Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Grand Theft Representation?

So the 2010 Census data was just released. Predictably, the states with lower tax rates saw an influx of people, and the states with higher tax rates saw an outflux. However, there was another phenomenon which was also evident: states with high rates of resident illegal aliens also saw an increase in numbers, which is to be expected (since the census specifically does not ask or care if people are in the country legally, or are actively breaking the law). For federal money to states for infrastructure, this can make sense: the state has extra burdens from extra people, and doesn't deserve to shoulder the extra burden from the federal government's incompetence in securing the borders and enforcing the law.

However, the census also determines representation in the federal government, and this is where the otherwise academically interesting situation graduates into a big problem. In essence, by giving representation based on ongoing criminal activity, we're not only rewarding the criminals with federal funds, but we're encouraging more people to break the law. Even worse, though, we're literally ceding control of the country (in some part) to the criminals, and the states which foster them. How in the world does that make sense?

Lest you think this is a minor problem, think again. For example, according to the census, California has around 37 million people. Now, it's impossible to accurately measure the number of illegal aliens in California, but recent studies have put the number between 5 and 16 million. If you take the average there, that means over 25% of California's population is in the country illegally, breaking the law, and giving California about 13 additional people in Congress! That means criminals in California are being given more representation in House of Representatives than most smaller states, and more electoral college votes for the office of the Presidency! The whole idea is patently absurd, and an affront to the whole idea of representation of the people of the country.

How can we, the [legal residents of the United States] people, expect to stem the tide of criminal activity when we not only reward it, but we give it a voice in determining the future of the country? It's ridiculous, absurd, infuriating, incomprehensible, and probably the most asinine thing our country is currently doing. If we can't fix brain-dead obvious problems like this, what hope do we have a tackling the larger issues?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thoughts on the DREAM Act Bill

The DREAM Act, for those who don't follow politics, is a bill backed primarily by Democrats which would establish a path for illegal immigrants to obtain permanent legal residency through education or military service. It has been opposed by critics as a sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants (which it kinda is), and because it rewards criminal behavior (which it kinda does). It has been proposed and revised several times over the last decade, and is still not popular enough to be passed.

At this point, I'm going to state something which may surprise regular readers: I kinda like this bill, and with a few caveats, I think it would be a good idea.

Before I explain, let's get into a little philosophy on immigration in general. It's in the best interests of countries to encourage and facilitate immigration of skilled workers and other productive members of society, provided that the industrial system in the country can support additional productive work and people. Historically, the US has had no problem with this: the capitalist economic system allows lots of opportunity for job creation, innovation, and prosperity from the ability and willingness to work for it. As long as you're importing quality people, with the skills and desire to work for a living, and the willingness to integrate into your society, they will likely be a net benefit to the society.

This brings us to a question of what would be ideal for the US. First and probably most importantly, would-be immigrants should want to be fully-integrated members of the country; that is, learn the language and customs, follow the rules, like the country, etc. Second, they should be educated and/or skilled enough to be productive members of the society, and not a burden on such. Third, you need to make it clear, both in word and deed, that one person fulfilling the criteria is not a gateway to any others, so that you don't get net negative immigration. Those things being established, let's compare the DREAM Act to them, and see how it stacks up.

The act provides a path to residency for people who are young, complete a college degree or military service, and are of good moral character. That actually seems fairly close to the ideal: military service could do a lot for integration into the language and culture, and a college degree could do a lot for granting the skills necessary to be productive. The youth requirement helps ensure that people granted residency under the act have time to contribute to the society, and there are some restrictions on people who have broken the laws. So, generally speaking, the act does a fairly good job of encapsulating a good immigration policy.

As for caveats, I have a few things that I would like to see also in the bill. Obviously, I'm not in Congress, so these are unlikely to be added, and they are not major, but I'll call them a wish list of small improvements which would make me less hesitant in my support:
- I'd like to see the college degree be in a field which was recognized to lead to a job in something which is in-demand. I realize this would be somewhat hard to quantify in the legislation, but there are a lot of college degrees which do not lead to productive jobs, and giving residency to someone with a degree in "want fries with that?" doesn't seem optimal.
- I'd like to see a restriction on public funds being used to subsidize the education, and a restriction that the school must not have admitted or retained the student due to any discriminatory program (such as affirmative action). If we're going to give residency for people who were skilled enough to get a degree, let's not include people who were not skilled enough to get into college without using the color of their skin (explicitly or implicitly). You could exclude any schools from the program which have discriminatory admissions programs; that would be ideal.
- I'd like to see the program suspended if unemployment in the country is above a threshold. There's no reason to import people to take jobs away from existing legal residents when the economy is suffering, and this might help encourage other programs to keep the economy strong.
- I'd like to see a requirement that the program applicant also obtain a private-sector job (or multiple) for at least one year after completing the education or military service portion. This would prove that the person could be a productive member of society, and act as an additional check that the other provisions were working as designed.

Would the bill be better with these provisions? I think so. However, I don't think the bill as written is that bad, and even without these provisions it is probably positive on the whole. As much as a don't like rewarding criminal behavior, it behooves the US to have a rational path for immigration for those people who would benefit the society, and this bill seems a heck of a lot better than most amnesty proposals. That's my opinion, anyway.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Liberal "Journalism"

Study Confirms That Fox News Makes You Stupid

This article was recently published on AlterNet, although it's not the first time this liberal-media bash of Fox News study has been quoted in the liberal media. So why am I linking it? Well, in some cases, the sheer magnitude of the audacity of something being distorted to support an agenda rises to the level of selective ridicule, and I feel that this is one such piece. So, for amusement, here are the items which were asserted to be "facts", and the number of Fox News readers who disagreed with the liberal talking points "facts":
•91 percent believe the stimulus legislation lost jobs
•72 percent believe the health reform law will increase the deficit
•72 percent believe the economy is getting worse
•60 percent believe climate change is not occurring
•49 percent believe income taxes have gone up
•63 percent believe the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts
•56 percent believe Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout
•38 percent believe that most Republicans opposed TARP
•63 percent believe Obama was not born in the U.S. (or that it is unclear)

Well, just for fun, let's see how many of these statements I would disagree with. Now, I'm not a Fox News viewer, but I consider myself a fairly well-informed, rational person (I'm sure some would argue, but whatever). So, in order:
the health reform law will increase the deficit

Well, if you don't think this is true, you're either ill informed, willing to take obvious lies on face value, or deluding yourself. Seriously, I'd question your ability to think if you thought this was factual; there's really no other way to say it.
the economy is getting worse

This is more of a grey-area. The economy is not yet getting better, and you could certainly argue that Obama's policies are contributing to additional long-term damage to the economy, but short-term the situation is more unclear. Based on continuing increases in unemployment only, though (which seems like a fairly objective measurement), and/or private industry health, this statement would also be accurate.
climate change is not occurring

The factual basis for this would depend largely on how the question was worded, unfortunately. It's fairly clear that some climate change is occurring, however anything beyond that (ie: natural or man-made, cyclic or not, hotter or colder, causes, etc.) is scientific hypothesis and speculation at this point. I'd say this is actually a fact, but probably not as presented or implied.
income taxes have gone up

For the majority of people, income taxes have not changed, so this one is hard to justify. You could argue that implied future taxation has increased due to massive deficit spending, but that's a stretch. Unless people are thinking of state taxation, or non-income taxation, or regulation, or implied taxation, or derivative costs... this is a misconception.
the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts

This is true, as far as I know. The legislation provided a lot of handouts, some rebates, and some selective credits, but no tax cuts, or anything to make taxation lower or more fair in the medium or long term.
Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout

Obama may not have publicly initiated the "bailout" (really, wealth confiscation and redistribution), but if you don't think he was intimately involved, I might have some beach-front property available in Arizona which I would sell you for a very reasonable price...
most Republicans opposed TARP

This is another easy point of confusion. Most Republicans opposed TARP as it was used by the Obama administration, which was totally different than how it was pitched when they voted on it. I'm guessing that distinction wasn't emphasized in the survey, so you can forgive a certain amount of ambiguity in the answers.
Obama was not born in the U.S. (or that it is unclear)

Well, to be fair, due to the strenuous efforts of the Obama administration, and complacency by the local [politically-aligned] government, belief in this is a matter of faith, rather than verifiable public record. A conspiracy-minded individual could be forgiven for wondering why such a large amount of effort was put into keeping the documentation secret, of course, or why the highest public servant in the country doesn't have to prove eligibility for the office. I'd say "unclear" is a fair assessment, given the efforts at concealment and faith-based verification.

Hm, so let's see... looking over the list, I'd have to say that the Fox News viewers are remarkably well-informed, given that they represent such a large subset of the news-viewing population of the country. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that accepting the conclusions of this study on face value might not only imply something about one's own political views, but in the spirit of the study itself, might go a long way to prove that you are indeed the stupid one. Maybe there's some deeper double-meaning sociological implication going on here... or maybe this is just another example of retarded liberal "journalism", I leave it to the [more informed] reader to decide.

Edit: Addendum, more on the health care bill, since there's some obvious intentional confusion about how much it will increase the deficit (if at all). The bill itself is expected to cost around $1,100,000,000,000 (at least) over the next decade (that's over a trillion dollars). However, proponents contend that two factors reduce the overall cost:
- Congress has yet to fund most of the provisions, so their costs will be variable based on future legislation
- Savings from reductions in Medicare payments are expected to compensate for the costs
On the other side of the argument:
- Many of the provisions call for funding which is unspecified, all of which would increase the cost if not repealed before funded

As for the Medicare payments, it's true that the government could make the program cost-neutral by cutting Medicare payments enough to compensate. However, before you blindly accept that rosy picture, you should check and see how they are doing at reducing payments to doctors, which are already so much lower than private insurance payments that the supply of doctors for Medicare patients is dwindling rapidly. As the saying goes, there's no free lunch, and effectively adding millions of high-risk patients to Medicare isn't magically going to reduce the cost to the government. Just sayin.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Which Bills are Bad?

There's an old joke about politicians:
How can you tell if a politician is lying?
He/she is speaking.

Now, obviously that is a tad bit of hyperbole, but it's amusing because of the hint of truth in it. People have come to accept that their "representatives" are lying virtually all the time, and clearly more often than they are telling the truth. To that end, I'd like to propose an additional variation of the above observation, with respect to Congressional legislation:
How can you tell if a bill is bad for the country?
Congress is voting on it.

Consider, for example, the latest gigantic pork bill proposed by the Democrats, as an effective rider to the continuing resolution to keep the government operating beyond Dec 18. Now, in a sane world there would be some rule, or procedure, or perhaps even modicum of decency to separate gigantic pork bills from the simple "keep the government operating" resolution, so that conscientious legislators wouldn't be forced to hand out billions of dollars to special-interest pork projects just to not shutdown the government; however, these are the Democrats we're talking about, and they're a special kind of reprehensible.

Really, I wish we had enough decent representatives to vote down this monstrosity, and call out the Democrats for shutting down the government. It seems like we've had nothing but years of capitulation to "just a little more bad" legislative bills and practices, and we've reached the point where you look at the process with fresh eyes, and think, "how did we get to this horrifically bad state?" How did we arrive at the point where handing out billions in public money to special interest pork payouts allocated behind closed doors by mafia-style corrupt thugs was a foregone prerequisite of just maintaining a functional government?

Our government needs a massive enema.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Credit Where Due

I know a number of other "Tea Party" blogs (including likely some readers of this one) are posting articles critical of Obama's latest effort to pump more printed money into the US economy. While I think there's certainly a legitimate point of contention with the idea that the only feasible action for the government (seemingly in every circumstance, but especially when the economy isn't doing well) is to print more money, and Obama certainly did his best to vilify Republicans while accepting the compromise deal, I have to give him a certain amount of credit: the deal is not nearly as bad as it could have been, and he (unlike his Democrat counterparts in Congress) at least seems willing to make some concessions in the name of helping people.

Consider the proposed compromise plan. It:
- Does not increase the progressive tax gap (ie: it doesn't make income taxation more unfair)
- Gives money primarily to those who are working, creating/maintaining jobs, or trying to work (excepting the unemployment extensions)
- Doesn't give money to banks as a big "thank you" for helping wreck the economy (like TARP and QE1 did, and the Fed continues to)
- Doesn't just monetize government debt, creating latent inflation to subsidize more wasteful government spending (like QE2 does)
- Doesn't hand out money selectively to special interests, supporters, special friends, and government insiders, and represent the most brazen corrupt theft from taxpayers in the history of the country (like the first "stimulus" was)

Could the bill have been better? Sure, but this is probably as good as could be expected. Will it pass? That's more questionable; it has to get some Democrat votes, and the Democrats in Congress are nothing if not contemptible partisan scum, who would rather not steal money than sign off on something backed by Republicans (and trust me, they detest not stealing your money). Is it good for the country on the whole? That's also a tough call; while the tax rate extension will help a lot of people, it sets up another painful fight in two years, doesn't do much to encourage job growth, doesn't do anything to fix the systemic problems with private industry in the US, and prints a bunch more money. However, as noted, it's the least bad of the money-printing schemes so far, so that's saying something (in today's US politics, "least bad" and "not as horrible as it initially appeared" seem to be all we the people can hope for).

So, I give Obama some credit: unlike his Democrat counterparts in Congress, with this compromise he seems to be trying to do something less bad, and the resulting bill is less horrible than anything else that previously came from his administration. Perhaps now, when you're on the people's side (at least for a short time, and in a very limited context), you too can see how monumentally contemptible the Democrats in Congress are, and feel some of our pain.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WiliLeaks followup: Sarah Palin

So Sarah Palin chimed in on Facebook regarding the WikiLeaks controversy. In short, she asserts that Julian Assange (the director of the organization) should be hunted like an al Qaeda leader, and that the US should use all available resources (military, diplomatic, cyber-warfare, etc.) to silence the site. To say that I disagree with the stance would be an understatement; in fact, it's thinking like this which would lead be to believe that Palin would be no better than Obama as a leader, and quite possibly worse.

Consider, for a moment, the implications of such a stance at the national level. Essentially, the government would be saying that anyone who publishes any information which they find objectionable should be hunted as an enemy of the state, their information censored, their freedoms taken from them, and possibly also their lives. Clearly all news organizations would fall under this (with the exception of the state controlled news sources), as well as independent publications expressing dissenting views (eg: blogs which criticize the government). You could say goodbye to any remaining freedom of expression you were clinging to, and be forced to accept the totalitarian rule of a government which kept a watchful eye on anything people said or wrote, in case it was considered giving aid to our enemies. In essence, the US would become China with a hearty dose of the SS mixed in.

If this is the US that Palin is striving for, I think I'd prefer another four years of Obama. I'd rather be able to criticize the problems with government than simply live in fear and oppression. Why must politics always be a choice between the horribly bad and the incomprehensibly even worse?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thoughts on WikiLeaks

I have a few scattered thoughts, in no particular order. Unlike several other topics, I don't really have a clear-cut right/wrong opinion on the organization or what they are trying to do, so anecdotal observations will have to suffice.

Observation, the first: if the US is really so concerned about the information being leaked, why don't they use their new-found (or maybe just newly abused) power to take down the entire domain? I mean, if piracy of music is justification for taking down internet sites, than espionage and exposure of classified material would be grounds for nuking WikiLeaks' ISP from orbit, much less obliterating their DNS entries, right? I mean, if you're gonna be wielding the gigantic censorship stick anyway, and clubbing anyone who your donors are upset with, you might as well just fix the problem you spend so much time complaining about too...

Observation, the second: An acquaintance from school, Patri Freidman, re-tweeted a brilliant observation: as the government keeps telling us, if you have nothing to hide, than you have nothing to worry about. I realize this is not necessarily directly applicable to foreign relations (at least as people perceive them), but the sentiment is spot on: it's utter BS when the government uses it as an excuse to violate people's privacy, and it's immensely gratifying to see the government squirm when the situation is reversed. Particularly in light of the recent expansions of the TSA, both in aggressive violation of the 4th Amendment and in desired scope of control, it seems utterly fitting that the government be subject to metaphorically identical examination.

Observation, the third: the founder of WikiLeaks has a very valid point, that the government hides an immense amount of information behind secrecy laws, and not always because the information is actually secret for legitimate national security reasons. There is no other check/balance for this potential for abuse, and as such WikiLeaks (and to a less direct extent, the internet in general) provide a valuable public service. Until or unless we have some other sort of effective check against abuse, WikiLeaks serves a valuable public service (at least as much as, say for example, NPR).

Observation, the forth: WikiLeaks appears to be practicing responsible disclosure, as far as I can tell (within the bounds of what they are choosing to release). They asked the State Department to provide information on sensitive areas or security concerns, and they redacted information which could compromise people. Sure, there still exists the possibility of people getting seriously hurt as a result, and there will be lots of embarrassment, but there's also a chance people could have more open discussions about real threats in the world (such as Iran) as a result of the disclosures, so on balance it might not be negative. In a perfect world it might also lead to more action to stop the real threats too, instead of just debating them in secret, and maybe more privacy for the people as the government gets a taste of what they do to people every day. In the real world, the government has a long and virtually unblemished history of concealing corruption and abuse of freedom behind secrecy, and to the extent that people can peel away the coverings and expose the disgusting mess to the light of day, the better off we the people will probably be.

Those are my random observations, at least for now.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Easier Fix for Unemployment

The Fed has been pretty busy recently, debating inflation targets, QE2, monetary/fiscal policy, etc. I have suggested before that the easiest way, by far, for the Fed to achieve its inflation target is to just back out the hedonic regression, basket adjustment, and other one-sided transparent manipulations by the BLS to artificially lower the CPI. If you just use the "real" numbers (ie: before/without the intentional distortions), you could have inflation at over 4% immediately (since that's where the real value is), and you wouldn't have to worry about trying to raise it by printing money. Of course, that is all sorta academic, since the economists at the Fed are not total morons, and I assume they know the real numbers, and are just using the fake numbers to justify their de-facto fiscal policy of printing money.

However, it does raise an interesting point: if the public is stupid enough to be deceived by the rather blatant BLS distortions to the CPI, wouldn't the same thing work for unemployment? I mean, there certainly is a fair amount of distortion already (for example, consider the "discouraged" workers category, who are defined out of the unemployment statistics; again, see http://shadowstats.com for the real numbers), but really, I think the public is stupid enough that you could do more. For example, consider hedonic regression, the theory that people always buy lower quality, cheaper stuff as time goes on (and thus the CPI can be arbitrarily lowered). With some slight modification, I propose that this manipulation could easily be applied to unemployment as well.

Consider, hypothetically, that you suppose that as jobs become more scarce, more women decide to stay home and raise families. BAM, exclude all women from the unemployment numbers. Maybe as jobs become scarce, people retire earlier. BAM, there go all the people over 60 (or 55, or 50, or whatever number you want to pick really). Maybe young adults decide to get more education: there goes everyone under... 25? 30? The possibilities are virtually endless. Moreover, you can tweak the numbers to achieve whatever unemployment figure you want, just like hedonic regression. It's beautiful, efficient, easy, and there's roughly 30 years of evidence to support the idea that the general population will go along with it.

Really, I don't know why people haven't come up with this already.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

TSA Airport Security: Could We Just Strip?

There's been a bit of controversy lately over the new TSA security devices and procedures being put in place to make commercial air travel more obtrusive and dangerous for people. Specifically, I'm referring to the new full body "naked" scanners, and the associated "enhanced" pat-down procedures for people who refuse the scans, designed primarily to be so obtrusive and embarrassing that people will consider the scanner to be the lesser of two undesirable circumstances. The new system are more obtrusive for obvious reasons, but also more dangerous: after all, exposing frequent travelers to repeated bursts of radiation (which may be significantly higher than advertised, according to some rumors/investigations) can have bad long-term effect on the human body. Of course, if everyone requested the new "make it as cumbersome and humiliating as possible" pat-downs, that would also grind security lines to a halt, so there's no real good alternative.

As a side note, it's also very important to remember amidst all the new scanners and procedures that none of this makes air travel any safer. Real security is about thwarting people who are trying to do bad things; by refusing to focus on trying to find bad people, and instead focusing on treating everyone equally, TSA does nothing to enhance the safety of air travel. In addition, security penetration tests have shown that human error makes it still possible to get "bad" things by security, and any determined and trained military adversary would have little trouble thwarting any security measures TSA could employ. In essence, everything is for show, and to a lesser extent for enhancing government control and intrusiveness.

That said, if we're going to have all these ridiculous "security" measures for air travel, allow me to suggest an additional option for the seasoned traveler who is not particularly self-conscious about nudity. Since people already need to remove their shoes and all jewelery, as well as belts and items from pockets, it would not be too hard to strip entirely naked while in the security line. You could send your cloths through the scanner with your other carry-ons, breeze through the metal detector (probably optional too at that point), and get dressed on the other side. As long as there was enough room before and after the security checkpoint for the people dressing and undressing, it wouldn't even slow the process down. This process would eliminate all radiation, any excuse for fondling or sexual assault, and you could always choose one of the alternatives if you were uncomfortable. As an added bonus, if it became common, this would probably do a lot to loosen people's attitudes toward nudity in general (you may or may not consider this a bonus, and you may need to add extra seating and/or CCTV around security for other people at the airport, to handle the crowds wanting to watch, at least for the first few years).

Anyway, what do you all think? If we're going to have all this intrusive, dangerous, useless security, we should at least allow this as an option, in my opinion...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Medical Insurance Reform Idea

I've blogged about the US medical insurance problem before, but as most pundits could attest to, it's much easier to point out flaws in a system than to propose solutions (and, as an aside, only mildly harder to use the flaws and public frustration with the system to advance an unrelated agenda which does nothing to address them and might even make them worse, as the Obama administration has so aptly and repeatedly demonstrated). Part of the reason you don't see people like me proposing 2000+ page legislative "fix all" monstrosities to "reform" broken systems is that reasonable people realize that you don't reform/fix problems with massive legislative fecal-dumps: at best they fix some problems at the expense of more spending and red-tape; at worst they make most problems worse and add more spending and red-tape. The path to actual good reform is to address the actual real problems, one at a time, in a manner which most people can agree makes the situation better on the whole. To that end, I have a small idea which I would love to see in a future legislative reform package (hopefully limited to just this idea).

Currently, when you have medical insurance, there are two contracts in place. One is between the insurer and the provider, which stipulates the terms under which they will be paid for procedures on/for people with the insurance, how claims are resolved, what rates will be paid, what procedures will be covered, etc. The second if between the insurer and the patient, covering how much will be paid, what steps must be followed, what doctors can be seen under what conditions, etc. This is problematic in practice, because medical providers often have "trouble" resolving billing with insurance companies, and pass that burden to the patient, often at great expense of time and hassle. In actuality, these problems can happen on both sides, and they can sometimes be semi-intentional: the medical provider has no particular incentive to submit claims correctly (since the patient is ultimately liable for the costs), and the insurer has no incentive to pay claims unless everything is in order to their satisfaction. Often, the patient is stuck in the middle, resolving any problems which may arise in the process.

I would propose that there be a federal law, which establishes that if an insurance company has a contractual relationship with a medical provider, and the provider admits a patient for treatment under an insurance plan provided by that company, that the patient be only legally liable for the payments as dictated by the policy. This is no functional change from the current situation, except that in the case of claim submission problems, the patient would explicitly not be liable: it would be up to the provider to resolve the problem with the insurance company they have contracted with. The law could also allow for insurance plans where the patient paid the co-payments and deductibles directly to the insurance company upon receiving treatment, and thereby avoid all legal liability to the medical provider.

The benefits would be obvious. The providers would be incentivized to streamline the claim submission process and avoid errors. The insurance companies would be incentivized to pay legitimate claims promptly, to keep providers happy and avoid legal action from businesses with the knowledge and experience to pursue such if necessary. Patients would no longer be caught in the middle, being used as leverage to the detriment of the health care experience. Everybody wins.

Now would be where I would typically insert my snarky comment about it being too good of an idea to ever be actually adopted, but I'll leave that out this time. Seriously, though, for my actual readers: am I missing anything, or would this be a good change?

On Printing Money

Note: This subject is interesting to me, so please bear with any rambling.

Over the last couple of years, the government (through various agencies and programs) has been doing something very interesting. First, though, I'll explain some background which will probably be familiar.

When a government runs a deficit, they typically finance it through borrowing, either from foreign or domestic participants, with the promise to repay the borrowing with interest over long periods of time. This, of course, is the source of the declared portion of the national debt, about half of which is owed to foreign entities (mainly countries such as China), and about half owed to domestic entities (in the form of government bond funds and such). This doesn't count the unrealized obligations such as Social Security and Medicare, but these are somewhat more flexible, as they are promises which can be changed, unlike bonds which are promises which carry the "full faith and credit" of the US (and are thus harder, but not impossible, to modify).

Normally, these debts would be paid by future tax revenue of the government (hence the idea of "pushing" the payment obligations onto future generations, which is what the debt does). However, there is a second mechanism by which the government can reduce its effective debt, provided it controls its own currency, and the debt is denominated in its own currency: it can create more currency. Smaller and less stable countries have been doing this literally for centuries, basically since fiat currency was invested, with various degrees of success (they all collapse eventually, but some stay around longer than others).

For many years, the government has been spending more than they take in, but this has really ramped up under the Obama regime: the government has been increasing the national debt by approximately 10% annually for the last two years. However, during this time the Fed has created approximately the same amount of new currency, under various programs (QE1, QE2, banking support, etc.). The debt is still increasing since the US is still borrowing, but the Fed is buying the bonds with new "money" (US currency is actually Federal Reserve notes), so effectively no additional lending from foreign or domestic sources is needed to sustain the borrowing. In essence, the Fed is printing money to cover whatever additional borrowing/debt the government is creating, and there is no effective limit to their ability to do so.

At first glace, the typical economist theory would say that this is going to be massively inflationary, with the amount of currency increasing by 10% annually; however, this is not proving to be the case. Part of this is due to the official inflation statistics: they have been corrupted and manipulated over the years to the point that they can/do understate actual inflation by a virtually arbitrary amount, so the government can keep official inflation as low as desired. Part is also due to fractional reserve lending and the economy: the fact that since borrowing is still low due to weak demand means that the total effective currency is not increasing nearly as quickly as actual currency. However, even without those two factors, it would be difficult to say that the American people would realize the problem or really object to the root effects, outside of some vague notion that this massive borrowing/printing is somehow "bad": the typical people just don't have the knowledge to correlate it with the eventual effects.

Speaking of that, what will the effects be? Well, contrary to the "gut" thoughts, these actions are probably "good" for the economy, at least in the short term, and considered in isolation from the political manipulation and market disruption which results from such. In essence, inflation is just wealth redistribution from the people who have currency; in the US, that's "rich" people (defined here as anyone trying to save money) and entities which have lent us money, both foreign and domestic. It's essentially a way to tax everyone with money, and spend that money as the government sees fit. As such, in a country where the national debt per person often exceeds the average person's net wealth (especially in a down economy), this can be beneficial to a lot of people, and especially those of the receiving end of the wealth redistribution.

This begs the question: if the effect isn't as bad as the theory would hold, and many people would be in favor of it, should the Fed just buy any excess debt as a regular policy? I would contend that perhaps they have been doing so as a "dry run" to testing such a policy, intentional or not, and have a reasonable gauge of public opinion and reaction to such moves. Wealth redistribution, while exceptionally un-American, might be ethically preferable to generational theft, which appears to be the alternative in an era of uncontrolled government spending. Of course, the "correct" answer would be to fix the root problem, but the voting populace has proven incapable of even not electing socialists, much less encouraging spending reform, so I find that exceedingly unlikely.

Of course, the wealth redistribution through money printing only works for a while, after which the currency and economy collapses entirely, but it might work for longer than traditional theory would dictate. As the saying goes, "in the end we're all dead", and a little more turmoil for future generations (in the form of the fall of the country) might be preferable to trying to fix the systemic spending and obligations problems now. At least that appears to be the approach of the current government in the US, and unless you think the voting populace is going to get a lot smarter really soon, I'd suggest people plan accordingly.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

California Bucks the National Trend

The voters of California have successfully defied the national trend toward smaller government and less taxation, voting almost universally in the other direction. If we assume the voters understood what they were voting for (as assumption which is far from certain, but I'll go with it), the majority of voters in California stand against the Tea Party principles, and want more taxation, more big government, more destruction of businesses, and more of the status quo. One could argue, certainly, that the powerful union lobbies purchased the election results in California, but at the end of the day, the voters have spoken, and California will live with the consequences.

To recap, here's what the voters decided:
- "Moonbeam" Jerry Brown, friend of unions and mortal enemy of taxpayers, for governor
- Barbara "rubber stamp" Boxer for Senate
- "New taxes with simple majority" Prop 25 passed

It remains to be seen exactly what form the new taxes and regulations will be in, but with a looming $20+ Billion deficit and a clear mandate to go "all in" with the tax and spend approach to governance, you can be assured that some form of tax hike is coming for California. It's mildly surprising that the state which already has the highest taxation rate and one of the worst business climates in the country would be voting for more taxation and regulation, especially with unemployment around 12.5% and combined underemployment hovering around 25% in the state, but California has a long-standing tradition of forging its own political path. As a silver-lining, bond rates for tax-exempt California municipal bonds should go up (Greece's bonds are paying over 10% currently), so at least it's not all bad for people living here, at least until the state can't borrow any more.

Speaking of which, if I were someone concerned about the future of the US, I'd start thinking now about how to handle the eventual default point, when California can't borrow any more and goes to the federal government for a bailout. If the rest of the country doesn't want to get stuck with the bill for California's largess, get a plan in place now, before the crisis hits. The conservative part of me says to let the state go down in flames, relying on the taxation authority to suck everyone there dry until there's nobody left, and then have a procedure in place to rewrite the state Constitution and redistribute the state resources after it collapses. A more reasonable approach might be to create a program whereby the state can get a loan from the federal government if it agrees to harsh austerity measures designed to both get the state finances in order, and be punitive to the people who voted the state into its fiscal mess. Whatever the approach, though, the federal government needs to have a plan, because California's economic collapse is not a matter of 'if', but a matter of 'when'.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On California Elections/Voting (cont)

On to the elections; this part will be much shorter, since there is much less to say.

Perhaps the most important race is for the governor position, and surprisingly I sorta agree with the characterization made by Jerry Brown's campaign: it's a choice between more of the same [as Arnold], and something new and different. Only sorta, though, cause Jerry Brown was the governor before, so people know exactly what to expect from him (more taxing, more spending, more big government, etc.), and Meg Whitman is sorta untested in public office. However, in terms of big picture, the Brown campaign's characterization is largely accurate: I think Meg Whitman, like Arnold, would take office with a lot of good ideas, and spend the rest of her time there fighting with an intractable state Congress hell-bent on pandering to their union patrons, and basically accomplish nothing. On the other hand, Jerry Brown would pander to those same unions, which (in contrast to the last seven years of relative stability in California politics) would accelerate the decline of the state, both fiscally and otherwise.

No, I don't think Meg Whitman has particularly well-formed plans, but I don't think that matters. The mere fact that she's nominally a Republican ensures that our violently partisan state Congress will not even pay token attention to her proposals, which makes fleshing them out totally irrelevant. On the other hand, unlike Jerry Brown, she probably won't rubber-stamp most of the barrage of garbage regularly extruding from our legislature, and such serve as a check against their malfeasance, which is probably the best we can hope for at the state level (remember, this is the state that will send Pelosi back to Congress; expectations are set accordingly). So Meg Whitman is the clear reasonable choice for governor; let's just hope the anger with incumbent parties doesn't blind voters to common sense.

As for the Senate seat, that one's a bit more interesting. I personally can't see any compelling reason to support Boxer: she's a pompous, arrogant bitch who rubber-stamps the Democratic agenda without a second (or in this case, first) thought. On the other hand, it's not like Fiorina is a model of steadfast integrity either, having basically outsourced all of HP for fat bonuses as her claim-to-fame. Still, when in doubt, I'd have to go with supporting the person I don't know is horrible, so Fiorina it is, but only cause she wins the contest of "less bad" this time (which is not a great way to start a term representing anyone).

As for the other races, meh, who cares. Sure they are important; after all, we could (in theory) replace the entire hopeless corrupt and thoroughly reprehensible state legislature if people could be educated and motivated to defy their basic human greed for immediate gratification and handouts. But nobody's kidding anyone: California will have the same sad bunch of scum in its Congress as it had before, even if a few faces change. After all, we won't even get rid of Pelosi, and she's being disowned by her own party for being too left-wing wacko. As long as people can continue to deceive themselves about the consequences of their votes, and blame it on the other party, we the people will continue to just be abused.

And the beat goes on...

On California Elections/Voting

So I figure since this blog is at least part-time political, and I certainly have my share of political opinions, I should probably weigh in on my views on the various electoral races/issues for the state of California (where I reside: LA, in particular, for reference). My views will probably be familiar to regular readers, but perhaps there will be some surprises, and maybe it'll be of use to someone who's otherwise undecided.

I'll preface by saying I've noticed some trends, which will probably not come as a surprise to anyone. I'm generally for the same things which taxpayer organizations support; I'd guess this is because we both feel the same way about the government taking more of people's money. I'm generally against issues supported by the various public employee unions; this is partially because they usually want more money from taxpayers, but also because predominant unions like the SEIU are scum. Using these two principles, you could probably predict at least 90% of my views on issues, even though I don't use either as a basis for forming said views; that's just an observation.

Anyway, on to opinions.

Proposition 19
I'm for this, but not for the standard reasons. I'm a little ashamed to say that I've never smoked pot (not even in the Bill Clinton sense), and I wouldn't plan to even if it were legal. I don't really care if people smoke pot, though, since it less dangerous than alcohol. I support this proposition, though, because it will advance the conflict between states' rights and federal government control, and I strongly favor limiting federal government control. The federal government has no Constitutional mandate to police drug/medical activity, and it would be nice to see more states pushing back on their expansions of power. If this puts California in the forefront of the fight to take control of our lives back from the federal government, I'll deal with some extra pot smoke being around.

Proposition 20
I grudgingly support this. I dislike committees generally speaking, but in this case it's better than the alternative of rampant corruption and gerrymandering which is the clear alternative.

Proposition 21
Obviously I oppose this thinly-disguised attempt to raise taxes on people, so that the politicians in Sacramento can waste more money on crap. Seriously, anyone who thinks initiatives like this do any good whatsoever needs to have their head examined, or get educated, or something.

Proposition 22
This is the "stop the state from stealing money from people to paper over the massive deficits fueled by ridiculous out-of-control spending" initiative. What's not to like? I think this is a good idea, like most similar efforts to try to hold our political corruption and spending disintegration in check: it's an uphill battle in California, to be sure, but a noble effort. You'd think bill which essentially said "the state can't act illegally in this manner" would be unnecessary, but this is California...

Proposition 23
This is a pretty reasonable idea: don't enforce pollution control restrictions which hurt businesses until unemployment is under control, and people are working again. Of course, with the direction the state is going, this might be a permanent "suspension", but that's more the fault of the politicians who have systematically destroyed the business environment in the state. I'm in favor of this bill, if only as an incentive to fix the business situation, and counter-balance to the efforts to destroy it.

Proposition 24
It seems to me like a bad idea to tax businesses more and create tax uncertainty during a recession, but maybe that's just me. I guess if you want jobs, you should oppose this bill; if you feel there are just too many businesses and jobs (and too much tax revenue from each) in California, you should support this bill. You can guess which position I feel is more accurate.

Proposition 25
This is probably the worst of this year's crop of initiatives. The only thing standing between the politicians and utterly destroying the state even faster is the 2/3 rule for budgets, which forces the politicians to at least consider fiscal restraint. Removing this would be financial suicide. And as if that wasn't contemptible enough, the pushers added a totally unrelated populist provision to deny legislators their salaries and benefits while budgets are not passed (a provision which would be meaningless if the initiative passed, since they could rape the state with a simple majority, so we wouldn't have late budgets any more, we'd have unmitigated disasters delivered on-time), so they could campaign on the populist provision, and hope people were too stupid to pay attention to the other part. This is the worst kind of political deception, and I detest it, and its supporters. I encourage people to take a look at the donors list for supporting this proposition: these are the enemies of the people, the groups leading California to destruction.

Proposition 26
This is a solid bill: it closes a loophole which our state government has been exploiting, and will continue to exploit, to raise taxes without a 2/3 majority. It's sad that the voters need to close legal loopholes when the intent is so clear to begin with, but that's the depth of the corruption in California politics.

Proposition 27
Since I support Proposition 20, it's probably obvious that I oppose 27, the "let the politicians draw districts for maximum advantage, manipulation, and potential corruption" initiative. I don't know that there's much more to say: if you favor bribery, corruption, and less accountability for politicians, I guess you should support this, otherwise it's a clear 'no' vote.

Well, that's it for the propositions... I'll cover the elections later, where I'll express my opinions on which candidates are less bad for each position (in my opinion). Here's hoping we (the voters) don't mess the state up any worse than it already is this year.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hawaii 5-0: A Gripe

Pardon me, I just want to rant about something...

It's pretty common for television shows to exaggerate what's technically possible, for dramatic effect. This is usually pretty obvious, and shows regularly stretch their portrayals of "cutting edge" technology, usually passing it off as "conceivably possible" with today's technology, if everything was aligned correctly and functioning optimally. We, as viewers, have come to accept this, with the implied assumption that the main characters are optimally utilizing all the available technology at the time, as impractical as that might be.

This, then, brings me to my gripe. On a recent episode of Hawaii 5-0, we have the typical cop-chase scenario: tracking the bad guy from point to point, calling up surveillance footage in real time, calling in vehicle identification, etc. At one point, one of the main characters even causes a spy satellite to be re-tasked to locate the fleeing suspect in real time; implausible, sure, but within the standard technology-use stretches common for television and movies. However, at another point, they had identified the suspect as being inside a late-model GM car (GM sponsors the show with taxpayer money, so product placement is predominant) with a hostage, and it takes them ten minutes to get a trace.

Now, as I presume most people are aware, all GM cars come with OnStar: you can't get one without it for at least the last few years. As everyone should be aware, OnStar comes with several built-in features, such as automatic tracking of the vehicle, remote management, and a built-in microphone which can be remotely activated and recorded from without any indication in the car. Moreover, all these things can be done by OnStar without any sort of court order or customer recourse (as they are a private company, and you agree to the EULA), as has already been demonstrated publicly.

So I have to ask: why, when they knew the suspect was in the car, did they not just call up OnStar, and have them remotely disable the engine, lock the doors, and engage the listening system to record the resulting incriminating conversation, all while sending the tracking information to the police immediately? This could be done in real-time, much less within the ten minute window stated to just get the vehicle location. In this case, the show had a blatant understatement of the government/police technical capabilities, which was very out-of-place given all the other high-tech stretches. It was very disconcerting, and made the rest of the premise almost laughable to me.

I guess my message to writers for TV/movies is: if you're going to stretch what's technically possible for dramatic effect, don't ignore the blindingly obvious when constructing your plot. If the bad guys are in a car with OnStar or similar remotely accessible listening and/or vehicle management system, and the good guys are the police (or have access to the system for whatever reason), catching them would be trivial: that's part of the point. Don't ask me to believe the good guys have all this high-tech magic, but are willfully ignorant of the features mandated in cars largely specifically for law enforcement and government surveillance: it makes your shows seem stupid and contrived.

That's my opinion, anyway.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More "Unintended" Consequences

Whenever you are designing a system, be it something in engineering, government, or otherwise, you always need to consider the unintended consequences of your design/policies. Sometimes these can be rather obvious, such as when you spend more money, you will need to collect more money so that you have it to spend (this may be delayed at additional cost in the case of borrowing, or you can also print it if you control the currency itself). Another classic recent example would be bailing out the large banks who took on huge amounts of risk in their pursuit of leveraged profits: by doing so, the government not only condoned the business strategy, but encouraged the banks to both take on more risk in the future, and essentially ignore the issue of divesting themselves of risky assets, both of which are proving more detrimental to the longer-term health of the US economy than their failures would have. Some are harder to anticipate, but rarely are the major ones difficult to see with even a moderate amount of consideration.

This story, then, illustrates another good example of a reasonably easily predictable outcome from a law, which I can only assume the legislators anticipated. To summarize, the laws in various states which criminalize texting while driving are causing more accidents. Ironically, this is similar to another set of traffic laws with unadvertised consequences: the red-light cameras causing more accidents (because it makes people more nervous and apt to drive more erratically around/through those intersections, obviously). In the texting case, drivers are moving their cell phones out of visible sight from outside the car, which causes then to divert their eyes further from the road while texting, causing more accidents. It's very reminiscent of the hand-held cell phone ban/law, which is causing drivers to hold their phones out of visible range and glance down while talking (although in that case it's a less severe problem, because you don't normally need to look at your phone while talking on speakerphone).

There are many other examples of these "unintended" consequences, of course. Obamacare will raise health care costs, drive providers out of business, lower the quality of service, and cost the country trillions: all of these are easily predictable. Socialism and wealth redistribution remove the incentive to work hard, reducing a country's economic output and innovation. An uncertain tax environment, punishing domestic tax rates, and onerous restrictions on business in the name of environmentalism (or other causes) all serve to drive business out of the country, reducing employment for Americans and industrial competitiveness for the country. The list goes on and on.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to these relatively obvious consequences: they are unintended, or they are merely unadvertised. In the first view, the politicians and their aids are dumb, they don't really understand what they are passing into law (or they don't read the legislation), and they don't ever consider the obvious effects of the policies they enact. In the other view, the people crafting the laws are not dumb, they have considered the implications, and they just don't publicize the fact that they know full-well what is going to result from the policies; they just don't want to advertise the effects, because they are not publicly palatable. It's hard for me to believe that everyone in government is monumentally stupid, even if I don't agree with their positions, so you can guess which side of the "unintended consequences" theories I come down on.

Who knows how much better the country would be if we had an independent news media, who could accurately point out all the obvious consequences of all the complex and intentionally opaque legislation that self-serving politicians advance to further their own agendas. Until then, though, I guess we'll have to live with the continuous absurd repetitions of "who could have known" and "that didn't work out as well as expected".

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More Easily Foreseeable Consequences: Obamacare

I feel bad for the providers in the health care insurance industry. They are directly in the path of the statist takeover of America, with a virtual death sentence hanging over their heads, and the full force of the government's propaganda machine (lead by the liberal media) working to paint them as the bad guys. The groundwork for nationalization has already been laid, and the financially crippling new regulations of Obamacare are starting to take effect.

To date, the health insurance companies are taking it admirably well: responding civilly to the criticisms, putting a positive face forward, and adjusting their business models and practices in entirely predictable and foreseeable ways to try to compensate for the rule changes being forced upon them. First there were the rate hikes to compensate for the expected increases in costs, and the lack of any provisions in Obamacare to counteract rising costs in the industry, primarily related to liability costs. Now the companies are cutting coverage for children; again, a predictable and foreseeable consequence of the new restrictions in Obamacare. I'm sure it would offend the people who are up-in-arms about the evils of insurance companies, but their ire is ill-directed: they should be upset, but all the blame and vitriol should be properly directed toward Washington DC, where the law which directly caused these obvious and foreseeable effects was drafted, rammed through Congress with no bi-partisan input, and signed into law.

It's fine to be angry about it: coverage is being decreased, health care costs are going up, and health care in America is degrading. These are all serious problems, and it's reprehensible that Obamacare makes them all worse. Just make sure your anger is appropriately directed against the criminals in Washington DC, and not the innocent corporations caught in the crossfire.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fannie Mae: Public Enemy #1?

Stories like this infuriate me. Fannie Mae, the government-run, taxpayer owned organization most recently known for passing on roughly $100 Billion in losses to the US taxpayers (with undoubtedly more to come), is launching a new program called HomePath to allow people to gamble on houses in foreclosure. In addition to directly creating untold billions in additional losses for US taxpayers (ha ha, suckers), this program will help keep the housing market artificially inflated, making it more difficult for savers to purchase affordable housing, rewarding speculators, and further delaying economic recovery for the country.

Seriously, what kind of a sadistic incomprehensibly monumental moron dreamed up this atrocity? Furthermore, what band of corrupt thugs in the government oversight group which is running Fannie Mae actually approved this brazen theft of public money? If ever there was a clear-cut case for why government should never, ever be running a company even remotely connected to a free market in the US, this could be the gigantic poster child.

If I were running the country, everyone connected with this brazen, incomprehensibly corrupt scheme to directly steal from the US taxpayers would be tried for treason, and if found guilty, executed. The sheer scope of the crime, potential damage, and depth of corruption and malfeasance would demand a complete purge, if not a dismantling entirely.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Better Political Distinctions: Libertarian and Statist

America has grown a lot since the time it was founded. Institutions have risen and fallen, nations have come, gone, and mutated, wars have redrawn maps, political experiments have been tested, and philosophies have been refined and reshaped. It seems to be that, particularly at this point in America's political evolution, the terms Republican and Democrat, or Conservative and Liberal, are perhaps no longer the best distinctions between the two major political schools of thought in the country. Rather, I would conjecture that the best distinction might be Libertarian and Statist, and I will explain.

On the one hand, Conservative encapsulates a set of political philosophies fairly well, which amount to essentially the Republican ideals without the RINO influence. That is, a combination of limited government, traditional values, and free market capitalism. However, beyond that it's more fuzzy: does conservative also mean personal freedoms (eg: gun rights), or would that be more associated with liberalism (eg: civil rights)? Also, conservative might want government out of private industry, but they want government in private personal interactions (eg: preventing gay marriage), and religion in government.

On the other hand, Liberalism represents an interesting amalgam of beliefs, largely catering to the voting base. There's progressive taxation, affirmative action, social services, welfare support, civil rights and invented privileges, heavy government control, massive fiscal irresponsibility, environmental protection, fighting global warming, protecting the unions, and whatever other hot-button short-term issues their constituents think they are concerned about at the time. One could say liberalism is trending toward socialism, but really that's only a subset of the political ideology which has been embraced. About the only things liberalism is not about are small government, limited government control and influence, equality under the law, and government fiscal responsibility. Which, ironically, are about the only things libertarians are strongly supportive of.

I suggest that within the group roughly identified as conservatives, there are two general ideologies, where each member holds one or both. One ideology is that of limited government, personal freedom, equality under the law, and government only where/when necessary to preserve such: ie, the libertarian ideals. The other ideology is "traditional", usually religious-based values, and government enforcement of such. Similarly for liberals, you can divide their ideologies into two broad categories. First, there are the ideals which are concerned with personal freedom (most of which have been perverted at this point), such as equal rights, equal treatment under the law, and freedom from government oppression and control. Second, you have the statist ideals: generally everything concerned with or reliant on big government, government control, wealth redistribution (either explicitly, such as through "progressive" unfair taxation, or implicitly, through inflation and government money-printing handouts), invented and government-enforced privileges for select people, selective treatment under the law, interference in and control of private enterprise, welfare and social services, and everything else which either expands government control or makes people more reliant on government.

To my mind, the first ideologies in each make more sense together, as do the seconds. All the ideologies in the first sets are what are traditionally Libertarian values: personal freedoms, limited government, equality under the law, etc. Similarly, all the ideologies in the second sets are Statist: big government, government control, lots of government involvement in people's lives, encouraging reliance on the government, etc. As an aside, notice that in my construction, Statist certainly does not equate to Socialist, since I've included bundling of religion with government as a Statist ideal, whereas Socialism is traditional devoid of religion; however, they would obviously share a large overlap.

Thoughts? Where would my readers fall on my hypothetical line? If it were a choice between a Libertarian [tea] party, and Obama's Statists, which would you more closely identify with? Would it be easier to rally the people who are fed up with Statism around the ideals of Libertarianism (as I have described), rather than colloquial conservatism? Does either one better encapsulate an ideal for America for you (I know one does for me)?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obama and Border Security: National Disgrace

The United State Department of Homeland Security is an organization under the executive branch of our government responsible for protecting the country domestically. They don't have a mission statement per-se, but if they had one, it might be along the lines of "keep America's homeland safe and secure." This includes, among other things, border security, and keeping people who don't belong in the country out of the country.

Empirically, and somewhat strangely, the Obama administration seems to have an opposite prerogative. When Arizona passed a law to try to identify and detail illegal invaders in their state ("immigrants" is a less accurate term, since that implies people desirous of immigration), the Obama administration opposed it. When Arizona requested national guard help to secure their border, the Obama administration did nothing more than a token gesture. Moreover, instead of trying to help, they put up signs to keep American people out of the area instead, as if they are actively trying to cede the area to the drug cartels. In all demonstrable aspects in this area, the Obama administration appear to be acting on behalf of the illegal invaders and drug cartels, for reasons we can only speculate about.

The question arises: is this mere monumental incompetence and dereliction of duty, or something more? After all, you can certainly make the argument that perhaps Obama didn't realize how significant the problem is, but he's spoken out about the severity, and the signs indicate a knowledge of the scope and implications of the problem. You can argue that the Arizona law amounts to profiling and discrimination against people who are in the country illegally, violating our laws, but that's kinda the point: DHS exists to make it more difficult for those people to be in the US. Oh, and if that's not enough, the law/examination only applies to people who are already breaking other laws, so it's not like the argument that it's random or targets otherwise normal people holds any water. The best argument I can fathom is that we, the legal residents, shouldn't have to give up our freedoms in massive government expansions and reactions to perceived crises, but common: that argument is laughable in the face of the rest of the Obamanation's actions. I just can't come up with a plausible rationale for this being anything other than a well-considered plan of action to undermine the security of the country.

Which, in turn, begs some followup questions. Could you impeach a president for a willful failure to preserve and protect the country? Is the Obama administration's handling of border security in Arizona gross negligence, horrible incompetence, malicious disregard for the country, or something else? What would be the appropriate course of action for dealing with our Traitor in Chief?

Addendum: In related news, Obama administration continues harassment of sheriff on the front-lines of fighting the tide of illegal invaders in Arizona. On behalf of my government and its apparently traitorous leadership, I'd like to apologize to all the hard-working, honorable men and women risking their lives and livelihood to keep the country safe, in defiance to all enemies, both foreign and domestic, and extend my thanks for their efforts in the face of opposition.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Don't Get Protesters

The last couple of days, there have been protests around my work. People are apparently protesting the reduction of wages for janitorial staff at large companies as a result of cost-cutting measures. We have been informed that they will be protesting all week, and that we should just be prepared to deal with all the noise, delays, and annoyance which will accompany them, because apparently we can't do anything about it. Now, I respect people's right to free speech and the ability to protest (as long as they respect other people's rights in the process, which, as an aside, these protesters do not, as they readily trespass on private property), but I just don't get the point of these protests; perhaps someone can enlighten me on what they are trying to accomplish. Let me explain further.

Firstly, the composition of the protest group. There are roughly 100 people, who all get bussed to and from the protest: they are not local (as far as I can tell), or connected to any local business in any meaningful way. The largest group is the marchers, with standardized color-matching protest shirts, and standard union protest signs. There are also security people, who coordinate displacing the normal people in the area so the protesters can march through. There are also a few union thugs in suits, presumably there to intimidate anyone who might oppose the protesters.

Then, there's what they do. Specifically, they march for roughly an hour or so, blocking walkways, driveways, intersections, bridges, and impeding anyone they can. They carry drums and bullhorns, so as to make as much disruptive and annoying noise as possible. There are a couple of special-interest signs (eg: promoting a politician the unions favor), but most are standard union-support signs, in English and Spanish of course. They pause in front of some buildings, but mostly they just unload, walk through being as obnoxious as possible, load up, and move on to the next protest site.

Now, what exactly is the point? I mean, here's what I get from the protests, in no particular order:
- These people don't care about the local businesses, they're union stooges bussed in from who-knows-where
- They don't care about jobs for Americans, just jobs for union members and people who can't/won't learn/use English
- They don't have any clue about what policies or politicians are good for jobs and the economy, so they are extremely hypocritical
- They don't care about anyone else, or the damage or inconvenience they impose on anyone else
- They want people to respect their rights, while they trample on other people's rights without a second thought
- They are spending an entire week working every day to solidify my contempt for their organization and whatever they stand for

Their protests make me want to support the businesses they are nominally protesting against, oppose their political causes, and seek and moral and legal justification for doing them physical harm. I can't imagine that's their nominal intent, but I also can't see what they think they will be accomplishing, other than providing something to justify the salaries of all the protesters and support people who are on the union payroll. Are they collectively too stupid to extrapolate the resulting sentiment, or am I not experience the typical/expected reaction, or... am I missing the point of these protests?

Update: Apparently these a-hole protesters will be busing in more people for tomorrow's protest, and randomly blocking/closing streets in the area between noon and 6pm. And, astoundingly, the LAPD will be complacent and supportive to their activities, helping them aggravate the local employees and patrons while facilitating their ability to otherwise break the law. The SEIU union will get no support from me ever, for what it's worth.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Obama the Muslim? Bad Reporting...

So the news story of the day, as much as anything else, is the "shocking" revelation that somewhere around 20%-25% of Americans think Obama is a Muslim. Now, that by itself is interesting, but not particularly blog-worthy: the numbers are trending up, but really, it's not like it matters too much; people should be much more concerned with Obama's actions rather than which deity he professes to be subservient to. However, I can't let go of the bad reporting associated with this issue.

Look closely in the Time article, for example, where they state unequivocally that 24% of American's "mistakenly believe" that Obama is a Muslim. Um, wait, what? When did you, the editorializing reporter, become an expert on what is factual based purely on the unverifiable statements of politicians? Moreover, this is a politician we know, for a fact, has no problem lying directly to the American people, over and over again, whenever he thinks the lie will serve him better than the truth. See statements about unemployment and the "stimulus" bill, his being a socialist, top priorities for his administration, or any of other clear, well-documented lies he has told just while in his current office. Why, out of the blue, does he get a free pass on stating his religion, something which clearly would affect many people's perceptions of him?

Now, I'm not particularly religious, and it makes very little practical difference to me if Obama is actually a Muslim or not. I have significant issues with many of his ideas and policies, but that's fairly irrespective of his religion. What I do have a problem with is traditional news outlets subjectively editorializing opinions as facts. The fact of the matter is that if you disregard Obama's statements (as any jury would, for example, given his complete lack of credibility), his actions would support the claim that he is, in fact, Muslim. Throw in some previous statements to that effect, and you could see how it's at least a reasonable conclusion. It's irresponsible and inaccurate to dismiss the conclusion as mistaken: at the very least, it should only be "in conflict with Obama's current claim".

Shame on the media for bad reporting, again; not that I expect better, but it's worthwhile to continue to emphasize it for people who may not be convinced.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The 14th Amendment

A preface: Before I dig into my opinion, I'd like to note that this is, of course, a sensitive subject for a number of people. The liberal media outlets love to label anyone who questions the principle enshrined in the 14th amendment as a "lunatic fringe" member, and mainstream conservative politicians know to stay far away, lest they alienate the growing voting base of gray-legal immigrant populations. But hey, it's not like I'm particularly timid, or running for anything, and I happen to have an opinion on this topic, so here it comes.

There's a principle in the justice system of America that a criminal should not be allowed to profit from his/her crimes. This is presumably derived from the observation that allowing a criminal to profit from crimes might encourage criminal behavior, and if the profit potential is large enough, it might provide a stronger incentive for socially-destructive behavior than the discouragement which the threat of punishment might provide. Accordingly, almost all of our laws are designed to ensure that any ill-gotten gains are forfeit if/when you are convicted of a crime; in fact, you often stand to lose whatever you may have had.

The 14th amendment, however, provides a glaring exception to this principle, which was almost certainly not intended. At it's core, the amendment is intended to simplify citizenship for people born in the US: it's sorta an easy catch-all for the "if your parents are welcome here, you are too" ideology. As such, it's fine... but the country has changed a bit since it was envisioned. For example, we had a lot less people openly breaking our immigration laws, the federal government was more concerned with upholding the law and less with [openly] pandering to the controlling party's demographics, and we weren't nearly as much of a welfare state, ready to constantly sacrifice our own hard-earned prosperity to care for people who has no interest in caring for themselves. All these things serve to pervert the usage of the 14th amendment from something which must have seemed clearly the "right idea", into something which is effectively being used to profit from criminal activity. I find that personally objectionable, and potentially worthy of change.

Of course, I would not propose to repeal the amendment or anything; after all, the motivating principle is still perfectly valid. However, I think it could be itself amended, such that children born in the US are citizens unless it cannot be shown that, at the time of their birth, the mothers are present in the US legally. Basically, as long as your parent(s) are in the US legally (for whatever reason, citizenship of otherwise), you're automatically a citizen; if not, you would not be.

At this point, someone usually objects, saying it's unfair to punish the child for the parent's misdeeds, but that's a dumb argument: there's no free right to US citizenship, and you shouldn't get that right if your mother successfully breaks the law. There's also the argument that it kicks the proverbial illegal immigration can down the generational road without solving anything, but that's an aside: yes, it doesn't fix the underlying problem or do anything to fix the government's asinine position, but it doesn't make the problem worse, or provide incentive for the commission of more crime, as the current system does.

Anyway, that's my opinion, for what it's worth.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Appropriate Plans for the Future

So there's an advertisement which is running on some web sites, from defeatthedebt.com. In it, the voice over laments the $3.5 Billion of additional debt the US is accumulating per day, and extols the need to stop digging ourselves deeper into the proverbial financial hole. I'm not sure I agree, though; not because I think our ridiculous recent handout spurts are anything but asinine partisan politics, or I think the deficit is easily solved or anything, but quite the opposite. I think it might be time to stop living in the fantasy world, and start thinking and planning pragmatically.

For example, I don't necessarily think we (the US people) should really start trying to reverse the tide of mounting deficits, and somehow try to save enough money to pay back the entire national debt. I mean, it's a noble goal, and the current situation is certainly worthwhile to guard against in future governmental frameworks, but realistically there's just no conceivable outcome to the current deficit spiral other than a default, in some form. With the enormity of the hole our politicians have already created, the reckless and astounding lack of any fiscal responsibility in the current government, and the crushing weight of pyramid schemes created and expanded by previous equally-irresponsible leaders looming, it might be time to think pragmatically about the national debt. That is, it might be time to abandon the "how do we fix it" question, and move on to the "how do we not be crushed when it inevitably collapses" question.

As this opinion piece by Peggy Noonan aptly points out, Americans are coming to the realization that the good times are over. Our politicians have done such a monumentally horrible job of managing the country that the era of ever-increasing prosperity in the US is likely over (which, to be fair, is also the fault of the monumentally idiotic voters who put them in office; eg: see Nancy Pelosi). This, coupled with the insurmountable debt, virtually ensures that the US will need to collapse (at least fiscally speaking) before it can be rebuilt; and like the financial debacle, where banks had trillions in bad assets and loans which needed to be revalued and cleaned out before the system can recover, the US will need to purge both its debt and pyramid scheme type obligations before it has a chance to return to increasing prosperity. The only question is whether the people suffer for a long time fighting uphill while in denial, or if we can openly admit the inevitable, choose the quick path which leads to the least suffering for the American people, and get to work on changing the system to prevent such egregious abuses of public trust in the future.

It's no longer enough to ask the politicians to stop making the problem worse. We need to start planning for the inevitable national default, start creating means for honest hard-working Americans to minimize the damage to themselves and their livelihoods, and start thinking about how to make sure these type of politician scum (the current group and groups past) can never again do such monumental, irrecoverable harm to the United States of America.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Radical Taxation Idea

I've been mulling over this for a bit; I'm not sure if it's actually a good idea, but it's an interesting idea. If anyone has any historical examples of if/how this would actually work, or specific negative consequences they can extrapolate, please comment; I'd be very curious.

Anyway, here's the idea: replace all taxes at the federal level with a fixed, Constitutionally-limited 2% annual tax on all [non-retirement] net assets, for all individuals and corporate entities.

Effects on people (generally):

- Low-income, low net-worth individuals will experience little change: they pay low taxes currently and in the new plan
- High-income, low net-worth individuals (people who spend almost all they make) will benefit: lower taxes on income will mean more spending power
- Low income, high net-worth individuals (significant savings relative to income) would pay more in taxes, but only after a high threshold: someone who made $100k/yr and paid $40k/yr in taxes would need to have a net worth of more than $2 million before the tax bill would be higher under this plan
- High income, high net-worth individuals would probably pay similar taxes, depending on exact numbers

The people who would pay significantly more are people with significant worth relative to income; eg: people who inherits millions, people who get very wealthy from stock/investments, etc. On the other hand, people with significant net worth usually make income from investing their money, so as long as they are making more than the tax amount on investment income, their net worth would not necessarily decrease, even if they do not have net income from business.


This type of tax would always be imminently affordable: since it's based on net wealth, the person/corporation paying will always have the assets to afford the tax. Since it's based on net assets, you don't pay more if you are leveraged to buy something (eg: house with a large loan): you are taxes only on net worth of your total assets.

Corporations would have less incentive to retain profits. Since retained assets would be taxed and dividends would be not taxed (opposite of current situation), corporations would be incentivised to only retain money they actually think they will imminently need, and pay out the rest to shareholders.

Net asset value is less variable than income/other, which means tax rolls will be much more predictable. Tracking net assets would be roughly equivalent to tracking income. The government needn't be concerned with private or intrastate transactions for tax purposes. Banks and investment institutions can aggregate reporting requirements for tax purposes.

This plan would constitute more explicit wealth redistribution than our current tax scheme, although I don't think it would be a significant problem, as long as the Constitutional low limit is solidly maintained (I would not be in favor of this plan without such a limit). It basically constitutes the same wealth redistribution mechanism/effect as inflation, but without the incentive to diversify out of the US dollar, and/or hold assets in tax deferred or unrealized-gain holdings. It would provide a slight negative-incentive to horde wealth, but as described, the actual tax consequences would be lower for most people, and the average spending power for people with income from employment would be higher.

This would effectively allow everyone (individuals and corporations) to deduct all operational expenses from tax liability, as opposed to the current system which favors corporate structure/operations for that benefit. Since you're only taxed on retained net assets, money expended to satisfy operational costs would not be taxed, either as income or otherwise.

2% should be close to enough, if not actually enough, to fully fund the federal government at current levels. 2% of net asset value of all households and nonprofit organizations would be roughly $1 trillion per year. Adding in taxes for all corporate net assets, and the figure should approach $2 trillion. The tax figure would rise directly and proportionally with the actual wealth level of US people/corporations, which is exactly what we want for incentive for the government. Moreover, as mentioned, the number changes slowly, so it's much less susceptible to economic fluctuations than the basis's of current tax schemes.

Anyway, that's my radical idea for the day; thoughts welcome as always.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fully Funded Retirement Programs

I while ago, I wrote an entry about how to fix social security. I stand by the idea, btw; I still think it's the most feasible approach to unwinding the pyramid scheme that FDR left us with before its inevitable collapse. However, recently I was pondering that the social security problem is not isolated to that one (admittedly gargantuan) government-created disaster in the making, but is a more general problem with retirement plan accounting and funding, and how ripe for abuse they are.

You see, the general problem with retirement plans is that you are collecting money now to pay benefits in the future, and it all goes into the same pool of money. Because the specific benefits are not directly tied to the money being paid in, and the expectations of investment growth are arbitrary, the system is easy to manipulate and abuse. In the government's case, FDR set up a classic pyramid scheme (which would be obviously illegal in the private sector, for good reason), in order to have immediate payouts to people by borrowing from future generations, and thus "game" the system for voter approval. In the case of unions, large defined-benefits for retiring workers have allowed federal, state, and local governments to create their own Ponzi schemes, which are now coming to their inevitable conclusions (with accompanying collapse and inevitable lawsuits). Even though private industries are not allowed to engage in such egregious practices, there are also problems there, from companies "borrowing" from retirement plans to manipulating expected growth numbers to over (or under) state corporate earnings, to pension plans which operate like indirect Ponzi schemes, and collapse when the company goes under. The whole class of situations is a giant systemic problem, in need of a general (and not circumventable) solution.

I would propose the following as a conceptual solution for the problem: require, at the federal level, that all "retirement plans" have fully funded contribution accounts, in the beneficiary names, managed independently of the organization (similar to how 401k accounts are currently). For all plans, there can be a certain amount which is reserved for extra benefits for particular individuals meeting well-defined circumstances (eg: early retirement due to disability, illness, etc.), but this should be capped at a low percentage of contribution amount (say, 10% maximum). Furthermore, the government should provide an estimate of expected inflation over the benefit lifetime (based on historical CPI numbers), and all organizations will be required to use that number as expected annual investment growth for assets in the plan, regardless of actual investments (which, also, should be required to be "safe" in all cases). The organizations can continue to manage the investments of assets in the plan as a whole, primarily to allow governmental organizations to continue borrowing the money from their own plans as long as they have the highest level of credit worthiness; otherwise they will need to be weened off the Ponzi scheme easy-money as new contributions go into private accounts.

Of course, the changes wouldn't be retroactive, and thus everyone already scammed by the various Ponzi schemes would be out their "contributions" to date: but that's really no different than the status quo, only it would be much more explicit and consequently less ignorable. Furthermore, if it was done correctly, it would fix a whole class of problems, and prevent future similar problems, which is the best type of solution. Hard to do, certainly, and most likely politically impossible... but still a good solution, in my opinion.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Federal Employees and Voting

So browsing other blog/news posts this morning, I came across a link to a Washington Post article which discussed how federal employees are largely happy these days, even in the face of the broad economic malaise in the US. This makes sense, of course: after all, (including benefits) federal workers are compensated roughly double what private workers are for the same jobs, employment is up, and the prospects of government largess into the indefinite future are arguably higher than ever. In addition, with the Democratic party essentially running all of the government, you might imagine the majority of people in government being Democrat inclined, which would generally make them more content with the recent direction of the country, and actions of its leadership.

However, this does raise an interesting dilemma for the country in general. With an ever increasing public payroll, and the real possibility that at some point the majority of the voters will be receiving public payouts in one form or another, we're creating a self-reinforcing incentive loop which might be hard to escape. When the government was small, and operating within means of revenue collected from the people, this was not a problem: the size and scope were limited by the revenue collected. To the current politicians running the country, though, limits such as budgets and revenue are not only ignored, but to some viewed as impediments to the conversion of America to a socialist dream (or nightmare, depending on your perspective) state. In the country's current state, we might do well to break the perverse incentive circle before it's too late.

I was thinking, what if there was a rule that if you took government money directly during the year (or two) leading up to an election, you were not allowed to vote in it. Yes, this would remove a lot of people's votes, and yes, it would lead to everyone not being equally represented in votes, and yes, people would complain mightily about it; but, consider the effects. You might have a fighting chance to rein in out-of-control government expansion, curtail implied bribery of the voting populace, and break out of the vicious expansion of the federal government before it's too late.

Of course, there are variations too. For example, you could prevent voting only for those who have received more from the government in any year than they have given back through taxes, fees, and donations to the IRS. This would allow anyone to still vote, as long as they assured their net income from the public was not positive. It would also prevent unscrupulous politicians from using the rule to negate entire blocks of voting through targeted handouts. It might also encourage more qualified people to vote, as their votes might carry more weight, especially since a large group of regular voters (namely, career public "servant" leeches) would be disqualified from influencing voting outcomes for which they clearly regularly have conflicts of interest.

I'm not sure if this would be a good idea, and I'm fairly sure it's too late to enact in the US in any case, but it's food for thought.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Of Obama and Commissions

So I browsed this article this morning, recalling how Obama had ridiculed the concept of establishing commissions to deal with serious problems, and contrasting that campaign stance to his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Now, the amusing part is more that this article came from CBS news, where normally I might least expect anything this on-point from the liberal media; maybe the story was just too obvious to ignore this time.

On the commission conceptually, though, Obama was more/less correct during the campaign: a commission is Washington-speak for "we'll get back to you, we either don't have any idea how to address that, or we're not at all interested in addressing it and we hope this substantial delay and inaction will be enough time for you to forget about it." Commissions also have the bonus of being able to add an additional layer of responsibility and blame, in case the policies are contentious, and you can blame the commission for acting slowly if the problem gets worse in the interim, as it was certain to in this case; after all, it's not like the liberal-socialists show any signs of slowing down the monetary hemorrhaging and socialist expansion of the government between now and December, when the commission is due to report the mind-numbingly obvious suggestion that any first grader could have told our imbecile-in-chief any time during this whole debacle: spend less money, you morons.

I still like the article, though... it's not every day you can ridicule our socialist leader for his transparent attempt to deflect criticism from his idiotic policies with his own words. Let's hope this is the liberal media's reluctant nod to a rising tide of sanity in the voting populace which can no longer be ignored.