Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Statistical Games for Obamacare

The Obama administration has been caught telling lies again.  It was just last month that Jonathan Gruber was caught telling the truth about Obamacare.  Gruber, one of the architects of Obamacare, referenced “the stupidity of the American voter” making it necessary to write Obamacare in a “tortured way” so that Americans wouldn’t oppose it.

Gruber told the truth about his previous lies, not expecting his comments to go viral on YouTube.

Now the administration has been caught deceiving the American people with its reporting of the numbers for Obamacare.  It was previously reporting separate numbers for individuals who signed up for medical coverage and individuals who bought dental insurance.

But then in September, the numbers were reported that 7.3 million people had bought insurance through Obamacare.  But the numbers were reported differently, combining the medical and dental numbers.  If the numbers had been broken out as before, it would have showed that 380,000 people had bought dental insurance.

In other words, the administration was trying to inflate the Obamacare sign-up numbers, thinking nobody would notice, or that it would go unreported.

Of course, this is Obama’s legacy and it isn’t a very good one right now.  The Affordable Care Act has been an unaffordable act.  It has contributed to continually increasing premiums for health insurance for nearly everyone in the country.

Political Lies Aren’t What They Used To Be

One thing that strikes me about this story is that it goes beyond the disaster that is Obamacare.  It is also a demonstration of how times have changed.

In the past, politicians could lie frequently and mostly get away with it.  As long as the major newspapers and major television networks didn’t pick up on it, or didn’t report on it, then it was fine for the politicians.  They could usually depend on the media to stay on their side and keep quiet on certain things.

There is a show in Washington DC that Republicans and Democrats are vicious enemies.  I’m sure some of the political battling is real, but both major parties don’t ever do anything drastic to make people question the system.  It’s almost as if they have a secret agreement that they won’t spill each other’s dirty laundry too much.

Talking to some people today, they think that politics is worse than ever now.  They think that there are more lying politicians than ever.  They think there is more corruption than ever.  But I actually don’t think this is the case.  There have been lying politicians for a long time.  The difference now is that they are getting caught.

The funny thing is that many of these politicians and bureaucrats are not with the current times.  They don’t realize how much things have changed.  They think they can casually tell lies and that most people won’t notice.  They forgot about the internet and today’s world of instant communication.  They forget about video cameras on cell phones.

Gruber made those comments not expecting it to be all over YouTube and eventually on the news.  There gets to a certain point where even the so-called mainstream media can no longer ignore a story that is widespread, because doing so would make them look too biased.

The Obama administration tries to inflate the number of enrollees for Obamacare and they think nobody will notice.  Twenty years ago, they probably would have gotten away with it.  In today’s world, someone finds out and posts a story about it on the internet.  Now the administration is being forced to backtrack and admit the numbers were in error the way they were reported.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this statistical manipulation and deception going on.  Perhaps we should be surprised that politicians and bureaucrats aren’t learning that they are no longer protected the way they once were.

While some are disappointed in the lying and deceiving, I am actually encouraged.  It just means they are now getting caught.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

They Hate Us For Our Freedoms

We have been told since at least 9/11/2001 that terrorists strike America because they hate us for our freedoms.  And if that is true, then the only way to stop terrorism is to go after the terrorists, which means more war, most spying, more torture, and more violations of human rights.  (The other option is to stop being free, which means terrorism should have already stopped based on what the government has done since 9/11.)

In the 2007/ 2008 presidential race, there was one particular moment in one Republican debate that really began a new dialogue in this country, at least for some people.  Ron Paul pointed out the concept of blowback.  He said that the terrorists attack us because we are over there.  The term "we" is actually a reference to the U.S. government.

Rudy Giuliani acted like he was outraged by the comment and he said he had never heard that before.  So it is an accepted doctrine by the establishment and the so-called mainstream media that the terrorists hate us for our freedoms.  Because if that isn't the case, then it means they hate us for what the U.S. government has been doing for decades.  That would mean that we could stop terrorism by simply adopting a policy of non-interventionism.

When the report on the CIA torture was recently released, there were warnings of a higher risk of terrorism.  There were extra precautions being taken due to the increased risk of attacks.

By why would this be so?  I thought the terrorists attacked us because we are free and they don't like our Western culture.  Why would they be motivated based on some CIA report?  That would mean that they hate us for more than just our freedoms.

With these reports of tightened security, has there been any reporting on the fact that people attack the U.S. because of how the U.S. government has been treating others?  Is there any mention that many American people promote these policies or ignore that they are happening?

This is not a justification for terrorist attacks, as some would like to accuse.  But it is a reason for terrorist attacks.  And Americans have to stop believing that the government that claims to represent them can go overseas and kill people, occupy lands, torture people, and destroy property without there being any blowback.

Suspected Terrorists

Amazingly, there are still many Americans who are defending torture.  They think, quite naively, that it is just bad guys being tortured, so who cares.  But who determined that these are bad guys?

These were suspected terrorists being tortured.  The key word is "suspected".  They didn't get a trial.  And the word "terrorist" has become completely meaningless when used by the U.S. government.  It could just mean living in Afghanistan and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It could mean being falsely accused by someone else being tortured.

If we knew for a fact that these were really bad guys and that no mistakes could be made about their guilt (which is impossible), then perhaps we could have a discussion about whether torture is moral or appropriate.

But we aren't even close to that situation.  Many of these people who were tortured were completely innocent.  Some of them died being tortured.  The CIA was supposedly trying to extract information out of people that probably didn't have any information to give.

The CIA is an evil organization.  John F. Kennedy realized this early in his presidency and began to take a stance against it.  We all know how that worked out.

But most Americans will pretend this didn't happen or won't care about it.  They will keep voting for their representatives to go to Washington DC to continue funding the CIA, the NSA, and all of the overseas wars and interventions.

Even if terrorists did hate us for our freedoms, I don't think we need to worry too much about that any more.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Nuclear Welfare

A couple of months ago, the Australian prime minister signed an agreement to allow selling uranium to India, which would likely be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.  It should come as little surprise that, according to cables published by WikiLeaks, the U.S. government pushed for this agreement.

The U.S. government has been cozying up to India for at least the last 10 years, likely to gain an ally to help neutralize China.  The U.S. government is forever shifting its allies and enemies to suit its current day needs.

In 2004, Bush signed the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) agreement with India.  In order to win Indian support for this, the U.S. government agreed to greater cooperation regarding nuclear activities.

India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  With Australia selling uranium, it is violating the NPT.  The U.S. would also seemingly be in violation, since it is encouraging this action.

India previously sought to buy uranium for its nuclear reactors, but it was prevented from doing so because it refused to be a part of the NPT.

I suppose the Indian government realized what it needed to do in order to get the uranium it wants.  It found a friend in Washington DC (for now) and traded favors.  In this case, the favor for India was to have the U.S. deliver a supplier of uranium, even if not directly.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

If you have paid much attention to the news in the past, you have probably heard of the NPT.  There is a reason for this.  It was often cited by U.S. officials.

The pro-war groups in Washington DC, which are many, have been long seeking to bomb Iran.  The Bush administration wanted to bomb Iran and the Obama administration kept up the rhetoric, although perhaps with a slightly less belligerent tone.

One of the main reasons cited for starting a war with Iran was because it was violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  But even this claim is dubious, as most of the evidence indicated that Iran was not trying to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.  It was seeking nuclear power.

Now Australia is in complete violation of the NPT and the U.S. government appears also to be in violation of it.  So what should U.S. government officials propose as a solution?  Maybe they will advocate bombing the U.S. for violation of the treaty.

Meanwhile, India has continually refused to be a part of the NPT, so there aren’t really any consequences.  If a country such as Iran gets slapped with heavy sanctions and continuous threats of war for supposedly violating the NPT, maybe the country would have been better off not participating in the NPT.

Ironically, many Israeli officials have pushed for war against Iran too, while Israel has also refused to sign on to the NPT.

Basically, what this means is that the NPT means nothing at all.  There can be greater negative consequences for signing on to it in good faith than to not joining at all.  The Iranian people have suffered through devastating sanctions that reduce their standard of living and can sometimes lead to shorter lives.  Meanwhile, Australia can sell uranium to India with no consequences.  It just all depends on if you are on the good side of America, the land of the free.

WikiLeaks has done us another favor in exposing the hypocrisy that goes on around the world.  Will others make the obvious connection that these are worse violations than anything that Iran is doing?

The war makers don’t want Iran to have the ability to use nuclear power, but they will have no problem with India building up its nuclear arsenal of weapons that could blow up the world – as long as India remains in good favor with the U.S. government.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Government Acting as the Milk Police

There is another battle between the Institute for Justice and a government agency over milk – something that is becoming more common.  Government (state and federal) is heavily involved in the milk industry and I have written about the government’s war against raw milk before.

But this latest story doesn’t involve raw milk.  It is pasteurized milk.  This is a government war over words.

Mary Lou Wesselhoeft, owner of Ocheesee Creamery, received an order two years ago from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  As you can guess, this department is not so much in the business of “consumer services”.  The order stated that Wesselhoeft had to stop selling pasteurized skim milk or stop calling it pasteurized skim milk.

The problem here is that the product that was being sold is pasteurized skim milk, just as it was being labeled.  But the government of Florida says that you can only call it skim milk if it is artificially injected with Vitamin A.  But the Ocheesee Creamery does not want to inject anything in its skim milk and it wants to tell consumers what it is selling.

In other words, the Florida government is encouraging the false labeling of products.  Since Wesselhoeft doesn’t want to inject anything into her skim milk and she doesn’t want to mislead consumers as to what she is selling (pasteurized skim milk), she decided to stop selling her milk.

Again, this is the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services causing this.  They are helping consumers by either misleading them or shutting down products that are sought.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) has a National Food Freedom Initiative and has taken up Ocheesee Creamery’s case.  They are filing a lawsuit, arguing that this violates the First Amendment.

The First Amendment vs. Bad Law

I think it is great that we have organizations such as the Institute for Justice that takes up these fights and they should be applauded for it.  Most small business owners don’t have the means to take up these fights in court on their own.

The IJ is basing its main arguments that this is a violation of First Amendment rights, but that really isn’t the case here.  Perhaps the IJ believes that this is the best argument to use in front of a judge in court and is therefore pursuing this avenue as a first resort.

The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law…  In this case, Congress isn’t making the law.  It is a state law or regulation.  It has almost nothing to do with Congress.  I don’t believe the 14th Amendment or anything else overrides everything the Constitution says, unless we are talking about natural law.

It is better that this is a state law/ regulation and that it isn’t coming out of Washington DC.  But there are still a lot of bad laws and regulations at the state and local levels.  This happens to be one of them and it should be fought.

This could be considered a free speech issue, but it isn’t Congress imposing it.  It is state government.  But just as easily, we could say this is a property rights issue.  It is an issue of voluntary association.  It is an issue of oppressive regulations.

Ironically, most people believe in some government regulation for businesses.  One of the most common arguments is that we need consumer protection.  You will also hear that we need government to protect us from false advertising or misleading labels.

But in this case, it is the government that is mandating false advertising and misleading labels.  This small business wants to label and sell its pasteurized skim milk as “pasteurized skim milk”.  The Florida government wants her to mislead consumers and call it something that it isn’t.

The best form of regulation is the regulation that naturally occurs in a voluntary free market.  Businesses that mislead consumers in a free market will not usually last long.

As we can see, government regulation does not usually protect consumers.  It often does the opposite.  In this case, it is just harming consumers by misleading them and by taking away products that they want to buy.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Chuck Hagel: An Example of What Politics Does

Chuck Hagel has just resigned as the Secretary of Defense, although his resignation was probably highly encouraged.  His story is an interesting one, as it serves as a good example of the almost uselessness of politics.  He is also an example of where a lack of hardcore principles ends badly.

Unlike many politicians, Hagel actually had a business career that did not depend solely on government favors.  He helped found Vanguard Cellular, which made him a multi-millionaire.  It was a mobile phone service carrier formed in 1984, when mobile phones were quite primitive compared to today.

Hagel was a U.S. Senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2009 (2 terms).  While he was elected as a Republican, he had some differences with the establishment of his party, particularly during the Bush years.

Hagel voted with the majority of Republicans in support of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.  He also voted for the Patriot Act, which perhaps should have been a sign of caution for civil libertarians who later supported Hagel and had high hopes for him.

From a pro-liberty standpoint, Hagel voted against No Child Left Behind, against the Medicare prescription drug bill, and against McCain-Feingold.  These were some of his better moments in defecting from the Republican establishment.

In 2002, Hagel voted in favor of the resolution to go to war in Iraq.  However, unlike most other Republicans in Washington DC, he later reversed course on Iraq.  He voted in 2007 for a troop withdrawal and he became something of a critic on the war.  He lost favor with the Republican Party and started to gain favor with Democrats.

After Obama was re-elected in 2012, he nominated Hagel for Secretary of Defense.  Whether or not it was a political move, Obama wanted someone in his cabinet from “across the aisle”.  Hagel was a somewhat obvious choice because of his previous opposition to remaining in Iraq.  Hagel became Secretary of Defense in February 2013 after getting approval from the Senate.

Political Power

It is amazing how people change once they are in office.  We see it all the time, but it is still almost unbelievable how all principles go out the window once in power.

We see it with Republicans all the time when they promise smaller government, only to expand it and find government solutions in most everything.

We see it with Democrats who promise more peace and a less interventionist foreign policy.  Once they get in to power, they continue the spying and war making.

Obama was elected as the anti-Bush candidate.  He opposed the war in Iraq.  He campaigned on greater civil liberties, including shutting down detention centers for accused terrorists.

While nominating Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State was a bad sign of the things to come, Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel four years later may have looked a little bit promising.  But, as usual, big government wins.

Interestingly, the position of Secretary of Defense actually comes from what was previously called the Secretary of War.  Since the Defense Secretary now has little to do with defense and a lot to do with war, the previous cabinet position was more accurately named for today’s times.

Under Hagel’s watch, we have seen continued war in Afghanistan.  We have seen the U.S. government help overthrow the president in Ukraine and start something of a war there, along with renewed tensions with Russia.

We have seen continued bombing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  The U.S. government almost started a major war with Syria under Hagel’s watch, but was forced to back down due to significant opposition.  Now the military is being sent back to Iraq, with U.S. bombs raining down on Iraq and Syria.

That is quite a record for Obama and Hagel, the supposedly peace people.  I’m not sure it would have been possible to see that much war out of a third Bush term.

I don’t know if Hagel truly changed his mind on the Iraq War or if he started opposing it for political reasons.  But it didn’t matter once he was in his new office.  At that point, all political principle goes out the window.  You have to play ball with the establishment and the establishment was in favor of more war and continued intervention overseas.

While some non-interventionists may see Hagel’s time as Defense Secretary a letdown, it was really just a good example of what happens in politics.  If he had publicly opposed any of the Obama administration interventions, then he would have been forced out earlier.  You have to be willing to play ball or you will be kicked out of the game.

Perhaps Hagel did oppose much of the administration’s meddling and war making in foreign lands, but he did not do it in public forcefully.  He may have voiced opposition behind closed doors and that is probably why he is leaving.  He wasn’t quite hawkish enough for Obama and the establishment.

So who will take Hagel’s place as Defense Secretary?  Does it matter?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Goldman Sachs and a Partnership with the Fed

It is not an accurate characterization to say that the United States is a capitalist country.  Just the same, it is not a socialist country either.  There are elements of both and certain elements are more prevalent in certain sectors.

If anything, the U.S. has more of a fascist economy, especially when it comes to such things as banking and healthcare.  In using the term fascist, it means that the means of production are not owned by the government, but are heavily controlled or regulated.  It might also be accurate to say that we have something of a crony capitalist system, where there are alliances between big business and government.

This is easily understood by looking at the banking and financial system.  For anyone who pays some attention, there should be little doubt about these alliances.

The New York Times recently ran a piece detailing how one employee of Goldman Sachs advises the same type of banks as those he regulated when he worked for the New York Fed for seven years.

Goldman Sachs and the Federal Reserve banks provide stepping stones for each other.  It is common for employees to move from one to the other.

While Goldman Sachs is supposedly a private company, there is little question that it is tightly tied to the Federal Reserve and the government.

And while the Federal Reserve system is sometimes called private, there is no question that its current existence is dependent upon the state.  The Fed is granted monopoly powers over the money we use and its chairman is nominated by the president and approved by the Senate.

Former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Henry (Hank) Paulson both worked at Goldman Sachs.  The current president of the New York Fed, William Dudley, worked for Goldman Sachs.

If that isn’t enough, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, worked at Goldman.  And Mark Carney, also a previous Goldman employee, was head of the Bank of Canada before taking over as head of the Bank of England.

It is almost as if Goldman Sachs is some kind of a screening committee to get in to high financial politics.

A Not-So-Secret Alliance

The New York Times article details how this former Goldman employee is receiving confidential information from former colleagues at Goldman.

This comes on the heels of a lawsuit from a former New York Fed employee, Carmen Segarra, who claims she was fired after taping conversations that suggest her supervisors were soft on Goldman Sachs , particularly when it came to regulating one deal.

Of course, both the New York Fed and Goldman Sachs officials are releasing statements that they won’t tolerate these things and that they will review their policies…blah, blah, blah.

While it is positive that the New York Times is reporting on this, it will probably only make a marginal difference.  I hate to sound like a skeptic here, but why would anybody new really care about this because of these stories?  As I stated earlier, anyone who is paying a little bit of attention can realize quickly that the Fed and Goldman Sachs are in bed with each other.

The New York Fed just happens to be the most significant of the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks.  Its president always holds a vote on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).  And again, its current president used to be the chief economist at Goldman.

It is nice to see both organizations put on the defensive a little, but I doubt anything will change based on these new revelations.  There simply is not enough interest from the voting public.  If voters do not hold their so-called representatives to task, then you sure shouldn’t expect Congress to do anything to rock the system, particularly in terms of the Federal Reserve.

Perhaps these latest stories provide a little proof of an alliance, but there really wasn’t any secret to begin with.  And even if there were no conspiracy here, it is obvious that there will be wrongdoing when there are so many former Goldman employees working at the Fed and vice versa.

If you are getting out of college and looking to work for the Fed one day to centrally plan a giant economy, then perhaps you should consider applying for an internship at Goldman Sachs.  You have to go through the screening committee first.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gun "Owners" Will Get Quite a Burial

The police in Buffalo, New York are planning to pay a visit to the estates of people who die.  But this will only apply to a certain class of citizens – pistol permit holders.  Unfortunately, the police will not be paying a visit to offer their condolences to family members of the deceased.

Instead, the police are starting a program to confiscate firearms.  In order to better “serve and protect”, the police department will be running a cross check between the death records and gun permit holders.  They are, of course, doing this in the name of public safety.

I suppose this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, particularly out of New York.  This is the state that locked up football player Plaxico Burress for shooting himself in the leg.  The crime wasn’t public endangerment, but the fact that Burress possessed a gun.  Government officials in New York don’t want anyone possessing a gun except for themselves.

It will be interesting to see if this new program goes forward.  It would have little chance in the south, but there may not be enough gun advocates in Buffalo to stop this.

As one Buffalo attorney pointed out, if the police come to your door without a warrant signed by a judge, you don’t have to let them in or give them anything.  Let’s hope the people in Buffalo understand their rights.  It is hard to imagine that the police will get a signed warrant, but anything is possible.  Unfortunately, the police know that they can show up at doors without warrants and some people will be intimidated into giving up their rights.

Gun Rights or Property Rights?

While this is a major government overstep that is getting the attention of gun owners and gun advocates – as well it should – this is as much of a property rights issue as a gun rights issue.

If the Buffalo police confiscate the guns of deceased people, this can often be thousands of dollars or more worth of firearms.  The guns can also be a piece of family history.

This program in Buffalo stems from a state law that says if a gun owner dies, the estate has 15 days to turn in the guns to police.  And if the guns aren’t turned in, then police can confiscate them.  This law does not apply to long guns.

We sometimes hear people say that instead of passing new gun laws, we should just enforce what is already on the books.  I couldn’t disagree more because many of the gun laws go completely against property rights and a free society.  The Buffalo police are trying to enforce a really bad law here that is already on the books.

This should concern everyone – even those who have no interest in owning a gun.  This is a complete violation of property rights.  If someone owns a gun, they should be able to pass it down to their heirs, just like any other item.  It doesn’t matter if it is a television, a diamond ring, or a gun.  It is owned property, and as an owner, you have the right to pass that on to others.

If this program goes into effect in Buffalo, I don’t see it spreading throughout the country.  Maybe it will spread in New York.  But it will also be interesting to see the unforeseen consequences of implementing this.

If anything, this will just encourage people to break other laws.  Perhaps some people will stop registering for a permit to avoid detection.  It is also possible that the city and/or state may end up with a lot of lawsuits in court over this.

I know that many gun advocates will disagree with me on this, but I don’t see this as a 2nd Amendment issue.  I believe the 2nd Amendment was designed to prevent federal gun laws.  I believe that all federal gun laws should be repealed.

But for this New York law, it is really a fight for the people of New York, or more specifically, Buffalo.  They should not rely on the U.S. Supreme Court to knock this law down.  The people of Buffalo need to take a stand against this infringement on gun rights and property rights.  It is a bad law and it shouldn’t be enforced.