Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In Other News

The Florida Republican primary dominated the news cycle today, but there was some interesting news that might threaten Obama's re-election, regardless of whom the GOP nominates. Darrell Issa, who has been one of my heroes for his relentless investigations of Obama administration corruption, and there is plenty, has threatened that miserable hack with contempt for failing to produce documents relating to Fast and Furious.

Holder has until Thursday, Feb. 9. to comply, according to Issa.

Issa accused the Justice Department of trying to “obstruct our investigation and deceive the public” by withholding documents.

“Your actions lead us to conclude that the department is actively engaged in a cover-up,” he said in a four-page letter.

The California Republican pointed to a document that the DOJ released last Friday, which indicated that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer had promoted gun-walking to Mexico on the same day that Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote to Congress denying that the DOJ had allowed guns to walk.

This is normally Dean's beat, but this news was just too juicy to ignore. Clearly, senior members of the so called Justice Department are obstructing justice. Taking the fifth, threatening stool-pigeons whistleblowers, playing the race card: all part of the Chicago way at inJustice.

This is too egregious not to be used against Obama in November, it will be all the more effective because it goes to his supposed strengths on integrity. Same for Solyndra and other green crony capitalism plays.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Outsourcing Surveillance

Should the federal government or the fed monitor the internet for content? Clearly, they are doing so; that part isn't up for debate. But tougher questions about how they do so come to mind when one considers the implications. At first glance, it seems benign, shouldn't government officials be aware of what is happening on line, in the same way that staffers would compile the relevant news of the day for senior leaders back in the day? Of course, that became "The Early Bird" which eventually became an electronic publication. How "The Early Bird" wasn't a copyright violation always escaped me, because it would be a full article reprint with no excerpting. This is the core of the problem, merely reading some blog sites doesn't constitute a problem for anyone, but the systematic collection of information does become a problem, because that constitutes "surveillance."

The U.S. Constitution provides that:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Mere surveillance by reading publicly available material doesn't seem to violate this prohibition. However, what if the data collection is outsourced to a firm, such as Cyveillance that has questionable practices.
According to their website, the not only monitor HTTP (website) traffic, but they also monitor IRC and Chat rooms. I don’t know about you but if I am in a chat room, I have a least some small expectation of privacy with those that are in that room. I would not expect that some bot is logging everything, keeping it in a database for further review and perhaps sale to another corporation or government.
. . .
As well as IRC and Web spidering, Cyveillance also claims to spider FTP sites. According to J.D. Meadows who operates the Cyveillance Exposed website, his logs show evidence that not only did the Cyveillancebot spider available content, but also tried to search the hard drive for other files and directories. Clearly if true, Cyveillance has participated in actions that are clearly illegal, immoral and unethical.
The beauty of outsourcing data collection has been pointed out by Jr. Deputy Accountant, the government can claim that it is not collecting data, just getting reports. But what protections are in place to ensure that tax dollars aren't funding methods that violate privacy laws? None, that I have been able to find.

I admit to being conflicted over the basic issue. Heuristic algorithms might be developed from web crawling that could predict important trends that government is supposed to respond to. The dilemma is that there seem to be no privacy safeguards in place and the use of outsourcers to do the dirty work just makes us suspicious.

For some specific details on Cyveillance' tactics see the accounts at Jr. Deputy Accountant. It seems likely that the monitoring detailed there is initiated by a federal government contract.

Pictured at top left is Leo Quinn, CEO of QinetiQ, parent firm of Cyveillance. Pictured at top right is Dave Papas, COO of Cyveillance, who enjoys golf and lives in Stafford, Virginia.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

There May be Warming, There is No Crisis

I admit to having vacillated in my beliefs about whether there is scientific basis for a belief in man made causes for global warming. I came to believe that whether or not it is true, the responses proposed by the warmists/alarmists were far out of proportion to the threat. Predictably, the left has seized on the issue to propose any manner of schemes for governments to seize wealth and redistribute it to favored groups, all in the name of "climate justice." Whenever the left argues for some new redistributive scheme to allow their minions in government to get their greedy paws on the wealth created by their betters, they resort to grandiose claims.

Proof that they are insincere is their lack of support for a carbon tax, with an income tax offset. If one conceded that carbon dioxide production was an "externality," impacting the environment, then the most straight-forward, economically sustainable and non-distorting measure would be a carbon tax, with the revenues from that tax used to reduce income taxes. That the left has never supported this approach is evidence that their touting of global warming is a ruse to build bigger government.

In yesterday's WSJ, a group of 16 scientists also believe that catastrophic intervention in the economy is not called for. They do not deny that some warming is occurring, but point to the overblown hysteria about its effects. San Diego's own Roger Cohen, a fellow of the American Physical Society is a signatory on the editorial. Roger's work was featured on Temple of Mut, debunking the lousy science behind AB-23. His outline of how to answer the warmists was also featured on The Daily Caller. From the WSJ editorial.
The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. Faced with this embarrassment, those promoting alarm have shifted their drumbeat from warming to weather extremes, to enable anything unusual that happens in our chaotic climate to be ascribed to CO2.
. . .
Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet.
. . .
A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.
H/T Temple of Mut.

Weekend Music Chill - Bonus Material

I've been waiting a long time for this music video to be available to embed. This is one of those quirky little tunes that gets stuck in my head from time to time; it's Jacques Dutronc performing Le Responsable with some vintage black & white 60s hipsters dancing.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Do State Labor Laws Trump Democracy?

That seems to be the position taken in a lawsuit filed by the Municipal Employees Association of San Diego. From the U-T:

The Municipal Employees Association, San Diego’s largest public employee union representing white-collar workers, has accused Mayor Jerry Sanders of violating state labor laws by refusing to negotiate the elements in the initiative while at the same time using the power of his public office to generate public support for it.

If successful, the complaint, filed last week with the state Public Employment Relations Board, could prevent the initiative from appearing on the ballot and essentially nullifies the nearly 116,000 signatures collected to trigger a public vote.

Like that last little bit? 116,000 citizens sign a ballot initiative, but because the mayor used his first amendment rights to support the effort, its invalid, according to the unions. To be clear, the labor law cited does nothing to prohibit citizen initiatives, and they are protected by the state constitution. In most states, I would be unfazed, wondering how fast the lawsuit would be tossed. Unfortunately, we live in California, where the rule of law appears more tenuous.

Weekend Music Chill

Getting an early jump on the weekend music. I was thinking about how the tea party has no real candidate in the Presidential race and never did, a too bad to Michele Bachmann, and that dufus who thinks she's queen of the movement. For some reason, the Cars 1979 hit, It's All I Can Do came to mind, with the lyrics It's all I can do, to keep waiting for you, running through my head. I think it makes a nice companion piece to a song that would be on my Desert Island Dozen, Bye-Bye Love.

There's something extra about the studio version of Bye Bye Love, so I included it here.

Caption Contest at SDRostra

Over at sdrostra.com Jim Sills is having some fun with a caption contest, please click here and post your entry. I love this photo, and so does the Temple.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Defense Spending - Republicans Don't Get It

Budget "cuts" for the Department of Defense proposed by Obama are fairly responsible as far as I can tell. But Republicans are already criticizing the administration's proposals. Predictably, John McCain called the cuts unacceptable. So what are the facts? Most of the spending cuts come from winding down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The base budget of the Pentagon actually increases beyond fiscal year 2013. Base spending is the spending not going to support the wars. Further, the ground troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps is reduced to somewhat above levels of 2001. Finally, and more controversially, Secretary Panetta called for another round of base closures, setting up a new Base Re-alignment and Closure (BRAC) commission in 2013. (Parochially, speaking the BRAC process has been very good to San Diego, in spite of the closing of the old NTC, now Liberty Station. The move of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) from DC in the mid-1990s, Mine Warfare Command from TX in the 2000s and additional ships homeported here have added federal spending to the local economy.)

Budgets for hardware procurement in the proposal have their ups and downs, but nothing really major. From McClatchey newspapers.

It wants to raise spending on drones by 30 percent, delay spending on the costly and controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and fund a new bomber and a sea-based vessel that would allow drones and helicopters to take off from international waters. It wants to maintain current spending levels on missile defense and nuclear weapons while increasing spending on cybersecurity.

Republican criticism about the defense budget really misses the mark and paints them as unserious about dealing with spending overall. The one valid criticism actually comes from a Democrat, Senator Carl Levin, who said he wouldn't support closing domestic bases before U.S. bases in Europe were closed. I really applaud that thinking. It costs far more to keep bases open overseas than in the United States because of the costs with rotating troops overseas. The cuts in troop strength are going to lead to longer peacetime deployments. From the LA Times:
Two of the four Army brigades in Europe would be brought home, and the Army and Marines would shift to a rotational training plan under which more units would deploy overseas to conduct exercises with allies in Europe and Asia.
This saps troop morale. They should be enjoying a peace dividend as well. More deployments are also going to raise the expense of maintaining the proposed troop strength. Republicans have enough Congressional leaders with military experience to put forward a more rational critique of this budget. Ron Paul has been the one calling for shuttering overseas bases and having the troops stationed at home. Maybe that's part of the reason why he is the largest recipient of campaign donations from active duty members of the military.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Half Truths and Lies in the News - Indiana to Ban Unions?

The headline on Google News and CBS news is:

Indiana on the cusp of union ban

Of course they aren't going to ban unions, who are protected by federal law. What is really going to happen is that unions won't be allowed to force employers to collect dues on their behalf from workers. If a worker doesn't wish to join a union, even at a union workplace, then he or she won't have to. This doesn't ban unions.

The article actually spends more time shilling for Scott Walker's recall in Wisconsin, falsely claiming that he stripped state workers unions of collective bargaining rights. In fact, the privileges stripped were not rights, because the state of Wisconsin, as a sovereign entity has the right to set conditions of state employment as a matter of law. Little reported is that this is exactly the way my workplace, a part of the federal government, is governed. Unions can bargain all they want, but ultimately, Congress sets pay and benefits. The laws surrounding this were laid down by Democratic Congresses over 40 years ago, for good reasons. FDR also opposed collective bargaining for government employees.
The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.
So Scott Walker is to be pilloried for following the example of FDR and the Democratic Congress of the 1978? The left and its fellow travelers in the media need to get a grip on reality.

Romney's Charitable Giving

Amazingly, leftist trolls are trying to insinuate that Mitt Romney's tithing, as revealed on his income tax returns, is something that Republicans, and especially evangelicals will hold against him, since the tithing went to the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints or Mormon church, colloquially. As a Christian, this facet of Romney's life gives me great hope for the man. In one of the most personal aspects of one's life, he has chosen to consistently put his money where his faith is. It is indicative of his honor and commitment to his beliefs. Meanwhile, I am not surprised to find that Obama and Biden are much less generous, giving 6.1% and .15% of their incomes respectively in their most recent available returns.

I am not saying that one's level of charitable giving is a qualification for President. However, it is an indicator of character, especially if we can view the long term trend for the man, even before he knew he would be running.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Half Truths and Lies - Live Blogging SOTU

I am listening to the State of the Union address tonight. A few things struck me.

Obama called on us all to be like members of the armed forces, working together to overcome problems. Really? We all get meager pay and lose many of the rights that citizens take for granted.

Pretty sure his proposal for a minimum tax on international corporations would violate treaty and generally accepted accounting principles.

Took credit for Ford's success? Last I checked, they weren't bailed out.

Taking on China? Who do you think you owe all that swag to?

As with previous Presidents, Obama also wants to be head of your Community College District Board. He is also the webmaster for America's community colleges.

Talking about teacher pay, but state's won't pay for them? Calling for rewards to teachers and flexibility. Called for replacing bad teachers. Hard to believe he's serious, but I am glad he brought it up.

Here it comes, more demagoguery on college student loans. However, Obama actually calls for keeping college costs down, glad to hear it.

Oh no, here comes the DREAM Act stuff. Takes on illegal immigration, but calls for comprehensive immigration reform. Fix the border and we'll talk, sir.

Equal pay for equal work? More interference in the free market.

Obligatory Steve Jobs reference. Tear down regulations? Just do it sir, many of them are of your creation. No need for Congress to put it in a bill. What a bald-faced lie to claim you are seeking to reduce regulation. What was Obamacare all about?

Government R&D led to new jobs? It wasn't private companies that created the new products on which prosperity depends.

Opening 75% of offshore resources to oil exploration. The same 75% you previously closed?

Apparently, Obama discovered the oil coming out of the ground in North Dakota. Now he is in favor of natural gas, oh wait, he's not; proposing new regulations for natural gas producers.

This is getting boring. Renewable energy, Solyndra, blah, blah, blah.

Energetics, wind turbine manufacturer, the next Solyndra?

Clean energy tax breaks, more swag to favored groups.

Differences in this chamber too deep, whaaa. More unilateral action, shredding the constitution, Navy purchase of clean energy. Was that authorized? If not, impeach; if yes, how do you take credit for unilateralism.

He keeps using the line, "send me a bill." No, you already sent us the bill.

Here comes the infrastructure bit. More executive orders? Removing red tape? I doubt it, and the press won't hold him accountable.

Now he's going to interfere in the housing market and interfere in sound lending. Directing the banks to renegotiate mortgages? Welcome back from the dead, Juan Peron.
[Post speech note; Romney can hammer on the theme that government caused this housing bubble in the first place, more intervention props up a market that still needs to deflate.]

Smart regulation to prevent irresponsible behavior, but what new is needed? Now he's the de-regulator in chief. Taking credit for the milk spill deregulation.

Safe food, clean water, and evil health insurance practices. I will not go back to . . . I have restored everything good. Big banks won't be bailed out? Wasn't that the exact result of Dodd-Frank? Making it harder for Americans to get credit by regulating credit card companies, in the name of preventing unsavory practices.

Now he is asking for more legislation on banking. So much for deregulation.

Pay down our debt? No way, immediately on to tax hike prevention, or do you mean blowing a bigger hole in Social Security?

Here comes the tax rate demagoguery. Hey, no applauded the Warren Buffett secretary tax rate lie line. (It is a lie, because Buffet's income is first taxed at a corporate tax rate.) Fair share, blah, blah. Even Dems can barely muster applause.

Millionaire bashing, no real new ideas here. Yes, sir, I am calling this class warfare, because it is built on a foundation of lies. The rich pay twice, first on corporate taxes then on gains. He envisions a nation of dependents, whose lives depend on taxes from the rich. What a poverty of imagination, if that were true we would truly be a nation in poverty.

What are we thinking? Who will win the Super Bowl?

Bemoaning partisanship. Corrosive influence of money in politics. Banning insider trading by members of Congress? Ain't happening.

Going after the cloture rule in the Senate? Really? Don't recall him being for that when he was in the Senate. Asking for a simple up or down vote on nominees? Be careful what you ask for, there will be a Republican President some day.

Building consensus? Quoting Lincoln? Huge lie, Obama has been the chief contributor to partisan fighting. He then talks about the health care bill, the epitome of partisan and lobbyist driven legislation.

I think he's finishing. Terrible speech. Nope, back to taking credit for being Commander-In-Chief. Hey, where's the talk about engagement in Iran? Now he's talking Arab Spring and whacking Ghadaffi. He's going to whack Assad too? Who'd have thunk it, a dude named Barack Hussein Obama is all about whacking Arabs?

Iran isn't going to get a nuke according to Obama, no options off the table. Of course he should say it, even if we aren't really going to bomb them. Oh no, now he's Bibi's his best friend, or at least Israel's.

America is back! Hey, I agree that we are not in decline, but I think he is targeting Romney. Opinions of America in other countries are higher than in years? Don't think so, will look it up later. American exceptionalism.

Budget cuts for the military, cyber threat legislation. Waiting for the other shoe to drop on this issue. Already let the first one fall at the start of the defense review this month. VA spending going up. Veterans rebuilding this nation, with tax credits for veteran hiring. Hey, I'm a veteran, and honestly this all feels like pandering after a while.

Back to the topic of learning from the servicemen and women, we are all in it together, serving one nation. More bin-Laden and flag waving, almost literally. Am I awesome as CINC or what? Mission only succeeded because of ME, is the not so subtle subtext of recounting SEAL speech. More fascist rhetoric about how we all work together as a team. Sorry, we are no longer in the service, as I opined before.

Finally, no mention of Obamacare, expected; but also not much about Defense budget, which I had expected.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Problem with Ron Paul

I agree with Ron Paul on just about every subject, but I am not supporting him for President. What gives? First, he occasionally makes a total clown of himself. He can be absolutely correct and so totally befuddle the listener that he gives his ideas a bad name. When your ideas are the best, you should be able to take it the opponents of greater liberty much more effectively than he has. Second, it has become increasingly clear that he is not in the race to win it. His strategy appears to be pick up enough delegates to get his issues aired at the convention. I would normally not object to such a strategy, as the Republican party has proved themselves unworthy of commitment to any actual principle over the years. However, this year, Barack Obama represents an existential threat to the liberty of all Americans, and he must be defeated and Obamacare repealed. This is imperative to getting us of the road to serfdom and back on the highway to prosperity and liberty. Mr. Paul's continued presence and his goal of extracting concessions at the convention will work to the advantage of the President's re-election.

However, my biggest argument is with his foreign policy, actually, his national security policy. Now, I agree that we could do with a huge cutback of bases overseas, and even the defense budget requires scrutiny, but Ron Paul is naive if he believes that neutrality is going to make America more secure. We know from history that it is tyrannies, not democracies that are the source of war and conflict. Further, a stable world political order, in which small nations are not subject to territorial violations by their neighbors keeps the peace, which helps with both United States' and world economic growth. This means that it is in our best interests to work against tyrants and would be tyrants the world over. It also means that we support Israel, as the only true democracy in the Middle East, against aggression from her neighbors. Al Qaeda and its like minded co-conspirators actively believe in pan-Islamic dictatorship, and have simultaneously made the mistake of attacking the United States. This makes defeating them, and killing bin-Laden as part of a legal war of self-defense, legitimate execution of America's national security policy. Ron Paul always seems to get tongue tied when discussing the killing of bin-Laden. One of the principles roles of President is Commander-in-Chief. It seems that Ron Paul is squeamish in exercising our sovereign right of self defense, and that makes him unfit for the Presidency.

Let me be clear that we should not get into a war with every dictator on the planet who might threaten us. Even if that were desirable, we lack the national treasure to do so. For example, I have argued that attacking Iran, even if they obtain nuclear weapons is not a realistic option. We must pick our battles. But we should retain the right of self-defense, and further, the right to intervene in conflicts where tyrants threaten the international order, when that is in the national interest and Congress so authorizes.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Gingrich's solid victory in today's South Carolina primary got me thinking about what Republicans want most, Barack Obama's defeat. One might argue that such a goal lacks positive vision, but when you have someone bent on destroying our previously accepted limits on the power of the federal government, such a goal is a worthy one to advance the cause of liberty. It seems apparent to me that Romney's inability to handle the questions about his tax returns, not the facts surrounding the returns themselves, caused a breach in his main argument for nomination, his electability. Further, in thinking about my own enthusiasm, I admit I got excited thinking about having Newt Gingrich debating Obama in his inimitable style, demolishing the shibboleths of the left on national television. Romney gives me no confidence on his ability to handle the unexpected, or even the easy to anticipate in a debate with Obama.

But we have to ask, what wins national elections? We have to further ask if experience is a guide to answering such a question. There have been approximately 800 Republican primary debates so far, well closer to 25. However, there will only be three general election debates. In the past, these debates have generally not proven decisive. As Brit Hume pointed out on Fox News today, most people have seemed little swayed by them, with supporters of each candidate believing that their man (we can say that with Bachmann out) being the winner. Primary debates are necessary, in Hume's opinion because the actual differences between the candidates positions in a single party, aren't that great.

But is that changing? Are the American people open to changing their minds if presented with an intellectually compelling exposition of the key issues? The optimist in me, wants to say yes, given the depth of crisis, surely Americans realize that business as usual is no longer acceptable. If one takes this view, then Gingrich is preferable to Romney, but Paul would actually be even more preferable to Gingrich. Of course, Newt's supporters would argue that Paul is too radical on foreign policy and would not defeat Obama. The realist in me thinks that as bad as things have gotten, they aren't bad enough to cause the sort of epistemological change necessary to accept Ron Paul. But such thinking also militates against Gingrich.

Historically, it has been coalition building, organization and getting out the vote that wins Presidential elections. Gingrich has tried to take a different path. He has certainly has some success, but it remains to be seen if that can win the nomination, much less the general. Romney, by contrast, seems to have done a decent job of building a winning organization, it's the candidate himself that seems to have problems. Also, Romney seems to be finding his voice in a more full throated defense of free enterprise, exactly the tack he needs to take in light of the attacks on his role at Bain Capital.

I am still not ready to endorse a candidate, but I am leaning to support for Romney, as much as I love Gingrich's combative debating style.

With respect to his tax returns, Romney needs to explain the facts to the American people. His case also argues for a tax rate that is both low and equal for all forms of income, whether pay, corporate, gains, retained interest, dividends, or interest. No loopholes and a 15% rate would probably pay for everything the government should be doing. Additionally, in order to keep the marginal rate truly flat, perhaps workers below the social security cap would pay a lower rate of 9.8% so that the marginal tax rate is truly flat.

Friday, January 20, 2012

More Loss of Liberty and Freedom of Conscience

Of course it did. The Obama administration is not going to allow Catholic organizations freedom of choice in whether or not to fund insurance coverage of contraception. From the NYTimes.
Federal officials said they would give such church-affiliated organizations one additional year — until Aug. 1, 2013 — to comply with the requirement. Most other employers and insurers must comply by this Aug. 1.
. . .
“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
. . .
The rule includes an exemption for certain “religious employers,” including houses of worship. But church groups said the exemption was so narrow that it was almost meaningless. A religious employer cannot qualify for the exemption if it employs or serves large numbers of people of a different faith, as many Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies do.
Even beyond religious conscience, this limits everyone's choice. What if I want a plan that costs a lot less? Cutting back on mandated services like contraception that have no co-pay could reduce the cost of insurance. Why isn't that a consumer choice? The assault on freedom from the health care law is so vast, that it sometimes helps to just think about one assault at a time.

Those who argue otherwise just hate me as an individual and hate the whole concept of consumer choice. They are called leftists or statists and they have decided to regulate everyone's lives, individual choice and conscience be damned.

Weekend Music Chill

Barack Obama was on TV today, doing a couple of bars of the Rev Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." It got me thinking about what I might sing on the spur of the moment in public, given my limited vocal talent. Here are two songs I would go with.

And just because I can't resist this cover:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Romney's Tax Returns

Mitt Romney's defensiveness over his tax returns makes me wonder about his candidacy. Surely he knew that he was going to get pressure in releasing them at some point. Regardless of what was in them, he should have been prepared to deal with those issues. Conversely, if he had decided to gut it out, then he should have prepared a strategy for explaining why his returns were nobody else's business.

I am taking a class where we are discussing scenario building for planning. Competent planning might have looked at a number of planning scenarios by the Romney camp. First, examine all of the potential criticisms that might be found in the tax returns and how to respond, indeed, turn some of them into positives. For example, Romney probably gives millions to Mormon organizations. He could win over Americans who certainly know that charities are solving problems that government has found intractable.

Second, he probably has good reason to want to control the timing of the release. But his campaign could have planned for leaks at the IRS and demands from other candidates to see the returns. He was clearly winging it and caught off guard by the sudden interest. But that interest was wholly predictable.

Third, if he wasn't going to release his returns, at least not without seeing what it might cost him in support, he needed a go on offense strategy for that option. I would have used it to challenge Obama to release transcripts and papers he had written in college. I suspect that Obama isn't releasing his college material because of plagiarism or other embarrassing revelations that might come out. Romney could have used the tax returns as bargaining chips to remind America of how much of his past Obama has hidden from view.

Regardless, Romney inability to handle this situation makes me nervous that he might be the nominee, and get blind sided by Obama. My only solace is that Obama doesn't do well when someone lays a glove on him, either, witness his weak response to Sarah Palin's initial attacks in 2008.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thinking About Pension Reform

I fully support the pension reform initiative that will be on the ballot this June here in San Diego, but I think there are some clarifications needed about the facts surrounding the measure. Some key facts.
  1. Short term savings do not result from a shift to a 401(k) plan. The initiative will save the taxpayers money in both the short and long term. However, closing the defined benefits plan will require a plus up of those accounts as there will be no new entrants into those plans. This is made up for by other means, the most significant being fairer sharing of costs for current employees, a cap on the "pensionable" portion of employee pay and an anti-spiking provision. Further, the plan is not technically a 401(k), but a 401(a) which has less flexibility. A 401(k) is not currently legal for municipal employees by federal law. Call your Congressperson.
  2. The plan does nothing about current retiree health care costs. These costs seem likely to increase as retirees live longer.
  3. The costs of running a 401 style plan are likely to be greater than a defined benefits plan due to the need to manage individual accounts.
  4. The city's contribution rate of 9.2% seems high, but must account for the fact that employees are not part of the social security system a 6.2% contribution. That's a huge benefit to the employees which is often overlooked. Over very long time horizons, employees can expect a return of at least 8% per year as opposed to the paltry 2.6% for a medium income two income couple born in 1985. (Source is social security admin.)

So, am I against the 401(a)? No, I believe that it is better to offload future risk from the taxpaying public to the employee. City employees enjoy very high levels of job security, so the tradeoff should be that the taxpayer is no longer on the hook for supporting them after they retire. I honestly don't know why employees wouldn't prefer this deal.

For a full discussion of public employee pensions in general, and a debunking of many myths, see Governing magazine's article on Pension Puffery by Girard Miller.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

SOPA Protesting - UPDATE

Wikipedia's front page is dark today over SOPA and fellow SLOB, Dueling Barstools, has a protest page up as well. I would like to remind my readers that the SOPA bill is an example of the Congress working at the behest of big corporations in the entertainment industry to protect their business model, while imposing intrusive and unnecessary regulation on the rest of the world.

In an unusual display of right and left agreement that this is an example of crony capitalism at its filthiest I quote:

The email from DailyKos said this.
In short, this proposed law would allow corporate copyright holders the ability to cut off funding and compel the government to shut down websites they deem infringing, without the need of a court order.
And Neil Stevens, at the Daily Caller, opposes the bill as well, saying this:
This portion of the bill has little to do with protecting American interests abroad or with punishing lawbreakers. Instead, this portion of SOPA regulates the Internet at home. It is a framework for domestic censorship only tangentially related to intellectual property rights.
Darrell Issa, one of the few politicians I follow on Twitter deserves credit for crusading against this excrement. He has offered an alternative bill and asked for public comment. Protecting intellectual property rights need not trample our economic rights nor wreck the internet's technical infrastructure. Please put pressure on your Congressperson to oppose this legislation.

Here is what I wrote.

Congresswoman Davis,
The SOPA bill is a dangerous threat to the internet, both from the potential for censorship, misuse by third parties and damage to the internet's technical infrastructure. Please tell me that you will be voting against this bill or its companion Senate measure PIPA.
Regards, B


The protests and congressional contact seem to be having the desired effect. Harry Reid does not appear to have the votes to get a cloture vote on PIPA.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tweet of the Day

Comes from @SamValley:

Should release his tax returns? Sure, right after Barack Obama releases his college transcripts.

You've got to love Sam's tag line:

Drugs, gangs, pornography, crooked politicians, stupid celebrities and high taxes; what's not to love about The Valley?

More Evidence of Iranian Weakness - Threats to Gulf Oil Producers

Iranian bellicosity against its neighbors demonstrates further weakness in its strategic position. I previously discussed why the threats over closing the Straits of Hormuz showed Iran's weakness. Now, their threats against the Saudis and others over oil production show another pitfall for Iran. The threat:
Iran warned Gulf Arab oil producers against boosting production to offset any potential drop in Tehran’s crude exports in the event of an embargo affecting its oil sales, the latest salvo in the dispute between the West and the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.

The comments by Iran’s OPEC governor, published Sunday, came as Saudi Arabia’s oil minister was quoted the same day denying that his country’s earlier pledges to boost output as needed to meet global demand was linked to a potential siphoning of Iranian crude from the market because of sanctions.

. . .

Mohammad Ali Khatibi, Iran’s OPEC governor, was quoted Sunday by the pro-reform Shargh newspaper as saying that attempts by Gulf nations to replace Iran’s output with their own would make them an “accomplice in further events.”

“These acts will not be considered friendly,” Mr. Khatibi said, adding that if the Arab producers “apply prudence and announce that they will not participate in replacing oil, then adventurist countries will not show interest” in the embargo.

Iran's threat is a de facto recognition that there is excess oil production capacity in the world beyond their ability to control. The Saudis appear to be backing down on their previously announced intention to keep prices low. Historically, the behavior of oil producing nations has been only loosely coupled with their announced intention. If I were the Saudis, I would not provoke the Iranians publicly, but would quietly boost production while denying that I was doing so. This makes political sense, because it allows the Saudis to appear not to be allying themselves with the west, while still undercutting the key threat to their existence, a nuclear armed Iran. As the Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States demonstrates, the Iranians and Saudis are already in a shadow war with each other.

Why are the Iranians getting so bellicose? I can only assume that they are desperate. The actions of a country on the verge of achieving tactical military superiority would not look like this. Assassinating nuclear scientists and sanctions seem to be having the desired effect. (Caveat: I don't know who is assassinating Iran's nuclear physicists, but they are dying in numbers and by means that point to assassination.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Weekend Music Chill

Been watching Justice League (90s cartoon series) on DVD lately as family entertainment. It makes for lively nerd debates on various superheroes. One thing I notices is that even though Batman is by far the more popular DC character, Superman crushes Batman when it comes to pop music themes. I posted two of my favorites last year. Here is one more.

On the whole superhero theme, here is one of the best rockin' renditions of a superhero theme song.

Hypocrisy of Outrage at Marines Pissing on Dead Taliban

I am not condoning what the Marines did in urinating on dead Taliban corpses, but the hue and cry over their actions has me pretty angry. The Taliban were part of a conspiracy that killed over 3,000 Americans; they have mutilated women, killed those trying to educate girls, killed Christians, killed foreign medical workers, beaten and tortured their own people, and generally acted like uncivilized savages unworthy of the protections afforded civilized peoples in the Geneva Convention and the various Hague treaties. So cry me a river when a few of their fighters suffer disrespect in death after they meet up with justice.

Now I understand that it is not in the political interests of the United States for our Marines to act in this fashion. To some extent, as Clausewitz famously pointed out, war is politics carried out by other means. To the extent that this allows our enemies to frame the conflict as a religious one, these actions are detrimental to the interests of the United States. But we should leave it at that, and reserve our moral outrage for true acts of oppression.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

We Had to Destroy the Fish in Order to Save Them

PG&E operates the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, located near San Luis Obispo is due for a permit to extend its life for another twenty years of delivering electricity to California. Recently, an undersea fault line was discovered in the oceans off San Luis Obispo. In order to get a permit, PG&E must conduct a seismic survey as required by state law.
PG&E has been directed to conduct the survey by the California Energy Commission (CEC) as required by Assembly Bill 1632, authored by Senator Sam Blakeslee. The legislation was enacted in 2006.
To comply with the state law PG&E must recover the costs of the survey from their rate payers, the public. However,
. . .an administrative judge with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) put PG&E on notice that it first must complete high-energy, three-dimensional offshore studies to determine the exact force and velocity of the new fault line discovered three years ago just a few hundred yards off the coast from the nuclear power plant.
Meanwhile, fishermen in the area are very concerned. Presumably, the seismic study is to ensure that the environment in the area is protected, including the fish in the bay, however, the seismic study is likely to kill many fish.
In the midst of many fishers voicing alarm over what they believe will be devastating impacts to fisheries from San Luis Bay to Cambria, the first official environmental impact report on PG&E's proposed deep-water seismic studies of faults that could affect the safety of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is tentatively being planned for release in draft form in January by the California State Lands Commission.
. . .
In its notice of preparation of the DEIR, the Commission noted that ever since 1987, there has been "mounting evidence of the potentially significant effects of 'high-energy' survey equipment . . . on marine fish (including eggs and larvae), mammals, and reptiles, both behaviorally and physiologically . . . "
Unconfirmed rumor is that fishermen are being offered serious coin to offset the loss of income if the tests are carried out.

Meanwhile environmentalists are attempting to stop a low carbon source of electricity, while AB32 is requiring new sources of low carbon electricity. I love the stupidity of this state. If we don't totally destroy our own economy, I will be shocked.

(H/T to Dawn Wildman of the SCRTC.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Is This Still the GOP?

While not particularly a fan of Mitt Romney, the attacks based on his role at Bain Capital made me wonder which party I joined in 2008. Bain didn't take TARP or any other bail out that I'm aware of, but took over failing companies, in many cases turning them around, in others, liquidating them. Republicans candidates are attacking him over this? Do we really believe in free markets? Ron Paul had it right:
Paul said his GOP rivals former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Gov. Rick Perry (Texas) sounded “like Democrats” in blasting Romney’s record with the company.

“I think it’s a big distraction,” Paul said. “And they’re picking up on this and those who are condemning him for it, I think, are arguing like Democrats.

“You know, they come in and say, look, restructuring in the free market is a good idea, and I don’t know anything about Bain, so I’m not taking a position on that, and I haven’t looked at it and I have no idea what he did or didn’t do, but the principle of restructuring is a good thing in the marketplace,” he said.
Here's the audio, skip forward to 3:55.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Political Priorities for 2012 - One SD tea party perspective

My day job has become very challenging lately, and may continue to cause light blogging. When I have little time, it concentrates my mind on what is both important and within my sphere of influence. For example, I love following Presidential politics, but as a Californian I am going to little influence on neither the Republican nominating process nor the electoral vote totals. Here are my priorities for this year and how I am feeling.
  1. Defeating Governor Jerry Brown's proposed tax increases; highly confident. Getting his execrable budget killed; not so much.
  2. Getting pension reform passed in San Diego; highly confident.
  3. Getting Carl DeMaio elected Mayor of San Diego; optimistic.*
  4. Reaching out to left, right and center on entitlement reform and ending crony capitalism; cautiously optimistic.**

* The Southern California Tax Revolt Coalition does not endorse candidates, so this is a personal endorsement.
** Kelly, a liberal commenter, comments on why this is important in the comments section on my Saturday post about Rhode Island's Democrat led pension reform.

I hope for a groundswell of support for these goals.

Dang, I can't resist, here is one reason I can't stand Santorum (H/T Temple of Mut):

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Math not Politics - Fixing Pensions in Rhode Island

Rhode Island has achieved a measure of pension reform, despite being a fairly blue state. From the WSJ:
The plan enacted in November cuts $3 billion of the state's $7 billion unfunded liability by raising the retirement age, suspending cost-of-living increases until the pension system is 80% funded, and even moving workers into a hybrid plan that has a smaller guaranteed annuity along with a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan.
How did this succes come about? State Treasurer, Gina Raimondo, was able to present the facts to the voters of the state.
"No finger pointing" was her mantra, along with a corollary: "Math, not politics."
I like that last little bit. The state treasurer is a Democrat, but that didn't stop her from recognizing that the state's financial situation was untenable. Perhaps Republicans should de-emphasize blaming the unions, even if we believe they are to blame. The actuarial certainties of our entitlement programs, government pensions, medicare, medicaid and social security, are inexorable. Without change, they will eventually bankrupt us. Democrats can be left to demagogue these issues; but by proposing serious reform, it is actually Republicans, like Paul Ryan, who are doing the work necessary to save the social safety nets in this country.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Promises, Promises

Governor Jerry Brown's budget promises to cut public education by $4.8 billion if his tax increases aren't passed next November. Promises, promises. That we could get some cuts in the bloated state educracy would be welcome indeed. The California school system is not performing that well, despite spending about $8,452 per pupil per year, although I think that number is low, it is the official state budget number from 2009-2010. The shock of some budget cuts would be welcome as it might force us to evaluate why we allow the government a near monopoly in delivering education.

In a previous post on Douglas County, CO I laid out why outsourcing public education at 75 cents on the dollar would still save the state money.

Let's look at the situation in California. According to the state of California's data, there is a total of approximately $50 billion spent on K-12 education. (I am approximating, because the exact total seems a little squishy depending on the source.) This results in per pupil spending of $8452 per year. A voucher to parents of about $6300 would save the state $2100 per pupil. If only one million of the approximately 5.5 to 6 million students, the state could save $2.1 billion dollars. The more parents take advantage of the program, the more the state saves. At the state level these kinds of savings shouldn't be ignored. It might have the additional impetus of encouraging a mass exodus from failing public schools. I also note that in the review of literature for this article that only 61% of spending in California's schools goes to classroom education. That means the schools have an overhead rate of 63%. It seems obvious that parents could get a more value from 75 cents of every education dollar than they get from the public system.
[ed. note: For those doing the math the overhead rate is calculated by taking the percent of dollars not spent in the classroom divided by the percent actually spent on the classroom (like teacher's salaries), 39%/61% = .639 or 64%, a ridiculously high overhead rate.]

Defeating the tax hikes should be the number one priority of the tea party movement in California this year. Gerrymandering has essentially neutered partisan politics, but large numbers of Democrats seem willing to vote for the conservative position on ballot measures, including voting against tax increases and against gay marriage in 2008, while Obama was sweeping the state. I think the public instinctively knows two things. First, California taxes are too high. Second, when politicians threaten favored programs if they don't get their way on tax cuts, they are bluffing.

Weekend Music Chill

We still have an intact pumpkin sitting around the house from Halloween. Amazingly, it doesn't stink. My youngest opined that he wanted to be smashing pumpkins, of course. This got us discussing music from the 1990s. This particular song always sticks in my head when I remember it, so here are The Cranberries with Zombie.

Another of their hits, Linger.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Local Republican Crony Capitalism

Mayor Sanders performs a nice little feat of local crony capitalism, as first reported by the San Diego Reader. From the U-T.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders allowed Qualcomm Stadium to be temporarily renamed Snapdragon Stadium to promote the wireless chip giant’s smartphone processor during three nationally televised football games despite advice from the City Attorney’s Office that the move wasn’t legally permissible and amounted to free advertising.

The Dec. 7 memo from City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the terms of the naming rights agreement with Qualcomm don’t allow the company to make any changes, even on a temporary basis, without written consent authorized by the City Council, which never happened. The change also appears to have violated the city’s sign ordinance which generally prohibits off-site advertising, such as billboards and signs, for products that aren’t sold on the premises.

“Qualcomm’s proposal seeks to use the identifying signage to promote its new product without paying any additional consideration to which the city would otherwise be entitled,” the memo said. “Qualcomm does not have that right under the agreement. Per the agreement, the content of the identifying signs is clearly limited to the name of the stadium as ‘Qualcomm Stadium’ and not subject to use for advertising.”

The temporary name change of Jack Murphy Qualcomm Stadium to Snapdragon, despite a memo from City Attorney Jan Goldsmith that the name change was not authorized unless approved by the City Council just disgusts me. The city loses money every year on the stadium, undermining public support for everything else that Mayor Sanders has proposed, including a new City Hall. Why would the mayor engage in such an egregious display of crony capitalism, in effect donating millions of dollars of free advertising revenue to Qualcomm? What is the value of exposure to the approximately 30 million viewers that watched the three games during the temporary name change? The mayor seems totally insensitive to taxpayer sentiment, his false claims of calamity in support of Prop D come to mind. Why elect Republicans if they are just going to gouge taxpayers on behalf of big business, as opposed to Democrats gouging the taxpayers on behalf of the employees unions. This is an example of why we shouldn't put government in charge of anything intended to make money. It's also why I plan to vote for Carl DeMaio, because I believe he is the Republican least likely to engage in such shenanigans in the future.

The Post I Wish I Had Written

Leslie, at Temple of Mut, has written passionately about the need to stay steadfast and think long term in our quest to restore this Republic to its Constitutional roots. She reminds us of the need to accept diversity of opinion in the tea party movement, while sticking to our core principles of limited government and rule of law. Her other message is to reject the top down messaging of the elites, in order to build a true, lasting grass roots movement. My thanks to her for this reminder.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Defense Budget and the SOTU

As reported by Reuters, the Obama administration plans on cutting 10-15% of the nation's ground forces. Supposedly, this will represent a slowing in the growth of the defense budget. Why it doesn't represent a decline in spending is not clear, but it seems that the Marine Corps and Army will be the biggest losers in this scenario. Politico is reporting that getting control of military health care, pay and retirements will also be on the agenda. Retired pay is particularly difficult, because retirees are scattered throughout the country, are often successful people with the means to donate to political campaign and are networked through a number of veteran's organizations.

I would expect the President to discuss defense budgeting and strategy in the State of the Union address. Prior SOTU's have not had much focus on those subjects. Based on the initial leaked reports it looks like the Navy and Air Force face fewer force reductions.

I am torn on the defense issue. The potential for mischief by dictators throughout the world remains high. A win-spoil strategy seems risky, and would seem to invite mischief. However, defense spending can't be a sacred cow any more than any other kind of spending in order for us to get our fiscal house in order.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tweet of the Day

Comes from Allahpundit:
I cannot believe that the first big GOP race post-tea party is between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
I can't either. I can understand Romney's tied for first finish (I don't really care about the exact count) because many Republicans view him as the man most likely to beat Obama. Whether that is true or not, remains to be seen, but it is a position I can respect. Santorum appears to have gotten a big lift from evangelicals, who broke for him at the end. This is too bad, as I believe that the Christians, like all Americans, are best served by the limited government perspective espoused by Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. Dueling Barstools provides an excellent critique of Santorum that is worth reading.

The good news is that Iowa is not very good at predicting the Republican nominee. This result probably gives Romney a huge boost, as I don't see Santorum having the organization to seriously challenge

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Quote to Start the New Year. . .

. . . comes from Chrystia Freeland, right, (H/T HotAir) who looks at the unrest the world over and comes to this conclusion.
The unifying complaint is crony capitalism. That’s a broad term, to be sure, and its bloody Libyan manifestation bears little resemblance to complaints about the Troubled Asset Relief Program in the United States or allegations of corrupt auctions for telecommunications licenses in India. But the notion that the rules of the economic game are rigged to benefit the elites at the expense of the middle class has had remarkable resonance this year around the world and across the political spectrum.
Indeed, it is a call for a measure of justice, a universal feeling among human beings of all cultures. Here in the United States the issue has propelled the tea party movement, and to a lesser extent the coffee party (to the extent that it is a movement) and occupy. The issue resonates with left, right and center. Freeland is hopeful for the western democracies on this score.

As for crony capitalism, this slogan of the street is both a challenge for the state and an opportunity. For some regimes, of course, crony capitalism, with a side order of repression, is the only dish on the menu. For them, the trends of 2011 do not bode well.

But most of today’s troubled market democracies don’t need a revolution to sweep away their cronies. What they do need is a new version of capitalism, designed for the 21st century. That is what the world’s protesters, in their different ways, are all asking for. Here’s hoping that 2012 provides some politicians with some answers.

The left sees crony capitalism and concludes that more regulation of business is required to prevent business from seeking ill gotten gains from government intervention. They forget problems of regulatory capture and the fact that regulation favors the entrenched business interests of today, against the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

The right calls for less regulation, forgetting to tackle the problem that government is enriching corporations in the first place. The tea party answer, is for government to be stripped of the power to enrich corporations in the first place. In my opinion, such a theory is incomplete, because some opportunities for mischief, especially in financial markets are so great that after the fact prosecution is an insufficient deterrent. See some of the danger in The War on Terabytes from the Economist. The answer has to be transparent and simpler regulation. I will post on this more extensively later, but in summary, financial regulation is too complex to be understood or to be effective. Further, given the wide discretion given regulators, made worse by Dodd-Frank, the danger of regulatory capture is increased. Protecting our financial markets from a recession causing melt down requires fewer regulations of a well understood nature.

Meanwhile, crony capitalism must be put to shame. The Obama administration has been making a very good case, in the negative sense, through Solyndra, Fisker, and the GM and Chrysler bailouts.

Picture of Chrystia Freeland from wikipedia.org.