walls.corpus

By Nathan L. Walls

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Articles tagged “government”

Self cutting

If you haven’t heard, the University of Florida has proposed cutbacks in its Computer Information Science and Engineering department.

Essentially, the department is being broken up and moved into other departments at the university as part of a budget cut. From the above-linked Gainsville Sun article by Nathan Crabbe:

Lawmakers have slashed state university funding since 2006, making $300 million in cuts to the system as part of the budget that Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign today. While lawmakers made cuts in part with the expectation that universities would tap reserves, UF Provost Joe Glover said last week that university officials don’t believe these are one-time cuts.

“Some believe that the Legislature will restore that money next year,” he said. “We don’t agree with that belief and we don’t think that it’s prudent to bet on that.”

I have the bias of being part of the industry, but of any degree program to cut, computer science is one of the last. I’m at a loss to explain how it makes sense to cut academic programs while expanding athletic programs. Without getting into whether sports at universities are worthwhile, I really have to wonder about prioritization when an academic program that could easily expand to fill a skills gap faces cuts, but student athletes don’t.

I’m sad that legislatures seem interested in divesting state institutions from research specifically and cutting back on support for higher education in general.

This is very unsettling and likely damaging move.

Update: Rafe Colburn points out that the Gators athletics program is self-funded. So, it would not be a matter of sliding dollars over. I should know better than to assume or imply that the dollars are fungible from one area to another. They’re not. Still, it’s telling that state-financed academic programs are at risk and cartel and market-supported athletics programs are not.

Regarding the TSA: An open letter to my representatives

I am writing this as a public post. However, I am specifically sending this message to my senators and my congressman. I encourage you to express your frustration with the TSA by writing a physical letter to your representatives as well.

Dear (Senator Burr|Senator Hagan|Congressman Miller),

I am writing to express my disgust and frustration with the Transportation Security Agency’s recent adoption of backscatter screening machines (also known as Advanced Imaging Technology). While I have not directly experienced the backscatter machines or the TSA’s alternate and invasive body pat-down, I have significant qualms about both procedures and how they are applied to screening passengers.

First, the backscatter screening machines are based on a faulty premise: If only we saw more of people we might prevent a bomb, knife or other weapon from getting onto a plane. Unfortunately, we already know Al Qaeda is completely comfortable hiding bombs in the rectums of suicide bombers. The backscatter machines will not find objects hidden inside someone’s body.

Second: While cleared for use by the FDA, there are significant doubts about the long-term safety of increased radiation exposure.

Third: The alternate, enhanced pat-downs are invasive and the TSA seems to be relying on that invasiveness to humiliate passengers who request alternate screening. Neither option is acceptable.

Fourth: The TSA assures us images from the backscatter machines are going to be handled professionally. Assurances have been provided that no images will be stored. However, under separate use, the U.S. Marshalls have admitted to storing several thousand images from backscatter machines. So, we know the machines have the capability to store images. Absent significant, persistent and independent oversight, I have no confidence that at some place, one or more TSA agents will not abuse their position and keep compromising, intimate images of passengers. I am further convinced of this when seeing reports of TSA screeners preferentially steering passengers to backscatter screening based on apparent attractiveness.

Given the issues with both, I believe the enhanced pat-down screenings and backscatter machine screenings can constitute sexual harassment under the guise of government sanction. Whether or not these incidents are widespread, they are disturbing, unacceptable actions in excess of authority and common decency. They have no acceptable place in the United States.

I am requesting that you, as my representative in Washington, express your disgust with these ineffectual, invasive, insulting and potentially dangerous screening methods. While terrorism is abhorrant and reasonable measures should be taken to prevent bad actors, the general population should not be treated in a debasing fashion and told it is in the name of our safety. It is not.

Encourage the TSA to adopt screening practices based on behavioral science and focused on keeping bad individuals from flying. Please encourage your colleagues with oversight of the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA to hold public hearings on the adoption of the backscatter machines, the enhanced pat-down procedure and the general state of screening passengers for flight.

Encourage your colleagues with oversight over the Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA to hold public hearings exploring the safety of the backscatter machines against X-Ray usage or magnetometer / metal detector.

Demand the restoration of our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search.

Sincerely,

Nathan L. Walls
Raleigh, North Carolina

Links for July 15, 2010

Why governing Americans is so hard

Howard Gleckman in the Christian Science Monitor:

The conventional wisdom is that Americans are fed up with their government. But our demands on policymakers are so inconsistent and irrational that we make governing nearly impossible. We hate big deficits, but oppose the actual tax increases or spending cuts that we need to dam the flood of the red ink. We are furious that government passed an $800 billion stimulus last year, but feel lawmakers are not doing enough to get the economy going. We want government to “do something” about the gulf oil spill but reject government interference in private business.

We are, collectively, four. We want what we want, and we want it now. And we want somebody else to pay for it.

Why your plane is always full

James Fallows:

… I got up before 5:30am today to get an 8:15am flight out of Dulles, only to find an email from the airline saying that the flight had been delayed to 10:45. The inbound flight – from Dubai! – is late, and there are no spare planes to go on to San Francisco. OK – gladder to know now than before leaving the house for the airport, though ideally it would have great to know last night. Nothing to be done. But it was a serendipitous intro to the very next item in the email inbox: a report on how substantially airline capacity continues to be cut. There just are fewer flights anywhere, and more of them are full, than in yesteryear.

Microsoft opens source code to Russian secret service

Tom Espiner, ZDNet UK:

Microsoft has signed a deal to open its Windows 7 source code up to the Russian intelligence services.

Russian publication Vedomosti reported on Wednesday that Microsoft had also given the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) access to Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft SQL Server source code, with hopes of improving Microsoft sales to the Russian state.

The agreement will allow state bodies to study the source code and develop cryptography for the Microsoft products through the Science-Technical Centre ‘Atlas’, a government body controlled by the Ministry of Communications and Press, according to Vedomosti.

(via Bruce Schneier)

In case you wanted to eat fast-food hamburger

I love red meat, and I’m getting tired of reading of how utterly disgusting the industrial process of raising cows, slaughtering them and processing meat is.

Michael Moss writing for the New York Times:

Eight years ago, federal officials were struggling to remove potentially deadly E. coli from hamburgers when an entrepreneurial company from South Dakota came up with a novel idea: injecting beef with ammonia.

The company, Beef Products Inc., had been looking to expand into the hamburger business with a product made from beef that included fatty trimmings the industry once relegated to pet food and cooking oil. The trimmings were particularly susceptible to contamination, but a study commissioned by the company showed that the ammonia process would kill E. coli as well as salmonella.

Officials at the United States Department of Agriculture endorsed the company’s ammonia treatment, and have said it destroys E. coli “to an undetectable level.” They decided it was so effective that in 2007, when the department began routine testing of meat used in hamburger sold to the general public, they exempted Beef Products.

I am blown away that a company selling a food product with a well-established pathogen hazard gets a pass on inspection.

Back in October, Moss had another piece about E. coli in tainted hamburger that’s also well-worth reading.

A big part of the solution is knowing and insisting on knowing where your food comes from and how it got there. If you’re committed to eating red meat, find a local butcher, a supermarket like Whole Foods that grinds their hamburger in-store without byproduct or get a Kitchen Aid attachment and grind your own.

Locating North Carolina budget and tax proposal analysis

North Carolina has something of a budget crisis going on. Not as severe as California’s, but one where there are a lot of tax proposals being floated as potential solutions. Here are some of the ones I’ve heard since mid-June:

These items may, or may not be in a budget passed by the legislature. I’m curious about why these particular tax proposals make sense, or do not. I’m motivated by three factors:

  • I’m a business owner, and I’m very interested in what might be coming that will affect how I operate my business.
  • It speaks to the part of me that got a journalism degree 10 years ago.
  • I like making sense of data.

The News & Observer has an ongoing series, The Generous Assembly about how various programs and practices consume a large amount of resources. That’s a start at what I’m looking for.

I’m not approaching this with the assumption that all government spending is good or bad. I do want to know if we are getting our money’s worth. I want to know if there’s a better way to do things. I want to know what the special-interest obstacles are and the motivations behind them. I’m not interested in getting angry at anyone. I’m not interested in political gamesmanship. Talking points do not interest me. I want well-sourced information to make an informed evaluation.

Here’s an incomplete list of questions I’m interested in seeing addressed:

Is the spending we are trying to pay for effective spending?

  • Are we paying for things that we shouldn’t be?
  • Are there programs – Global TransPark comes to mind – that have not met their stated goals?
  • Is there a possibility those programs could be fixed?
  • Is there good process to determine if a program is ineffective and shut it down?

Do these tax increases make sense?

  • Are these items that are convenient to tax because they’re harder to justify?
  • Because some of them are purely discretionary?
  • Because they’ll make a meaningful dent?
  • Are there alternative tax structures to examine?

Is there an alternate way of resolving the issue?

  • Could we spend less money?
  • How?
  • What programs would be affected? Are we talking about eliminating kindergarten to make that happen? (Yes, hyperbole, but consequences are important considerations)

Is this the best possible solution?

  • Are we getting the state’s financial house on better footing or merely staving-off disaster?
  • If we’re just staving-off disaster, what do we really need to do to set things right?

How is this going to affect me?

  • How much are these tax increases going to cost me?
  • Are these increases offset by anything?

Answering

Two late-evening tweets got a couple of responses, with one link to NC State’s Budget Central. The other is to the Sunshine Review of the NC state budget. (Thanks, @mockernut)

I don’t have comments here, but if you find information that would add to everyone’s understanding of the budget and tax situation, write-it-up and tag it with ‘budgetnc’ on your blog or with ‘#budgetnc’ on Twitter. Thanks in advance for helping me understand our state’s situation at least a little bit better.

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