Monday, December 21, 2009

Nationalizing our Health Care

In case you're living in an information void (doubtful, if you're reading blogs), or missed the news, or can't apply basic logic to current events, the Democrats succeeded in the major hurdle to socializing health care in the US today. All it took was a few hundred million in corrupt payoffs in taxpayer dollars (who am I kidding, newly-printed money) to various fence-sitters and other scum; I guess the value of thirty pieces of silver has increased a bit with inflation. It's pretty much a done-deal now; just a few rubber-stamp procedures and a great big holiday present for a Socialist rulers.

Instead of focusing on the negative, though, I thought I'd focus on the positive aspects of this unmitigated disaster... but I couldn't find any. So instead, I'm going to extol, once again, what I think is possibly the most valuable thing we the voters could try to accomplish to prevent atrocities like this from being perpetrated by our government in the future.

It seems to me that the root of most of the evils our government brings upon us lies in the perversion of the federalist ideal; that is, when the government consolidates money and power, and then gives it out to states/people on a preferential basis. Without this ability, corrupt payoff legislation wouldn't be nearly as feasible. We wouldn't have as many subsidies for failure states, we wouldn't have government mandates and dictates backed by the threat of reduced federal funding, we wouldn't have preferential handouts of federal funds to states to buy votes; in short, if we can manage to cut of the money to the scum in Washington, the system would get a whole lot better.

Now, granted, that wouldn't be easy... but fighting enormous evil monstrosities never is. What we, the US, needs, is a return to a limited-government, in the sense of scope of role and funding thereof. There would be no debate about how best to nationalize health care if the federal government were Constitutionally prohibited from overstepping its limited roles (and that prohibition were enforced via real checks and balances). There would be no threat of cutting off funding if the federal government didn't ever give money to states, for anything, ever; that's an excellent litmus test for if something should not be allowed in a federalist system.

We, the people, need to stop fighting the leaves of the problem, and go after the trunk. There will always be despicable scum like Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Ben Nelson in the country, and always be enough gullible and/or idiotic voters for corrupt evil politicians to get elected. We need the system to be better, to limit the damage they, or anyone else, can do to us. We need a return to the ideal of a government formed with the assumption that the people in charge will be hopelessly corrupt, and the more checks against their power, the better it is for the people.

Today is a dark day for the country, and there are more dark days ahead. It looks like we're in for a somber holiday season this year.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Torn on health-care nationalization

I know this will seem strange coming from me, but at times, I find myself conflicted in my opinion on nationalizing the health care system in the US (as Congress is currently debating). I'm strongly of the opinion that it will be bad for our economy, reduce the qualify of care, drive skilled and intelligent people out of the field, raise costs, be horrible for the long-term financial solvency of the country, and contrary to much of what America stands for. On the other hand, though, if ever a business and group of people is so despicable, so intentionally ineffectual, and so malignant as to richly deserve comprehensive summary execution in the business sense, the private medical insurance industry is such a beast, and the not-insignificant silver-lining of a government takeover would be to see all those people cast out like the garbage they collectively are.

Let's look at some anecdotal examples from my life, which has been (thankfully) largely medical-issue free:
- I have always had [good] medical coverage through employer plans, HMO or PPO, I'm the "easy" case
- I had an emergency room visit which took four years, multiple legal threats, and weeks of my time to eventually resolve with the insurance company, the hospital, and multiple collection agencies, which caused untold stress and unfairly damaged my credit rating
- I had a primary care physician facility which I literally could not contact over the phone to do anything (they never picked up or returned calls), and I couldn't schedule anything without going through them due to HMO restrictions
- Over 50% of my medical visits (routine checkups, etc.) have resulting in insurance billing "issues" which I have needed to intervene to resolve
- I can't get prescription drugs covered by my medical plan without manual calls to the company every single time, because their automated system is always wrong (it seems the default is to not pay anything unless the covered patient calls, waits on hold, and corrects the problem every time)
- I dread going to the emergency room, even though I have medical insurance, because I know it's inevitably going to lead to a billing problem, which will be months of work for me
- I have an outstanding bill for "lab work" from six months ago, where the other parts of the visit were billed correctly, but somehow this part cannot be fixed, or the various participants don't want to resolve it, but rather just repeatedly bill the patient
- I can't imagine how much of my time will need to be spent on just dealing with medical insurance problems if/when I have children; given my current experience, it might literally be a part-time job

I'm not harboring any delusions: nationalizing the process is unlikely to make any of these problems better. There would be ways to fix most of them, but they are beyond the Neanderthalic thought-processes of our Congress-scum. Nevertheless, if and when our government destroys private medical insurance in the US, I will not cry for these companies; they are a blight on the country in their current form and operation, and they are the most compelling argument for health-care nationalization.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Health care "debate" begins in Senate... kinda...

So let me begin with a rhetorical question: doesn't Congress have anything important to do? I realize that may sound silly given the thousands of Billions of dollars they are creating semi-annually these days, but as the health care takeover "debate" begins, I'm reminded of just how ludicrously time-wasteful our Congressional process is. For anyone with a hazy crystal ball, let me give you a preview of how the next couple of months are going to go:

- Both parties will make speeches, primarily in the media, about how the nationalization of our health care system is great/horrible for the country (and the Democrats will pay lip-service to the idea that their takeover is not nationalization, and everyone who's not a blind follower will continue to laugh at that aspect of their contentions)
- Various amendments will be offered; some trivial Democrat-sponsored ones will pass, major Democrat-backed ones will fail (both left-wing and conservative), and all Republican-backed ideas/plans will be shot down without a second thought
- Eventually, the Democrats will call for a vote, likely after they have identified the necessary number of thoroughly corrupt and reprehensible enough Senators from both sides who can be purchased with political favors and large handouts, and incorporated those bribes and grand larcenies from taxpayers into the bill
- The bill will pass the Senate easily after being greased by the filibuster threat with billions in new spending bribes, and an empty and laughable promise of being budget neutral
- The house will pass an entirely different, and much more radical left-wing, version
- The two bills will be "reconciled" behind closed doors to form a Socialist wet-dream monstrosity, which will then be enacted into law without anyone reading it, although Republicans will bash the Democrats for this after the fact
- Everyone will position themselves for the next fight, and the 2010/2012 elections, where Republicans will hope to dismantle the entire thing if they can retake Congress and the Presidency (which will largely depend on how contemptible their candidates are)

The only upside of this Kubuki theater procession of events, which is admittedly not insignificant, is that while the Senate is busy "debating" this next Socialist legislative disaster in the making, they are less likely to be enacting any other new laws; which, given recent government actions, is probably a really good thing for the country. Can I vote we settle all Senate debates on the Congressional floor with knife fights, and hold multi-month special elections to replace anyone who is unable to continue at any point? Would a completely non-functional Congress really be worse than what we have now?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On the "Job Loss" "Recovery"

First, it was the jobless recovery, where the economy was magically getting better due to the artificial increases in spending fueled by deficit currency devaluation and favoritist handout programs. Then it became the "job loss" recovery, when it became more obvious that the various handout programs and Kabuki Theater money printing and shuffling wasn't actually creating or even preserving any actual jobs. At some point, maybe, in the distant future, some astute historian can berate the current administrations and its other various socialist-leaning philosophical supporters with something akin to "it's all about the jobs, right, and those blithering morons just couldn't get the trivially simple concept into their empty fascist skulls".

The American economy is not going to get "better" without jobs. On the upside, a healthy business and job environment does wonders to cure many economic ills; on the downside, every Democrat policy, thought, and action seems expressly designed to crush job creation and maintenance, and the blithering morons are running the country currently. Government jobs (explicitly, as in all the people directly employed by various government agencies, or implicitly, as in all the people employed as a result of the government printing money and/or subsidizing various industries above and beyond their normal competitive capacity) are a net zero: they don't help, but there are far worse things the government could be doing as it strips the remaining remnants of economic prosperity from our children (eg: creating a nationalized health care nightmare).

This goes along with another facet of the same problem: handouts. Handouts (subsidization, stimulus, support, etc.) are the antithesis of jobs; not only do they supersede the will/need to create/have jobs, but they encourage a national philosophy of begging for more handouts, which is even more destructive to economic prosperity. It has become more obvious to me, recently, that the whole handout mindset is likely the #1 long-term ailment of the US economy, and the enormous psychological damage which handout programs inflict on the US is downplayed, or outright ignored, when handout programs are considered. Americans have moved beyond asking what their country can do for them, and now are upset when their country does not do enough for them, and we will not be able to recover economically until or unless we somehow halt the progression of this crippling philosophical disease. Yes, it really is that bad.

If our esteemed leaders and "public servants" has any interest at all, in the slightest, in helping the people of the country, they would be focused nearly-entirely on private sector job creation, and on eliminating handouts. The day I hear the beggar on the street change his pitch from "can you spare some money" to "anything I can do to earn some money from you" is they day I know we have succeeded in reversing the tide of national sentiment. Instead, all the US people seem capable of debating is who should get what in the latest handout programs, and it's a road to ruin.

It doesn't matter as much who gets what benefits in Obamacare, or how much banking executives are allowed to pay themselves out of government subsidization, or how long unemployment benefits are extended, or how much money the government gives to the housing industry to reward them for the bubble: they are all, every one of them, symptoms of a greater, more insidious, and immensely more destructive meta-problem. We, the people, should not be asking how we can mold the latest handout program to be less detrimental; we need to be thinking about how we can eliminate the root scourge of political malfeasance which continues to doom the American people to a life of servitude and begging for scraps from the master's table. If we can free ourselves from this latest crushing evil, economic recovery, prosperity, and freedom from government oppression would come along for free.

Been away...

I'm sure some people noticed; I've been on vacation for the last couple weeks, with spotty internet access. That, and the resurgence of playing a certain MMO has left me with less free time to allocate to blogging about the idiocies of the world. I have not, however, experienced a significant decline in opinions; and you can expect to see a few more posts shortly with possibly some travel observations and likely some political current events opinions.

Just to be clear for my readers, though (since I'm getting enough followers to care about keeping people somewhat informed), this blog won't be a daily thing; if you want daily news recaps and commentary, there are several other excellent sources, some of which I myself follow (LCR for political current events, CR for econ news, etc.). I'll keep posting sporadically, maybe a few times a week, on topics which interest me and/or philosophizing on how things should work in my idealized world. Hopefully that'll work for ya'll out there in internet-world.

Good to be back. :)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Leaving (fleeing?) California

For reference, this article paints a pretty clear picture about why I'll likely be leaving the [previously] Golden State in the next couple of years. I'm not sure what happens when a state fails, when the poverty-stricken, largely-illegal non-tax-paying masses overwhelm the legitimate legal residents, when the education system finally collapses under the weight of its own malaise and corruption, when the state finances finally collapse under the weight of decades of financial idiocy and irresponsibility, when the government cannot function any more... but I'm pretty sure I don't want to be living here when it happens. I think the best California can hope for at this point is a clean start, a purging of the entire broken horribly-failed experiment, a re-write of the state Constitution to include many more protections from the current state, actual enforcement of immigration laws, and a new competent government with minimal social unrest. On its current trajectory, though, the future looks decidedly less optimistic.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More fleshed out thoughts on preventing future housing bubbles

I've been giving this more thought recently, since pretty much nothing has been done to try to prevent future housing bubbles (indeed, the current administration/Congress has only done things to make the post-bubble recession worse). I've had thoughts on this previously, but these are my new, more fully-formed ideas, the up-to-date thoughts from my brain on this issue (until they get revised again).

First, let's establish some guidelines. An affordable loan is one which is approximately no more than 4x your annual income, based on general loan guidelines. Second, we'll call a loan made to someone which brings their total outstanding loan balance for all existing loans at the time of the loan under 4x annual income a "qualified" loan. Third, for annual income, we're talking average of last 2 years reported gross income for tax purposes.

Ok, so here's the thoughts:
- No loan which is not "qualified" can be subsidized by the government, at all, or traded on the government-backed exchanges. So no FHA, no Fannie Mae, no government money whatsoever for any non-qualified loan.
- No security containing or based on (eg: a derivative of) a non-qualified loan can be rated higher than A, by law, and cannot be owned by any fund/organization which buys only "investment-grade" securities.
- This one is more of a personal-preference, but I suggest we officially call non-qualified loans (by the above definition) "Over-extended" loans. This way there is no confusion about the intent, and it will be more difficult for ambitions RE industry people to push unsuspecting buyers into risky, over-extended loans.

At this point I'd normally make a wrap-up comment about how the Obamanation has failed horribly at their purported goal of consumer protection, and how all their so-called "reforms" are just socialist power-grabs, but I think at this point if you're smart enough to be reading blogs (or just reading, for that matter), the corruption and malfeasance of the Obama administration and our current Congress is probably self-evident, so I'll leave my thoughts to stand without the closing obligatory admonition of the idiots currently running the country (unless you count this sentence). :)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Entirely predictable result transpires

Today, the WSJ noted that in the aftermath of the Cash for Clunkers debacle, the auto industry is in turmoil, with sales declining precipitously after the artificially-created demand dried up, as would be expected from something which merely distorted the demand curve, rather than actually stimulating demand (like, for example, creating more jobs would). This is causing dealerships to struggle, distortions and inefficiencies rippling through the supply chains, and further economic damage.

So to summarize, these are the entirely predictable results of this latest brain-dead handout scheme:
- Waste billions in taxpayer dollars for no economic benefit
- Create distortions in the auto manufacturing and supply by only giving handouts for buying certain types of cars, rewarding the manufacturers of those models disproportionally (with taxpayer dollars)
- Compressing the demand curve, creating distortions in the industry which will lead to closed dealerships and suppliers, costing more jobs and doing more damage to the US economy

... and yet, even with all that, we get news reports about how this was an unexpected side-effect, and nobody could have predicted, etc. Hello? Is anybody home upstairs in any of the "news" outlets? The only headline about this should be "Idiotic Bailout does Entirely Predictable Damage to Economy", possibly with an addendum to write your congress-morons if you didn't want your children's tax money spent on hastening the demise of the American Dream.

Cause there's another equally idiotic handout extension to distort the housing market further in the pipeline...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bill Maher on tax protest march

Bill Maher had a marginally amusing, if not highly partisan and inaccurate, rant about the people marching on Washington to protest the liberal destruction of the US ideal. Putting aside his swipes and vitriol, he does raise an interesting point: we should find some way to tie the costs of not taking care of one's own health to the cost of getting health care. After all, subsidizing health care doesn't help overall if everyone gets less healthy along the way.

Now, like many liberals, Maher's knee-jerk idiotic reaction is to echo the calls for taxing foods which are bad for people. Sure this might help the immediate problem, but at the unnecessary cost of big government, big regulation, stifling of freedoms, and precedent for more wrong-headed approaches. I would suggest that there's a much better way to tie the amount paid for health care to the magnitude of the care required, based on how you maintain your own health, without all those nasty side-effects.

I propose that we have a system where people pay for health insurance for themselves and their families, where the cost is based on their various health risk factors (eg: lifestyle, habits, etc.) and general health-affecting factors (primarily age). This distributes the cost of random events among many people, while allowing individuals with unhealthy habits and/or higher risk bear a higher proportion of the costs for everyone's care. No nasty big-government intrusions, no big wasteful bureaucracies, more personal accountability for one's health: it seems like a win-win-win. What say you, Bill Maher (as if he reads this blog)?

If only we could get from wherever we are now to that ideal...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

California's education system

I was struck with an interesting thought on the way home yesterday, while listening to a radio ad "brought to me" by the California Teacher's Association. Every advertisement, promotion, lobby effort, sponsored message, etc. which is paid for, even in part, by the CTA is being bought directly or indirectly with my taxpayer dollars. Moreover, that's money ostensibly allocated to educating our children, which is being diverted away from our children and to lobbying efforts to enrich the union and its members.

That's worth keeping in mind, I think, the next time you hear about over-crowded class sizes, underpaid teachers, miserable education rankings, or other updates on the state of public education in California. Think of it this way: every CTA-sponsored ad/message you hear is directly taking some tax money away from educating our children, and directly and intentionally contributing to the miserable broken failure that is the California public education system. The next time the CTA wants more tax money, reflect on how much they have directly wasted and diverted already, and evaluate on if they are doing what you want done with your money, instead of educating children; as they say, "the more you know..."

Monday, September 14, 2009

A litmus test for news sources?

Something I have observed among the people I know: intelligent people like to be well-informed. This principle seems to extend beyond philosophical and political differences, and across various spectrums of communication. It's what leads people to explore new avenues of communication, seek out dissenting opinions, and generally favor unbiased information presentation. Indeed, it's probably largely the reason people read blogs like this one.

It's rare that an opportunity would arise to clearly and unambiguously judge whether a news organization or source is presenting all the important information in a clear and unbiased way; many people argue about this very topic in relation to various news sources, with no clear criteria. It's fortuitous, then, when events come along which offer a clear differentiation, a litmus test of veracity and integrity for news sources. Fortunately for us, 9/12/09 offered just such a test.

As you, a blog reader, are probably already aware, there was a large protest march at Washington DC on 9/12/09. There's some debate over the exact number of people participating, but estimates put the number between one and two million people, making it the largest protest of the Obama administration, and the largest gathering in the capitol since the coronation of our Dear Leader. Surely, then, if anything warrants news coverage, the largest consolidated protest of the government in recent history would be such an event, and no matter what your personal stance on the Obamanation and its policies, you would want to be informed of it.

Here's the NY Times search on '9/12 protest', see if you can spot their extensive coverage. Or maybe you prefer CNN, self-proclaimed "America's leader in news". Or, closer to home, the LA Times coverage. Good extensive coverage, guys... way to go.

Now, you can say I picked liberal-biased news sites, and you might be right; if you picked a random news outlet, chances are it's liberal-biased, and might be reporting on the largest protest in recent US history with a liberal bias. But even if you want your news colored with a healthy dose of left-wing bias, you still want the news... like, significant events which are occurring, right now, in the world. I know I would feel very uneasy about reading news sites, large or small, where I knew reporting on significant world events was being suppressed and filtered before I got to see it, and you should to, no matter what additives and flavoring you like with your news.

So, I humbly suggest you take this opportunity, and recommend to your friends and colleges, to use this rare event as a litmus test for your news sources, and filter out the ones which are not giving you the important information on significant events in the world. We the people cannot change what various media conglomerates present to us as the news, but the one power we have always had is the ability to vote with our feet, as it were, and our viewing/listening/reading attentions. People have sacrificed much to preserve the freedom of the press; the least we can do to honor those efforts is turn away from the news organizations which would throw it away.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Health care reform "debate" is laregly over

In his most recent speech to Congress pushing his vision of socialized medical care for the United States, President Obama said the time for debate is over, and the time for action is now. Now, it seems to be there's still quite a bit of difference of opinion over what health care "reform" should constitute, and I would personally contend that rash action without consensus is probably worse than no action at all, but on one point at least I can agree with a socialist leader: there's not much left to debate health care reform.

Let's look at the largely undisputed facts. Health care in the US is expensive, painful, and getting worse. Lack of consumer protections in the insurance industry have allowed the process to become painful even for people "fully" covered. Tying insurance tax incentives and group plans to employment has made it difficult and painful to have private insurance, and stifled competition. Medical liability laws have made health care very expensive, with much of the expense going to lawyers and ambitious plaintiffs. Medicare is bankrupting medical practitioners, while simultaneously creating a massive unfunded liability to the country which is predicted to eventually surpass Social Security as the largest financial debacle the country has ever created. There are some very strong arguments for reform, and fixing some of the massive problems which everyone can agree on.

On the other hand, there are some bright spots. America leads the world in medical research, both in procedures and pharmaceuticals. You can generally get care reasonably quickly, as compared to some countries where multi-month wait times are common. Emergency rooms are only packed in areas with large populations of illegal immigrants, and solving the latter problem would help a lot with the former problem. Doctors are still paid well, and medical professions still attract some of the best, most competent people as a result. So there are some bright spots with health care in the US, and whatever the government decides to do, they should endeavor to preserve as many of the good points as possible.

Now let's look at the "debate". Republicans have been the minority voice with their ideas, largely because of the Democrat majority and huge liberal media bias, but they have a few points/ideas. Among them are reducing medical liability to keep costs down, allowing cross-state insurance shopping for more competition, and developing some sort of non-profit insurance program to help provide coverage for people who cannot get insurance through an employer. They have also talked about reforming Medicare to reduce overhead costs and limit long-term costs for the taxpayers. All of these are good ideas, and although they don't address all the problems, they also don't damage any of the good aspects of the current system.

The Democrats, on the other hand, want to go an entirely new direction, and nationalize health care entirely. Essentially, the Democrat plan (at least the most popular version expressed) would replace all private insurance with an expanded version of Medicare, which would cover everyone in the country, regardless of income, job status, legally, conditions, or any other factors. This essentially would destroy all the bright spots of the current system, while aggravating most, if not all, of the problems. All of this is irrelevant for the Democrats, though; it's part of their long-term agenda to socialize as much of the country as possible, and any medical reform which does not move in that direction is unacceptable to a large sect of the Democrats.

What is amazing to me, though, is that for everything I have listed above, there is virtually no debate. Nobody on the Democrats side has debated that any of the Republican proposals would be good for the US; in fact, some Democrats favor the reforms (in concept). Similarly, nobody on the Democrats has argued that any of their proposals do anything to solve any of the problems I listed, or even not make them worse; there's a tacit acknowledgement that socializing medical care is worth the admitted degradation in services and increases in cost. In essence, there's no debate on either side about any of the facts or proposals; there are just real, legitimate philosophical differences between the two parties and their ideal versions of health care in the US.

So indeed, the time for debate might be over. The US people need to decide if they want socialized medical care, and vote in/out their "representatives" as appropriate. The Democrats need to decide how much sacrificing the principles of democracy, and acting against the interests of the people and the country, is acceptable to push their agenda. Each Republican in Congress needs to decide if they can be bribed with incentives and pork to compromise their principles and get on board for the Democrat's historic push to reform the US to match Obama's socialist vision. There's really nothing left to debate; it is now simply a matter of which group will be stronger, the would-be leaders of Obama's new socialist US, or the few people left defending democracy and freedom.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More scary stuff: indoctination

So it seems like every time I read anything about the government these days, it's one abject failure after another. Whether it's bailouts, handouts, encroaching socialism, corruption revelations, or other malignancy, each day brings new reasons to feel disgusted with your "representatives" in the Obamanation. However, every once in a while they plumb a new low, and indoctrinating school children could just be the new bar-setter for utterly despicable actions which bring my hatred for Obama and the misguided people who elected him (and/or the few remaining zealots who still support him) to entirely new levels.

Maybe I'm over-reacting. I mean, surely the Obamanation is doing more destructive things to the United States in general than force-feeding liberal propaganda to impressionable school children. Destruction of the national currency has got to be worth more overall "evil points" than brainwashing poor Richard and Jane. Achieving the end-goal of full Socialism will probably have worse long-term on our children than one day of indoctrination. Reversing the damage Obama is reeking on our economy will surely take longer than teaching the very important lesson that people, especially politicians, lie a lot.

Yet, for some reason, using your position to brainwash children with your propaganda seems worse than all those things. For me, it's kinda the ultimate low, worse than virtually any other damage you can do. Not that I needed another reason to think Obama was bad for the country, but this moves him from irresponsible and misguided to straight-up evil.

Remember when $40,000,000,000 seemed like a lot of money?

I had a somewhat amusing conversation yesterday, talking about government oversight on a defense project a while ago, and it was mentioned that because the government was spending $40 Billion on a project, they demanded some oversight (which naturally led to complications and waste, but that's beside the point). I was struck with a kinda sentimental nostalgia for the times when $40 Billion was considered a significant amount of money, something which required some oversight and planning before spending, and an amount which would appall people if the government squandered or flushed. It wasn't too long ago when that amount was considered a lot of money for the government to spend; yet now, it seems almost insignificant.

Consider recent government wastes:
- $180 Billion to bail out AIG, so they could pay off gambling debts of other banks
- $700 Billion for TARP, so the taxpayers could absorb the losses from the banking industry as repayment for causing the economic meltdown
- ~$60 Billion to buy up the failing auto industry, and prevent it from needing to be competitive
- ~$900 Billion in "stimulus" handouts for "tax rebates", green incentives, kickbacks, bribes, etc.
- $3 Billion for the Cash for Making Nationalizing the Auto Industry Look Good Historically program
- A few more billion in handouts to help prop up the real estate industry, as a "thank you" for creating the massive housing bubble
- $100+ Billion pending to the FDIC, to cover all the unrealized losses they have absorbed due to lax and/or nonexistent oversight
- $100+ Billion for the GSE's, so we can keep underwriting bad loans, cause that was such a good idea
- ?? Billion for FHA, so they can give more horrible loans to people who shouldn't be buying houses, and keep housing unaffordable for everyone else
- $10? Trillion pledged by the Fed to who-knows-what banks, corporations, private persons, hedge funds, or whatever other people/entities have received taxpayer bailouts in secret
- $1000+ Billion for socializing health care, as a down-payment toward socializing the rest of the country
- oh, let's not forget the ~$1000 Billion annual deficit for "normal" spending this year, before all the extra spending, handouts, kickbacks, bribes, corruption, accounting tricks, etc.
- etc, etc, etc.

Picking on $40 Billion in government waste today would be kinda like pointing out some dirt on top of the enormous pool of sewage we're swimming in. It makes me long for the "good ol' days" where our national debt was conceptually re-payable, and national insolvency was only a "long-term" problem.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On taxation: fixing the heart of the problem

There's been a lot of talk recently about big changes in the US. We are running the largest deficit in history, increasing at a record rate which is around 4x higher than the previous administration (which was ridiculed for their enormous deficit spending by the people in the current administration). Our economy is in tatters, still losing jobs as debt-fueled personal consumption is not recovering, no new bubble is appearing, and our production base has been all but destroyed. Our public education system is horribly inefficient and ineffectual, our more liberal states are struggling to correct years of over-spending, and our de-facto global economic leadership is being questioned.

In response to this, our government under President Obama has taken bold measures. We have increased deficit spending, giving out Trillions of dollars to the banks which helped caused the reckless gambling economic meltdown. We have virtually nationalized our automobile industry, helping to ensure they will never again be competitive, or even solvent without government subsidization. We have stepped up efforts to tax industries and business owners, to accelerate the destruction of harmful and polluting employment. The administration is pushing to nationalize our health care industry, to ensure that the cost rises to match the level of frustration people have getting effective insured medical care. Next year the administration will push plans to impose enormous crippling new energy taxes, to insure our industry will never be able to recover. The Obamanation hopes publicly, without logical basis, that one or more of these bold initiatives will magically restart our economy, while privately delighting in the opportunity this crisis have given them to push the Socialist agenda more than any other period in nearly the last century.

At this point, you might be asking yourself: why is the government doing everything they can to make the problems worse? Well, the answer is two-fold: first, the government generally makes problems worse when they act, regardless of their nominal intentions, and second, in this case the Obamanation is not trying to fix the problems, they are trying to use the problems as an excuse to instigate a Socialist government, and in that respect they are succeeding. More depressingly, even if the citizens manage to defeat this brazen attempt at a government takeover, there's nothing to prevent the next attempt (promised already in the form of Tax and Cap), or subsequent attempts. What we, the people, really need is something which goes to the heart of the problem, and seeks to cripple the government's ability to do damage like this not just now, but in the future as well.

One of the big, underlying problems which is a common thread in the recent actions of the Obamanation is the relentless expansion of government, and aggressive pursuit of social manipulation through monetary, and primarily tax, policy. Now, most people (from all political ideologies) don't have a problem with the government spending money to "help" the people in general; the primary source of disagreement stems from how much money to spend, and on what things. When the income tax was instantiated in the US, the purpose was to fund a war effort, and the enormous burden placed upon the taxpayers was a staggering 2% of income. With the nature of politicians, this naturally grew from there, reaching nominal rates above 90% in some cases. This carte blanche to expand and manipulate the tax base gives license to the government to pursue spending and wealth redistribution programs of various forms, with no obvious check or limit, and it's getting worse. This is the problem which I would propose to solve, as a stepping stone to addressing many of the other problems.

Now, many people would argue (myself included) that the only legitimate purpose for taxation is to fund the government's operations. This obviously conflicts with the current usage of taxation, which is as much about dictating and manipulating social policy as funding operations. Moreover, the operation themselves are often social policy based, rather than what could be considered legitimate fundamental government operations. My proposal does not address this problem, however it would, I think, provide some incentive for people to fix this problem, and a platform for the people to exert leverage against problems like this in the future.

I would propose a Constitutional amendment to limit the total amount of taxation each individual in the US is subject to, per year, based on income. To wit:


The government shall not, though all direct taxation, collect more than 25% of any person's income per tax period.

Furthermore, the government shall not collect more than 20% of any person's income during a tax period without declaring a state of fiscal emergency at the beginning of the tax period, and stating the maximum percentage of income which it will collect during that tax period (not to exceed 25%).

What this would do, and not do:

Obviously, this would impose an upper bound on income collected by the government through direct taxation (income, property, other). It does not limit indirect taxation (sales, tariffs, etc.), so the tax rates could, and probably would, still be ridiculous. It also, notably, does not dictate that the tax rates need be uniform, or the collection not have favored activities (eg: deductions), or that the money need be used only to fund essential government operations; all of these are noble goals, but all are beyond the scope of what I think is essential to have in our Constitution, at least at this point.

What the first part does is impose a hard limit on the government's ability to drain money from its people, which would necessarily impose a limit on the expansion of government, and wealth-redistribution programs. This ignores devaluation of the currency, of course, which is an ongoing problem I hope the government will eventually solve, but is beyond the scope of this effort. Is would be, however, a good first step, and would be sure to cause some consternation in the halls of special-interest payouts and corrupt favor mongering.

The second part forces the government to acknowledge, publicly, that they are doing a bad job, fiscally-speaking. While I don't think that will dissuade anyone or cause any immediate change, it does set the stage for further initiatives, which could be tied to the state declaration. For example, you could limit the scope of additional spending while in that state, or not pay the members of Congress, or limit terms to one while the government is in that state; all of these would just serve to re-enforce the concept that it's "bad". Note that I would prefer a number more like 10% as the "soft-limit", but I realize that with the current state of our enormous government services set, that's unrealistic. This, however, would be a good start.

BTW, I need to acknowledge that this post was somewhat inspired by Penn & Teller's BS episode about taxes, which is highly recommended. There might be a followup later about the other excellent point they raised: the complexity of laws, tax code included, serves the interest of the police state, and true freedom means eliminating all the ways you ambiguously "might" be guilty of something from the laws; but that's for another time.

Anyway, thanks for reading; feel free to add your thoughts. I have no idea how anyone could/would go about starting a process to get a change like this done, and I certainly don't have enough time/effort to do so, but in the spirit of making a more perfect union, this is something I would do.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On the Obama/Joker poster...

If you're reading blogs, I'm sure you've seen it; if not, here's a good reference article.

Couple of quick thoughts:

- All the outraged liberals should be ridiculed for being hypocritical scum; there was a nearly identical image of Bush published in a magazine during his tenure, and Bush/Cheney have been called much worse explicitly.

- To say that the "socialist" label is hurtful and dangerous is like saying an expose of illegal activities is hurtful and dangerous to the perpetrators; it may be so, but it's accurate, and free speech is a right we still (mostly) enjoy in the US, at least for now. Whether or not socialism is good for America is debatable, but anyone who doesn't at least acknowledge that Obama's policies are socialist is too stupid to vote, in my opinion.

- There are many potentially applicable quotes from the movie which could be applied to Obama, but I particularly like this one: "And in their desperation they turned to a man they didn't fully understand." It kinda sums up the whole Obama administration pretty well so far, and we've got several years to go.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Another wacky idea: bonds for civil suits

From the "my wacky ideas" file:

I think there should be a couple more qualifications in civil suits rather than simply a judgment against the accused or lack thereof. Specifically, I think the court/jury should also have the right to say (in addition to the regular judgments) that the lawsuit had no merit, and that the legal representative for the plaintiff should have been aware of this before bringing the action. This, in and of itself, would not change the system at all, but that brings me to my associated idea...

I think to file a civil lawsuit, against anyone, you should first be required to post a bond in the amount of reasonable court and defense counsel costs. This bond would be forfeit if you drop the action (at least in the amount of incurred court/counsel costs at that time), or if your case is dismissed for lack of merit. If you win, or the case is determined to have merit but is decided against you, you get the entire bond amount back.

The actual bond itself could be handled somewhat like bail is currently, with independent companies available to front the money in exchange for a percentage of the settlement if you prevail (similar to the lawyer's percentage for taking the case with no money up-front). Law firms could also pay the bonds, of course, if they are taking cases on behalf of clients.

The obvious benefit of this is that there's a certain amount of financial risk associated with filing a lawsuit, highly discouraging any lawsuits without obvious legal merit. Of course, wealthy individuals and businesses could still file frivolous lawsuits at their own expense, but the cost to both the accused and the court system would be minimal, since the bond would cover the normal and reasonable expenses of both. If the system works well, frivolous lawsuits would be virtually eliminated, which would be a huge benefit for our society; if it doesn't work, it doesn't make the system much worse than it is today.

Anyway, that's my wacky idea for the day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sadly largely lacking from political information: accurate accountability

Another contemplation of late: it's a rather unfortunate situation, in the voting population today, that there's a distinct lack of accurate long-term accountability for actions and policies, and their effects. This is certainly a phenomenon not restricted only to the political spectrum (eg: some people are baffled about how typical executive compensation packages destroy large corporations in the long-term), but it's especially noticeable and distressing in the political arena. How would Americans ever expect to be able to elect competent leaders, or judge their actions, I wonder, if they cannot even accurately correlate policies to effects?

For example, consider California's budget. The state has a massive deficit, which is causing much distress, and is proving very difficult to address for the current politicians. As a resident, one might be inclined to get rid of the politicians which created this mess, but to do so, one would have to understand the underlying causes of the problem. After all, California has some of the highest property, income, and sales tax rates, so it's highly doubtful that the problem is caused by not enough tax collection; yet you still have morons saying the state needs higher taxes to fix the budget problem! Now, I don't think you'll ever be successful at expunging all the morons from the state/media, but perhaps if the general population was somewhat more educated and cognoscente about the underlying causes, those idiots could be appropriately laughed at, instead of lauded as insightful.

Take, as another example, inflation. Inflation is an economic phenomenon which destroys wealth, creates a "hidden" tax on all assets, creates turmoil in financial markets, and generally encourages people to have destructive financial habits (such as shunning "saving" money, hording assets purely for investment purposes, and engaging in reckless borrowing and speculation just to preserve their wealth). It's generally a "bad thing", but is considered somewhat inevitable in all fiat currency societies, so much so that the government has official inflation targets, and some government officials periodically extol the "virtues" of inflation. If the general public understood that the misery associated with inflation was entirely preventable, that inflation was entirely created/controlled by government monetary policy, and that the loss of wealth and purchasing power they experienced was directly attributable to policies which created inflation (eg: printing a Trillion dollars to fund agenda waste spending), they might have an entirely appropriate unfavorable view of the politician(s) who stole their and their children's money by adopting such policies. Instead, we're cursed with a voting population which accepts such policies as "necessary" without appreciating the damage they cause, and is willing to accept when politicians predictably blame the damage on unrelated actions of the other party.

There are many more examples, of course, and no easy solution. One might argue for an IQ requirement to be part of the voting population, for example, but people not meeting the requirement would feel disenfranchised, and that could lead to discontent and civil unrest. It would be nice to have a non-partisan foundation operating in the public interest to provide unbiased information, but as long as the general population can vote equally, it wouldn't have much effect. It's lamentable, though, that in as progressed and information-savvy of a society as this, we are still governed essentially by the smooth talking and/of big spending few, backed by the idiocracy of the voting population, and politicians and talking heads can continue prattle off moronic distortions as factual statement to mindless applause, rather than immediate condemnation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Philosophizing on how the US should work

This is gonna by a kinda wonkish post, part of a series of topics I've been thinking about which represent somewhere between where we are now and what a more idea country would be. I don't know if this will be the last one, or even interesting to anyone, but since it's my blog, I'm going to dream on.

So my ideal country is founded on the basis of a few principles, but one of the most important is that the government should work for the benefit of the people, and not the other way around (as an aside, America was also founded this principle; I know, hard to believe in today's times, but look it up). One of the best ways to make sure that principle is preserved is to keep government local; it's much more difficult to feel like your government is a faceless, clueless entity abusing you for their own gain when it is made up of people you know and interact with. To that end, my ideal country has a couple of interesting differences from the US as we know it today.

First, elections would be done locally, for local governments. These people would then, in turn, elect positions for the next highest levels of government, all the way up to the federal elected positions (President and Congress). No more media-whoring popularity contests to determine the "rulers" of the country, where the outcome is based largely on who can come up with the most catchy quip, or spend the most money convincing the idiot masses that their insidious plans to abuse power are less bad then their opponent's insidious plans. Rather, at each level, the leaders are being elected by the people they will most directly interact with, with the people's votes simply weighted by the total number of people who elected them (including all indirect votes). As an added bonus, this also harnesses the power of greed for the benefit of the country: for example, the states are going to have a strong incentive to elect people who oppose more federal government control over the states, etc. Also, this will help curtail the "idiot voter" factor in elections... a solid win all around.

Second, the states and municipalities themselves will be more dynamic. There should be no reason someone owning land on the border between two different governed areas cannot join whichever he/she pleases, given reasonable limits for frequency of switching. Likewise, with enough people in contiguous area, you should be able to create a new municipality dynamically, elect a local government, and govern yourself. As an extension, if your municipality becomes too small or underpopulated, it should be absorbed into a neighbor region (to be determined by majority vote of the remaining people in the dissolving area). Not only would this allow a natural ordering by efficiency and effectiveness of government in various areas, but it would provide a strong incentive for each government to do the best job they could, and provide the best area in which the people can live, something which is sadly lacking in our current government.

Lastly on this topic, I strongly believe the government at the federal level should be providing a stable currency, and in my ideal country the amount of currency would be fixed (or dynamic, but strongly tied to real national wealth). Moreover, each level of government would set their funding requests, but collection laws and procedures would flow upward, with each municipality deciding what to tax and how much to allocate to the government above it. There would be some minimums, probably (likely based on total income in the fixed federal currency of all people in an area/state), but the government would be required to adjust its services to the funding level every year, instead of ignoring the funding level and printing money to pay for partisan agendas and favored-friend payouts. Admittedly, though, this item would need some more thought to actually do, but that's the theory.

Anyway, that was installment one of my thoughts on what I'd want an ideal country (US or otherwise) to be. I'll try to make my next post more actually topical, and less fanciful. :)

Monday, July 27, 2009

California adds "thievery" to "can kicking" and "fraud" in repertoire of budgeting tools

A short post, just to emphasize the obvious, not because it hasn't already been said, but because it deserves to be reiterated (and as a bonus, it serves as a "gimme" prediction for next year when the next wave hits).

So California is expanding its arsenal for dealing with out-of-control spending and a dysfunctional legislature. Not content with just can kicking and accounting fraud (or, more precisely, those we're not enough this time), we recently added thievery [from local municipalities] to the list of lows we're willing to stoop to. Apparently there's not much which is ethically out-of-bounds for our legislator-scum.

Not that I would expect their latest trampling of the laws and common decency to stand up in court or anything, and it's certainly going to be challenged early and vigorously. In the end the lawyers will make a lot of money and the legislature will be able to push off fixing the problem for a few more years while they pretend they can/will prevail in their court case, which is all they really want anyway. After all, there's got to be another bubble around the corner to once again bail-out California and their ridiculous spending excesses, right?

Either that, or just keep issuing IOU's as our own currency, that way we can just print more of them instead of solving our problems; it works for the federal government, surely it can work for states too. To paraphrase Joker, "this country needs an enema."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Since when did "it's broken" become "we need to make it worse"?

There's something which has been bothering me about the whole way Obama is phrasing the discussion about health care nationalization ("reform"), aside from his normal rhetoric strategies which continue to aggravate me (such as saying one thing, and doing the exact opposite). Over and over, I hear from the Obamanation that the health care system "is broken", and we need to "fix" it. You know what? I agree with the first part: the health care system does appear to be broken and unsustainable, and I agree with most of the reasons why. Although I'm not sure we "need" to fix it (any more than we need to fix other unfunded entitlement programs left over from historically destructive administrations, such as Social Security), I do agree with a lot of the arguments for why we might want to.

For example, escalating costs of medicare. That system is bad: its an entitlement program which underpays providers while being underfunded and very inefficient. It's unsustainable, and it needs serious reform to cut the costs, and could also use more free-market competition in the rates it pays, to prevent medical providers from being stifled out of business. On this I agree with Obama.

Also, the current insurance system is somewhat of an aggravating disaster. Billing errors are common, consumer protections are scarce, getting quality care is time-consuming and difficult even for those with means to acquire it, and the common consumer is often trampled on. I agree that this, too, could use some serious reform and consumer-oriented oversight.

Consider, too, medical liability costs. America is an overly litigious society, and medical malpractice insurance costs are enormous as a result. This in turn raises the cost of health care for everyone, and almost exclusively only to the benefit of the lawyers involved in medical cases. This is an area where the government could certainly help, establishing safe-harbors and cutting down on rules, to make it easier for providers to follow the law, and reducing insurance premiums (and thus cost of coverage).

Given all that, you'd think I'd be generally for health care reform... but it turns out I'm not. See, somewhere along the line, all those problems which the president emphasizes and I agree with got transformed (inexplicably) into rationale for making the problem worse! How did that happen?

Obama's plan doesn't cut costs or entitlements; it raises both, creating more unfunded liabilities and bureaucratic waste. It doesn't fix the under-payment of providers; it continues and possibly amplifies it. It doesn't fix consumers getting trampled by private providers; it creates a new provider you have even less recourse with. It doesn't reduce liability costs; it creates an entirely new confusing legal scheme which would increase them. Not only does it not fix any of the problems being used to justify the need for the nationalization initiative, it makes all of them worse!

Seriously, did I miss the societal bulletin where "it's broken" became code for "this problem is not bad enough, we need to make it worse"? Or is Obama just counting on people not realizing how what he's advocating does nothing whatsoever to address the problems cited to justify it? And when/how can we get some actual health care reform, to fix the very real problems with the current system which we all agree upon?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Concealed carry amendment is interesting

I figure if I want to comment on this proposed amendment, I should do it soon; it doesn't seem to have much chance of getting past a Democrat majority, and is more noteworthy for the coverage it's getting rather than the chances it would become law. Regardless of my opinions on gun control in general (which I won't state, so as not to distract from the point), I find this proposition interesting.

It is interesting, in one sense, because of one of the immediate objections quoted from a police officer in one of the initial news reports: "if this passes, we wouldn't be able to tell if someone is allowed to carry a firearm." Notwithstanding the fact that the officer would presumably do the same thing he would do currently (ie: ask to see the permit and check its validity), the statement itself serves to exemplify something which many people object to: authority figures (eg: law enforcement) consider it their de-facto right to control you (the normal people), and restrict your rights. Your rights are certainly restricted in some cases by specific laws, and for legitimate social reasons, but shouldn't the default (under the Constitution) be: you're allowed unless explicitly forbidden? Shouldn't the police officer be asking, "how can we tell who isn't allowed to be carrying?" That reason alone might be enough to justify this amendment in my mind, to sacrifice some public security to regain some freedom, and not fall into the trap Ben Franklin elocuted?

Another way it is interesting is with respect to the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Essentially, the argument would be that under the Constitution, what is granted in one state as a legal status must be honored in all other states. Of course, this is not held true for laws (only for court rulings and documents), hence the need for a federal law. If you could pass a law specifying this, though, presumably you could also do the same for gay marriage (a fact which, I'm sure, has not escaped the gay marriage opponents). I'm sure it would be tested in various courts if passed in either case, but it would be legally interesting to watch, and have strong implications for federal/state legal authority.

Finally, and almost as an after-thought, there's the argument in support of the amendment itself, that having more people armed deters crime. Here, both sides have legitimate points, and surprisingly rarely contradict each other. The Republicans argue that in states with more people carrying guns, general crime is reduced (which seems to be true), while Democrats argue that in such states crimes involving guns increase (also true), and serious crimes involving guns are more likely in states more permissive to gun ownership (also true). So really, it's a question of whether less crime in general is worth an increase in proportion of crime involving the use of a gun, which seems like a debatable trade-off to me; I'm not sure which side I'd be on, but neither position seems overwhelmingly better.

So, an interesting amendment, which I thought I'd comment on; that is all. :)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Often I don't understand politics

The thought occurs to me, sometimes, that I just don't understand the political process, or what people are talking about in reference to a political process. Now sometimes, that's because the process itself is incomprehensible, obtuse, meandering, idiotic, or any/all of the above. Sometimes, though, the process seems like it would be straightforward, yet it is not, and I really don't understand why.

Take, for example, nationalizing health care in the US. Obama says he wants to do it, in about a month or so. The Democrats have the majority in both houses of Congress, enough members to override a filibuster, the ability and expressed willingness to use the "reconciliation" process to write whatever legislation they want with no Republican input whatsoever, and have given up on any credible notion of bipartisan anything ("Rahm it through" politics). So why is nationalizing health care seeming to be "hard"?

Maybe it's the money. It's going to cost a few Trillion dollars (at least $1,500,000,000,000 up front per the CBO, and probably another couple Trillion by the time it's actually done), but that shouldn't be a stumbling block: those figures are over ten years, and the Obamanation has already printed/wasted over a Trillion dollars this year alone. Heck, Biden just came out and said you needed to waste money to make money (I guess that passes for economic theory in the Democrat party these days), and the Obamanation is spending without regard so far, so the money problem just doesn't make sense to me.

Maybe it's the quality of care; after all, most countries with socialized health care have long waits for low-quality care, and maybe some people are regretting destroying America's leadership in medical research. However, the people bemoaning that loss are all Republicans, and they don't have any say in "Rahm it through" politics; why would that impede the process? The same goes for the public insurance plan eliminating private plans, practitioners being underpaid, facilities closing, jobs lost, the hit to the economy: all valid concerns, all legitimate complaints about Obama's plan, but all only being voiced by Republicans. I don't see how they would impact the process either.

Maybe it's the new taxes on small businesses, or the escalating high-end tax rates which will be raping the people who try to provide jobs for their fellow Americans? Maybe somebody would clue in to the fact that obliterating a large chunk of our economy during a recession might not be such a stupendous idea? It might be credible, except that again, only the Republicans seem to be expressing the concerns; the sheeple Democrats should be lining up behind their Chosen One and his priests like Polosi, right?

I mean, I'm against nationalized health care as much as everyone else in the country with any functional brain cells, and I'm glad for whatever mysterious process is delaying the "inevitable" descent into socialized medicine, but I just don't understood exactly what's keeping us from falling over the edge. Couldn't the Democraps just pass a simple appropriations bill, then rewrite it during "reconciliation" into the enormous Socialist Manifesto the Chosen One has vowed to "Rahm through" by fall, and have it enacted without debate already? I mean, what's the hold up; if you're going to shred and piss on the Constitution, do it already... the country deserves better than a drawn-out, torturous death at the hands of you despicable villains.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Large words confuse small minds

It seems like every time Obama's pit bull Rahm Emanuel opens his mouth and opines about "bipartisanship", I'm reminded of a quote from The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means." For example, consider this gem:
“That’s a test of bipartisanship -- whether you took ideas from both parties,” Emanuel said. “At the end of the day, the test isn’t whether they voted for it,” he said, referring to Republicans. “The test is whether the final product represented some of their ideas. And I think it will.”

So, basically, what he's saying is that in his interpretation of the word, it just means you incorporated some of the ideas which didn't come from your party into the bill you then rammed up everyone's ass. So, for example, if your bill only wastes a few Trillion dollars, you can claim you incorporated some Republican ideas because it doesn't waste $10 Trillion, and Republicans favor saving money. It's a pretty nice interpretation, if you want to fit anything you might conceivably do under the banner of "bipartisanship", but I'm not sure his definition would match that of the common man, even if the common man in question is as dumb as a pile of rocks.

It makes me wonder why the spin-masters are even bothering to try to push such a preposterous claim. The health care reform bill is an enormous partisan socialism push, but the Democrats have a majority in both houses of Congress and hold the Presidency; why would you feel the need to make asinine statements like this? Just ram the bill through like all your other initiatives, and stop wasting time pretending like you have any concern for what the other side thinks: it's worked for you so far, and it's hard to believe you're winning more friends by treating the American people like retarded imbeciles. Unless, of course, they really just don't even understand the term "bipartisanship"; it's hard to believe that they just don't know what the term means, but it's really the only explanation I can think of.

My advice to Rahm: stop using words if you don't know what they mean, it emphasizes your stupidity.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The difficulty of governing with pervasive collusion and corruption

So I was reading this article about the impending financial meltdown (and probably taxpayer bailout) of CIT, and reflecting on the problems inherent in the government trying to be fair, impartial, and governing in the people's interests. I don't mean to imply that I think our current government is trying to do any of those thing, as they are clearly not interested in any of them, but rather the difficulty in doing so for a government which was interested in doing so.

You see, I think the founding fathers of this country were pretty smart, in a lot of fortuitous ways. For example, they forbade intermingling of government and religion; and although that has not always been followed in literal terms ("under God", Christian remnants in the government, preferred tax statuses, etc.) or in conceptual terms (pseudo-religions like Global Warming, etc.), it has generally been very good for the development of the country. One could make a strong argument that we don't have a repressive theocracy (like Iran) primarily because of this one provision, and I think most people in the US would consider that a good thing.

Another thing the founders and early governors were pretty smart about was establishing the sanctity of private contracts, and establishing that it was the government's job to provide basic protections and a level playing field, and otherwise explicitly not to interfere in private business as much as possible. This turns out to be a very good policy for prosperity and freedom, as 200+ years have demonstrated. Moreover, if the government was interested in doing its Constitutional job, it is much easier if they are not entangled in private businesses, as the article points out.

Apparently, the primary problem with bailing out CIT is the perceived conflict between the government's desire to "stabilize" the economy (read: pretend like everything's okay by shoveling newly-printed money at the problem), and not appear to be rewarding the "fat cats" who "caused" the problem (which is all a problem of appearance, since in reality the government primarily caused the problem, and the "fat cats" just capitalized on the situation). Of course, this is just one of the many people who will soon be clamoring for bailouts; I suspect California will get a bailout before it makes any meaningful progress resolving its budget problems, more large financial companies have systemic problems, the Fed continues its efforts to pay off gambling debts with taxpayer money, etc. But as atrocious as these problems are, bailouts are only part of the problem.

When the government is so pervasively corrupt, it becomes nigh-impossible to do anything in an unbiased manner, and/or to convince the people you're trying to operate in such a manner. Financial bailouts? Rewarding the "fat cat insiders", or an attempt to seize government control of the entire financial sector, take your pick. Universal health care? It's a spending contest between the medical insurance industry and the government bureaucracy proponents, or the largest expansion of government spending and control in US history. Energy bill? A spending contest between the environmental and clean energy lobbies (who stand to profit big) and the oil, coal, transportation, and producing businesses. Is the government entirely for sale, or are there any politicians left with any shred of integrity who are working for the peoples' interests? How could you tell?

Maybe some of these things are not malevolent in purpose, but the point is that once the government has started down the path of bailouts, interference, market manipulation, and overt control, not only is it hard to reverse the damage, but it's equally or more difficult to regain the public's trust that the government is operating in their interest, and not just beholden to all the special-interests they have gladly and openly served in the past. Is there anyone at all in the country who believes that the government is operating primarily in their interest in any/all the above matters, and not just for sale to the highest bidders? If so, I have some houses in California to sell you at 2006 prices; it has become preposterous to think that the government operates with integrity, and that permeates everything that they do. The current government has almost stopped even pretending they are operating in the people's interest; the last bastion of make-believe adherence to the principles of the country, teetering on the edge.

How much damage will the Obamanation do, and how much of America as we remember it will be left when he's done? Only time will tell... but if it were a private enterprise, it would be in line for a corrupt bailout right now like everyone else, like a great big blood-stained warning against moral hazard, government collusion, and the siren call of government "assistance".

Friday, July 10, 2009

If there was going to be a public health care plan...

I realize a public health care plan is a bad idea, but it did get me thinking: if I were making the bill, and everyone else strongly wanted a public plan, is there a form of the plan which I would be agreeable to? I thought about it, and I think a public plan would be eminently workable, provided it has some simple immutable provisions. Now, I don't think the Democrats are going to put anything like this into their disaster of a plan, much less be capable of adhering to all the requirements, but I would venture to say that if they truly wanted bipartisan support, this would be one way to get it; I strongly suspect most Republicans would back a public plan with my simple provisions.

Without further ado, the provisions:

- All public employees will be covered by the same public plan with the same benefits, from every level of government from janitors to the President. This will ensure that the plan is good, provides reasonable coverage, and Congress has a strong incentive to get it right. It also provides an immediate large base of participants from which to negotiate with health care providers, which should allow savings from scale.

- There must be no coercion, direct (laws forcing, pressure) or indirect (tax breaks, incentives, etc.), to force health care providers to accept the public plan: the government must negotiate fairly and openly like every other insurance provider. There should be an independent commission to investigate claims of coercion, and it should be a federal crime with stiff penalties. This means if the government want more providers and/or services available, it will need to pay for them at market rates.

- The cost of the plan should be entirely paid by the plan participants, and nobody else. That means no tax hikes, no changes for everyone else, no raises for public employees to compensate, no new fees, no nothing. If the pundits are correct and the government can save money by economy of scale and increased efficiency, then the savings should be more than enough to cover the additional people (not government employees) who are allowed to be on the plan. If not, then the plan participants will feel the pain only, and not everyone else. This will also provide incentive to limit the availability to only those people who are worthwhile for the government to insure for free, and incentive to set the cost of participation for people choosing the plan to be as near the actual cost as possible.

That's it; simple provisions, logical, fair, and would make the plan acceptable to me, and I suspect would be enough to gather bipartisan support. Readers, thoughts?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hypocracy and dark humor from the Senate

I was reading this article about Franken being sworn in, and how the Democrats in the Senate still wanted some Republican support for their agenda bills (despite the calls from left-wing organizations like to ram through their partisan agenda items). I was struck with the somewhat humorous hypocrisy and blatant stupidity of some of statements; let's see if you agree:
Senate Republicans must understand that Senator-elect Franken's election does not abdicate them from the responsibility of governing. That is why we have and will continue to offer Senate Republicans a seat at the table. It is up to them to decide whether they will sit down and work for the common good or continue to be the 'Party of No.'

- Majority Leader Harry M. Reid

Hm... last I checked the Republicans were more than willing to sit at any table you happened to invite them to; moreover, they have been the ones proposing alternative (and often more feasible) solutions to the nation's problems. As I see it, you (the Democrats) have constantly rejected all of their bills, suggestions, revisions, amendments, and other input. Wouldn't that make you the 'Party of No', if not the "Party of WTF is that BS You're Spewing'?

Wait, there's more:
"Our strong preference is to pass a bipartisan bill," Reid said after the meeting.

Hey genius, if you really actually have a strong preference to pass a bill that is bipartisan, how about including some of the provisions and suggestions the Republicans put forward? Or did you mean to say you have a strong preference to have Republicans vote for your extremely partisan bill (which would more match your actions)? Did you just misspeak, or are you a scum-sucking bald-faced liar?

One more...
In a closed-door meeting immediately after Franken's swearing-in, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) asked his caucus to always join ranks in supporting cloture votes. Those procedural votes require 60 senators to agree to halt debate, a step that would derail any potential filibuster.

So, if I understand this correctly, you say you want to work with the Republicans, while at the exact same time you are lobbying your own party to not work with the Republicans, and rather convince the few remaining decent members of your own party to abandon their principles, shut off bipartisan negotiation, and help you ram your own partisan agenda up America's metaphorical ass.

It's kinda like watching Mystery Science Senate 3000, where you just ridicule the actors for their absurd situations and equally absurd dialog. It would be kinda funny, if they weren't contemplating the destruction of the US as we know it. A lot of nerve, those a-holes.

This recession compared to 1930's

This is a great passage, which is really interesting in contrast with the government's current approach to virtually the exact same problem:
Hoover again rose to the occasion, trying to arrive at some solution. Lending more money would not solve the problem. The vast, intricate entanglement of the foreign debt situation was a time bomb waiting to explode at any moment. Hoover’s proposal was to call a complete "standstill" among all banks everywhere, preventing anyone from calling upon German or Central European short-term obligations.

France still pressured for a $500 million loan to Germany. Hoover refused to go along with it. Mellon warned Hoover that if the U.S. did not go along with the plan the French intended to place all the blame on the United States, and he warned that he was playing into the hands of the French. Mellon strongly urged Hoover to accept the French proposal. Hoover lost his patience, as he put it, and informed Mellon that his "standstill" plan was being released to the press at that very moment. When the news came out, the London Conference was forced to accept Hoover’s proposal because the truth was at last coming out.

A group of New York bankers complained to the White House and warned that they would not comply with the standstill. They demanded that Hoover loan money to Germany so it could pay its debts which the bankers held. As Hoover wrote: "My nerves were perhaps overstrained when I replied that, if they (bankers) did not accept within twenty-four hours (his standstill proposal), I would expose their banking conduct to the American people." Needless to say, the bankers realized Hoover’s determination and his opinion that the taxpayer should not pay for the banker’s problems, which had been created by their eager solicitation of private citizens for foreign securities, and the bankers reluctantly backed off. Indeed, the actions of the banks and the Federal Reserve had bordered on the verge of treason as they acted as willing participants in what proved to be a game of musical chairs with the unsound foreign governmental debt instruments.

-- 1931, "The Greatest Bull Market In History", Martin Armstrong

Basically, the banks wanted the government to give money to Germany, so that it could pay off debts to the banks, and the Fed was complicit with the demand, if not leading the charge. Hoover refused, knowing this was essentially rewarding the bankers for their huge Ponzi scheme with an enormous taxpayer bailout. Instead, the government decided to instigate a delay in the inevitable unwinding of leveraged investments, helping create the Depression.

Fast forward almost 80 years, and we find virtually the same situation; replace Germany with AIG and adjust the monetary numbers up to account for the currency devaluation since we abandoned the gold standard, if that helps clarify the analogy. Except in the current situation, the government decided to give the taxpayer money to the bankers, with the cooperation of (and on the strikingly similar advice of) the Federal Reserve. On the other hand, though, they took Hoover's approach to the huge house of cards in the mortgage and real estate backed securities market: essentially hampering the market's ability to correct itself, and prolonging the unwinding period. So in essence, we're once again creating a prolonged drawn-out recession, except in this case, the government didn't have the integrity to not bow to the bailout demands of the banking industry which created the economic disaster, and is instead capitalizing on the collapse to effectively nationalize several huge US industries, including banking, automobiles, health care, and energy.

Never let a good crisis go to waste, indeed; quite an interesting parallel, both in what we duplicated, and where Obama diverged from Hoover's response.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fear and loathing in the US

A bit of irony, if you will, in this particular post. Recall, not too long ago, one of the primary arguments the Democrats used during the 2008 presidential campaign to rail against the policies of the Bush administration was that fear, rather than prudent considered decisions, was used to justify and push many initiatives which were harmful to the country. Ultimately unfounded fear, it was said, was what justified the invasion of Iraq, and the toppling of the brutal and oppressive regime there. Fear, after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, was used to push through the "Patriot" Act, one of the worst abuses of civil rights ever propagated on the American people. Fear was the justification for illegal wiretaps, shadow courts, capturing and holding prisoners secretly and indefinitely, torture, and many other degradations of the nation and its principles, debatable and sacred alike.

... and the criticisms were justified. There were, indeed, many abuses of civil liberties under Bush, many things enacted which were not properly or adequately scrutinized, and several attempts to advance agendas using fear as the justification. Although I didn't personally favor Obama, I did think this particular criticism was valid: there had been many abuses under Bush, and the promise of a government which did not use fear to push agendas, and allowed everything to be openly debated and judged in the absence of deceitful fear-mongering was appealing.

How ironic, then, to look at the first few months alone of Obama's term. Let's look at the Obamanation's major initiatives, in this light:

- The "Stimulus" Plan, a $800 Billion "fix" for the collapsing economy. If we didn't pass it, unemployment might soar to 10%; if we pass it we can keep the rate under 8%. It will save millions of jobs, but it must be enacted immediately, without time for debate or scrutiny. Most members of Congress didn't even have time to read the bill before passing it. The bill spends more money on pork agenda spending than the entire cost of the Iraq war at the time it was passed.

- The Global Warming (tax and cap, jobs to China, pork and crap, whatever you want to call it) bill, the payoff for campaign promises to the environmental lobby. This is so important to pass now, without debate or scientific input, that we don't have time to listen to anyone who has differing opinions. In fact, its such a pressing problem that we need to suppress the already-prepared report from the EPA questioning the scientific basis for the whole religion. It's so important, it got 300 pages of extra pork tacked on literally less than 24 hours before it was passed by the House, such that nobody had actually read the legislation. If we don't pass this right now, the environment will suffer irreparable harm; never-mind that China is now the largest polluting country in the world, Global Warming, fear it!

- Health care reform, the latest attempt to socialize medicine in America. We must pass this plan this year, apparently, or spiraling health care costs will bankrupt the country (never-mind the exploding deficit spending by the Obamanation, that's a different category of wasteful monetary hemorrhage)! If it doesn't happen this year, we won't be able to get it done; so it must happen, we must push it through, or it's over the edge into the undefined abyss of unregulated Capitalism!

- Financial regulation; we must not let another asset bubble decimate our economy again. The Fed did such a good job inflating the current bubble, it's only fitting that Obama propose they get additional powers to help stop the next one. Not too many, though, as we wouldn't want them to get too powerful: I guess the rest of the new broad regulatory and oversight powers need to be vested in the Treasury Department, under the authority of the President. Why would the American people consent to such a sweeping and general vesting of power in the executive branch? Well, if they are afraid enough of another economic catastrophe, they might tacitly consent to anything...

I'm reminded of a line, which is something like "... so this is how Democracy dies, to thunderous applause." Lack of fear, transparency, openness of government, preserving individual rights, helping the economy, controlled spending, smaller deficits, not trying to take over industries, expand power, and rule the people: all good promises, good ideals, and all stinking globs of irony in the cesspool of lies which characterizes the first few months of the Obamanation... and we have many more months to go. How many more of our freedoms and how much more of our prosperity will be shoveled into the pool, devoured by the black abyss of despicable corruption and malfeasance, before the final decision in the epic battle of the Obamanation against the principles and ideals of the United States of America? And will we the people, in this latest challenge, turn back from the abyss, or welcome it was thunderous applause?

Great tech tip for text message spam

Something I researched recently because it's been aggravating me... a non-political aside to my recently-typical political ranting...

In the cell phone industry, you can (and will) be charged money for incoming text messages that you have no control over. This is particularly aggravating if you don't have a messaging plan, and someone is spamming you with text messages. Apparently there has been some recent movement on the part of cell phone companies to allow users to opt-out of being charged for spam text messages, but it's certainly not easy. You would think there would be some oversight group, amidst the plethora of government oversight groups, that would smack this abusive practice down like the should-be illegal underhanded scam it is, but I guess they are too busy ignoring or contributing to all the other systemic problems... but I digress...

I found a forum post describing how one can modify/delete the service center number in one's cell phone to "work around" the fact that the cell phone companies claim it's impossible to remove the "feature" whereby they charge you for letting other people spam you. There's no specific instructions (each phone UI is different), but I found it on my phone, so we'll see how it works. I'm guessing they will still charge me for the spam, but at least hopefully my phone will not be downloading it and annoying me, and maybe eventually I'll have a chance to join in the inevitable class action lawsuit which I cam only hope will bankrupt these scum companies for this despicable practice.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

California kicks the can, again

So today was just another day in the lovely state of California. The legislature failed to pass a balanced budget as required by the state Constitution (as expected), the state is now roughly $26,000,000,000 in debt, and apparently we're going to be issuing IOU's to contractors, vendors, a few classes of welfare recipients, and residents for tax refunds. These will pay interest, will be due October 1, and will likely be accepted by some banks and credit unions for deposit, making the impact nearly negligible for the effected recipients. In essence, we're kicking the can down the road, again.

Now, I've probably written enough already about how screwed up California is, how corrupt and utterly despicable the Democrats in the legislature are, how a state with more incoming revenue than many large countries can't pull it's legislative head out of its ass long enough to just spend less than, say, $100 Billion dollars a year. I've been amused at the running contest between California and New York as to who can have the most unhelpful, juvenile, and thoroughly repugnant legislature. This time, though, I just want to point out some darkly humorous irony.

The big pitch from the Republicans in California's government, and the Governator in particular, has been for the state to solve the budget problem and balance the budget, and not just kick the can down the road again. Yet, by allowing the Controller to issue IOU's, that's exactly what the state is doing: kicking the can, again. If you really want progress on the budget, stop paying people. No payments for anyone while the state has no budget, and no accounting for the payments on a deferred basis: no payments means no payments for that time, ever. Force the legislature and the bare minimum of infrastructure people to work during that time in order to work on the budget; everyone else can work optionally, but you won't get paid for your work, now or after the state has a budget. Note: security for the legislators is not included in the bare minimum of infrastructure.

I would be willing to bet you'd have a budget within a month, if not sooner. Right now California doesn't have a budget because the legislature can still kick the can, and that has got to stop for the state the make progress.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Sad Way Our Country Works

Today, the US House of Representatives passed the "American Clean Energy and Security Act", by a vote of 219-212. This historic legislation not only represents a sweeping change which will mean lots of things to lots of people, and will no doubt be fiercely debated in the Senate (and where I, as someone who is rooting for America to return to prosperity in spite of the Democrats, hope it is killed), but it also is a great example of exactly how politics in this country works today, and pretty much everything which is horribly corrupt and broken with the current system and most of its participants. As such, I figured it would make a good specific case study to examine, in hopes that future governmental systems can be crafted to avoid every single thing involved in coming to this point with this bill.

First, let's look at the official name: broad, sweeping, and sounds nice, like something everyone would be in favor of; after all, who doesn't like clean energy and security. The only problem is, it's completely misleading, to the point of being intentionally deceptive. The bill is a simple new tax on energy use, with about 1000 pages of extra crap piled onto it. At the very least, it should be the "Energy Tax and Other Crap" bill, if nothing something more descriptive like "Cap and Tax and Pork", or "All Hail Global Warming and Zenu", or maybe something topical like "Swine Flu Energy Tax"; anything would be better than this deceptive garbage.

Second, let's look at the background. The bill is nominally intended to help prevent Global Warming, a religious movement of the past decade or so lead by environmentalists and Democrats, and opposed (or at least debated) by scientists, rational thinkers, and humans with functional brain stems. It's not the first time public policy has been dictated by religion and/or politics, and it won't be the last, but every single time is regrettable and unconstitutional, and this is absolutely no different.

Third, let's talk about the false pretenses for a little bit. Obama and the Democrats tout the bill as creating jobs, when the exact opposite is likely to be the case, which they know, and their advisers know, and pretty much everybody knows, but the supporters of the bill are willing to trade as an acceptable sacrifice for advancing their agenda and getting a system of arbitrary government controls and a system where financial success is determined by government mandate rather than capitalist competition in place. Again, this sort of obviously deceptive, "open lie" that everyone repeats is exemplary of the standard political procedures in effect today.

Forth, lets look at the actual legislation itself. It began as an agenda item, fulfilling promises given during various campaigns to effectively give handouts to particular special interest groups. As it made its way through various committees, it gained pages, as people tacked on their own special interest pork and unrelated changes to unrelated laws. The night before it was to be voted on, the author added 300 pages of unrelated law changes with nobody else in the House even read before they voted on it. It was so laughably ridiculous that when the leading Republican decided to read portions of the bill to the rest of the House, everybody had a good laugh about how incomprehensible it was, and how nobody knew what it said or meant, how ambiguous the sections he did read were, and how absurd it was to be voting on new US laws without even reading them! It could be the script for a juvenile comedy about a ridiculous made-up laughing-stock government, except it really just happened! Moreover, it's not even strange enough to warrant more than a passing notice; these days it's apparently business as usual in the juvenile laughing stock we call the US House of Representatives.

I could go on to talk about the language and the bill itself, although apparently it's not yet actually available for anyone to read, anywhere, despite the fact that it's already been passed. I could discuss the partisan nature, and how the vote was roughly along party lines, and what that implies for the much-touted and yet to be observed "new spirit of cooperation" the Obamanation was supposed to usher in. I could talk about how our so-called "representatives" are supposed to be representing the interests of the people, and not special interests. However, all of those are pretty well-known already, and it just emphasizes the point.

This bill represents everything which is wrong with American politics, in summary form. May it serve as an example to other or future governments of how horribly wrong your governmental actions can become if the system is even slightly flawed or the people do not actively check their "leaders".

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The economic consequences of subsidization

So I thought this would be a topical post, with the $1,000,000,000 "cash for clunkers" subsidization government waste provision being added to the bill funding our troops overseas (the topic of "riders" on bills will have to wait for another day, although it's probably the single most destructive problem in our government system at the moment). Instead of just saying why this bill is dumb, though (in a departure from my usual rhetoric style), I'd like to examine the effects of government subsidization programs in general, and see if the reader can surmise what I think of this latest effort.

First, let's clarify what I mean by a subsidization. In general, this is whenever the government spends money, directly or indirectly, to help offset the cost of something. Usually the government does this for policy purposes (overt or otherwise), and there are a variety of mechanisms typically used. Some examples are direct payments, tax rebates, subsidized loans, etc. So the "cash for clunkers" program will be a direct payout, whereas the housing tax credit is a tax rebate, the tax-free cap gains for sales of primary residences is a tax credit, the GSE loan rates currently are loan subsidizations, and the Fed's artificially low interest rates and lax oversight subsidized lending during the housing bubble, etc.

What's the effect of subsidization? Well, in the short term, it encourages people to do those activities, because they are effectively cheaper. However, unless the subsidizations affect only a small subset of the "buyers", the "sellers" will quickly figure out that the buyers can pay more, and normalize their prices accordingly. The amount which the sellers will raise their prices to compensate will be roughly proportional to the percentage of buyers who can qualify for the subsidy; if the percentage is small, prices won't be affected much, and if the percentage is large, prices will rise nearly equal to the subsidy.

Fortunately for the sellers, normally subsidies are available broadly, so as the appear to be fair. Moreover, in many cases the subsidy is so large as to render purchases without using the subsidy to be infeasible (see, for example, the number of people borrowing money currently for jumbo mortgages vs the number borrowing for GSE-qualified subsidized mortgages: approximately none to all). This allows the sellers to usually raise their prices to compensate entirely for the subsidy without affecting sales, or where the loss in sales (from the non-subsidized customers who can no longer afford to buy) is made up for by the increased revenue from the subsidy. Note also that in these cases, the cost to the buyers who can still buy (those who qualify for the subsidy) remains constant; the buyers are not aided by the subsidy, they are only not excluded from buying as the non-subsidized would-be buyers.

So, let's look at the end-effects in the "typical" case. The seller net profit is increased, and they are effectively being given free money from the taxpayers. At the same time, the sellers have raised prices such that people need to qualify for government handouts to purchase the items or services which they would have been able to purchase normally without the subsidy in place. The people who cannot qualify for the subsidy are excluded from purchasing, or need to spend extra money to get the same items or services.

Sound insane? Well, yeah, pretty much. Lest you think these are purely hypothetical examples, let's look at some recent actual costs which have been directly increased by the effect of subsidies: housing (loan rates and tax credits), higher education (loan rates and tax credits), and health care (tax credits and direct subsidies). Anybody think any of these are excessively cheap now? Anybody think they are more affordable now than before they were subsidized? Anybody confused about what the obvious, predictable, and inevitable effects of subsidization are?

At least with the "cash for car dealers" handout program, they're not spending the extra effort pretending that the subsidy is anything other than a handout: apparently, the "vouchers" will be issued electronically directly to the dealers. Makes me glad we are a rich country, with an extra billion dollars lying around to give to car dealers; after all, everybody thinks car dealers and dealerships are stand-up, honest, helpful institutions which deserve a "thank you" from the taxpayers for all the nice things they have done for us... right?