Author Archives: Quincy

James Comey vs. your privacy

Today’s smartphones contain more data about your life than any other device in human history. It could be argued that they even contain more usable information about your whereabouts and activities than your own brain. Naturally, post-Edward Snowden, protecting that information is a priority for a lot of people.

James Comey wants access to all of that information and he’s willing to let bad guys get at it too:

“Encryption threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place.”

“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch … it’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked. And my question is, at what cost?” Comey said. “Both companies [Apple and Google] are run by good people, responding to what they perceive is a market demand. But the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate.”

[…]

“With Going Dark, those of us in law enforcement and public safety have a major fear of missing out—missing out on predators who exploit the most vulnerable among us … kids call this FOMO,” he said.

Comey kept referring to the “debate” and “national conversation” that needs to be had regarding widespread encryption. That conversation, in Comey’s mind, should stop and start with the idea that there must be a “front door” means for the FBI, NSA, and other law enforcement agencies to blast through encryption. In other words, companies should be “developing [law enforcement] intercept solutions during the design phase,” a proposition that, beyond making encryption useless, is potentially not even technically feasible.

“Congress might have to force this on companies,” he said. “Maybe they’ll take the hint and do it themselves.”

Read the whole thing.

The view from the bubble

They say we’re entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts. Except, of course, if we’re Paul Krugman:

When it comes to Barack Obama, I’ve always been out of sync. Back in 2008, when many liberals were wildly enthusiastic about his candidacy and his press was strongly favorable, I was skeptical. I worried that he was naive, that his talk about transcending the political divide was a dangerous illusion given the unyielding extremism of the modern American right. Furthermore, it seemed clear to me that, far from being the transformational figure his supporters imagined, he was rather conventional-minded: Even before taking office, he showed signs of paying far too much attention to what some of us would later take to calling Very Serious People, people who regarded cutting budget deficits and a willingness to slash Social Security as the very essence of political virtue.

And I wasn’t wrong. Obama was indeed naive: He faced scorched-earth Republican opposition from Day One, and it took him years to start dealing with that opposition realistically. Furthermore, he came perilously close to doing terrible things to the U.S. safety net in pursuit of a budget Grand Bargain; we were saved from significant cuts to Social Security and a rise in the Medicare age only by Republican greed, the GOP’s unwillingness to make even token concessions.

But now the shoe is on the other foot: Obama faces trash talk left, right and center – literally – and doesn’t deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.

As usual, his screed is filled with cherry picked statistics, unsupported claims, and plenty of vitriol for those who don’t agree with him. He uses these weapons, such as they are, to paint a picture of Barack Obama as a consequential and successful president. While I certainly won’t argue with consequential (there have certainly been consequences for electing Obama), the bar Krugman sets for success is convenient for his case but meaningless to Americans outside the elite bubble.

How does Krugman address this?

Yes, Obama has a low approval rating compared with earlier presidents. But there are a number of reasons to believe that presidential approval doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to: There is much more party-sorting (in which Republicans never, ever have a good word for a Democratic president, and vice versa), the public is negative on politicians in general, and so on. Obviously the midterm election hasn’t happened yet, but in a year when Republicans have a huge structural advantage – Democrats are defending a disproportionate number of Senate seats in deep-red states – most analyses suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn’t what you’d expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.

More important, however, polls – or even elections – are not the measure of a president. High office shouldn’t be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. Has Obama done that? Do his achievements look likely to endure? The answer to both questions is yes.

Krugman’s point about changing the country for the better is an interesting one. It inevitably leads to the question of better for whom. We the people, pesky knaves who base our opinions on the reality we face every day, have been rejecting the claim that Obama has been successful in poll after poll for years.

That rejection is not hard to understand. Jobs are still hard to come by. Our hours have been cut. Our benefits have been slashed. Our savings haven’t earned interest in half a decade. We see more and more people on the streets, not just in big cities but in suburban towns. We know we might be one job loss away from joining them. We see a generation graduating from college into a hopeless economic situation. We know our children might be next. Worst of all, we’ve had to listen to the media trumpet recovery and economic good news while our situations are still terrible.

Instead of acknowledging the reality faced by the people, Krugman moves to silence and marginalize us. Our opinions are due to partisanship and being down on politicians in general. With a wave of a hand, he rewrites our stories to fit his narrative. This leaves room to for Krugman to explain Obama’s successes using only his preferences and priorities for reference. Inside the bubble, he matters and we don’t.

The problem with mobile Amber Alerts

As you might have heard, many Californians were awakened by their phones last week for a late-night Amber Alert:

Russ went to bed early, setting “do not disturb” mode on his iPhone so no one could wake him up. His phone did wake him up, though, screeching and lighting up with an Amber Alert message about abducted children in a different part of the state. He asked Consumerist: how can he make these unwanted text messages stop?

What Russ got wasn’t a text message. It was part of the Wireless Emergency Alert System, or WEA. That’s a Federal Communications Commission program that zaps alerts about man-made or natural disasters, urgent messages from the President, and Amber Alerts directly to your phone.

Russ’ case was typical. That’s the problem. Amber alerts do not represent life-and-limb emergencies for 99.999% of those who receive them. Yet, thanks to the requirement of all WEA messages to be accompanied by the distinctive Emergency Broadcast System tone, they are treated as such.

Predictably, the noise and disruption caused by this late-night alert sent a lot of folks (myself included) scurrying to turn it off. California officials warn against this:

[T]he tones that come along with [Amber Alerts] are disruptive and annoying.

They’re supposed to be – to wake you up and make you pay attention and law enforcement officers statewide are urging cell users to stay in this potentially life-saving loop.

“That individual who may have deactivated may have provided that info on an individual that we’re looking for. Put yourself in those cases as well and put it into perspective,” Quintero said.

Speaker of the Assembly John Perez is so concerned about possible mass alert deactivations that he’s calling for a legislative hearing on the matter.

He also plans to arrange funding for a campaign of public service announcements emphasizing the importance of the alert system.

The public service announcements will do absolutely nothing to solve the problem. They might get a few people to turn the alerts back on, but those same folks will end up turning them off again with the next Amber Alert. Personally, I’m not going to budge. As a musician and a software professional, I need to have absolute trust in the Vibrate Only and Do Not Disturb settings on my smartphone. The Amber Alert I received caused my phone to emit a noise on maximum volume despite my setting it to Vibrate Only.

After this happened, I carefully examined the Emergency Alert settings on my device and found that there is no way to leave these on without the sound. That lack of choice is unfortunate. I would have been perfectly happy receiving Amber Alerts that displayed like other push notifications. I know at least a dozen other people who feel the same way. Judging by the news, there are probably hundreds of thousands more in the state. Each and every one of us will never get another Amber Alert on our phone because our only choices were to tolerate the noisy disruptions or opt out entirely. Guess we’ll just have to get our Amber Alerts from those signs on the highways.

Embrace Burke? No thanks, Mr. Dionne. I’ll take Coolidge instead.

In his never-ending campaign to weaken those who oppose a progressive state, E.J. Dionne has attempted to give American Conservatives (including, in his flawed formulation, libertarians) a new idol: Edmund Burke. Embracing Burke, Dionne posits, would “clip the wings of modern conservatives”:

It’s to Norman’s credit that he recognizes how “Burke also clips the wings of many contemporary conservatives.” While he “helped establish modern conceptions of nationhood and national allegiance,” he “rejected military adventures.” He “celebrated religious observance, but despised moral absolutism.”

Norman also sees Burke as implicitly offering “a profound critique of the market fundamentalism now prevalent in Western society.” He thinks that Burke would “note the extraordinary greed and self-dealing seen over the past decade by the modern nabobs of banking and finance in a series of cartels disguised as markets.” And a Burkean conservatism would be wary of any ideology that “causes people to lose sight of the real social sources of human well-being and to become more selfish and individualistic, by priming them with ideas of financial success and celebrity.”

The second paragraph is built on an entirely faulty assumption. It is simply beyond question that the FHA and its’ regulated GSEs were the key enabler of the housing bubble of the last decade in the US. These New Deal programs socialized the risk of mortgages while allowing private players to reap the profits. True market fundamentalists always railed against these distortions of markets. It is advocates of big government, such as Dionne himself, who are to blame for the situation.

Even without the factual error, Dionne’s quote from Norman on Burke’s belief is wrought with other problems. It requires one to believe that greed is linked to individualism and ignore the parade of collectivists who sought to use the machinery of Washington to exploit others for the own gain. (Sadly, too many people actually believe this, but that’s another story for another time.) It requires one to believe that conservatives care deeply about celebrity as a part of a core ideology. Dionne perhaps missed the right’s revulsion to the concept of Barack Obama as a savior and a light worker. Or maybe he didn’t and just assumed it was a symptom of bitter clinging. In any case, he overlooks the fact that the left has a monopoly on personalizing politics in this country.

Now that we have established that Dionne’s understanding of a conservative is already tenuous, at best, let’s read his vision of a model Burkean Conservative:

Burke’s conservatism was based on a proper understanding of that word. He believed in preserving the social order and respecting old habits. He persistently warned against the destructive character of radical change. He was wary of ideology and grand ideas, rejecting, as Norman puts it, “universal claims divorced from an actual social context.” Burke saw the well-ordered society as a “partnership of the dead, the living and the yet to be born,” a nice formula for a forward-looking traditionalism — and not a bad slogan for environmentalists.

Here, Dionne unwittingly uncovers a truth. Given that the modern social order in the US is built upon the legacy of the progressives and the New Deal, to be a Burkean conservative is to be a mainstream progressive. Libertarians are seen as radicals precisely because we want a social order that dispenses with the New Deal and its legacy. Meanwhile, modern Republicans play to shape a conservative social agenda using the rules and mechanisms put in place by the New Deal. Even the Constitution, the contract between the dead, the living, and the yet to be born in the United States, is interpreted through the ideology of the New Dealers.

This insight brings us to the most laughable of Dionne’s assertions:

Conservatism will flounder unless it remembers the imperative of addressing the interests of the many, not the few.

Progressives have never done anything but address the needs of the few. Which few and to what degree are always in question. The need for an underclass of highly productive but exploitable people is not. This underclass was referred to by William Graham Sumner as “The Forgotten Man”:

It is when we come to the proposed measures of relief for the evils which have caught public attention that we reach the real subject which deserves our attention. As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X or, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X. As for A and B, who get a law to make themselves do for X what they are willing to do for him, we have nothing to say except that they might better have done it without any law, but what I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. He is the victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist, and I hope to show you before I get through that he deserves your notice both for his character and for the many burdens which are laid upon him.

Sumner’s appellation notwithstanding, members of this productive underclass are not forgotten by progressives. On the contrary, they are known to be a vital component of any progressive plan for society. In the Affordable Care Act, for example, they are the young and healthy who must be conscripted into the health insurance market so that their premiums might benefit the old and sick. In Social Security, they are the workers who pay taxes in so that retirees may get benefits. In Affirmative Action, they are the whites and Asians who lose opportunities granted to other minorities on the basis of skin color.

For decades, progressives maintained the illusion that it was only a demonized few who bore the brunt of this exploitation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used his political acumen to identify groups for benefit or demonization. He went so far in this endeavor as to hire photographers and writers to produce propaganda about those who benefited while launching vicious legal battles against innocent men just because they were in a group targeted for demonization. (This does have a familiar ring, doesn’t it?)

However, that illusion has cracked in recent years. Eventually, millions of members of the productive underclass realized exactly what was going on. So born was the Tea Party, a so-called conservative movement. Distressingly for Dionne, this movement is far from the conservatism Burke preached and Dionne practices daily. It is radical, seeking to smash a social order built upon exploiting its members for the benefit of others.

The radical nature of the Tea Party prompted fear among the establishment. Both major parties in America are essentially progressive in mechanics, if not agenda. The angry, dismissive reaction from the Republicans and the downright punitive reaction from the Democrats highlighted how radical the idea of declaring one “taxed enough already” truly is. Since the Wilson administration, Washington has decided who was taxed enough already and who could pay more.

The Tea Party, for all the good it has done in revealing the corruption in Washington (much through its own victimhood at the hands of the IRS), is still a movement lacking a positive idea. It is essentially a movement pushing for a cessation of activity. This will cause many to ask what shall be done instead. The Tea Party has no answer for this.

Neither, it seems, do most libertarians. We tend to focus on the “no” too often as well. Government should stop doing this and not start doing that. We’re seen as a force of negativity. Unfortunately, in a world where we are opposed to both major parties and the mainstream media apparatus designed to enforce the status quo, negativity doesn’t sell.

Respect and stability, however, do. Enter Calvin Coolidge. The concept of normalcy embraced by Harding and Coolidge is both simple and elegant. Here is a description of the concept by Amity Shlaes in an interview with Ed Driscoll:

Ed, what did you learn normalcy was in school? I learned it was something kind of dull, right? Like the — normalcy doesn’t sound elevated or wonderful and that was the Harding motto.

But what they meant by normalcy is not we should all be normal and cogs. Right? What they meant is the environment should be normal so that we can have fun and play with new ideas, which is something very different. Predictability, the reduction of uncertainty. Coolidge as a candidate even used the phrase “uncertainty” which you hear so much today and which is also the subject of Forgotten Man. It’s less uncertainty, please. He really — it’s a theme all the way to the end of his life. You can find it in his columns post-presidency. He spoke of uncertainty.

If you’re reading this, you’re taking advantage of Coolidge’s concept of normalcy in a very different context. The internet is built on normalcy. Packets are packets, traffic is traffic, and different application protocols expect lower-level protocols to act as specified at all times. The creation built upon these simple ideas, upon normalcy, is easily humanity’s largest by a vast margin. Yet there is no edifice called “The Internet”, no building that makes it all work. It is a distributed network of components all playing by the same rules.*

So it was with the American economy under Coolidge. After a decade of tumult resulting from progressive leadership, the US economy got eight blessed years of normalcy. With this diminished uncertainty, companies were free to invest. The economy boomed and even the poor man was better off in 1928 than in 1920.

Then, in response to the crash of 1929, a round of “bold experiments” (to borrow FDR’s phrase) were undertaken upon the economy by Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Congresses of the era for the next decade and a half. These experiments caused untold economic devastation by distorting markets, increasing uncertainty, and causing those who had capital to hoard and protect it, eventually causing Roosevelt to pursue an undistributed profits tax to shake this capital loose from unwilling businesses. Even during the Second World War, while the US was not statistically in a depression, the standard of living was still poor in comparison to the normalcy of the 1920s.

The experiments, in every empirical sense, were a failure. But with the help of writers like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (who Dionne quotes approvingly as an admirer of Burke), these failures were pawned off on the American people as successes and the role that predictability and normalcy play in prosperity forgotten.

Today, we face an economic crisis built upon government interventions into and distortions of the private economy. Despite the Obama administration focusing on jobs, there has been no improvement for the millions who have been chronically unemployed for years. The Democrats’ bold experiment with banking, the Dodd-Frank law, has driven the poor away from banks as they killed off free services. The Democrats’ bold experiment with health care is already driving up costs for millions while making full-time jobs hard to come by for hourly workers. Look at any problem in the US economy today and at its root you will find a bold experiment from Washington, D.C.

The message I have for all Americans is to ignore Dionne (good advice in any case) and his plea to embrace Burke. It’s time to embrace Coolidge and pursue a course of radical normalcy.
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*For those who don’t remember, one of the major arguments against SOPA and PIPA were that they legislated a change in the architecture of the internet that broke the DNS protocol. This endangered the functioning of the entire network by disrupting the rules upon which countless other technologies depended. A perfect illustration of the need for normalcy in a complex, distributed system.

Our Democracy

Barack Obama tells graduates at Ohio University today:

Still, you’ll hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

Perhaps those voices are on to something… Here’s Alcee Hastings on “our” democracy:

“When the deal goes down, uh… All this talk about, uh… rules? We make ‘em up, as we go along.”

Thus it was that Obamacare was never passed in full by the House. Pelosi made up the rules as she went along. The will of the American people was expressly ignored by Democrats in Congress to inflict Obamacare on us. In fact, we the people had to pass the bill to find out what was in it, according to Pelosi.

It was funny (and not a little terrifying) to see how quickly “our” democracy bent to Obama’s will. Then the system of checks and balances came into play to claim a little of the Democrats’ power. Now, after an embarrassing attempt to pass new gun controls on his own, Barack Obama gets up an preaches seriously about our democracy. In other words, when Congress misbehaves, it’s our democracy. Heh.

Two words…

Matthew Yglesias says:

What’s needed is a much more forceful, much more statist approach to forced savings, whether that’s quasi-savings in the form of higher taxes and more Social Security benefits or something like a Singapore-style system where “private” savings are pooled into a state-run investment fund.

It only takes two words to show that this is massively unwise: Chrysler bondholders.

This is…

…why I don’t trust people who want power:

By mid-May Steve [Heymann] was acting weird. None of his raids seemed to have turned up what he wanted. Aaron’s lawyer was talking to JSTOR, which had found him through Steve. We had contacted people to talk to JSTOR, eminent people, many of whom were shocked by what was happening. JSTOR was key to the prosecution, it was the victim, and we were winning them over. Steve had agents drop off a warrant made out to Aaron [Swartz], rather than law enforcement. It demanded the JSTOR documents, with the location for serving the warrant left blank. Aaron showed it to me, and we tried to interpret it in bewilderment. Warrants are executed by officers, not suspects. Aaron then told me Steve had threatened to get him arrested for contempt of court if he didn’t turn over JSTOR files. It was all tricks and lies, but it just seemed crazy at the time. But tricks and lies are part of prosecutions, allowed, and perhaps even encouraged, by prosecutorial immunity.

Read the whole thing.

A Question of Labor Scarcity

Cory Doctorow started the New Year with a very interesting piece on the “roboticization of the workforce”. The whole article is worth a read, but it brings up a disturbing question:

But here’s the thing that neither of these articles — or even Bruce’s acid observations — touches on: once technology creates abundance, what possibilities exist for distributing the fruits of that abundance such that the benefits are more evenly felt?

There are plenty of people who will suggest that collectivist economics and centralized redistribution are the answer. Given the last century of history, that’s not an option I like. Take a look at Doctorow’s nightmare scenario:

We’ve been talking about an increase in productivity producing an increase in leisure for a long time, but instead, the “winner take all” world of Brynjolfsson and McAfee often seems to produce a “winner” class that works itself into an early grave by running 100-hour work weeks at astounding payscales, and a much larger “loser” class that works itself into an early grave by working 100-hour weeks in shitty, marginal, grey-economy jobs, trying to stitch together something like an income.

This is bad. However, the nightmare scenario that evolves under socialism is invariably worse. Instead of a winner class created by skilled, high-value work, a winner class develops from people who successfully gain control of the redistribution machine. Giving power to those who covet it is rarely a good idea, but usually unavoidable. The United States was built with a system of government shaped by this insight. By and large, its citizens have profited from keeping checks and balances on power seekers, even as the power seekers have eroded them.

A class of power seekers in control of an economic redistribution machine that replaces labor markets would not be subject to checks and balances. By controlling what people have, they would have absolute, unchecked power. Worse, power seekers tend to be the least sensitive to the wants and needs of the people they control. Even worse, most power seekers see others as resources to be exploited for their benefit.

Terrifying, isn’t it? Surely, we can avoid this by making sure the right people are in charge. Nope, sorry. Eventually, those who want power will take over the redistribution machine. It’s a certainty. Those who seek power will overcome the will of the rest to keep them out. It’s the consistent thread in human history.

The real problem is that we’re approaching a point where the labor market as it’s structured will collide with the efficiency gains caused by technology. If most labor is not scarce enough to allow workers to earn enough to support themselves and their families, how does society respond? How do supporters of economic liberty respond? What new mechanisms can be devised that allow ordinary people to continue to participate freely in the markets for goods and services without the wealth earned from the labor market?

This is stuff supporters of economic liberty need to start thinking about now. Our opponents have a ready answer that people will be drawn to despite its historic failures. Without an alternative from us, tyranny of the default will result in actual tyranny.

Larry Correia on Gun Control

I just finished reading Larry Correia’s “An opinion on gun control“, a tour de force attacking the logic and arguments of those who want to control guns. His view on those who want to control guns is damning:

In conclusion, basically it doesn’t really matter what something you pick when some politician or pundit starts screaming we’ve got to do something, because in reality, most of them already know a lot of what I listed above. The ones who are walking around with their security details of well-armed men in their well-guarded government buildings really don’t care about actually stopping mass shooters or bad guys, they care about giving themselves more power and increasing their control.

If a bad guy used a gun with a big magazine, ban magazines. If instead he used more guns, ban owning multiple guns. If he used a more powerful gun with less shots, ban powerful guns. If he used hollowpoints, ban hollowpoints. (which I didn’t get into, but once again, there’s a reason everybody who might have to shoot somebody uses them). If he ignored some Gun Free Zone, make more places Gun Free Zones. If he killed a bunch of innocents, make sure you disarm the innocents even harder for next time. Just in case, let’s ban other guns that weren’t even involved in any crimes, just because they’re too big, too small, too ugly, too cute, too long, too short, too fat, too thin, (and if you think I’m joking I can point out a law or proposed law for each of those) but most of all ban anything which makes some politician irrationally afraid, which luckily, is pretty much everything.

They will never be happy. In countries where they have already banned guns, now they are banning knives and putting cameras on every street. They talk about compromise, but it is never a compromise. It is never, wow, you offer a quick, easy, inexpensive, viable solution to ending mass shootings in schools, let’s try that. It is always, what can we take from you this time, or what will enable us to grow some federal apparatus?

I can’t add much to this, other than to relay an experience I once had walking through the Wembley neighborhood of London. I was with some relatives who lived in Birmingham and we were going to visit central London that day. We parked a few blocks from Wembley Station and walked over there. In the day, one could easily sense that the fresh stucco facade of the public housing was hiding a rough neighborhood. It turned out not to matter at that point.

After going into London and having a perfectly pleasant day, we took the tube back to Wembley station. By this time, the sun had gone down. The neighborhood we had to walk through was downright scary at night. My sense was that this was a place where the weak didn’t last long. This was soon confirmed as a band of twenty young men wielding pipes and other weapons ran unchallenged through the streets. No guns, but enough brawn and metal to make this gang very deadly.

I had never felt fear like this in my life. I’ve had to fight off two muggers in my time, both of whom fled quickly when they realized I was going to fight. (Both fights were unarmed, as legally carrying a weapon in California is effectively impossible for those without political connections. But, I digress.) In both those cases, even while being mugged, I didn’t feel or believe that the environment was dominated by lawlessness. If someone had seen the mugging going on, they would have tried to help or at least called a cop.

That night in Wembley, I felt none of that security. These young men acted like they were immune from any harm as they rampaged through the street. There were no police. There were no citizens willing to stand up for the innocent. It was terrifying. I started looking around, what elements in the environment could I use in a fight with these guys. How could I keep them away from my relatives?

In my head, though, it always ended the same. We were dead. Twenty strong, armed young men vs. two guys, a woman, and two kids, all unarmed. No police. No hope of assistance. Any confrontation would end with our deaths, simple as that.

It was a truly savage environment where might ruled without exception. This is the end result of gun control. There were only two types of people in that environment: aggressors and eventual victims. I’m writing this because we weren’t victims that night. But if we repeated that walk enough times, it would have been us.

When I hear politicians talk about gun control, this is the environment I think of. It’s the same kind of environment that our crime statistics say we have in Richmond and Oakland, just an hour’s drive from me. These two cities account for over 150 murders every year. It’s the same kind of environment we have in Detroit, which is now suffering from profound urban decay. It’s the same kind of environment that produced over 600 murders in Chicago last year.

Keep this in mind as you read Larry’s piece. It’s long, but it’s worth it… most of all if you’re a supporter of gun control.

Thoughts on the fiscal cliff

Just some quick thoughts on the fiscal cliff…

IT’S THE SPENDING, STUPID

It’s frustrating that no one is discussing the fact the the Obama plan for deficit reduction actually increases spending with the inclusion of a stimulus package in 2013. Raising taxes and borrowing more money for more stimulus not debt reduction. It’s just more debt.

The political failure from Republican leaders in the House is staggering. Republicans should have been hammering Obama’s plan so damn hard even the media had to listen. The ad writes itself: “Obama’s plan is tax now, borrow now, spend now. Is that a balanced approach?” It’s a compelling message, a potent political weapon, and it’s true. Had Boehner been looking for any of those, he would have figured this out. Unfortunately for the American people, Boehner felt it was more important to compromise with Obama.

At this point, if I were Boehner, I would actually give into Obama on tax increases but insist that tax increases be met dollar-for-dollar with spending cuts. If suddenly there were no conflict about tax rates but there was no deal, it would force people (even reporters) to ask what the remaining barriers were. This would allow Boehner to shift the conversation where it needs to be… on spending. (Yes, I know this plan is insane. However, when you’re negotiating someone who’s view of compromise is “heads, I win; tails, I win”, there is no such thing as sanity.)

NEWSPEAK OF THE DAY

From the WaPo article linked above:

Boehner’s latest offer calls for $2 trillion in savings over the next decade, half from higher taxes and half from cuts to the fast-growing health and retirement programs that are the federal government’s largest expense. All told, Obama’s latest offer calls for about $2.15 trillion in savings.

Taking more money from the citizens is “savings”? Who knew bank robbers were being so darn responsible, saving all that money?

The accurate description of Boehner’s plan would be $1.2 trillion in savings and $800 billion in taxes. Obama’s plan would accurately be described as $1.5 trillion in new taxes, $80 billion in new spending in 2013, and $570 billion in cuts thereafter. The truth, of course, would disrupt the narrative that the President’s plan is balanced while Boehner’s is not. Therefore, spending cuts and taxes are all called savings.

In other news, the English Language filed assault charges against the Washington Post after reading the article. (If only.)

WHAT IF GOING OVER THE CLIFF ISN’T THAT BAD?

The conventional wisdom is that going over the cliff will be an economic nightmare. But what if it isn’t? There are a some positives in going over the fiscal cliff:

  1. Government spending will go down.
  2. The debt limit will not need to be increased.
  3. Americans will actually be impacted by the cost of government.

Might these mitigate the harms of going over the cliff? In the short term, I don’t think so. The financial hit taken by Americans coupled with the continued economic uncertainty of a government groping for a solution will cause a lot of pain.

In the long term, the pain might (notice I said “might”) produce a healthy skepticism of government spending among the citizens. A 2011 Gallup poll already indicated that the public overwhelmingly favors spending cuts in the abstract. However, they tend not to favor cutting things that benefit them directly. Since different people benefit from different programs, this produces an unwillingness for politicians in either party to cut spending. If people suddenly become concerned with the economic pain of the fiscal cliff, they just might be receptive to a trade-off of reduced government benefits for decreased taxes and increased economic stability.

Of course, there has to be support from the GOP in Washington for this, since it certainly won’t come from the Democrats. Well, there goes that idea…

CONCLUSION

Take these thoughts for what they are… frustrations and wild speculations about the fiscal cliff. Hopefully they start a good discussion on the subject. Maybe they’ll even open a few eyes to facets of the situation left unreported by the mainstream media.

Let me steal adapt a song title from Avenue Q for a closing thought: There is life outside of the Beltway. This country has survived a hell of a lot and it still can. The will of the American people to be successful and prosperous has survived recessions and depressions and governments more suffocating than what we have today. We can do it again, even if we go over the cliff.

Four more years…

This quote from Santayana seems to sum up the first four years of Obama’s reign:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

We’ve endured four years of government action designed to stimulate and save a failing economy. Four years where the average American saw an economy in shambles, friends and neighbors in trouble. Four years of sweeping changes to laws that affect the economy. Four years of a president taking undeserved credit for any signs of progress while avoiding all blame. Despite all that, the American people came out yesterday and said we want four more years of this.

Taking a cold, dispassionate look at the results, voting for four more years of Obama is ludicrous. He is, by all metrics, an abysmal failure. Obviously, the electorate failed to learn from the past, right?

Not so fast. The years in our history that parallel our current situation are ones where our collective memory, such as it is, recalls history as written by the victor: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Every statement above is equally as applicable to FDR in 1932-36, but history remembers him as a hero, not a goat. To a certain degree, FDR got lucky. A world war and a vice president kind enough to quietly reverse his economic course after his death certainly saved his reputation.

However, it should not be underestimated the role that certain historians played in shaping our memory of FDR. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s The Age of Roosevelt trilogy was the definitive work on FDR for several decades. It was strongly pro-Roosevelt and set up the narrative that Roosevelt saved the nation from the Great Depression.

In the years since, other interpretations of Roosevelt’s impact on the nation and the economy have been put forward. To my mind, the interpretations that rest upon sound economics and data from the period are much more credible than Schlesinger’s take. (See, for one, Milton Friedman’s work on the subject.) But the narrative was set and the damage was done. The vast majority of the populace believes FDR saved the nation from the Great Depression with the same sort of policies favored by Obama.

Today, history is written very differently. Rather than taking place over decades, it often crystallizes days and weeks after events occur. As the last decade has shown, this narrative can be formed or changed by ordinary people with good insights and ideas. Where 76 years ago, the people had to rely on newspapers and radio for information, today we have a platform that allows everyone a voice. In this dark hour, that is a beacon of hope.

As we deal with four more years of Obama, we the people need to stand up for the truth. No one else will do it for us. Write what you see, what you hear. If the narrative put forth by the mainstream media is suspect, question it. If a politician claims credit for something he can’t have caused, call it out.

Most importantly, if you hear Obama supporters complaining about the consequences of one of his policies, educate them. Obama supporters complaining they can’t find a job? Talk to them about the impact Obamacare and regulatory uncertainty are having on employers. Complaining about high gas prices? Talk about the ban on gulf oil drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline. Make the link between their complaint and their vote.

Do this gently. Do it in a friendly, engaging way. But do it. Every. Single. Time.

Taxpayers made that happen

By now, everyone has heard Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

That quote? It’s fiction. There is no mythical “somebody else”. There is no class of people separate from entrepreneurs and workers who created those things. The political elite would claim otherwise, as Obama does. They claim they built those and we owe them fealty for that.

The truth is obvious. That government? Those public works? They didn’t build those. That research? They didn’t fund that. Taxpayers made that happen.

Individual Mandate Upheld as Tax

The Supreme Court has upheld the individual mandate as valid under the Congress’ taxing power in the Constitution. Disappointing, but not surprising.

The worst thing about it is that the individual mandate is really a one-shot delaying tactic. The law can only mandate people into the insurance market once. When health care spending continues to rise after the mandate, insurance premiums are going to have to rise along with it. So, really, the Supreme Court has upheld Congress’ ability to use its taxing power as a punitive measure in the service of a cheap trick.

Two predictions:

1. Health care premiums initially hold flat in 2014 as insurers get more customers via the mandate, then start rising faster than they were before.
2. Congress finds more ways to exercise its taxing power as punishment for non-compliance.

Folks, it’s going to get fun.

Fast and Furious was not botched

I’ve officially lost count of the number of times I’ve heard or read a media source assert that Operation Fast and Furious was botched. It wasn’t. It did exactly what it was designed to do: put American guns in the hands of criminals so they could terrorize and kill innocent Mexicans with them and get caught doing so. When they were caught, the guns would be traced back to American gun shops “proving” that smuggling was a huge problem that had to be solved by any means necessary.

Were it not for the whistleblowers, the Obama administration would have built a gun control propaganda campaign upon a pile of dead bodies–exactly has they had planned to. Every single dead body was the result of things going right in the operation, not wrong.

So, why is the media continuing to insist that it was botched? Simple. It allows them to keep the truth of the Republican investigation out of the narrative. They can frame the investigation as looking into a mistake, like so many others. In reality, it’s an investigation looking at the administration’s clear intent to sacrifice innocent and unwilling lives for its own political agenda.

When you hear the word botched, know that it’s an attempt to weave a tale of incompetence when the real story is one of evil.

Tomasky: Kill personal freedom for government and crony capitalist well-being

Michael Tomasky penned a sickeningly ignorant and immoral piece in the Daily Beast… even more sickening than he considers sodas and 1/2 pound hamburgers. The most stomach-turning part:

We have this “liberty” business completely backward in this country, and if Bloomberg can start rebalancing individual freedom and the public good, God bless him, I say.

Got that? Individual freedom has to be balanced with the public good.

But, wait, you say, ain’t we the public? Not in Tomasky’s view:

The costs to the health-care system are enormous, so the public interest here is ridiculously obvious. Obesity is a killer. Are we to do nothing, in the name of the “liberty” that entitles millions of people to kill themselves however they please, whatever their diabetes treatments costs their insurers?

The health-care system is a hybrid crony capitalist/government enterprise. Health coverage in its current form exists because of myriad laws and regulations. Hospitals and clinics are highly regulated. Doctors and nurses must pass through regulated courses of education. In every way that matters, government has been driving for decades.

Washington has created a system where certain private, individual behaviors create a drag on the system. Therefore, it’s now in the “public interest” to limit commerce to discourage individual behaviors that cost the system money. Unlike with communicable diseases like tuberculosis, obesity inherently affects only the individual. The “public interest” here is entirely a construct of government.

Now, let’s restate Tomasky in a more truthful fashion:

We have this “liberty” business completely backward in this country, and if Bloomberg can start rebalancing individual freedom and the well-being of the government and crony capitalists, God bless him, I say.

I’d say those who are opposing this have ‘this “liberty” business’ quite right.

Reason.com has more on this.

The Life of Julia… who really wins?

President Obama’s campaign has put together “The Life of Julia“, following a woman from cradle to grave to show how she benefits from the enlightened benificence of President Barack Obama.

The reality, though, is rather different. Let’s look now at “The Life of Julia”:

» Read more

Call to action: Stop the police cyber-state

There is a scary bill working its way through Congress right now: H.R. 1981 – the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011

While this sounds like a worthy goal, the bill features a repressive data retention requirement that would open ordinary Americans to abuse from government as well as cyber-criminals. Specifically, the bill requires that the temporary IP address of users of commercial ISP access be retained along with identifying information for 18 months.

Here’s a quick primer on how your computer gets on the internet with the average commercial ISP:

  1. You plug the phone line/TV cable into this modem.
  2. The modem establishes a connection with the ISP through the phone line/TV cable.
  3. The modem is assigned an IP address (e.g. 71.119.121.143)
  4. You hook a computer or a router into the modem.
  5. This computer or router is assigned an IP address (either 192.168.xxx.xxx or 10.xxx.xxx.xxx)
  6. If you hooked up a router, then the computers hooked to it will be assigned IP addresses by the router.

The important thing here is that only the IP address of the modem is visible to the ISP. There could be one, five, or fifty computers sitting behind that modem, but to the ISP all that traffic would be coming from a single IP.

Let’s look now at a couple of cases in which child pornography might be requested by a machine behind an IP without the ISP customer’s knowledge:

  1. The WiFi Stealer: The customer is running a poorly-secured wireless access point. A neighbor looking to download child porn cracks the security and uses the access point to download the material.
  2. The Virus: A computer virus makes it on to one of the customer’s machines. It is programmed to fetch data from child porn websites and relay it to the virus creator.

Note that in both cases, the customer of the ISP and those living in his household wouldn’t even know their connection had been used to download child porn until they got the knock on the door. Aside from the thousands of families each year whose lives would be disrupted by purely mistaken prosecutions, setting this standard in law would make it possible to deliberately set people up to undergo a time-consuming and costly legal battle.

If that weren’t bad enough, the requirement to retain “identifying account data” is troublesome as well. What could be so bad about keeping the name of the customer for 18 months? Nothing, except keeping the name alone won’t do what the bill wants. As someone who’s designed software to match identities, I can say with certainty that in practice this requirement would force retention, at a minimum, of customer name, address, and date of birth. Most ISPs would probably go farther and retain a unique ID number such as a Social Security Number or a financial ID number such as a credit/debit card number or checking account number.

But wait a minute, you say. Don’t ISPs already have all this?

Yes, they do. Today, they are not required to relate the assigned IP addresses for the last 18 months to it. This requires storing the customer data in such a way that it can be related to the IP addresses, as well as being recalled later for use by law enforcement.

The simple fact of making it usable for law enforcement makes it less secure. The logs have to be linked to the customer accounts, meaning that the data is likely exposed to the internet. All the data has to be recalled as plain text, meaning that weaker encryption practices must be used. Even if everything is done perfectly right, an interface must be built to get the data out and to law enforcement, meaning that a bad actor inside an ISP has a ready-made portal to all sorts of personally-identifiable information.

Sounds pretty bad, right? It’s worse than you think. Corporate records are not subject to the same Fourth Amendment protections as individual records. Currently, to find out everything an ISP user is doing, law enforcement needs to prove its case and get a warrant. Under this bill, your internet activity would be pre-existing corporate records. No more warrants. Government wants to find out about your IP address, they subpoena the ISP for that record and they get information about you without having to prove a thing.

This bill is bad, folks. We need each of our readers to step up and contact your Representative and encourage them to say NO to this bill that treats all internet users as criminals.

Too big to fail: Washington edition

From Megan McArdle, a list of reasons why the Federal Government is too big to fail (or even pause):

  • The nation’s nuclear arsenal is no longer being watched or maintained
  • The doors of federal prisons have been thrown open, because none of the guards will work without being paid, and the vendors will not deliver food, medical supplies, electricity,etc.
  • The border control stations are entirely unmanned, so anyone who can buy a plane ticket, or stroll across the Mexican border, is entering the country. All the illegal immigrants currently in detention are released, since we don’t have the money to put them on a plane, and we cannot actually simply leave them in a cell without electricity, sanitation, or food to see what happens.
  • All of our troops stationed abroad quickly run out of electricity or fuel. Many of them are sitting in a desert with billions worth of equipment, and no way to get themselves or their equipment back to the US.
  • Our embassies are no longer operating, which will make things difficult for foreign travellers
  • No federal emergency assistance, or help fighting things like wildfires or floods. Sorry, tornado people! Sorry, wildfire victims! Try to live in the northeast next time!
  • Housing projects shut down, and Section 8 vouchers are not paid. Families hit the streets.
  • The money your local school district was expecting at the October 1 commencement of the 2012 fiscal year does not materialize, making it unclear who’s going to be teaching your kids without a special property tax assessment.
  • The market for guaranteed student loans plunges into chaos. Hope your kid wasn’t going to college this year!
  • The mortgage market evaporates. Hope you didn’t need to buy or sell a house!
  • The FDIC and the PBGC suddenly don’t have a government backstop for their funds, which has all sorts of interesting implications for your bank account.
  • The TSA shuts down. Yay! But don’t worry about terrorist attacks, you TSA-lovers, because air traffic control shut down too. Hope you don’t have a vacation planned in August, much less any work travel.
  • Unemployment money is no longer going to the states, which means that pretty so, it won’t be going to the unemployed people.

Now, how many of the companies that leftists were screaming were “too big to fail” could have had one one-hundredth the impact of a Federal Government failure? Yet these same leftists who recognize too big to fail as a bad thing want to endow the Federal Government with ever more power. Amazing.

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