Congress

Tech firms finally call for NSA surveillance reforms

After months of mostly silence on the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection programs, which includes obtaining information of Americans’ phone calls and Internet records, leading tech firms have finally spoken out and launched a campaign for reform.

A half dozen firms — including Facebook, Google, Twiter, and Microsoft — have written letter to President Barack Obama and members of Congress in which they explain that the federal government must reform laws to protect Americans’ privacy. The firms have also launched a website — ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com — that outlines the principles of reform.

“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide,” wrote the firms in the letter. “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”

“For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope,” the letter continues.

HealthCare.gov gets relaunched but bugs still not fixed, experts say

CNN tests Healthcare.gov

In spite of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ promise that the HealthCare.gov website’s relaunch on November 30th would offer a much better experience to users, tech-security experts have claimed that some of the exchange website’s bugs haven’t been properly tackled yet.

According to Reuters, experts who testified before Congress during a hearing by the House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee said that HealthCare.gov still poses threats to the personal data of Americans who sign up.

According to Morgan Wright, one of the tech-security experts that testified before Congress, the risks the website pose to citizens’ financial and Social Security data continue to be limitless. He also pointed out that a memorandum issued by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services was signed off on a finding that Americans’ personal data would be at risk of falling into the hands of hackers.

Despite the experts’ testimonials, White House Press Secretary stated that consumers can “trust that the information that they are providing is protected by stringent security standards” after the hearing.

A report provided by David Kennedy, a former U.S. Marine Corps cyber-intelligence analyst, highlighted the many issues with the website and that they would require the administration a minimum of seven to 12 months to make sure they are actually fixed.

No, Mr. President, expanding Medicaid isn’t a “no brainer”

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama visited Dallas, Texas to give a speech in front of supporters in which he tried to pressure Republican governors to expand Medicaid, a government program that covers people who make below 138% of the federal poverty line.

“We were just talking on the way over here that in addition to signing people up for the marketplaces so they can buy private insurance, part of the Affordable Care Act was expanding the number of working families who would qualify for Medicaid,” President Obama told supporters.

“Here in just the Dallas area, 133,000 people who don’t currently have health insurance would immediately get health insurance without even having to go through the website if the state of Texas decided to do it,” he said. “There’s over $500 million just for this county that would come in to help families get health insurance — has nothing to do with the website — if the state of Texas made this decision.”

“And your neighboring states have made that decision because they look at it and they say, this is a no-brainer, why would not — why would we not want to take advantage of this,” he added.

The fact that President Obama gave this speech in Texas, home to the country’s largest uninsured population, isn’t a coincidence. Seeking to capitalize on the state’s large Hispanic population, there is a big push by activist Democrats with help from the party to “turn Texas blue.” Part of this effort is to pressure Texas politicians, including Gov. Rick Perry, to accept Medicaid expansion, which is part of the Obamacare.

A Single-Payer Health Care System Would Put Us in More Debt

spending

When Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) suggested that a single-payer system is the “cure for America’s ailing health care,” he suggested that ObamaCare was a small step in comparison to the reform he envisions. And what would this reform be, you ask.

The subsidized program that places the health care monopoly in the hands of the government.

Thomas Sowell pointed out that the reason why the single-payer system still sounds appealing to some is that people are being fooled into thinking that they are getting something for nothing. Health care at no cost for every single American, subsidized by taxpayer dollars is their goal, and the ObamaCare failure might be just the type of blessing that Congress is looking for.

But before we continue, have you ever asked yourself whether single-payer system supporters understand or even realize that subsidized health care is not free?

According to a report released by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, during 113th Congress’ first six months, some lawmakers have been much more interested in pushing for the singe-payer health care system than introducing budget cuts. All legislation introduced during the first six months in both the House and the Senate would increase spending by $1.74 trillion. Cuts introduced by Congress would only amount to $453 billion.

One-Year Individual Mandate Delay Wouldn’t Cripple ObamaCare

individual mandate

There’s no question that the individual mandate is the center of the ObamaCare universe.  Many other provisions are crucial to the law, but none to the extent of the individual mandate.  This is what made John Roberts’ decision last June to abandon originalism by constitutionally validating the individual mandate tax-penalty so painful.  Regardless of where the court came down on severability, the law could not have effectively functioned without the mandate intact.

Which brings us to the most recent episode of the ObamaCare delay game, this time focused on a one-year individual mandate delay.  At the height of the CR/debt-ceiling showdown, I wrote a post titled “Don’t Settle for One-Year Individual Mandate Delay,” arguing that any acceptable compromise would need to at least delay the exchange subsidies to be an effective barrier toward full implementation.

Those were the good ol’ days where there was hope that the Republicans would stand together and fight for real ObamaCare concessions.  Like defunding it or a one-year delay of the entire law.  In retrospect, I suppose I should have written a post titled “Don’t Settle for…Nothing.”

So here’s my point again: The first year of the individual mandate isn’t that big of a deal.  It’s an existential issue as a matter of constitutional law and individual liberty generally, but don’t believe the hype that the individual mandate is absolutely essential to ObamaCare in the first year.

There are two major reasons why:

Rand Paul proposes constitutional amendment to make laws applicable to Congress

If laws do not apply equally to Americans and members of the U.S. Congress, they shouldn’t be put on the books in the first place.

While this thought may seem commonsensical enough, it does not seem good enough for folks in Washington. The Affordable Care Act, for an instance, ensures that lawmakers continue to obtain federal employer contributions, which are destined to help them with their health insurance. The financial assistance that lawmakers and some Capitol Hill aides will continue to receive what amounts to an exemption from ObamaCare, which prompted Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) to act and ensure the legislative language is modified so that lawmakers are not exempt from the law.

To prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) drafted a constitutional amendment that would assure Congress “shall make no law applicable to a citizen of the United States that is not equally applicable to Congress.”

According to The Daily Caller, Senator Paul explained earlier in September that the amendment he was then working on was directed to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts: “If he likes Obamacare so much, I’m going to give him an amendment that gives Obamacare to Justice Roberts.”

Congress passes Reid-McConnell funding, debt ceiling deal

Passage of Reid-McConnell in the House

The government shutdown has come to an end and the debt ceiling has been raised after Congress passed the deal worked out between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

The final deal is funds the federal government through January 15 and raises the debt ceiling to February 7. It also allows for budget negotiations between the two chambers, with the goal of coming to an agreement by December 13. Those points were sort of the basic parts of the deal.

Other aspects of the deal include, according to Jamie Dupree, back-pay for furloughed federal workers, reporting requirements on verification procedures for ObamaCare subsidies, and blocks a pay raise for Congress in FY 2014.

Critics call for the opposite of a “clean” deal on debt ceiling

debt ceiling

President Barack Obama has made himself clear: he will not sign a debt ceiling bill unless it’s “clean,” meaning that he will not negotiate.

Under President Obama, the total federal debt increased by 57 percent. Once he took oath, the federal debt stood at $10.6 trillion. The total debt now stands at $16.7 trillion. Under President George W. Bush, the total federal debt rose 38 percent. President Bill Clinton’s term saw a 32 percent increase of the total federal debt.

Due to the current federal debt, critics of this administration’s pursue of an increase in the debt limit have been pressuring lawmakers to ensure that Congress does not allow for an increase. Expanding the amount of money the U.S. can borrow means one thing in the long run: that the money we now have will not be spent on useful programs that need the funding, and that more money will be necessary in order to have some, if any, of what we owe paid back.

Reason’s Nick Gillespie points out in this video for Reason TV that because of the significant growth of the federal government’s net interest payments, the government will have to find a way to obtain more revenue in order to pay some of its debt, which will inevitably lead to a reduction of private investment in productive resources, stifling the economy and keeping potential business owners from dedicating themselves to their ventures.

A Federated Approach Toward a Federated Approach

a fellow contributor here at United Liberty, wrote an interesting piece yesterday about the wisdom of not passing an all-encompassing federal budget, even in light of the chaos currently surrounding the shutdown over what gets passed as a continuing resolution and what, in the case of Obamacare, gets funded at all.

Some have argued that mandating the passage of a federal budget — and by “mandate” I mean actually tied to consequences for not doing so — is one way to prevent future shutdowns. But as DesOrmeaux argues, this may not be the most effective way to skin — or herd — a cat:

Many say we have to be responsible and pass a real budget. But the truth is the concept of a single federal budget is actually pretty new. While the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 created the first federal budget process, it wasn’t until the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 that the current version of mandatory budget proposals and resolutions was adopted. For the 150-200 years before that, all federal funding was appropriated with specific bills for programs or departments.

Shutdown illustrates how government views the nation

If you’re a federal employee impacted by the shutdown, then I’m sure you know how much things like this suck.  After all, you were hired to do a job, and right now, you can’t.  I understand that completely.  However, as bad as the shutdown is for you, the shutdown has done one important thing.  It’s shown us just how much power Uncle Sam believes it has.

In an effort to make the shutdown hurt as much as possible, we’ve seen barricades at the World War II Memorial, an open air memorial that maintains no staff.  The same is true of the Lincoln Memorial and other statues and memorials throughout the nation.  Mt. Rushmore is not only closed, but also closed viewing areas so that you can’t even look at the memorial.

They’ve spent money they don’t have to close down things that wouldn’t have cost them a dime to keep open.  This apparently includes parts of the Atlantic Ocean (for the record though, you can boat through it.  You just can’t fish or drop anchor).

“So what,” you might ask.  It is federal territory, after all, and they are shut down.  It may be ridiculous, but why is this an example of how government looks down on us all.  Well, probably because the federal government is also trying to shut down state parks that receive just a bit of federal funding.


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