Opinionated @ CFE

Occupy Wall Street and Missed Opportunities


Right now, large protests are going on in New York City and are starting to spread to other cities. People fed up with being out of work, with losing their homes, and with the powerful interests who caused the problem getting all kinds of favors have hit their breaking point. After a few years of changing out the bums in Congress (I won’t go so far as to say they were thrown out), they have no faith left in the political system to resolve their problems. And yet, somehow, the reform-minded economic right has completely blown the opportunity to sell their solutions.

What are many of them doing? For the most part, they’re busy insulting the protesters. The endless barrage of jokes about worthless liberal arts degrees, living in mom’s basement, and not showering are a sophomoric and demeaning way to reply to anyone who is suffering. In contrast, the left is out there standing in solidarity selling the illogical idea that the government that caused and perpetuates the problem can somehow fix it. If you were one of those people, who would you be listening to?

This is a missed opportunity to push for the destruction of crony capitalism and the decentralization of public and private power that creates and reinforces it. People are angry for the right reasons. Banks got trillions of dollars for destroying the economy so that they can now foreclose on the people to whom they fraudulently sold bad mortgages. Colleges are calling loans on degrees they’ve been hyping, overselling, and over-pricing for decades, a collusion across an entire industry. Congress is continually passing laws with no relevance to the problems of the common man despite having been significantly turned over in the last several elections. It’s the perfect storm to finally dismantle the systems that are killing the country.

By blowing this opportunity and engaging in tone-deaf messaging, you can almost bet that the solutions will be more of the same. More regulation that will be manipulated to create winners and losers. More ruinous over-spending on programs that promote dependency instead of independence. More members of Congress who say they feel our pain but simply create it. I suppose I shouldn’t expect any better from the guys who have been promoting the low-information tea party.

Will the GOP primary come down to Paul and Romney?


Note: This is not a post on whether or not you agree with Rep. Paul’s policies. It is only about the viability of his candidacy, so let’s keep the comments on-topic, please. Any discussion on policies should be through the lens of the primary voters he needs to court.

The current field of Republican candidates for president largely leaves a lot to be desired. The field is crowded with a lot of candidates with little public recognition or differentiation from their competition. Heck, we even have a few political has-beens that got run out of their previous elected positions trying to make a go for it. I think most of them will get shaken out, but it may create a situation where it comes down to Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.


The Rise and Fall of the Tea Party


I’m not a fan of the Tea Party and haven’t been for some time. As Jon Stewart put it, most of them are moral majoritarians in tri-tipped hats. It’s hard to see how they differ from the Ralph Reed disciples that stormed into the Republican Party in 1994. That said, it seems like what has become just a mouthpiece for the more outrageous elements of the GOP had some roots in something worthwhile. It’s just been thoroughly co-opted by the establishment for their own purposes.

So how did it all start? Way back in mid-2008, Ron Paul’s campaign for president was winding down and the newly energized campaign volunteers were still all kinds of riled up. They were sick of the constant centralization of both government and economic power, and sickened by the power structure of the parties that only allows “annointed” candidates to advance to elections. A coalition of libertarians, fiscal conservatives, and reformers were ready to challenge any and all party structures that did business as usual. So what happened?

Well, those in power in the parties didn’t get there by being stupid. They saw the wave coming and knew they had to nip that sucker in the bud, and what better way than pulling a reverse infiltration? Almost immediately, the same people who had been a part of the problem started loudly singing the praises of the Tea Party, carefully steering it into an attack dog of the Republican Party, not a near-partyless populist mob demanding more from everyone. In Utah, the problem was particularly bad as the organizers chose to invite elected officials to come speak to crowds, hardly the kind of thing a reform movement should want. It only took weeks or months to quell the uprising and get the media to label the newly-formed beast as a group of angry zealots  whose rage was fueled by racism, misogyny, xenophobia, or whatever ugly thing could be attached to it.

What got botched was a trans-partisan populist movement to fight against centralization of power, public and private, that has lead to rampant crony capitalism, impenetrable political party power structures that exclude any kind of insurgent candidates from the process, and the reigning in of an out-of-control pattern of federal spending perpetuated by both parties. All of these are laudable and arguably popular goals. Unfortunately, they’ve been buried under a mountain of far-right social neo-conservatism with a very narrow appeal, obviously explaining the precipitous drop in popularity among the general populace.

Is there any hope for these much needed reforms to happen anytime in the near future? Maybe. It depends on if the lightning in a bottle during the first few weeks can be recreated, or if the original reformers have stuck around now that the real work begins.. Otherwise, I expect the same old story.

Balanced Budget Pitfalls


Since long before I was on this earth, politicos of all stripes have frequently talked about balanced budgets, both at the state and federal levels. Many states have adopted laws or even constitutional amendments to ensure that, unlike the feds, expenditures do not exceed revenues. In many cases, these help keep states from going gorging on debt spending. There are, however, a number of pitfalls lurking just around the corner that can thwart the intention of such laws and even serve as an impediment to sound government finances.


Mike Lee Channels Orrin Hatch’s Tech-Ignorant Ways


I’ve gone on the record saying that I think Mike Lee is a poser, someone who was at the right place at the right time saying the right things to get elected to the US Senate to replace “Bailout Bob” Bennett. I’ve doubted his sincerity from the moment the candidate nobody had heard of started a series of “lectures on the constitution” ahead of his official announcement. Just yesterday, he announced via Twitter and Facebook that he plans to take on Google in anti-trust hearings. The reasoning behind this shows a dangerous lack of understanding about both free markets and technology.


The Unsustainability of Pensions


There aren’t a lot of cases where I find myself in agreement with Ezra Klein on economic issues, but on pensions, I think he may have nailed it. For those unfamiliar, pensions are little more than a way to say “I’ll gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today”. Employees often take a smaller paycheck now so that they can collect income after they retire or leave their position. Unfortunately, the arrangement allows for a lot of lying and number fudging along the way.


Want to drop healthcare costs? Focus on the expensive patients first


The New Yorker has a fascinating look into how one man, Jeffrey Bremmer, has saved hospitals millions of dollars by finding health care “hot spots”. The approach he takes is a lot like what New York did in the 90s to reduce crime: they identified the areas that cost the most and focused resources there. While that’s now becoming a standard practice for police departments nationwide, the same approach just isn’t catching on in the medical world.


Progressives, Civil Liberties, and Hypocrisy


I remember a time not that long ago when progressives and libertarians could find at least one point of agreement: defending civil liberties from the abuses of unchecked executive power. In the last couple of years, however, progressives aren’t talking much about civil liberties and the libertarians are the last ones left keeping a watchful eye. And thank goodness we are.

fter almost two years, Obama’s record on civil liberties is at least as bad as his predecessor, if not worse. Gitmo is still detaining, FISA is still wiretapping, organizations that try to deliver the president’s promised transparency are vilified by the White House, we’re virtually strip-searched and actually molested in the next escalation of security theater, and those who try to expose the government’s illegal and immoral acts are tortured at the hands of the military. But progressives, by and large, are keeping their mouths shut. I’m only left with one conclusion: the vast majority of progressives are raging hypocrites. Now that the president has a D next to his name, the criticism has all but vanished.

So what’s the deal, progressives? Where’s the outrage now that the new boss is doing what the old boss was doing, only worse? Until you start openly criticizing Obama at least has harshly as you did Bush, you have no credibility on civil liberties.

Wikileaks Matters (And That's a Good Thing)


Wikileaks has probably just redefined the world we live in. I know, it’s really easy to make statements like that. In this case, it’s entirely true. Wikileaks has proved once and for all that the Internet has won in the war for access to information.

First off, it has proven that removing data is impossible. There are now 1200 (and counting) mirrors of their site data around the world, accessible to anyone. There’s even a “poison pill” of data floating around on bittorrent just waiting for the key to unlock it to be in the wild. By trying to quash the site via hosting providers, the feds have just been cutting up a starfish. If you really want data to be secure, you can’t let it get on the Internet. Once you do that, the game is over and you have lost.

Second, it shows that the Internet will absolutely react to companies that will not stick up for their customer’s rights. PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard have all been knocked offline by vigilantes angered at the termination of services. It’s all been done via volunteers who download an open-source application to volunteer their bandwidth for DDoS attacks. With the push of a button, someone can become part of a virtually untraceable weapon that can take down the engines of our commerce. That kind of ease should give pause to anyone else who won’t stick up for a customer’s rights.

Third, we’re now getting to see some truly atrocious goings-on from our foreign policy. Other nations trying to goad us into war with Iran? Check. Acting as foreign lobbyists for credit card companies? Check. Funding a contractor that buys underage boys to pimp out in Afghanistan? Check. We probably wouldn’t know any of these things without Wikileaks, and we have a right to know about these things before we’re asked to support our foreign policy.

A lot of people are saying some pretty ridiculous things about lives being in danger because of this sunshine. Hogwash. If any lives are in danger, it is because the federal government meddles too much in foreign affairs. We have no business manipulating the legislative process of another country. We have no business occupying another country. We have no business launching a preemptive war. These things, trying to extend American hegemony across the globe, are what put Americans in danger. That we now get to see the very ugly details of what that policy entails is just pointing out what we tried so hard not to know.

I’m hoping that the revelations posted by the site expand into the promised banking malfeasance and other corporate wrongdoings. I hope other governments get their dirty laundry hung out in the open. I hope these powerful interests get the full scope of their malevolent actions put on public display. After all, if you have nothing to hide, what’s the big deal?

The only thing I've got to say about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"


If our military leaders are certain that the benefits outweigh the risks, there’s little evidence that there will be a significant impact on operational readiness, and they’re using data-driven and not ideology-driven means to determine this, I don’t see why there’s a reason to keep “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” around. If the converse is true or there’s no data to support repeal, drop the issue. I’m personally pretty sick of the emotional nonsense surrounding the issue when it should be a simple matter of cold hard numbers and what’s truly best for the military.

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