Category Archives: Government

President of the United States, Teacher-in-Chief

I’m hopeful about the potential for President Obama to be Teacher-in-Chief.

I did not vote for President Obama. I strongly dislike much of his agenda, including the expansion of abortion rights, the “creation” of jobs by government fiat, and the expansion of government to which he alluded in his Inaugural Address.

However, President Obama’s apparent popularity affords him the opportunity to be “Teacher-in-Chief.” The Presidency of the United States is a great platform from which to teach. I think it’s been squandered by presidents who think that they must do something, when it may be enough to teach something.

If President Obama uses this opportunity–the popularity he’s built–to teach correct principles, he’ll do far more good than could be done through any new government program. As long as he has listening supporters, he should teach economics, personal finance, debt-avoidance, self-reliance, service, industry, and more.

For example, I liked this from his Inaugural Address:

Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

Not this:

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward.

We don’t need a president who pretends he can give us what we need. We need a president who will inspire us to work for those things ourselves. I believe this may be within President Obama’s power. Don’t waste it, Mr. President.

(For an interesting read, see Chris Knudsen’s thoughts on President Obama.)

Harmful to Minors

Even the libertarian and most ardent proponent of free speech should care that we continue to allow pornography to run rampant on the Internet. Here’s why.

A proposal by Larry Lessig called H2M (“Harmful to Minors”) would help parents protect children from pornography. Professor Lessig argues that if government doesn’t help parents block unwanted pornography, the loss of freedom of speech will be even greater because parents will turn to private companies for help:

Parents won’t wait for the government to figure out how best to filter harmful-to-minor speech. They will get what they can to block harmful-to-minor speech even if what they get is private and blocks more speech than necessary. For them it’s better than nothing.

After you watch this video, I think you’ll understand the H2M proposal:

H2M is similar to the CP80 initiative. Each is a proposal for 1. a new law which 2. codifies a technology which 3. allows parents to choose whether to block or allow pornography. Ralph Yarro of CP80 has repeatedly said that Internet filters don’t work. I infer that Larry Lessig thinks filters work well enough that parents will use them but not well enough to protect free speech.

I’ve previously written that the role of proper government is to stay small and allow nonprofit companies to compete for social change. In that light, perhaps I shouldn’t favor any legislation that would regulate the Internet. However, I see Professor Lessig’s point: a well defined law may serve all constituent groups better than no law.

My Freedom to Give

I’m reading Peter Drucker’s Managing the Nonprofit Organization. During his interview with Dudley Hafner, then CEO of the American Heart Association, they discuss charitable giving as a form of speech:

Peter Drucker:

My European friends always point out how low the taxation rate is in the United States. I say, you are mistaken because we voluntarily cough up another 10 percent of GNP for things which in Europe are either not done at all, like your work, or run by the government with the individual having absolutely no say in where the money is to be spent. That’s a point the public does not understand. Would you agree?

Dudley Hafner:

I agree. There’s a couple of things about this that are very, very important to me personally. First of all, campaigns such as the American Heart Association or the Salvation Army or the Girl Scouts let people get involved, and that becomes important because they do become advocates. The other thing I think that is unique about these United States is the fact that charitable giving is as much a force in the freedom of democracy as the right of assemblage or the right of vote or the right of free press. It’s another way of expressing ourselves very, very forcefully. Someone who pays taxes does not think of himself or herself as getting involved in the welfare program. But if they become involved in a Salvation Army activity or the Visiting Nurses program, they are involved. They are involved spiritually and they are involved monetarily. That makes a difference.

Only a European could say the U.S. tax rate is low. I’m already paying for programs and services I don’t want, and the U.S. government was never meant to be this big.

Charitable giving to nonprofit organizations allows citizens to vote with their checkbooks for causes they care about. Nonprofits must market their causes persuasively, administer their programs effectively, and be accountable to their donors. Donors, in turn, become advocates for the causes they support and take ownership in the outcome. Compare this with the government model of taking money from citizens by force to fund programs they don’t want, administered by bureaucrats who don’t care.

Donating to social causes I care about, and not donating to social causes I don’t care about, is a form of speech. For all the politicians clamoring to protect my freedom of speech, I don’t see many trying to protect this one.

The Patriot Act and Customer Service

I. Mac and Linux computers come with a command called “rsync” that makes backup and synchronization easy. Every morning before work I synchronize my 4 year old dying Powerbook to my iMac at work. When I get home, I synchronize back. This way, I get my same mail, documents, and music wherever I am, and if something were to happen to one computer, I’d have a backup. I synchronize over the Internet, but I know a local guy that synchronizes to his iPod so he can physically carry his updates in and out of the office.

canaries.jpg
Photo by quimby

II. At work, we’ve begun using a service called rsync.net for backup. We synchronize our files to their service and pay them $1.60 per gigabyte per month. It’s a pretty inexpensive way to do backup, and it’s nice to have the backup offsite. The rsync.net engineers with whom I’ve spoken have been top notch.

For privacy, we actually use a derivative of rsync called “duplicity”, which encrypts our data before storing them at rsync.net. Their website explains how to use duplicity and other encryption techniques, but I thought it was particularly interesting to find they publish a “warrant canary”. Because the Patriot Act allows the service of secret warrants for the search and seizure of data, and criminal penalties for failing to maintain secrecy, rsync.net publishes a weekly declaration that they haven’t been served a warrant:

rsync.net will also make available, weekly, a “warrant canary” in the form of a cryptographically signed message containing the following:

– a declaration that, up to that point, no warrants have been served, nor have any searches or seizures taken place

– a cut and paste headline from a major news source, establishing date

Special note should be taken if these messages ever cease being updated, or are removed from this page.

Source: rsync.net Warrant Canary

If the “canary” dies, you’re supposed to close shop and get out.

I don’t know the legal implications of a warrant canary, but it seems like a particularly unique example of putting the customer first!