Ban SantaCon? Quit Being a Little Bitch

Slutty Santa's? Slutty Santa's
Slutty Santas?? Slutty Santas.

A lot of hate out there this year towards Jolly Saint Nick. First, Fox News’s never-ending “War on Christmas” continues as strong as ever, fighting those who express their subjective aesthetic views of the pudgy gift giver. Fox pundits are basically saying Santa Claus is white, there is no debate. Jon Stewart summed up the whole ordeal quite nicely, noting that the actual Saint Nicholas was practically black himself. Actually, the best part of the segment was when one of the guests said something along the line of “people are bending facts to make a political point”; because Fox News would never do such a thing. But I digress.

Today in a New York Times op-ed, Mr. Jason Gilbert of Yahoo News posted that there should be a ban on a drunken tradition consisting of poorly thrown together Santa costumes, alcohol, and young adults bar hopping from Midtown to the East Village in Manhattan for an event known as “SantaCon”. SantaCon is not something I have ever participated in, but I fail to see how this arbitrary tradition is any different than a number of other New York City traditions like the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Halloween in the village, or hell, even the Mermaid Parade where topless woman flood the streets to mark the beginning of summer. Alcohol is as involved in those events just like SantaCon – why don’t we just ban them as well? Traffic congestion is a bullshit reason to put an end to it, because congestion is every weekend in the city for some neighborhood or another. And stop with the bullshit excuse of “[…] neighborhood of kids having to watch simulacra of beloved childhood figures stumbling around”. You chose to live in New York City and raise a family there, that is just how your life is going to be. It is really hard to shield your kids from the ridiculousness of the world, and it is even harder when living in New York City. Either explain to your kids that growing up sometimes make you do strange things, or move out.

Put your life in perspective; if one day of drunken Santa Claus’s are the worst thing to happen to you in the month of December, consider yourself pretty fucking lucky.

Will Work for Beer? Move to Amsterdam.

Dick Sharpe in 10 years
Dick Sharpe in 10 years

Happy 80 years of repeal! What better way to celebrate this glorious memorial than by sharing with you, our dear fans, that there is now a way for you to be homeless AND work for beer. Yes, you heard (read) me right – work for beer! The New York Times yesterday reported a story where homeless alcoholics in Amsterdam can pick up garbage around the city for cans of beer. The program is remarkably simple: 2 cans of beer just for showing up, then 2 more cans for lunch (with free food), and then depending on performance, 1 or 2 cans to knock off a good day’s work. Oh and don’t worry, the program also pays 10 euros (and rolling tobacco) for the days work, which may cover the cab ride back to your homeless shelter.

The idea behind it all is that, you cannot tell alcoholics to stop drinking, so why not put them to productive work rather than having them rot in a park somewhere? Depending on your personal level of social empathy, this is brilliant or extortion of people’s addictive disorders. It’s certainly riddled with controversy, even in a country where social welfare is very high relative to the rest of the world. What are your thoughts on the matter? stepasideshow @ gmail.com

A Suggestion to Keep Us “Safe” and Happy

Probably what the NSA datacenters look like - actual photo of Robs basement
Probably what the NSA data centers look like – actual photo is of Rob’s basement

The pursuit of happiness, a fundamental idea most attributed to the founding of the United States. Our government is particularly good at doing the exact opposite. This year, more than anything (including the government shutdown), the coming to light of NSA phone tapping reigns highest on the list of “Government-making-citizens-unhappy”.  It truly is an atrocity for this country. Not only is it a gigantic invasion of privacy, it is an enormous waste of resources. It has recently been reported that the CIA pays AT&T approximately $10 million a year  to acquire call data as part of its anti-terrorism efforts. Since the leaks, the agency says it only targets calls made within the United States to people overseas. But really, this is non-sense. For example, the NSA had been targeting current German chancellor Angela Merkel, hardly a terrorist target.

The effectiveness of these anti-terrorism campaigns is highly suspect. Agencies have reported that they have been able to deter dozens of terrorist homeland attacks, without going into too many details of course. It is entirely possible that these campaigns have saved some lives (probably not as many as proper gun control could save, but lets not go down that road right now), but at what cost?

So, I have a simple solution. All government agencies engaging in this type of eavesdropping come forward with it ALL, and in return, all citizens are entitled to a single line of telecommunication service. Cell phone service is expensive, and I’m pretty sure the majority of modern day Americans would gladly let the government read their text messages if they did not have to pay their monthly cell phone bill (count me in). It would be a new level of government transparency while actually offering a government service most people would be happy to accept. It may not make all citizens happy, but that is an impossible feat anyway.

Summer Break – Where Have We Been??

If only you could jump into this image...
If only you could jump into this image…

If you follow this blog, and perhaps even less likely, the podcast, you may be wondering why there has been a lack of activity this past month. Well rest assured, all is well on this side of the Step Aside Show, we’re all just very busy. I predict a slow summer for us here, but we will come back with a vengeance and bring you all the political non-sense you so desire. In the meantime, be careful of what you Google because *someone* is watching. Also, it may not be a bad idea to put a piece of tape over that built in web-cam on your laptop, because someone far more creepy *literally* is watching.

In the meantime, check out the previous 2 episodes that I failed to post until just now!

The Apple Tax Sideshow

Cash-Money
Can’t wait for iCoin to be developed

This week, the United States Senate has released a report detailing the types of international tax shelters Apple has used to avoid paying US federal taxes, as well as taxes in Europe. The amount of tax savings may be surprising to the uninformed; up to $74 billion over 5 years. It was not shocking to me when the panel also determined that the single largest US corporation did not break any tax laws to accomplish this. Yet, even though no laws were broken, Apple CEO Tim Cook is speaking before the congressional committee to explain the company’s actions.

The whole thing is a sideshow though. Independent journalists have been pointing out these loopholes for decades among all the largest United States corporations. The irony is these loopholes would not even exist if it weren’t for the very same people carrying out this investigation. And these very same people are not very likely to change anything, because lets face it, those who fund their campaigns earn the most from these loopholes in the first place (I’m not suggesting here that Apple is behind these loopholes either, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they had tax lobbyists like every other public company).

It’s always good when the media sheds some light on stories like this. However, without any serious changes to campaign finance laws, we are not likely to see any big changes. And on top of that anyway, multinational company taxes are complicated by the simple fact that they operate in multiple countries, and no country’s tax codes look alike. A real solution to this “problem” would need to be met with international support, and we all know how easy that is.

Fox News Wet-Dream – Three Federal Scandals; All Obama’s Fault

"Something something dark side"
“Something something dark side”

Conservative pundits, particularly those on Fox News are having the time of their lives. There are three huge scandals rocking Washington right now, and all of them are the President’s fault! Or at least that’s what they’d have you believe. Let’s break down each one.

1. The IRS targeting Tea Party groups – This of course is the least likely to have White House involvement, although Fox News of course insinuates otherwise. While I agree, the IRS should not be targeting specific political groups for breaking tax laws, it seems obvious that this group would be targeted. For one, the Tea Party’s biggest political argument is that people pay too many taxes! But what makes them an even easier target, is the fact that these are small groups, with little money to begin with, and therefore don’t have the finances to hire big tax lawyers to help defend themselves against the IRS.  Remember, the IRS has been crippled over the last 30 years so they can only really go after those who can’t afford to defend themselves. What I find most sickening about this whole thing is the federal response; the President is “angry” and justice will be sought, and John Boehner want to know “who is going to jail” for this. Where was this level of response when large investment banks were corrupting the world financial markets with broken investments of bundled sub-prime mortgages? How many bank executives went to jail for that? Doesn’t matter, Obama hates the Tea Party and this is all his fault.

2. Benghazi – This is the scandal that just won’t die. Republicans are arguing that the White House covered up the fact that it was a premeditated terrorist attack and that it was a demonstration over a anti-Muslim You Tube video that turned bad. If only they can prove that the White House tried to cover it up because they were just a month away from election day. Two thoughts here. 1) How does that attack being a demonstration-gone-bad help the White House politically any more than it being a premeditated attack? 2) There has been no evidence of a cover-up, and the more documents that get released and more “whistle-blowers” that come forward only help prove there was no cover-up. Even the Wall Street Journal, my Op-Ed archenemy, fully acknowledges this is nothing more than poltical propaganda to tarnish the reputation of presidential potential Hillary Clinton. More and more this is looking like a CIA/defense strategy to not reveal the terrorist group to the public at first, because they couldn’t confirm it and they didn’t want the enemy to know that the US knew who did it. Regardless though, it is Obama’s fault and he should be impeached.

3. Department of Justice Going After the AP – This is in reference to the Department of Justice taking 2 months of records from the Associated Press because of intelligence leaks related to national security. Obama claims to not have knowledge of the record-grab, and even Attorney General Eric Holder says the operation was beneath him. Regardless, this is the President’s fault and even democrats are asking for Eric Holder to resign. On one hand, this is pretty wild for the federal government to infringe on the press’s ability to report the news. On the other hand, someone in the government is breaking rank and releasing sensitive information and needs to be flushed out. Someone needs to watch the Departed to learn how to smoke out a mole I think, at least that should have been the first step in finding the leak. Either way though, it is Obama’s fault.

Obama, Syria, and Stupid Op-Eds

Syria
Syria

Syria is a clusterfuck right now, plain and simple. In what is now a 2-year old civil war, more than 120,000 people have been killed in the country. On one side is a dictator opposed to any overly drastic changes to the government, and is willing to kill any citizen that stands in the way. On the other side, the opposition forces want the dictator removed for power in favor of a more democratic government. After many leaked stories of Syrian government executions and torture of its citizens, much of the world has placed themselves behind the opposition, including long time ally Turkey. Others, such as Iran, stand behind Assad to the extent of sending combat troops to help reinforce the Syrian Army. Russia, while officially a politically neutral country, has been arming the Syrian army because of arms contracts signed prior to the war, much to the dismay of western countries.

Regardless of all the facts, it’s a complicated situation, as any Civil War would be. Even the western countries supporting the opposition forces – they have only done so implicitly by condemning the torture and executions by the Assad regime, and “silently” arming the opposition rebels. Many people and nations look at Syria as a proxy war of Iran versus Western democracies (not so much a proxy for Iran I’d argue, as they’ve already put their hand directly in the war). It’s not a conflict the leaders of the western world exactly want to jump right into.

The latest piece of this complicated puzzle that has been dominating the news the past 2 weeks has been the highly speculated usage of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the opposition. The usage of chemical weapons is “illegal” by the world standards of modern warfare, but more specific to the United States, was specifically mentioned by President Obama as being a line that we cannot let be crossed. Well now that the line has been crossed, Obama has not actually done anything – not to much surprise, but to much criticism. Take this Wall Street Journal op-ed for example, where the author simply questions the entire tenure of the Obama administration by questioning its foreign policy, deeming it a failure as a whole, and citing Syria as exhibit A. This mindless rhetoric need not tearing apart – most sensible people will know this is the idiotic rhetoric of a PPA (political pundit asshole).

In retrospect, of course, it is easy to tear any decision apart (see here). The presidents plan for right now though, appears to be the correct one. The president made an empty threat in an attempt to deter a maniacal dictator from using chemical weapons, and it failed. It was worth a shot. What’s not worth it would be to make good on that threat and turn to military actions against a country that poses no direct threat to our own security. Instead, turn the case over to the world court and wait for a consensus among its leaders. If the world unanimously decides Syria has taken its civil war far enough and can figure out a plan to end the war and return the country to the people with little to no outside influence, then so be it. But it is not the responsibility of America, or Obama, to fix this. To infer otherwise makes you an asshole.

Collect Disability and Live Like a Bum

Have some money, it dosen't cost anything.
Have some money, it dosen’t cost anything.

“We who work through colds, bad backs and low moods — however liberal we might be — have permission to resent those who could hold a job but don’t, preferring to collect disability checks unto the decades. You see them at the coffee shop, refilling their cups in leisure, or even pumping iron at the gym.

And there are more of them all the time. More than 5 percent of eligible American adults are now receiving disability payments from Social Security. Twenty years ago, it was 3 percent.”

 

I got the above quote from a Froma Harrop, a Seattle Times opinion writer and complete waste of oxygen. This nut job is just stoking the fire of conservatives who believe that our nation’s Social Security Disability benefits program is a backdoor welfare system with no proof, and zero statistical justification. (Zero Point Zero)

First she points out that the percent of Americans claiming their disability benefits, which they have earned through payroll allotments, has risen from 3% to 5% in the last 20 years. The only logical conclusion that she can muster to account for this whopping 2 percent increase in the last two decades is that people are faking it. Stealing tax payer money, drinking coffee at leisure and pumping iron at the gym. At no time does she take into account the fact that the baby boom population has been ageing for the last 20 years thereby increasing the average age of Americans. This would make too much sense because the older  a person is the more likely they are to be disabled or become disabled due to injury. No, according to her we are all just pigs fighting to suckle at the government fat titty.

Second, living on Social Security benefits pays less than a part time minimum wage job, so no one is going to be sitting at Starbucks and shelling out their scarce greenbacks to an overpriced gym membership. For those few who do scam their way into the system and the fewer that are able to obtain benefits, due to the adminstrations backlogs andrigorous inquiries , it is not a lavish life style they lead. Often it is a decision made out of financial desperation and not one of laziness.

Third, the author exhibits several cases where disability claimants alleged phantom disabilities to obtain benefits. Every cases she cites is from a private insurer and not Social Security. She goes on to proclaim that other countries have tried to wean people off their disability benefits with vocational rehabilitation programs. These programs do exist in the US as well; they are administrated by the State and local governments.

Here is the link to the full Seattle Times article but instead of wasteing your time reading this waste of valueble internet space, go to the gym, get some coffee and take a survey of who many disability recipients sorround you.

Bitcoin Bubble Goes Boom

 bitcoin-cracked-smoke

 

Bitcoins, an online based currency developed four years ago by a nerd in his mother’s basement, has lost 75% of its value in 2 days.  In the last month the exchange rate for the digital currency skyrocketed, trade at 47 USD per Bitcoin in March to 266 USD last Wednesday. But that was as high as it may ever likely trade at again. The Bitcoin bubble is an excellent example of what a trading bubble is like on crack. The boom and bust of this all happened in less than a month, suggesting that the volatility of this currency is will spell then end of investors intrest in it.

130412083611-bitcoin-trading-halts-620xa

 

This doesn’t mean that Bitcoins are out of the market completely, or that anyone who traded with them is an idiot. In fact I am sure some people made a good chunk of change on this bubble. There are those who traded early last month and road the bubble to the peak or maybe a little below then sold which then caused the value to plummet from under his fellow investors. There are some very cunning individuals who might have used their coins to buy assets or stable commodities that can be traded back after the market stabilized or turned into another investment. Like this guy who bought a  Porche.

The good news here is that there is not a Bit nation where peasants will be suffering from this disaster. Usually when there is a currency crisis  a whole nation of people is left to suffer in the devastation caused by the hubris of the few. So luckily no children will be starving because mom dosen’t have enough Bitcoins to buy a loaf of digital bread. In this case the only losers are those invested large amounts in Bitcoin and now can’t find a buyer, like the guy that sold his Porche.

However there are those who still believe that there is utility and value in the Bitcoins, albiet not in the way investors hoped. As an investment Bitcoins turned out to be the 21 century answer to the tulip  bubble. As for the actual legacy of Bitcoins, the jury is out.

CNN Money

Fuck Google

Not evil?
Not evil?

Fucking Google. No, this post not a response to their latest breach of public privacy (public privacy?), which by the way is total bullshit on so many levels. I don’t consider logging onto non-encrypted networks to be a crime of any kind; if anything it teaches the uninformed public to lock down your  WiFi routers. If your router name is “linksys”, you deserve to have your allotted bandwidth sucked dry by the surrounding public. The only bigger joke in this “offense” is the 7 million dollar fine Google has to pay – that will surely teach them!

No, fuck Google because it’s latest behavior in end-of-life’ing some pretty cool products. First it was iGoogle, my beloved homepage for the last 8 years is being killed off in November. This was a big bummer, as I use iGoogle as a launching point for just about all Internet activities. It’s got news, my calender, my stocks, etc. in a simple, single page, widget’esque format. There’s really nothing else like it on the Internets, and it will be missed. Actually the kicker here is that Google says to use “Chrome apps” as a substitute. For those of you who don’t know, “Chrome apps” are just large bookmarks on an empty Chrome tab. That’s not a substitute, that’s a kick in the balls.

But they didn’t stop there. Yesterday the assholes of Mountain View announced the end-of-life to 7 more products, including Google Reader and Snapseed for desktops. Google Reader is a very cool service where you can read RSS feeds in an email like fashion, without ever having to visit an actual website. I’m sure some blogs are thrilled with this news as it will bring more ad-viewing traffic to their sites – but it really was a cool service. But Snapseed is the real news here, for me anyway. Snapseed is a really lightweight photo editor that can do some quick editing of photos, really well. It’s even more annoying because Google didn’t even develop this product – they bought it just a couple months ago! Buy products just to end-of-life them? Not evil my ass.