Opinionated @ CFE

Mike Lee, Please Read Sun Tzu

Oct
10

Sun Tzu probably had no idea that his treatise “The Art of War” would still be often cited and respected over 2500 years after his death. It’s a masterpiece of strategic thinking that applies to any conflict be it military, political, or even athletic. The United States armed forces have even gone so far as to require that the book be in each unit’s library. One of the most prescient quotes from the works is “victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Mike Lee seems to have completely skipped this part when agitating for a government shutdown.

I get why he’s doing it. Federal programs, once enacted, are very difficult to undo no matter how unpopular they get. If you don’t believe it, remember that a “temporary” phone tax enacted for the Spanish-American War was repealed sometime during the Bush Administration. For them, this is the last stand before a program they legitimately believe to be horrible rolls forward. The House is following because elections matter. It’s no coincidence that in the two federal elections after the ACA passed, the opposition party took control of the House. They rode in on a promise to undo the ACA, and they’re determined to fulfill it. If they don’t fight hard enough for the base, they’ll get replaced.

The problem is that while a shutdown could have potentially been a Battle of Rorke’s Drift, it’s starting to look a lot more like The Alamo. Lee has to be smart enough to know that a shutdown was coming and when it would happen. Given those circumstances, you’d think he would have laid the groundwork for explaining the issues with the federal budgeting process, the unworkability of creating new entitlements beyond the reach of Congress (which now comprises a full 2/3 of federal spending), and why playing a game of chicken to see who blinks first would be the best way to force the hand of a dug-in Senate and President. Instead, absolutely no narrative or purpose to the shutdown was created and the first to market ideas are now the defining narrative. Lee can’t even properly capitalize on the ham-fisted way in which national parks are being closed down, a prime piece of low-hanging fruit.

The failure to figure out how to win before picking the fight never ends well. It has already distracted media attention away from the train wreck that is the ACA launch and numerous stories about huge premium increases, both things that would build popular support for 2014 and beyond to eliminate the ACA. About the only silver lining is that the two parties have pretty clearly defined who owns the ACA and its attendant problems. I wonder if Mike Lee will find a way to screw that up too.

A Creditor By Any Other Name

Jul
22

The only surprising thing about the city of Detroit declaring bankruptcy is that it took so darn long to happen. An icon of urban decay for the last four decades, Detroit shed businesses and population both to suburbs and other metro areas at a rate that undercut their ability to serve even the most basic of functions. Even as the city fails to respond to police calls in under an hour, or stop the infamous tide of arson, or even have a single major chain grocery store willing to serve the 713K poor souls who still call the city home, former city employees are demanding that the promises made during better times be honored. Unfortunately for them, they aren’t in any better position than other creditors.

We all know J. Wellington Wimpy’s famous line “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Pensions are just that. Employees go to the employer to ask for a raise. The employer, eager to avoid any liabilities now, makes a proposal: how about we pay you later? Much, much later. It’s a gamble for the employee that the employer will be in a better position decades down the road to pay that money than they are now. For government employees, it seems much less risky since their employers is backed by the taxpayers. This isn’t to say that steps aren’t taken to mitigate said risks. Pensions have investment funds used to fulfill those future liabilities. They are supposed to seek  a specified rate of return to accomplish this.

But it’s still a risk. Accepting a pension is a gamble that your employer will be able to fulfill those promises later at much more generous terms than they can do today. A reasonable person would accept that working for 20-30 years to get a guaranteed salary for life is too good to be true and will not last. But as with anyone taken in with a too good to be true proposition, many have become irrational and demand satisfaction. Just like any other creditor, they made their gamble. Now they have to live with the results.

Google and Facebook Tell the Dishonest Truth

Jun
07

While the NSA has been engaged in a lot of data collection since, well, forever, the press has recently decided to let them have it. It’s been disclosed that they collect the phone records of everyone in the country. They also collect the credit card transactions of everyone in the country. To top it all off, a leaked presentation brags that they have direct access to data from a variety of online service providers including Google and Facebook. Larry Page denies that Google is doing this. Mark Zuckerberg does the same on behalf of Facebook. I think they’re both telling carefully crafted truths to deflect from the one they don’t want you to know.

Both make pains to point out that they do not provide any direct access to use data. Direct. Nothing about indirect access, you see. The NSA is most likely conducting some man-in-the-middle attacks to provide some kind of plausible deniability. If this is the case, then it would be true, and yet dishonest, to insist that no request for bulk data has been received. Why would they need to make a request for the data they’re already getting?

Then there’s the line about following the law. It’s no secret that Google has fought back on national security letters and related requests that prevent them from even talking about the existence of the request. If they’re under a Fight Club rule to not talk about it, how do we know it isn’t the case? After all, those are technically legal.

Then there’s the urging from both for governments to be more transparent about their data collection efforts. Given the rest of the facts, it almost reads as a pleading to please confess to doing it so that they don’t have to.

At the end of the day, I’m not accepting what either company has to say about these allegations, either because they are scared to implicate themselves or found face legal consequences for opening up. Maybe a little of both. This is why the national security state is terrifying.

Partisanship creates hypocrites

Feb
06

Someone asked today where the anti-war, pro-civil liberties left has gone. They’re certainly not as loud as they were six or so years ago. I think I can explain it. I’ve noticed a pattern from the media and partisans alike. They are highly deferential to presidential power during the first term, then start to let the teeth come out once that second term is secured. It happened with Bush, and it’s happening with Obama. My guess is once they are assured that their president-emperor doesn’t need to face the ballot box once more, they can finally be honest about him. By then, though, it’s usually too late to do anything of substance about it.

A core problem with this blatant hypocrisy is that it suggests that you can and should  compromise deeply held principles (or at least be less vocal about them) if you think that the person in power can give you some of what you want. I think it’s a bad idea to make that kind of deal with the devil. When the power shifts, and it inevitably will, that lack of principled stand will cost you credibility when you call it out in The Other Side(TM). You’ve revealed that power, not principle, is your guiding force, and your criticisms will ring hollow as you find the perpetrator of the misdeeds to be a bigger issue than the misdeeds themselves.

Where I Stand 2012: Federal Offices

Oct
16

Each election, I share who I’m voting for and why. Here are my picks for federal races this cycle.

US President: Gary Johnson

To say that this presidential election cycle has been disgusting would be an understatement. There’s been a constant clown car parade of candidates with whom I have not just disagreements on the issues, but find to be simply disagreeable.

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Orrin Hatch’s Doubletalk on Protect IP

Jan
25

It was fun watching SOPA and PIPA go down in flames in spectacular fashion from the angered raging of the entire friggin’ Internet. It was equally amusing watching Senator Orrin Hatch, a co-sponsor of PIPA, do contortions to try and distance himself from the bill faster than a cat from a tub of water. In the process, an amazing amount of doubletalk came from the Senators numerous paid staffers. You shouldn’t be too surprised when Sen. Hatch comes back with the same or a similar bill in the not too distant future.

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Why Progessives Should Consider Ron Paul

Jan
18

Glenn Greenwald has spent a lot of time calling for more intellectual honesty from alleged progressives during this campaign season, and rightfully so. After putting all of their anti-war and pro-civil liberties fervor into a candidate that has proven to be the polar opposite, they’ve engaged in some serious contortions to try and justified their continued  unqualified support of now-President Obama. While a few brave souls (including both Greenwald and Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow) will express their disgust at warrantless GPS tracking, indefinite detention, and escalating militarism, the vast majority of progressivedom instead choses to ignore, justify, or tepidly disapprove of these actions. Greenwald summarized the honest justification for continuing to support Obama over someone like Paul thusly:

Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.

On the surface, this seems to be an accurate portrayal of a “lesser of two evils” scenario, but I think that perhaps Glenn hasn’t accurately portrayed the reality of a Paul presidency. Yes, Paul would absolutely slash federal programs with aplomb, maybe even many of which you heartily approve. Ask yourself, however, if this really does mean the end of the programs. It is highly likely that many, if not all, states would continue entitlement programs as a replacement of the eliminated federal ones. With the elimination of those federal programs and many federal laws, the Supreme Court wouldn’t have as much sway in our political discourse, much of it, again, being left up to the states. If Greenwald’s argument is accurate, it’s not a simple “pick which half is most important to you” argument.

And even if it is, which half matters most in a President? While you can most assuredly tackle the issues with entitlements and abortion and civil rights, etc. at the state level, can you do anything about targeted assassination of American citizens? What about warrantless wiretapping? Or a war with Iran to replace the “winding down” (if you can call it that) of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan? Those are all issues which you either fix at the federal level or not at all. But social issues and entitlement spending? Even blood red Utah is likely to keep some of them around. If we were keeping score, Paul would fulfill a lot more of your requirements for the office of the presidency.

If you crunch the numbers and still believe that Obama is a better choice for you, that’s perfectly fine. All I’m asking is that you exercise some honesty and soul-searching, ditch the tribalism of unwavering support for a Democratic president no matter how neo-conservative he may be, and choose who actually best fits your views.

Huntsman’s Hollow Romney Endorsement

Jan
16

Today, John Huntsman recognized reality and, after lackluster showings, withdrew from the GOP primary. What was unexpected, however, is his endorsement of Romney, a man that just days prior he said wasn’t fit to be President. It’s also no secret that Romney and Huntsman don’t really care for each other. So what gives? Simply put, Huntsman is playing his cards once again for 2016. The endorsement isn’t so much of Romney as it is of the GOP political establishment and elite that are chomping at the bit for Mitt’s coronation to be over and done with. Huntsman is likely hoping that this act of fealty and deference will win him some support from party insiders next time around. Unfortunately, it’s also sorely disappointing. I can’t be the only one thinking it.

Some Thoughts on the Iowa Caucuses

Jan
04

Just a few things about Iowa.

  • It was hilarious to watch people say that Iowa only matters if the “right” person wins. Most of them were actively talking about Ron Paul as the “wrong” person. The logical contortions required to take this position, that the result dictates the relevancy of the result, are astounding at best.
  • Speaking of Ron Paul, he didn’t exactly “lose”. He scored as many delegates as Romney and Santorum and got more supporters elected to party positions than the other folks. He has a lot of caucus state ground game, and that matters when the “real” delegates get selected.
  • Rick Santorum is the new Mike Huckabee. He pandered to evangelicals, has no money or ground game outside of Iowa, and will likely fade out after a few more states. I give him no longer than Super Tuesday before he drops out after many dismal showings. The idea that a good showing in a single early state can create momentum is laughable at best. There’s 49 other states, dude, and you’ve done nothing in any of them.
  • Romney is calling this a “win”, but let’s consider a few facts. He’s been more-or-less campaigning constantly since at least 2007, spent a crapton of money, and won by just 8 votes over a guy who can’t come up with a campaign message beyond “I hate gay sex and abortions”. To have such a dismal showing in a state where ground game matters should be considered an unmitigated disaster. Consider that Romney has been stuck at a 25%-ish ceiling for most of the race and is counting on a crowded field to split up the Not Romney vote. Bachmann has just dropped out and Perry isn’t far behind. If Gingrinch continues to tank and Santorum falters, that can put a quarter or more of the vote back on the table, or roughly the entirety of Romney’s support. This should be scaring the crap out his campaign and supporters, but they seem to take for granted that Mitt can just coast to victory.

Want transparency in taxation? Corporate income taxes have to go

Oct
24

One of the most important parts of taxation is being able to tell how much you are paying and what is it being spend on. The best example of this transparency in taxation is the itemized property tax bill you get in the mail once a year. You get a break down of how much you’re paying, what the money is going towards, and how it compares to last year. This creates a connection between what you pay and what you get. Gasoline excise taxes, which are clearly posted on pumps, create the same effect. Sales taxes get a little fuzzier since while portions of them are often earmarked for specific purposes, most of it goes into a slush fun. By the time you get to the “who knows where it goes” personal income tax, you have a level of taxation so opaque that we can’t quite figure out what the money is spent on, but at least we know how much we’re paying.

No so for corporate income taxes. As much as we’d love to believe the myth that cigar-chomping mustachioed men in smoke-filled rooms are having to dip into their Scrooge McDuck vault to pony up their tax bill, it just isn’t so. Businesses always build their costs into their products and services, and most of them aren’t really going to let on as to how much of their retail cost goes to specific purposes. Quick: how much of Ford’s taxes did you pay when you purchased that new pickup? You have no idea, and that’s the problem. It’s not just that you’re paying a hidden tax either. Companies spend as much (or, in the case of  GE more than) finding ways to not pay taxes as they do in checks to Uncle Sam.

And this gets down to a very simple truth: companies do not pay taxes, people do. The consumers of the product are the ones shouldering it, but they don’t even get the benefit of knowing how much it is. Ending the corporate income tax doesn’t raise taxes on people, it just makes those previously unknown costs known while eliminating the loopholes that corporate collectivists are so fond of using. Doesn’t that sound like a refreshing idea?

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