Category Archives: Government Incompetence

As Painful As Possible, For As Many As Possible

I haven’t blogged about the shutdown, because, well, I haven’t blogged much about anything. Mea culpa.

I haven’t had time because I’m, quite frankly, not personally or professionally affected. Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog, however, is very personally AND professionally affected. Warren operates private concession operations that handle all on-site activities at parks, with a good portion of his business based upon federal parks.

These parks use no federal employees. They don’t require any federal dollars to operate. In fact, they pay rent to the federal government as part of the terms of their lease. So of all things, you’d think that the Feds would want them to remain open. In fact, in all previous shutdowns (including 1995 & 1996), they have remained open.

Not this time. They’ve been ordered to close.

I can’t do justice to all the coverage that already exists for this. While I assume many of my readers are also daily readers at Coyote Blog (and Popehat), I can’t be sure.

All of Warren’s post on this topic can be found here. Check them out, please. You will not be disappointed.

As it pertains to the shutdown, I have little patience for the Republicans here. The Republicans are playing a gambit they can’t win. The Dems are NOT going to defund or delay Obamacare. This is stupid on strategic and tactical levels. You can’t win and you’re going to damage your brand in the process. WTF are you thinking?!

But what I see from the Obama administration is wrong on many more levels. It seems that the administration’s tactic here is to screw as many people as possible, to make this as painful as possible, and then hope the blame rests only on the Republicans for what the administration has done. There is no reason to close these privately-operated parks. There’s no reason to throw people out of their homes because they rest on federal land. There’s no reason to close open-air memorials that don’t require human workers to operate. While I’m not sympathetic to Republican partisans, I have to say that naming the barriers that closed the World War II memorial “Barrycades” is quite smart.

I’m still filled with nothing but disgust for everyone in Washington. Both sides are angling for a “win”. I want to see both sides lose, dammit!

Unfortunately, I know that in Nov. 2014, lawmakers from both parties will probably enjoy >90% re-election rates. And people wonder why I say that democracy doesn’t work?

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Bye Bye 4th and 5th amendment: Obamacare info may be used for Law Enforcement and Audit activities

Well… we knew that the 4th and 5th amendment meant nothing to them… never mind HIPAA… but really?

 

Obamacare Marketplace: Personal Data Can Be Used For ‘Law Enforcement and Audit Activities’

Maryland’s Health Connection, the state’s Obamacare marketplace, has been plagued by delays in the first days of open enrollment. If users are able to endure long page-loading delays, they are presented with the website’s privacy policy, a ubiquitous fine-print feature on websites that often go unread. Nevertheless, users are asked to check off a box that they agree to the terms.

The policy contains many standard statements about information automatically collected regarding Internet browsers and IP addresses, temporary “cookies” used by the site, and website accessibility. However, at least two conditions may give some users pause before proceeding.

The first is regarding personal information submitted with an application for those users who follow through on the sign up process all the way to the end. The policy states that all information to help in applying for coverage and even for making a payment will be kept strictly confidential and only be used to carry out the function of the marketplace. There is, however, an exception: “[W]e may share information provided in your application with the appropriate authorities for law enforcement and audit activities.” Here is the entire paragraph from the policy the includes the exception [emphasis added]:

Should you decide to apply for health coverage through Maryland Health Connection, the information you supply in your application will be used to determine whether you are eligible for health and dental coverage offered through Maryland Health Connection and for insurance affordability programs. It also may be used to assist you in making a payment for the insurance plan you select, and for related automated reminders or other activities permitted by law. We will preserve the privacy of personal records and protect confidential or privileged information in full accordance with federal and State law. We will not sell your information to others. Any information that you provide to us in your application will be used only to carry out the functions of Maryland Health Connection. The only exception to this policy is that we may share information provided in your application with the appropriate authorities for law enforcement and audit activities.

The site does not specify if “appropriate authorities” refers only to state authorities or if it could include the federal government, as well. Neither is there any detail on what type of law enforcement and/or audit activities would justify the release of the personal information, or who exactly is authorized to make such a determination. An email to the Maryland Health Connection’s media contact seeking clarification has not yet been answered

The second privacy term that may prompt caution by users relates to email communications. The policy reads:

If you send us an e-mail, we use the information you send us to respond to your inquiry. E-mail correspondence may become a public record. As a public record, your correspondence could be disclosed to other parties upon their request in accordance with Maryland’s Public Information Act.

Since emails to the marketplace could conceivably involve private matters regarding finances, health history, and other sensitive issues, the fact that such information could be made part of the “public record” could prevent users from being as free with their information than they might otherwise be. However, as noted, any requests for such emails would still be subject to Maryland’s Public Information Act which contains certain exceptions to the disclosure rules.

Read the fine print eh?

 These are such clear 4th and 5th amendment violations I can’t believe anyone didn’t immediately say “uh guys… we cant actually do this”…

… but as I said, we know that our elected and selected “lords and masters” don’t give a damn about the 4th or 5th amendments (or really any of the others ones any time they become inconvenient).

So while I’m sure they were told they couldn’t do it, I’m sure they said “ahh well the disclaimer and release is enough, we’ll be fine”.

 Yeah no.

 And as far as HIPAA goes… In reality these terms of use are not anywhere near an adequate HIPAA disclosure release, so using any of this data in any manner other than for healthcare purposes would be a federal offense.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Don’t you wish YOUR job had raises like this?

This whole government “shutdown” thing has brought out a lot of talk about federal pay.

A liberal of my acquaintance posted something on facebook a couple days ago:

“A Republican I know said, ‘If you got furloughed because of the shut down, maybe you should get a real job.’
Yeah… about that…”

‘pon which he linked to a story about the cops, border patrol agents, etc… who were not being paid while protecting congress, and our country.

It’s a good point. There are plenty of people doing real, important jobs, who are not being paid… Some of them have gone home, but a LOT of them… actually about 2/3 of the federal non-military workforce, hasn’t. They’re still doing their jobs, they just aren’t getting paid for them.

I don’t have a problem with good people doing as best they can at their job…

The problem I have is… there’s too damn many of them… And they are doing too many things, that they don’t need to be, or shouldn’t be doing.

So, I said something which I think is fairly well known in libertarian circles:

“A good friend of mine is a border guard with ICE… yeah, he’s got a real job.

That said, there IS a point when the most liberal liberal in America has to think ‘why in the hell do we have 50% more federal government payroll than 1998… we’re not getting more than we got then… at least not more good useful stuff….’ That’s just non-military federal staff payroll by the by, not any other spending…”

His commenters didn’t believe me, or just said inflation or homeland security etc…

I clarified, no, federal non-military payroll; meaning the total compensation (wages/ salaries, non-cash compensation and benefits) of full time permanent non-military federal workers, has increased, by at least 50%, in constant dollar terms, from 1998 to today.

Oh and homeland security is only a fairly small portion of that increase (Only 9% of the federal workforce, though it is the single largest federal agency – excluding the civilian employees of the military and veterans affairs – in terms of manpower).

To which he said, quite reasonably Would you care to source that?.

Gladly sir….

Congressional Reporting Service report on trends in the federal workforce:

http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL34685_20110419.pdf

Congressional Reporting Service report on average wages etc… in the federal workforce:

http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1702&context=key_workplace

Several other primary sources in the footnotes of this article, notably from the Bureau of Economic Analysis:

http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/overpaid-federal-workers

So… let’s break it down shall we?

The CRS reports there was a 17%… actually 16.7% increase in the federal workforce between 2000 and 2010.

I don’t have the numbers from 1998, 1999, 2011, 2012, or 2013, but other sources indicate that it’s probably not much, because there were hiring freezes and reductions that make it pretty much a wash. 17% is probably good for 1998 to 2013.

So, a 17% increase in non-military federal staff from appx. 1.8 million to appx. 2.1 million (excluding the civilian employees of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Veterans Affairs; currently about 900,000).

Oh and it’s important to note that these numbers do not include contractors. Contractors compensation does not count against federal payroll, and they are not counted as federal workers… which is one of the major reasons there are so many of them…

How many?

In 1998 there were approximately 1.8 million federal workers, and only 6.5 million contractors.

Well, as of 2013, there are appx 2.1 or million federal non-military workers… and appx 17 million contractors.

Contractor compensation DWARFS the federal payroll. It’s well over 20 times federal payroll in fact… though we really have no exact idea how much, because it’s buried in hundreds… or possibly thousands… of different budgets, and literally millions of line items (many of which are gray, or black).

So, let’s talk money…

First, let’s talk about total compensation.

Total compensation includes both wages and other cash compensation, and non-cash compensation such as benefits.

Bureau of Economic Analysis reported average total compensation for federal employees went from appx. $67k in 2000 to appx. $115k in 2012.

In constant dollar (that is, adjusted for inflation) terms that is a 29% raise.

Oh but that’s just from 2000-2012 I don’t have the exact numbers here from BEA for ’98,’99, and 2013…

Purely from a trendline analysis, you see a 2.15% annual average constant dollar compensation increase. Extend the trendline from 1998 to 2013, and instead of 29% it’s about 38%.

A 17% workforce increase and a 38% raise, is a 60% increase in total payroll…

Now… even if you just take cash compensation, BEA reports an increase from $56k to $82k; a constant dollar increase of 16%.

That’s much lower than the increase in total compensation, but still quite respectable… And remember, this is in constant dollar terms, so that’s over and above inflation and cost of living increases.

Again, thats 2000-2012. Extending the trendline from 1998 to 2013 and you get 21%.

21% raise times a 17% workforce increase, is a 41% total increase in constant dollar terms; for just cash compensation.

Now… those are BEA numbers, what about CRS numbers?

Hmm… I don’t have the exact numbers on total comp increases from those years… But I do have their percentages… in fact I have every percentage increase, and the inflation percentage, for every year since 1969…

Federal Average salary and wage increases year over year, 1999-2013 (1998 would reflect increases from 1997):

1999: 3.4% over inflation
2000: 2% over inflation
2001: 0.3% under inflation
2002: 0.4% under inflation
2003: 0.2% over inflation
2004: 2.0% over inflation
2005: 0.2% over inflation
2006: 1.4% over inflation
2007: 1.6% over inflation
2008: 1.8% under inflation
2009: 1.6% over inflation
2010: 1.9% over inflation
2011: 1.8% over inflation
2012: 1.8% over inflation
2013: 1.8% over inflation

Official numbers have not been released for 2011, 2012, and 2013; the 1.8% is from news reports and other websites stating that though federal salaries have been in a base rate freeze, the average salary has increased 1.8% over inflation in each of the last 3 years. This is consistent with previous increases.

So, from purely federal internal sources, we have an average wage/salary only, increase of 24.8%. Times a workforce increase of 16.7% (also from the CRS), we have a 45.6% increase.

So… there’s the CRS’s own estimate, of average wage and salary alone.

Unfortunately, the CRS doesn’t estimate total compensation, but if we assume the BEA numbers are reliable, non-cash compensation has increased from appx 22% of cash compensation in 1998 to approximately 40% of cash compensation in 2012.

This estimate is not out of line with other trends and percentages well known in HR (noncash compensation, particularly benefit costs, have doubled or more in the last 15 years)… so I think it’s a good and reasonable approximation.

Oh… might be useful to summarize here.

I’ve got two different sets of numbers, which are different enough to be noticeable, but not enough to completely contradict each other.

Note: The difference between the BEA and CRS may include slight differences in the way they calculate compensation; and they definitely include differences in the way inflation is calculated. The BEA numbers used BLS inflation adjustment. CRS uses CPI based inflation adjustment (CPI is a component of the BLS inflation adjustment, but there are other elements included as well).

Workforce increase 16.7%

BEA: cash compensation increase 21% total comp increase 38%
CRS: cash compensation increase 24.8% total comp increase 42.8%

Total payroll increase cash/comp

BEA: 41%/61%
CRS: 46%/66%

So… no matter which numbers you believe, total comp increase is WELL over 50% in 15 years, and according to the CRS cash comp is up nearly 50%; and the lowest estimate is 41%…

Over and above inflation…

Yeah… don’t you wish your job had raises like that?

Oh and one more thing…

From the late 1960s, through the 80s and into the early 90s, federal workers as a whole were actually paid quite poorly, as compared to comparable private sector jobs. Their wage scales were originally set at bottom of market to begin with (generally though of as a tradeoff for their better job security and benefits), and the unusually high inflation from 1968 to 1984 had private sector wages rapidly increasing, while federal cost of living adjustments were significantly under the rate of inflation.

This left a population of workers who were dramatically underpaid in comparison to the private sector, all the way through the early 1990s.

Many still are. Those in the bottom 2/3 of the federal pay scale are generally still significantly UNDERPAID, not overpaid as compared to private sector; sometimes dramatically so (permanent non-contractor federal IT staff make less than half industry comparable salary for example).

Those in the top 1/3 though make quite a lot more than comparable private sector jobs.

…Well, that is, until you get to the “senior executive” level, where, once again, they make 1/2 or less what they would in the private sector ($190k a year is the top out. Private sector workers at those levels of education, experience, responsibility etc… typically make anywhere from $200k to over a million, with $400k+ not uncommon).

It is only from the mid 90s that the federal payroll, and specifically average pay (skewed by the top 1/3), began to dramatically outpace private sector pay.

The bottom 2/3 of the federal workforce didn’t get very much of that increase.

The top 1/3 of the federal workforce got much larger increases.

Also, there are far more workers in the top 1/3 of the pay scale than there were in 1998. Far more making more than $100k a year, and far more making more than $150k a year.

The middle 1/3 shrank significantly.

So there’s more low end, more high end, and less middle…

Not exactly shocking…

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

It isn’t, wasn’t, aint ever gonna be…

I mentioned Social Security as an entitlement payment in my post on the government shutdown, and it raised a fairly common objection in several who read it:

They don’t think of Social Security as an entitlement, or a welfare payment; they view it as their right, by virtue of having contributed to the system for their entire working life.

So, time to correct a very major, and unfortunately common, misconception.

Social Security, is NOT a pension, nor is it insurance.

Now, I realize that the majority of the American public believe this is so, because they have been deliberately defrauded by our government…

First read this to understand the scope and scale of the fraud, and the problem it (now only vestigially) masks:

The Greatest Fraud in the History of the Human Race

Ok… so, by now, most people understand that Social Security, as it is, is essentially a legal Ponzi scheme (whether they accept that, or admit it… if they can do basic match, they at least understand it).

What I really didn’t fully appreciate until recently, is that often, even people who understand this is true, don’t understand why or how it got that way.

There is a very common misconception, even among otherwise economically, historically, and legally well informed and educated people, that the current state of Social Security is somehow a twisting of what it was intended to be, or taking advantage of loopholes etc…

Many people believe that Social Security was set up to be an annuity based insurance and pension plan. That paying FICA contributions was supposed to buy you into a long term annuity, or investment plan, and that your Social Security payments were intended to be the product of that investment.

They think that the “trust fund” exists, and was set up to collect and invest the contributions of the workers who paid into it, so that the investments would fund the workers retirements.

They believe that the problem with Social Security is that congress has been raiding the trust fund since 1958 (most don’t know it was since ’58, but they are sure that’s why Social Security is broke).

Unfortunately, every bit of this idea is entirely incorrect… and people who hold that idea generally do so, because they were deliberately misled.

I’s simply not true… though many… perhaps most… people believe it is; but in fact, Social Security was always nothing more than a pyramid scheme, and an entitlement.

They misunderstand entirely… Because they have been deliberately deceived; as has been the majority of the population.

Social Security was NEVER, EVER, an annuity, pension, or insurance.

Actual insurance, annuities, pensions etc… were not part of the legislation that created it, or anything thereafter.

Also, there never was an actual “trust fund” as such… simply an accounting of surplus contributions which were, in theory, to be placed into low yield “no risk” treasury bonds.

Note, I said “surplus contributions”… this means contributions in excess of payouts to existing recipients. Because benefit payments are not made from the proceeds of investment, they are made using the payroll taxes of those currently paying in today (this is why we call Social Security a ponzi scheme… When Bernie Madoff does it, it’s fraud and he goes to jail. When the government does it, it’s… well it’s still fraud, even worse fraud… but no-one goes to jail sadly).

The sham of it, particularly the sham of the accounting trick they called the “trust fund” was publicly proclaimed as early as 1936 (by Alf Landon in his presidential campaign).

Social Security is, and always has been, a tax and entitlement distribution scheme.

The government lied, and called it insurance, but in fact it has never been anything other than a payments and distributions pool, funded by taxes.

You can look it up, in 42usc (the section of U.S. code defining the various programs known as Social Security).

The programs collectively known as Social Security are referred to as insurance several times, but in fact they very clearly are not. The legal definitions and descriptions make this very clear. Social Security is a tax and entitlement disbursement scheme, by act of congress.

There is no individual ownership, no accrued value, no capital gain, it cannot be transferred, and it can be changed (or removed), at will, by congress; without being construed as a taking without due process.

It is NOT INSURANCE.

Perhaps I am not explaining this properly…

It’s not that congress went against the intent, or written provisions of the law, and changed Social Security from what it was supposed to be, to what it is…

It’s that in fact, the law was NEVER what they told the American people it was.

In fact, if the law HAD been what they sold it as, then that law would have been declared unconstitutional by the supreme court (as had the earlier railroad pensions act, which actually DID created a property based pension scheme). It was specifically because it WAS a tax and distribution, that congress had the power to do it; and was argued thus before the court in 1937.

Helvering v. Davis clearly defines Social Security “Contributions” as a tax, and social security “benefits” as welfare payments. This is the basis for it’s constitutionality.

Fleming v. Nestor in 1960, reaffirmed that FICA is a tax, and that the “contributions” are government property, to be done with as the government sees fit; and that “contribution” through FICA did not cause one to accrue a property right to any asset, pension, or insurance scheme, nor did it create a contract consideration, right, or obligation on the part of the government. Further, it affirmed that “benefits” were NOT insurance or pension disbursements, but entitlements by act of congress, and that congress could change them at any time in any way they chose, without being construed as a taking under the 5th amendment (though they did say that they must have cause and due process to do so… but any legitimate cause within their purview would do).

Justices Black and Reich, specifically dissented from the majority opinion, explicitly and expressly addressing the issue of property rights. They believed that such contributions, to such a program, SHOULD as a matter of moral and public good, be considered property, and have property rights attached. They acknowledged however that the law as written did not, and that by strict interpretation the majority was correct… They just thought it was better to make it property anyway.

Unfortunately, it’s not… It is neither a pension or insurance, and never has been, from the very beginning.

However, almost every explanation ever given the public, and in most documentation, it is referred to as insurance, or even a pension.

All as part of the greatest fraud in the history of the human race.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Defunding and Debt Limits and Shutdowns Oh My!

Welcome to the sideshow folks…

Step right up and enjoy the posturing, rhetoric, and antics of our congressional clown crew…

Over to your right you’ll see the amazing vocal endurance of Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz as he tosses red meat to the base…

… To be serious, there are a large group of people, who don’t understand why the rest of us consider what Ted Cruz did (a 21 hour “filibuster” of a motion in relation to items within a continuing resolution for funding the federal government for the next six months), both harmful to the country, and nothing more than grandstanding.

For them, it looks like Cruz was (in the composite words of many Americans on the right):

“Taking a brave and principled stand against the funding of a bad law that will harm our country.”

In reality, he was doing no such thing.

Cruz is being maligned by his own party because he was being a clown. This “filibuster” was nothing but a clown show.

It may be viscerally satisfying, but it’s idiotic. It will do absolutely NOTHING for the Republicans, of for those against Obamacare, except throw red meat to the stupider side of the base.

This is underpants gnomes strategy.

Step one: “Non-filibuster a piece of already passed legislation that I can’t stop by doing this… but that’s OK I wasn’t really trying to, really I was just trying to get media attention and attract donations from the less intelligent and aware side of my political base”.

Step two: … uh….

Step three: Electoral Victory?

“But, one brave man, standing up for what he believes in, can do amazing things. A small group of patriots can change the world, just look at the American revolution.”

No, they can’t. No guns involved in this one. No big foreign war distracting the occupying power. No actual fight going on among the actual fighters… just a series of bargaining and trading; while the rhetorical fight goes on among the spectators.

It may be emotionally satisfying rhetoric, but that’s all it is, rhetoric.

You are not a member of the patriotic few, bravely standing up against the despotic elite, risking all for freedom.

In fact, unless you support drug legalization, getting the state out of marriage…and almost everything else… giving up legislating morality and goodness entirely… You AREN’T EVEN ON THE GOOD GUYS SIDE.

You’re just another guy on the badguys side, who wants the badguys to tax the tea a little differently.

Oh and as “just another guy”, you actually aren’t on their side at all…

You’re a spectator rooting for your team from… not even the stands… from the comfort of your own home; with the game streamed lived via satellite into your living room.

“But what would you have us do? Just give up, let the Democrats run the country into the ground”

Nope… Not at all…

I’d have you stop assuming the rhetorical mantle of revolutionary patriot because it makes you feel good; and stop supporting things which reinforce that feeling, without actually DOING anything.

If you buy Ted Cruz’s stunt, you are perpetuating this crap.

If you want to actually do something… ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING. Get involved with your political party on a local level. Get onto policy committees. Become a subject matter expert for the party on something you know, and use that position to help steer the party, and the politicians in the party, in the right direction.

That’s actually doing something. This thing with Cruz? It’s just something you can say you supported so you can feel morally vindicated while not actually doing anything.

“You’ll see… Cruz was right, this is bad law and we must stop it. Cruz will be vindicated, time will tell”

Well of COURSE he’s RIGHT, we all know that… it’s AWFUL law… even Jon Stewart thinks it’s bad law… but that doesn’t mean he was doing any good… or even try to for that matter.

Vindicated how?

Sure he’s increasing his own fundraising, and certainly he’s right about Obama care… but to be vindicated you have to have done or said something substantive, and then been proven right later.

How has he done that?

He’s hurt the Republican party badly with the center, and provided yet another target for mockery and ridicule… and to scare those who think this sort of thing is either stupid or crazy…

Yes, he’s increased his own fundraising… and tripled that of everyone on the left.

This is not some brave heroic last stand. This was a foregone conclusion. Obamacare would never, under any circumstances, be defunded. This wasn’t a filibuster. This wasn’t moral courage.

If it was a serious attempt to stop Obamacare, fine, that would be great. Even if it were a futile attempt, if it were even structurally capable of stopping it, sure… it wasn’t and isn’t.

It wasn’t really even a symbolic gesture.

It was pandering, to the lowest common denominator. It was Ted Cruz setting himself up to be the poster boy for the low information voters of the right.

And he knew EXACTLY what he was doing… By all accounts Cruz is a brilliant man.

“It doesn’t matter if he was doomed to fail, it was the right thing to do anyway. Standing up for what’s right is never wrong”

If that’s what he was actually doing, I wouldn’t be so irritated by this.

I’m irritated because this is what they do instead of something useful. “I supported Ted Cruz’s filibuster but those nasty democrats and RINOs passed it anyway”

The people who believe this, don’t seem to understand that what Cruz did actually hurt us. Us being those of us who really fight against government overreach, and bad law.

It gave cover to the people who wanted to do nothing anyway, it encouraged a few whackjobs to make spectacles of themselves, and it INCREASED the morale and assumed moral authority of the other side.

Do you not realize how stupid and ridiculous this makes anti-obamacare people to the middle? How hysterical it makes them appear to the other sides donors? How this is a permanent harmful soundbite/video clip?

It’s idiots like this that made them able to paint Mitt Romney as an ultraconservative ultra right damn near American Taliban…

When in fact, he wasn’t conservative enough for a lot of people to bother even coming out, and they just stayed home rather than vote.

This is NOT a dedicated small group of principled people fighting against government overreach… That would be excellent.

This is the Republican equivalent of a college student “sticking it to the man” by wearing Che Guevara t-shirt an shouting about oppression and justice, out in front of the admin building.

“You don’t understand… Cruz is different… he’s the only one of the Republicans with the guts and the principle to stand up and do something”.

If he had actually done that, I would more than agree… I’d be cheering him on too.

But he didn’t.

If he were actually different… I’d be 100% behind him… Hell, I think he’s a good man, and in general he will probably be a good senator, though it’s a bit early to tell. If nothing else, he’s a LOT smarter than most Senators.

But really… other than that… he’s not much different than any other professional politician.

I’ve read the mans bio, read some of his speeches, hell I was even on a conference call with him and Marco Rubio at some party event during the campaign last year.

Yeah, he’s accomplished, and he’s got a hell of a back story (great family tale), but… what is it you think makes him so special?

He’s a smart guy, apparently a great legal mind, clerked for Rehnquist, editor of the Harvard law review… which are great things sure… but but I don’t see what you seem to see that makes him particularly exceptional among senators. He’s been a politician basically since law school; either full or part time.

He spent less than a year in private practice before going into an administration job, then less than 4 years out of the fedgov, where he ran for office twice, before going back to the fedgov.

He’s a professional politician.

I think he’s probably going to be a good senator (kinda hard to tell 9 months in), but I don’t see anything there that says anything other than professional politician… He’s a smart man and seemingly a good man… and those are great things… but he’s still a professional politician, and has never been anything but a professional politician.

I mean… he actually voted… in fact the senate voted unanimously 100-0… for the motion he was supposedly filibustering…

How can you even call it a filibuster if you’re going to vote for it?

So… In the next show, we have the “Government Shutdown”.

As of right now, the Republicans in congress have refused to sign any continuing appropriations bills that require the raising of the U.S. federal debt ceiling, and which fund Obamacare.

Therefore, the Republicans are trying to pull a repeat of 1996 and “shut down the government”; again to foster the illusion that they are taking a principled stand against excess spending and government waste etc… etc…

They aren’t.

“Why can’t they just balance the budget, instead of raising the debt ceiling again… That’s not a solution, that’s just making the problem worse?”

That’s the question of a well meaning, intelligent person, looking at this problem from a rational perspective…

So it’s completely irrelevant to anything they do in Washington of course.

First thing, the whole “Defund Obamacare” spiel is, and always has been, a sham. It’s more redmeat for the base. It’s not going to stop Obamacare, never was going to, never could; and even if it could, the republicans couldn’t get it past the senate, or a presidential veto, or an override etc… etc…

It’s just PR.

The Republicans saw what happened to Mitt Romney. They know that a large portion of the electorate doesn’t think they’re conservative enough and so won’t bother to vote for them… This is how they’re trying to address that issue. Nothing more substantive than that.

This still leaves the debt ceiling issue… and of course, incurring yet more federal debt is a bad thing. We are already at more than 105% of GDP (of course, that’s far lower than most other nations, but it’s still quite bad).

However, since it is quite literally impossible for any continuing appropriation to be passed that doesn’t require increasing the debt ceiling… In fact, even without a continuing appropriation the debt ceiling will need to be increased (because of credit payments, entitlements, and other already legislated spending); the debt ceiling is GOING to be raised.

Either that, or an accounting trick will be used to do the same thing.

It’s not a solution. It’s a requirement of the circumstances.

Balancing the budget… that’s a joke; given that we haven’t actually PASSED a budget or OPERATED under a budget , since 1997. From 1998, the government hasn’t been funded with a passed budget, it’s been funded with omnibus spending and special appropropriation bills, and continuing resolutions.

In fact, since Obama was elected, we haven’t even managed to pass an omnibus spending bill, and have exclusively funded the government with special appropriations and continuing resolutions.

The reality of the “debt ceiling” is, the U.S. is NOT going to default on its credit payments, under any circumstances.

In the first place, a U.S. credit default would trigger a world wide economic collapse and long term depression the likes of which have not been dreamed of outside of dystopian fiction.

So yeah… that’s bad… let’s not do that.

Even if that weren’t true, the politicians in this country are not going to let people miss entitlement payments… which is the whole reason why we don’t have a budget in the first place…

Every politician in America knows that if they get blamed for their constituents missing a social security check, they are done… dead… never to be elected to anything, even dog catcher, again.

So, any threat not to raise the debt ceiling, or to have a true and complete government shutdown, really is just grandstanding.

Until we make serious cuts to entitlements, we are not going to have anything close to a balanced budget. No politician in this country who has actually managed to get elected and wants to be re-elected is going to EVER under any circumstances, vote to cut entitlements. Therefore we are never going to have a balanced budget again… or at least not until there is a real unavoidable crisis, where they can cover themselves by saying “we had to do it to save the country”, and their opponents can only look like irresponsible liars if they try to say otherwise…

Of course, if this country weren’t filled with economically and politically ignorant “citizens”, then perhaps the electorate as a whole would understand that we’ve long past the point at which such a crisis could be avoided, and that something really needs to be done right now…

Unfortunately, what looked like it was going to be the first major group of voters working for entitlement cuts in this country, the “tea party”; was quickly overrun by a huge number of these idiots who, completely un-self aware were saying, with complete sincerity “get the government out of healthcare and welfare… but don’t touch my social security and medicare”.

The politicians noticed this… Particularly the smart ones… Like, say, Ted Cruz.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Don’t Bail the Democrats Out By ‘Defunding’ Obamacare

If something isn’t done to stop the train wreck known as Obamacare before next year, the healthcare system and the economy will suffer. Tea Party Republicans in the House and Senate have vowed to “defund” Obamacare even if it means shutting the government down. Obviously, opponents of this law should do everything possible to stop this from happening…right?

Maybe it’s not so obvious.

Obamacare cannot truly be defunded because the spending is built into the law itself but for the sake of argument, lets say there was some loophole that would make defunding possible. Why would Republicans want to bail the Democrats out? The Democrats own this legislation because not a single Republican voted in favor.

Let the Democrats suffer the consequences at the ballot box in 2014 and 2016. If the Republicans somehow managed to delay, add exemptions from some of the laws worst aspects, or alter Obamacare’s implementation, the Democrats would then have an out. President Obama could resort to his usual demagoguery in the campaign season the “Affordable Care Act would have worked if the Tea Party extremists hadn’t screwed it up!” The Obama media would be more than happy to echo this party line.

There is a better way. What if allowing Obamacare to be fully implemented as scheduled would lead to its ultimate demise? Far from trying to soften the blow or delay the law’s implementation, opponents of the bill, especially Republicans in positions of leadership should call the president’s bluff and let the train wreck occur. Over the many objections from many of us, Obamacare passed, failed numerous repeal efforts, and prevailed in the Supreme Court.

Also, consider that Obama was reelected. Its time for the American people to take their medicine and live with the consequences. We keep hearing about how the progressives have a better plan than those of us who believe in smaller government and free markets; let’s find out together just how wise they are!

No delays to save incumbents in the 2014 election. No waivers for employees, employers, the labor unions, for Congress, or for government workers. No waivers for anyone. How many times have we heard progressives say “we’re all in this together”? We should call their bluff on this as well.

To the extent that President Obama is trying to selectively enforce the law, Republicans should challenge his authority to do so in the courts and ask the president why he wants to delay his signature accomplishment as president.

Let the American people experience the broken promises of Obamacare for themselves. Let the Democrats defend the law in the 2014 campaign when voters see their work hours cut to less than 30 hours a week (if they are lucky to keep their jobs at all), their premiums rise, and/or lose the insurance plans they already have.

If after the American people (and I mean all of the American people) experience this pain sooner than later and still decide that Obamacare is the way to reform health care then I suppose we are getting exactly the system we deserve.

Reason’s Mike Riggs Interviews Radley Balko on Police Militarization

It’s been nearly a month since Radley Balko’s latest book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces was released. Now Balko is making the rounds with the various media outlets about this subject which normally receives very little attention by the media. As one would expect, Balko has more than his share of critics particularly from the cops-can-do-no-wrong crowd but there has also been a quite positive response by at least some members of law enforcement (particularly former cops who began their careers prior to the SWAT era).

In the video below, Reason’s Mike Riggs interviews the author.

(Note: Link above is taken from Reason‘s site, so if you click through and buy it from Amazon via that link, a portion of the proceeds go to Reason Magazine.)

Joe Scarborough vs. The Minister of Truth

MSNBC is typically a safe place for the Obama administration to promote talking points, propaganda, and bald faced lies. Imagine Press Secretary (or more accurately, Obama’s Minister of Truth) Jay Carney’s surprise on Morning Joe when the host Joe Scarborough wouldn’t allow him to get away with arguing that the ongoing congressional investigations into the Obama Administration are ‘phony scandals’.

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The Minister of Truth, Jay Carney:

“The president will go back to Galesville, Illinois today to deliver a speech about where we need to move the economy, what we should be focusing on here in Washington. And it shouldn’t be on the skirmishes that cause gridlock. It shouldn’t be on the phony scandals that have consumed so much attention here, uh, all to come to not. It should be focused on what we can do to strengthen and grow the middle class…”

Scarborough responded:

“You brought up ‘phony’ scandals. That’s like, seriously? That’s like throwing red meat in the middle of a dog. So I’ve got to ask you this question: ‘What phony scandals?’ Do you think the IRS scandal is a ‘phony scandal’

Carney responded by saying the Republicans have been ‘cherry picking’ information and that the president has cracked down on officials who have been responsible for any wrong doing. Carney went on to say that President Obama “is not focused on pretend scandals that Republicans want to turn into partisan skirmishes.”

Scarborough would have none of it.

“You say that there’s cherry picked information…let’s just take this IRS scandal. The fact is its far different from what you said. In the beginning you just said it was the Cincinnati office and then we find out there were more people in Washington involved. In this past week we found out that despite what any of us think about the investigations on Capitol Hill…I see you smiling…I don’t know that there’s anything to smile about. That this wasn’t just a couple of crazy people in Cincinnati. This information actually went up to the Chief Council of the IRS which was one of two political appointees by the President of the United States and the entire IRS.”

Carney then accused Scarborough of contributing to the ‘line’ by Republicans.

“Is that the truth or not, Jay.” Scarborough interrupted. “Don’t give me talking points. That doesn’t work on my show and you’ve been here long enough to know…I’m not someone you can talk down to from your podium. Answer my question, Jay!”

In so many words, Carney didn’t take back his assertion that the scandals in question are ‘phony’ and that “we need to get to the bottom of what happened at the IRS” but the public’s attention and the attention of congress should be on the economy (how bad can the truth behind these scandals be if the president wants to get the public’s attention back on a very anemic economy?). In other words, pay no attention to the scandals behind the curtain or to the fact that the emperor is wearing no clothes.

This is a very interesting comment considering that Carney’s boss wanted to turn the nation’s attention back to the George Zimmerman not guilty verdict last week.

Your Ox Will Eventually Be Gored

It seems logical that every American, regardless of political affiliation/philosophy, race, religion or creed, would be concerned about the revelations concerning domestic spying on the part of the NSA. If the Obama administration can spy on and mistreat the Tea Party and other right wing causes, the next Republican administration could spy on and mistreat Occupy Wall Street and other left wing causes.

As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case. According to an article by David A. Love, the black community has largely greeted this news with a shrug and a yawn.

Is this lack of concern because many blacks do not want to be critical of the first black* president? This might account for some of this shrugging but Love suspects that there is something much deeper at work here:

The black community has decades of experience being monitored, so this type of surveillance is nothing new. Given the long history of being spied upon, many blacks already assume they are being monitored by the government […]
[…]
African-Americans are no strangers to surveillance, as their activities were highly regulated through the slave codes, laws which controlled both slaves and free blacks.

The mistreatment of blacks did not end when slavery was abolished, of course. Love goes on to describe several other atrocities such as the Tuskegee experiment, J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and others.

Tragic chapters such as Tuskegee have been cited as a reason why African-Americans distrust the medical establishment and are hesitant to participate in clinical research. One study found that 67 percent of black parents distrusted the medical profession, compared to half of white parents.

As I read this, I wondered why there isn’t a similar distrust of the government as the medical establishment by blacks in general. The Tuskegee experiments were done at the behest of the U.S. Public Health Service, after all!

After finishing the article, I decided to read through the comments section (this is a blog that is dedicated primarily with concerns of the black community; the comments can sometimes be very illuminating). The very first comment by a user with the handle “Blackheywood Heywood” did not disappoint:

The US government began spying on Black folks before this government was created, yet it was no outrage.Give me a break, it seems slowly mainstream America is discovering how it feels to be thought of as suspicious or guilty before being accused, never mind arrested. Welcome to the world of the American Black male.

Heywood has a valid point. The answer to the question why the lack of outrage by the black community concerning the NSA and IRS scandals could just as easily turned against what Heywood called “mainstream America.” Indeed, where was the right (for lack of a better term) on these outrages? Where has the Tea Party been on the question of “stop and frisk,” in New York in which minorities are especially targeted to be searched, supposedly at random? Is this simply a case of “out of sight, out of mind?”

I believe there’s also another phenomenon at work: the memory hole. Near the close of the article, Love mentioned an event that took place in Philadelphia in 1985 I was completely unaware of:

On May 13, 1985, following a standoff, a Philadelphia police helicopter dropped a bomb on the house on Osage Avenue occupied by the black “radical” group known as MOVE. Police reportedly fired on MOVE members as they escaped the burning home […]
[…]
The 1985 bombing—which killed 11 people, including 5 children and destroyed an entire neighborhood of 61 row homes in West Philadelphia—marked the first such attack on U.S. citizens by government authorities. The survivors and victims’ families received $5.5 million in compensation from the city of Philadelphia.

I try my best to be informed about historical events as well as current events. How is it that this is the first I had ever heard about the Philadelphia Police dropping a freaking bomb on a neighborhood in an American city?** I must have been sick that day in American History class (I also didn’t learn about the Tuskegee experiments until well into my twenties; maybe I was sick on that day as well).

Maybe MOVE was a radical organization maybe it wasn’t*** but nothing could justify the police dropping a bomb on a neighborhood. Perhaps this atrocity is well known by people in the black community, both young and old but not so much outside the black community (or maybe I’m one of the few Americans who never heard about this but I doubt it).

MOVE probably wasn’t the first group the government described as “extreme” to a point where government officials ordered and used military force against its members; it certainly wasn’t the last. How many people out of a hundred know about what happened at Ruby Ridge? The Weaver family, why they were “extremists” after all and therefore, why should anyone care about their rights? How many people out of a hundred know about the conflicting accounts of what really happened at assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? (Here’s a hint: a great deal more than what the MSM reported at the time). I suppose because these people were part of some sort of cult, their rights didn’t matter either!

This is where the real problem of indifference lies. I’ve heard far too many people with the attitude “it’s not my problem” or “it doesn’t affect me”. Even more disturbing is the attitude some people have that they are happy when someone of an opposing view has his or her rights of life, liberty, and/or property trampled on (i.e. “Screw them, they are ‘extremists’”). Far too often, concerns about civil liberties depend on whose ox is being gored at that particular time.

I would like to humbly suggest that if you are not as upset when its someone else’s ox, even if it’s the ox of your opponent’s, one day it will be your ox that will be gored. Perhaps Martin Niemoller said it best in his very short work “First they Came” describing how the Nazis took freedom away from the whole population, one group at a time. By the time the Nazis got around to taking freedom from what remained of the population, Niemoller concluded “there was no one left to speak for me.”

To be clear, I am not comparing the U.S. government to the Nazis. Such hyperbolic comparisons are not constructive and minimize the very crimes against humanity the Nazis committed. I am making a comparison about how populations respond to encroachments on liberty, however. As demonstrated in Love’s article, there are plenty of examples of injustice from American history.

Here are just a handful more:

  • The Indian Removal Act
  • Slavery
  • The internment of Japanese Americans
  • Jim Crow
  • McCarthyism

And many, many more.

Each of these policies were permitted to happen because the majority apparently felt that curtailing freedoms of these minorities would somehow not affect their own freedoms. We should acknowledge that these injustices occurred and try to learn the right lessons (rather than pretend the U.S. government or the American people have committed no wrongs ever) and move on.

Every injustice and every violation of rights of life, liberty, and property must be answered by all of us as if it’s our own liberty that is at stake.

*Yes, I’m aware that Obama is actually half black. However, if a man of his description was accused of committing a crime and at large, he would be described as a black man.

**In light of this, Rand Paul’s questions about government using drones to attack Americans on American soil no longer seem so far fetched, unfortunately.

***All I know is what I read in the cited article.

Your Secrets Are Not Safe with the Government

During a recent show, Chris Hayes, host of All In with Chris Hayes, made some very important points worthy of sharing here about government secrecy and the government’s inability to keep secrets:

As of the end of 2011, there were 1.4 million people with top secret security clearance […] just one of the 1.4 million people is on trial for leaking a heck of a lot of secrets. Bradley Manning is the 25-year-old soldier accused of turning over files to Wikileaks including reports from Afghanistan and air strikes to killed civilians. His trial got under way and he faces prison. He is viewed as a hero and others see him as a villain and a traitor. What he is is proof that the government cannot keep secrets. If 1.4 million people had access, that access is not a secret in any real way.

For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to get into whether Bradley Manning is a patriot or a traitor but Chris Hayes’ main point about the ability of the government to keep secrets safe, especially among 1.4 million individuals. These secrets that Manning leaked were secrets which painted the U.S. government in a very negative light (to put it mildly) and therefore, had a great deal of incentives to keep these secrets from ever seeing the light of day (this seems to throw quite a bit of cold water on many of the Alex Jones conspiracy theories, at least in my mind). If these secrets could not be kept safe from public view, can anyone really make the case that the government would be better able or have greater incentive to keep secrets collected on American citizens?

This brings me to Hayes’ second point about the SCOTUS ruling regarding the keeping of DNA records in databases, even of suspected felons who were later found not guilty:

The court decided that information can be taken without your consent and kept in a database. All the precautions taken with the database, the state is not allowed to search it for fun or interesting facts about people. It can only be used to identify suspects. No matter how responsible the state promises to be with it, it is a government database subject to the statement forces that our top clearance systems. That system that they are trying to keep hackers out which is to say it is a system that cannot keep secrets.

As we now know, the IRS found all kinds of “fun or interesting facts” and used them against certain individuals and groups. What other creative uses will this government come up with to use the alarming volume of information collected of and against the people? Even if we are to believe that most of the people who have access to confidential information will not misuse it (I have no such confidence this is true), all it takes is one rogue individual. For those who may be reading this who have adopted the authoritarian “If you have nothing to hide” mindset, I would suggest reconsidering that premise and resist the growing surveillance state.

The Best Defense Against Terrorism

Terrorism

The specter of terrorism, especially on the American homeland is very frightening. These fears are especially acute in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack such as the bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.

More recently and prior to this latest attack, however; according to a recent Gallup poll, terrorism received 0% when asked about America’s greatest problem. Sen. Mitch McConnell said in response to the mathon bombing: “I think it’s safe to say that, for many, the complacency that prevailed prior to September 11th has returned. And so we are newly reminded that serious threats to our way of life remain.

Is Sen. McConnell right? Have Americans become complacent to these “serious threats”? Are Americans to blame for failing to be vigilant? Should we demand the federal government “do something” more to protect us?

Since 9/11, Americans have surrendered liberty for the appearance of security. The USA PATRIOT Act and the Department of Homeland Security have been in place for more than a decade. The former has given government agents the ability to write their own search warrants (i.e. National Security Letters), the ability to monitor bank accounts and library records of unsuspecting individuals among other privacy invasions. The latter created the TSA which gave airline passengers the choice between a thorough groping or a virtual strip search among other indignities. There was also the “no fly list” which contained the names of individuals who could not fly under any circumstances. President Bush launched two undeclared wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (two battlefronts in the “war on terror” we were told) projected to cost somewhere between $4-6 trillion when all is said and done.

President Obama, far from being “weak” on terrorism as many of his critics suggest, broke his promise of closing Guantanamo Bay, renewed the Patriot Act, expanded the use of drones with a “kill list” which includes American citizens, and signed the NDAA which gives government agents the ability to kidnap American citizens and take them to Guantanamo Bay and detain them indefinitely. Osama bin Laden was also killed on Obama’s watch.

Yet with all of these policies being used to wage war on a common noun, somehow, two individuals managed to plant a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon which killed three people and injured many more. What other liberties are we, the people supposed to surrender to make sure this “never happens again.”?

The truth of the matter is we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that any government policy can deliver such a promise no matter how many of our liberties we surrender. The government could take away all the guns, place all of our names in a database, implant RFID chips into our foreheads, track our every movement, go to war with three more countries, and certain individuals would still find a way to defeat these measures and commit acts of terrorism.

As discouraging as this may seem, there is one thing each and every one of us can do to defend ourselves against terrorism without sacrificing any liberty whatsoever (actually, re-claiming more of our lost liberties is part of the solution). But before this one thing can be revealed, we must first have a clear understanding of why some people resort to terrorism and how terrorism is supposed to work.

The “why” is simply that some people use the tactic in hopes of achieving (usually) a political end. These are usually people who do not believe they can accomplish their political aims peacefully through the normal political processes. The “how” is by engendering fear in carrying out attacks on unsuspecting people. The terrorists main goal is not necessarily to kill as many people as possible as it is to create so much fear that their enemies react emotionally as opposed to rationally.

Because the terrorist’s main goal is for each of us to live in fear that any moment we might be next, the answer is simply to not be afraid, stop acting out of fear, and stop allowing our leaders to legislate out of fear. This is the strategy Downsize D.C. has adopted and once I properly understood their reasoning, I have adopted this approach:

Here’s what it means to not be afraid, here’s what it means to fight a real war on terror, and here’s what it means to win that war, instantly . . .

  • It means that you do not participate in the public hysteria when terrorists attack, but instead react proportionally, placing the terrorist act in its proper place in the vast scheme of crimes, accidents, disease, natural disaster, and generic tragedy that is man’s lot on earth.

  • It means that you do not permit the politicians to feel terror on your behalf. It means that you discourage them from fomenting and exploiting hysteria to expand their own power at the expense of traditional American principles.

  • It means that you view terrorism as a matter for international police work, under the rule of law, and not a justification for bloated government programs, reckless wars, or the shredding of the Bill of Rights.

  • It means that you recruit others to adopt your war winning strategy of not being afraid.

Downsize D.C. also encourages Americans to write their legislators and include the following statement:

“I am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all terrorist acts. I accept that. I am not afraid.”

I think I would also add that we should stop treating these terrorists as if they are some larger than life super villain (Was it really necessary to shut down the entire town of Watertown, cancel sporting events, and stop trains from running for one person?). If and when the perpetrator is captured, he shouldn’t be treated any different than any other person accused of murder. If our government does anything well it’s putting people in cages.

For those who read this and are still afraid of being a victim of terrorism, let me offer a little bit of perspective. You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease and 12,571 times more likely to die of cancer than a terrorist attack (so rather than worry about terrorism, pay attention to your health). You are also 1,048 times more likely to die in an auto accident than a terrorist attack (so pay attention to your driving and hang up that cell phone!). You are 8 times more likely to be killed by a cop or be electrocuted than be killed in a terrorist attack (so don’t fly your kite near power lines near a police station).

When was the last time you heard a politician point these things out?

The reason you haven’t is because politicians also benefit from fear. Think about it: what chance would the Patriot Act, NDAA, FISA, CISPA, gun control legislation, war, and laws named after dead children have of passing without the ability to scare the bejesus out of the general public? Fear is truly the health of the state.

Maybe the fact that most Americans have become “complacent” is a good thing!

Congress: Replace 1 Year Of Modest Cuts With 10 Years Of Miniscule Cuts And We’ll Call It Even

This is absurd.

Brad Plumer at WaPo recounts the 4 plans in play to stop the sequester. And it’s astounding. It’s made ever more clear to me that nobody in Washington is serious about cutting spending. Right now we’re 15 days away from the implementation of $85.3B in 2013 spending cuts. Oh, for the record, that’s roughly in the realm of 2 fucking percent of this year’s budget.

First, there are three Democrat plans; the Senate plan, the House plan, and the President’s plan. So what are the Democrats proposing? Small spending cuts and modest tax increases. Exactly what you’d expect. Both plans seem to take spending cuts out of farm subsidies, which tells me one thing: they know farm states are red states and they’re gonna punish them for it.

But what’s notable about those plans? They replace $85.3B of cuts this year with spending and taxation over 10 years. Talk about playing kick the can! In fact, both Congressional Democrat plans really do almost nothing to affect the 2013 deficit. They’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

Second, we’ve got the Republicans. They know they can’t touch entitlements. They absolutely refuse to take a penny out of defense. So what’s left? Cuts to a whole host of social programs that they know they can’t actually pass, so they get red meat for the base without actually having to cut a single thing.

And the President? Well, if we can’t solve the sequester, he’s not even talking about kicking the can out to next year, he’s talking about kicking it merely a few months:

“If Congress can’t act immediately on a bigger package, if they can’t get a bigger package done by the time the sequester is scheduled to go into effect,” Obama said in the White House briefing room, “then I believe that they should at least pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would delay the economically damaging effects of the sequester for a few more months.”

As I said last fall, maybe the best answer is to just let the sequester happen.

Recovered from the Memory Hole: Inaugural Rhetoric vs. Reality

Expect more of the same.

“Common Sense” Legislation to Curb Gun Violence?

Like most people who value individual liberty, I listened to President Obama’s speech about reducing gun violence with a great deal of trepidation. He presented several ideas such as limiting the size of magazines to 10 rounds, banning “military-style assault weapons” (i.e. any gun that looks scary to progressives who know almost nothing about firearms), and “universal” background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun just to name a few “common sense” reforms. In so many words he basically said that anyone who doesn’t favor these proposals is getting in the way of preventing future gun violence (Why even St. Ronald Reagan was even in favor of some of these proposals!)

One point of particular irritation for me is this notion being promoted by the Left that AK-47’s and other “weapons of war” should not be made available to “civilians.” President Obama rightly pointed out that these weapons with these magazines “ha[ve] one purpose: to pump out as many bullets as possible, to do as much damage using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage.”

Well if we civilians do not “need” these weapons, why should the police have them? Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the local police also considered “civilian”? (i.e. civilian law enforcement). Why do the police “need” these awful “weapons of war” which “inflict maximum damage” to serve a warrant for a late night drug bust?* If everyone else should be limited to certain weapons with magazines containing 10 rounds or less, they too should be limited to what weapons are permissible (or at the very least, what situations these weapons should be used). To suggest otherwise would be to suggest that the police are “at war” with the “civilians” since war is all these weapons are good for.

As some who are critical of the president’s approach have correctly pointed out, these reforms would not have prevented the killing at Sandy Hook Elementary. Obama and his allies like to say “if these proposals save only one life…” but they fail to recognize that these reforms might save one life in one situation but might cost a life in another situation (such as a home invasion; the homeowner runs out of rounds due to smaller magazine capacity etc.). Most, if not all of these reforms are meaningless measures to prevent guns from falling into “the wrong hands” (at best) so that the president can say he’s “doing something” to prevent mass shootings.

Some of these proposals do seem reasonable based only on the broad outlines (as always, the devil is in the details). I don’t have a problem with person-to-person background checks** in the abstract. Why shouldn’t an individual be subjected to the same background check as when buying from a gun dealer when s/he is buying from someone who posted his firearm on Craig’s List? I would think that the seller would want to have the peace of mind and/or limit any exposure to liability for any misuse of the firearm.

There are many proposals that are being floated that need to be thought through rather than rushed through to score cheap political points. These proposals go well beyond the 2nd Amendment into areas such as free speech (i.e. censorship), doctor/client privilege (privacy), state’s rights, and more. I do think that we supporters of the right to bear arms need to try to offer up some “common sense” solutions of our own to reduce illegitimate force that either enhance liberty or at the very least, do not tread on the liberties of others.***

» Read more

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.

The Modern Republican Party is a Special Kind of Suck (Part 1 of 3)

Barack Obama’s Record of Suck
Four years ago, Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. He promised hope n’ change from the failed policies of George W. Bush. His policies were going to lower the debt, reduce unemployment to around 5%, become the “most transparent administration in U.S. history,” close Guantanamo Bay, and restore the damaged international relations around the world.

Four years later, Obama has increased the debt by $6 trillion (the national debt is now over $16 trillion), kept unemployment hovering around 8% for nearly his entire first term despite his Keynesian efforts to stimulate the economy, and punished whistleblowers for daring to shed light on what has arguably been one of the least transparent administrations in history. Guantanamo Bay is not only still open but now with Obama’s signing of the NDAA, even American citizens can be taken there and detained indefinitely without charge or trail. If this wasn’t enough, the Obama administration also developed a “secret kill list” from which drones search for and kill targets from that list– including American citizens, who are sought out in Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, and who knows where else without any Constitutional authority whatsoever.

Then there’s “Fast and Furious,” an operation of Eric Holder’s Justice Department in which the BATFE purposely gave weapons to Mexican drug cartels resulting in untold deaths including a Border Control Agent by the name of Brian Terry. Obama has since invoked executive privilege to protect Holder from congress getting too close to the truth.

Finally, there are the terrorist attacks in Libya and Egypt on September 11, 2012. Rather than admit the obvious, President Obama and his administration lied to the American public concerning the nature of the attack claiming the attacks came from spontaneous protesters who were angry about an obscure YouTube video that “slandered” the prophet Mohammad.

A Special Kind of Suck
This is only a thumbnail sketch of the failures and malfeasance of the Obama administration in one term of office. Today the news should be about the Romney/Ryan transition team after a slam dunk landslide victory. But that is not the news today, is it? Yes, the Republican Party sucks but for the Republican challenger to be beaten despite Obama’s record, an advantage the last Republican challenger did not have, that takes a special kind of suck.

How exactly did the Republican Party achieve this special kind of suck? That is the question political observers are asking and what the party needs to answer if the GOP wants to win future elections. Reflexively, many on the Right are blaming the main stream media for its pro-Obama bias. There’s no question the MSM was more critical of Romney than Obama. They downplayed team Obama’s missteps but never missed an opportunity to report each and every gaffe of team Romney. Romney was also running against history – America’s first black president. While this is all true, it’s also true that Republicans won control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections on a wave of Tea Party fervor. The MSM had just as much of an Obama/Left wing bias then as they do now yet the Republicans gained ground. What was different this time?

Mitt Romney, the Nominee of Suck
No doubt, Gov. Mitt Romney is probably getting most of the blame and he deserves much of it. That being said, the reasons Romney failed to beat a failed president go well beyond Romney or his campaign. Maybe, Romney is a good place to start though.

Rather than make a choice that would be a champion of the limited government issues Republicans claim to care about (like say Gary Johnson or Ron Paul), the GOP decided they would go with Mitt Romney. Never mind that he authored the forerunner to ObamaCare (RomneyCare) or that he was a political chameleon (does anyone seriously think he made a principled change, as opposed to a political calculation, on abortion when it was time to run in 2008?). No, Romney was “electable” and by gosh, it was “his turn.”

Much of the destructive foreign policy of the Obama administration was right in line with what Romney said he would do. Romney had no problem with the NDAA, Guantanamo Bay, the secret kill list, or renewing the Patriot Act, therefore; these areas which were ripe for criticism were off the table. Other than the question of defense spending, they seemed to both have identical policies concerning Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and both pledged they would “stand with Israel”…whatever that means. In the foreign policy debate, the moderator handed Romney a golden opportunity to go after Obama on the recent terror attacks but decided not to do so. On another occasion, Romney did casually bring up Fast and Furious in response to a question about gun control but didn’t ask Obama some of the hard hitting questions many Americans were dying for Romney to ask.

On domestic issues, Romney allowed his opponents to define him as an out of touch millionaire who didn’t care about the 47% of the people he determined wouldn’t support him. Romney did a very poor job of defending free market capitalism* in general and his record both as governor and as a businessman in particular. When asked about the alleged gender pay gap in one of the debates, rather than explaining that the statistic doesn’t actually compare women and men of comparable occupation or work experience he said he asked for “binders full of women” from which he picked to be in senior positions when he was governor of Massachusetts. The Democrats took that line and demagogued** the hell out of it and made it part of their “war on women” mantra. If Romney didn’t want to go through the trouble of explaining why the gender pay gap is a myth, he could have respectfully asked Obama why the women on his staff and why female staffers for Democrats in the Senate are paid far less than their male counterparts. Another hanging curveball that Romney didn’t even take a swing at.

The Romney campaign was ultimately a campaign of missed opportunities; a campaign in which the candidate failed to make the case that he would be a better alternative to the incumbent. When asked how his “numbers would add up” concerning his economic policy, his answer was basically “trust me, the numbers add up.” Barack Obama could get by with his slogans and his platitudes as MSM dutifully filled in the details. But to run against an incumbent who the MSM clearly supported, the challenger apparently made the mistake that the MSM would do the same on his behalf. When you are running against an incumbent and the MSM, you better understand that you have to explain your positions yourself (particularly in the debates) rather than hope others will carry your message for you.

*Though really, I’m not sure how much Mitt Romney really believes in free market capitalism given his desire to start a trade war with China.
** Frankly, I never quite understood what their criticism was in this instance. Was it just that “binders full of women” sounds funny?

Part 2

Atlas Shrugged Part II in Theaters This Weekend

Atlas Shrugged Part II is opening this weekend. Want to check it out? Follow this link to find a theater near you.

And now, the official Atlas Shrugged Part II trailer:

Rand Paul on Why Foreign Aid Should be Cut to Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan

On Saturday, September 22, 2012 Rand Paul’s S.3576, a bill that would have “provide[d] limitations on United States assistance” (i.e. placed conditions on aid to Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan) was soundly defeated by a 81-10 vote. On the day before the vote, Paul gave an hour long speech (truncated, 10 minute version in the video below) on the Senate floor explaining to his colleges why sending tax dollars to foreign countries is a terrible idea, particularly foreign countries which are openly hostile to the US in word or deed. In the speech, Paul reminds us that the foreign policy of recent history that has far too often been forgotten by the American public pointing out that some of the recipients of our aid eventually became our enemies. The notion of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has been counterproductive. Saddam Hussein, Omar Qaddafi, the Mujahideen anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Why The Big, Dumb Spending Cuts Nobody Wants Are A Good Idea

Ezra Klein’s believes that it’s a horrible thing that the big, dumb spending cuts that nobody wants might actually happen:

The initial idea was that if the supercommittee failed, there would be automatic spending cuts and automatic tax increases. This way, both parties would have an incentive to reach a deal. But Republicans refused the tax increases side. So instead, the two sides settled on automatic spending cuts to domestic programs to hurt Democrats and automatic spending cuts to defense to hurt Republicans. And thus the big, dumb spending cuts that no one wants came into being.

…snip…

You might wonder why Republicans and Democrats, both of whom agree we should cut spending, are so dead-set against these particular spending cuts. The answer is that they are very, very dumb. A certain number of programs — Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare beneficiaries and nearly all spending directly benefiting low-income Americans — are exempt, but beyond that, everything gets pretty much the same size cut.

As a senior administration official said on a conference call today: ”The administration has no discretion in deciding the cuts identified in this report. The exempt versus non-exempt determinations are based on the requirements in the law. The administration can’t choose which programs to exempt or what percentage cuts to apply.” You can see exactly where those cuts would fall here.

In other words: Spending we consider essential gets the same size cut as spending we consider wasteful. There’s no ability to make the cuts to farm subsidies a bit bigger and the cuts to, say, the FBI a bit smaller. It’s $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction in which we pretty much don’t make a single choice about what is and isn’t worth funding.

I think that Ezra is right: these cuts are dumb. After all, that was the point. The point was to ensure that we’re going to get $1.2T of spending cuts, come hell or high water. And the fact that they’re dumb is a great incentive to find better ones.

So the options are:

  1. Get $1.2T in spending cuts that we don’t really want, but which are better than not cutting spending at all.
  2. Get $1.2T in nice, targeted spending cuts that make a lot of sense.

Contrast this to what would have happened if the sequester didn’t get put in place:

  1. Don’t get $1.2T in bad spending cuts.
  2. Don’t get $1.2T in good spending cuts, because Congress has no incentive to do anything.

I personally believe that cutting spending by $1.2T over 9 years is a good thing. I would prefer that Congress actually try to figure out where cutting that spending is most effective, slashing unnecessary and outmoded programs and departments while leaving the necessary stuff (assuming it exists!) untouched. But I’d still prefer $1.2T in “bad” cuts over not cutting spending at all.

Failure to make a deal on finding $1.2T in “good” cuts only serves as more evidence that Congress is a bunch of morons and that their collective approval rating should dip from the low teens to single digits. Frankly, that should bother them, but it doesn’t bother me.

Either way, the American taxpayer wins.

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