Sunday, September 29, 2013

Impact of Government Shutdown - As Little as 16% Affected

The actual impact of a government shutdown is much less than anyone might think.  Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid checks continue to get cut and the active duty military continues to perform their duties.  Furthermore, a significant portion of the defense civilian establishment in the form of the working capital funded activities continue operations.  Here is a breakdown of the budget.

Sorry for the extra large size, but its necessary to make my point.  Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid continue under a shutdown, totaling 41% of the budget.  The House has funded Defense separately, so we are up to 60% of the federal budget.  Interest on the debt has no direct, immediate impact, and accounts for 6%.  Finally, USA Today reports that:
Federal agencies have prepared plans to continue programs they deem critical to maintaining public safety and protecting property despite the shutdown. Employees who perform those critical functions will continue to work and get paid.
I believe that accounts for the 18% other mandatory programs, but have not been able to confirm.  However, essential functions account for a full 59% of non-defense workers.  Too bad that the NSA gang probably keeps coming to work.  All in all, I see about 78% of the federal budget having no impact during a shut down, and maybe even 84% if you don't care about interest on the debt.

In short, almost nothing that the American public actually cares about will be impacted by a #governmentshutdown.  The White House will make a big show of shutting White House down tours, but will be hard pressed to make the case.  The Democrats will of course be aided by a complicit media in puffing up a story about the impacts, but Republicans need to just hold the line and wait for no one to notice.

Boehner has done a reasonable job by sending over a clean continuing resolution that funds defense and bundling the rest of the budget with an ACA delay.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Predicting the News That Will Be Reported - Not That Hard

I sometimes wonder at what passes for news.  News is thought to be the reporting of events that are not expected, you know, man bites dog stuff.  Here are some utterly predictable news stories. I am not bothering to link because the stories are ubiquitous.

  • News organizations do little to report that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does little to explain the recent lack of temperature rise (over the last 15 years or so).  There is an unsubstantiated claim that either deep sea warming or volcanoes have caused the relative lack of temperature rise.  The focus of news has been on the dire predictions of the report.  Those dire predictions keep getting pushed further into the future.
  • Health care exchanges' online systems are having technical problems and won't be ready on October 1. Sorry, this was too easy to know in advance.  Complex rules make for complex software.  If the Secretary of HHS can't seem to be clear about who is exempted or not, as one small example, how is a programmer supposed to write code?  
  • Younger, healthier workers to pay more under ACA.  This is a feature, not a bug of the system.  The problem for the administration is that most people have figured this out and are going to judge the penalties insufficient to cause them to sign up.  
  • New revelations of other ways that the NSA was spying on you keep popping up.  Let's face it, the NSA considered every way imaginable to spy on U.S. citizens.
While we are on the ease of predicting the news, I predict the Republicans will cause a government shutdown lasting a day or so, and then cave, as the media whips up a false "The Sky is Falling and It's Republican's Fault" headlines.  If the Republicans would adopt a sensible strategy they wouldn't need to go through this pain.  They should pass bills that fund the rest of government in piecemeal fashion, then fight over the ACA funding in the HHS appropriation.  Medicare and Social Security payments continue, for example, so there is not any real pain to voters from a shutdown.  Why the House Republicans get backed into a corner is beyond my comprehension. Nothing prevents them from breaking up the appropriations bill to suit their agenda; they control the House for crying out loud.  The Republicans real leverage lies in the fact that "discretionary" operations of the HHS can be tied to defunding the ACA, but popular programs aren't put at risk.

Finally, there isn't any reason the Republicans couldn't start dismantling the law a bit at a time, by repealing the tax on medical devices for example, rather than going for the whole enchilada of defunding.  They could really be popular by delaying the individual mandate by one year.  Best of all, they could cause the system to collapse by repealing all exceptions granted by the Secretary of HHS.  Imagine the delicious irony of Obama vetoing a bill that Republicans pass that required tight adherence to a law he sponsored.  The Republicans lack of imagination on the subject is appalling.  But that's not news either.

What You Should Be Reading
  • Iran backed hackers are already attacking Navy computers.  After America threatens to bomb Syria, Syrian hackers threaten retaliation.  Later, Iranian infiltration of U.S. Navy computers is revealed.  Iran is a major sponsor of the Syrian regime.  Love fest with Iranians ensues and we are now counting on Syria to cooperate in turning over chemical weapons.  As I predicted here and here, the Iranians tie the accusations to the U.S. semi-admission of introducing the Stuxnet virus into their nuclear program.  The incompetence of this administration's foreign policy apparatus is staggering.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Surveillance State Failure

The shooting at the Washington Navy Yard this week is inevitably calling for more gun controls, such as increased background checks.  But the shooter had already passed the background check to a hold a SECRET level clearance.  Why was he able to kill so many people on a military base?  Unilateral disarmament is one explanation, from CNS News:
"My son was at Marine Barracks -- at the Navy Yard yesterday - and they had weapons with them, but they didn't have ammunition.   And they said, 'We were trained, and if we had the ammunition, we could've cleared that building.' Only three people had been shot at that time, and they could've stopped the rest of it." 
The Navy Yard shooting brings up the legitimate issue of carrying - and using - firearms on military installations. 
Back in 1993, the Clinton administration virtually declared military establishments "gun-free zones." As a result, the policy banned "military personnel from carrying their own personal firearms and mandates that 'a credible and specific threat against [Department of the Army] personnel [exist] in that region" before military personnel 'may be authorized to carry firearms for personal protection." Indeed, most military bases have relatively few military police as they are in heavy demand to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan," according to economist John Lott.
None of the proposals for gun-control will make us any safer.  They are the typical noise from politicians who demand that Something Be Done!  Whether or not it addresses the problem is irrelevant.

Gun Rights are Human Rights.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Drawing the Wrong Conclusion - As Usual

The tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard turned a bit personal for me when I was unable to contact colleagues due to the shootings.  I was glad to see that none of the victims were colleagues or acquaintances, but of course my heart goes out to the families and friends of those who died.  Inevitably, the tragedy is not going to waste in the leftist war on our civil liberties.  Predictably, Diane Feinstein has called for more gun control legislation.  However, unless she means to ban all guns in the hands of private citizens, which I believe is true, there is little that more laws could have done to prevent this tragedy.  The perpetrator was armed primarily with a shotgun and held a security clearance.  What gun control law could be passed other than outright confiscation of all private firearms to prevent this tragedy?

Richard Viguerie's web site debunks the whole myth that the surveillance state and more control of our rights will make us safer.  The Navy Yard shooters prior misconduct, Nidal Hassan's obvious radicalization at Fort Hood, the Tsaernaev's in Boston, PFC Manning's personal issues with gender identity were all missed due to either political correctness or the overwhelming amount information collected by the surveillance state.

In a free society, there will never be perfect safety.  The statists on the left know this and use every tragedy to argue for more regulation.  Arguing that the regulation will not be effective is necessary, but we should also argue that it is our right to own guns as a matter of the inherent human right of self-defense.  No pile of statistics removes my right to make a judgement about my own personal safety and how to best defend myself.  Every person on the planet has the right of self-defense, which is God given.  Gun rights are human rights.

Photo below from The Mad American Club Blog which has a pretty amusing article on self defense.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Weekend Music Chill

This week has been exhausting, so I need some music that I can really kick back and relax with.  I started a Pandora Station with a single song "You Don't Miss Your Water" off The Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, and it has been a goldmine of new music for me.

Here is David Ryan with Pearls on a String.

From the same station is Rainy Weather Friend by David Mead

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What You Should Be Reading

My semi-customary "what you should be reading" bullets didn't fit well with the layout of today's article, so I am publishing it separately.

I am no longer in the mood to "remember 9-11."  In hindsight, one Arab group tried to get the upper hand over other Arab groups by attacking America to establish their "street cred" to put a bounce into their recruiting numbers.  We took the bait.  Now we need to play the old Brit strategy of playing the different groups off of each other and remembering that our only consistent ally in the region is going to be Israel, because we have common national interests. 

Detroit Bankruptcy Constitutional Issues

Bankruptcy proceedings underway in Detroit will go a long way in determining what path cities might take in reducing unsustainable pension benefits. Attorneys for the City of Detroit are taking an aggressive stance in arguing that the city has standing in federal bankruptcy court.  However, the key issue of pension "impairment" is not addressed directly by the city's filing.  City lawyers skirted the constitutional issue of pensions by arguing in their filing that no impairment of pensions has yet been taken by their filing.  An excerpt from Michigan's constitution highlights the conundrum:
§ 24 Public pension plans and retirement systems, obligation.
Sec. 24. The accrued financial benefits of each pension plan and retirement system of the state and its political subdivisions shall be a contractual obligation thereof which shall not be diminished or impaired thereby.
One would think this is case closed, the state of Michigan, through its constitution, is now on the hook for Detroit's pensions.  However, this case has a federalist element.  The bankruptcy was filed under federal bankruptcy laws.  Was it the intent of Congress in passing the bankruptcy laws to supplant state constitutions?  If so, under the Supremacy Clause in Article VI, the city's lawsuit should be heard and trump federal law.  There is an entire section of the bankruptcy code devoted to municipalities, Chapter 9.  Pensioners are arguing that the courts must first hear constitutional issues before the bankruptcy hearing can proceed and have moved to remove the case out of bankruptcy court to district court.

Since I am not a lawyer, I turn to the analysis of University of Pennsylvania law professor David Skeel, to make the case.  From the WSJ:
Article IX, Section 24, of the Michigan state constitution says: "The accrued financial benefits of each pension plan and retirement system of the state and its political subdivisions shall be a contractual obligation thereof which shall not be diminished or impaired thereby." Yet Chapter 9 of federal bankruptcy law clearly authorizes a city to restructure its obligations to restore financial health. How will the conflict be resolved?

Chapter 9 should prevail. The U.S. Constitution (Article VI) states that the laws of the United States are "the supreme law of the land," and furthermore, that judges in every state are bound by them, "anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding."
Seem clear enough to me.  Here is some more perspective.
Seven states have specific clauses in their constitutions that protect public employee pensions: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, and New York.
Some of these states might eventually have the biggest bankruptcies from pension obligations.  Without at least the threat of bankruptcy, I don't think unions are ever going to back off from claims that the constitution protects retiree benefits, even if there are no taxpayers left to foot the bill.

Who's going to pay for the pensions now?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Politics Tonight - Some Good News

Tonight's political news seems pretty good for the country.

Obama's Syria Speech Has Little Effect 

The President was wrong-footed by both his own Secretary of State and by Putin in the run up to his speech tonight.  Even after the speech, preliminary polls continue to show that the public is opposed to military intervention.  This is good news, because American vital interests are not served by military intervention at this time.

Weiner, Spitzer Suffer Humiliation - Again

These two jackasses have no place in public office and not just because of their sexual scandals.  Weiner didn't break 5% of the popular vote and Spitzer couldn't win the Democrat nomination in the usually bland race for City Comptroller.  I would hope that Spitzer couldn't be elected dog catcher.  The WSJ has documented Spitzer's record of abuse of power.  Weiner was just one long embarrassment.

Colorado Gun Control Lawmaker Loses Office

From Reuters:
Colorado Senate President John Morse, one of two state lawmakers fighting historic recall elections because of his support of tougher gun control laws, conceded defeat on Tuesday as preliminary results showed him trailing in the vote count, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.
Nice going.  I read in another report that the gun control forces outspent recall supporters.
Reported contributions to Morse and Giron totaled about $3 million, dwarfing the amount raised by gun activists who petitioned for the recall, though some independent groups didn't have to report spending.
Yes we can defeat those who would trample our rights.

Australia Elects Conservative Government

This isn't news, but feels like it anyway.  Tony Abbott and his conservative Liberal Party (that's not a typo) soundly defeated the Labor party in elections in Australia over the weekend.  It was a good weekend for Aussies, even if Collingwood exited the first round of the finals at the hands of Port Adelaide.  Guy Benson of HotAir's Green Room explains why Yanks should care.
(1) The defeat of Statists anywhere on the planet merits attention and applause.  (2) Two of the main issues used by the opposition to successfully bludgeon the ruling party were lax immigration enforcement and public anger over a proposed carbon tax.  . . .  (3) Labor went full-bore “war on women” against the Abbott & Co, and failed miserably.
We close with a picture of Tony Abbott and his family celebrating his victory.  Doesn't look like a guy about to launch a war on women to me.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Weekend Music Chill

Been listening to some 60s music of late and I haven't done a covers edition in a while.  This song was actually first released by Gladys Knight, but I think you'll agree that most people think of Marvin Gaye when you mention "Heard It Through the Grapevine."

My favorite cover is a bit long, but I love these guys as anyone who has suffered Karaoke night at The Dingo will attest.  Here is CCR with their cover, and in my humble opinion, an improvement.

Regardless of which version you prefer, this is one of the all time great rock and roll songs.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The NSA Is Destroying Trust Required For Use of Cyberspace

It was widely reported today by the AP and others that the NSA and the British GCHQ is undermining the efficacy of internet encryption.  The end result of their efforts will harm the world economy, as the trust needed for commerce in cyberspace is eroded.   Details are on the Guardian and ProPublica.  Even these reports are not complete, news agencies have admitted that they omitted details at the request of intelligence agencies.  ProPublica has the most detailed report; I recommend that every citizen read it all. Key issues and consequences are summarized here.

The NSA has deliberately weakened encryption standards.  This has introduced back doors that could be exploited by criminals and foreign intelligence services.  This undermines trust in America to lead standards making.

The NSA can decrypt SSL and VPN technologies, widely used to secure internet communications and conduct business on the internet.  How long before other countries who use criminal activity for their own benefit (China) take the same path to steal commercial information and money.

Firms that provide encryption technology to the NSA for evaluation are actually opening themselves to be influenced by the NSA into introducing back doors into their products.  How long will companies continue to use NSA resources to improve encryption, if it just results in new back doors.  How long will the world trust American technology companies.
A more general NSA classification guide reveals more detail on the agency's deep partnerships with industry, and its ability to modify products. It cautions analysts that two facts must remain top secret: that NSA makes modifications to commercial encryption software and devices "to make them exploitable", and that NSA "obtains cryptographic details of commercial cryptographic information security systems through industry relationships".

Ladar Levison may have summed up the damage to America's commercial interests best:
“Without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent,” he wrote, “I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Questions for the Mayoral Debate

This is a bit of a re-run of a previous post, but with all the focus and hoopla on filthy-Filner and the who's in and who's out of the campaign, we have lost sight of the fact that America's Finest City still has challenges.

Here is an update on what I would ask the mayoral candidates in a debate.

  • Will you wholeheartedly support the pension reforms of Proposition B, including working with the City Attorney to vigorously defend the measure in court?  Explain your next steps to implement these reforms.
  • What actions will you take to reduce employee pension costs if Proposition B is overturned by the courts.
  • Will you push managed competition to reduce the cost of city services?  What would be the next services that should be competed?
  • Name at least one city program that consumes over 1% of the city budget that you would eliminate.
  • What will you do to normalize the legal status of marijuana dispensaries.
  • What is your position on the on the 2% Hotel Tax that funds the Tourism Management District?
Who is going to have the guts to ask tough debate questions like these?

Faulconer Announcing for San Diego Mayor

10 News San Diego is reporting that Kevin Faulconer will announce his candidacy for Mayor of San Diego today at 10:00 a.m.

Link to news feed here.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

DeMaio Out, Faulconer to Declare? San Diego Mayoral Race Roundup

Carl DeMaio announced today that he would not run for mayor of San Diego, and continue his election campaign in California's 52nd Congressional District.  Sdrostra's "live blog" and facebook page has been a good place to keep up with the news today.  Apparently, Ron Roberts will not run either, not that I even thought of him. Todd Gloria, current President of the City Council and acting Mayor, also announced he was not running via twitter.

Tony Krvaric, San Diego County Republican party chair, has all but endorsed Faulconer, saying "He represents the center right which is the tradition of mayors that we've had in the past,. . ."  David Alvarez, current city council member, and Democrat is also "mulling a run."  Fletcher may be in a tough spot if there is too much competition to his left.

My feeling is that this election will hinge on which candidates can turn out their voters in a low turn-out special election.  If there is only one well-known and credible Republican in the race; the two questions will be 1. Who takes second place? 2. Does Faulconer avoid a run off?  Avoiding a run off is very hard, with a 50% threshold needed.

I am very happy to see DeMaio stay in the CA-52 race.  I felt that the seat went over to the Democrats because the Republican party basically gave up on California, but the Democrats continued to push for votes here in 2012.

What You Should Be Reading

  • Speaking of the GOP, Hispanics demographic rise will result in the death of the GOP is the conventional wisdom from the 2012 election.  In Texas, the GOP is making inroads.  Ralph Benko explains.
  • Dean writes about the other civil rights struggle, that frankly is the most important one facing blacks today.
  • KT at the Scratching Post has pointed to a number of articles that point to an impending financial meltdown in Japan.  Don't complain we didn't warn you.
  • Anything that pops up about pension reform court cases.  If taxpayers can't shed municipal pension obligations, we are in big trouble.  No real news today.