) borrow their best arguments and lines.
  • A media team would be responsible for matching the president’s remarks to earlier video and quotes from the president, his advisers and top congressional allies that contradicted the president’s SOTU message.  Anyone with a good memory and a well-ordered catalogue of video and/or transcripts can do this.  What could be more damaging than showing that the speech just delivered contained flip-flops?
  • To respond to specific policy proposals and claims, have a team of stat junkies, economists and others who can call up relevant charts and other visuals to help the responders on-screen.

This kind of rapid counter-offensive would be much more entertaining than the president’s exhausting, conventional address, giving viewers a good reason to stick around afterward.  And it would be much more effective than current efforts like sending out fact-check emails and post-speech press releases, the contents of which are read by only a tiny minority of people who saw the speech.

Don’t play to the president’s strengths. Use your own, leveraging all the media available to you that the president doesn’t have.

Are conservative ideas in the ascendency?

For all those on the progressive side expecting a miracle to take place on Nov. 2nd and sweep the polling places clear of those pesky right-wing nut-jobs, I hate to disappoint you.  Instead, you need to concentrate on the size of the sweep that will take place – will it be a ripple?  A wave?  Or a tsunami?

Frankly, it’s beginning to look a bit like a tsunami is possible.  In 1994, in what is popularly considered a “blow out” in political circles, the GOP took 54 House seats back in the mid-term elections. 




Take a look at these comparisons (which obviously include “committed” independents in the “lean” categories).  Compare 1994 and 2010.  Note two things – 1) there’s a 6+ point difference between then and now favoring the Republicans.  2) Among independents, all but a few (and much fewer than in 1994) are not already committed (meaning there isn’t likely to be a sudden “surge” of indies going left in the remaining few days to swing the elections over to the Dems).

Last, but not least, look at the self-identified categories at the bottom.  In all categories but “moderate” there has been growth.  Most would argue this demonstrates the polarization of our polity.  I’d agree.  Moderates have lost 16 points since 1994.  Liberals have gained 8, as have conservatives.  However, the conservatives hold a decided edge over liberals.  What that means is liberals need moderates much more than conservatives do.  And it is the moderates and independents who are right now rejecting the liberals in Congress.

The point conservatives should take away from this is – at least as this poll demonstrates –  that their ideas are winning.  And to me, that says they have the backing to aggressively pursue their agenda. Note I said “aggressively”, not stupidly, or arrogantly or, well choose your own modifier and count on them to find a way to screw it up.  Wisely may be a better way of saying it.

What do I mean by that?  Here’s another survey to consider from Harris Interactive.  It is the “right direction/wrong direction” poll for the country you see from various polling firms.  To me it best indicates what is and has been going on within the polity for quite some time.  What it also indicates is this anger and frustration isn’t new nor is it necessarily aimed at the current President or Congress.  Instead it is something which has been existent for a long time and is finally coming to a head, driven most likely by the economic conditions, government overreach and fiscal profligacy:


YEAR   Right Dir % Wrong Dir %
2010 Oct 34 66
  Sep 36 64
  Aug 35 65
  Jun 34 66
  Apr 39 61
  Mar 33 67
2009 Dec 37 63
  Aug 46 54
  Mar 32 68
  Jan 19 72
2008 Oct 11 83
  Feb 23 69
2007 Dec 18 74
  Feb 29 62
2006 May 24 69
  Feb 32 59

1997 Dec 39 56
  Apr 36 55
1996 Dec 38 50
  Jun 29 64
1995 Dec 26 62
  Jun 24 65
1994 Dec 29 63
  Jun 28 65
1993 Jun 21 70
  Mar 39 50
1992 Jun 12 81
  Jan 20 75

Note that 1994 was the big wave GOP takeover of the House during the Clinton years.  And during the lead up, you saw the percentage dissatisfaction with the direction of the country as high as 81% – only exceeded by the 83% during the Bush era in October of 2008 – a month before the national presidential election.

Some may write this off to a cynical public, two-thirds of whom always see the glass as half-empty.  But I think it goes much deeper than that to a public that has become increasingly aware that the premise on which this country was founded is being systematically betrayed by those engaged in governance.  And, as the chart demonstrates, that belief isn’t held exclusively to one party.  When the GOP was seen as betraying their principles, they too were seen as putting the country on the wrong track.

You may look at the chart and say, “ wait a minute, how do you conclude that – the public seems equally disenchanted with both sides given the numbers.”  I’d point back to the other chart showing “conservatives” with 48% and rising and say there hasn’t been much in the way of “conservative” governance in the last 20 years.  That’s why, for the most part, the “wrong track” remains consistent through both GOP and Democrat administrations.   Democrats thought it was because of a disenchantment with the GOP.   The GOP thought it was because the Democrats over reached.  In fact, it was both of these and the fact that neither the GOP or the Democrats (particularly the Democrats) were conservative enough.

What you see now, driven by obvious unfettered and unacceptable deficit spending, government intrusion and takeovers is that anger and frustration finally boiling over.  It is, of course, enabled by out technology today, but it is truly grass-roots (despite the best efforts of the left to characterize it as otherwise).   And that’s what both mystifies and terrifies politicians.  A finger in the wind doesn’t work so well right now.  Despite incredible attempts to demonize them, ordinary people are standing up in town hall meetings and demanding answers to questions that politicians would prefer to avoid.  There’s heckling at “debates”.  Even violence (on both sides – as the left goes batsh*t crazy over the “head stomping”, let’s not forget the older gentleman at the Tea Party rally who had his finger bitten off by an SEIU thug). 

It points to a restive populace tired of the same old promises, same old problems and same old “fixes”.   An interesting phenomenon is occurring that has many political observers on both the left and the right scratching their heads as they try to understand it.  We’re seeing the creation of spontaneous order at a grass-roots level of citizens who’ve had enough of business as usual.  It scares the establishment to death.  And that, folks, is healthy.  The citizenry needs to keep our politicians in that state constantly. 

Then – perhaps – they might figure out what it is the citizens of this country really want out of their government.  And unless I’ve read it wrong, it isn’t the bloated, intrusive, hugely expensive and profligate mess they’ve created.  Mr. Obama needs to learn that the country doesn’t think “government is cool” – only necessary.  And that necessity needs to be tempered and quickly.  Until it is, he and all politicians can count on continuing to see exactly what they see today in direction of the country polls and outspoken voter discontent – no matter which party they represent.



Blogrolling Says “Goodbye”

If you use Google Chrome, you may have noticed a horrific security warning that the Blogrolling RPC script is running malware. As of today, you’ll notice that the warning no longer appears. We’ve used Blogrolling for years to generate the links for the Bear Flag League and Old Dominion Blog Alliance. Those Blogrolling links have now been removed.

Tucows, the owner of Blogrolling, has also noticed these problems. Sadly, they’ve decided that it would cost too much to fix the malware and security problems. As a result, Blogrolling will be shut down completely. This is sad, because Blogrolling was really the first useful link aggregator for managing blogrolls. Now, it seems the march of technology has passed it by. I don’t know how blog alliance links will be managed in its absence.

If you are a blogger, and you use Blogrolling, you should be formulating your plans for how you are going to replace it.

This is the Droid you’re looking for

Well, I no longer have a Motorola Droid. It’s gone.

Verizon gives you this 30 day deal where you’re allowed to swap out your phone. so I decided to take a look at the HTC Incredible. To make a long story short, I walked out with one.

The one sticking point with me was that the HTC didn’t have a physical keyboard. But I’ve noticed over the last few days that I didn’t even use the physical keyboard on the Motorola. The Incredible just seemed like a better device, after playing with it in the Verizon store for a while.

It has a 1GH processor compared to the 533MH processor on the Droid. An 8 megapixel camera compared to the Droid’s 5 megapixel one. And the virtual keyboard is pretty good, too. My only complaint so far is that the predictive text feature on the Droid works better. I’m sure I’ll get used to the way HTC has implemented the feature but the Droid’s was better out of the box.

The camera on the Incredible seems to be a lot better than the Droid, and it works a lot faster.

The HTC also has one thing most newer cell phones completely lack, and the the little lanyard attachment point. I have this little utility pouch from Wingnut that I hang off a belt loop of my pants, or my motorcycle pants. I use it to carry a multitool, a backup knife, a Cross Ion pen, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. It also has a cell phone pocket with a quick-release lanyard you can attach to the phone.

Anyway, I have the new Incredible, and so far I’m really liking it. It’s what I’m using to write this post, in fact.

Thank you, Verizon, for letting me use a Droid for a week as a trainer phone for Android, and then giving me a free upgrade to a better phone.

At least, I think it’s a better phone. The real test will come on Sunday, when we see if the call quality to BlogTalkRadio is as good on the HTC as the Droid was last week.

A new pleasure (Updated)

So, yesterday Verizon notified me that I was eligible for a new phone upgrade. I popped ’round to the phone store, and after much hemming and hawing, “settled” for a Motorola Droid.

Itbseems to have a nice application market, one of whose products is the app I’m using to write this post.

Yep. I’m phone-blogging.

It’s really amazing where the march of mobile technology is taking us. Yesterday, I came across an old news video from 1981, which talked about how some newspapers were starting to put out electronic versions–text only, of course–onto computers. Subscribers with computers could log on via modem and download the whole paper. It only took two hours to download, at a cost of $10 per download–the equivalent of $23 in 2010 dollars.

And today, I can instantly publish to the whole world via my phone, for free.

We’ve now advanced to the point where we have phones whose least valuable feature is the ability to make telephone calls.

UPDATE: Sorry about the multiple posts. I kept getting a bad gateway error, so I kept republishing…without looking to see if it published. My bad, not the phone’s.

So far the phone just rocks.

The Internet: Still Not Getting It

It’s been an interesting week for me, because I’ve run into three situations that illustrate to me that, even though the Internet has been around since 1995, and has been hugely important to business–and politics, of course–since 2000, it’s clear that many people are still unclear about it.  Ive been a web developer since ’96, and have been the Managing Principal of WebmasterDeveloper.Com since 2003.  There was a time when I just assumed that no one knew anything about the Internet, and that sort of attitude among customers was defensible. In 2010, however, those days should be long gone.

But that attitude is still out there, and I’ve been hit over the head with it repeatedly this week.

Client 1:

This client created an affiliate marketing web site, aimed at a group of customers to which they have direct access through their other lines of business.  They spent months crafting the web site to provide the best affiliate programs they can think of.  After going live with their web site a few weeks ago, they’ve had 1 sale, and about 40 affiliate click-throughs.  They were shocked that their direct marketing of the site to existing customers has had such a dismal response.  In the course of conversation with the client, I asked, “Did you ever do any surveys of your customers to see what kind of offers would have value to them?  The answer:  No.  We didn’t want to spend a bunch of startup capital doing that.

They’ve spent thousands of dollars building a web site without any knowledge about what their customers want.  They’ve never talked to their customers; never gotten any idea of what their customers need, and how to fulfill that need.  They’ve spent every penny on building a web site to fulfill a need they haven’t even defined with their customers.  And now, since the customers aren’t responding, they’re concerned that there may be some sort of technical problem.

Client 2:

“I haven’t been getting any orders from my web site.  Apparently, the web host shut my site down for non-payment, but I don’t remember getting any notifications that there was a problem with my credit card. Anyway, can you see what I owe, so I can pay them, and you guys can download my site and transfer it to another web host?”  As it happens, the web host not only sent out email notifications, but made phone calls to try and collect payment, with no response.  In May of 2009.  Of course, their web site files are loooong gone.

So, the client clearly hasn’t even looked at his own web site for at least 10 months.

Client 3:

This client is completely changing their web site to become the single point of contact with their customer base.  Their customers will have to pay an annual fee just to see the products they sell, then use the web site to submit initial bids for salvage auctions.  I informed the client via email that we needed content from them.  I received an angry phone call from the client, who screamed at me, “I just want to concentrate on my business, which is [widget salvage]!  I don’t want to spend all my time doing web design!  That’s what I pay you for!”

In other words, the client wants to make the web site his sole source of initial interaction with his customers, but he is uninterested in writing any content for it.  His web site will be the primary public access that customers have to his company, but working on the web site is a distraction from his real business.

And the real kicker is, on the day we finished the initial programming, he drops the bombshell that the site’s design–which he approved on January 27–is completely unacceptable, and he wants to completely redesign the site.  This is akin to approving the blueprints for a home construction project, then kiting in on the day the contractor finishes laying the last bits of carpet and exclaiming, “I wanted four bedrooms, not three!”

All of these clients, despite their differing details, have one glaring thing in common:  It’s the assumption that once something goes out onto the Internet, it works because pixies sprinkle magical fairy dust on it.  Tinkerbell waves her wand, sparkly bits fly through the air, and money just comes rolling in to your bank account.

In the real world, the Internet operates on the same principles any brick and mortar business does.  You still have to perform due diligence.  You still need to market to your customers.  You still need to go into the office–even if it’s a virtual one.

Nothing magical happens simply because people can access your business online, rather than jumping in the car and driving to it.

New Technology gives a 360 degree view of devastation in Haiti

I have to admit upfront that I have a conflict of interest on this, but the Immersive Media cameras from my sisters company are amazing. Throw in that it gives some of the best views of the devastation in Haiti and I am kind of speechless. Go ahead and take a trip with them through Port au Prince and drag the view to look around in a full 360 degree view from a moving vehicle.

In addition to taking you into this disaster the potential applications seem rather large to me. Check it out. You can grab the screen while it is still or when playing and drag the view wherever you want.


The initial commercial applications are kind of obvious, but I am curious about the applications to entertainment. Specifically movies. Like most new ways of filming I expect the initial efforts to be gimmicky, and low in actual value other than the novelty. However, imagine watching movies with an interactive ability for the viewer to shift the camera view from a first person point of view. The directors focus becomes less of an issue, and all of what is happening in view of whoever a character is becomes part of the story. Talk about taking the idea behind something like Vantage Point to a new level. Other interactive technologies could be combined with more impact.

You can view more footage of Haiti and look into the technology at

Update: The autoplay was annoying, and the embed for the other footage seems to be having a problem at the moment, so I included a link to a video instead until the flash embed starts working again.

A Closer Look At European Health Care

We continue to hear how wonderful it is as compared to the horrible US system.

But is it? One of the fundamental truths of any health care system is you have infinite demand meeting finite resources (beds, doctors, availability, etc). Whatever system a country has, that truth doesn’t change.

So, regardless of system, there is going to be some sort of rationing. It is unavoidable and inevitable.

Now add a desire to control and cut costs associated with the provision of health care to the mix (the promise of every one of these government systems). On the one side, as European nations have done, access to health care is expanded to include everyone. On the other hand, these same nations attempt to control health care costs.

The result? Very mixed. France is always held up as the exception to the rule that government health care can’t be both good and inexpensive. But a closer examination seems to indicate that it isn’t an exception at all:

A World Health Organization survey in 2000 found that France had the world’s best health system. But that has come at a high price; health budgets have been in the red since 1988.

In 1996, France introduced targets for health insurance spending. But a decade later, the deficit had doubled to 49 billion euros ($69 billion).

“I would warn Americans that once the government gets its nose into health care, it’s hard to stop the dangerous effects later,” said Valentin Petkantchin, of the Institut Economique Molinari in France. He said many private providers have been pushed out, forcing a dependence on an overstretched public system.

Why have private providers been “pushed out”? Because government has provided health care “cheaper” than do private providers (and obviously at a loss given the deficit). Notice I said “cheaper”. That doesn’t necessarily mean “better”.

And the same thing is being seen in other European health care systems which are considered “models” of government run health care:

Similar scenarios have been unfolding in the Netherlands and Switzerland, where everyone must buy health insurance.

“The minute you make health insurance mandatory, people start overusing it,” said Dr. Alphonse Crespo, an orthopedic surgeon and research director at Switzerland’s Institut Constant de Rebecque. “If I have a cold, I might go see a doctor because I am already paying a health insurance premium.”

Cost-cutting has also hit Switzerland. The numbers of beds have dropped, hospitals have merged, and specialist care has become harder to find. A 2007 survey found that in some hospitals in Geneva and Lausanne, the rates of medical mistakes had jumped by up to 40 percent. Long ranked among the world’s top four health systems, Switzerland dropped to 8th place in a Europe-wide survey last year.

Dr. Crespo’s point is simply an astute observation of human nature. If something doesn’t directly cost the user, why would the user ration the use of such a benefit?

The use, however, still costs someone or something. The doctor must be paid, the institution must be paid, etc. So in the end, the only way to control costs is to cut payments. Eventually, the incentives to enter the health care field become less attractive (unless you like long hours, overrun waiting rooms, minimal time with patients, being second-guessed by a bureaucracy and making much less than a private system allows for compensation) and there are fewer that enter the field. Hospital beds then drop, hospitals merge and there are fewer specialists available to serve the population as Switzerland is discovering.

And then there’s the lack of innovation to face.

Bureaucracies are slow to adopt new medical technologies. In Britain and Germany, even after new drugs are approved, access to them is complicated because independent agencies must decide if they are worth buying.

When the breast cancer drug Herceptin was proven to be effective in 1998, it was available almost immediately in the U.S. But it took another four years for the U.K. to start buying it for British breast cancer patients.

The promise that has been made in the US is health care reform will return the decision making to the doctor. But that’s simply a false promise given the priorities of the reform we’ve been promised. It is to cut cost and make care “affordable” to all. Somewhere is a bureaucracy in waiting which will decide what “affordable” means – and it won’t include your doctor.

So you can expect innovation to begin to slow. Why invest billions when a bureaucracy will decide whether or not it’s a medicine or treatment worth the cost. The same bureaucracy will also decide what it will pay for your innovation. Of course, if the innovator can’t recover the cost of development and make a profit as incentive toward more innovation, the probability exits the developer will simply stop such research.

“Government control of health care is not a panacea,” said Philip Stevens, of International Policy Network, a London think-tank. “The U.S. health system is a bit of a mess, but based on what’s happened in some countries in Europe, I’d be nervous about recommending more government involvement.”

Words of wisdom most likely to be ignored by our legislators here. And the unfortunate thing is it will not only destroy an excellent health care system here, but, given the level of government spending forecast, tank the rest of the economy as well.


[HT: Carol D]