May 29, 2010

A Direct Line from Health, Through Information, to Political Manipulation

Justin Katz

The problem with giving government authority over everything is that, well, it gives government authority over everything. For a shocking example, consider Mark Steyn's description of a minor controversy in Great Britain.

It seems that, in the course of the recent election cycle, the then-ruling Labour party sent out postcards warning that, if victorious, the Conservatives would reduce access to breast cancer treatment. What's shocking is that Labour appears to have culled the list of all citizens to include only those who have" been either diagnosed with, treated for, survived or, in at least one case, died of breast cancer." Writes Steyn:

So a quantum leap in targeted marketing has just been made: The governing party of a free society was able to identify women with breast cancer in swing constituencies and send them a postcard warning that if you vote for the opposition they’ll cut off your chemo and kill you.

I suppose that's not much different than local school committees sending parents warnings that their children will have to return to paper-less one room school houses if they don't receive the budgets that they desire. The difference is that it's unavoidable for school departments to know which households have children in the school system, but at least in the United States, it isn't yet the case that political parties have ownership of everybody's personal health histories.

The easy availability of information has its pluses and minuses. The real danger lies in giving a centralized authority the power to use that information for its own purposes.

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Or local tax groups sending out messages that there will be a 22% increase if you vote for a certain school budget.

Posted by: TheTruth at May 29, 2010 10:23 AM

There is a semi-significant movement among Free State Project participants and other New Hampshire libertarians to boycott the Census entirely or to provide only the household headcount required by the Constitution.

The Census has been previously used by the Federal Government to identify Arab Americans for DHS after September 11th [] and to assist in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II [].

Whether or not you support the Census specifically or how it is conducted, we should be extremely wary of any personal information gathering efforts by our government. Information is power, and they do not have a track record of using power responsibly.

Posted by: Dan at May 29, 2010 10:56 AM

Sorry, that cat is long out of the bag!

Anyone can buy any list of Americans based on just about ANY criteria you would think of - and they DO. This data is not by any means all from the Federal Government - in fact, most of it is not. Voter and tax rolls are public in most places. Combine those with zip code demographics (we don't need the government to tell us which type of people live where) and you can get some pretty good selection.

Want people who are worth over a million? Pretty easy to select out......doctors, lawyers, heads of companies with over 10 employees, etc. etc.

Recently married, recently divorced, just moved to a new house, etc. etc.

If information is power, Danny boy, then the corporations with unlimited dollars to spend picking us each out and marketing to us (in elections and otherwise) should concern you greatly - especially since the conservative supreme court justices just decided to let foreign interests and corporations spend unlimited money on their election desires.

Posted by: Stuart at May 29, 2010 1:47 PM

Stuart, name one corporation that has ever forced you to do anything without going through government...

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Businesses are the problem like forks cause obesity.

Posted by: Dan at May 29, 2010 2:49 PM

Well, Dan, given that logic I think the problem is breathing. If we didn't have air, we would not have governments approving of corporations screwing us.

Posted by: Stuart at May 29, 2010 3:43 PM

I always regret responding to Stuart. Contrary to what he probably thinks the reason is for that, if he actually used sound logic to counter any of my points, I would be thrilled.

Posted by: Dan at May 29, 2010 3:53 PM

On the contrary, my friend. I have heard many times the libertarian drivel that if a corporations feeds us poison and causes thousands of deaths or cancers, that it is only so because government allowed them to do it!

Is the US government too much in bed with business? Well, I think we can agree on that point! There is certainly no harm in the government being a promoter of fair commerce, however the situation is current the reverse of how it should be - that is, the corporations now control the government which then fail to regulate or rein in the corporations, etc. etc.

As far as the government having data - again, I hear a 100% different tune than I heard for 8 years under Daddy Bush and Cheny. Back then, the rebuttal from the right when we (progressives, civil libertarians) complained was "hey, I have nothing to hide so why should I care about that Patriotic Act, etc.".

It seems the right is fantastic adept at trying to stand on both sides of the fence at the same time.

I would appreciate, instead, just a slight bit of consistency on these subjects. It seems to me that a population which embraces the government listening to every word of their telephone conversations and internet emails should have little concern about getting an election ad in the mail.

Perhaps you disagree with the lack of civil libertarianism among your cohorts...which would be admirable if true. But last time I looked, the right was still acting as if the ACLU and other human rights and privacy groups were anti-patriotic commies.

Posted by: Stuart at May 29, 2010 4:53 PM

Let's see, blah blah blah corporations, blah blah blah Bush and Cheney, blah blah blah Patriot Act, yeah I'm done talking with Stuart. I actually learned my lesson this time.

Posted by: Dan at May 29, 2010 7:30 PM

"So a quantum leap in targeted marketing has just been made: The governing party of a free society was able to identify women with breast cancer in swing constituencies and send them a postcard warning that if you vote for the opposition they’ll cut off your chemo and kill you."

This is Justin's main quote to support his argument.
Dan- What would be your response if it were corporations instead of a political party that were targeting this same group with herbal cures, therapy, legal advise? Proper? Just Business?

Posted by: David S at May 29, 2010 8:08 PM

We already know the rights response - since Blue Cross Wellpoint was caught using a computer program to "weed out" all Women with breast cancer and cancel their "free market" health insurance....and the right fought like hell against reform of such practices.

Pretty clear whose side they are on!

It's not a coincidence that Romney, Bill Frist and many other top dogs of the GOP have been involved in $$$$ galore in Health Care Corporations.

Posted by: Stuart at May 29, 2010 8:20 PM

"Dan- What would be your response if it were corporations instead of a political party that were targeting this same group with herbal cures, therapy, legal advise? Proper? Just Business?"

Depends on the circumstances. If the personal information was obtained fraudulently, through violation of privacy, or through violation of contract, there is a problem. If the customer has requested that they stop and they do not do so, that is also a problem. If they are simply sending out advertisements based on their best guesses or information that was obtained legitimately, then I see no problem there. Government is fundamentally different than business because government is funded through coercion and uses coercion to achieve its ends. Business generally has to deal with people voluntarily, unless they have received special privileges through government.

Posted by: Dan at May 29, 2010 9:36 PM

>Business generally has to deal with people voluntarily

Yeah, health insurance is voluntary - and they check everything from your background to your pee to your blood and require that you 100% tell them every single thing.....OR, they do not cover you.

Therefore, Dan considers your participation in that scam as voluntary.

Very telling....and exactly as I thought. Sure, we don't need health insurance. We can choose death, sickness, bankruptcy, etc. instead - voluntarily!

Good point, Dan.

Posted by: Stuart at May 29, 2010 10:30 PM

Fact is,the ACLU was founded by an international socialist,Roger Baldwin, with the express purpose of eliminating individual svereignty among countries,starting with the USA.
So yes,the ACLU are unpatriotic commies.
Stuart-why do you say things like "my friend"?You have no friends here except maybe Rhody.

Posted by: joe bernstein at May 29, 2010 11:54 PM

Sorry, Joe, while I don't consider Stuart, or anybody I haven't met personally, or corresponded with on a personal level at least, a friend, he makes some very compelling arguments. Sure, he's a bit over the top, and annoyingly condescending, (sorry Stuart,) but I think his participation here has been positive for the most part, even when he is attacking my contributions.

In reference to Justin's post, the less the government knows about me and my families business, the happier I am. My wife qualifies for medical marijuana. In my opinion, only an idiot would sign up for, and give that kind of information to the government for them to use any way they choose. It's still against federal law.

Posted by: michael at May 30, 2010 11:17 AM

One must remember that the wars on drugs, terror and just about everything else are constructs of the right - and therefore folks have a valid reason for being scared of this stuff.

A properly functioning Fed and State government has much better things to do than to clamp down on marijuana use or to invade the privacy of us peons. Problem is, the authoritarian leanings of the "conservatives" both ask and compel the government to get more and more involved in personal thoughts and behavior.

This is the sad truth. Without Reagan and Bush we simply would have not spent the same tens of billions on busting pot smokers and filling our jails with them.

As far as the government knowing that one smokes dope these days, I would not worry much about that. After all, most public figures these days admit partaking and we don't hold it against them.

The sad part is that folks have to worry about this stuff. Personally, I would stay far away from electing any public officials who believed in the War on Drugs or even the War on Terror....or on ANY "war" which is so loosely defined as to not have a end in sight.

To quote Madison, who I assume is also a hero of folks like Dan:
"Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other."
"The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home."

Read carefully, my friends.

Posted by: Stuart at May 30, 2010 11:40 AM

Michael-you make my point.Stuart makes long,involved arguments which generally I think are ridiculous due the amount of leftist boilerplate contained therein.
But,even if you agree with Stuart on some issues,would you really want to hang out with him?
When he isn't "talking down",he tries to sound like:"aw shucks,I'm just one of the boys"but it rings hollow.
I think Stuart has been a social misfit all his life.I don't say that lightly,but I'd as soon not elaborate.

Posted by: joe bernstein at May 30, 2010 4:41 PM

Joe, thanks for the therapy session! I'm sorry to inform you that I am a regular family dude with three healthy grown kids, one grandkid, married for many decades, etc....

I know that bursts your bubble, but so be it. Sometimes you have to turn off Glen Beck to get a whiff of the fresh air.

Posted by: Stuart at May 30, 2010 6:13 PM

Gee,Stuart,it so happens I've been married for 4 decades(happily),have two grown kids and 2 grandchildren.
I wasn't referring to your family situation.I just think you never experienced being part of a team(NOT sports)or the camaraderie that developes.You sound like someone who thinks he's too intelligent and refined in his outlook to associate with such hoi-polloi as are found here.Well,what you write is no evidence of that.
I'll turn off Beck when you put down your lastest screed by Chomsky.
Actually,I rarely watch Beck,but he does have a good sense of who's ruining this country.The Obama cabal.And you're sucking that leftist Kool Aid down.

Posted by: joe bernstein at May 31, 2010 6:28 AM

Truthfully, my friend Joe, I hate team sports....well, anything more than tennis (doubles).......I enjoy sports where you don't have to plan and get an entire crew together to get started.

As for that silver spoon, I've lived in a bread van, in an army tent, in barracks, in a pickup truck cap set on top of some logs and in nice houses. It does not matter much to me, but the kids and wife prefer a comfortable place.

As to my elitism, perhaps my GED impresses you, but that is generally a rare occurrence. I think what you are saying is that I am a leader and/or self-directed, not a follower...which is true. I may also march to the beat of a different drummer, but really not too different. I just try to think for myself instead of chanting along with the crowd.

Heck, I don't have a Chomsky book on my shelves - I tend to read history whenever possible, although I have at time read Buddhist texts and stuff like that. These days, though, it is usually history - the founders, major milestones (trains, steamboats, cars, etc.), explorers, war, etc.

Nothing too heavy for your reading.

Posted by: Stuart at May 31, 2010 4:44 PM

I've lived in a few f**ked up places myself-and my reading is pretty eclectic.We just derive different conclusions fom what we have read and experienced.Fact is,you seem to believe in some kind of "better world" idea like the 30's leftists(my father for one,although he took time to serve in WW2 and worked a lot of very dirty jobs)-there will never be a "better world"Stu because of man's imperfection(seen from a non-religious point of view)-get used to it.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 2, 2010 3:04 PM

Hey,Stu-what is it?A GED or Valley Forge Military Academy?
I always liked interrogating people who thought they were too smart for words.They stepped into it worse than anyone.
The hardest and most hopeless interrogations were with hardcore Colombian drug dealers or Albanians.They'd just look right through you and you knew they weren't giving up sh*t.
Well,maybe you went to junior college after your equivalency diploma.
To be honest,a lot of what you say sounds dubious.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 3, 2010 8:51 AM
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