Rep. Tim Huelskamp has been banging the drum on a proposed Health and Human Services rule that would mandate insurance companies share patient data with the federal government. The purpose of the program ostensibly noble – the administration wants to collect as much data on health care as possible to determine. But Huelkamp correctly notes that data is not always secure. Companies and governments lose personal data on customers and citizens periodically.
In a related story, Google revealed that the US government asks the search company for more user data than any other government on the planet. In fact, there were more requests for Google data than there were wiretaps on phones last year.
While Google may look skeptically on the government requests for information, the HHS program sounds like something out of Google labs – aggregating data about users of the health care system to ensure better future outcomes. Just as Google has multiple touch points where it meets its users (search, YouTube, Android, Gmail, etc.), so does the government. What if they started connecting the dots? We send tax returns in each year, so the IRS knows how much we make, where we live, whether we own or rent, what we do for a living. On a state level, readily available voter registration data tells them how often we vote and may even give them a good idea how we would vote, based on primary voting history. That doesn’t even get into people who participate in federal programs for medical help, student loans, social security, or public assistance. And it doesn’t take into account the possibility of government looking elsewhere for data. Today it’s Google, but a host of other companies are out there looking at what you but, what magazines you subscribe to, how often you gas up your car, and what TV shows you watch.
Eventually, other government agencies could follow the same model as HHS, expanding their data points on each citizen. That’s when it could get really interesting, especially if some enterprising staffer in some agency realizes all the information that’s pouring in. Imagine if the roadblocks between executive agencies came down, all the data was in one big pile? The administration could be an even more voracious consumer of data, and use if to create detailed analyses of national trends, attitudes, and issues. Here’s a video representation of how this might look:
A campaign or company wouldn’t use available data to recruit new customers or make life better for existing ones. When I go to Amazon or Best Buy’s website, they look at what I’ve bought in the past and make recommendations; it’s simply good business. An executive agency, which is supposed to strive for efficiency, would pick up on this trend as a way to streamline government services. The difference, though, is that if you’re creeped out, you can always shop somewhere else.
Claims of racial epithets and gay-bashing have diffused the impact of the crowds that descended on the Capitol last weekend. The images on TV of citizens rallying by the thousands were amazing; the allegations that some of those citizens used ugly, personal, and unintelligent attacks.
Democrats have used the alleged incidents to criticize tea partiers – and it certainly gives them a convenient way to shift the debate away from the massive amounts of people who showed up to oppose a government-mandated reorganization of the health care system.
Far be it from me to say that Democrats are trying to use race to scare people out of siding with their opposition. But it wouldn’t be the first time.
The real problem here isn’t what racial epithets may or may not have been used. Anyone who has worked in legitimate Republican and conservative circles knows that racists tend to be booted out as soon as they are discovered. The racial arsonists of the left start enough fires on their own, they don’t need any kerosene.
Democrats like to throw it back in Scott Brown’s face that he voted for the Massachusetts health bill back in 2006. Mitt Romney gets it thrown back in his face a lot, too. That bill was the Mogwai to the current Gremlin of a proposal that Congress is trying to pass-without-passing.
Those critics don’t like to mention the problems Massachusetts is having now. And Romney and Brown aren’t about to issue the mea culpa the country needs to hear now.
As Bay State native Dan Flynn chronicles, the Massachusetts plan has increased coverage but also insurance costs. State treasurer Tim Cahill, a Democrat turned Independent, railed against the plan.
“This has been tried, and it failed,” Romney or Brown could plead of the current incarnation. “In Massachusetts, we tried this. It cost the state more, it cost patients more, and though there were more people insured they got less care for their money.” They might even quote Franklin Roosevelt: “It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.”
The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein revealed yesterday that Harry Reid and others feel like the filibuster has been “abused” because it takes days for the Senate to enact cloture votes. (It sparked an interesting discussion in the Post’s message boards, as well.)
“I file cloture” — the motion to end a filibuster — “to move to discuss the bill on Monday,” Reid explained. “That takes two days to ripen. We don’t have a vote till Wednesday. Once that’s done, Republicans have 30 hours to do nothing. After the 30 hours is up, you’re on the bill. If there’s no amendment offered” — remember, amendments can be filibustered, too — “you file cloture to move to the vote. It takes two days and then another 30 hours. So that’s 60 hours plus four days to vote on the bill. That happened 67 times last year.” You do the math.
One way to make the lawmaking process more efficient would be to reduce the number of people in the legislature, or to merge lawmaking authority with the executive branch. Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq, North Korea, Germany, France, and others enacted similar systems at various times in history… though it hasn’t gone well.
Otherwise, we all may have to accept that our legislature’s inefficiency is by design. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course.
The filibuster exists to maintain the Senate’s deliberative nature, so the best reform might be to force actual filibusters. Senators who want to extend debate should actually have to talk.
When Republicans made the same grumblings years ago, they missed an opportunity to demonstrate Democratic obstructionism on judicial nominees. The GOP could have made political hay out of CSPAN clips of Democrats talking endlessly or reading the phone book to keep debate going. Republican parties in the home states of the filibuster-ers could have organized “Save the Judicial Branch” rallies to protest their talkative Senators.
The problem for Democrats now is that the filibuster is blocking an unpopular piece of legislation. If I were a Senate Republican, I would welcome the chance to speak on national TV about the future of health care, about federal spending, about the risks of government running anything, and the bribes Democrats are using to win support. And even the bill’s passage may be a losing proposition.
At the very least, we should all agree that the filibuster should be maintained so that the eventual remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington makes sense. All in favor… say die:
TechPresident has an intriguing behind-the-scenes look at technology behind “On the Air,” the DNC/Organizing for America talk radio call-in project. OFA compiled the data the site needed (dial-in information for all those shows) from volunteers thanks to a program that emerged from their Innovation Labs division. The program itself is impressive enough, but the idea of a creative division spitballing ideas is a bold step.
Organizations funded by other people’s donations have to be able to show results, or else the gravy train stops. A labs division, which may produce one tangible product for every 25 they conceive, seems like a poor investment. Considering the usefulness of that 4% yield, it’s usually worth the investment.
To use OFA’s example, they now have a database of talk radio programs across the country. In addition to national programs like the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs, they also have good, current information for regional and local shows. And don’t forget, OFA still has a massive list of email addresses and – especially important – mobile numbers, which they can filter for voters in a certain state or Congressional district. So if you live in a district with a competitive House race in September, you could easily get a text message asking you to dial in to your local talk radio show, with the number included.
On the Air is a good innovation, but the underlying technology could have even great applications down the road. For DNC/OFA donors, this should prove the labs experiment is a successful one.