Friday, March 20, 2015

Several recent stories have appeared in our local paper about the effects of budget cuts proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner - for instance, "Bad run for park projects, frozen state grants mean suburban districts must rethink plans".

All is proceeding as I have foreseen. The sad, simple truth that few want to admit is that the Illinois government has been borrowing against the future to provide unrealistic benefits in the present. And this has been happening for years now, and the bills are coming due. And the Illinois government, and its public union friends, want the people of Illinois to make up this difference, by paying higher taxes to fund public pension programs that are still going to be insolvent no matter what.

When a state is insolvent by $100B or more - that's $100,000,000,000, folks, and Illinois only has about 13 million residents, so do the math on that if you need to, but it's around $20,000 per person - the first step to solvency is admitting you have a spending problem. It's like Alcoholics Anonymous: "My name is Springfield, and I have a spending problem".

Instead we get lawyers for the public employee unions arguing in the Illinois Supreme Court that it is unconstitutional to cut any benefits at all, and against all likelihood, they do have a point, because the Illinois Constitution was re-written 40+ years ago to -- as we learn recently -- grant free license to politicians to spend like drunken sailors in order to solicit votes and consolidate power. Then, when the debt reaches crisis level, they can suddenly demand payment from the taxpayers who were not party to any of this fiscal irresponsibility. What are you gonna do, we can't cut the payouts to government employees because it's illegal, and it's right there in the State Constitution, so open your wallets, taxpayers. Math be damned!

But this is boring, I know. These kinds of discussions bore people, because they seem so disconnected from reality. Who cares? So a bunch of politicians and unions are arguing about money, I'll never see any of it anyway. How does that impact me?

Here's how. We rely on government in many and varied ways, directly and indirectly. Prepare for every single expense you incur through any government body to become more expensive. Prepare for service levels to decline: garbage pickup once a week? Let's try every other week. That will be fun in July, when it's 95 degrees out and you cooked chicken last week.

Prepare for schools to start cutting programs: band, sports, various clubs and activities, gone. Prepare for property tax bill to fund local schools and the escalating costs of the education unions? Going up, probably way up. My taxes are already close to $12,000 a year, so even if I owned the house free and clear, it would cost me nearly $1000 a month just to live in my own house. This is a trade I cannot really justify while I have kids in the local schools, which are pretty good, but after that? Why on earth would I willingly do that? To fund lavish retirements for superintendents, and teachers who, increasingly, are pretty well paid when you factor in the job protections they have, and the fact they can get automatic raises just by getting progress towards advanced degrees (this is featherbedding, and it needs to go away). And summers off. And a guaranteed pension. And a job for life. And free, or very highly subsidized, health care, for life. This is a pretty sweet package, and ALL of it is funded by taxpayers. I find it more than a little bit disconcerting that teachers and education professionals feel no sense of guilt for demanding to have their cake and eat it too, in the form of benefits both now and into the future, and let others worry about paying for it. But unions do that to people.

Water and sewer bill? Going up. Highway tolls? Up. Garbage collection? Up. Property taxes? Up. Sales tax? Up, probably several times over the next 10 years. Income tax? Hmmm, what do you think?

Car licensing and registration fees? Trains, buses, and other public transportation? Up, up, up.

Parks, libraries, police and fire departments, city and county services like plowing in the winter and storm water management and everything in between, maintenance of highways and roads, county jails and prisons, free medical care at publicly funded hospitals: more expensive and less available.

AND, people who work at these places are either going to lose jobs, or find their hours cut, sometimes drastically. Which means both fewer employed people, and poor service for the taxpayer. Lose/lose.

The world is changing before our eyes, but many people lack the imagination to see what it all means.

All of this has to happen, to some degree or another. Has to. Somebody has to pay for all of that. Services will have to be cut. Real people will stop getting state benefits that they need, like health care. When that cash flow stops, it's going to hurt.

And this is just the things we already pay for in some way - and as we all know, politicians are always looking for ways to raise revenue by implementing fees and taxes on other things, to fund their spending habit. Even local governments rely increasingly on revenue from enforcement of minor administrative laws - this will only get worse. Those red light cameras are revenue enhancement schemes, not public safety projects to make you and I safer.

In the business world, when a company builds up too much debt, this may trigger bankruptcy, where creditors - those who are owed money by the bankrupt entity - line up for the crumbs that are left, in an order that is proscribed by law and interpreted by a bankruptcy court judge. Most of those creditors receive pennies on the dollar, although some will get close to what they are owed, and there is a definite pecking order. Being forced to take a settlement of pennies on the dollar is known as "taking a haircut".This is where the risk comes in - the creditors who get all that is owed them, or nearly all, escape with little harm, and nearly all of the risk falls to the others. 

But states do not declare bankruptcy, or they haven't yet. Cities have, and do, and that process is better understood by all involved.

So place your bets. When the math can't work, it doesn't matter what the law says. People don't like being treated like piggy banks by corrupt liars in Springfield. 

Monday, March 09, 2015

Hillary Clinton's bullshit and the puzzling question of why Americans line up to buy it

So Hillary Clinton has been in the news a lot lately. I guess I need to weigh in on it, so that later when the moron nation that is modern America decides to elect this lying piece of shit, I can point back to this post and say "SEE?!".

The previous week, it was revealed that the Clinton Foundation has been accepting cash from foreign governments while she was Secretary of State. This violates every standard of ethical behavior along with, I would hope, several laws. As if Hillary Clinton cared about laws. But it's worse than that.

She apparently violated federal law by using a personal email account to conduct official government business. But it's worse than that.

She hosted her own email server with complete administrative control over it, meaning she could "disappear" anything that could prove politically embarrassing (I won't bother discussing anything that could be illegal, because she does care one whit about that, only about what is politically embarrassing). But it's worse than that.

She hired consultants to install and configure the server, but they forgot to update the security certificate used by her domain name, and used a default certificate shipped with the software that is apparently very easily hacked, therefore (potentially) exposing every single email she sent or received to anybody who bothered to try to hack her account, including foreign belligerents. There could be blackmail material all over the world now, which can be used against us in the future; for all we know, it already has. But it's worse than that.

She pretends that her ass-covering ways comport with the spirit and intent of the law, and that by turning over 50,000 emails to satisfy FOIA requests, everybody should be happy with that because hey, she's Hillary Clinton, and she gets to write her own f*cking rules. But by running her own server, and keeping complete control over it, she retains the ability to delete anything she wants, should it be embarrassing, illegal, or anything else. Her credibility is therefore exactly zero as far a fulfilling any sort of investigation or FOIA request into any potential wrongdoing on her part. This is obvious even to a blind man, although not to our national media. But it's worse than that.

Politicians are wretched creatures, and we all know that. But the American people have turned into a curious, complacent lot, too complacent - and possibly too stupid - to understand that they are being screwed by an elite class who abuses every rule that obstructs them from their goals. Clinton is just part of the problem, but she illustrates it well. Yes, the media is a problem, and politicians are a problem, and all of that. Yes, yes, yes. But at some point people who consume what the media and politicians tell them have to take responsibility for accepting it blindly, instead of using their brains to discover how true any of it might be, and dig for details that might change the story a bit.

Maybe it was possible at some point in the past to trust implicitly what the news media told us, and to trust what politicians told us, although if you know anything at all about history, the very idea is ridiculous and naive on its face. But let's grant the point anyway, because it used to be at least somewhat possible. But that world no longer exists. You need to change your filters.

The media has been exposed as a self-parody of a Democratic PR organization, and the only people who don't see that now are part of that PR operation without realizing it - they're the marks. The stooges. There's an old saying, "if you're in the con game and you don't know who the mark is ... you're the mark". Most people who follow news and politics, because they "don't have time" to dig into anything they hear from these liars, also "don't have time" to learn about the world as it is, instead of as told to them. But they have time to watch silly bullshit on TV every night, and waste countless hours of their lives on social media and gaming and every other damn thing you can do on a glowing screen, that helps turn their brains into mush, and turns them into obedient little slaves.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Iran must have pictures of Obama with a sheep or something

Does the president want to be Iran's bitch, or is it just a side effect of being a geopolitical dumbass?

It can be hard to tell with this guy. He talks tough, but his every action belies that tough talk. In fact, he does literally nothing strategically that advances the interests of America, or freedom generally, in the world. Every policy, in fact, does the opposite.

Of course, the distinction is somewhat immaterial, since the actual real-world consequences are nearly identical whether one is a groveling stooge or just a plain ol' dumbass. Still, it makes for an interesting question, because it goes straight to motive and provides important context for future behavior.

Here is the Wall Street Journal: "Iran on the Nuclear Edge". For those of us who remember Iraq and the 1990s - hello, Washington? - this makes for very disturbing reading.

The latest startling detail is Monday’s leak that the U.S. has conceded to Iran’s demand that an agreement would last as little as a decade, perhaps with an additional five-year phase-out. After that Iran would be allowed to build its uranium enrichment capabilities to whatever size it wants. In theory it would be forbidden from building nuclear weapons, but by then all sanctions would have long ago been lifted and Iran would have the capability to enrich on an industrial scale.

On Wednesday Mr. Kerry denied that a deal would include the 10-year sunset, though he offered no details. We would have more sympathy for his desire for secrecy if the Administration were not simultaneously leaking to its media Boswells while insisting that Congress should have no say over whatever agreement emerges.

The sunset clause fits the larger story of how far the U.S. and its allies have come to satisfy Iran’s demands. The Administration originally insisted that Iran should not be able to enrich uranium at all. Later it mooted a symbolic enrichment capacity of perhaps 500 centrifuges. Last July people close to the White House began talking about 3,000. By October the Los Angeles Times reported that Mr. Kerry had raised the ceiling to 4,000.

Now it’s 6,000, and the Administration line is that the number doesn’t matter; only advanced centrifuges count. While quality does matter, quantity can have a quality all its own. The point is that Iran will be allowed to retain what amounts to a nuclear-weapons industrial capacity rather than dismantle all of it as the U.S. first demanded.
So, Kerry and Obama are excited about a plan where they give away just about everything and force Iran to concede nothing.

But wait - it gets worse.

Mr. Kerry also says that any deal will have intrusive inspections, yet he has a habit of ignoring Iran’s noncompliance with agreements it has already signed. Last November he insisted that “Iran has lived up” to its commitments under the 2013 interim nuclear agreement.
Just stop right there. Stop. Nuclear inspection teams run by the IAEA are nearly useless, regardless of what Kerry and Obama say. Inspections have almost no real power to catch anybody in the act: "we're from the U.N. and you better let us in or we will denounce you in the harshest possible terms back at HQ next month!" doesn't carry as much weight as some appear to think it does. Especially compared to, say, getting your ass blown to smithereens by military firepower.

When was the last time we heard about an inspection team stumbling upon an important find? Has there ever been one? I used to read a lot about Iraq weapons inspectors and the follies of IAEA inspectors back when Iraq was the main story on this front. Nothing much ever came of it, except of course the dog-and-pony show aspect. Pardon my lack of enthusiasm for the usefulness of future inspections.

Then we have the economic sanctions. Unfortunately, entire industries spring up around how to bypass those, and if you don't believe me, search "oil for food" and do a little reading up on how Saddam Hussein made a mockery of the U.N. Oil for Food program in the 90s and early 2000s. Here are a few links to get you started: The Economist, Heritage Institute , Council on Foreign Relations. It makes for sobering, compelling reading.

From the Heritage report above:
... the complicity of more than 2,200 companies in 66 countries as well as a number of prominent international politicians ... bribery, kickbacks, corruption, and fraud on a global scale-without a doubt the biggest financial scandal in modern history. It amply demonstrates how the Iraqi dictator generously rewarded those who supported the lifting of U.N. sanctions on Iraq and who paid lip-service to his barbaric regime. Oil-for-Food became a shameless political charade through which Saddam Hussein attempted to manipulate decision-making at the U.N. Security Council by buying the support of influential figures in Russia and France.
Sanctions create a black market for goods and services. People around the world will take advantage of that. Simply declaring an activity illegal does not cause it to stop, especially when there is an existing market for all those same goods and services that is suddenly "turned off". The world does not work that way. The world will never work that way.

Just to really hammer this point home, some more details from the Heritage report again:
  • "Oil surcharges were paid in connection with the contracts of 139 companies and humanitarian kickbacks were paid in connection with the contracts of 2,253 companies." Companies accused of paying kickbacks to the Iraqi regime include major global corporations such as Daimler-Chrysler AG, Siemens AG, and Volvo.
  • The Saddam Hussein regime received illicit income of $1.8 billion under the Oil-for-Food Program. $228.8 million was derived from the payment of surcharges in connection with oil contracts. $1.55 billion came through kickbacks on humanitarian goods.
  • In allocating its crude oil, "Iraq instituted a preference policy in favor of companies and individuals from countries that, as Tariq Aziz described, were perceived as 'friendly' to Iraq, particularly those that were members of the Security Council."
  • Russian companies purchased 30 percent of oil sold under the Oil-for-Food Program, worth approximately $19.3 billion. French companies were the second largest purchasers of Iraqi crude oil under the Program overall, contracting for approximately $4.4 billion of oil from Iraq. "Total International Limited and SOCAP International Limited contracts accounted for approximately 74 percent of the oil purchased by French companies under the Programme."
  • "Iraq awarded 'special allocations' not only to companies, but also to individuals and their representatives. These individuals were influential in their respective countries, espoused pro-Iraq views, or organized anti-sanctions activities. They included present and former government officials, politicians and persons closely associated with these figures, businessmen and activists involved in anti-sanctions activities."
Sanctions accomplish nothing except allowing politicians to proclaim that they are "getting things done". The only things they are getting done, in fact, are fooling a great many gullible people, and enabling bad actors in the world.

Even the Washington Post - hardly a conservative paper - is pretty concerned about the Iran deal being discussed, in a recent editorial The emerging Iran deal raises major concerns. They give several reasons, among them that while the original goal of the negotiations was to "eliminate Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, the administration now appears ready to accept an infrastructure of thousands of Iranian centrifuges" by moving the goalposts to the idea that we can "limit and monitor" that uranium, all for the laughably weak goal of preventing Iran from producing "the material for a warhead in less than a year". This is conceding every strategic goal to the Iranians.

What possible explanation is there for such concessions? Why on Earth would an American president give away nuclear capability to a country like Iran, that has made a habit of killing Americans for decades? You don't have to be conservative to find this extremely disturbing.

And one thing that keeps running through my mind: the president is now going out of his way to grant major concessions to the same Iranians that killed and maimed thousands of American troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom, via IEDs planted by Iranian militias / terrorists working in concert with the Shia in Iraq.

But hey, he's definitely not a Muslim! He just happens to make all the wrong decisions that help Muslim nations, at our expense.

Iran on the Nuclear Edge
Ayatollah sent message to Obama
"oil for food" search
Rolling up the culprits
The Final Volcker Oil for Food Report: An Assessment
Iraq Oil for Food Scandal
The emerging Iran deal raises major concerns
Rotten in Denmark
‘Geneva talks a facade, US-Iran worked secretly on deal for past year’

Monday, March 02, 2015

Fun with headlines: "Foreign governments gave millions to foundation while Clinton was at State Dept."

Why is that headline so passive (story is here)?

Where is the concern about ethics and the "appearance of impropriety" which form the basis of clear conflicts of interest like this? That is the bigger story here

To my mind, here's a more honest headline that fits the 'narrative' better, and we know how much our journalism friends love a good narrative (except when it embarrasses a Democrat):

Hillary Clinton uses Clinton Foundation as money-laundering operation to sell access to foreign governments, violating every conflict of interest guideline in legal history, and probably several major laws; career as politician, along with credibility, now in flames

There. Fixed it for ya.

Hey, no problem, it's what I do.