Desert of My Real Life

Quite a lot of people hate “Obamacare” which is otherwise known as the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act. And there are indeed things to hate about the law. For example, I am a proponent of single payer health insurance and so the “individual mandate,” where people are required to purchase insurance on their own or pay a “tax” or a “fee” or whatever you want to call it, is problematic to me. I would prefer that we be completely up front about things and build the payment for health care into our tax law. Yes, I know that makes me a “socialist” but I think health care is kind of like fire fighting. Do we want to go back to the days of private fire fighters, where you had to pay up front or the fire fighters wouldn’t show up at your house? Fire fighting is something that we should all contribute to via our tax dollars and then when we need it, the service is provided. If that’s “socialism,” then yes, I am for socialized medicine.

As I said, I believe there are things to complain about and criticize in the Affordable Care Act. But it was quite surprising to me that one of my FB friends posted a link to a video claiming that the Affordable Care Act mandates that we all be implanted with RFID chips with our health information by March 23, 2013. I had not heard of this mandate, despite the fact that I have been paying pretty close attention to the debate. I would have serious problems with such a mandate but there were several things about the claim that immediately made me suspect it was a figment of someone’s imagination. If you can bear to watch the video, here‘s a short version of it. But for those of you who can’t bear to watch the video, I’ll describe it.

The video begins with an advertisement from a company that makes implantable radio frequency identification (RFID) chips. These are chips that many of us already possess on our ATM cards or passports. The chips contain information of some sort that can be read with a special device that picks up the radio signals emitted by the chip on the card. There are companies that make versions of these chips that can be implanted under the skin of a human or an animal. Some pet owners may have implanted them into their dogs or cats in case the pet gets lost. In any case, the video starts with an ad for these implantable chips and then claims that the Affordable Care Act requires that everyone in the US be implanted with one of these by March 23, 2012. The evidence? The narrator reads a passage (claiming it comes from the law itself) that discuss the creation of a government database to keep track of devices that have been implanted into humans. Then the narrator reads another passage that mandates the creation of a system within hospitals and doctors’ offices that will allow medical information to be stored on and read from RFIDs. These passages say that these two systems must be in place by 36 months from the passage of the law. That’s where the narrator gets March 23, 2013–that is 36 months after the passage of the law.

The thing to notice about these passages is that they say nothing about forcing the implantation of RFID chips. A database to keep track of devices that have been implanted in humans would keep track of things like pace-makers and hip replacements and all kinds of devices that are implanted voluntarily and for the improvement of someone’s life. And we already use RFIDs to keep track of personal information, such as financial information or passport information. These RFIDs are embedded in cards that we carry around with us and the passage that the narrator reads simply suggests that we need a system that would allow medical information to be stored on RFIDs, presumably embedded in cards similar to a credit card or a passport. There is nothing about mandating the implantation of an RFID. Here’s what Snopes has to say about this particular conspiracy theory–note that their evaluation is that there is no truth to the claim.

When there are real things to criticize in this law, why would someone make up a threat such as this? I think it’s because it works. It plays on an emotional response in ways that the real issues do not. And so you get lots more people to care about what is admittedly a scary idea than you would ever get to care about the real problems with the law. So people who would probably not pay attention to the health care debate otherwise are now vehemently against the government intruding on our medical privacy in this way, despite the fact that there is no evidence that the government plans to intrude in this way. So lots of people who would actually benefit from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act are vehemently opposed to the law for reasons that have nothing to do with the reality of the law. And no amount of debunking will make these untruths go away. Just ask the American public whether the US ever found evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

There is a huge controversy raging in NH this year involving the Northern Pass Project.  According to the project’s web site, the Northern Pass is “a transmission project designed to deliver up to 1,200 megawatts of low-carbon, renewable energy (predominantly hydropower) from Québec to New England’s power grid.”  Despite the apparent “greenness” of this project, many people in the state (including many environmentalists) are fighting this project.

I’ve been having some difficulty separating hype from truth when talking to people and reading articles in the newspaper about this topic.  So I decided to do some additional research about it to see what I think in advance of voting on a resolution about it tomorrow on election day.

Here is the proposed path of the power line.  You can see that it goes right through Groveton, Lancaster, Lincoln, Campton, Plymouth, Ashland and Bristol.  These are towns that depend heavily on tourist dollars for their economic vitality.  And much of the argument against the project focuses on the impact of the project on tourism.  According to the project’s own web site, the towers along the project’s path will stand between 80 and 135 feet in the air.  The web site compares these towers to a typical cell phone tower, which stands 180 feet tall.  This seems to me to be an irrelevant comparison since cell phone towers are typically singular whereas the criticism of the project’s towers is that there will 140 miles of them.  These towers will run through some of the most scenic areas of the state and the fear is that this will detract from the beauty of the state, meaning that tourists will not want to vacation here anymore.

Another criticism of the project is that the electricity originates in Quebec, which means that we will be purchasing this power from Canada.  I was in a local business recently where the owner was expressing his discontent about the project with an official of the project.  I overheard him say that this project represents a “wholesale invasion of New Hampshire by Canada.”  This seems a bit overblown to me but the answer to the question of why we should buy power from Canada on the FAQ of the project seems to be a non-answer.  They say that the New England states must buy renewable energy in as cost-effective a manner as possible.  There is nothing in the answer that explains why this is the most cost-effective manner possible.  The answers in the FAQ do, however, make it very clear that we are indeed buying this electricity from Hydro-Quebec.  We are still relying on foreign energy.  This is not necessarily bad but I don’t really see how it helps New Hampshire to do so.

Another of the arguments in favor of the project is that it will create jobs in the North Country of New Hampshire.  But if you read between the lines, it’s clear that these jobs are construction jobs.  Once the transmission lines are built, those jobs disappear.  So this is a very short-term benefit with a long-term negative impact.

I have just relied on the information provided by the people involved in the Northern Pass project and they really have not convinced me that this is good for the people of New Hampshire.  I haven’t even spent any time reading the web pages of the critics of the project.  They are planning to deliver this electricity to the southern part of New Hampshire and south of that (Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island), where the largest population base is.  And yet, it seems that the largest negative impact will be on the people of northern and central New Hampshire.  How is that fair?  Unless someone comments with a compelling argument, I am going to have to vote in favor of the resolution against this project.  What do you think?

et cetera