Showing posts with label policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label policy. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

May the Swartz be with you

I've been trying to avoid posting political stuff here, but the silly White House Petition site may actually prove to be of some use if it results in a very, very small measure of posthumous justice (not that there is such a thing).

“A prosecutor who does not understand proportionality and who regularly uses the threat of unjust and overreaching charges to extort plea bargains from defendants regardless of their guilt is a danger to the life and liberty of anyone who might cross her path,” said the petition.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Decade dense

When I was in high school, still breaking in my new driver’s license, some buddies and I took a half-hour road trip into The ‘Ta to hang out for the day, maybe see a movie.

Long story short, our 1978 Dodge Omni (dubbed “The Omni-vore”) shot craps on the Canal Route, forcing us to ditch the Interstate at the 21st Street exit. I’ve not been to Wichita in, what?, 15 years?, and this story takes place at least 10 years before that. Which is all to say that I’m not sure what the neighborhood is like today. But back then the prospect of finding yourself, at the age of 16 with a busted car in a dodgy part of town with no cell phone (nobody had even heard of the Motorola DynaTac yet) was extremely dicey.

Everything turned out okay in the end. Maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime because it’s kind of a funny story.

But… fast forward a year or two when I’m on a student tour of Europe. It was the most fun of my short life up to then. While in Paris, a friend and I became separated from the tour group in the subways. Here we are, a couple of Midwestern kids from nowhere Kansas where the words “public” and “transportation” don’t have any real meaning when you put them together, lost on one of the more renowned subway systems in the world.

It was both terrifying and exhilarating. It was exhilafying.

Again, everything worked out okay in the end. I mean, I’m here writing this, right?

Fast forward again to adult life when my Supermodel Wife and I and some close friends returned to Europe on our own terms. The experiences above, and many more like them, had cultivated a sense of adventure and appreciation for discovering the unknown and unexpected. I had come to realize that, with a certain frame of mind, there’s no such thing as “being lost.”

Just have an idea of where you want to end up, and enjoy the process of getting there. All you really need is a map and a brain. And really, the map is optional. Cell phones and GPS units? They just get in the way of enjoying where you are. They’re a kind of safety net that dilutes your experience.

Needless to say, that trip abroad was filled with unexpected discoveries that we might not have had in the safety of a tour group. And it was the most fun I’d had in my life up to that point.

Then a few months later, somebody flew a couple of airplanes into the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan.

We all know what happened, so I don’t want to belabor the point. But a comment from a blog friend got me thinking about how there are now adults who were third-graders on the day of the 9/11 attacks. My oldest daughter, now in elementary school, has never known a “pre-9/11” world.

And that’s a shame.

Because after the attacks, we as a society pretty much went into lock down.
We have come to accept, with very little grumbling, being treated like cattle (or sheep) in the name of public safety. We put up with being herded, groped, scanned, and tagged. We have gladly handed over our privacy to a government that has pledged to protect us. We cheer our leaders when they kill the right people, because they are doing so that we will never again face certain death at the hands of those who wish us harm.

That the “kids these days” have never known it otherwise is a concern. Aren’t we deifying invulnerability way too much? Are we sacrificing liberty and risk and reward, at the altar of safety and security? Are we raising a generation that will be unprepared when the illusion of safety is exposed?

It’s tough. Because I want my kids to be safe. But I also want them to experience the kinds of things I experienced — learning that it’s okay to be frightened, just keep your head. Don’t be afraid of new and strange places and people.

I guess I just think that living in fear within a cultural corral is a sad way to go through life, and you’ll miss out on a lot of the best things life has to offer.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Putting the T&A in TSA

Just a few of my own thoughts (well, I suppose I'm not the only one with these thoughts) to close out the discussion on the TSA's aggressive security screenings…

Our own Midtown Miscreant rightly pointed out the other day that airport security screenings are not really that much worse than anything most ex-cons experience on a daily basis during their time in the big house.

His basic point, as with other proponents of the new measures, is that yeah it sucks to treat everyday, law-abiding citizens like the worst criminal in the world, but you have to do it for safety.

Is it the perfect fool proof solution? No. But I've yet to hear a workable alternative.

And this is part of the problem. MM, like decreasing majority of the American public, has bought into the scare tactics employed by bureaucrats and lobbyists who basically say "If you don't let us take naked pictures of you and grope you, you are going to be killed by terrorists."

In fact, many security experts have gone on record as saying none of these tactics would have foiled any of the terror plots that we've seen. Furthermore, the recent "tonor cartridge bomb" plot was discovered by other, less intrusive security measures.

Now don't get me wrong. I'd probably avoid the super backscatter scanning X-Rays they're using since I'm not crazy about having 1.21 gigawatts of radiation sent through my body (I like my chromosomes they way nature intended, thank you very much).

Of course, those of you more worried about modesty than radiation might not feel all that comfortable with a bunch of mall cop rejects checking out high-resolution scans of your nether regions. If you're one of those people, you might want to invest twenty bucks in some special X-ray shielded panties.

Personally, I enjoy a good groping by strangers as much as the next guy. And while I might consider having a sweaty, overweight guy with bad breath put his latex glove-covered hands down my pants at the airport a bonus, I can certainly see how some might find it objectionable, even invasive.

What concerns me more, however, is how we got to where we are.

It's like we've lost our minds here. We've been scared witless, and we're not thinking rationally. All the threats we've heard of — Shoe Bomber, Crotch Bomber, Tonor Bombers — are threats from abroad. Yet now we're clamping down on flights from Kansas City to Tallahassee? And that was only three or four cases out of hundreds of millions of flights.

So these measures, which are really just a kind of theater to make people feel like they're safer, have little real effect on a statistically insignificant problem.

I think a better approach is prudent and reasonable police work. The Israeli approach is probably pretty good. Use multiple checkpoints with security people actually trained in spotting real suspects — not frisking your 5-year-old niece.

Let's use our brains, citizens.

And there's one other germ of a thought that's been bouncing around in my brain lately. We, as a society, are expecting way too much out of our government.

Sure, the government likes it that way. The self-perpetuating bureaucracy loves the opportunity to assume more and more our responsibilities and is happy to accept more of our money and liberty in exchange for trying to keep us safe.

But the truth is, we have no reasonable right to expect to be 100 percent safe 100 percent of the time. A long, safe, healthy life is great. But for human beings, that's the exception, not the rule.

If I had lived 100 years ago, I'd probably have died before I reached my 38th birthday. Now I realize we live in the future and we've made advances in medicine and technology, but we're on a course toward asking our government to encase the world in Nerf for our own protection.

Anyway, there may be more on that line of thinking later.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guest Post: TSA is here to protect the ingrates

As you know, from time to time I'll post guest editorials about various topical subjects. These guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the editorial staff of 3 AM. Today's guest post is from Nathan R. Jessep, a mid-level Transportation Security Administration agent, in response to recent criticism of the agency's aggressive screening tactics.

What? So a few prissy travelers in their faggoty business suits think I'm invading THEIR privacy? That's funny! That's a joke!

You want the truth? You want the TRUTH!? You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has airports, and those airports have to be guarded by men with latex gloves. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Mr. Jillette?

I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom! You weep for your groped genitals and you curse the TSA. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that the groping of your private parts, while tragic, probably saves lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives!

You don't want the truth, because deep down in places you don't talk about on your blogs and on Twitter, you want me in that airport! You need me in your underwear! We use words like "bend over", "spread 'em", "cop a feel". We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something.

You use them as a punchline!

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a country that rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very safety that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said "Thank you," grabbed a tissue to wipe your tears, and went on your way.

Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a body cavity search kit, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to!

You fuckin' people. You have no idea how to defend an airport. All you'll do with your National Opt Out Day is weaken the illusion of safety that I provide. That's all you'll do. You'll put people's lives in danger.

Sweet dreams, son.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Bullitt list -- 06.21.10

Today's category: Watching the watchmen

As we make the government more responsible for our everyday lives (food, shelter, health care, etc.) it stands to reason that it will require a more aggressive police force to, well, enforce all the rules we as a country have been begging for.

Well, welcome to the future…

  • A group headed by the National Hispanic Media Coalition has requested that the FCC launch a probe to monitor hate speech and "misinformation" online. They say the FCC should gather and catalog information about who uses hate speech, when and where, then turn that information over to the NHMC so that they can "hold the media accountable" for hate speech.

    Aside from the obvious First Amendment violation this suggests (not that we actually care about the Bill of Rights anymore), this is a good example about being careful what you wish for.

    Often, a police state isn't forced upon a society, at least not initially. What happens is that through fear and ignorance, a group will demand the the government protect them from whatever bogeyman du jour they perceive to be out there. Then, too late, they realize they've given up their liberty in exchange for the illusion of security.

  • Luckily, we live in a republic that recognizes certain inalienable rights that protects us from abuses of the state. Of course, just because those rights are inalienable, doesn't mean they can't be watered down.

    The highest court in the land got into the act recently when it declared that if you remain, then you give up your right to remain silent. Any watcher of TV cop drama's is pretty familiar with the Miranda Rights. I bet most of you could say it right off the top of your head.
    You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?
    Until a few days ago, the only way you could waive this right was to expressly say that you waive your right. Now the only way you can exercise your right to remain silent is to break your silence to expressly affirm that right. In other words, your Fifth Amendment (there's that pesky Bill of Rights again) right not to incriminate doesn't exist if you don't say it does.

    As my friend Joel rightly put it, police now get to assume you don't want your Constitutional rights. Makes trampling on the public that much easier, I guess.

  • You know what else makes it easy to keep the plebs under your boot heel? Tasers, baby!

    That's right, another court ruling has established precedence that will allow your local stormtroopers to indiscriminately Taser your ass for something as harmless not wearing a seat belt while driving and wearing only boxer shorts and sneakers.

    Now granted, Tasing is probably better than having a cop pop a cap in you half-naked ass. And even I'll admit to seeing a bit of humor in the over use of the Taser in the past. But come on people, am I the only one who thinks its a bit of an over reaction to Taser these hippies? I know they smell bad, but I suspect this ruling might have turned our different if it had been caught on camera…

  • …Then again, maybe it wouldn't. Another disturbing trend is that more and more people are being arrested simply for … taking pictures. In public areas… Where you would have no expectation of privacy… But there are police there.

    And this is one of the scariest developments in our nascent police state. Not only is the government using abusive tactics and ignoring constitutional rights, but now they are trying to criminalize the documentation of those abuses.
    A few weeks ago, an Illinois judge rejected a motion to dismiss an eavesdropping charge against Christopher Drew, who recorded his own arrest for selling one-dollar artwork on the streets of Chicago. Although the misdemeanor charges of not having a peddler's license and peddling in a prohibited area were dropped, Drew is being prosecuted for illegal recording, a Class I felony punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison.
    Look, I respect good police officers and I'm grateful for the work that they do. But in my opinion, the clear sign of an abusive officer is if they are afraid to be seen doing what they do. How else could this kind of law be interpreted other than to protect officers who abuse their authority?

    Kind of makes you want to right your congresscritter to complain. But that might not be such a good idea…

  • You see, in a police state your best course of action is to stay low and try to maintain your anonymity. But that won't be so easy is some lawmakers have their way.

    A bill sponsored by New Mexico Democrat Harry Teague aims to use the Federal budget bribes to get states to collect DNA samples from ANYONE who is ARRESTED and put them in a national database.

    It doesn't matter if the person is charged, or even acquitted. Merely being brought "down to the station." This is some next level, pre-crime Minority Report meets 1984 meets Blade Runner type shit.

    Think of the message this is sending:

    "Okay kids, think what we want you to think, snitch on your friends, don't take pictures or we'll Taser your ass, haul you downtown and your DNA will be ours for the rest of your life."

    Sounds like Utopia to me.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Bailout

A week and a half ago, financial luminaries in Europe (and in the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank) decided to give bankrupt Greece a larger line of credit to bail them out of their financial crisis.

In simple terms, Greece, like many US families, went into debt by spending more than it produced. In fact, it's debts totaled 125% of its total national production.

That essentially means that if everyone in Greece put all of their annual income to paying off the national debt, they still wouldn't have enough to keep Tony Soprano's goombahs from breaking their kneecaps.

The total bailout for Greece is somewhere around $1 trillion, a jawdropping number for such a small country. But the bailout also came with a few provisos, the "austerity measures" that we've been hearing about and that the Greeks have been rioting about. "Austerity measure" is a nice term for "you've been eating more gyros than you can afford, and now it's time for some budget cuts."

I'm not going to go into an opinion on bailouts. I've done that before. Rather, I'll note that the Greek bailout is interesting because of how common and wide spread the circumstances are that have lead to it.

The Greek government, in order to get reelected, promised everything to the voting public. Government jobs, high salaries, pensions, health care, digital converter boxes... anything to garner votes from Androcles Q. Public. And the governed didn't really worry about how (or whether) all those bribes would be financed.

Anyone who was around two years ago during the "Hope and Change" campaign will recognize this. The "two" parties in the United States were falling all over each other to see who could promise more government bribes to voters.

The same has happened in other European countries. Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland are also in dire financial straits. In fact, the Greek bailout was seen as a way to forestall a financial domino effect that would leave those countries' economies in ruin as well. Even the U.K. is struggling, with some estimates placing it's debt at over 103 percent of its GDP.

Scott Mather, head of global portfolio management at Pimco (one of the largest bond buyers (i.e., "loaners of money") in the world) put it this way in a recent interview with NPR,

Most of the developed world is screwed. That makes this crisis particularly different from anything we've seen in our lifetimes.

The countries that aren't screwed are the emerging market countries. They have low levels of debt. The emerging market world is lending money to the rich world so the rich countries are continuing to spend more than they've made.
Mather noted that there is no easy way out of the debt mess. Bailouts like this only delay the day of reckoning. The only way to reduce debt is to either cut spending or default on your bonds.
This is going to happen in Greece and the rest of Europe. It will happen in the UK and in the US as well. People have to develop a better connection with what government spending means for them personally. We've had the better part of a couple of decades where people have lost that connection. [Government money] is viewed as manna from heaven and it's an entitlement, something that is deserved and shouldn't have an impact or repercussions on them.
When the country was discussing the "health care reform" bill a few months ago, one of the so-called arguments was that, as one of the richest nations in the world we can afford to give everybody great health care. After all, if Europe can do it, we can too.

Well, it turns out that Europe can't do it. We probably can't either, not without making serious sacrifices in quality of life. And let's face it, we're due for some drastic quality of life downgrades anyway. We've just had it too good for too long.

I don't know how much longer the strategy of bailout-bubble-burst will last here in the US. Hell, even now it's considered safer to lend money to Iraq than the State of California.

I do suspect that we will have the illusion of an economic recovery over the next two years or so. But you don't have to be Dave Ramsey to know that the party will eventually turn into a pretty serious debt hangover.

When that happens, it won't be just a Greek tragedy.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Crude awakening

Sure, some people are calling the oil spill in the Gulf a "crisis." And I guess to certain people with certain world views, it is a crisis.

But I prefer to look on the bright side of things. Where some people see crisis, I see opportunity. In this case, it's the opportunity to look at our national energy consumption and talk about ways to make it better.

And I'm not alone. Two of my favorite bloggers have noted the increased awareness of our energy situation.

Xavier Onassis, reining Imperator of Independence made some great points in his post about a smart energy grid, or as he called it an "agnostic energy grid":

What we need is a … power grid that will accept input from any source at a standard, pro-rated, kilowatt-based compensation, feed that electricity into the grid where it is distributed as needed at a standard, pro-rated, kilowatt-based pricing system.

There are so many ways to generate electricity that with a distributed generation strategy and a unified grid, we can have all the power we need without depending on fossil fuels.
He then lists many different ways to produce electricity, including small nuclear reactors like those that have been used for years to power America's warships at sea.

That post dovetails nicely into R.Sherman's two-part series on the importance of nuclear energy to our energy future. It's a great series (as you would expect from one of Missouri's finest minds) that scientifically points out that the so-called "green" energy solutions won't be enough by themselves to provide all of our energy consumption needs.

All these points made me realize that as a culture we have a pretty limited view of how we generate electricity. It's either from nuclear plants, coal plants, hydroelectric or wind or some other grand scheme.

But let's not forget that there are many ways to capture energy that is wasted every day. It seems like there are many opportunities to generate-- or rather capture -- small amounts of energy over a very large area. Kind of a "long tail" approach to the energy problem.

For example, an Israeli company has developed a new highway surface that generates electricity as cars drive over it.

A United Kingdom company has developed a way to convert the kinetic energy of pedestrians walking down a busy street into electricity.

There have also been proposals to embedded piezoelectrics in shoes, clothing, even body parts to convert kinetic energy into electricity.

None of these plans individually generate very much electricity. But if created in mass and spread out over a national -- maybe even global -- smart energy grid, a dent could be made in our electrical consumption.

So my mind started to wander and look for ways to capture and convert more kinetic energy into electricity. They've got cars and sidewalks and shoes covered. People have even hooked bicycles up to generators.

And then I saw an opportunity literally right in front of me. We need to have tiny little piezoelectric generators embedded into every computer keyboard and mouse in the country.

Just think of the potential. Any time anyone presses a key on the keyboard -- and it's done billions of times a day -- a tiny electric charge would be created. Every time you move your mouse, every time you hit the enter key, every time you backspace to correct a misspelling you would be generating a tiny bit of power.

All of these tiny bits of power would cascade into the smart energy grid like delicate snowflakes on a mountain top. But by the time they accumulate, they would become an avalanche of clean electric power that anyone could have access to.

And finally, at long last, the millions of bloggers writing inane, uninformed posts about subjects of which they have little understanding would be serving a useful purpose.

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Racing Arizona

Politicians and their sheeple have done a great job this year of bringing back race as a wedge issue.

We were all really concerned that once a black president was elected we would all finally move beyond race and racism, but it's a relief that they have recognized that race as a political wedge issue is still very valuable.

Just look at how well it has been used. If you think we're over taxed, it's because you're racist. If you think the government is spending money on the wrong thing, you're a racist. If you disagree with passing a law mandating 30 million new customers for the insurance industry, it must be because you are a racist.

If you think hundreds of teens should be home studying or working at a productive job on Friday nights instead of rioting on the Country Club Plaza? Well son, you're a damn racist.

Yes sir. Despite all of the hope and change, the race card is alive and well in politics today. Just look at all of mileage the race baiters are getting out of this new Arizona Illegal Immigration law.

Before even reading or understanding the law at all, Koolaid drinkers flew off the handle calling it unfair and racist. I'm no lawyer, and I haven't gone through the legislation with a fine toothed comb, but my friend R.Sherman is, and he has. He's a great guy despite being a lawyer and he points out that the Arizona law essentially takes current federal law and makes it Arizona State law, except that the Arizona law is more lax than federal law.

Look, I'm on record as being pretty status quo on illegal immigration.I certainly don't condone it anymore than I condone any other illegal activity. But then again, of all the problems we have in our country, I don't think illegal immigration is the worst.

To the people who are acting all outraged about the supposed racial injustice of the Arizona law, I question your sincerity. I don't think you're really worried about the rights of illegal immigrants. More likely, your worried about your voting blocks and creating a wedge issue.

That's to bad because there are real, legitimate reasons to not like the Arizona law. Just from what I've read I don't think it's racist, I just don't like the idea of giving the police more excuses to hassle us. Frankly, I think we're putting ourselves at more and more risk when we give the government more reasons to stop us and demand identification.

I mean let's face it. The human rights train left the station long ago. We've already pretty much established that the Bill of Rights is more of a punchline than a protection against government abuses.

But rather than trying to limit government abuses, we've done everything we can as a society to encourage it. We basically said "Here Uncle Same, take half my income. Take care of my neighbors so I don't have to. While you're at take care of my health and retirement planning as well. What? You say you need to read my emails and listen to my phone calls so that you can keep me from doing something that it bad for me? Well, okay. You know best."

And now you're worried about abuses in Arizona? Well, you should be. But as I've said before, we have ourselves to blame. When we put too much faith in "the authorities" to look out for us you can't be too surprised when those abuses inevitably occur. If we make the government collectively responsible for everything, then the governed aren't individually responsible for anything.

You can't have a nanny state without also having a police state.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Eat the rich

There was something I wanted to keyboard about a couple of weeks ago, but because I've got a good job in the city, working for the man every night and day, I didn't have time to get to it.

That's what happens with us salary types sometimes. Gotta punch the clock so you can bring home the Benjamins and, more importantly, pay the taxes without which everyone would get sick and die, starve and die, not have roads and die, or just generally freak the fuck out and die.

Ah, yes. That's what it was. I wanted to keyboard something about taxes. It was around April 15, Tax Day ... or as I call it, Pull Down My Pants and Slide On The Ice Day.

At the time there was a pretty concerted pro-tax increase public relations effort put forth by... well, who knows but the source was probably somewhere deep in the bowls of our bloated federal bureaucracy. Even a media avoider like me couldn't dodge the bevy of stories featuring "rich" people who want to pay more taxes. I first heard the NPR version of the story, but it was also pretty common in print and on blogs.

And I take the stories at face value. I mean, if the Washington Post reports

"I'm in favor of higher taxes on people like me," declared Eric Schoenberg, who is sitting on an investment banking fortune. He complained about "my absurdly low tax rates."
… I'll take their word that this guy Schoenberg exists and that he wants to pay more taxes. According to the reporting, he's not alone.

But there's something fishy about such a sentiment. For one thing, what people like Schoenberg are saying (if they actually exist) is that they want the government to raise taxes on other people. This is a pretty common liberal viewpoint. And by liberal, I mean the current Democrats and Republicans who seem to think we can continue buying everything for everybody without having to eventually pay for it.

That's all well and good. I've pretty much started to come to grips with the fact that the battle is over and the forces of fiscal restraint have lost. Americans (those who bother to pay attention anymore) have discovered that it's easier to vote themselves other people's money and outsource their social responsibility for their neighbors to the government.

I just find it a bit silly that they feel like they have to wage a PR war to assuage their guilt. They're trying to convince me that raising taxes will be a good thing. That even the rich people want their taxes raised because they want to pay more taxes. Okay. Fine. Let the good times roll.

But here's the thing. If rich people want to pay more in taxes, they can. Now. Without any acts of congress or anything. If you're a rich bastard, you don't have to shelter all of your earnings. You don't have to hide your assets. You don't have to take the millions of deductions on your tax return.

Hell, I bet you could even write out a check for $50,000, take it to your local IRS office and just plain donate it to your government that is cash strapped because of its investments in General Motors and insane foreign wars. You'd probably even get a tax deduction for your donation.

So yeah rich people. If you're feeling guilty about not paying enough taxes, then by all means pay more. Just don't expect me to buy in to the BS that I'm getting a good value for my tax dollar.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010


Don't you hate it when you're trying to have a conversation, trying to reply to a comment, and you realize you've gone passed the character limit?

Happens to me quite often no matter how brief and economical I try to be with the words.

Anyway, there's this awesome cat, Lodo Grdzak, who classes up my joint every once in a while. I always appreciate when he stops by to leave a comment because even though we disagree on a lot of things, he's always thoughtful and writes intelligently. Seriously, this guy has some great perspective, an original voice, great stories and amazing taste in music. Really, if I wasn't already married... Well, I highly suggest you make his blog a regular stop in your RSS reader.

So why do I bring this up? Well I'm glad I asked.

Lodo dropped by recently and commented on my previous post re: Goldman Sachs. Here it is in it's entirety:

As a bit of a digression, I couldn't help but notice you failed to mention the billions of dollars made by the government in the TARP bailouts. Not only was all TARP money paid back; but at a huge profit to the government. Even Citi's loan (the most volatile of the banks) would yield a $10 billion profit to the government if we cashed-in our Citi stock now. But the government's waiting 'cause we'll make a lot more money than that. Obama's handling of the financial crisis (the worst since the Depression--'caused by Libertarian speculators that didn't want SEC oversight within the financial institutions) has been nothing short of genius. Particularly when you consider he handled it while planning war strategy in Afghanistan, passed health care reform (easy task I know), and had to appoint a Supreme Court judge. GM has paid back close to $2 billion dollars of their loan, and once they start selling stock again, the government's gonna clean up on that deal. All while maintaining 900,000 jobs. When you're wrong, you're wrong. And you should admit that the bailouts worked and retract comments you've made in the past that said they wouldn't.
I started to respond, but again ran out of characters. So I wanted to get this out there as a new post because, wow, there are a lot of claims in all of that.

I'll try to respond to each the best I can. But let me start by saying everyone should go easy on the Obama Koolaid. It's potent stuff.

I won't call the TARP campaign a "success" as such. Yes, companies have been saved. But we have succeeded in saving companies that should not have been saved in the first place. We have continued a precedence that started in the 1970s, where the government puts a ton of money behind a failed busies keeping it alive long after it should have died. These zombie corporations only serve to encourage bad/risky behavior by other business down the line.

If a company has no fear of being buried, it has no reason to act responsibly. John Q. Taxpayer is always there to bail them out as long as you grease the right palms in Washington. Hey, don't take my word for it. People much smarter than me have already pointed this out. I'm just the messenger, man.Secondly, in regards to the success of the bailouts, I think it's important to note that the TARP program was "only" $700 billion. Yes, that is an insane amount of money to waste on zombie corporations. But keep in mind that amount is a fraction of the $12 TRILLION committed in all of the bailout schemes.

The assertion that GM has totally repaid it's TARP loan is somewhat true. The problem is that, of the $50 billion that GM borrowed, it repaid only $6.7 billion in cash. The rest, was "repaid" in equity in the company, which means that the US Government owns 60 percent of post-bankruptcy GM. Since that stock is no longer traded, you can't really peg a value to that 60% holding, but it sure as hell isn't worth $43 billion (last trade was for 75 cents a share).

Furthermore, I'm sorry but saying that TARP has been totally repaid is just incorrect. According to ProPublica, just over $391 billion was disbursed, of which more than $186 billion is still outstanding. If you include Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in that, there's another $119 billion outstanding, bringing the total to over $300 billion that still needs to be repaid.

Regarding Citi, I'm not sure what Lodo's source was, but again according to ProPublica, Citigroup took $45 billion from the government and has returned about $23 billion, leaving them $22 billion in debt to us taxpayers. It's difficult to accept that we would realize a $10 billion profit "if we would cash in our stock" because the stock would immediately resume its downward spiral if the government decided to sell it.

Lodo also points out that the government-owned companies have seen nice stock gains, or at least stable stocks. This shouldn't be a surprise. Taking the investor's point of view, buying stock in a company owned by the US Government is pretty much a sure thing. Since we have a couple of years before our government is crushed under the fiscal weight of entitlements, bailouts and pork spending, investors can rest assured that companies owned by the government have been and will be bailed out of any mismanagement. At least until society completely breaks down in 2012 and we all get jobs as Road Warriors.

However, you should keep you eye on those stocks if/when Uncle Sam decides to sell.

As for the jobs situation, The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that nearly half of states are still reporting increases in unemployment. Unemployment is still above 9 percent nationally, so it's still too soon to congratulate Obama on his masterful handling of jobs and employment policy.

The war stuff? Well, we're still at war, we'll have troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, and Obama supporters don't seem to care about that now that it's their guy in office.

Anyway, the upshot of all of this it that we're a long way from me admitting I was wrong about the bailouts.

EDTI. — In response a question about citing Pro Publica as as source, they are an independent group of journalists and one of the few highly credible information sources on the Internet. Here's what they say in their About page:
ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.
I strongly suggest you begin frequenting their website.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Surely some revelation is at hand

Uncle Nick was kind enough to point out one of the money quotes from the ongoing Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission hearings headed by Phil Angelides (a Democrat from California, which has one of the brokest-ass budgets in the country, so you know this guy has the fiscal street cred).

Here's the quote:

Wall Street is in effect selling cars with faulty brakes, and then taking out insurance on the buyers.
The statement was directed at Lloyd Blankfein, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs (and budding Bond Villian). Remember, this is the same Goldman Sachs that was making $100 million a day just a few months after taking a $20 billion bailout payment from you and me.

Just to make sure that sinks in, they were bringing in 100,000,000 dollars A DAY.

Anyway, Blofeld's Blankfein's response to the quote above was basically "I don't see anything wrong with that."

The temerity of these bank executives during the hearings would be comical if it weren't so enraging. C-Span has video of the hearing on their website. If you feel the need for a quick hit of Hulk rage, I highly suggest you watch. Skip through the first 40 minutes or so since that's just the bankers reading their prepared PR statements.

In the meantime, here's an example of why The Onion is the smartest news source. EVAR. Jon Stewart is getting his ass kicked by these guys.

In The Know: Are Politicians Failing Our Lobbyists?
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Protection racket

I have to hand it to the Obama administration. They have really renewed the faith I have in our federal government.

Not that my faith was faltering in any way. Thanks to the Clinton and Bush administrations, I've had a very strong faith that our federal government can take on any bad situation and, through incompetent meddling and corrupt special interest influence, make it even worse.

My Obama loving friends told me more than a year ago that this administration was different. This time they would get it right, they're changing the political paradigm. But I never lost my faith. And now this administration ends the year with the worst first-year approval rating of any president ever.

That's due in part to the recent hot mess that is the so-called health care reform bill. It's pretty much universally reviled -- even by the most ardent Obama supporters -- as a special interest sellout. But some, even as they bemoan the terrible legislation, still want to give credit to the administration for doing some kind of reform.

But here's where I point out that putting the word "reform" in the title of the bill doesn't make it a reform bill, just as putting the word "Patriot" on a bill doesn't make it patriotic.

In fact, it's clear even to the most casual observer that rather than reform a broken system, this bill actually makes it more corrupt. And I'm not talking about the millions of kickbacks and earmarks some Senators are bringing home. Not a bad gig when you can get hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money for voting for terrible legislation. This is not an exaggeration.

Of course, the real sweetheart deal goes to the very insurance industry that is one of the main root causes of runaway health care prices in the first place. The "reform" bill requires EVERY PERSON to buy health care insurance -- the so called individual mandate.

So, almost overnight, the government is creating millions of new customers for an industry that is already raking in record profits. Is it a surprise that insurance corporation's stock prices spiked the day after the Senate attained bought a key vote on cloture?

Personally, I wonder how the individual insurance mandate is even legal. I mean, how can it even be constitutional for the government to order me to by something that I can't afford or don't want? What, are they going to fine me money that I don't have then throw me in jail if I don't pay it? Seize my house, car, digital TV converter box?

Is this the America we live in now?

Oh yeah, I forgot. I guess it is.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beating up Bill

It probably shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that the anniversary of the Bill of Rights was a couple of days ago and nobody noticed.

In a more rational time in our history, our country's founding fathers were more concerned about the corrupting influence of governmental power than they were with making sure there were no performance enhancing drugs in baseball. Because of this rational concern one of the first and most important things our federal legislature did was pass a set of constitutional amendments aimed strictly at limiting government power.

It was a great idea. Unfortunately, they forgot to include an 11th amendment that went something like "No, really. We really mean it. You can't do the stuff that these first 10 amendments say you can't do. Really. Seriously, just stop it."

With a complicit congress, our last few presidents have done a pretty good job of telling Bill of Rights to sod off. Let's review, shall we?

  1. Free speech – Today you can be thrown in jail for videotaping your sister's birthday, or fined into poverty for endorsing a product on your blog. Hurray for free speech!

  2. Bear arms – In a lot of places, you can still legally own a gun (at least for another year or two). Of course, "bearing" it will usually get you tossed in jail. Or worse.

  3. No quartering – This is probably the only right that Americans still have intact. 1 for 3! Huzzah!

  4. No unreasonable search – Oh sure, but what's a little domestic spying among comrades?

  5. Due process – I guess you could say that the city of New London, Conn., went through due process before condemning, confiscating, and destroying Suzette Kelo's home at the request of a large pharmaceutical corporation. Of course, you would totally be wrong despite what the Supreme Court says.

    And don’t even get me started on the whole red light camera scam.

  6. Speedy trial – I wonder what the kind gentlemen at Guantanamo Bay would say about this.

  7. Civil trial by jury – With the low level of education in this country, I'm not so sure this is a right you would want to exercise. Besides, with the country simultaneously becoming both a police state and a nanny state, this one probably won't last long.

  8. No cruel punishment – Well, unless you happen to be a "enemy combatant."

  9. Rights not enumerated – Just to review, the founders were saying that, just because we're layin' it down that we have these rights in these 10 amendments, don't assume that we don't also have other rights that we haven't mentioned. Like, maybe, the right to keep the money we earn at our jobs.

  10. Powers of States and people – Again to review, the founders are saying that if the Constitution doesn't say the Federal government can do something, then the Federal government can't do it. For example, neither the constitution nor any of the amendments thereof mention anything about spending $650 million to make sure everyone has a digital television converter box.
So, can we just stop referring to America as a democracy? Or even a democratic republic? I don't know what we are, but it's pretty clear the constitution has about as much authority anymore as an Bannister Mallcop.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Pleading Galty

I'm going to backtrack a little bit because I have a couple of things I want to say about the whiny babies running Bank of America right now.

Seems they've wet their diapers over the Obama Collective's plan to slash executive salaries.

Many of the firms, which have together received more than $300 billion in taxpayer aid, issued conciliatory statements, but Bank of America said the ruling would put it at a disadvantage in competing with companies not under the pay czar's thumb.

"People want to work here, but they want to be paid fairly," said whined BofA spokesman Scott Silvestri.
Some people (who haven't thought things through very well) have latched on to the quote and hit the panic button, warning of a Galtian response to the pay cuts (via Cup O' Joel):
If the administration actually follows through, most of these executives will quit and get higher paying jobs elsewhere. Executives not directly affected by the pay cuts will also quit when they see their prospects for future salary gains have been cut. Chaos will be created at these firms as top people leave in droves. Will the administration then order people back to work?
Like I said, I've got a couple of thoughts on this, and I'm going to try to keep it brief.

First, this whiny weasel of a bank executive is vastly overstating the risk of a "Galtian" exodus of talent. (Can you imagine? A bank executive not being 100% honest?) Yes, the reduction is a 90 percent cut over their pay in 2008. But read the fine freaking print: It only applies to "the remainder 2009..."

That's right, these poor, deprived bastards are going to have a whole two months of punishment for the 18-months-and-counting depression they've caused. Then, it's back to buying disposable superyachts on the taxpayer dime.

Secondly, even if every single bank executive affected by this pay plan decided to take his keys to the executive Korean massage parlor and crawl into a Randian hole in southwest Colorado, that's only 175 people. I say good riddance. Don't let the balloon payment hit you on the way out. By all rights, these people should be out of work anyway.

Which brings me to my final point. If you're going to run you industry into the ground (oh, and the rest of the global economy, to boot) and then go crying, hat in hand, to the government and beh-heh-heg for a bailout, and if the popular sentiment is hard enough against you, don't fuckin' be surprised when the Chief Executive (your new boss, btw) grabs some political points by cutting your pay.

Welcome to the world you created.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

What the healthcare

These days, opinions about healthcare in America are a lot like genital warts. Everybody's got one, and they're all ugly.

While I've pretty much stayed clear of the public debate, we've had some discussions on the subject in the emawkc household, including one heated argument where my Supermodel Wife's Supermodel Sister pulled a switchblade and threatened to perform a DIY tracheotomy.

I've watched some of the president's remarks in press conferences and talking heads shows. I tried to sit through the infamous address to congress, but I get too impatient with all of the standing ovations (when will politicians realize that if every ovation is a standing ovation, then standing ovations have no meaning).

So, yeah. I'm about as frustrated as anybody on this. There's plenty to be frustrated about.

After I gave up on Congress' Standing Ovation to the President, I decided to just go get the propaganda straight from the horse's website. So I hit up www.whitehouse.gov to see what the president's plan entails.

The answer? There is no plan.

Like pretty much all of Obama's campaign proposals, what he considers a plan is merely a list of goals. A set of preferred outcomes.

There's no actual plan. This is your plan? This? Hell, Wile E. Coyote had better plans for how to catch the Road Runner!

Anyway, it's all beside the point because 95 percent of the national discussion about healthcare has been about how we can get everybody covered by insurance. So right there we've already gone off track.

Insurance coverage isn't the root problem in healthcare. Yes, it is a problem. But it's not the problem that needs to be solved.

The problem we need to solve is prices.

The president has given passing attention to the problem of prices, but it's always been in the context of "eventually bringing down the price of healthcare" -- like it's a long-term goal that will happen someday if we let the government take care of everything.

In my view, it's the one thing that we can do something about relatively quickly that will have an impact. When you get a medical bill that charges $90 bucks for a 70-cent IV, or $129 for a mucous recovery system (that is, a box of Kleenex) you know it's bullshit.

These unreasonable and unrealistic prices are why people need insurance in the first place.

Look, an MRI doesn't cost $5,000. Hell, it doesn't even cost $400. In Japan, you can get an MRI for about a hundred bucks.

So fix the issue of prices, make them more in line with costs, and you eliminate a big chunk of the need for insurance because most people will be able to pay most of their bills without help from the government.

Yeah, we won't need the government to take our money from us in order to take care of us...

... which means less for the government to do, which means less control of the citizenry at large which is why this entire post has been a complete waste.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Frankly, my dear, you're an a-hole

Like a lot of people I gave an internal smile of satisfaction when I saw the video a couple of weeks ago of Sen. Barney Frank chastising a woman at a healthcare town hall meeting.

Like a lot of people who lack the topical knowledge or just plain smarts to make a good argument, the young woman in the video resorted to likening President Obama to Adolph Hitler. It's pretty well accepted that once you bring up Hitler or Nazis, you've pretty much lost the argument (unless you're arguing about whether Hitler could take Macho Man Randy Savage in a WWE Cage match, then I guess the Nazi references would be appropriate).

But the young woman in question brought upon herself the Barney Frank tongue lashing. She deserved it, and maybe she'll find a different, more appropriate and clever metaphor for her poster at the next healthcare town hall meeting (assuming someone lets her know what a metaphor is).

So yeah. Nice to see Frank callin' her out.

But then as I thought about it a little more, I realized I was feeling a twinge of ... something. There was something, I don't know, not quite right about the whole exchange (I mean aside from the obvious ridiculousness of the entire affair).

Then I realized that it was actually Frank who lost. By engaging the woman in the caliber of conversation with which she tried to engage him, Frank actually lost. He didn't realize that in this kind of un-argument, you can't win if you participate. That's a surprise given his vast political experience.

He took the bait and lowered himself to the level of the ad hominem.

Then, a few days later I was listening to a Planet Money interview with Frank that managed to completely erase what little respect I still had for him.

Planet Money's Adam Davidson interviewed Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, about trying to come up with a non-partisan way to address reforms aimed at preventing the kind of financial and regulatory crap casserole that allowed the recent global economic meltdown.

Frank's response was that he doesn't believe in non-partisan solutions.

"We're not dealing here with arithmetic. There is never going to be a consensus answer to what happens. You're not going to get calm, reasoned, bipartisan investigation," Frank said.

Frank proved himself to be a partisan bully. This is why there's so little hope for our country. The people in charge at the highest levels see this as some sort of game. What's important isn't finding the best solution and the best policy. What's important to them is scoring partisan points for their team.

The attitude has filtered into most of the politically aware society. The actual policies are irrelevant. People only care about associating with one side or the other and the petty "victories" those sides achieve.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Go to health care

This is the kind of thing I'm talking about (thanks for bird dogging this, jdoublep).

It's clear that to make a mostly free-market plan work, those with chronic illnesses need to be protected. Fortunately, the template is already in place. About 30 states, usually those without requirements for community rating or guaranteed issue, have high-risk pools that automatically enroll people with pre-existing conditions. Their premiums generally can't exceed 150% of the average plan within the state, even though the patients may actually cost far more. The full costs of the high-risk pools are covered from state income- and sales-tax revenues.
It seems like so much of the so-called discussion on this issue (and pretty much any issue of public policy these days) is of the either or nature. Either you're in favor of the government completely taking over health care and providing everything to everybody, or you think health care is fine the way it is and that government should leave the situation unchanged because socialism is teh suck.

It's rare to have people take a look at the entire scope of the problem, think outside of the party lines, and propose options other than the two extremes. And even though health care reform this year is dead, hopefully we'll start to see more of this kind of thinking.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

GM ail

I just wanted to revisit a point that my good friend Logtar raised a couple of weeks ago when GM bit the bullet and filed for bankruptcy.

True to his form, Logtar is optimistic about the prospects of a restructured GM coming out of bankruptcy and competing on a global stage.

And true to my form, I'm a bit cynical. I worry that our government's decision to pour $50 billion in to a failed auto company will have unintended consequences.

Let me be clear here. I don't want GM to go bankrupt. Nobody does. Having such a large company suffer through bankruptcy is not good for America whether I like the cars or not.

But the rationale for pumping $50 billion into GM was that they were "too big to fail." That if the auto companies failed, our economy would be devastated with 9 percent unemployment.

Well, now we have a failed GM and 9 percent unemployment. Plus we're out $50 billion.

And let's face it, there's no way that a restructured GM will ever turn into a good investment for the American taxpayer. I don't even think anyone seriously believes we'll even get our original $50 billion investment back -- let alone a return on that investment.

That's all in the past. It is what it is. What worries me now is the ongoing trend this represents and the opportunities we've lost in following this approach.

For one thing there's a pretty good chance that the $50 billion investment in GM was mainly politically motivated. Nobody gets elected president if you don't win in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Allow auto companies to fail due to poor management decisions and you can pretty much kiss your re-election goodbye.

This political reality is present in many countries -- Germany, Japan, Korea. So there's a global trend of keeping automobile output artificially high. As a global system, we're allowing the automobile market to be inefficient. Too many resources are being dedicated to a product for which there is already a glut.

Again, I don't want to see the pain of a failed GM. But if we have to go through the pain anyway, shouldn't we invest our money in areas that are more deserving?

Tesla Motors, for example, has proven that it is innovative and forward thinking. Just imagine the technological leaps they could make with a $50 billion infusion. We would probably all be driving 100% electric cars within 10 years.

What's more, is this going to be a precedent for future corporate failures? What will we do when (not if, when) the big American petroleum companies are on the verge of failure because all of the oil has been pumped. Will we continue to invest billions of dollars of good money into bad companies? Shouldn't we instead seek a transition into more efficient and innovative endeavors?

Of course, all of this is academic. The bets have been placed and the dice have been cast. Nothing left to do but hope we don't lose even more.

Ah, now I know what Obama meant by "hope."

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Friday, April 17, 2009

TEA P.O.'d

Maybe you guys can help me understand something here. (I doubt it. I'm pretty thick-skulled about a lot of things. But when you need enlightenment, what better place to turn to than the anonymous Inkernetz).

Hold on a sec while I finish listening to this Springsteen song on my iPod. (Ah yes, at some level everybody DOES have a hu-hu-hung-er-y heart). Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

So Tax Day 2009 was quite the event this year. Finally after years of liberals and Democrats telling the country we're wasting money, some people from across the political aisle listened and came out to peacefully demonstrate and to agree and to say that, hey maybe we need to take a look at what we're spending our kids', grandkids' and great grandkids' and their great-great grandkids' money on.

Seems sensible to me. Seems like finally a lot of people are getting on the same page.

To be honest I was surprised by the demonstrations. It gave me the teeniest, tiniest ghost of a shred of hope that maybe our society might not go completely down the crapper.

(Of course, I still maintain that it's too late, that we've already passed the event horizon into the black hole of cultural decline. We already have achieved the critical mass of people in our country who have learned that it's easier to vote themselves somebody else's money that to take personal responsibility for themselves and their community.)

But a lot of the responses to the Taxed Enough Already demonstrations kind of surprised me when I read them. I'm not talking about the unclever, sophomoric sexual innuendos. I completely expected those from the Internet. Hell, I applaud them. I think that sort of thing is the highest calling of Internet self-publishing.

What I didn't expect was for people who for years complained about runaway spending when it comes to fake wars, have suddenly gone quiet when it comes to wasting an order of magnitude MORE money.

Did I say they've gone quiet? Let me correct myself. They're actually criticizing the very people who are agreeing with them.

Today, these selfish, greedy conservatives are overestimating the attendance of other selfish, greedy, brainless Fox-Zombies at their inherently racist "Tea Parties".
Ostensibly the parties protested the massive expansion of government, the accompanying growth of the federal budget and, not least, the use of taxpayer money to bail out private individuals and businesses in danger of financial collapse. These events may well be worthy of protest — and vigorous dissent is a vital, necessary part of the American tradition — but they were happening five months ago. Conservatives were not massing in the streets then, however.
My suspicion is that, as usual, this comes down to partisan politics. The partisans on one side are pissed at the partisans on the other side for doing the exact same thing they used to do. The sides are interchangeable.

It's noteworthy (but not surprising) that despite Mr. Obama's promises to "change the way things are done" and the blind faith placed in him by so many back in November of last year, nothing has changed except for the all-too predictable role reversal.

Anyway, I'm trying to figure out what is the point of people who ask "Where the fuck were these people eight years ago? Seriously, these tea-baggers are late to the party." (This seems to be a standard talking point for one side of the partisan coin).

My first response is "Who cares!" As long as they are now upset enough to say something...

The other answer I would suggest is that the issue might be one of scale. Perhaps the people who were only disgruntled at paying $670 billion for a war that accomplishes nothing have crossed into outrage at ponying up $11.6 Trillion for all of the various bailouts, kickbacks and scams that have come out of the last six or seven months.

FYI, that $11.6 Trillion is enough to pay for SEVENTEEN IRAQ WARS!

Ah yes. It all comes down to money for the partisans. Not how much there is, but who gets to spend it and from whom they take it.

Perhaps The Boss was right after all. Lay down your money and you'll play your part. Everybody's got a hungry heart.

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