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.

How Does Government Debt Impact the Economy?

Classic GW
Classic GW

I’m seriously asking, because I have no idea. Economists all have very differing opinions here as well; some think it’s a huge deal, others think it is a small deal. Personally, I think it is not a small deal, in fact, I think it is of no impact on the overall economy. Here is why.

When was the last time you looked to borrow money? Think back to that moment, whether it was a house, a car, a business loan, student loan, whatever – was there any thought in your head along the lines of “well the country’s deficit right now is growing, so maybe it is not a good time for me to borrow.” I don’t know you, but I am inclined to think this thought was never processed by your brain. And I would venture to guess all the smart business types who are looking for capital to start and grow businesses don’t care about the government debt, because if they have demand for said business, then what does the national debt even matter? Sure, you can say government employees worry because if the fed doesn’t get control of its spending, they may start to cut back on government jobs. But does this matter in the private industry? I suppose it does actually, because if government workers lose their jobs, they’re spending less in the private industry, lessening the demand for private capital. On the contrary, the government can just print more money to keep paying for workers they’d otherwise have to let go, but then of course they are growing the debt and lessening confidence in the private sector. Ahh, but you’re now thinking that printing money will create inflation, however, this is not true as long as the demand for goods and services remains equal. Or if demand actually increases as money is printed, then you could see a situation where we get deflation, while printing currency. In the case of high demand, more people will work and pay taxes and the government debt won’t be such a big deal after all.

Did you follow any of that? No, because modern economics is stupid. It’s a confidence game more than real supply and demand. Go read Atlas Shrugged, drink a bottle of scotch, and set your doomsday clock accordingly.

Step Aside Christmas, This Year It’s The War on Men

I wonder what this disagreement is about…

It turns out FoxNews.com also has op-ed’s, which gives me a holster full of things to write about rather than the absurd things posted over at the Wall Street Journal, like lousy election predictions by the douchebag Karl Rove. No, this is serious shit – the War on Men.

Honestly, I have no idea what to think on this piece. Is there really a war of the sexes these days? I thought we were done with this sort of thing back in the 90’s? (at least in the northern half of the United States, or as I like to call them “the states that matter”). The article drops mind-blowing bombs of information like:

Believe it or not, modern women want to get married. Trouble is, men don’t.

If you were as surprised to read that as I was, well, then you probably weren’t very surprised at all. Honestly, I think it’s just the writer of this op-ed that was surprised, and she is just surprised because she spends her time with the vocal minority of women who want to be “free” and focus on themselves and their careers. Oh, and the reason men don’t want to get married?

Women aren’t women anymore.

Brilliant. Men who don’t want to get married simply don’t want to because “women aren’t women anymore”. More fun quotes from this article include:

In a nutshell, women are angry. They’re also defensive, though often unknowingly. That’s because they’ve been raised to think of men as the enemy.

But what if the dearth of good men, and ongoing battle of the sexes, is – hold on to your seats – women’s fault?

It’s all so unfortunate – for women, not men. Feminism serves men very well: they can have sex at hello and even live with their girlfriends with no responsibilities whatsoever.

Like I said, I have no idea what to make of this article. It’s crazy to think it was written by a woman. I’m the last person in the world who would consider themselves on expert on the sexes, but this article blows my mind. The article concludes that women should just “surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs” because “women need men’s linear career goals – they need men to pick up the slack at the office – in order to live the balanced life they seek.”

Personally, I think this type of stereotyping is downright dangerous and idiotic. It’s typical big media punditry that can place genders into a binary role when in real life it’s far more gradient and complicated. But hey, this shit sells, right? It’s what makes Fox News #1, and keeps it “Fair and Balanced”.

Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients

“This is a drug test facility, not a sperm bank” said someone to Dick Sharpe once.

There is a lot of debate whether drug testing should be a requirement for welfare recipients in the United States. Some states have already instituted a version of such a law, while other states have deemed it unconstitutional. It is an interesting debate really, some argue that if people can be drug tested in the private sector for their employment, so should those who receive taxpayer money as income. On the other hand, people argue that it is an invasion of privacy and that the government has no right to know whether you do/don’t take drugs. Another argument against is that the drug testing itself actually costs more money than the savings on not paying “druggies” for their fat welfare paychecks.

My opinion (because you asked) is to pay people regardless AND continue the drug testing. Shame the “druggies” when they get their paychecks by labeling the check as such (perhaps a stamp, or a different colored check). This way when they go to cash it, the people at the bank see that they are druggy losers. It will shame them so much they will turn that welfare money from their next hit into their next opportunity, like starting a new company and creating jobs. In fact, we should give drug users even more money since they are our future job creators. On the flip side, if they use the extra money to buy more drugs, they will O.D. and die, saving taxpayers money in the process. This is so obvious, I can’t believe no one has thought of it before.

And obviously, we should extend the same policy to social security, unemployment, and medicare recipients as well. I don’t want to be paying for a retired meth-head’s next fix.

Let us know what you think at stepasideshow @ gmail.com

Driving Over the Fiscal Cliff is What’s Best for America

Just like these bitches, America is going over

The fiscal cliff is looming at the feet of government and the private sector. Over the next 7 weeks, as the epic stalemate continues in Washington, stocks on Wall Street will be in sell-off mode; way more than the normal end-of-year style sell-offs. That’s because if Republicans fail to get Obama to agree to extending the Bush tax cuts, long term capital investment taxes jump from 15% to standard income. For serious investors, that could be millions of dollars of difference between selling December 31st and January 1st.

In addition to this automatic tax increase we have budget cuts of irrational proportion – a piece of legislature passed with no real thought as a way of convincing Congress to try and come up with something better before before the end of 2012 will cut sizable chunks to a lot of government agencies as well as cut off cash to defense contractors. If this were to happen, unemployment will spike in Q1 of 2013.

So what would massive sell-off’s on Wall Street plus a spike in unemployment do to our economy in 2013? It’s going to hurt it – a lot. The United States would inevitably roll into another recession, probably not as bad as the previous recession, but a recession nonetheless. However, this recession is exactly what this country needs right now. Yes, the country will suffer for a lot of next year as a result, but let’s really think about the outcome. Wealthy investors will be stuck with a bunch of cash because of the sell-off’s, and a bunch of other people will be unemployed. What happens when you have lot’s of cash and lots of unemployed people? New jobs, obviously! The country will bounce back stronger and faster as a result of driving over the cliff.

A Valuable Lesson

The President of the United States of America

On November 6th, 2012, Republicans should have learned a valuable lesson. This country no longer belongs to White Men. With victories in the Senate and not to mention the Presidential election, Republicans should start to realize that they have to not only come to the table but to start actively addressing Latinos and Women. Mitt Romney and the Republican Party threw away this opportunity. Coming out against Roe vs. Wade, Rape comments, Self Deportation, opposing the Auto Bailout. These are not the ways to win elections.

Marijuana Legalization passed in 2 states, Marriage Equality passed in 4 states, Tea Party candidates ousted. Clearly this country is becoming more liberal. And now with the reelection of Barack Obama, a possible 2 supreme court judges could join the fray making this the first liberal Supreme Court in over 40 years.

Republicans must become more liberal in order to keep up with the times. Otherwise, they could go the way of the Whigs. I believe Republicans realize this and it’s only good news for us Liberals. Today, John Boehner even went as far as to say they are willing to come to the table. Only time will tell if he keeps his word. But in any case, I am very excited and interested in the future of this Great Country.

The Abortion Solution

Typically, I’m not great at coming up with solutions to the problems we talk about on this blog or on the podcast. I’m great at pointing out all the problems with politics and society, yet when it comes to actually coming up with a good idea to solve that problem, I got nothing (I think this qualifies me for Congress!). However, after discussing my previous post yesterday on the podcast and thinking about it some more, I’ve finally come up with a reasonable solution (a 3-point plan) to the abortion “debate” in this country.

1. First, outlaw abortion. Sorry ladies, you’re just going to have to go through with it.

2. Next, compile a list of all American citizens that are pro-life. We’ll call it the National Registry for Life, or, the NRL.

3. Finally, round-robin all the unwanted children in this country to the people on the NRL list.

I’d give it 12 hours before this country is unanimously pro-choice under my plan.

Fall of Society – Part V

A Nation Divided. They say opposites attract – while this may be true for magnetic poles, I think that may be the only use case where this actually applies. As a society, we have somewhat successfully turned the worlds issues into black and white, right and left, or Republican and Democrat. Sure, there are A LOT of people in the middle of these two belief systems, maybe even one-third of our society falls in the middle. However, take any one issue, and that one-third will be split in two, mostly siding with either the Republican or Democratic belief. Thus, we have a nation divided.

Unfortunately for our system, the world is not black and white. There is no “right” or “wrong”, just the perception of what is right and wrong. Perception is key here, as it not only varies from country-to-country or culture-to-culture, it differs on the individual layer. Every single person in the world has a feeling, thought, or opinion of what is right and wrong and it leads us into this shade of gray that we as a society cannot escape from. On any given issue, people will typically turn off an open mind, turn personal perception all the way to 11, and spout an opinion that may or not make sense. This occurrence is far too abundant with our citizens, especially those elected to represent us in office (I will not even get into how’s elected officials perception of issues can be influenced by campaign finance contributors)

We live in a world of gray, plain and simple, and by “plain and simple” I mean most of our debated topics are not “plain and simple”, but quite complicated. However due to the polarization of debate and media in America, we’ve turned all issues into this black and white format, and it’s killing us. It’s clear why politicians do this: money. It’s much easier for congressman to earn campaign dollars when they take a hard stance on an issue, just as it is for a media outlet to be strongly biased. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at Fox News, and see how many more ratings and how much more money it brings in versus rivals like CNN.

If this divide was just among the media or a small percentage of our population, it really wouldn’t be that big a deal. However this divide is just as prevalent among congress as it is anywhere, which puts us square middle on the road to disaster. Our republic was built to be a balanced system full of real debate and no outside influence, but over time it has turned into a circus (entertaining with no substance). If we ever want to see real progress in this nation, we need to put an end to this mentality.

The really interesting part to all this, is that not only do most of you already know this, most of the people in congress know this too. It’s a fact that most congressman spend anywhere between 40-70% of their time raising money for their campaigns. Most politicians did not go into politics to raise money for the majority of their time, but that’s just the unfortunate nature of the job. And since it’s easier to raise money from the extremist rich in this country, that’s the platform that candidates need to run on to stay/become elected. To keep those contributors happy, congressman need to commit to the issues the contributors are most interested in. Thus, we have a nation divided by extremist rich people.

Fall of Society – Part IV

Accountabilibuddy

Accountability. The lack of accountability in our society today is overwhelming and overabundant. At the citizen/personal level, I would *like* to think that most people do feel responsible for all other people in the world, and this is what keeps us progressing as a human race. Enforcing this is impossible though and any attempt to do so is futile; thus we have governments that attempt to accomplish this on behalf of those who just don’t care. However, at the corporate level, accountability not only can be enforced but absolutely needs to be.

Regardless of the regulations passed in the past decade, corporate finance accountability is a complete joke. The only meaningful piece of legislation to pass through the system is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, which was the reaction following the Enron scandal (and a few others). In terms of corporate accountability, the only positive thing to come out of it is the protection of whistle-blowers from within a company. While I agree that this is an important piece of the puzzle, it is only one piece in a 1000 piece puzzle.

Lets make one thing clear: corporations, for the most part, are unethical. This should not come as a surprise to any of you. Most corporations try and hide this fact by creating these mandatory ethics training classes once a year where there is a test at the end, and everyone is forced to pass and the shareholders’ mind can be put at ease because all employees now know what ethics are. This is bullshit, and everyone knows it.

Corporations are unethical because being unethical is profitable. Since it is a corporations sole purpose in existence to be profitable, then it must do whatever it can to survive. This, interestingly enough, sounds a lot like human beings and Darwins “survival of the fittest”. Well, lucky for us that the Supreme Court also feels this way, as per the Citizens United case which declares corporations are indeed citizens. Therefore, by the logic of the Supreme Court, human beings must also be unethical.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this analysis is totally stupid: a person that commits an unethical act does not make them an unethical person and the same goes for corporations. I would say it’s more of a percentage game. People are 30% unethical and 70% ethical, and corporations are 70% unethical and 30% ethical, on average (these number completely made up, but sound good.) Based on this, I would argue that people are mostly ethical (exceptions apply) and corporations are mostly unethical (again, exceptions), therefore corporations are not people.

I realize I got a little side-tracked with the whole Citizens United case (I know, old news now) but that needed to be said for the setup here.  If corporations are going to be considered people, then it’s time they start being treated as a single person. If one person within an organization makes an unlawful (unethical) move, then everyone around that person needs to be held accountable. Corporate finance departments that handle taxes used to be organized this way, but was repealed during the 1990’s “the IRS is evil” period. In an en environment where ones actions are held accountable by an entire department, group, or company, you’d be surprised how fast companies can start to self govern themselves in an ethical manner. With accountability on the decline we can just expect companies now, more than ever, to continue sacrificing its lambs for the “greater” good of the company, simply because it can.

Fall of Society – Part III

Politics and the Media. This is scary, but really quite obvious: the polarization of politics, driven by the media, is the most damaging hit to society in this country today. How do I know this? I don’t. I just said it in that dramatic fashion for sensationalism – which really is a serious problem and the point I want to get at.

Watch any news lately? Me neither. But there is a small percentage of people that do and for some strange reason there voices are the loudest. Everyone hears from someone who heard something on TV/radio that some pundit/politician had this idea/remark/criticism and it will/won’t fix the economy/healthcare/gay people. Ideas are good, criticism is good, destructive polarized debate is not though. It’s tiresome and ineffective, and it’s all that is ever created and covered by the media these days. It’s turning us against each other, during a time when people really should be working together and compromising. Even if the two ideas that need to be compromised together are shitty, at least everyone worked together in a peaceful manner to create a shitty deal. It’s the natural law of synergy: 1 + 1 = 3, and shit + shit = really shitty.

There is a point to be made here, and although it’s really quite redundant at this point, it needs to continue to be said: the people behind the media are just horrible human beings. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, but they use it to spread falsified information for profit (driving us home to Part I of this series) . It’s not that this type of journalism should be illegal, but there should be a disclaimer on it like a pack of cigarettes “May cause cancer of knowledge”.

I could really go on for days and days on this topic, but I don’t want to. It’s been done before, and I actually believe the majority of Americans do not buy into it. I believe the average person in this country is able to distinguish between biased, constituency driven news versus indisputable facts. Maybe I give people too much credit here, I really don’t know for sure. I do know the amount of energy and time wasted on shit-media could be served doing things so much better for society; and that is just heartbreaking when you really think about it.