Sunday, February 26, 2012
PayPal has interpreted its market leadership as a mandate to enforce particular standards of morality among e-book vendors who rely on its payment processing platform. Well, thank goodness we have a third-party payment processor to tell us what we should and shouldn't be reading.
According to e-book publisher and vendor Smashwords, PayPal has required that all erotica containing references to rape, incest, or bestiality be removed from the site, or PayPal will cease doing business with Smashwords altogether. The Smashwords press release can be read here, and a related Tech Crunch article is here.
Someone else is going to have to chime in with respect to the prevalence of rape, incest, and bestiality in erotica, but the discussion of the impact of such erotica on the social, psycho-sexual, and spiritual health of the nation is a discussion for another day. And it is a discussion that we should be having; it is NOT a topic which should be resolved one way or another by the actions of a payment processing company.
I'd like to direct your attention to the photo above. It's a still from HBO's popular new series Game of Thrones, based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series of epic fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin. The characters are Jamie Lannister and his sister Cersei, who happens to be Queen. These characters are not infrequently locked in each others arms; their incest, and the product of their incest, is a major part of the storyline.
How long until PayPal refuses to fulfill orders for DVDs of Game of Thrones, Season One? I suggest we don't wait to find out, but stop doing business with PayPal altogether. Vendors can decide what to sell, and customers can decide what to buy, but the payment processor should have no say in the transaction.
Posted by Lilac Sunday at 12:52 PM
Friday, February 24, 2012
You can't have an opinion on abortion or contraception unless you have a vagina, that's what the Left would have you knuckle under and accept.
Right-thinking folks have been giving this Vaginal Prerogative the derision it deserves. Abortion isn't just about the pregnant woman in question, there are the rights of the unborn child as well as society's right to determine who deserves the protection of the law. And contraception ceases to be a private matter between man and woman when the man and woman demand that their desire for subsidized contraception trump the religious liberty and conscience of others.
But rather than dismissing the Left's Vaginal Prerogative, why don't we expand the notion of prerogatives to issues that we care about?
If you must possess a vagina in order to have an opinion on abortion and contraception, then:
You must be a practicing Catholic in order to have an opinion on the health benefits that should be provided to employees at institutions affiliated with the Catholic Church;
You must be an active member of the American armed forces in order to have an opinion on the ideal size of the military budget;
You must be among the 53% of Americans who pay federal income taxes to have an opinion on federal income tax policy. As a corollary, you must be in a given marginal tax bracket in order to express an opinion on the ideal rate for that bracket;
You must run a corporation to have an opinion on the corporate tax rate;
You must be an Agent with the United States Border Patrol to have an opinion on the wisdom of the Department of Justice running guns into Mexico with no supervision or plan to apprehend the purchasers; and
You must be an unborn child to have an opinion on whether your life can be extinguished while you are in the womb.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Climbdown or no climbdown, whatever the disposition of the religious exemption to Obamacare's birth control rules, I think Obama won this one.
The battle over whether Catholic-affiliated employers should be required to provide free birth control isn't about birth control, Catholics, or religious freedom.
It's about making people wonder why their stuff isn't free. The reductio ad absurdam coming from some on the Right, e.g. asking why tattoo removal isn't free under Obamacare, is exactly the conversation Obama wants us to have. It's the politics of envy: "I have a co-pay for all of my healthcare, why are they getting stuff for free?"
Now every interest group is going to mobilize and demand its free stuff. Somewhere, Obama is smiling.
The next step will be for the Left to acknowledge the unfairness of giving free healthcare only to some people in some circumstances, and gradually expand the number of services that are required to be provided free of charge until eventually we end up with a single-payer system like Britain's National Health Service (NHS).
I heard Margaret Thatcher once said that she was unable to mirror Ronald Reagan's great reforms in Britain because of the NHS. Once a benefit system that all-encompassing becomes entrenched, and people get used to healthcare that is "free" at point of purchase, it is nearly impossible to get them to relinquish their dependence on government.
We are frogs in the pot, and Obama is turning up the heat. Are we going to have the sense to come together and jump out in November?
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Whitney Houston has died too young, and I am reminded of Aleksandr Pushkin.
Aleksandr Pushkin was Russia's greatest poet. He wrote a stunningly beautiful poem titled "I Loved You," which expresses undying love softly, simply, quietly, in gently musical Russian. Although the poem's emotions are uncomplicated and universal, Pushkin's artistry and use of stripped-down language render the poem utterly untranslateable into English.
I learned of Whitney Houston's untimely death shortly before departing for my evening walk, and as the sun set over the hills I found myself humming "I Will Always Love You."
Five words. I. Will. Always. Love. You. Five words, filled with boundless passion and meaning by a singer who turned her God-given instrument into a work of art. That song could not have been sung by anyone other than Whitney Houston, not like that.
Aleksandr Pushkin and Whitney Houston both died too young. I imagine they are singing to each other tonight, filling Heaven with joy, without artifice or excess, just the purity of love.
Posted by Lilac Sunday at 6:37 PM
I'm delighted that the Fox News Channel and conservative new media are publicizing the federal government's "free cell phones for the poor" program, but you're not getting the whole story. If you'll bear with me while I put on my Newt Gingrich professor's cap, I'll give you a history lesson that will reveal the following: (1) it isn't Obama's fault; (2) the free cell phones are not paid for with your tax dollars: and (3) the problem is worse than you think.
Remember these two words: Universal Service. In the Communications Act of 1934, Congress declared that it was a national priority "...to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges." (47 U.S.C. 151)
In other words, making sure everyone had a telephone, at rates as low as possible, was now a priority of the federal government. (Yeah, I don't see it in the Constitution either.)
For sixty years, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced the federal Universal Service rules in ways that weren't apparent to customers, e.g., by requiring telephone companies to keep residential telephone rates artificially low by charging higher prices for telephone service to businesses. Some telephone customers were made to subsidize other telephone customers, but it was all built into (and therefore hidden by) the rate structure, and the overwhelming majority of customers were completely oblivious.
Congress changed the concept of Universal Service in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, ordering the FCC to create an explicit support mechanism to ensure that schools, libraries, health care providers, low-income customers, and customers who live in rural, insular, or high-cost areas have access to affordable telecommunications services.
The new Universal Service Fund (USF) created by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 consisted of four programs:
High Cost: provides subsidies to telecommunications service providers in order to ensure that customers in high-cost, hard to serve areas pay rates comparable to rates in easy to serve urban areas;By 2010, the USF had grown to $8.7 billion annually. Every telephone company that provides interstate and/or international calling contributes a percentage of their customers' bills to the USF, and passes the cost along to the customers with a surcharge tacked onto their phone bills. Rather than make Universal Service a federal budget item and debate it openly, they collect the money from customers via those pesky little surcharges that most of us never pay attention to.
Low Income: provides subsidies to low income customers in order to make basic telephony affordable;
Schools and Libraries: subsidizes telecommunications and internet services for schools and libraries; and
Rural Health Care: subsidizes telecommunications and internet services for rural health care providers.
Take a look at your phone bill; whether you have wireless or wireline service, you are paying this charge. It'll appear on your bill as something like "USF" or "federal USF," and as of 1Q 2012 you are paying of 17.9% of your wireline interstate and international usage to the federal USF. (With wireless service, it's a little tricky; because the service is mobile, the wireless phone companies can't tell how much of your usage is actually "interstate," so they make up a number less than 17.9% but considerably more than zero.)
II. FREE PHONES
The free cell phones for poor people come from the Low Income Fund, also known as Lifeline. Lifeline provides discounted wireline or wireless service to people whose incomes don't exceed 135% of the poverty limit, or who receive a public benefit such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, Section 8 housing assistance, SSI, TANF (a.k.a welfare), home heating assistance (LIHEAP), or free lunch at school.
Now that Universal Service is an explicit support program, the financials are a matter of public record, and you can read the horrifying details at the FCC website. In 2010, there were more than 10 million customers on Lifeline, including almost 1.7 million in California alone, and the Lifeline program cost $1,243,217,000.
Telephone companies love Lifeline. Unlike some customers, the government generally pays its bills on time. Sprint provides wireless service to Lifeline customers under the Assurance brand; approximately 50% of Sprint's new customers are Lifeline customers, which ought to be chilling to anyone who owns Sprint stock.
Lifeline's target beneficiaries are not society's most productive members; there is a bit of fraud on the Lifeline program, as should be expected in a program designed to provide for free that which self-respecting adults obtain for themselves. In 2011, the FCC reviewed 3.6 million Lifeline customer records, and discovered that 270,000 customers, or 7.5%, were receiving multiple Lifeline phones from different carriers, which is a no-no.
III. FREE LOLCATS
In January 2012, the FCC announced a new effort to root out "waste, fraud, and abuse" and modernize the Lifeline program. The FCC claims a $33 million savings from eliminating those 270,000 fraudulent accounts, but some of the FCC's planned "reforms" to Lifeline are even scarier than the program that currently exists.
As part of its effort to modernize Lifeline, the FCC wants to explore ways of using the Lifeline program to increase broadband adoption among Lifeline customers. Rather than using the savings from eliminating "waste, fraud, and abuse" to reduce the size of the program, the FCC wants to spend that money to subsidize broadband connections for Lifeline customers, and provide "digital literacy" training to people who aren't currently internet users.
In other words, the federal goal of Universal Service now includes ensuring that everyone has access to LOLCats.
III. WE ARE DOOMED
Expanding Lifeline service to subsidize broadband ensures that the government will never be able to control the growth of the program. The Poverty Industrial Complex will mobilize and ensure that the program designed to ensure broadband adoption will ultimately subsidize the equipment needed to use broadband: desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. If there's fraud in a program that subsidizes home phones and cheap cell phones, imagine the fraud in a program that gives out iPads.
The FCC's efforts to root out fraud have borne some fruit, but eliminating duplicate subscriptions is a drop in the ocean. Customers are eligible for Lifeline when they receive public benefits, but the benefit programs themselves (welfare, Section 8, etc.) are riddled with fraud. Whether through fraud or overly-generous program design, there are people receiving public benefits who shouldn't be; we are enriching their lives with home phones and cell phones now, to be followed by broadband connections in the future.
The more valuable the USF subsidy program becomes to its recipients, the more difficult it will be to ever cut it back. And the more valuable services we provide to poor people through the USF and other public benefits, the more difficult it will be to encourage poor people to go to work and start paying for these things themselves.
Friday, February 3, 2012
Susan, pictured above, is the classic Planned Parenthood abortion client. Young and unwilling to shoulder the burdens of parenthood, Planned Parenthood assures women like her that the life she has conceived isn't really life unless she wants it to be, and that for her to stop its beating heart is simply her "choice." Susan made her choice, stopped two beating hearts, and freed herself of the burdens of unwelcome parenthood; she is the kind of woman abortion rights advocates hold up as a model of freedom and self-determination, and would make an excellent spokesman for Planned Parenthood.
Susan Smith's ability to serve as Planned Parenthood's spokesman may be somewhat compromised by the 30-years-to-life sentence she is serving for the 15th trimester abortion of her son Michael and the 8th trimester abortion of her son Alex, both abortions accomplished by strapping her sons into their car seats and sending the car to the bottom of John D. Long Lake. But I suppose even prisons have broadband connections and video capabilities, just put her in civilian clothes for her media appearances and no one will be the wiser.
All that matters is that Susan Smith didn't want to be a parent; she was young and had her whole life ahead of her, and it isn't as if those kids were capable of surviving on their own.
That's what Planned Parenthood wants you to believe. At least Susan Smith had the grace to get up in front of the television cameras and lie about it.
What Planned Parenthood does 900 times a day is no different than what Susan Smith did on that October night. For the pro-choice lie to demonstrate such staying power among otherwise reasonable people is a great source of shame.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Ann Coulter has written a column defending RomneyCare, and she is rightly drawing some heat for having completely omitted any mention of principled conservative objections. (Whoops)
There is a kernel of truth in what Coulter wrote, and it is hidden in the following text:
A governor can't repeal the 1946 federal law essentially requiring hospitals to provide free medical services to all comers, thus dumping a free-rider problem on the states.When she referred to that "$1.2 billion that the state was already spending," Coulter is not talking about Medicare or Medicaid, she is talking about Massachusetts' so-called Free Care Pool, which reimburses hospitals for the costs of providing care to people who didn't pay for it; free riders who are not covered by private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, but who are entitled to receive care in an Emergency Room due to a 1986 Federal Law known as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, EMTALA.
It was precisely this free-rider problem that Romneycare was designed to address in the only way a governor can. In addition to mandating that everyone purchase health insurance, Romneycare used the $1.2 billion that the state was already spending on medical care for the uninsured to subsidize the purchase of private health insurance for those who couldn't afford it.
Although the Free Care Pool was a hugely expensive endeavor, it was not covering the cost of care provided to the free riders. There was a broad consensus in Massachusetts that something needed to be done about the Free Care Pool and the problem of uncompensated care and unmet medical needs in Massachusetts.
Despite her factual set-up, Coulter goes off the rails with the following sentiment:
What went wrong with Romneycare wasn't a problem in the bill, but a problem in Massachusetts: Democrats.Blaming the failures of RomneyCare on subsequent Democratic tinkering would only work as an excuse if RomneyCare had been implemented in a land where redistributionist nanny state policymakers were the creatures of fiction, the bogeymen under the bed that parents warned their children about.
But no. Mitt Romney conceived RomneyCare in a state with a large and entrenched Democratic majority in the Legislature and in the population; it was inevitable that the Democrats would tinker with the plan, and for Romney to have given them such a lush and lucrative playground is inexcusable.
Furthermore, responding to the problems with the Free Care Pool by requiring everyone to purchase health insurance was a bad solution from the very first instance, and Coulter's rebuttal that "states have been forcing people to do things since the beginning of the republic" is an uncharacteristically sloppy answer. SINCE WHEN DOES ANN COULTER ADVOCATE SUBMISSION?
What else could Romney have done in Massachusetts? A real conservative would have used Massachusetts as a case study to argue for the repeal of EMTALA. A real conservative would have dismantled the Free Care Pool altogether. A real conservative would have let health care facilities triage the heck out of their ERs.
A real conservative would have foreseen that handing the liberal Massachusetts Legislature and bureaucracy a tool with which to impose its vision over people's life and death decisions was akin to handing a loaded revolver to a toddler. For Romney to claim that he couldn't see this coming suggests that he suffers from a profound lack of judgment, sufficient to make anyone reconsider whether he is fit to occupy the Oval Office.