Reminder: Government Successes Tend to Look a Lot Like Failures

Last weekend, I was in the midst of being told that Social Security was quite a government success. I remember thinking to myself that if SS is what counts as a success for the US government, it’s no wonder that President Obama thought Solydra was such a good idea.

Social Security, the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time, is finally catching up to that point where the calculus flips. For early “investors,” the Ponzi scheme works like a charm. As long as an ever growing base of donors props up the system, the checks still roll out on time and no one gets hurt. In this case, it took a mighty long time and a lot of big and little tweaks to the system before a prolonged recession tipped the equation.

One of the big, scary side-effects of prolonged high unemployment and lower labor participation is that the pool of donors has decreased and their “investments” aren’t keeping up with the demand for payout on the other side.

With that, here’s the happy thought of the day:

“For the early generations, it was an incredibly good deal,” said Andrew Biggs, a former deputy Social Security commissioner who is now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “The government gave you free money and getting free money is popular.”

If you retired in 1960, you could expect to get back seven times more in benefits than you paid in Social Security taxes, and more if you were a low-income worker, as long you made it to age 78 for men and 81 for women.

As recently as 1985, workers at every income level could retire and expect to get more in benefits than they paid in Social Security taxes, though they didn’t do quite as well as their parents and grandparents.

Not anymore.

Read the rest. But keep in mind that the “surplus” discussed in the article is illusory. It’s a big stack of government IOUs to itself that is called a “Social Security Trust Fund” but doesn’t actually contain any money. All it contains is the wobbly legal obligation of the US government to fund for the future– but not an obligation to fund to any specific level or under any specific circumstances. Essentially that money was loaned into the general funds for paying for other things and will now have to be paid back over time and we, the folks who paid into the system, have no specific claim to any of the money that we handed over. The enormity of that may not be obvious, but consider this: that surplus made our budget deficit look smaller every year and now, since the program can’t cover its own costs, it will make our budget deficit look even bigger. The changes that will be required to maintain the illusion of good stewardship of our retirement monies will likely make the deal even worse for upcoming generations.

What those IOUs really mean is that the government will have to borrow more and more from either general funds or from the Free Money Fairy; it also means likely increases in our taxes in some way to help make up for the shortfalls. It may be in bumps to retirement ages, expansion of the income that is taxed, or even a more straightforward bump in the tax rates along with those increased deficits– most likely a combination of a few of the above– but the one sure thing is that the deal has gotten worse and worse over time for workers entering the job market.

We’re asking our kids to fund our retirement with the near-certain knowledge that they will never be returned the equivalent of what they pay to keep us fat and happy in our old age. Merry Christmas, youngster, and get off my damned lawn.

If that has just stoked a little flame in you hungering for more Social Security fun, then read this Forbes article next. It’s a ray of sunshine in all of our lives.

Forget about “lockboxes” and other rhetorical devices used by politicians to perpetuate the unconstitutional falsehood that is Social Security, the unhappier reality is that the minute your employer withholds your Social Security taxes, the money is no longer yours. Deal with it.

Why Should I Trust the President on Energy Policy?

Pipeline, Photo Courtesy

President Obama just tried to convince me that he wants to strengthen the middle class by  developing domestic energy resources and taxing the wealthy to pay down our debt, amongst a few other things. Now, the plan to increase taxes on the wealthy won’t touch the trillion dollar annual deficits we seem to be running habitually right now, but it will certainly change the way some folks invest and use their capital. And it’s doubtful that it will do so in a way that “strengthens the middle class”– but that’s really what I want to talk about right now. Right now I want to talk about developing energy resources.

Firstly, I’ve said this before and I consider it to be an important point to make: the United States is the only developed nation that I can think of that actively works so hard against developing its own natural resources. We do this to the detriment of our own business interests and to the detriment of a citizenry that sees energy prices swelling while job growth is moribund and real salaries have stagnated.

Secondly, when a neighbor, who happens to be an important ally and business partner to the United States, can help provide a reliable, reasonably priced source of oil, it is vital to find ways to take advantage of that opportunity. In the case of the Keystone Pipeline, it would mean good paying jobs, an immediate boost to industries that are currently struggling (like the aggregates, cement, and concrete industries, as an example), and a boost to US manufacturers that serve those industries. It would mean increased tax revenues, both local and federal, and it would certainly help in stabilizing energy costs over the long haul.

But the President would prefer to pin our hopes on heavily subsidized renewable energy resources that have yet to prove their reliability or cost-effectiveness. In fact, by his own admission, his energy policies, taken to the conclusion that he wants, would cause energy prices to rise.

Which doesn’t at all help business struggling to make profits or folks struggling to make ends meet in a recovery that has yet to really start. High energy prices will make it less likely that companies will increase hiring because the money simply won’t be there to do so.

And, on a personal level, what this administration has done to harm the coal industry is unconscionable.

So, why should I trust President Obama to deliver the kind of energy policy– built around domestic resources– that I could support? Why should I think it would be any different than the direction that he has currently plotted? A failed direction that hasn’t done much to, ahem, “strengthen the middle class.” Or any other bit of our country, for that matter.

That is a long lead-in to this link— and a situation that wouldn’t exist if we had a president with a more practical view of this nation’s energy policy.

When President Barack Obama blocked the Keystone Pipeline, Republicans said the move would encourage Canada to pursue oil deals with China instead of the United States and cede a massive chunk of North American oil assets to the communist nation.

Now, with China’s state-run oil company CNOOC poised to cut a $15.1 billion deal–the largest ever foreign acquisition for a Chinese company–with Canadian oil company Nexen, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are in full backpedal mode.

Things like this matter and things like this are why I will be voting Romney in the upcoming elections.

Your mileage may vary.


Courthouse, Photo Courtesy

I originally put this on Facebook, but it belongs here. Especially since I’m adding a new link:

As a citizen, I think one of our most important jobs is to very simply question our government. This is not a partisan thing; question at every level, question whomever is in office, and question whether they share your party affiliation or not. Question the reasons for their decisions, the morality of their policies, the pragmatics of their solutions.

And in questioning, understand that the next job of the citizen is to push back where it is right. Not to the extent that you step on the guy next to you, not to the extent that you harm others, but by every legal method available, with determination and will, to correct imbalances. All of that in the context of remembering that no citizen is always right, no citizen has the right to always get his way, and no citizen should forget to do his best to treat his fellows with respect and kindness.

Occasionally, I lose sight of my own rules; then I see a story like those linked below and I suddenly remember. Job number one is to question.

Story 1: Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

The government also argued that it could keep Megaupload in legal limbo indefinitely. ‘None of the cases impose a time limit on service,’ the government’s attorney told the judge. Therefore, the government believes it can leave the indictment hanging over the company’s head, and keep its assets frozen, indefinitely. Not only that, but the government believes it can continue to freeze Megaupload’s assets and paralyze its operations even if the judge grants the motion to dismiss. 

Story 2: Why, No, We Don’t Feel Responsibility for What We’ve Done

“Your driver was shot in your truck,” said the caller, a business colleague. “Your truck was loaded with marijuana. He was shot eight times while sitting in the cab. Do you know anything about your driver hauling marijuana?”

“What did you say?” Patty recalled asking. “Could you please repeat that?”

The truck, it turned out, had been everywhere but in the repair shop.

Commandeered by one of his drivers, who was secretly working with federal agents, the truck had been hauling marijuana from the border as part of an undercover operation. And without Patty’s knowledge, the Drug Enforcement Administration was paying his driver, Lawrence Chapa, to use the truck to bust traffickers.

These stories speak of an arrogant, irresponsible government with no sense of accountability to the folks that they should be serving. These folks should feel shame for their part in twisting laws and ruining lives, but, of course, what they actually feel is self-righteous indignation at the thought that someone like me might question their actions. Don’t I know that they are just acting in my best interests?

Now, for pushing back…

(Updated) The Problem Is…

M16A1 Assault Rifle, Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

…That Jason Alexander doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. His lengthy monologue on guns and gun rights isn’t stupid; it’s well-considered and well-presented. Unfortunately, what Mr. Alexander doesn’t know is what he doesn’t know.

His knowledge of guns is obviously exceptionally limited and I doubt that he has spent much time considering gun rights in the constitutional sense.

This, for example, is wrong as soon as he starts answering his own questions. It is wrong because he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

What purpose does an AR-15 serve to a sportsman that a more standard hunting rifle does not serve? Let’s see – does it fire more rounds without reload? Yes. Does it fire farther and more accurately? Yes. Does it accommodate a more lethal payload? Yes. So basically, the purpose of an assault style weapon is to kill more stuff, more fully, faster and from further away. To achieve maximum lethality.

Nope, your standard AR-15 is not more powerful than, perhaps, the majority of hunting rifles. It most certainly doesn’t fire “farther and more accurately” than your standard hunting rifle. Depending on the kind of hunting rifle you are employing, it may well not even have a larger magazine nor “fire more rounds without a reload.”

The AR-15 uses a relatively light round with decent medium-range accuracy. In fact, the whole point of the modern assault rifle was to use lighter rounds in lighter weapons to deal with the reality that most combat happens not at long distances but in relatively close spaces.

The military assault rifle was also designed to send a lot of lead downrange quickly since studies post-WW 2 showed that most infantrymen did less aiming than their superiors might have expected. Casualties, then, were expected to be more a function of a storm of bullets than a well-placed, single shot. The rifles that men carried into combat previously had been designed with much heavier bullets to fire at much greater distances with better accuracty– and were more cumbersome, heavier, and slower.

But a civilian AR-15 ain’t a military assault rifle. It doesn’t have the select fire capability that allows it to create that storm of bullets. Just as with any other semi-automatic rifle, every time you pull the trigger one round fires, a shell is ejected, and another round is chambered.

What Mr. Alexander has described is some mythical weapon that he has built in his head. This weapon has terrible purpose and magical killing abilities. To him, the civilian assault rifle is demonic.

Again I say, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This is not me calling him a moron or telling him he doesn’t have a right to his opinion; this is me saying that he is speaking from a place of deep ignorance.

He says he wants an honest discussion, which is fine. The first part of that discussion, though, would be for him to educate himself instead of passing on misinformation. Include in that this little doozy: “Despite these massacres recurring and despite the 100,000 Americans that die every year due to domestic gun violence…”

That number is about triple the number of actual gun fatalities in the US (31,513 in 2010), and more than half of those fatalities came from folks committing suicide (19,308). No, that doesn’t make the real number pretty, but it is nothing like the number put forward by Mr. Alexander– his numbers are about as trustworthy as his understanding of the civilian AR-15.

Mr. Alexander is calling for those of us who believe it is our right to own a weapon like the civilian AR-15 to have a conversation with reasonable people who believe the opposite. When I start running into reasonable, well-informed people on that side of the conversation, maybe I’ll take his advice. Until then, the first step is education and pushing back against the lies, half-truths, and misconceptions.


For a little more reading on the subject of the 5.56mm round, here’s a little something from our friend, Roger Fraley.

Guns: Helping People Help Themselves, Pt 2


A citizen with a gun stopped a knife wielding man as he began stabbing people Thursday evening at the downtown Salt Lake City Smith’s store.

Police say the suspect purchased a knife inside the store and then turned it into a weapon. Smith’s employee Dorothy Espinoza says, “He pulled it out and stood outside the Smiths in the foyer. And just started stabbing people and yelling you killed my people. You killed my people.”
Then, before the suspect could find another victim – a citizen with a gun stopped the madness. “A guy pulled gun on him and told him to drop his weapon or he would shoot him. So, he dropped his weapon and the people from Smith’s grabbed him.”

I’m not one to hate the police, but I am realistic about them: police are rarely there when you need them. If you want to keep yourself safe, you have to be prepared and able to handle some situations without the illusion of safety that is the idea that the police will magically save you. Quite often, the police are the folks who show up after the bad bits are over.

That isn’t a negative comment; it’s just reality. Police have no more fantastical ability to be everywhere at once than I do.

I note this as a person who has wished like hell that the police would show up and save the day– and at the end of that day, wished that I had been armed so that I could have done a better job of protecting myself and the young lady who was with me that evening. While neither of us was harmed that evening, it took a significant amount of quick thinking and putting both of us in harm’s way to escape the danger.

So cheers to the unnamed citizen in the report who acted to help stop a bad situation. Well done.

Read the rest.

Guns: Helping People Help Themselves


This isn’t likely to change any minds, but at least Paul Hsieh’s PJ Media article is a little bit of a corrective to the usual media line on guns in the United States. A taste:

This journalistic bias against defensive gun use was especially clear in a 2009 example cited by Cramer and Burnett, when a robber held up a small grocery store at gunpoint, emptied the cash register, then herded the customers into the back room. The store manager “opened fire on the robber, killing him.” The police ruled it “justifiable homicide.” But the Miami New Times reported it as: “South Florida Store Clerks Go Vigilante.”

Read the rest.

I Do Not Think That Means What You Think it Means, The Presidential Edition

President Obama
President Obama
President Obama, Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Somewhere over the last three years (give or take a few months) someone changed the definition of “worked” and failed to inform me. That’s the only (polite) take-away from this:

“Just like we’ve tried their plan, we tried our plan — and it worked,” he added later in the speech.  “That’s the difference. That’s the choice in this election.  That’s why I’m running for a second term.”

Obama made these comments in Oakland, Calif., where the unemployment rate was 13.7 percent in May 2012. The national unemployment rate is 8.2 percent — up from 8.1 percent in May — for the second straight month.

If by “worked,” he means “successful,” then it would be tough to find folks to agree with his idea of success. Higher unemployment, lower job participation, higher prices, collapsed housing market, and rising energy costs certainly don’t feel like success.

Or maybe he meant “worked” as in “found jobs”– but that’s even harder to justify since “working” is exactly what many people aren’t doing these days thanks to a stalled economy and a sinking sense that America’s future under Obama’s stewardship hasn’t exactly been polished to a pretty, pretty shine.

Which is funny, because he seems to think that we’re feeling good about our collective future.

“Because we’re leading around the world, people have a new attitude toward America. There’s more confidence in our leadership. We see it everywhere we go,” President Obama said at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno.

While I’m sure that Russians and the Chinese are feeling more confident in “our leadership,” it wouldn’t be because they have American’s best interests at heart. That smile you see, that applause from those corners, would only be their cheering our economic pain from the sidelines. Citizens of this country are far less pleased by our leadership– and not just for President Obama, but congress is seen, rightly, as spectacularly toothless and untrustworthy. The congressional job approval numbers are staggeringly bad. Even the Supreme Court has taken hits recently.

As for the question of whether our country is headed in the right direction, we, the people, seem decidedly nervous.

In fact, if President Obama truly believes that things are going well, then it is one more reason to vote for someone else. If he believes that, he’s delusional. Don’t get me wrong: I’d like for our leadership to be positive about the potential for our future and a true believer in the potential of Americans. I just don’t want that positivity to come at the expense of a realistic view of our current circumstances in the same way that I don’t want a doctor to tell me that the unstaunched flow of arterial blood is a sign of how great things are.

Candidate Reagan was relentlessly upbeat about the future of the country, but his optimism was always delivered with an understanding that we couldn’t get to that shining city on the hill without changing course. Obama’s upbeat speeches are simply an attempt to ignore and deny his own abysmal job performance.

Which is why, when most of us are worried about jobs and the economy, so many of Obama’s surrogates would really rather talk about immigration, gay marriage, and Planned Parenthood.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you this: my priorities are rock solid. I’m not forgetting that this election is about all the folks who can’t find jobs, the mountains of debt that just keep piling up, and the fear that four more years of Obama’s leadership will leave us in even worse straights.

Ice T on Guns

I enjoy it when a strong defense of gun ownership in the United States comes from unusual corners. It’s good to shake up our assumptions and expectations.


And Another Reason that Romney Should Win

Sure, I want to “like” the president. Sure, I want the president to make pretty speeches and look stately and generally be someone that I would invite into my own home and encourage my children (my imaginary children, that is) to emulate in life. These things matter.

But more than that, I want a president who will support policies that get the hell out of the way of a desperately needed economic recovery.

Despite concerted Democratic attacks on his business record, Republican challenger Mitt Romney scores a significant advantage over President Obama when it comes to managing the economy, reducing the federal budget deficit and creating jobs, a national USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds.

By more than 2-1, 63%-29%, those surveyed say Romney’s background in business, including his tenure at the private equity firm Bain Capital, would cause him to make good decisions, not bad ones, in dealing with the nation’s economic problems over the next four years.

If this number holds up, then Romney should win the general election. What we are facing– especially with renewed talks of another dip into recessionary territory– is a question precisely on that subject: who is the best candidate to help us rebuild our nation’s economy? The question is not one of gay marriage or Planned Parenthood funding; the question is who will help get Americans back to work.

When your car’s engine won’t start, you don’t change the tires. I support gay marriage, for instance, but I know that sudden legalization won’t stabilize our economy. Deal with first things first– and, for America, that means dealing with unemployment and a stagnating economy that threatens to render all these social policy discussions moot.

If Americans trust Mitt Romney to deal with the economy, then the choice for who to lead us through the next four years is an obvious one.

Read the rest.