Posted by: John Linkous | August 21, 2009

Boomer Arrogance On Parade

“…payroll tax revenues continue rolling in, and Social Security still has enough revenue to pay roughly three-quarters of promised benefits [after 2037].” — Alicia H. Munnell, Professor of Management Sciences at Boston College, OpEd, May 2009

I read the above commentary again today, and was reminded that Boomer arrogance is boundless.  No doubt this estimate is certainly comforting for a tenured professor sitting in the ivory-tower walls of academia who will be retired long before that date, but your favorite antipartisan happens to turn 67 years old in 2037.  Hypocrisy like this is not so easy to gloss over when you’re the one affected.

Like many other rational Americans, I have invested wisely in my own 401(k), SEP, annuities, and other vehicles, and have amassed a significant amount of investment savings on my own — all without the benefit of government-directed investments.  The best option for people like us – whom, despite what this academic would probably like to believe, are likely the majority of Americans – would be to “buy out” of Social Security: if I were given the option to forfeit all SS benefits, as well as the monies I’ve invested in this sham of a program to date, I could use the same money I’d be spending on SS moving forward on rational-returning investments, and would easily make up the money I’ve lost to date — and ensure that these investments were not in a vehicle that the federal government could “borrow” against.  This would allow me to get the federal hand out of my pocket, while providing significant additional capital to the SS program for people who opt to stay in it.

Of course, our federal government would be horrified of accepting any deal like this that would have even the remote possibility of showing the SS program isn’t the “best idea ever!”: much as academics such as professor Munnell make decisions based almost solely around their desire to perpetuate the doling out of tenure in deus ex machina fashion, our career politicians in Congress are transfixed on the continuation of the status quo regardless of its affect on our citizenry.  And so, despite the viability, no such “buy-out” program will ever go into place — and after all, where would all those useless Social Security Administration employees who clog up the beltway around my city every morning go?

Unfortunately, it will be my generation that likely has to deal with this issue rationally, since the “me-monkey” Boomers will never reduce their own benefits, now that they’re drinking from the well.  Perhaps in another 20 years…

Posted by: John Linkous | August 21, 2009

Healthcare Reform and EPIC FAIL

Amid the hyper-partisan bickering surrounding the healthcare debate, there appears to be a certain arrogance among those demanding “healthcare reform now!“, that anyone who has even the slightest concern with the byzantine contents of the pending healthcare bills — or the tenacity with which they are being railroaded through the legislative branch – is immediately lumped into the “right-wing nut” category.

Admittedly, despite my resolute support for the Second Amendment, this view is galvanized when people exercise their rights by bringing a loaded, open-carry AR-15 near the site of a Presidential speech on healthcare reform.  And yes, it’s also true that there is a lot of ludicrous “the-Death-Panels-are-gonna-pull-the-plug-on-grandma!” hyperbole being bandied about with respect to the healthcare debate.

But ultimately, most of the people throwing up such strawmen, bogeymen, and outright fabrications are simply scared — they’re terrified (and rightly so) of the implications of another giant, lumbering, tarkus-like federal government institution that has minimal accountability, and whose fiscal reserves can be raided by Congress like a cookie jar after school.  Add fifty thousand drone-like worker bees, and it’s easy to see how the public views the idea of “public option” healthcare reform as another Social Security debacle.

However, I think the “public option” question is not the real crux of the debate; there are two ultimately frightening spectres in the room that don’t seem to being addressed by those promoting healthcare reform.

First up?  Tort reform.  Doctors pay an insane amount of money in malpractice insurance, and make no mistake: these costs are absolutely transferred into the system, and are ultimately burdened by the consumer.  Unless tort reform makes it into any final healthcare law — and good luck with that, given the percentage of J.D.’s in Congress – whatever solution is developed will still drain budgets and line the pockets of malpractice firms.  Healthcare reform, like everything else in politics, is about money and power.  Take away this significant source of the fiscal drain on the current system, and we would likely not need any additional controls to drastically reduce costs for existing covered persons (although this doesn’t address the issue of the uninsured, but that’s a post for another day…)

The second issue is simply a question of timing, and can summarized in a simple question: why must healthcare reform be pushed through so quickly?  It’s a cogent and very ligitimate question, that hasn’t been answered in any legitimate fashion by any Congressman in any Town Hall debate I’ve seen to date.  Of course, we all know the unfortunate answer: because the Obama administration is looking for a healthcare win, and will do whatever they must to make sure it happens before the September.  This kind of self-serving, arrogant objective is what will allow unscrupulous lawmakers to add endless entitlements for their districts to the final legislation, and will cause the administration to rubber-stamp what should be critical legislature — instead, turning it into “Pet-Project Healthcare”.

Posted by: John Linkous | April 5, 2009

The Demise of Shitkicker Politics

Watching President Obama this week in Europe, I was struck by two things: first, the degree to which the loathing of America is rapidly disappating under the Obama administration; and second, by the continued irrationality of G-20 protesters, for most of whom complaint appears to be a lifelong career choice.

To be clear, President Obama did not get everything he wanted from the conference.  Although $1.1 trillion was committed by the G-20 nations, much of that money had been already committed in the previous weeks and months.  Major impasses still exist, and will continue into the foreseeable future (such as Russia’s insistance that the U.S. back down from it’s proposed Eastern European missile defense system).  If the President does his job, we’ll not placate the Russians or anyone else by reducing our defensive capability or subjugating our financial system to “international standards” that will hamstring growth.

However, it’s also clear that Europe is breathing a collective sigh of relief that the United States now appears ready to approach other nations as peers, rather than approaching them with the my-way-or-the-highway shitkicker politics that only a president from East Texas could imbue.  The fact is, Bush Doctrine politics likely would have walked away from the G-20 with about the same level of committment as President Obama received — the difference is that, by taking a more Wilsonian approach, President Obama laid the groundwork for future cooperation with not only Europe, but every other nation that saw that picture of Obama, Berlusconi, and Medvedev looking like a trio of frat boys at a Friday night kegger, and realized that our nation might not be the complete and utter pricks that we’ve appeared to be over the past six years after all.  This is the difference between Bush’s doctrine of politics, and Obama’s doctrine of diplomacy.

Now, if only President Obama could stop spending borrowed money like a drunken sailor on shore leave… but that’s a post for another day.

Posted by: John Linkous | March 1, 2009

El Rushbo Sounds Like Il Duce

Everyone’s favorite journalist… er, that’s right, he’s a self-proclaimed “entertainer”, no doubt to distance himself from those pesky rules of journalistic integrity — Rush Limbaugh took advantage of what he does best, and ranted a broad range of overgeneralizations, ergo propter hoc and false-choice fallacies, and a complete hand-washing of the previous Republican administration.

His interest, on the surface, appears to be to galvanize “conservatives”; but who are they, exactly?  Fiscal conservatives?  Well, that’s certainly me, and yet I am horrified by the wanton spending of the last eight years of a supposedly conservative administration.  Nope, he’s definitely barking up the wrong tree to us.  Social conservatives?  Well, maybe… but here, Rush always draws a fine line; he never seems to openly endorse specific Dobson-esque hard-line socially conservative issues, but always seems happy to accept social conservatives into the fold of those to whom he pontificates.  No, he’s not really going directly after them, either.

No, it’s clear that Rush is trying to galvanize one of the most favored agendas of the past 25 years: neoconservatism.  Whether you supported his policies or not, Ronald Reagan, the heart of the neocon movement, was clearly brilliant in his ability to combine economic laissez faire, an implied (but rarely direct) embrace of social conservatism, and red-white-and-blue patriotism into a single ideological package.  The unusual blend of philosophies cut huge swaths of support across the American landscape, and it was this kind of neocon philosophy that allowed lower-middle-class, high-school educated assembly line workers (who appreciated the patriotism and familiar Christian-themed policies of neoconservatism) and captains of business and industry (who appreciated the low-tax, anti-regulatory stance, and massive spending on defense) to stand arm-in-arm (politically, if not literally) with each other in solidarity, even as the latter group brutally abused the former.  Make no mistake, it is this Irving Kristol-inspired neocon philosophy that Rush is trying to resurrect, despite its abject failure both socially and fiscally over the past 30 years.

Of course, what Rush fails to realize is that there millions of centrist Americans – atheists, agnostics, and believers; Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians; pro-life and pro-choice – who also hold our Constitution dear, and are rational enough in their thought processes to understand that fiscal policy, social agenda, and patriotism are separate and independent concepts, and that one can be (using myself as an example) fiscally conservative, extremely socially liberal, and still deeply love our country.  It is this group of people that are smart enough to realize that tyranny in any form — including Rush’s false-alternative “us against them” mentality and implications of armed, conservative insurrection – will be rejected when push comes to shove.  Unlike Mussolini, Rush should do well to realize that his rhetoric probably doesn’t enthrall as much of the populace as he might think.  Moreover, I’m not sure he realizes that many of us (regardless of the fact that we don’t ascribe to his neocon agenda) are just as armed to the teeth as the throng he’s trying to whip into a frenzy.

Rush clearly has a large base of listeners — but it’s hard to gauge how far they’re willing to follow him as his words continue sliding toward calls for outright insurrection.  In a time of drastic economic downturn and political turmoil, El Rushbo should do well to remember that it’s easier to wind up hanging from a meathook than he might think.

Posted by: John Linkous | February 19, 2009

Hypocrisy Inaction, In Action

So Mitchell Baker from the Mozilla Foundation took the opportunity on Tuesday to rant about every OSS developer’s favorite whipping boy, Microsoft.  Her argument is swaddled in libertarian-leaning headlines like, “Government shouldn’t get involved with technology” and claims that technology is best served by technologists and entrepreneurs.  But make no mistake: the gist of the article is clear, and as you might expect, it’s a to-the-wall apologism for the EC and their current decisions regarding Microsoft.

That there are concerns by an OSS vendor over Microsoft is certainly nothing new.  What’s annoying — and the zenith of hypocrisy – is listening to a person (one who has already made her money in the dotcom wave, I might add) try to build endless legal, ethical, and moral strawmen around what is really a simple fact: Microsoft has great marketing.

It is utterly hypocritical for OSS vendors (and Baker certainly isn’t the first) to refuse to develop for the lowest-common-denominator user, and then demand government action when those users — the vast majority of people who use technology – elect to not use their products.  It would be like an automaker developing cars that nobody wants, and then complaining to the government that they want a bailout… oh, never mind.