June 28, 2010


I'm working on another post, but this image was awesome enough that I had to post it up here. It pretty much sums up the entire conflict against terrorism:

So awesome.

April 1, 2010

The Cost of Free Health Care

There are currently 47 million Americans who can't afford health care insurance!  Everybody freak out!  Legislate, Congress; for the love of God, legislate!!!

Wait, did I say 47 million?  I meant 30 million.  Yeah.  And that's still a lot.

Did I just say 30 million?  I meant . . . well, let's just look at the chart of who's insured by whom in the United States, shall we?

That sure looks to me like 46.3 million uninsured, which is really 47 million if you round up for no apparent reason.  But who exactly are these uninsured?  Here's a breakdown of just who the 46.3 million are:
9.4 Million:  Illegal immigrants.
12.3 Million:  People that already qualify for Medicare, but haven't signed up.
11.4 Million:  People who can afford coverage and have no pre-existing conditions to exempt them.
13.2 Million:  People who can't afford coverage or have exempting pre-existing conditions, but make too much money for Medicare.

OK, so how many should we count in our impending crisis which needs landmark, historic legislation?  Illegals are out (they get care for "free" at the ER, anyway).  The Medicare qualifiers are out, too, since they already could have coverage (no need for new legislation there).  The 11.4 million that could have insurance but don't also don't need helping-hand legislation (though we can still legislate them; more on that later).

Who are we left with?  The 13.2 million people who can't get coverage.  I'll readily admit that's a problem (along with other facets of America's health care insurance advent), but I'm not here to talk about the problem (maybe a later blog will cover that).  Since it has now all been "taken care of," I'm here to talk about the solution.  Namely, the health care legislation so recently passed by Congress and signed by Obama known as:

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
What a great name!  After all, who doesn't want to protect patients and promote affordable care?  Only baby-hating, fat-cat loving Conservatives, that's who!  They'd rather help fund a rise in Scrooge McDuck's swimming pool than prevent the death of a child.

Typical Conservative Voter

Enter PPACA, the saviour of the uninsured and the promoter of health care for all!  No more sick babies, no more people dying in the streets from the common cold, no more making money on the backs of the working proletariat while the insurance big wigs get rich and swim in big pools of gold doubloons!

Let's get down to some of the specifics of how the actual law will work.  Here are some of the fun little gems hidden away in the 2500+ pages of legal gobbledygook (a big thank you to Michael Bertaut for slogging through it all; though, to be fair, it is his job for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana):
1.  It raises the wage cut off for Medicare.
2.  Insurance companies must now accept anyone and everyone.
3.  Insurance companies must not medically underwrite (at least, not in a way that would matter).
4.  No pre-existing conditions!
5.  No more than a 3x price increase for age.
6.  No price variance based on gender.
7.  No excessive profits (goodbye, doubloon vat!).
8.  No excessive rate increases.
9.  All insurance companies must adhere to the Federally Qualified Health Benefit Plan standard (with that many words in the name, it's gotta be good; and it's federal to boot!).
10.  No negotiated rates for the ER.
11.  Insurance companies must use the new Exchange Marketplace to sell insurance (added bonus: it's run by the government, makers of Madicare and Socialist Security).

The best thing about all of this is, it's a Federal law.  You know, because those pesky States can never get Socialism right.

Let's go over these one by one and see just how great this will be for the poor uninsured.

1.  It raises the wage cut off for Medicare.
By raising the cut off wage for Medicare eligibility, this takes care of the 13.2 million people who can't get coverage now.   Let's not consider the fact that Medicare is on track to go bankrupt by 2017.  After all, if an entitlement program is going bankrupt, you ought to be able to afford 13.2 million more payouts, right? 

2.  Insurance companies must now accept anyone and everyone.
You are now guaranteed to be accepted for insurance; because, you know, there are no good reasons to preclude anyone from anything.  Oh, and it's totally Constitutional to force a private enterprise, like and insurance company, to enter into a binding contract, like an insurance policy, with anyone and everyone.  What could go wrong?  Insurance companies probably just deny people because of their gender or race, anyway.

3.  Insurance companies must not medically underwrite.
Insurance companies will no longer be able to price based on an individual's risk.  No more underwriting!  Well, they can still underwrite; they just can't use the information for anything relating to price or payouts.  Anyone want to bet they'll now charge the lowest previously offered rates to everyone?  Even if they do decide to make the blanket cost higher, though, good ol' Big Brother will be there to put the stops on any obscene profits, so we know we're protected.  More on that in #7.

4.  No pre-existing conditions!
See the last point.

5.  No more than a 3x price increase for age.
Because someone who's nearing the end of their life would never use more than 3x the insurance of someone who's 19 and in perfect health.

6.  No price variance based on gender.
Classically, insurance providers have charged women higher average premiums based on the archane belief that the female reproductive system requires more care, and the equally ridiculous belief that men are not able to have babies.  So, guess what, guys?  You guessed it, you now get to pay insurance as though you were capable of having a baby; or at least as though you required as many wellness visits to the OBGYN as women do.

7.  No excessive profits.
Why should a business be allowed to make a profit?  Well, maybe a little profit; but not too much.  Don't worry.  Uncle Sam is on the beat, and he's cracking down on people having money.

There are three basic parts to this portion.  First, insurance companies will be mandated to pay 80% of their premiums on health care expense, and no more than 20% on overhead.  If you're a Large Group provider, you can pay no more than 15% on overhead (you know, because large groups don't need overhead as much).  Apparently employing people (i.e., overhead) is wrong.  Any company spending less than 80% on health coverage will be forced to refund the remainder to their policyholders.

Second, no employee of a health insurance company may make more than $500,000.  From now on, CEOs will be hired the right way; for their big ol' hearts instead of for their competence.  We can all agree that no one ought to make more than $500,000 a year anyway.  Except actors.  And athletes.  And maybe lobbyists, CEOs of other businesses, producers- let's just say we can all agree that health insurance CEOs don't need to make more than $500,000.  You know, for the children's sake.

And finally, just in case there's still some room for a profit in there, our friends in Congress and the White House have mandated an $8 billion annual tax for the health insurance industry.  Each health insurance company pays a percentage of the tax based on their percentage of market share; so if you have 10% market share, you get to pay $800 million a year to the Federal government for the privilege of being a health insurance provider in America.  In 2014.  It gets better; by 2017 it goes up to $14 billion.  Funny that the health insurance industry only made $6.8 billion in profits in 2008, but still this ought to be a piece of cake for them.

8.  No excessive rate increases.
What's the exact definition of "excessive?"  I don't know, and neither does anyone else right now.  But I'm sure that whatever definition Congress comes up with will be just fine.

9.  All insurance companies must adhere to the Federally Qualified Health Benefit Plan standard.
This does a couple of great things.  First, it takes control of what qualifies as a Health Insurance Plan out of the hands of those evil, greedy States and places it in the hands of the benevolent, philanthropic Federal government.   Because that doesn't violate the 10th Amendment at all.

Second, it raises the minimum coverage bar for all insurance plans (you know, since they'll have so much extra money from the previously noted provisions).  It's estimated that 20-25% of Americans will be forced- excuse me, will have the pleasure of purchasing policies with more extensive coverage than what they have now.  I'm sure that'll come at no extra cost.

10.  No negotiated rates for the ER.
Insurance companies often pay a different amount than the bill the ER gives them.  This is because they negotiate the bill down with the hospital.  Unfortunately, if the hospital refuses to agree to the lower rate (a rarity, but it still happens), the patient is stuck with the overage.

Solution?  Force the insurance companies to pay whatever the ER charges.  No recipe for corruption there.

11.  Insurance companies must use the new Exchange Marketplace to sell insurance.
Right now, insurance companies overwhelmingly use individual and group brokers to sell their policies.  They cite something silly about "money savings," or "cost effectiveness" for why they do it (capitalist double-speak for "making money by selling children into slavery").

This nifty little regulation does away with that.  Insurance companies will have to work directly with the new Exchange Marketplace, which means they will have to internally hire a whole new department of sales and policy management professionals to be in compliance.  Careful not to exceed that 15-20% overhead, guys!


So, to sum up, insurance companies will now have to take everyone who comes to them to purchase insurance, not charge based on any health indicator imaginable, not exceed 20% (15% for large group) overhead while adding more infrastructure, spend at least 80% of their premiums on direct health care, and come up with more than their 2008 profits to pay a shiny, new government tax.

I don't see how premiums will go up at all; thanks, government!  Plus, it'll be super easy for insurance companies to stay solvent with all those new regulations.

Does anyone else see this as a recipe for the insurance companies to "fail," so that the big, nice government can swoop in and save us via single payer (i.e., government run, universal health care; like they have in Cuba)?

I must be paranoid.  After all, President Obama never said, "I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program.  [. . .] A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately."  No.  Never.

"But wait, Skipper," you say, "those evil insurance companies will get a mandated extra 11.4 million customers, so they'll be fine to pay the taxes that will help keep Medicare solvent."  Silly socialist.  How did you find your way onto my blog?  There's a forum post going unwritten at MoveOn.org as we speak.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention to anything other than the latest Twilight movie, let me tell you something scarier than this picture:

Now high school sucks blood instead of just sucking.

If this law stands, you will be forced to purchase health insurance or be fined by the government.  The IRS is, as we speak, hiring 16,500 new employees to enforce this measure.  I can't believe I just wrote that as a fact in the USA, but I'll try to move on and save that tirade for another day.

So, back to the socialist's point.  Remember all those people who can afford health insurance but don't purchase it?  Won't the insurance companies (sorry, evil insurance companies) pick up an extra 11.4 million customers off of this deal?  That, surely, will cover the lowered profits, additional infrastructure and oversight, and the new tax burden.

Not so fast.  Let's assume all 11.4 million purchase insurance at the going rate for a basic FQHBP coverage policy (see point #9 above).  The average cost for a private plan conforming to FQHBP standards is in the neighborhood of $5,500 a year.  This would net the health care carriers an additional $62.7 billion ($5,500 x 11.4 million) a year in premiums.

Classically, health insurance providers have a profit margin of 1.5-4%.  Let's assume they would maintain the highest level profit margin of 4% for each of these new, 11.4 million customers.  That's $2.5 billion profit.  Add that to the $6.8 billion in profits from normal business (assuming, of course, they have no drop in profits), and you have $9.3 billion; more than enough to cover the fun new tax.  That's right, as long as each and every person in that pool of 11.4 million purchases insurance, the profit margin on premiums is 4%, and the new regulations don't cut into insurance companies' existing profits (even though the new regulations are designed to cut down existing profits), the insurance companies will be able to cover the new tax in 2014.  Not in 2017, mind, but I'm sure it'll be fine by then.

So, what happens if people decide not to purchase the $5,500 insurance plans?  Well, those naughty citizens get a big, fat fine.  $750 a year, or 2.5% of their Modified Adjusted Gross Income (so, they would have to make $220,000 a year to hit a $5,500 fine).

Let's hear that again: if people don't purchase a $5,500 annual premium, they'll have to pay $750.  That'll teach 'em!  I'm sure all 11.4 million will be begging for a $5,500 insurance plan once they see that $750 fine . . .

It gets better.  Remember that part about insurance companies having to take all comers and not being able to deny pre-existing conditions?  Here's how that plays out in the real world.  Let's say you're one of the 11.4 million who will have to pay for private health insurance or be fined by the Federal government, and you decide to pay the fine instead of getting health insurance.  But then you get sick, or break your arm, or something to that effect.  Looks like you gambled and lost, right?  Wrong.

Since insurers will no longer be able to deny policies to anyone, you can simply purchase insurance after you get sick or hurt.  They can't say no, nor can they preclude your infirmity as an exempted, pre-existing condition.  So you purchase health insurance when you need it, use it, and cancel your policy when you're done using the services.  This is already happening in Massachusetts, which has a similarly formed State mandate for health care.

Follow the logic, here, and tell me where this leads.  The only thing I can see at the end is a government takeover of the health care industry.  Oh, that and intrusion on a never before seen scale on American soil since the British empire.

Am I just paranoid?  Are any of you OK with the Federal government making health insurance a basic human right, running the health insurance companies through legal mandate, forcing private citizens into business contracts with "private" companies with threats of fines and possible jail time (if you don't pay the fine), and legislating overarching standards not enumerated in Article I, Section 8 across all 50 States?

I do not believe that this is the change people voted for.  Does health care need to be overhauled?  I think so.  But this is not the way things are done in a free society.  This is not in holding with the principles of freedom, liberty, and individual sovereignty upon which our Republic was founded.

If this is being done in our society, and this is obviously not how things are done in a free society; just what kind of society are we headed for?

March 18, 2010

2010 Census: What is Your Obligation?

There has been a lot of talk and controversy covering the 2010 US Census.  What are we obligated to answer?  Are we obligated to answer?  What happens if we don't?  Is it too intrusive?

Never fear; I'm here to help.  I'm here to help provide information, that is.  Whatever you do with this information you do at your own risk.  If you decide to decline to answer any of the questions on the 2010 US Census or American Community Survey, any fines or penalties you incur are strictly yours; don't come crying to me.  You're a grown-up, so make up your own mind on what to do.

With that little disclaimer out of the way, let's explore what, exactly, the Census is and why we do it.  Dust off your Constitution (you may have to fight it out of the hands of a Liberal who's about to set it on fire) and turn with me to Article 1, Section 2.  Specifically:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.  The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they [US House of Representatives] shall by Law direct.  [Emphasis mine.]

The bolded statement is the meat an' taters of the Census.  It's purpose is the enumeration (fancy-pants for "counting") of the Persons in the Union in order to levy direct taxes and determine the number of Representatives for the House.

So, to answer the questions as to whether or not we're obligated to participate in the Census: yes.  The US House of Representatives has a Constitutional mandate to conduct an enumeration, for the purpose of apportioning direct taxes and representatives, every ten years in whatever manner they write into law. Currently, they have elected to use a mailer and/or canvassers (basically, people going door to door).  Should you decide not to fill out your 2010 Census form or to tell the canvasser to take a hike, you're in violation of the US Constitution.

This doesn't take into account, however, the questions being asked on the Census.  Per the Constitution, the purpose of the Census is enumeration of the People.  Nowhere does the Constitution say that there is a mandate to collect your name, age, race, sex, phone number (duh), type of home, or anything else.  Number of people.  Period.

The Census Bureau, though, has made it quite clear that people failing to answer the questions on the Census (or the extremely intrusive American Community Survey, which asks questions about wages, fertility, ancestry, what time you leave for work, and many more) can face up to $5,000 in fines.  For serious.  We'll explore the fine aspect in a minute; let's get to the actual questions first.

For 2010, there are ten questions that we're all asked to fill out (though a lucky 3,000,000 will get the American Community Survey).  The following are the questions (in bold), followed by the reasoning for the questions (in italics) given by the Census Bureau, followed by my response to their reasoning (in plain text).  Enjoy!

Question 1: How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?
We ask this question to help get an accurate count of the number of people in the household on Census Day, April 1, 2010.
Sounds fine to me.  Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution mandates this.

Question 2: Were there any additional people staying here April 1, 2010 that you did not include in Question 1?
Asked since 1880. We ask this question to help identify people who may have been excluded in the count provided in Question 1. We use the information to ensure response accuracy and completeness and to contact respondents whose forms have incomplete or missing information.
Sounds reasonable to get an accurate count, though a bit redundant.  Oh, and I don't care how long it's been asked for.  What does that have to do with anything?

Question 3: Is this house, apartment, or mobile home: owned with mortgage, owned without mortgage, rented, occupied without rent?
Asked since 1890. Homeownership rates serve as an indicator of the nation's economy. The data are also used to administer housing programs and to inform planning decisions.
None of your business since 1890.

Question 4: What is your telephone number?
We ask for a phone number in case we need to contact a respondent when a form is returned with incomplete or missing information.
I can see asking this, but I can't see having to provide an answer.  If my form is complete, there's no need to have anyone contact me.

Question 5: Please provide information for each person living here. Start with a person here who owns or rents this house, apartment, or mobile home. If the owner or renter lives somewhere else, start with any adult living here. This will be Person 1. What is Person 1's name?
Listing the name of each person in the household helps the respondent to include all members, particularly in large households where a respondent may forget who was counted and who was not. Also, names are needed if additional information about an individual must be obtained to complete the census form. Federal law protects the confidentiality of personal information, including names.
Really?  That's the best reason you could come up with for this question?  Sorry if that cockamamie farce of a reason set off my BS meter like nothing else.  Do they think we're so stupid that we can't count the people in our own home without listing names, or that we're so stupid that we'll buy this reason for asking an unconstitutional question during an enumeration?  I'll go with the former, though I know it's the latter.  Since I can actually count the number of people in my household without having to reference their names, and I'll provide complete information on each (which, Constitutionally, is limited to how many people there are), then I don't need to answer this question.  I think I can count to two, thank you very much.

Question 6: What is Person 1's sex?
Asked since 1790. Census data about sex are important because many federal programs must differentiate between males and females for funding, implementing and evaluating their programs. For instance, laws promoting equal employment opportunity for women require census data on sex. Also, sociologists, economists, and other researchers who analyze social and economic trends use the data.
So, in 1790 they asked this unconstitutional question to discriminate against women.  Now they ask it to discriminate against men.  Pass.  Oh, and I don't see where I have a Constitutional duty (nor where the House has a Constitutional mandate) to help out sociologists, economists, and other researchers.

Question 7: What is Person 1's age and Date of Birth?
Asked since 1800. Federal, state, and local governments need data about age to interpret most social and economic characteristics, such as forecasting the number of people eligible for Social Security or Medicare benefits. The data are widely used in planning and evaluating government programs and policies that provide funds or services for children, working-age adults, women of childbearing age, or the older population.
I can maybe see providing my age, but date of birth?  How does my specific date of birth change anything?  As far as Social Security is concerned, I think that the Social Security Administration has all the information they need on me already.  But it has been asked since 1800, so maybe I ought to answer it.  After all, if something's been around long enough it's just gotta be Constitutional!

Question 8: Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin?
Asked since 1970. The data collected in this question are needed by federal agencies to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as under the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. State and local governments may use the data to help plan and administer bilingual programs for people of Hispanic origin.
So, no other ethnicities are covered under the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act?  Also, how on Earth does this help to enforce those Acts?  It's nice that they think everyone of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin can't speak English, too.  That's not insulting to an entire group of Americans at all, I'm sure.  I see no reason to answer this question as it is completely useless and irrelevant; especially as it applies to enumeration.

Question 9: What is Person 1's race?
Asked since 1790. Race is key to implementing many federal laws and is needed to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. State governments use the data to determine congressional, state and local voting districts. Race data are also used to assess fairness of employment practices, to monitor racial disparities in characteristics such as health and education and to plan and obtain funds for public services.
Wait a minute, this is used to determine congressional, state, and local voting districts?  There are so many things wrong with that statement that it makes my head spin.  Since I don't believe in the concept of races (and this little known science called Biology backs me up), I see no reason to answer this question.

Question 10: Does Person 1 sometimes live or stay somewhere else?
This is another question we ask in order to ensure response accuracy and completeness and to contact respondents whose forms have incomplete or missing information.
I could see the use for this question, as we don't want anyone being counted twice if they live in more than one place.

So, to sum it all up, I can see the usefulness of questions 1, 2, 10, and arguably 4 for the purpose set forth in the Constitution.  The rest are pure bunk; and do let's not even start on the American Community Survey.  How a woman's fertility relates to enumeration can only be thought up by the Federal government.

So, what's with the threat of a $5,000 fine if you don't answer?  Well, let's explore.

The US Census is governed under Title 13 of the US Code.  Penalties are found in Section 221, which reads: 
Sec. 221. Refusal or neglect to answer questions; false answers
(a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.
(b) Whoever, when answering questions described in subsection (a) of this section, and under the conditions or circumstances described in such subsection, willfully gives any answer that is false, shall be fined not more than $500. 
(c) Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no person shall be compelled to disclose information relative to his religious beliefs or to membership in a religious body.

Pretty clear, right?  Wait, I don't see anything in there about a $5,000 fine.  And, come to think of it, there's a bit of caveats in there, too.  It seems that these penalties are only in effect should the questions be in connexion with subchapters I, II, IV, or V of chapter 5 in Title 13.  OK, so what do those say?

Subchapter I deals with Manufactures, Mineral Industries, and Other Business.  So, no relevance there to private citizens and the 2010 Census or American Community Survey.  Subchapter IV mainly deals with the Secretary of Commerce's duties and how the information obtained is to be reported and used.  Subchapters II and V may have some relevancy to the rest of us.

Subchapter II, §141, states (among other things):
(a) The Secretary shall, in the year 1980 and every 10 years thereafter, take a decennial census of population as of the first day of April of such year, which date shall be known as the “decennial census date”, in such form and content as he may determine, including the use of sampling procedures and special surveys. In connection with any such census, the Secretary is authorized to obtain such other census information as necessary.
(b) The tabulation of total population by States under subsection (a) of this section as required for the apportionment of Representatives in Congress among the several States shall be completed within 9 months after the census date and reported by the Secretary to the President of the United States.
(g) As used in this section, “census of population” means a census of population, housing, and matters relating to population and housing.

Part (a) basically states that, starting in 1980, the decennial census of population will take place every ten years on April 1st, and that the Secretary can ask pretty much whatever he wants towards that end.  (b) defines the purpose of (a) as "required for the apportionment of Representatives in Congress among the several States," and says the information needs to get to the President within 9 months.  (g) states that census, basically, means whatever they want it to mean.

On to Subchapter V, §193 (then we'll start 'splainin):
In advance of, in conjunction with, or after the taking of each census provided for by this chapter, the Secretary may make surveys and collect such preliminary and supplementary statistics related to the main topic of the census as are necessary to the initiation, taking, or completion thereof.

This is basically stating that the Secretary can survey for any topic the Census is being used for.   Perusing Title 13, there are quite a few Census topics that can be used, so this would pertain to whatever was being ascertained (e.g., a survey on how much gold was mined in a year should the census be on mineral industries).  The purpose of this section, though, is really to allow the Secretary to use sample populations as opposed to actual populations for any census matter not pertaining to apportionment of direct taxes or House representatives, so it really doesn't apply here.

To sum the above up, you can be fined up to $100 for failure to answer, or up to $500 for lying on, any question posed by the Secretary of Commerce in a census.  However, the purpose of the 2010 (and all decennial) Census is for enumeration.  Therefore, there's a good argument that you can only be fined up to $100 for not answering the population questions (Questions 1, 2, and 10), and up to $500 for lying about said questions.

As far as any other census on any other subject, I fail to find anything in the Constitution that states we must participate.  It could be argued that the entirety of Title 13, other than as it relates to enumeration for the purpose of direct taxes and House representatives, is unconstitutional; especially the portion on fines. Now, I can see how the Secretary of Commerce could be vested with the power to ask the questions; but not how that corresponds to a duty on the part of the citizenry to answer them.

So, again, where do they get the $5,000 figure from?  Some have suggested that, since there are ten questions and you can be fined up to $500 for lying, the figure is for lying on all ten questions.  This is incorrect.  According to the Census Bureau, US Code Title 18, Sections 3571 and 3559 supersede Title 13, Section 221.  Holy crap, another rabbit trail.

OK, so what is the specific text relating to a $5,000 fine?  That's in Title 18, Section 3571, which states:
(b) Fines for Individuals.— Except as provided in subsection (e) of this section, an individual who has been found guilty of an offense may be fined not more than the greatest of— 
(7) for an infraction, not more than $5,000.

Let's now see two things begged by this section: what is an "infraction" (as defined for this particular section), and what does subsection (e) state?  To answer the second question first:
(e) Special Rule for Lower Fine Specified in Substantive Provision.— If a law setting forth an offense specifies no fine or a fine that is lower than the fine otherwise applicable under this section and such law, by specific reference, exempts the offense from the applicability of the fine otherwise applicable under this section, the defendant may not be fined more than the amount specified in the law setting forth the offense.

So, basically,  you cannot be fined the $5,000 if a law specifically states a fine that ought to be levied in the case of said law being violated, and that fine is less than $5,000.  Oh, wait; it also says that the law must specifically exempt the offense from the fine in this section.  So, even though Title 13, Section 221 specifically states how much you can be fined, it doesn't explicitly state that it applies over and above Title 18, Section 3571.  Great; so it's worthless.

This still doesn't answer the question as to whether or not failing to answer (or lying on) a Census question counts as an "infraction," thus leaving it open to the penalties in Title 18, Section 3571.  For that, we go to Section 3559 of Title 18, which defines an infraction as:
(a) Classification.— An offense that is not specifically classified by a letter grade in the section defining it, is classified if the maximum term of imprisonment authorized is—
(9) five days or less, or if no imprisonment is authorized, as an infraction.

All right, so something is an infraction if it carries no jail time (which is true, so far, for the Census) and it is not assigned a letter grade in that section.  The letter grades it references are for misdemeanors and felonies.

Thus, since it's neither a misdemeanor nor a felony to lie or fail to answer Census questions, it's an infraction.  Infractions, per Title 18, carry a maximum fine of $5,000.  And, since Title 13, Section 221, doesn't specifically state that Title 18, Section 3571 doesn't apply, you theoretically could be fined up to $5,000 for non-compliance with the 2010 Census and/or the 2010 American Community Survey.  Pretty slick; and equally slimy.

Now, I think it's pretty clear that these fines, if levied for non-compliance with all but the enumeration questions, are beyond the Constitutional scope of the Federal government.  It seems the Census Bureau thinks this, too, as they have very seldom enforced their measures with the threatened fines (I actually could find no cases in which a person was fined for failure to answer a question; though I wouldn't doubt that some cases exist).  So, not to worry.  No one will come after you if you only answer the questions mandated by the Constitution, right?


I don't know that I would put money on it (which would be literal, in this case).  Consider these fun facts: the government is broke, they are threatening fines for the Census that have never been threatened before (classically, they have only threatened the $100 and $500 fines), and revenue collected wouldn't technically be a tax hike.  If ever there was a better recipe for extorting information out of people, I don't know what it is.

To be fair, the Census Bureau has only threatened the $5,000 fine for those who fail to fill out the American Community Survey, and the $100-500 fines for those failing to fill out the 2010 Census.  But, to be even more fair, they have no Constitutional right to any information beyond a simple head count!!

So, what to do?  I know that the Supreme Court has previously ruled that, "Neither branch of the legislative department [House of Representatives or Senate], still less any merely administrative body [such as the Census Bureau], established by congress, possesses, or can be invested with, a general power of making inquiry into the private affairs of the citizen."  I suppose that one could stand upon this as grounds for a refusal to answer questions, were one so inclined.

The Census Bureau does address the issue of Constitutionality, albeit rather clumsily.  They quote a few Supreme Court cases that really have nothing to do with the issue (the case I quoted was Kilbourn v. Thompson, a case investigating the reach of the House of Representatives in questioning citizens), such as an opinion draughted by a District Court judge in a legal tender case (the opinion was not the holding in that case, to my understanding), and the second and third cases they use, though relevant to the Census, had to do with using statistical sampling rather than an actual head count.

So, what's the point?  The government already knows my name, address, phone number, social security number, and a lot of other stuff (they probably have more information on my wife and me than I do).  Who cares?  Why risk a big, fat fine for essentially nothing?

And that's how it happens.  Why risk a lot to gain a little?  After all, it's only slightly unconstitutional; and that thing was written so long ago, anyway.  What's the harm in it?

Two things: the first theoretical, the second fiercely pragmatic.  First, a stand ought to be taken on every right for every person in this Union.  We are supposed to be born free, and the Constitution was written not as a limit on the People's freedoms, but a limit on the Federal government's abilities.  In other words, the Constitution is a "hands off" document from the Founders (on our behalf) to the Federal government.  When they start ignoring it in the small things, what's next?

Second: the pragmatism.  In World War II, in one of the lowest moral moments in our country's history apart from slavery, the Federal government rounded up and interred some 110,000 persons of Japanese descent.  According to a good deal of evidence collected well after the fact, the US Census Bureau played a key role in helping the War Department find and round up said persons of Japanese descent.  Don't believe it (it seems a good deal of liberal bloggers don't)?  Kenneth Prewitt, then head of the US Census Bureau, said in 2000, "the historical record is clear that senior Census Bureau staff proactively cooperated with the internment, and that census tabulations were directly implicated in the denial of civil rights to citizens of the United Sates who happened to also be of Japanese ancestry."

But at least they said they're sorry and they promise not to ever abuse our private, personal, biographical information ever again.  And besides, that was a long time ago (this is seriously the argument I hear most as to why it's ridiculous to think something like this can happen again).

Forgive me if I'm not overly impressed when the Federal government promises not to use unconstitutionally obtained  information in unconstitutional ways, like they did in the past.

March 15, 2010

Health Care and the DMV

I just got back from a quintessential DMV experience (which is not yet over), and I was going to pen a tirade against the abuses inherent to government controlled industries.  Things like lamenting the fact that you can't go to the competition, that the employees are hired based on criteria other than competence, hours not conducive to working people's schedules, etc.

But it got me to thinking: what if the government really did run health care?  Instead of writing on my DMV experience as it happened, then, I am going to relay to you my experience through the lens of government run health care.  Same scenario, different details.

My Recent Experience with the DMV, as Portrayed by Government Health Care

It all started with a tickle in the back of my throat.  I knew I was getting sick, but decided to see if it went away after a couple of days.  It didn't.  I knew what that meant: a trip to the doctor's office.  This would not be pleasant.

My doctor is only open from 8-5 Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and 9-5 Tuesday and Thursday (with every other Friday off, and all major and minor holidays).  I don't have a general practitioner; I have to see whoever's available when my number is called.

I tried to call in to schedule an appointment, but I couldn't get passed the automated system to a real person.  I was able to leave a message, though; the system said someone would get back to me within 48 business hours.  No big deal; it's not really an appointment you can schedule, but simply access to a faster line.  Since I was feeling pretty poor at this point, I just decided to call in sick in the morning and head in to my local health care centre (mine is the State Urban Care: Kennedy Building).

When I got to the SUCK Building, I parked my car about 300 yards from the entrance and trudged through the snow to the lobby.  Unfortunately, there was a line out the door for quite a ways (it was the 1st of the month, so everyone's monthly service allotment had renewed which made it very busy) which required an additional 20 minutes in the elements.  Needless to say it didn't help my cold, but I knew I would see a doctor soon so I let that pass.

I entered the lobby (finally!) and walked up to the greeter to get a number.  He asked what I was there for, and I explained my symptoms.  After he entered those into the computer (I watched; he really only entered in the first symptom I gave, but I wasn't about to complain), a number was generated to direct me to the proper department in the order I arrived.  I then sat and watched the state news on closed caption (the TV was muted) for the next hour and a half.  At least it keeps your mind off of the hacking, wheezing, crying, and bleeding going on around you.

My number came up on the big screen and I hurried to room number 35.  After presenting my paperwork to the doctor (actually, Clinical Research and Aid Practitioner; no one gets MDs anymore because the pay doesn't cover their schooling expenses), she decided everything was in order and went over my symptoms.  Per the Western Treatment Federation guidelines (all CRAP employees must adhere to WTF guidelines), she garnered a prescription and wrote it on my official health form for that month.  She accidentally filled it in on the wrong spot, so she crossed it out and filled in the proper section.  I wasn't worried about it because they would issue me a new sheet at the Department of Health and Vaccination once I had my prescription filled.

Next stop: the DHV!  Lucky for me it's also located in the SUCK Building, so I didn't have to drive across town or anything.  It was a simple process of waiting in line outside in the snow on the other side of the building for another 20 minutes, showing my paperwork to the greeter over there, and watching the silent news for another hour and a half.

My number was called and I went to the Medical Officer of Rehabilitation Oriented Nutrition at window 13 ("drugs" is now considered an offensive word, so pharmacists are said to deal in "rehabilitation oriented nutrition").  This particular MORON had two signs on their desk, one that read, "Do I look like I care how your day is going?" with a wet cat, and another that said "Customer Service: Take a Number" with a picture of a grenade that had a number attached to the pin.  Our conversation was frequently interrupted by my MORON talking with other MORONs as they passed by.  He advised me that, since I had an entry filled out in the "For Senators, Overseers, and Bureaucrats Only" section, I would have to have the CRAP employee apply for a new prescription sheet and then refill it out.  I tried to protest that I'm obviously not an SOB, so that section was clearly filled out in error, but to no avail.  MORONs generally don't listen to reason.

I went to the other side of the SUCK Building, but my CRAP employee was gone for the day.  I had to come back in two days, they told me.  I trudged back to my car and headed to the store to stock up on tissues and comfort food for the next couple of days; I could tell that my cold had settled in to stay, so I might as well be equipped for the wait.

Two days later and I felt like I'd been hit by a truck.  I was really excited to get back to the SUCK Building and have my paperwork put in order as I now badly needed my antibiotics.  After the same parking, trudging, and waiting antics, I got to see the original CRAP employee who kindly and quickly filled out a form granting permission for me to get a new health sheet, so I went over to the other side of the building, waited for a bit longer, and sat down at the desk of a new MORON who looked it over.

"Everything looks in order," he said, "but we're not giving out new health sheets today."

"What?  Why not?"  I was more than a bit surprised.

"Well," he explained, "today is a furlough day.  No State paperwork can be issued today because the State offices have Friday off."

"Why are you here, then?" I protested.

"We're county employees, so we still come in on State furlough days."  His face showed no sign of humour.  I stared stupidly for a moment with a gaping mouth.  "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

I thought of telling him he could fill my prescription, but knew it was a waste of breath.  I decided I'd have to come back next week.  On the way back to my car, I got an automated call from the DHV telling me that I had now been scheduled for an appointment two days ago.  By Monday, I started feeling better so I decided I'd skip the whole free health care my taxes were paying for and just go to work instead.  As I fought traffic down the dilapidated Obama Expressway (which hadn't seen any tax money for repairs in five years), I thought about how much I missed being able to just pay my copay and get care in return, but I also thanked God I didn't break my leg or have a serious ailment.  Getting off at the Castro Court exit, I decided if I got sick again I'd just deal with it on my own.

March 11, 2010

Education: I Fixed It

We spend about $528.7 billion a year on public education.  That number doesn't really mean anything to you?  OK, try this: the base defense budget for the United States is $533.8 billion.

Still nothing?  How about this: what if we funded public education with corporate donations?  Sounds like a good idea, right?  It would be pretty cool, after all, to attend Google High or Exxon Elementary.  Well, it would take the entire annual profits of the following companies to come close to covering the annual bill for our children's public education: Exxon/Mobil, Total, Shell, WalMart, BP, Chevron, Sinopec, Japan Post Holdings, GE, China National Petroleum, Volkswagen, ENI, HSBC Holdings, Gazprom, Daimler, BNP Paribas, AT&T, Hewlett Packard, Bank of America, Samsung, Nestle, JP Morgan Chase, Honda, Verizon, BASF, Proctor & Gamble, UnitedHealth, Nokia, Home Depot, Target, Johnson & Johnson, Mitsubishi, Dell, Boeing, Microsoft, MetLife, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, UPS, Caterpillar, Pfizer, Lowe's, PepsiCo, Kraft, Lockheed Martin, Canon, Cisco Systems, POSCO, FedEx, Disney, Intel, Sysco, Royal Bank of Canada, GMAC, Comcast, News Corp, Apple, Zurich Financial, Coca Cola, Amex, DuPont, Aetna, BAE Systems, Liberty Mutual, Phillip Morris, L'Oreal, 3M, Occidental, Merck, US Steel, McDonalds, Oracle, Telstra, British American Tobacco, and Google.  Oh, and it would still come up about $4 billion short (we could just borrow the remainder from China).

I didn't get to the scary part, yet.  This may not be the total cost of education.  According to some (like this guy), the actual cost per student may be significantly higher due to expenses and funding not counted in the total $528.7 billion.  One of the main reasons for this is that the total figure doesn't include local bond measures, among other things, which can add up to some significance.

Now that I have your attention, let's get a little nitty and really gritty.  Let's talk about teachers.

I'm not going to hem and haw over the whole tenure aspect of unionised teachers, though a bit could be said about that.  I will briefly touch on quality of education, but my main focus will be cost (quality does relate to cost, which is why I'll light on it).  Unless, of course, all of those Fortune 500 companies would like to forego their profits in the name of American public education.

So far as quality of education is concerned, there are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes proper learning.  Ask ten different people, and chances are you'll get at least twelve different answers.  One thing is clear, though; children are not ill-serviced by attending private, charter, Catholic, or home schools in lieu of public schools (not exactly a news flash, here).  In fact, some studies show that the average home schooled child performs one grade level above their public schooled counterpart.  But, for purposes of this treatise, we'll assume equal levels of scholastic achievement may be obtained from private, public, home, Catholic, Lutheran, or otherwise schools.

On to teachers; specifically, teachers' pay.  I know this is a touchy subject for a lot of people.  We've been told for decades that teachers are overworked and underpaid.  The question is: are they?  I believe the best measure of a teacher's pay is their realised hourly compensation rather than their annual salary.  Why would I do such a thing?  I'm glad you asked.

The average worker has 52 weekends off a year, 11 holidays, and 3 weeks vacation (though many, myself included, fall well below this amount of time off).  That leaves 235 days per year being actually worked.  The average teacher, by contrast, works a paltry 185 days per year; basically, 2 1/2 months less.  Now, if I compare a teacher making $40k a year to an architect making $45k, it looks like the teacher gets compensated far less for their time.  But, when you consider that the architect works 64% of the year and the teacher only 51%, it's not so clear (if the teacher worked comparable hours at the same hourly pay, they would make $50k a year).  Therefore, I use hourly wages as it adequately reflects compensation for actual time worked.

So, how much is the average public school teacher paid per hour?  The average workweek for a teacher is 36.5 hours, with about 37 weeks in the year being worked.  That equates to 1,350.5 hours worked.  The average teacher's salary is $49,140 (though some make up to $80,970).  This equates to about $36.39 per hour.  By contrast, the average pay for a chemist is about $46,590.  If that chemist works the typical 40 hour work week, 235 work days per year (if they're lucky enough to get 11 holidays and 3 weeks vacation), they make $24.78 per hour.  That figure goes down by about a dollar an hour if the chemist only gets 2 weeks vacation and closer to 6 holidays, like the rest of us schleps.

OK, here's the kicker.  Remember how I said earlier that there's no improvement in the quality of education for public schooled kids over private?  Private school teachers make, on average, 61% of the wage of their public counterparts.  That's $22.20 per hour, closer to the chemist's pay (about $30k a year, for those interested; but they still get all the days off).  Think about that for a minute: 61% less pay, equal results.  Arguably better results, but we'll let that slide for now.

But wait, there's more!  If you act now, you can not only spend taxpayer dollars on excessive teacher pay, but you get a classically bloated government bureaucracy free!  Just kidding.  It's not free.

The cost to educate a student in the K-12 public schools is, per student per year, about $10,889.  Now remember, this figure doesn't include local bond measures or the like, so the number may very well be a bit north of $10,889, but this is what we'll use as our baseline for public education.  By contrast, the average private school costs $6,600 per student per year, the average charter school $6,585, the average Catholic school $4,254, and the average home school somewhere between $100-1,000 (generally on the lower side).  Amazing what a little government bloat can do for you, eh?

These averages don't tell the whole story, though.  There are a great many private schools that cater to the affluent, skewing the average cost a bit higher than a valid comparison might merit.  Some of the more prestigious prep schools (you know, the ones our politicians send their children to) can cost upwards of $30,000 per student per year.  That being said, there are a great many private schools out there that offer comparable or better education than public schools for a paltry $4,000 per student per year (many are actually at or under $3,000).

Now, if I had my druthers I would pull a C3PO and have all public school tax funding shut down.
Shut them all down!

But this isn't currently feasible as it would have to come along with a huge tax reform to the current, Draconian system (basically, parents would net a greater gain from their tax money now kept in their pockets than the loss from having to pay for schooling out of pocket).  Since that's a long way off, we need to do the next best thing: vouchers.  Shut down public education entirely and instead issue vouchers to the school of the parent's choice.

Let's do some basic math.  If our current expenditure per student is $10,889, and a comparable private education can be had for $4,000; then we could reduce the cost per student by 63%.  Flowing from this, that means we could reduce the cost of education from $528.7 billion to $194.2 billion.

Hey, look at me!  I just saved the taxpayer $334.5 billion while maintaining or improving our children's education!  Someone hand me a Nobel prize.

March 9, 2010

Band Aid on a Trauma Victim

Imagine you're watching your favourite surgery-room drama.  The first few minutes focus on some inane, soap opera like drivel between the unendingly clever yet woefully jaded head doctor and a female underling who is both too young and far too attractive in scrubs (seriously, does she spend five hours in makeup before hitting the floor to get covered in blood and urine?).

Just then, the door bursts open and two EMTs with chiseled abs and perfect hair wheel in the victim of a brutal beating (who also has pretty nice hair).  The victim, blood spewing from multiple knife wounds, is sped into the nearest operating room while the music gains a few drum beats.  The doctor, now with his face mask on and somehow scrubbed up and ready to go in less than five seconds, enters the room.  His eyes grow wide as the camera pans in.

"Band aid."  The hot underling immediately complies.

"He's still bleeding.  Another band aid, Jessica."  The patient groans and a knife wound, loosely held shut by a band aid, starts to come back open.  "I'm losing him; I need more band aids!"

After a few commercials and some horribly out of place witty banter over a dying trauma victim, the doctor succeeds in patching up the victim.  With lots and lots of band aids.

If this were a real television drama, it wouldn't even make it on the air.  Why, then, do we not only accept but demand that our country be ran in the same way?  Bailouts, stimulus packages, electing politicians who promise to do the least amount of damage; they're all band aids, and meanwhile the country is bleeding out.

Just like the trauma victim needs the holes patched up so he can heal, the country needs its wounds closed so it can heal and grow.  But band aids (i.e., quick fixes) won't do it.  We need to address the hemorrhaging in a drastic way, and then make sure it doesn't happen again.  A band aid might work to stop small cuts, but deep rents in tissue that threaten life require a lot more circumspection and intentionality.

Our Republic, to this author's mind, is floundering.  We the People have given up our right to self-govern for the promise of a few quick benefits that naturally come from a huge tax pool.  What we need to do is step back, asses the real problems, and start stitching them up.

To fully understand the problem with our government (mostly Federal, but the States have manifold issues, too), we first need to define the purpose of our government.  Why does our government exist?  We are a nation of laws and rights; what role does the government have in these things?  Without waxing too historic on it, I'll simply hand out the answer: government is here to, through the use of law, ensure our rights.  Not to grant, deny, manufacture, or interpret our rights; ensure them.  Period.  Taxation is a necessary evil in order for the government to have the ability to enforce the laws designed to protect our rights.

Ask yourself: does this sound like what most politicians promise for us?  Does this sound at all like the debate we currently have on a surfeit of issues confronting our nation?  Why not?

The answer lies in the beauty of our nation: Personal Sovereignty.  The problem lies in the logical conclusion of Personal Sovereignty: Personal Responsibility.  We have abdicated our God-given right to Personal Sovereignty because of the fear of Personal Responsibility.

Personal Sovereignty says that you can make a business for whatever purpose you like (provided it does not infringe upon the Personal Sovereignty of others).  We like this.  Personal Responsibility says that, should the business fail, you will possibly be left poor and struggling.  We don't like this.  Socialism says that, as long as your business conforms to the will of the powers that be, you can run it into the ground and someone will be there to help you pick up the pieces when it inevitably falls apart.  Apparently, if recent history is at all a guide, we like this a lot.

Socialism has cut deep wounds into our once great nation.  America is bleeding out red, white, and blue into the soil.  A great many costly band aids have been applied, yet still we bleed.  We bleed our jobs, we bleed our currency's value, and we bleed our Personal Sovereignty.  It's time we stop patching the wounds with ineffective, short term solutions and start addressing the real problem.  Are we up to the task?

I suppose time will, as always, tell.  I for one will be eagerly awaiting the end of the next commercial break, and hoping our intrepid doctor, Personal Sovereignty, is able to man up and start stitching.

January 19, 2010

The Only Question of Merit on Abortion

Baby killers!!!

Woman haters!!!

OK, so we've heard the rhetoric on abortion.  According to one side, their opposition is made up of misogynistic sadists hell-bent (or would they say heaven-bent?) on telling women what they can and can't do with their own bodies.  The other side says their opposition is made up of infanticidal maniacs with a thirst for blood that would make Hitler puke.

They obviously both can't be right (unless it honestly is a fight between misogynists and infanticidal maniacs; in which case they both suck).  How do we reconcile this?  I'm glad you asked, because I have the solution.  Well, if not the solution, at least the only logical question that need be asked:
At what point does human life begin?

This is the hinge point upon which the entire debate turns.  If something is a human life, to end it would be to kill it.  If something is a mass of cells within the body, to end it would be to simply separate a piece of the body; like one might a mole or tumour.  By proxy, if the thing growing within the womb is a human life, to destroy it would be killing a human life (I won't say "murder," because that would depend on context).  If it is not a human life, to tell someone they cannot destroy it would be limiting one's personal liberty.

So the only question that has any significance is that of the point at which a person becomes a person.  Is it the zygote?  The embryo?  The sperm and egg?  Live birth?  Ability to survive outside the womb?  The answer to this question is the only thing that matters in this debate.

This has been thought of as a 14th Amendment issue, but it's actually a 5th Amendment issue (same wording and applicability as the 14th, in case you were curious; it's just that the 14th is more fun to use): No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.  If a fetus is alive and is killed (not by accident nor by medical expedient, such as to save the life of the mother) without due process of law granted to all other people in these United States, it is a violation of this amendment in that someone's life has been taken without due process.  If, however, a fetus (or embryo, or zygote) is not alive, depriving a woman of her right to do with her body as she pleases would be a violation of this amendment as it deprives her of liberty without due process.  And you thought the Constitution was just an outdated document written by a bunch of old fuddy-duddies; silly fascist!

With the preamble out of the way, on with the arguments!  We're going to consider the scientific arguments for when a person becomes a person.  There are various other angles with which to attack this debate, but none with as much rationality and objectivity (such as the religious argument, the historical argument, the cultural argument, etc.).  There still exists ample room for interpretation in every view, but I'll try to cover the intrinsic problems therein.  We'll go from furthest out from conception to closest into conception (I'm not touching any of the pre-conception arguments because I think they don't fall within scientific bounds, weak arguments to the contrary notwithstanding).

One argument for the beginning of human life centres around the concept of the fledgling organism being able to live outside the womb.  I will refer to this as the Viability Argument.  Its proponents advocate a person becoming a person when they are able to autonomously live outside the womb.  The current point of gestation for this argument is 21 weeks and 6 days.  I say "current" because this is technologically limited.  Should technology advance to the point where a premature baby of younger than 21 weeks and 6 days is able to survive, this definition will, obviously, change.

Herein lies the major issue with the Viability Argument: consistency.  Whereas the definition is quite specific (able to live apart from the mother), it is not constant.  If a person is a person at 21 weeks and 6 days or beyond, what happens if medical science is able to advance to the point where they can save a 20 week old?  Is that organism not granted rights until 13 days later?  If someone purposely kills a premature infant, who was delivered at 20 weeks of gestation, at 21 weeks and 5 days, is it murder?  You can see the problem.  This argument's inherent weakness is that it is limited by technology, and not definitive of the organism itself.  While it has some good points (and is in use in places), it is too weak to be conclusive.  Also, by defining a "human life" as one able to live on its own, would this redefine others as not alive?  A person on a life-support system, or a toddler unable to fend for themselves; would these become non-life?

I don't think it would go to that extreme, but suffice to say there is a logical problem with the definition should it apply to all human life (as it must should it be used for this purpose).

Next up: the Neurological Argument.  Proponents of this viewpoint define life as starting when the brain is developed, anywhere from 8 to 25 weeks.  The earliest (8 weeks) argue that basic brain formation is the start of human consciousness, while the latest (25 weeks) argue that consciousness begins when the organism displays an individual EEG pattern.  There are also some in-between who argue for around 20 weeks because this is when the thalamus is formed, thus the organism has the capacity for rational thought (though, as we know from Congress, "capacity" and "ability" are often two separate animals).

The EEG argument seems to make the most sense of the three for no other reason than consistency.  This is a common measure used to determine the end of life for a human individual, so it seems consistent to also use it as the measure of the start of life for a human individual.  The problem comes in when we look at the youngest premature baby to have survived (the aforementioned 21 weeks and 6 days).  If life does not begin until there is a specific EEG pattern, could someone have killed the youngest premie on the basis that it was not yet alive?  I hardly think anyone would argue for that.  Still and all, the Neurological Argument has quite a bit more logical credence than the Viability Argument.

On to: the Embryological/Gastrulation Argument (use that word at your next party; nothing gets girls like nerdy sciencey-talk).  This argument puts the beginning of human life at about twelve days after conception.  At this point, the possibility for "twinning" (the super-creative phrase they came up with for "making twins") is exhausted.  The argument states that, prior to this point, the existing zygote may or may not become more than one individual life form.  Should we grant "humanity" to the zygote prior to this point, thus labeling it an individual, how will that label stand should the zygote undergo twinning?  Would the twins be classified as a single entity?  To offset this potential pitfall, the Embryological/Gastrulation Argument posits that we cannot call a zygote a human individual prior to roughly twelve days after conception because we might erroneously label two or more people as a single life form.

The problem with using this argument as a timeline for abortion ought to be manifest, but I'll pretend that it isn't and explain it.  Nothing in the argument shows that the zygote is not alive, but rather that we don't conclusively know how many lives will result from said zygote.  While it might make a nice litmus for labeling "individual," it's a poor choice for labeling "life."

Our penultimate argument to view: the Genetic Argument.  This argument places the beginning of life at about 24 hours after conception.  This is roughly the time it takes for the egg/sperm mix to form a new, unique genome.  This argument states that, since the organism has a separate genome than either parent, and the genome is human in nature; it is a separate, individual human life form.  This argument is both clean and fairly definitive, but it does have a few potential issues in today's "letter of the law," litigious society.

First, if human life is defined as an organism with a unique, human genome; what of twins?  They have identical genomes (at least, identical twins do).  Would they be labeled as a single life form?  Second, what of cloning?  Should a clone be made with a genome identical to the parent being cloned, is it not considered alive?  Third, what of the dead?  Aren't they entities with unique, human genomes?

There is some obvious room for fine-tuning, but I find the Genetic Argument to be the most logically sound (other than the last argument, which we'll get to momentarily).  Of course, the other arguments have quite a bit of merit; but I have yet to see this one definitively disproven.

All that being said, there exists an inherent problem with each of the foregoing arguments: time and individuality.  In order for a definition to be made law, one must put some real, tangible numbers to it.  Let us take, for example, the formation of the thalamus at 20 weeks.  Does everyone have a fully formed thalamus at exactly 20 weeks?  What if someone gets theirs at 137 days?  Would we make verification surgery mandatory for every abortion performed before, say, 18 weeks?  Would we simply perform an autopsy on aborted fetuses and see if they had a thalamus, then charge the doctor and/or mother with murder if they did?

Obviously, whatever definition we arrive upon, in a legal sense, would have to allow room for the individual.  Otherwise, it is not a true definition at all (in the aforementioned example of thalamus formation, if we arrived upon 20 weeks but were OK with aborting an 18 week old with a fully formed thalamus; then we are not really classifying it as a life since we are comfortable with ending it without due process).

This brings me to the final argument: the Reagan Argument.  It's already awesome because it references The Gipper, but I'll go on to explain it anyway.  In 1983, then President Ronald Reagan said the following in an article he wrote for The Human Life Review:
"If you don't know whether a body is alive or dead, you would never bury it."

This, to my mind, is the heart of the issue.  The debate rages on as to whether this is a right-to-life or right-to-liberty issue, but it all hinges on whether or not the thing growing inside of a woman's womb is alive.  Though I cannot say that a fetus is definitively, beyond a shadow of a doubt alive; I also cannot say that it is definitively, beyond a shadow of a doubt not alive.  Not in any stage of development.

The real question, then, is this: on which side do you err when life is not clearly, indisputably shown one way or the other?  Do you risk being a potential misogynist, or a potential murderer?
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