Archives for: March 2013

Office Space

Probably the most frustrating thing about our budget debacle is that actual waste, fraud and abuse seem to be much harder to root out than useful or necessary spending. We’re closing airport towers and cutting off research funds. But the tens of billions in waste OMB identifies every year goes untouched. The tens of billions first President Bush and then President Obama identified goes untouched. The tens of billions that Tom Coburn identifies goes untouched.

Example:

The federal government owns or leases between 55,000 and 77,000 vacant properties. But it’s impossible to tell exactly how many. No precise inventory has been kept.
Selling them off, though, could save taxpayers between $3 billion and $8 billion a year, according to various analysts. That’s nothing to scoff at as the government grapples with a mounting debt and sequester-tied spending cuts.

“These properties could be used first to consolidate agencies that now are in leased buildings,” D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton told Fox News.

Tom Schatz, of Citizens Against Government Waste said: “This is a problem that has been identified for years, and every time someone in the White House says ‘let’s sell property,’ the red tape is simply too much for this process.”

Now I’m sure that Paul Krugman or someone will write an article about how all these empty expenses stimulate the economy or keep the real estate market from collapsing. I don’t buy it. This is very close to the Keynesian Platonic Ideal of paying people to dig holes and fill them back up again. That real estate — some in prime locations — could be of much better use.

Here’s a suggestion. The federal government has massively expanded over the last decade, building entire cities of new office buildings to house the security state and the apparatus connected with Obamacare. Congress can simply pass a moratorium on new construction for federal agencies. All agencies will be required to renovate and use old building before building new ones (unless there is a very good reason old buildings may not be suitable, such as working with Ebola).

Hey Mr DJ: Resurrection Edition

Welcome to Good Friday. One of the few major Christian observances that does not involve gift-giving or indulgence in pagan traditions. You don’t have to put any trees in your house or hide any eggs in the backyard (until Sunday anyway).

That’s right. Today is all about celebrating Jesus’s horrible torture and death at the hands of the Jews the Romans Mel Gibson. It didn’t end there, of course. He got better.

Jesus somehow went from being an obscure figure who was crucified in a persecuted backwater region of the Roman Empire to its official living God three centuries later. This is without a doubt one of the unlikeliest things that has ever happened in human history.

So I think it’s fitting to select music this week that reflects upon the fantastic, miraculous, and just damned unlikely.

1. Back from the Dead, Assholes: Artists with famous comebacks, artists believed to have died but possibly still around (surely you can find at least one Elvis or Tupac track, can’t you?), those who are in fact deceased, and of course: ZOMBIES. Nothing wrong with getting literal.

2. I Selflessly Did It for You, You Stupid Ingrates: Songs about martyrdom, real or exaggerated. People who found greater glory after death or (hilariously) those who simply overestimated their own genius.

3. Easter Eggs: Do you know of any songs with trivia or hidden stories about them? It doesn’t have to be super-obscure, just something to make others say, “hmm” and then run to Wikipedia to call you out.

Bad Egg Bonus: Think of the artists who were the greatest, most famous, and the richest. Now think about how they turned it all into shit. Bieber is just starting on this path and Lohan already sanctified it. Remember that Judas was once as close to Jesus as could be. Then he blew it. Yes. I want those who got close enough to God to kiss him and then hung themselves, career-wise.

pfluffy: Brother by Alice in Chains. #3: Ann Wilson from Heart performs the backup vocals on the chorus. Yes, you knew that.

Mississippi Yankee: Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus. Bad Egg Bonus. Once a hugely popular country star with a number one song (really!), and now known for everything he touches turning to utter suck, including Miley. The video is just…painful. The mullet, the women, the Chuck Berry dancing…God save us.

Iconoclast: Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix. #2: Like most members of the 27 Club, he was much more appreciated after death.

working_man: Boss of Me by David Bowie. #1: A fine comeback album.

Santino: The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage by Panic! at the Disco. #2: Clearly so.

WVR: Immortality by Pearl Jam. #3: This song is frequently rumored to be Eddie Vedder’s commentary on the death and legacy of Kurt Cobain.

Biggie G: The Becoming by NIN. #3: The Downward Spiral was recorded at Roman Polanski’s old house in which the Manson Family committed its famous massacre.

InsipiD: Rocket Queen by Guns N Roses. #3: The woman moaning in ecstasy halfway through the song? Axl was really banging her in the recording studio. They apparently specifically set it up as they wanted that for a song.

stogy: All I have for you is this. It brought me joy this week when I discovered it and that is what a Life with Christ is all about.

Harley: Eulogy by Tool. #1: It’s in honor of Dead American Hero Bill Hicks. Also one of my favorite headphone songs.

CM: Megalomaniac by Incubus. #2: A song about somebody or other who is obviously not Jesus or Elvis.

Here’s a link to the playlist, since half the songs won’t play by copyright restriction.

All right, this is funny..

But all did not end well:

ARLINGTON, Va. A Virginia man was arrested after allegedly attacking his roommate for drawing a penis on his face with permanent marker while he was asleep. Police say the attack happened at about 5.30am on March 23, when James Denham Watson, 31, awoke to find a drawing of male genitalia on his left cheek. Watson then attacked his roommate, causing extensive facial injuries, reports CBS Washington DC.

Having someone draw a cock on your face, especially with ink that is hard to remove, sucks ass. Then again, I doubt this guy is such a heavy sleeper that someone drawing on his face went unnoticed, so I am assuming mind altering substances might have been involved. Never pass out around people that find takiing advantage of your condition is funny, or deal with the consequences.

Hey CM, how often have you woken up to find a penis drawn on your face? Don’t lie. i can ask your significant other how often she has done it and get you in trouble. Just kidding.

Sebelius Doesn’t Know What Insurance Is

One of the problems that I encounter in the debate over healthcare reform is that a lot of people simply do not understand what insurance is. Insurance is not a magical money tree that gives you free stuff. It is a way of spreading out risk. It has a secondary function in aggregating purchasing power so that insurance can negotiate prices. But, in the end, insurance will always cost the average person more than paying for things on their own.

The primary purpose of insurance is prevent catastrophe. We buy home insurance hoping that we will lose money on it but knowing it’s there if our house burns down. We buy car insurance hoping we will lose money on it but knowing it’s there if we get in a big accident.

But health insurance, at least by the Left, is seen differently. Rather than being seen as a way to spread out risk or combine our purchasing power, it is seen as a way to get free healthcare. I’ve mentioned this before but it remains a perfect illustration of the problem. When I was in graduate school, the students were pushing for birth control pills to be covered by insurance. And they were shocked and angered to find out that this coverage would increase health insurance rates by … the cost of the pills (actually, very slightly less since the insurance negotiated a slightly lower price). They couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that insurance is a device to mitigate risk, not a machine for dispensing handouts.

I and many other critics of Obamacare have pointed out that it is actually going to make healthcare utilization higher and costs higher by mandating first dollar coverage. When going to the doctor for every sniffle only costs $10, what do we think is going to happen? When you’re only paying 10% of the cost of an MRI, what is going to happen? Catastrophic plans or plans with high deductibles have been proven to keep healthcare costs down without compromising care. When their own money is at astake, people forgo unnecessary procedures and save up for real health problems. As David Goldhill pointed out, you could get every uninsured person a high-deductible plan, give them a $5000 voucher and you’d still save money over government-issued comprehensive coverage. And not compromise health.

Ladies and gentlemen, our Secretary of Health and Human Services:

But Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of HHS, thinks that catastrophic insurance isn’t really insurance at all.

At a White House briefing Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said some of what passes for health insurance today is so skimpy it can’t be compared to the comprehensive coverage available under the law. “Some of these folks have very high catastrophic plans that don’t pay for anything unless you get hit by a bus,” she said. “They’re really mortgage protection, not health insurance.”

She said this in response to a report from the American Society of Actuaries arguing that premiums are going to rise by 32% when Obamacare kicks in, as coverage gets more generous and more sick people join the insurance market. Sebelius’ response is apparently that catastrophic insurance isn’t really insurance at all–which is exactly backwards. Catastrophic coverage is “true insurance”. Coverage of routine, predictable services is not insurance at all; it’s a spectacularly inefficient prepayment plan.

I want you to sit back and let the roll over you. Our HHS Secretary does not know what insurance is. She really thinks it’s a magical money machine that can give free care to everyone without prices going up. The only reason premiums would go up is because what they had before wasn’t “real insurance.”

Oh, yeah. Obamacare is going to go just fine. It’s totally going to cut healthcare costs when it’s run by people who have no understanding of insurance, medicine, economics or markets. Nothing to see here!

Ten Years from Iraq

Last week marked the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War. I’ve been reading a lot of commentary reflecting on the near decade of conflict. While I think it may be decades before the full wisdom or folly of the war is understood, I had a few thoughts I’ve been spinning around on the subject.

Why We Fight:

I won’t try to pretend I didn’t support the war. I absolutely did. Remembering why exactly I supported the war is a bit more difficult. There were various reasons. But, in the end, I supported the war because I thought that Saddam’s fall was inevitable. If we could effect a relatively peaceful transition, it was possible we could create an ally in the region, something to balance out our “ally” Saudi Arabia, especially if the Iranian regime fell. We had the ability. We had a target nation that was isolated, fractious, vulnerable and supported terrorism. Toppling its vile malicious dictator and transitioning to a better if imperfect government seemed like something we could do.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was smoking. I spent too much time listening to starry-eyed idealists who thought the world could be changed through military force. Moreover, I was ignoring the reality that Iraq was never a country in a traditional sense. It was a country carved out of a bunch of tribes so that Faisal would have a place to rule. The nation of Shiites, Sunni and Kurds was only held together by the iron fist of Saddam. It is still possible that, in the end, a stable Iraq will emerge. But that’s a tenuous thread of hope on which to commit so much blood and treasure.

I was also persuaded by frankly flimsy arguments that we didn’t have to finish Afghanistan before we got into Iraq. After all, we fought on two fronts in World War II, didn’t we? But we didn’t have a World War-sized military or a World War-sized budget. And, as it turned out, not only was Iraq a much bigger task than we anticipated, Afghanistan was too. At the end of World War II, we were occupying two countries that had an interest in rebuilding and moving on (in Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, the men of Easy Company remember Germans cleaning bombed out cities and stacking up bricks for use in rebuilding). Many Afghanis and Iraqis wanted peace and prosperity. But the countries were dominated by those who gloried in chaos and destruction.

I also ignored the danger of realigning the regional powers. Before our invasion, the “Axis of Evil” consisted of two countries that hated each other and a backward country on the other side of the world. Now, as Malou Innocent has pointed out, Iran’s influence in Iraq is waxing — an utterly predictable development given Maliki’s association with Iran and the link between Shiite populations. Saddam counterbalanced Iran. Maliki is practically joining forces with them. Was this was what we wanted? Was this not inevitable no matter what happened?

But while I remain concerned about the region and worried that the long-term impact will be negative, I still can not descend into the depths of pure cynicism. The Left likes to think the War was all about seizing oil, enriching Haliburton and portraying the Democrats as cowards. Even if you assume that kind of thinking was in our leadership, the soldiers weren’t thinking that way. Our generals weren’t. Our State Department wasn’t. These people honestly believed they could save Iraq from itself. In the end, the problem of Iraq was not created by our supposed imperial ambitions being blunted; it was created by an idealistic view of what was possible.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned Weapons of Mass Destruction. I never really bought that as a justification for the war. Saddam had them for decades and never gave them to terrorists. He was not so stupid as to think we wouldn’t be able to trace it. I warned conservatives at the time that playing the WMD angle — while good politically — was dangerous because it would blow up if we didn’t find any actual weapons. When it turned out that all Iraq had was a few stale sarin shells, that gave rise to the tiresome “Bush lied, people died” mantra. (One residual question I’m always asked is why Saddam didn’t allow inspections if he didn’t have the weapons. Cobra II answers this: he was relying on the uncertainty to keep his own people from rebelling and Iran from attacking). And there is plenty of evidence that our leadership at least suspected that the WMD’s did not exist. But I never bought it; I always saw it as a narrative to justify a war that was being fought for other reasons. But I don’t think those “other reasons” were a lust for oil and war profits. Those other reasons were a belief that we could fundamentally transform the region.

In that vein, I think that the war critics want to ignore something important: as bad as Iraq is now, it was worse under Hussein. To pretend that Iraq, as problematic as it is, isn’t better off than it was under Saddam is to ignore history. His torture chambers are gone. His brutal prisons are gone. He’s no longer paying blood money to the families of Palestinian terrorists who blow themselves up. People are in far less danger of being gassed, shot or starved to death. And there is still an outside chance that Iraq will eventually stabilize and become a fully functional nation. To suggest that Iraq would be better off or that the world be better off with Saddam still in power is a bit ridiculous.

(And let’s not ignore that Libya quickly got rid of their WMD program as a result of the war. Imagine the recent Libyan civil war had been fought with chemical weapons. Imagine those weapons on the loose, perhaps used at Benghazi.)

The war was not a total failure. Saddam is gone. That’s not a bad thing.

But the price. Was it worth the price? The cost is simply staggering: 4500 American troops dead, over 30,000 wounded and God knows how many with trauma that is driving them to horrifying rates of suicide and depression. Long-term costs, including care of veterans, estimated between $4 and $6 trillion. Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead. Had those numbers been placed in front of us in March of 2003 as the future outcome of the Iraq War, would we have done it? Was getting rid of that vile slime worth the price we paid?

The Failure of “No Blood for Oil”

No discussion of Iraq is complete without finding someone to blame for the problems we had. War supporters, neocons and the Bush Administration are the obvious targets and I agree that the lion’s share of responsibility falls on us. I’ll get to that in a moment. But there is one group that tries to pretend no responsibility falls upon them.

I know the Left bristles at any blame being thrown at them for the war. After all, they opposed it didn’t they? But the Iraq War illustrates a point that I have often made, in recent years, against Obama’s critics: mindless opposition is worse than no opposition. Had the anti-war protesters questioned the WMD intelligence, had they talked about the difficulty of nation building, had they talked about the ability to contain Saddam, it might have slowed the pace of invasion. And, to be fair, many smart anti-war people did make these points. But they were drowned in the “no blood for oil” and “Bushitler” campaigns that tried to make this out to be an expansion of America’s racist empire.

That didn’t persuade anybody. On the contrary, it solidified the determination of those of us who supported the war. And when thing began to go wrong, the Bush Administration and their supporters used the pre-war hysteria to dismiss legitimate concerns. People who tried to point out that the violence was escalating, that our methods were strengthening AQI, that we didn’t have enough troops were immediately thrown into the heap with those who though Bush was seizing Iraq’s oil. Legitimate reporting was dismissed as media bias. Human rights concerns were just another attempt to criticize our troops.

When you play tribal politics, you can’t pretend to be surprised when the other side responds in a tribal fashion. The Left tried to make the political side of the war an “us versus them” thing and then were surprised when it became … an “us versus them” thing. I don’t thing a smarter opposition would have stopped the war. But it might have gotten us to address the growing problem earlier and more effectively than we eventually did.

Mismanagement

It’s hard to remember now but the initial stages of the war actually went extremely well. After some delays, our military broke through and overran Iraq with speed and determination. Saddam and his sons driven were underground (literally), a relative calm was established, elections were held. Remember everyone dipping their fingers in blue ink? For a time, it looked like we had done it: we had deposed a vile and evil dictator and established a democracy. A successful nation building!

And then, the pieces began to fall apart. The violence in Iraq never quite died out. Al-Qaeda established a presence in Iraq and terrorist attacks proliferated. A unified government could not be created.

And then it suddenly blew up, literally, with the Golden Mosque.

I do not think this was inevitable. We have chewed over these points before, but it’s worth talking about again. As documented in the must-read Cobra II, both the State Department and General Shinseki tried desperately to warn Rumsfeld that he didn’t have enough troops to control the country. But Rummy was determined to try out his long-haired theories about the military. At one point, he planned to invade with about 10,000 troops. He only agreed to more troops on the condition that the invasion start while some were still at sea so they could be turned around if not needed. The inner circles of power were almost entirely concerned with showing how easy it was to knock over a dictator. Managing the country afterward? Meh.

Bremer mismanaged Iraq as badly as could be imagined. Reconstruction, as documented by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, was oriented around giving contracts to Bush supporters and their children instead of those with experience in reconstruction (or knowledge of the region). Our response to the growing insurgency included torture authorized at the highest levels, which David Petraeus described as AQI’s most effective recruiting tool.

In that light, the collapse of Iraq after al-Askari bombing was not unexpected; it was inevitable. The success in Iraq was illusory, resting on a foundation of … well, sand. If it hadn’t been al-Askari, it would have been something that plunged Iraq into the abyss.

What followed was probably the most frustrating part of the entire affair. Iraq exploded in violence and it became obvious that we didn’t have enough troops to control the situation (actually, it had been obvious we didn’t have enough troops in 2003; 2006 just drove the point home). Throughout 2006, as violence rose, the need for more troops became obvious. McCain, to his credit, was among the first to call for a surge. But the President and his defenders insisted that everything was fine, that the problems in Iraq were simply a liberal media creation. They would ignore the growing horrific death toll and tout some school that had been built. No matter what was happening in reality, the bulk of the GOP and almost all of the conservative commentariat were committed to the pravda that all was well.

(Part of this was a Guns of August thing: fighting the political battle over the last war. Many war supporters — particularly the ones in the Bush Administration — had bitter memories of Vietnam and how the Tet Offensive was a disaster for North Vietnam but portrayed as a success by our media. But Iraq, even this respect, was not Vietnam. The collapse of the country was not a media creation.)

It was only after the Republicans got hammered in the 2006 election that the President decided to change course. Rumsfeld was canned, the surge was authorized and the situation improved. If you want to pinpoint when I finally broke from the Republican Party, that was it. That was the moment. When not just the President but every GOP commentator in the punditsphere suddenly turned a 180 and said, “Of course we need a surge! It’s obvious we need more troops! Why do you oppose more troops! Do you hate America?!” The sudden reversal of everything they had been saying for years without blinking an eye or even acknowledging how wrong they had been told me this was no longer a group of principled people, but an organization that was purely political.

That plays into another point. Several pundits have claimed that the Iraq War, in effect, gave us Obamacare. The idea is that the blazing incompetence shown by the GOP soured the public on them and gave us a Democratic President and enough of a Democratic Congress to get Obamacare passed. Like Doug Mataconis, I find that a bit glib. It’s yet another effort to hammer Iraq into a Vietnam-shaped mold to which it is ill-suited. The economic collapse was a much more important factor in the election (and re-election) of Barack Obama.

But it is true that Iraq played a big role in the 2006 election and it is true that the GOP’s foreign policy credentials were permanently damaged by the war. And those credentials remain damaged as long as many of the architects and supporters of that war remain in positions of authority and respect. Many of the same people who clamored loudest for Iraq and still insist it was a good idea are now clamoring for us to get involved in Syria. After the last ten years, it would be ridiculous to take them seriously. And as long as those jokers linger around the halls of power, we should still be skeptical of the GOP on foreign policy.

Dereliction of Duty

We’ve gone over the responsibility that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. bear for both the war and its progress. And it’s been frustrating to see them evade that responsibility and insist that anything that went wrong was somebody else’s fault. But there is one body that I don’t think has ever really been held to account for their role in Iraq: Congress.

Our Constitution is very clear: only Congress has the authority to start a war. And on the eve of the Iraq War, our Congress … couldn’t be bothered. They essentially punted that decision to President Bush. In a decision involving — even in foresight — hundreds of billions of dollars and a risk to tens of thousands of American lives, Congress couldn’t be bothered to examine the case for war. Healey:

In 2002, very few of our elected representatives were interested in doing basic due diligence before exercising the solemn responsibility that the Constitution gives Congress in the power “to declare War.” From late September 2002 on, copies of the 92-page National Intelligence Estimate on the Iraq threat were available to any member of the House or Senate who wanted to review it. Only a handful even bothered. Then-Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)—our current secretary of state and his predecessor—weren’t among the six senators who took the time to read the report before voting for war. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) explained that getting away to the secure room to read the NIE—a short walk away across the Capitol grounds—is “not easy to do” and that NIEs make for “extremely dense reading.”

Robert Byrd was an idiot but he did make one important observation. When the vote came up, there was almost no debate. There were very few comments made. Congress just shrugged and said, “um, OK”. They passed the law within a week by massive margins in both houses.

Congress didn’t want to take responsibility. They didn’t want to oppose the war because it was popular. But they didn’t want to actually declare war so that they would be held responsible if it went wrong. So they passed an “authorization” that essentially gave their war-making power to the President.

I won’t let them off. Giving up responsibility is the same as declaring war, as far as I’m concerned. There are 374 members of Congress who voted for the Iraq War. Every single one of them bears responsibility for what happened — for good or ill.

The Future

In the end, the Iraq War is the past. It officially ended in December 2011. Chewing the bones is an exercise for historians. The reason I wrote this post is to think what lessons we should learn going forward. What we do now?

First, we have to make sure we take care of those who were wounded, widowed or orphaned. It will be expensive — estimated by some as $3-5 trillion over the long term. But we owe it to them. Soldiers do not decide policy; they follow orders. We can never allow our disagreements over the war to impugn the honor of those who went or to cancel the tremendous debt we owe them. Regardless of the politics, they went there. Many of them went multiple times. And many bear the physical and emotional scars of one of America’s longest wars. The veterans of Iraq are just as deserving of our respect and support as all other veterans. And they’re not getting it.

Second, we can be more cautious about our future engagements. Both the President and Congress must take their war-making ability with the seriousness and solemnity it deserves. We can not go to war without a clear singular and doable objective. If you look at the successful wars in our time — Panama, Grenada, the Gulf War – these were carried out with a single and concrete objective. If you look at the unsuccessful ones — Iraq, Somalia — the objectives were nebulous. We can not build nations. We can not bring democracy to places that don’t want it. The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things, not to be a guidance councilor to a nation of thirty million people.

And if Congress and the President can not take this responsibility seriously; if they insist on starting wars (or punting on wars) that are nebulous in their objectives, we must fire their asses. Republican or Democrat, any politician who can’t be bothered to think about whether or not we send our soldiers into harm’s way should be drummed out of office.

Third, we must return to the Powell Doctrine. If we go, we go all in. We send in more troops than we think we’ll need, more planes, more ships, more missiles. None of this “proportionality” bullshit. No more experiments to see how few troops we can use to accomplish a given mission. We overwhelm the enemy with sheer numbers. Completely overwhelming an enemy is not some blood-thirsty macho thing. It is the surest way for a rapid victory and minimal casualties … on both sides.

In my heart, I still think the Iraq War could have been as successful or more successful than it was if we had more competent management and a hell of lot more troops. Iraq might still be chaotic, but it would be a lot less so and have cost a lost less blood and treasure.

And, in the end, that is the greatest tragedy of the Iraq War: it didn’t have to go this way.

SCOTUS in the News

Going to be an interesting week for the Court. They are having hearings now on both DOMA and California’s same sex marriage ban. We won’t know their decision for a while. My guess is that they will strike down parts of DOMA and possibly California’s amendment but on very narrow grounds that fall short of declaring a “right” to marriage. That would be my preferred outcome at this stage. I would prefer that this issue not be resolved by the Court. And given the dramatic shifts in opinion — Mark Warner and Claire McCaskill just changed their positions and a new poll shows majority support in Ohio — I suspect the gay marriage proponents will get what they want through the democratic process very soon. By the time the 2020’s roll around, I expect gay marriage to be legal in a majority of states no matter what the Supreme Court says.

The more interesting ruling came today in Florida v. Jardines. This is case where a “drug-sniffing dog” was brought onto someone’s porch without a warrant and his subsequent alert used as probable cause. There wasn’t much hope for this since the Court decided earlier this year, unanimously, that drug-sniffing dogs constitute an infallible drug detection mechanism and therefore their use does not constitute a search. This, despite overwhelming evidence that drug-sniffing dogs are anything but infallible and often simply reinforce the predisposition of their handlers.

But the Court ruled in favor of Jardines on privacy and trespass grounds. This will prevent blind searches of people’s homes using the dogs so it’s at least something. Interesting, supposed fascists Thomas and Scalia decided with the majority while supposed liberals Kennedy and Breyer were with the minority.

The Court has been chipping away at our Fourth Amendment rights for some time. It’s nice to see the brakes applied or once.

Cyprus was just the beginning..

There have been a lot of rumors about the disastrous EU money grab in Cyprus that I have heard, including a story where most of the really rich Russians that had money there were able to take all their cash out which will result in a serious shortfall of cash for the looters, so the Cypriots could avoid the collapse of their banking industry. I have no empathy for these morons. Anyone stupid enough to loan money to Greece, or for that matter any of these leftard collectivist nanny state shitholes in the Western world, deserves the pain that comes from taking that risk. These governments will have to learn to live within their means, regardless of whatever extreme and stupendously stupid and desperate measures they implement to keep the lavish vote buying social spending going on for, and the sooner that happens the better. We are running out of other people’s money, and the collectivist model cannot survive without that. The Germans have become tired of being the “Other people” in the European equation, and while they thought they had pulled a clever maneuver to get their hands on all that money the Russians had managed to hide in what they believed where more friendly financial institutions, there is no happy ending, of any kind, that I see coming out of this disaster.

Anyhoo, we were told that the Cypriot confiscation was a desperate measure, one that would remain unique to this particular situation, and that everyone worried about the slippery slope and the collectivist confiscation machine deciding they had the authority and moral obligation & right to confiscate more money under the guise of doing good, was just being paranoid. The nanny state lovers basically told us it couldn’t ever happen again, even as we saw them wringing their hands in joy at the prospect of what could follow if they got away with this criminal maneuver. And they did not disappoint, as mere weeks, not even years or months, after they shafted the people with savings in Cypriot banks, they are admitting they plan to do the same to other members of the PIIGS. An “I told you so” right now feels tired and sad, but it needs to be said. And it will not end here. The oligarchy running the EU will do anything and everything to make sure their gravy trains goes on for as long as possible, even if what they do will make the eventual crash more damaging and disastrous. Fanatics, whether it is because they are true believers in the collectivist nanny state bullshit or just plain old fashioned profiteers looking after their own interests, don’t like to admit they are wrong, even in the face of catastrophe, and that’s what we have here.

I expect lots of these ”Banking Crisis” situations to pop up, and that the EU leadership will “aggressively” act to solve them, taking any and all private moneys they can get their hands on. They need more of that “Other people’s money” to keep the comatose patient on life support, and they will be damned if they admit the right thing to do is pull the plug and let the poor soul go to its rest already. Feudalism is on its way back. We will have the masters living large and making all the decisions, eventually the illusion that people voting to elect leaders that represent them will no longer sell, and these charlatans and crooks will do away with that pretense, while the rest will toil and give up everything they produce. It is always how this stuff ends. The age of “free shit” is coming to an end, and it will do so with a huge crash and in a massive burning fire. The people in charge have a vested interest in pretending otherwise, but the clues are there. There is a reason our political class seems totally unperturbed about tacking more than a trillion a year in new debt to the already insane amount we owe: they know that the end is near, and figure they might as well go out with a bang.

The Latest on Cyprus

A new deal has been reached and looks likely to pass:

Cyprus clinched a last-ditch deal with international lenders to shut down its second-largest bank and inflict heavy losses on uninsured depositors, including wealthy Russians, in return for a 10 billion euro ($13 billion) bailout.

The agreement came hours before a deadline to avert a collapse of the banking system in fraught negotiations between President Nicos Anastasiades and heads of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Without a deal, Cyprus’s banking system would have collapsed and the country could have become the first to crash out of the European single currency.

Swiftly backed by euro zone finance ministers, the plan will spare the Mediterranean island a financial meltdown by winding down the largely state-owned Popular Bank of Cyprus, also known as Laiki, and shifting deposits below 100,000 euros to the Bank of Cyprus to create a “good bank”.

Deposits above 100,000 euros in both banks, which are not guaranteed under EU law, will be frozen and used to resolve Laiki’s debts and recapitalize Bank of Cyprus through a deposit/equity conversion.

I’m not convinced there are any good options on Cyprus. As I said, the idea of taking money out of deposits gives me the screaming willies, even it is “just” uninsured accounts with over 100,000 euros. Long term, the economic effects on Cyprus could be terrible. Their banking system may never recover. The good side, however, is that countries are no longer just getting handouts from the EU. They’re expected to bring something to the table.

Europe is a big mess. Unemployment is still at 9-10% but that’s an average. In Spain, it’s in the 20’s. Among young Spanish people, over half are unemployed. I have no hope they will emerge from the wilderness any time soon without either breaking the union up or centralizing monetary and fiscal policy. But it’s clear that the current system can not be sustained much longer.

How Enron Captured the Government

The WaPo has the details on an interesting poli-sci study. Two professors looked at over 250,000 e-mails from Enron, the failed energy giant and supposed poster child for campaign finance reform. Enron has often been cited as the fate that await our government in the wake of Citizens United. Enron donated millions to politicians, was a powerful lobby and had friends in high places. Surely that was why they were allowed to get away with so much awfulness for so long, right?

Not so fast:

When we think of lobbying, we typically think of Congress. But Enron devoted substantial effort to lobbying bureaucrats as well. Judging from the content of its e-mails, it was quite concerned with making compelling arguments to regulators. Enron’s employees e-mailed as if the company’s primary advantage in lobbying was its ostensible wealth of information about energy policy, not its campaign contributions.

To be sure, in some instances, Enron executives explicitly connected their campaign contributions with policy goals. In one such e-mail, an Enron executive notes that “Nick Lampson called and asked for a contribution. I committed to one without knowing about his vote on PNTR [Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China]. I will keep my word by making an individual contribution but will also communicate to him that in my capacity as Enron PAC chair i cannot authorize the PAC to make a contribution as a result of that vote.”

Yet even in this case, the contribution is a reaction to a request rather than a proactive attempt to win support. What’s more, the head of Enron’s Political Action Committee committed to a donation without knowing a home-state Member’s vote on one of Enron’s legislative priorities—and wound up making a personal donation anyhow. That’s not much of a quid pro quo.

A study based entirely on e-mails is limited. Doubtless, a huge amount of political influencing is carried out in person or on the phone. So I would be cautious about reading too much into this.

Nevertheless, the study is consistent for what has been found before. Enron made lots of political contributions, yes. But those contributions were the kind of sacrificial offering that all successful businesses have to make to Washington in order to keep regulators and legislators off their backs. We have seen this over and over again: companies that don’t want to play the Washington game — Microsoft, Apple, Paypal, etc. — are bullied until they do play it. They are buying influence. But they are also engaging in self-defense against a government that expects them to play ball once they’ve reached a certain level of success.

When it comes to affecting policy, however, their real efforts are being directed not against legislators but against the bureaucrats who actually write the laws (like the hundreds of regulations left unwritten by Obamacare and Dodd-Frank). This is what we call regulatory capture: powerful businesses making sure that even honest attempts to rein in their industry are blunted … at least for them.

I hate to keep beating a dead horse … actually, that horse ain’t dead at all … I hate to keep beating a live horse but this is what happens when you make government big and powerful and when you makes laws so complex that only a handful of people understand them. From Michael Tanner’s recent must-read:

You can decry the influence of lobbyists and money on politics all you want, but those who are taxed, regulated, paid, hired, or controlled by the government are naturally going to try to influence how they are taxed, regulated, paid, hired, and controlled. Nor should it be a surprise if these interests try to rig the game in their favor by, say, securing special tax treatment for themselves or encouraging greater regulation of their competitors.

You want powerful businesses and lobbyists to stop controlling our government? Stop making it worth their while.