Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Counter-Obama Position on Fiscal Cliff Negotiation

Side-note: I was going to title this the GOP position, but I'm not sure many/most in the GOP actually appreciate the position itself, or why it's worth fighting for. Rather than make an assumption as to motivations and priorities, I'll simply call my position the counter-Obama perspective, and/or the anti-socialism approach.

In the debate over what way to back off the so-called "unavoidable" automatic deficit-reduction measures Congress enacted (which, if you recall, exist because Congress couldn't find a compromise for deficit reduction the last time around, following the previous "compromise" which allowed effectively unlimited national debt increases in exchange for the cuts the government is now desperate to eliminate), the Democrats have done an enviable job framing the debate in the main stream media as a decision between cutting taxes for the middle class, and cutting taxes for the rich. Now, while the framing itself is obviously inaccurate (Republicans want to cut taxes for everyone, whereas Democrats only want to cut taxes for the "not rich"), the GOP isn't doing itself any favors by not refuting the characterization, nor articulating the alternative in a way which is compelling. So, I'm going to give it a try.

Obama's stated positions are as follows:
- He's willing to compromise with Republicans, and everything should be on the table for discussion
- He's unwilling to compromise or discuss not hiking taxes on rich people
- [also] He's unwilling to compromise or discuss cutting or reforming entitlements, especially the massive new one bearing his name

Setting aside the obvious hypocrisy and absurdity, and concentrating just on the tax question, the counter-position (well, a counter-position anyway) to Obama's proposal is this: we are unwilling to accept any change to the tax law which makes taxation less equal and/or more biased. By equal, in this context, I mean percentage-equivalent for all income, all levels, for all people, under all conditions. Any change which makes taxes less equal should be rejected with conviction, and I'll explain why.

Taxes determine the size of government. You can have deficit spending to increase the size without corresponding taxation, but eventually you need to inflate-down the deficit, and/or increase taxation to compensate. We should have an honest national discussion about the necessary size of government; it's a long-time coming, and desperately needed. In the meantime, though, it's of vital importance for the continued survival of the country that taxation be equally applied across the population, without bias or favor. We must move toward a more flat tax system, or risk the country falling apart.

Consider the current situation: nearly 50% of the country pays no federal income taxes. That's 50% of the voters who don't care at all about raising taxes, because it doesn't affect them. They could care less about controlling deficit spending, because they don't expect to pay for it. They are, at best, not qualified to elect representatives making policy decisions on taxation, and in reality willingly biased corrupt participants in creating an unbalanced system of government-controlled wealth confiscation. They will willfully and gleefully push the country off the cliff of fiscal ruin, because they are not vested in the process of paying the check. This must be fixed if the country is to survive.

What the country needs is this: every time a politician talks of extra spending, everyone should connect that to an extra few dollars out of their personal paycheck every month... everyone. Not just the rich, not the entitled, not the other guy... everyone. When Obama talks of bailing out GM, that should be one less Christmas present every poor family gets to buy for their children, because some union worker with outrageous benefits needs to keep his job pretending to build cars nobody wants. When Obama wants an extra $50 billion or so to spread around to his campaign backers, that's food out of people's mouths. Yes, that will be painful, for lots of people... but that's the vital point. It's shared pain, shared by everyone, paying for the stuff the government decides is absolutely necessary for the best interests of everyone. And, at the end of the day, it's about being able to get rid of the scum wasting our money, because they really are wasting all our money; and if everyone feels the fiscal pain, we might finally get some real, much needed change, before it's too late.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Anonymity is Vital for Free Expression

Chances are, you have one of two reactions to the sentiment expressed in the title of this post. On the one hand, you might agree, realizing that people are only free to express their honest opinions when they do not fear reprisal, and the only way to ensure that condition is true anonymity. On the other hand, you may feel that a veil of secrecy damages civilized discussion, or makes it impossible to ensure everyone has an equal voice, or allows evil people to spread hateful and/or destructive speech without repercussion, or perpetrates some other societal evil. All points may be valid and accurate, yet free expression is vital to freedom, with all the downsides which come with it. To the point, I'll cite a recent example which was interesting to me.

The government (or more specifically, the executive branch of the US government) has a site where citizens can "sign" petitions to be addressed by the government. In the spirit of other petitions, to sign a petition means to include your [accurate] personal identification information, presumably so that you could be validated as a constituent represented ruled by the leaders rulers you were petitioning. Currently, there are many virtual petitions collecting signatures for various anti-government activities, the most media-popularized ones concerning succession from the US. The motivations of the signatories are no-doubt varied; some see succession as the only viable escape from the broken political system, others are simply frustrated with the current status, and still others just don't like the particular oppressors who happen to be in power.

Consider though, for a moment, the implications of signing such a petition. Already, there are "ideologically-competing" petitions, such as the one which asks the president to try any signatories for treason. Notwithstanding the legal dubiousness of that severe of retaliation, is it far-fetched to assume that signing a succession petition might attract some sort of attention? After all, it's common knowledge that the NSA/CIA has vast information-monitoring resources, already monitors all internet communications for "suspicious" activity, and can do the same with other electronic communication networks (cellular, etc.). The FBI executes hundreds of thousands of warrant-less searches of business information every year, tracks people with GPS without warrants, and searches and/or seizes your property at will. They also kept open files on anyone sighted at political protests (sometimes with active surveillance), and that was long before the capabilities of the digital information age.

Moreover, consider the secondary implications. As someone recently pointed out, signing such a petition might make you ineligible for a security clearance in the US. This might be acceptable, until or unless you are denied a job due to the prohibition. What if your name is entered into a government database of "suspicious" persons, and the next time you fly anywhere, the TSA pulls you out of line for an "enhanced" interview? Would evidence of seditious behavior be grounds to monitor your phone/internet? Might the FBI question your spouse, your friends, your children, your employer? If the government investigates you, will you still be employed? Will the police be less likely to believe your side of events if your name is in a federal database? All of these things should be considerations when you sign your name to something anti-government.

I'm not saying there are not valid reasons for demanding personal accountability for statements and/or petitions. I'm not saying any particular petitions have merit or not. I'm not saying that all the potential bad things which could happen to people signing such petitions will happen, or even are likely to happen. What I am saying, emphatically, is that regardless of my particular feelings on controversial issues, you will not find my real name on any government lists of people publicly opposed to the evils of our government. Admittedly it's a minor distinction, since it's easy enough for the government to discern my feelings about them from this blog alone, if they were so inclined, but that doesn't mean I'm going to paint a target on myself as well. Moreover, I hope that future generations find a way to preserve their anonymity, in a way which most people of my generation have failed. It will be vital to preserving what's left of our formerly free country.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Surprise: I don't hate "off the teleprompter" Romney

So today, there was an "embarrassing" leaked video, purportedly from a fund-raising event, in which Romney talks candidly about the campaign, how he sees the voting blocs, and how he hopes to prevail in the upcoming election. The most damaging revelation, per the mainstream media, was his statement that just under half of the population will vote for Obama regardless of policies or message, because they pay no effective taxes, are dependent on the government, and care more about feeding their handout dependency than whatever is good for the country. Also of note were some comments about how the "black vote" would certainly go to Obama (presumably due to racial bias), and how the Republicans will need to win some of the "Hispanic" vote in order to contend for the election.

The media, and liberal organizations in particular, pounced on this as an example of the candidate disparaging a large section of the population, which may well be accurate. You know what, though? He's absolutely correct. Moreover, it's shockingly refreshing to have someone running for office telling the unedited/raw truth, even if it was intended to be in a private conversation.

I mean, think about it objectively, without PC glasses for a moment. We know almost 50% of the country pays no [federal income] taxes, and of course that voting block will lean heavily toward the candidate promising more handouts and big government: it's [short-sighted, short-term, and self-destructive, but still] just self-interest. I applaud those who don't contribute to the tax base but still support limited government, but understand that you are vastly outnumbered by people heavily dependent on the government, by choice or by necessity, and that section of the population overwhelmingly votes Democrat. This is just one of the ways the government controls people: get them dependent, then they will let you rule them in exchange for more boons. For example, you can bet that the vast majority of union workers vote for Obama, and for good reason (he gave them GM as a reward for his first term).

As for the black vote, of course that's going to Obama. It may be the harsh truth which is verboten, but black people are often more racist than other races (in the sense of favoring race over other qualifications). For example, the NAACP is a racial-preference organization; the black equivalent of the KKK (minus the overt calls for violence against other races, but with a heck of a lot more political influence). It would be rare to hear a white person scolded for voting for Obama because that would be "turning his back on his people", yet that was a common refrain in the last election for black people speaking out against Obama. The harsh truth is that racism is alive and well in America, and as a result Obama will have 95%+ of the black vote, no matter what his policies or beliefs are.

The Hispanic vote will be a battleground, but if we're telling the truth, most of it will go to Obama as well. Why? Well, because lots of Hispanic voters have many friends and acquaintances who are in the US illegally (or are so themselves), breaking the laws of this country regularly and often with impunity. The fact is that the Democratic party is more accommodating to illegal aliens, more willing to ignore or subvert the laws of the United States, and more willing to give handouts to those who happen to be inside the borders, laws be damned. They will get the majority of the Hispanic votes, especially from those who do not pay taxes, do not run [legal] businesses, and/or take advantage of the social safety nets of the US. It may not be a pleasant thought, but it's the truth, and I kinda respect Romney for actually kinda saying it.

Will this leak cost Romney the election? I doubt it. As he observed, the election will come down to the 8% or so who are undecided, the small section of the population who don't vote purely based on either religious views, or [unenlightened] self-interest. Those people are less likely to recoil at admissions of the truth, or be swayed by the media's enthusiastic attempt to bash Romney with it. Will it help Romney? Perhaps a little; it's surprisingly refreshing to see a little beyond the polished, controlled, bland, and utterly uninteresting facade of Obama-lite and Obama-bashing which Romney's campaign managers carefully present at every appearance. At the end of the day, it's hard to see this swaying the election one way or the other, but it's interesting to get a glimpse of perhaps a little of the "real" Romney, and find myself less repulsed than from the candidate.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Interesting Comment; Creeping Normalicy

I was watching the Daily Show, and they had on Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog. In addition to being a very intelligent person, and having a very interesting discussion with John Stewart regarding the Supreme Court and current events, he had another choice comment which struck me (you can watch the interview here if you want). The point that struck me was when John Stewart made the observation that it's the Supreme Court's job to uphold the Constitution, and Tom slightly corrected him, reminding him that it's the job of all branches of government to uphold the Constitution, and the Supreme Court just plays one role in that process.

Think about that for a moment. It's the President's job and responsibility to uphold and respect the Constitution; it's in the oath of office. It's also Congress' job and responsibility to uphold and respect the Constitution; it's in their oath of office too. Yet, it seems that often gets overlooked, of not ignored entirely. As a poignant example, just the previous day President Obama had given a speech where he pre-admonished the Supreme Court for performing their Constitutional duty. Moreover, I don't think most people (at least in his own party) even thought too much of it; it was a calculated political move to discredit the Supreme Court in case they strike Obamacare, but the fact that it was an implicit attack on the structure and powers of branches of government (and hence the Constitution) didn't really even register with people, even those who found it distasteful.

Of course, it certainly not the first time in recent memory that a President or Congress has openly defied the Constitution. You don't even need to focus solely on Obama's dismal record of staying within the bounds of power granted under the Constitution: Bush gave us CIA domestic operations and indefinite detainment. Obama has certainly pushed the boundaries with undeclared wars, sanctioned assassinations of Americans, warrant-less surveillance, the individual mandate, etc., but ignoring or subverting the Constitution has become standard practice in the executive branch.

There's a phrase "creeping normalcy". It means when something, usually objectionable, is brought about slowly or gradually, people are more likely to accept it as "normal". Government is full of examples of creeping normalcy, from the taxation, to debt, to government size, government power, police abuses, corruption, etc. You could be forgiven for thinking it's not the President's job to defend, or even respect, the boundaries of the Constitution, based on the creeping normalcy of expansive executive power in the US. That is, until you realize that that's not right at all!

All Presidents, and all members of Congress, swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. Perhaps it's time we find some people for those positions who will actually do so, and hold the people who do not accountable for their abuses.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Standing Semi-Corrected

A bit ago, I criticized the Chrysler superbowl commercial, in which they touted Detroit as a model for the re-invigoration of America. I didn't explicitly state, but strongly implied, that it would be disastrous if the country followed the same path as Detroit, with corruption, bailouts, destruction of industry, and all the other maladies Detroit has brought upon themselves. I suppose you could extend the sentiment to Michigan as a whole, with Detroit being the major city there, but it turns out that would not be entirely fair: there is something pretty interesting going on in Michigan, which I think the country could indeed learn from.

I was not aware, until recently, of the Emergency Financial Manager law/system in place in Michigan, and in effect in several of the more destitute cities there. Basically, the law allows the state to appoint a financial manager if the city finances get critically bad, and empowers the manager to fix the problems (by cancelling contracts, firing government employees, reducing costs, etc.). Essentially, it allows for some fallback adult supervision if the irresponsible children/idiots running the city do a poor enough job. And... I think it's a great idea.

Granted, there is a substantial potential for abuse, and I would be very wary of such if adopting this paradigm in a broader sense, but the idea is fairly sound. Basically, it's a strong incentive for local government to not be reckless and irresponsible, and allow the financial situation to deteriorate through mismanagement and corruption. It also may allow for a certain amount of "cleaning house" in otherwise entrenched corrupt government, and incentivizes the organizations which do business for and/or with the government to not steal quite as much public money (lest their contracts be cancelled by the EFM, and their work contracted to less corrupt organizations). It doesn't solve any of the systemic problems, but it does give the people a fighting chance to right the ship after problems arise, rather than being held hostage to the unions and such.

Imagine, for example, if the EU were able to impose such a mechanism on Greece. There would be no more wrangling, negotiation, and double-talk to get ongoing bailouts; the EU would impose a EFM, who would unilaterally make the appropriate changes to restore fiscal sanity (ie: firing all the current corrupt government officials, cutting pensions, raising the retirement age, privatizing 90% of the current government's functions, selling assets, etc.). It would be a painful transition, to be sure, but Greece would then actually have a chance to restore its economy free of the socialist leadership which has destroyed it, and rebuild to prosperity, instead of wallowing in a perpetual austerity program where only the political elite have any chance of prosperity.

Moreover, the threat of such would serve as a powerful, real incentive for the governments of Greece and the other EU countries, to not stray too far down the path of overspending, borrowing against the future, and/or unsustainable entitlements. With the appropriate mechanisms in place, you wouldn't need bailout provisions, loan guarantees, negotiations about appropriate austerity measures, or anything of the sort. The EU could simply allow each country to manage its own finances however it saw fit, stepping in if and only if a country demonstrated a pressing need for responsible adult intervention, and staying only long enough to clean house, and get the country back on a fiscally sustainable path. You might even be able to convince politicians to be more responsible stewards for the countries in general (the holy grail of public policy governing governments, if you will).

So my hat off to you, Michigan: I stand semi-corrected in my thought that you had nothing positive in the way of public policy which could be emulated elsewhere. I think a great many governmental entities could benefit from EFM's or the like, and the ability to "clean out" existing government bureaucracies and entitlements could be a huge boon for a lot of people.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What the US Really Needs

With the election season getting underway, and America once again approaching the time when they will choose between two statist, freedom-abolishing, debt-ignoring, big government blowhards, an interesting thought occurred to me: what would be the single most beneficial thing which could be done for the country? Obviously, in light of the equally horrible choices for the presidency, a Congress which is the #1 enemy of the people with an approval rating to match, and a government which is absolutely out-of-control, it's a fairly hypothetical mental exercise, but one with an interesting outcome. You see, while there are a lot of good things with could be done, virtually none of them would be overwhelmingly good in isolation: America has a lot of large, pressing problems, and no single fix would be sufficient to alter the course to eventual collapse enough.

Rather, I was thinking about the situation in Greece, and how it pertains to America. Greece is, in many ways, a window into our future: a country with an unsustainable entitlement system, little remaining non-service industry, a crippling debt, and little responsibility or accountability among the general populace. In the same way as us, there's no one solution for Greece's problems, and in their case they are well past the point of feasible course correction before their inevitable national default. However, their largest problem currently is not any of their structural problems, but rather the fact that they have no plan in place for an orderly default, and no path beyond. In essence, this uncertainty is what is crippling the markets, causing social unrest within Greece, and impeding what might otherwise be a fairly non-disruptive obvious end-result of their chosen political policies.

Along the same lines, I think if the US could only have one positive change, I think the thing we need most is collapse and restructuring plan for our entire economy. Like funeral planning, this could take much of the stress and uncertainty out of our eventual default, and try to make the transition to a new, less entitlement-based system much less painful. After all, we know we're going to default: there's no political will to fix our debt problems of live within our means, and our population is incapable of making responsible decisions. At least we have a chance, though, of being able to recognize this, and plan ahead for when the weight of all our bad decisions crushes what's left of the economy, and put some real honest effort into thinking about how to move forward after that event.

For example, we could start thinking about ways to move US people's savings out of direct or indirect investment in government debt; when the country defaults, all that debt will be written down, and if that loss can primarily effect foreign governments, that would be better for the American people. The US government could also start forming a transition plan for the months when the country's currency is worthless, and putting in place a structured bartering system. We could start planning for decentralized police, fire, and emergency services, to keep local communities functional if the federal and/or state government is in transition. Obviously you would also want to ween people off public support and entitlements as much as possible as well, as those will certainly be at least temporarily disrupted when the country goes broke. All of these would be good, prudent steps to take, when eventual default is all but inevitable.

As a bonus, by taking these steps, the country could alleviate or reduce several of their other problems by side-effect. For example, by educating people about how to be prepared for when the country defaults, perhaps we could finally get the message across to all the ignorant sheeple that the country's spending trajectory is utterly unsustainable. Weening people off entitlements would force a discussion about the dangers of creating a society too dependent on the government, and perhaps help stop socialist-leaning politicians from getting traction in the US government. Moving social services to a more local level would have lots of benefits, not the least of which could be shrinking the federal government itself. Who knows... with enough of the beneficial secondary effects from this one simple change, we might actually be able to avert a catastrophic collapse of the country in the first place.

Here's hoping we can get a solid transition plan in place, though, at least, before our country goes through the same inevitable collapse as so many have before, and seemingly all eventually do.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Greece: Bailout Handling Still Moronic

This is a quote, in this article, from an economist in Greece:

"It's lunacy," said Yanis Varoufakis, an economist at Athens University. "Greece should default, and the European Union should finally accept and deal with the inevitable, instead of pushing it under the carpet, like children trying to avoid being spanked."

A second Greek bailout, he added, would "just throw good money after bad. What's the purpose of getting an additional loan when it's unlikely Greece will be able to repay it?"

Greece's people (most of whom are union and/or public service employees, or retired) are protesting the terms of the new bailout funds as unacceptable. Public opinion in Greece of the country's leadership is rapidly declining. Public opinion of the other EU countries and their leadership is also souring. Many people in Greece don't want to accept the austerity measures the other EU countries are insisting on, and most seemingly have no interest whatsoever in enacting reforms to fix Greece's broken and bankrupt economic system.

The other EU countries are fighting a losing battle for no good reason. It's akin to convincing a drug addict to give up drugs and get clean, when the addict can still get drugs, and doesn't even admit a problem. Meanwhile, the addict is lashing out at you more and more, because you're trying to take away their drugs, the thing they value the most, for no reason they can currently fathom. The people of Greece clearly cannot even comprehend that their country is bankrupt, much less that their socialist entitlement system has led them to this point. Heck, the EU is only asking them for the metaphorical equivalent of showing up to a treatment facility to get their fix, which they are still willing to give them, and even that is so burdensome as to provoke mass protests.

What the heck is the problem? The Grecian people don't want a bailout. The EU people don't want to throw more of their good money after bad. The bond holders certainly don't want to take a haircut without concessions, at least "voluntarily". Nobody wants the years of legal wrangling that trying to legally categorize a default as a "voluntary write-down" would likely entail. Greece will not be able to fix themselves until the people realize how fundamentally broken their entitlement-laden socialist system is, and that cannot happen until they experience a full economic collapse. There's absolutely no benefit in trying to shove a bailout down their throats, and a whole lot of downside.

Get with the program, EU people: figure it out, cut you losses, and make sure your sides of the border are secure. I'll wager the people will be a whole lot more receptive to your conditions after a year or so of hyper-inflation and social unrest. Plus, there's a small chance they might learn something too, which is not only good for them, but could be good for the EU in general.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Halftime in America Commercial

Chrysler ran a commercial during the superbowl which is generating a fair bit of controversy; if you didn't see it, feel free to youtube it. Opinions vary: some people think it was inspirational, others pandering. What is more interesting, to me at least, is that if the news media is to be believed, there are two ways to view the political slant of the commercial, depending on your own viewpoint; in fact, one of the articles described it as a rorschach test for political views. Meanwhile, both Clint Eastwood (who narrates the commercial) and the producers insist it's not intended to be political, which is odd, since it clearly is.

What struck me, though, is how dumb the message actually is. Essentially, the commercial is holding out Detroit, and Chrysler, as examples of doing what's necessary to "right" the country, and that if the rest of the country can follow their example, we can forge a path back to prosperity. I don't think that logic holds up, though, regardless of the inspirational tone of the message.

Consider Chrysler, for example. This was an auto company which received a government bailout, which ultimately cost taxpayers $1,300,000,000 (not as much as the GM bailout, but still pretty substantial). Its bankruptcy was the model of government corruption, with the government manipulating the proceedings to deprive shareholders of their value in the company, while transferring large amounts of value to the unions. The emergence from bankruptcy is a metaphor for the outsourcing of manufacturing, as the company is now majority owned by a foreign company (Fiat). Meanwhile, the "restructuring" did nothing to fix the systemic problems of union labor costs and underfunded retirement benefit obligations; it did save some jobs in Detroit, at least for now, but at a huge cost, and uncertain future.

What of Detroit, then... is that the shining example we should all aspire to emulate? Detroit is a city in crisis, budget-wise, trying to stave off state takeover due to fiscal disaster. It's trying to negotiate concessions from the unions, but they may not be enough, even with the high tax rates and regulation which drive business away. Detroit has some of the worst slums in the entire country, and aside from the auto industry bailouts, would have virtually no industry left. If anything, it's a prime example of what happens with a socialist-style government and the destruction of a manufacturing base: this may be an apt metaphor for what the country might look forward to, but seems hardly an example to emulate.

America is at a crossroads, to be sure, and we could really use some beneficial new direction to get back on a solid path. However, there's not a small amount of irony in holding out Detroit and Chrysler, two of the worst examples of the "wrong" path, when pointing out the need to change direction to fix what's wrong.

Monday, January 30, 2012

MegaUpload as an Object Lesson

Recently, the US federal government shut down MegaUpload, a cloud-service offering from a company, based in Hong Kong, which allowed online backup and file sharing. The government raided the hosting premises and took the physical servers, taking the company effectively offline. They did this, nominally, because MegaUpload was used in large part to share copyrighted material; the recent setback to SOPA/PIPA, and the renewed need to demonstrate obedience to their big media overlords patrons, was probably another motivating factor. However, that wasn't the end of the story.

Today, the government released an interesting statement, regarding the online assets of the customers hosted on MegaUpload. Apparently the government had released the servers, having copied whatever forensic evidence they "needed", and the data was back under nominal control of the company. However, as they also noted, the hosting companies might delete the data if MegaUpload did not pay their [monthly] hosting fees, which given their traffic, are probably large. Of course, that might be an issue, since the government still has all their assets frozen, thus making it impossible for them to do so.

The timing to too convenient to be accidental, in my mind. Why stage a huge, international law enforcement operation against a huge internet company, and then release all their systems in a matter of weeks? Could it be that the government wanted the company to miss the hosting payment, and have a scapegoat for when their data goes away ("not our fault, the hosting companies make that decision")? That sure would make their "case" against them pretty easy, when they have no evidence left to dispute the accusations. Oh, and also, their business is entirely destroyed, regardless of the eventual outcome of the legal battles. I'd say it's a pretty shrewd play, if you intent was to utterly destroy a company, and the people running it.

Which brings us to the object lesson: the government can, and will, utterly destroy you if they want to. Did the government respect international law or boundaries? Nope. Did the government respect the 4th Amendment? Nope. Did the government even give a token nod to due process? Nope. Is there jack the people running MegaUpload can do about it? Nope. Are they going to jail, broke, their lives ruined? Yup. And we, the rabble, didn't even have to give them the extra police-state powers that SOPA/PIPA would have endowed.

Some other possible lessons here:
- You cross the gestapo at your own peril.
- If you are storing data in "the cloud", it can be read/written/deleted by other people, like governments, and you will not be able to do anything about it; plan accordingly.
- However afraid of the government you are, it's probably not enough.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Devil in the Details

I listened to Obama's campaign speech State of the Union Address, and came away with an interesting perception: at a high level, I agree with a lot of what he's saying. There are plenty of reference to the speech/highlights on the web, but I'll focus on a few points, and point out where I agree with our socialist dictator socialist president, and where I differ.

[on the housing bubble/pop] Regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behaviour. It was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and left innocent, hard-working Americans holding the bag.

I totally agree. There was no reason for the government to be cheer-leading the housing bubble, when they knew it was unsustainable. Regulators not only looked the other way, they led the charge in the other direction: recall Greenspan's praise of the "new and innovative" lending products which enabled the bubble. Regulators were not only complicit, they were driving forces, and the GSE's were allowed to assume massive amounts of bad debt which the taxpayers are still paying for. It was wrong, it was irresponsible, and I hope some of the people who left taxpaying American's holding the bag (ie: many people in government during the bubble, including Senator Obama) is made to pay.

Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion.

This is a bold initiative, Mr President, and if it's true then I salute you. The deficit, as you know, is the difference between money taken in and spending, and colloquially refers (implicitly) to the annual difference. The budget deficit for 2011 was approximately $1 trillion, and will probably be slightly more than that (or possibly significantly, given your history) in 2012. However, if you indeed have agreed to cut it by $2 trillion (thus giving us perhaps a $800 billion surplus in 2012), then you have done more than I could imagine in the name of spending reductions, and I might even be inclined to support you in 2012. After all, even Ron Paul proposed a relatively modest reduction of $1 trillion in the deficit, and presumably that was over four years.

Of course, you could also be full of misleading distortions and shit, but here's hoping your statement was accurate. :)

What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries.

I think we would do well to heed this warning. If the auto industry can get a massive taxpayer bailout/subsidy, and become a government-run zombie industry, beholden to the unions as a gift to Democrat supporters, it could happen to other industries as well. You are astute to issue this warning, Mr. President: let us not make the grave mistake of putting another socialist in office, while we still have some private-sector industries left.

My message is simple. It’s time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America.

I wholeheartedly agree. We should revise the tax code, and stop making it a tangled mess of deductions, special-case favoritism, and disincentive on top of one of the highest business tax rates in the world. By simplifying the tax code and reducing the marginal rate, we can make job creation in America more appealing than abroad to all our benefit. I glossed over your specific suggestions, but I'm sure if you were serious about this one, they would be pretty close to mine.

[for education] In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

Once again, I totally agree. We need to break the powerful teacher's unions and lobby groups, and allow schools to get rid of bad teachers, and reward good ones. We need to ensure our students are educated enough to pass the tests, but rounded as well: fluent in many areas. We need to stop extorting states to fall in line with federal education mandates, get the government out of schools, and let them get better, so they are competitive with private offerings. Well said, Mr. President.

Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidising skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. [...] So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.

This sounds exactly like what I've been saying for a while: higher education costs have skyrocketed because of subsidies and government programs; they are chasing the tail of the problem they are creating. Cut the subsidies, and the costs will go down. It will be a painful transition (as coming off any other addiction), but it's what we need to do: get the government [largely] out of the education subsidization business. Once again, Obama surprisingly seems to be [somewhat] aware of the root of the problem, and [somewhat] proposing an actual viable solution.

And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history – with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.

I support this plan. As long as the DoD is operating within their budget, which is in-turn within a balanced and constrained federal budget, I support their purchasing of clean energy to generate demand. There are worse things we could spend military money on than domestic energy production and investment.

Let’s never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a Government and a financial system that do the same. It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs.

I couldn't agree more. It's time to hold those worthless politicians accountable: the ones who enacted the worthless stimulus package, bailed out the banks, bailed out the auto industry, propped up the housing market after the bubble popped, gave taxpayer money to the GSE's, authorized the FHA to keep giving risky loans after the bubble, gave massive handouts to their union supporters, and copped-out on their personal massive contribution to the national debt. Throw all those crooks out of office, starting at the top and working down, till all those scum are purged from our government.

But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.

I agree: put a cap of 20% of income on taxes, for everyone, then get rid of all the deductions for everyone making over... whatever arbitrary amount you consider "rich". People paying less will then pay their "far share", and people paying more won't get dicked-over by heavy-handed class-warfare tax policies. It's a win-win, and I can get behind it.

I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.

I believe that too, Mr. President, as does Ron Paul, probably more than anyone else in government. You should seek him as your running mate in 2012, to show you are serious about this pledge. I look forward to your reductions in the scope of government to match this pledge; frankly, I want nothing more than this from the government. If you follow through on nothing else stated here, but actually hold true to this, I give you my promise: I will support you.

Of course, as I said, the devil is in the details.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

One [Big] Reason for Conspiracy Theories

There are a lot of conspiracy theories out there. Many of these have to do with governmental, or extra-governmental, organizations, and how they are following secret agendas to advance their own goals, to the detriment (or in indifference to) to well-being of the rest of humanity. I'd be surprised if there weren't a few which are true, but likewise I'd speculate that most are false, yet they continue to persist, and many are at least somewhat plausible. I postulate that one significant reason for this is that people, probably largely subconsciously, refuse to believe that the actual governments could be as bad as they actually are.

Consider, for example, the Department of Homeland Security. You could certainly make the argument that, as part of a secret plot by the Skull and Bones fraternity (of which George Bush was a member), and using the 9/11 attacks as a pretense, DHS was setup as en evolution of police-suppression and monitoring in the US, and was designed to be a modern-day gestapo to oppress the people. Now, lots of that makes sense: the DHS is a modern-day gestapo, it does monitor the populace, it actively ignores Constitutional rights, and it could (and probably will) certainly be used to suppress dissent and exert government control. However, the idea that DHS was designed to do all of these things from the beginning stretches credibility: it would be akin to asserting that all the people who voted for Obama were secretly collectively architects of Socialism in America; while it may be true that Obama himself has socialist goals, it's difficult to believe that most people supporting him were intelligent enough to see the eventual consequences of their actions.

Rather, in the DHS case, it's more likely a product of incompetence, short-sightedness, and the undercurrent of adding to centralized government control which created this gestapo-nightmare, rather than a coordinated plan. I think people are quick to attribute eventualities which seem so counter to the well-being of the people to forces outside of the government (which nominally exists to protect and serve the people, rather than oppress them); in reality, it's more likely just a combination of incompetence, corruption, gross malfeasance, contemptible disregard for the Constitution, and outright stupidity which create these incomprehensibly bad eventual situations. There may indeed be a few people who could foresee the predictable outcomes, but the idea of a conspiracy encompassing all the people who contribute to the problem (in this case, essentially all of the federal government) defies common sense.

I think in reality, that's probably the cause of many of the conspiracy theories related to extra-governmental forces working to control events. To be fair, I think it would be a mistake to assume there aren't at least a few truly evil people in government, but most of the people in office are probably just ignorant, corrupt, or simply not interested in serving the interests of the people, or upholding the values of the country. Sure, you could interpret the fact that virtually everything the government does being detrimental to the people they nominally serve as one or more conspiracies, but I think Occum's Razor would suggest that, given the plethora and magnitude of downright scum in government, it's probably more just a natural consequence of an institution which itself has evolved to become the #1 enemy of the people, rather than sinister plans of external entities.

That's my thought, anyway, although I don't expect this will dissuade anyone who clings to the belief that government cannot possibly be as collectively bad as the end-results would suggest. For some things, we may never know the whole truth.