Around every election people start grumbling about the electoral college and with good reason. It seems so un-American and un-democratic. In reality, because the United States is the only nation in the world that has a system like it, there’s nothing quite as American as the electoral college! There are a lot of reasons for wanting to keep or ditch the current system, but it’s helpful to understand why we have this unusual system in the first place.
How did we get ourselves in this mess in the first place?
There are 2 main reasons why we have the electoral college:
Contrary to popular belief, the United States is not a democracy. It is, in fact a Democratic Representative Republic. What’s the difference, you might ask? It helps to break the phrase down. Take the first two words “Democratic Representative” first. Unlike in a pure democracy, the average citizen does not take an active role in voting for each thing the government does. Instead we democratically elect representatives to go and take care of the nitty-gritty for us. We choose people that we think will vote in a similar way that we would vote were we there. “Republic” means that while we are one nation, we’re really made up of a federation of 50 states. Each state takes care of their own internal affairs but when it comes to matters that affect the nation as a whole, the representatives from each state take care of that work in Congress and the Presidency. If you think about it, there is nothing that’s done on the national stage that is done via direct democracy. Citizens do not vote on bills, only our representatives do.
What does this have to do with the electoral college? Like law making is done via representatives, so is the election of the President. In the Virginia Plan which was the first rough draft of our constitution, the President was to be elected by both houses of Congress (somewhat similar to a parliamentary form of government). In order to create greater separation of powers and in deference to the federal nature of the country (made up of individual states), it was decided that the President would actually be elected by the states. Each state would get the same number of votes as they have representatives in Congress (the House and Senate). In the first several elections, it was the state legislatures that selected their electors (not by a popular vote). After that many states divided the state up into electoral districts (like legislative districts) and held elections within each district which selected their elector. This method didn’t last long either. Currently, all but 2 states have a winner-take-all method of choosing their electors based off of a statewide vote.
So in other words, the Constitution is written so that the President is not elected by the people, but by the states. The states just happen to choose how they vote via a popular election of the people.
The second reason we have the electoral college was a concession to the smaller states. A major issue throughout the constitutional convention was the smaller states were afraid that they would always be held subservient to the larger states. This is the reason why we have 2 houses in Congress, one by population and one with an equal number of representatives. As part of these compromises made to the small states, the number of electors that each state had would be the same number of representatives they had in Congress, or in other words, one for every member of the House of Representatives plus 2 votes for the two Senators. This gave the votes of the smaller states greater weight compared to the votes of the larger states.
So where does that leave us now in 2012?
There are a lot of pros and cons concerning the electoral college. The biggest con is that it’s just so darned complicated. Wouldn’t it be much more simple to just do it by popular vote like most Americans assume it works anyway? The other obvious con is that it allows for elections where the winner is not necessarily the winner of the popular vote. The current winner-take-all method that most states have also cause that elections are largely decided within a handful of swing states while the rest of the states that are safely within the red or blue column are largely ignored by candidates.
Nevertheless, people who are proponents of the electoral college see it as one of the last remnants of states’ rights and our federalism when most other forms of federalism have been absorbed into the federal government and the 10th amendment is largely ignored.
There are other pros and cons that are much more nuanced that are listed elsewhere if you search for them.
So how do we get rid of it?
The last time we had any movement to amend the constitution to get rid of it was in 1969 after Richard Nixon won the election of 1968 by a mere half million votes but carried 301 electoral votes because a third-party split the remaining electoral votes. An amendment was introduced and passed in the House but did not pass the Senate because it would diminish the power of many smaller states.
For this same reason we have very little hope of abolishing the electoral college. It would be very difficult to get the 3/4 requisite states to ratify an amendment to the constitution which would diminish their influence.
So what do we do?
Because it’s up to the individual states to decide how they determine how to choose their electors, there are options that only require a law passed within a state. To be effective, though, it would have to be widespread across most or all of the 50 states.
After the 2000 election when George W Bush won the election but lost the popular vote, there has been another movement born to try to go around the need of a constitutional amendment yet make the electoral college ineffective. Many states have entered into what’s called the “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact”. This is an agreement between states that says that all of the state’s electoral votes will always go toward the winner of the popular vote. The compact wouldn’t go into effect until enough states to equal 270 electoral votes entered into the agreement. So far 8 states and the District of Colombia have entered into the agreement totalling 132 electoral votes.
What I would like to see is that the electors be selected by legislative district with the 2 extra electors (representing the 2 Senators) would go to whoever got the most votes in the state as a whole. Already Maine and Nebraska use this system. This would largely satisfy the problems of the winner-take-all situation we have now and yet also give a nod to States’ rights and federalism. It wouldn’t require a constitution amendment and could be passed by state legislatures or by referendum in each individual state.
The electoral college is unique in the world and was implemented to address some specific problems, but most Americans agree that in these days an adjustment should probably be made. As is the solution to most problems, this one can also be solved locally, rather than nationally, in each state through our state legislators or through direct democracy options. If you want the system to change, talk to your state government and work to get it changed and then inspire others in other states to do the same. This can be solved through local grass-roots efforts.
I received the following email from the Tea Party the day after the election that made my blood boil:
You Are The Last Best Hope For America
With the catastrophic loss of the Republican elite’s hand-picked candidate –Tea Party Patriots like you are the last best hope America has to restore America’s founding principles.
For those of us who believe that America, as founded, is the greatest country in the history of the world – a ‘Shining city upon a hill’ – we wanted someone who would fight for us. We wanted a fighter like Ronald Reagan who boldly championed America’s founding principles, who inspired millions of independents and ‘Reagan Democrats’ to join us, and who fought his leftist opponents on the idea that America, as founded, was a ‘Shining city upon a hill.’
What we got was a weak moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment wing of the Republican Party. The Presidential loss is unequivocally on them.
While it might take longer with President Obama back in office, we are not going away and will continue to educate Americans on our core principles, and why they are essential for America’s future greatness. It took over 40 years to take America to the place we are tonight. We have known since we began protesting at our first round of tea parties in February, 2009, it would take longer than 3 ½ years to correct the problems facing our country.
The re-election of President Obama may be daunting tonight. Remember in 2008, the people who did not give up after the elections, the ones who started Top Conservatives on Twitter, Smart Girl Politics, and DontGo, paved the way for us to have a conference call with just 22 people on the call after Rick Santelli had a rant in 3 months later. We went from 22 people to over 40 million voters who said they identify with the “tea party” and would vote with the tea party in less than 4 years. That happened because of each of you.
We cannot change what the Republican establishment handed us tonight. We can stop Barack Obama from fundamentally changing the future and character of this nation. We can stop the mushy-middle, non-fighters in the GOP from rolling over and getting rolled, yet again by the Left.
Here is what we are going to do.
We are going to fight for America’s founding principles.
Our core principles of free markets, fiscal responsibility, and constitutionally limited government resonate with the American people.
When we fight for our principles, we win.
When the GOP elbows aside the American people, because they think they know what`s best for us – they lose. Like they just did.
We are not going away.
We respect the Constitution and we know that, for America to succeed, we need to continue educating Americans on our core principles, and why are they essential for America’s future greatness.
Now we turn our attention back to Congress, to fight the battles that lie ahead.
As in 2010, state by state and county by county, we will fight for the freedom other Americans have fought for. We will also turn our attention back to Congress, to fight the battles that lie ahead.
Here is what We, the People, will fight for:
• A balanced budget in 5 years – without raising taxes
• Repealing Obamacare
• Cutting the debt
• Not letting them smash through the debt ceiling – again
• The sequestration cuts deadline
There are some things worth fighting for.
America is worth fighting for.
The fight has just begun.
Join the fight, at TeaPartyPatriots.org
-Jenny Beth Martin and the National Support Team
Can you hear in the tone the smugness? The “I told you so” behind the voice of the email?
I was talking with a coworker the day after the election asking, where was the Tea Party that was so instrumental in the 2010 elections. Shortly thereafter, as if by answer, I received this e-mail. They got their feelings hurt that one of their candidates didn’t get nominated. Nevermind Romney would have gotten them closer to all of their ideals then their champions ever could have. Nevermind that Romney was the one person in this whole country that had the background, intelligence, and experience needed to get both parties working together to get our economy back on the road to fiscal responsibility and stability. The Tea Party’s response was to take their toys, go home, and sit this one out.
I think the Tea Party has been useful in getting fiscal responsibility and smaller government to the forefront of the public consciousness. Their leadership needs to get with the program of not being so immature and exclusive as to marginalizing themselves to irrelevance.
A couple of weeks ago when we got the returns for the new health care bill, I felt physically ill. It was that noxious feeling of dread. I’m sure there was a significant portion of the population that was elated as well but I tend to believe that a lot more felt the way I did versus elation.
I’ve been thinking a long time what the answer to the recent health care bill and the overall runaway spending. According to the New York Times, Obama is on track to triple the national debt to 90% of GDP. This is simply unsustainable. We are on a collision course with the collapse of the American economy. What happens when your family consistently spends more than it makes? We call that bankruptcy. Fortunately bankruptcy is an escape for a person or a family but there’s no such option for a nation. Technically a nation can just declare that they will not pay their debts but this has only ever happened in connection with a collapse of that nation’s economy. Do we really want to go there?
We’re left now with limited options. I believe there are two main things we can do at this point to prevent this runaway train from jumping the tracks and rocketing off a cliff.
Now the chances of passing a balanced budget amendment with this Congress is between slim and none. Most people don’t know this but there is more than one way to amend the Constitution. The first way is to have Congress propose the amendment and pass it with a 2/3 vote. It then must be ratified by 3/4 of the states. This is the only way it has ever been done in the past. The Framers wanted a protection against an out-of-control oppressive Federal government. In Article V of the constitution it allows for 2/3 of states to request a constitutional convention. If this happens, Congress is obligated to call the convention and then they have no say in the proceedings thereafter. In the convention an amendment can be proposed and voted for. If it passes the convention then it must be ratified by 3/4 of the states to become law. This has never been done before but it’s come close. Usually when it comes close, it spurs Congress to preemptively pass an amendment first such as happened with the 21st Amendment or pass a law that appeases the states like happened in the 80′s with the last efforts to have a balanced budget amendment. Congress passed a law that said the budget must be balanced by 1991. Of course it never happened.
This is what the states must do in order to compel Congress to grow up and become responsible stewards of the public trust. If Congress won’t do it themselves, we must make them do it.
Again, in this situation it’s up to the states to exercise their Tenth Amendment rights. Every state that opposes “Obamacare” needs to exercise their right of nullification. Nullification is when a state legislature passes a law that basically says that they feel the law is unconstitutional and therefore is nullified in their state meaning it has no force within their borders. There are several examples in history where a state has exercised its right to nullify a law.
In 1738 James Madison and Thomas Jefferson authored resolutions in Virginia and Kentucky in response to the Alien and Sedition Act stating that their states would resist any attempt of the Federal government to encroach upon their states’ powers.
In 1798, the legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky approved resolutions that affirmed the states’ right to resist federal encroachments on their powers. If the federal government has the exclusive right to judge the extent of its own powers, warned the resolutions’ authors (James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, respectively), it will continue to grow – regardless of elections, the separation of powers, and other much-touted limits on government power. The Virginia Resolutions spoke of the states’ right to “interpose” between the federal government and the people of the state; the Kentucky Resolutions (in a 1799 follow-up to the original resolutions) used the term “nullification” – the states, they said, could nullify unconstitutional federal laws. (Tenth Amendment Center)
According to James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, they considered the states, not the Supreme Court, as the final arbiter as to what is constitutional and what is not.
In 1807 to 1809 nullification was used in Massachusetts and New York to oppose an embargo the United States had against Great Britain and France.
In 1812 Massachusetts and Connecticut used nullification to resist the President’s call for the use of its militia for the purpose of defending the coast.
In 1850 several northern states used nullification to oppose the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which put all runaway slave cases in federal jurisdiction and required bystanders to help capture the slave.
It’s time to use nullification again to protect our rights as Americans and oppose our federal government’s oppressiveness.
I wrote the following letter and sent it to my state representative. I also sent a similar copy to my state senator and the governor. I’ll post any replies that I get.
Joshua B Ferguson
2502 West 1325 North
Layton, UT 84041
To: Representative Douglas C. Aagard
A lot has happened in the past year to our nation since President Obama took office. Spending is out of control in Congress. Some of the excessive spending was admittedly done under the Republican controlled Congress and under President George W. Bush, but it pales in comparison to the expensive agenda taken up by those currently in power. Likewise, the recent passing of the health care bill with seeming blatant disregard to the will of the American people feels like the last straw.
Republican representatives and Senators seem to be unable to do anything about this and Democratic representatives and Senators are unwilling to. This is why I’m directing my comments to you as my state representative. I believe that there is only one way to bring the Federal Government back in line with the people and the constitution and that is for the individual states to make a stand based on the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution. I am aware that Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has joined with other states in the lawsuit against Heath Care but this can only have limited success. I want to know what else you and the great State of Utah are planning on doing to rein in the out-of-control spending and the erosion of our rights as Americans.
I have two suggestions as to what Utah along with other States in the Union can do to prevent the runaway Federal Government.
1. To address the spending issue that will likely break the back of the American economy, we need a new amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced budget. We have learned by sad experience that the government is incapable of living within its means. After over 200 years to get it right, we finally need to tie their hands with a constitutional amendment. Because of the nature of a democratically elected Congress, we can never be sure of the fiscal responsibility of any given Congress so we need to require it of them.
Unfortunately, there is very little chance of any Congress doing this willingly. Therefore the states need to coordinate with other states and request an Article V Convention on the subject of a Balanced Budget Amendment. I believe there are 34 states that would be willing to do this. This has been attempted over 700 times but has never successfully acquired enough requests. I believe that this issue has a good chance to be successful. It fell by only 2 states last time a balanced budget amendment was attempted in this way in the 1980′s.
2. To address the recently passed health bill (dubbed “Obamacare”), the State of Utah needs to exercise its state right of nullification. The Utah legislature needs to pass a law stating that the health bill is nullified and not in force within the borders of our state. This has been done in the past and can be exercised at any time that the state determines that the Federal Government has overstepped its constitutionally granted powers. In the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison argued that nullification, not the Supreme Court, has the final say in the constitutionality of any law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nullification_(U.S._Constitution)).
Sir, I would love to hear your position on what you think should be done to address these important issues that our nation faces today and what you plan to do as my representative.
Joshua B. Ferguson
Well, actually, it happened after I’d been at my desk for a few minutes. My wife called me and said she thought that we had a virus because we had a bunch of e-mails from one of our accounts with spam in it. Now we have never had a virus before and we have virus software currently installed from McAfee but when I checked our e-mail accounts, it did in fact look like it had come from our e-mail address. Worst, it was also sent to a handful of people that were in our address book.
Quickly I did some research on Google. After looking around I determined that our GMail account from google had been compromised. Apparently somebody from a Chinese IP address had logged into my GMail account with the valid password through the web interface and sent a single spam e-mail to everyone in our Google address book. Luckily we don’t use the web interface with GMail opting, instead, for their IMAP access so we can use Windows Live Mail so we only had a handful of addresses in the address book that had been added there automatically from the handful of times we have used the web interface.
From all of this I deduced that our bad security practices had come back to haunt me. What bad security practice? The practice of using the same username and password (or a slight variation) on every website we register on. Now I’ve known this was risky for a long time but I didn’t see an easy way to avoid it. A person can only remember so many username / password combinations. Even with our slight variations, it was often difficult to remember which combination we used when we had to log onto a site we rarely visited.
Immediately I changed the password on our compromised GMail account. After that I did some research on what the best way to manage the security of our increasingly complicated world. Here’s what I found out.
I found an article written by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. The article at the top states that it is no longer being updated but I found the information that it contained to be top-notch and definitely worth every home computer user’s time to read. You can find it here: http://www.cert.org/homeusers/HomeComputerSecurity/
I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest Version.
There are 9 things a home user should do to protect their digital security:
1. Install and Use Anti-Virus Programs – Every computer should have an antivirus program. Honestly, I feel like this is the last line of defense against viruses as you’ll see further down this list. Anti-Virus companies are in a cat-and-mouse game with virus makers. They’ll usually protect you once a virus is known but if you’re one of the unlucky few that are the first to get it, there’s nothing your anti-virus program can do for you. Anti-Virus programs for years tended to be expensive and you had to re-purchase it every so often to continue to be protected. Now we have many options that are free or at least free for home use. Here are a couple:
Microsoft Security Essentials – I really like this program. I used to pay for Microsoft’s previous product called “One Care” which was a complete security package. Microsoft has scaled back and now provides the anti-virus portion of it free of charge. It seems to be good quality and light-weight so your computer doesn’t grind to a hault once it’s installed.
AVG – AVG is a commercial virus protection product that has a free version for non-commercial home use. I used it for a short time and it seemed to work well. My only complaint was that it required a reboot every time it updated virus definitions but I believe this is no longer the case. It’s a very good product backed by a good security company.
Avast – Avast is also a large security company that provides a free version of its antivirus for home use. I’ve never used Avast but I hear it good things about it.
ClamAV – This is an antivirus program made for the Linux operating system but it also now has a version for windows. It’s Open Source and free of charge, though you can purchase a certified version which is basically to give the developers money for their efforts. I’m not sure how reliable ClamAV is but if you’re looking for something for Linux especially, it’s one of the few choices out there. It’s also available for Mac OSX.
And yes, you Mac users need to think about antivirus programs too. “Apple is now recommending that Mac users install anti-virus software to help users secure their systems.” In that article it lists ClamAV, Symantic, McAfee, and Intego as options for OSX.
2. Keep Your System Patched – The fight against the bad guys is cat-and-mouse. Operating systems are extremely complex pieces of software and there is a major balance between making the OS secure and making it easy to use. When a vulnerability is found, Microsoft, Apple, and Linux work extremely quickly to close of the hole. Nevertheless, if you don’t patch your system, it does you no good whatsoever. If you’re on Windows, make sure you’re set up to update automatically. Linux will also give you a prompt (near every day) when it has updates for you to download and install. I don’t know Macs well, but I’m sure they have an automatic update feature as well. Make sure your system is always up-to-date with the latest patches.
3. Use Care When Reading Email with Attachments – This is the biggest thing you can do to keep from getting a virus. Don’t open up an attachment that you know nothing about. The article gives you some guidelines:
- The Know test: Is the email from someone that you know?
- The Received test: Have you received email from this sender before?
- The Expect test: Were you expecting email with an attachment from this sender?
- The Sense test: Does email from the sender with the contents as described in the Subject line and the name of the attachment(s) make sense? For example, would you expect the sender – let’s say your Mother – to send you an email message with the Subject line “Here you have, ;o)” that contains a message with attachment – let’s say AnnaKournikova.jpg.vbs? A message like that probably doesn’t make sense. In fact, it happens to be an instance of the Anna Kournikova worm, and reading it can damage your system.
- The Virus test: Does this email contain a virus? To determine this, you need to install and use an anti-virus program. That task is described in Task 1 – Install and Use Anti-Virus Programs.
4. Install and Use a Firewall Program – A firewall is a program that limits what programs are allowed to talk to the internet. Microsoft has a built-in firewall since XP Service Pack 2. It’s effective for the most part but in XP it is only one-way, that is to say, it keeps people from connecting to your computer from the internet but doesn’t keep programs on your computer from contacting computers on the outside. In Vista and Windows 7 they have made it two-way. If you have XP, you’ll want to purchase a different firewall program to use. There is only one that I know about that is free of charge. Zone Alarm is good and effective and works on XP.
Apple also has a built-in firewall in OSX and if you’re a Linux user, ipchains work but it’s not for the faint of heart. I’m sure there are other options out there as well.
5. Make Backups of Important Files and Folders – Computers will fail. Your hard drive will fail. Windows machines, Apple machines, Linux machines, they will all fail someday. You can count on it. Now that we rely more and more on digital cameras, online accounting software, and so forth, it’s even more critical when that failure happens. So you HAVE to make backups. The easiest way to do backups is to go and buy an external hard drive and have the computer automatically copy your data files over every so often. Make sure it’s automatic so you don’t have to try and remember. All three operating systems have built-in ways of doing automatic backups.
Now if you really want to be safe, you have to make sure you have a copy of your backups offsite, or in other words, not in the same location as your computer. It does you no good to keep the backup hard drive in the laptop case because if you get it stollen at the airport, your backups are gone as well. I use a program called Carbonite. It runs in the background on your computer and automatically encrypts your files that you want to backup and uploads them to a server. Now I would do this in addition to the hard drive backup. A full restore from carbonite could take a week to fully restore so it’s kind of a backup to your backup should the worst happen. It’s not free but it’s cheap enough to make it worth it.
6. Use Strong Passwords – This was my biggest issue. The article lists 4 things in making a strong password:
- The Strong test: Is the password as strong (meaning length and content) as the rules allow?
- The Unique test: Is the password unique and unrelated to any of your other passwords?
- The Practical test: Can you remember it without having to write it down?
- The Recent test: Have you changed it recently?
Our problem was mostly that they weren’t unique. Somebody had access to our e-mail address and password on a website somewhere or broke into a very low security site and from that had my GMail logon information.
Now the problem comes in how do you manage all of these passwords that are long, unique, and strong. The only way I can do that is with a password management program. There are 2 that are the most common out there:
KeePass is an Open Source program that manages your passwords and will even generate random passwords for you. It runs on your computer and there are plugins that make it easier to use on your system. It’s free and it works. It’s not as polished but the price is right.
RoboForm has the most features and is very popular. It has a toolbar directly in your web browser that lets you easily grab the password for the site that you’re trying to log onto. It’s very slick and easy to use. The cost is $40 per computer.
Which one did I pick? KeePass because I’m kind of cheap that way. With 3 computers in the house that uses the web, $40 a pop was more than I wanted to spend.
7. Use Care When Downloading and Installing Programs – Downloading and installing a program is the quickest way to put something nefarious on your computer and could potentially bypass all of your other well thought-out security. Here’s a list on making sure what you download is safe (from the article):
- Learn as much as you can about the product and what it does before you purchase it.
- Understand the refund/return policy before you make your purchase.
- Buy from a local store that you already know or a national chain with an established reputation.
If it’s free, always look at it with suspicion. The company has to make money somewhere and if it’s free then there’s probably some malware or virus included. Be especially careful of things like screensavers, font packages, and smileys or “fun” little doodads. And for heaven’s sake, don’t let your kids download this crap. What seems fun can quickly bring your computer to its virus-infected knees and you’ll find yourself formatting the hard drive and reinstalling everything (or worst, paying for someone else to do it).
I’d also like to mention file sharing. There’s nothing wrong with file sharing in and of itself. There are a lot of legitimate things to download via peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. But they’re also the way that a lot of people download illegal media and programs. Don’t use P2P unless you know what you’re downloading and it’s from a reliable website. Never use it to download illegal software especially. These programs are often rebuilt so that they not only allow the software to be installed on the computer without paying for it but it also installs viruses and malware as well. If you think about it, the kinds of people that create the ability to steal software are also the kinds of people that would have no problem whatsoever with gaining using viruses. Just don’t do it. If you want a software program, save up your money and buy it or find a legitimate free or Open Source alternative.
8. Install and Use a Hardware Firewall – Luckily these are now being included on nearly all High Speed Internet modems and routers but you have to make sure they are turned on and have a good password. Leaving the modem password to its default allows anyone to go in and change the configuration to something more favorable to them.
While on this subject, I’d like to add something that wasn’t mentioned in the article. Wireless routers are very popular now because it allows all the computers in the house to have easy access to the internet. Unfortunately most people plug them in, see that they can get on the internet and then forget about them. All wireless routers need to have security/encryption enabled. Otherwise any one of your half-dozen neighbors have clear entry to use your internet and your network and has access to your computers. Even someone parked around the corner could use your internet service or your network. If they’re doing something illegal, it’ll be your door that the police will come knocking on. Always use the highest form of security offered. WEP is the least secure so don’t use it unless it’s your only option. Use WPA2 if you have it or WPA if you don’t.
9. Install and Use a File Encryption Program and Access Controls – This is something I wasn’t doing all the way either. When it talks about “access controls”, this means only giving access to the files on your computer to the people that you want to have access. If you have Windows Vista or 7, use UAC that is turned on by default. This makes sure that if a program is installing or changing system settings, it tells you first and has you put in your password or at least click “OK” to acknowledge it. If you’re not doing the changes yourself or installing a program when it pops up, then it’s ok to click “cancel”.
Second, make sure your computer hard drive is encrypted. This is extremely important with laptops because of them being mobile. If your hard drive is encrypted then someone else can’t get the information off of it (ie bank account information, contacts, pictures, passwords, etc) without the password. Even if they take the hard drive out and put it in a different machine, they won’t be able to access the information. It will look completely like random data.
There are a couple of options to encrypting your hard drive. If you happen to have Vista Enterprise or Ultimate or Windows 7 Enterprise or Ultimate, there is a program called Bitlocker that will do the encryption for you. If you’re unsure of how it works, it’d be a good thing to have someone help you or have a computer shop do it for you.
An Open Source alternative is a program called TrueCrypt. This program is fairly straightforward to use. You can create an encrypted section where you just store your sensitive information or you can encrypt your entire hard drive. This is the one I opted for because I really didn’t want to shell out for Windows 7 Ultimate. This isn’t hard to set up, but if you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to get help from someone who is more comfortable with it. The downside of encryption is if done wrong, you won’t ever be able to get your data back. Even the NSA would have a hard time doing it.
So that’s it. This is what I’ve learned in the past 2 days. As it turned out, I was doing everything except for numbers 6 and 9 and that was enough to make me vulnerable. Go through these items and make sure you’re good on all 9 so that what happened to us doesn’t happen to you.
Here’s my plan to get us out of this mess and into full recovery within 1 year.
First, freeze all spending this year. It’s nice to announce that you want to freeze spending starting next year on a small fraction of programs but not until you jack up the spending this year first. Freeze spending immediately and show that you are serious about cutting the deficit. All programs across the board. Allow for emergency spending bills that are only for the wars but don’t allow anything else to ride on those emergency spending bills. If a program is important enough to increase, it must be by decreasing or eliminating other programs. If Congress had to pick and choose what programs get what money, you’d see the most important ones stay and the unimportant ones go away. This freeze would stay in place until the deficit is gone and the national debt as well.
Second, cut all pork. No pork, nowhere. If it’s a continuation of an old pork project, cut the project. This sends the message that we’re in a new era of federal fiscal responsibility. It may mean that if Florida wants a high-speed train, they’ll just have to pay for it themselves, but then again, why am I paying for their train anyway?
Third, and this is the first key, promise and then follow through by vetoing any budget that doesn’t fulfill this. Of course, Obama is that superstar of the democratic party and they hold super majority in both houses of Congress. This really shouldn’t be necessary, right?
Fourth, it’s time for a new tax system. Repeal all tax laws and replace it with a simple and progressive national sales tax. Set the tax at 22% with a rebate for the tax on the first $20,000 for each American family. This is what makes it progressive. This would be revenue-neutral meaning that the amount of revenue should be about the same as with the current tax system.
Why? What would be the difference? It would put the American economy back on a foundation based on investment. When you get to keep your whole gross paycheck and are only taxed on what you spend, it encourages you to save and invest that money. What good is money in a savings account? It is used to lend to others so that they can increase their personal or business capital which then, in turn, increases their potential to expand and create more jobs. Another benefit is that it would make the United States the biggest tax haven country in the world. International companies would flock to locate their corporate headquarters here in the US creating millions of jobs instead of all of our jobs going to China and other third-world countries. The cost of operating here would be tiny compared to other countries and our trade deficit would reverse overnight.
But wouldn’t this take years for all of this to take place after the change? Yes. But we would feel the affects immediately. In anticipation, the stock markets would soar and the national savings rate would skyrocket which would unlock the lending freeze that the banks are still struggling with.
The other benefit would be that a tax increase would be extremely obvious to all Americans and it would make Congress think twice before enacting one.
This is my proposal. Will it happen? Nope. Not for at least another 3 years. Perhaps Republicans can pick these principles up and nationalize their campaigns based on this and get back into a place where this kind of real change can take place. Am I optimistic? No. Hopeful? Maybe. But I can always wish, can’t I?
Today Reuters put out a story rightly criticizing Obama’s new budget for all of it’s back-door tax hikes on the middle class. The White House called Reuters and asked them to pull the story because of “inaccuracies” which they promptly did.
I found the story in Yahoo! News’ cache and I reprint it here for posterity. Enjoy.
Backdoor taxes to hit middle class
Mon Feb 1, 4:09 PM
By Terri Cullen
NEW YORK (Reuters.com) –The Obama administration’s plan to cut more than $1 trillion from the deficit over the next decade relies heavily on so-called backdoor tax increases that will result in a bigger tax bill for middle-class families.
In the 2010 budget tabled by President Barack Obama on Monday, the White House wants to let billions of dollars in tax breaks expire by the end of the year — effectively a tax hike by stealth.
While the administration is focusing its proposal on eliminating tax breaks for individuals who earn $250,000 a year or more, middle-class families will face a slew of these backdoor increases.
The targeted tax provisions were enacted under the Bush administration’s Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001. Among other things, the law lowered individual tax rates, slashed taxes on capital gains and dividends, and steadily scaled back the estate tax to zero in 2010.
If the provisions are allowed to expire on December 31, the top-tier personal income tax rate will rise to 39.6 percent from 35 percent. But lower-income families will pay more as well: the 25 percent tax bracket will revert back to 28 percent; the 28 percent bracket will increase to 31 percent; and the 33 percent bracket will increase to 36 percent. The special 10 percent bracket is eliminated.
Investors will pay more on their earnings next year as well, with the tax on dividends jumping to 39.6 percent from 15 percent and the capital-gains tax increasing to 20 percent from 15 percent. The estate tax is eliminated this year, but it will return in 2011 — though there has been talk about reinstating the death tax sooner.
Millions of middle-class households already may be facing higher taxes in 2010 because Congress has failed to extend tax breaks that expired on January 1, most notably a “patch” that limited the impact of the alternative minimum tax. The AMT, initially designed to prevent the very rich from avoiding income taxes, was never indexed for inflation. Now the tax is affecting millions of middle-income households, but lawmakers have been reluctant to repeal it because it has become a key source of revenue.
Without annual legislation to renew the patch this year, the AMT could affect an estimated 25 million taxpayers with incomes as low as $33,750 (or $45,000 for joint filers). Even if the patch is extended to last year’s levels, the tax will hit American families that can hardly be considered wealthy — the AMT exemption for 2009 was $46,700 for singles and $70,950 for married couples filing jointly.
Middle-class families also will find fewer tax breaks available to them in 2010 if other popular tax provisions are allowed to expire. Among them:
* Taxpayers who itemize will lose the option to deduct state sales-tax payments instead of state and local income taxes;
* The $250 teacher tax credit for classroom supplies;
* The tax deduction for up to $4,000 of college tuition and expenses;
* Individuals who don’t itemize will no longer be able to increase their standard deduction by up to $1,000 for property taxes paid;
* The first $2,400 of unemployment benefits are taxable, in 2009 that amount was tax-free.
Apparently if you oppose Obama and exercise your free speech rights, you’re just part of a ruthless mob.
In a round-about way, Ted Nugent has a pretty good definition of an “inalienable right”. It’s not a right that we derive from the Bill of Rights, it’s a right that we have regardless. It’s a right we’d have even if we didn’t have a constitution that enumerated it.