Friday, April 27, 2012

The Secret Service Sex Scandal

Guy hires a prostitute, gets into a dispute about payments after services are rendered, gets in a fight.  Happens all the time.  It's the main reasons pimps exist.

Let's talk about this as if it weren't sex or a crime.  Secret Service guy buys something, has a dispute about the price, gets in a fight.  Not the best behavior but not the worst.  His boss probably gives him a warning to act more professional and that's it.

So, why do we get so upset about this?  It's not the argument, although that does adds to the spice.

My personal experience with sex workers - strippers at bachelor parties - is that they tend to cheat.  Well, actually their managers tend to cheat.   They promise you two hour of service, then show up an hour late and insist on the full price for two hours of service.   What, you gonna do without strippers at the bachelor party?  What, your gonna call the cops?  Either way the party is ruined.   That may just be a bachelor party thing, but it happens.   Maybe prostitutes are more ethical, I don't know.

No one really knows what happened with the Secret Service agents.  Maybe they were cheap SOB's that didn't pay what they promised to pay.  Maybe they were being ripped off.  The Secret Service guys aren't talking so we get just one side of the story.

I don't think the argument about pay is the issue.  From what I have heard, no one else does.  People aren't upset that he didn't pay, though it does add some spice.

Well, lets start out with the is it a crime aspect.  Guess what, prostitution is not a crime everywhere.  There are places in Nevada and Europe where it is legal.   It's the same in Columbia.  They are called  'designated tolerance' zones in Colombia.   Prostitution is legal there, just like certain parts of Nevada.  The Secret Service agents were in one of those areas.  They did not break the law.  Nor were they married.  They didn't even break an oath to their wives.

They did however violate Secret Service policy - as the agency has a policy against prostitution.  Frankly, that's not that big a deal.  I know that some people steal office supplies, surely stealing from a company is worse than disobeying a policy about behavior outside the office?   How you feel if your boss tried to tell you who can have sex with? 

Frankly, the policy says something worse about the government, than it does about the men.  Was what these men did really did so bad?  They disobeyed a rule - a rather crazy rule - of their boss, not a law.

So it's not the argument, not the crime, and honestly not the disobedience that get's people upset and all worked up. 

It's the sex.  There are people in this world that still think sex is evil.  I am not one of them, but they do exist.   They do recognize that sex is necessary, but they want the power to say which kinds of sex are OK.  Usually they are religious and following their bible, (which makes this religious persecution) but not all the time.    The core of this issue is not religion, but POWER.  They want to tell other people what sex is allowed and what is not allowed.  I say, no, you don't get that power.  Not over me, not over your employees, and not over government agents.

We need to get the government out of our sex life.   That includes the government telling their employees what to do.  It especially needs to get out of the sex lives of people on their own time in a foreign country.

How would you feel if your boss fired you because they find out that you did something legal in another country?   Because he didn't like it?  He has no business knowing about it. 

Did these guys exercise poor judgement?  Yes.  He should have realized that while what he was doing was legal, that in his job he is expected to do more than just be legal, but to also to stay away from scandal.

Frankly, if they were private security, it would be no big deal.   This shows more about the still prudish nature of politics than anything else.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Patent Infringement

Patent infringement is a major problem in the US.  Part of the problem is that the electronic tech world and the biotech world have very different needs, yet both have strong lobby's.

Biotech needs very strong patents because their products take a huge amount of work and testing to discover and prove safe.  It is very difficult to find/create new medical treatments, making the invention process expensive.   Then, implementing it, you need expensive quality control checks.   The extensive testing makes sure that only working ideas get patented - otherwise you are forbidden from producing goods.

Software however is very different.  Here it is very easy to come with ideas, taking almost no effort, and quality control is practically nothing.  People can create it in a day, then patent the idea, and little or no testing - or searching for prior art is done.   Because it moves so fast, people can honestly not even be aware of prior art.

These two industries differ in many other ways, but they have a large amount of control over changes in the patent law, because they have very different needs.

But there are a couple of ways we can help the problems of patent law.

  1. Outlaw Non-Disclosure agreements for patent lawsuits.  (NDAs)There are people that engage in patent trolling.  They sue for large amounts then settle for small ones.   Mainly because a patent lawsuit can cost millions of dollars to defend, but sometimes because they are guilty.   It is always the bad guy that wins by having a non-disclosure agreement.  ALWAYS.   If you win a large amount of money because the slime bag violated a real patent, then he wants to keep it secret to maintain his reputation.    If you are a patent troll who settles for tiny amounts of money, you want to keep it secret to help you get more money from your next victim.   NDA's are pretty much only wanted by the bad guys in Patent Lawsuits and should be outlawed.  Yes, this might make certain patent suits harder to settle.  But it could kill lawsuits before the courts get involved - if no patent lawsuit was filed yet, you could still get an NDA>  This would save people a lot of money on lawyers.
  2. We need to treat different patents differently.   Design patents last 14 years, while general patents last 20.  No reason we can't further expand the system.  For example, a healthcare cure is the most desirable thing, but treatments that don't cure are WAY more profitable.  Grant real cures longer patents, say 30 years, while restricting treatment cures to just 10 patent years.  The software industry moves very fast and costs practically nothing to ramp up from selling one product to selling worldwide 7 billion copies in less than a month.  So reduce the duration to only 7 years.  On the other side, we could offer a special "Main Business Patent", in which a company can declare a single patent that is central their business to be the Main Active Business Patent.  This one patent and only that patent could be extended to 25 year.   Only a top level corporate entity or person could hold such a patent.  I.E.  no creating five subsidiaries and having each own 5 Main patents. 
  3. Patent cases are overturned on appeal far more often than other cases.   We need patent only judges.  Patent cases involve much higher expertise on both the nature of the technology and patent law itself.   (Source)
Please note that these three ideas are generally patent neutral.  They don't help either side completely, instead giving a little bit to each of the opposing sides..

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Whine: But the Buffett rule only raise x amount.

Recently the GOP has been saying that we don't need the Buffet rule because it would only raise $47 billion over ten years.  They are proving themselves wrong.

We start small.   With something that even an idiot would admit is wrong, and fix it.

When your opponent refuses to fix it, it shows they are corrupt.  That's right CORRUPT.  Anyone that says the Buffet rule should be ignored because it is too small is corrupt and should be thrown out of Congress for taking bribes (or if the rule would apply to them, for putting their own finances above the needs of the country).
Saying the rule will only raise a low amount is like saying "It's OK to let wealthy people drink and drive because they will only kill a small number of people."  No.  The size of the problem does not affect the righteousness of the problem.   We don't sit back and let a few people get away with cheating the rest of us.  If you want to do that, you are immoral, corrupt, and can not be trusted with a state government position, let alone a federal position.

It's like a hole in a boat, or a an unpainted spot on your house.  It doesn't matter what the size is, you FIX it.   When you complain about fixing something because it is small (as opposed to claiming that there is a good reason to keep things the way they are), it proves:

  1. You are not serious about fixing the problem.  NOT ONE BIT.  If you think the Buffet rule shouldn't be passed because it is too tiny, then you don't care about the deficit. 
  2. If you still refuse to fix it, that is admitting you LIKE the problem. As in you think rich people SHOULD be allowed to pay less taxes than their secretaries.
  3. Most importantly, this undermines all other arguments you make in the future.  Once you refuse to fix the little hole in the boat, or paint the last corner of your house, your claim that the holes let water out of the boat, or that you like the existing color suddenly get shown for what they are: Lies.

 There are other, reasonable reasons to object to the Buffet rule - for example claiming it the AMT rule is already supposed to fix this problem.  The problem is the AMT rule is broken, rather dramatically so.  It gets temporary patches every year and quite honestly does not do what it was designed to do, as shown by the fact that the Buffet rule is needed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Revisit of Flat Asset Tax

I recently discussed my Flat Asset tax idea on line and some people pointed out what they thought were major problems.  I want to reply to some of the major objections they came up with:

Wrong Claim #1) You are taxing wealth, so no one becomes wealthy.   My reply is, the current system taxes income, so no one works.    It's kind of like saying "I don't want you to cut off my finger, I'd rather you cut off my leg."  We have to tax one of three things - income/work, spending/necessities, or wealth/luxuries.   What is the difference between necessities and luxuries?  The poor spend almost all of their money on necessities and almost no luxuries, while the wealthy spend almost all their money on luxuries and almost nothing on necessities. Those are the ONLY 3 things we have found to tax and the best of the bunch is to tax the wealth/luxuries.   

Wrong Claim #2)  You end up spending more on taxes on something than it cost to buy it.   Wrong.  First of all, this is not necessarily a problem. If you own a house in New Jersey, you pay about a property tax of about 1.89% each year.  Assuming no growth in value, in 26 years, you have paid more in tax than it's worth.   No big deal.    Why?   For the same reason that you don't care if you pay more to dry clean a shirt then you paid to buy it (assuming you paid $60 for a shirt, and $2 a shirt to dry clean it, if you wear it once a week, by the end of the year you have paid $100 to dry clean).  In fact, using Income Tax, right now, many middle class people pay more than 5% of their total assets in tax.  So no big deal if we make it explicit that we are taxing assets.

But for most property, this won't happen.  Most things depreciate, usually at a fairly high rate.  Cars for example lose about 9% of value the second you drive them off the lot, and an additional 10% each year.  As 10% is > than 5% (the highest of the Flat Asset Taxe rates I proposed), then you will never pay more taxes than 45% of the original value - even assuming you hold it for a thousand years.

Things that don't depreciate, tend to appreciate (i.e. stocks).   A measly old 5% return is not worth much, so your appreciation should generally exceed the taxes you pay.  A few assets, such as bonds and homes, do not have strong appreciation/depreciation.  Which is one of the reasons why I suggested homes and IRA's should be excluded.

Wrong Claim #3)  I gave generous allowances for things like a home, and IRA, which you don't do in 'true flat tax'.  It is true that a 'True flat tax' has no deductions and exemptions.   But many flat tax plans are actually "Marginal Flat Tax plans, which is what you call it when you allow limited deductions/exemptions.  In Marginal Flat Tax plans, the tax rate for any money above and beyond the deductions and exemptions is flat, unlike our current graduated income tax.  The common deductions and exemptions in most Marginal tax systems are charity, home mortgage (= to my home deduction)  and IRAs (because we don't want to screw over the people with a Roth IRA that paid taxes on their income previously in exchange for future tax deductions.)  My marginal flat asset tax plan is in line with most of the existing flat tax plans that are actually considered.  To my knowledge NO ONE is seriously advocating a "true flat tax", as people don't wont to screw over the Roth IRA hold overs.

Wrong Claim #4)  That a 5% Flat asset tax can't possibly generate enough income because all the math says a flat tax has to be at least 17%, with 20% being more likely.

Percentages are not stand alone things.   They are percent of something else.  As Total American Yearly Income is about 1/4 Total American Wealth.  That is, a man that earns 100k a year might own 400k worth of goods.   20% of 100k = 20k.  5% of 400k = 20k.  It's basic math, not that hard to do.

Wrong Claim #5)  That it will be easy for the wealthy to violate the law.  Again, this ignores the current situation.  You don't look at this in a vacuum, you compare to the existing system.  The existing system has people move assets overseas to hide income.   Yes, people that move assets over seas will still do that - now to hide the assets.  The question is not can thieves still steal, but instead, does my system make it EASIER to steal than the current system.

And the answer to that is no, it makes it harder.  Right now, you can move all your income producing assets over seas, and keep your wealth here.  Now you have to move all your WEALTH over seas, not just your income producing assets.  No more owning twenty cars with no taxes.

For example, a common practice right now is to offset income with deductions - usually business expenses.  The equivalent technique for an asset tax would be to incorporate, then create a fake loan on the record books, claiming that your company, while owning 1 million dollars, also has a debt of 1 million dollars.   Fine, then show us where the 1 million loan went to.   Can't do that?   OK, you stole 1 million dollars from the company AND failed to report it for taxes.  You have now committed two crimes, not just one.

More importantly, it is much harder to hide where that money went.   We don't need to prove you kept the $1 million, the fact that   A simpler tax structure with simpler rules makes it harder to lie and cheat.

Wrong Claim #6)  That I am taxing just the rich and we need to save them because they pay more income taxes.  This assumes it is OK to ignore FICA and other taxes because "we are talking about federal income taxes".   NO. We are talking about the total taxes people pay, NOT just their income tax.  Yes, I am altering just the income tax, but only to counter your ridiculous plan to screw over the poor.  If you want to 'make taxes fair', then you start FIRST with the taxes the poor people pay - FICA, sales and property tax.  THEN after you have made those fair - so the wealthy people pay the same percentage of their total income, you can start trying to make the tax the wealthy pay fair.   Until you fix FICA, sales and property tax, you can NOT reduce the only tax that the wealthy pay more than the poor do.  

One final thing. There is a hidden benefit of my flat asset tax idea.
It encourages spending on services as opposed to material goods.

That is, when you buy a diamond, it becomes a tax burden for the rest of your life.  But when you buy a $600 dinner you pay no taxes on that item.  This is an incredibly good thing.  Why?

Because you can't outsource the meal.  Most of the service money gets spent in the United States, and more importantly, STAYS in the USA.  Yes, when you buy a vacation abroad, that money leaves, the US, but it always did.   Currently, pretty much any physical asset you buy except for land has a large percentage of foreign content.  Clothing?  All foreign.   Cars?  American made means 75% built in America.   The number 1 and number two American made cars are owned by TOYOTA and HONDA.   (source)

More important, most studies show people get more fun out of experiences than they do out of things.  (Study)

An asset tax would be good for this country by encouraging people to spend more money on things they like that are made in America, as opposed to foreign goods they grow to regret.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How to deal with the "pre-existing conditions' problem

If the SCOTUS removes the insurance mandate, they are very likely to eliminate the Guaranteed Issue.

Guaranteed Issue means people can't decide to refuse to cover you for a pre-existing condition - or (almost as bad) - to cover you EXCEPT for the pre-existing condition.

Currently, in the US, all health insurance sold in the small group market (usually employers of 2-50 employees) is already guaranteed issue.

I suggest a simple rule:

Give Guaranteed Issue  to anyone that has never been without insurance for a period of 2 months or less, starting at the time this rule goes into effect.

That in effect means you can't deny coverage for someone or even for a particular health issue as long as they have continuously held insurance from the law passage.  I threw in a grace period of 1 month to make sure that simple screw ups don't kill someone's insurance.

It also means that every single American will have Guaranteed issue for a period of 2 months.

Yes, it will put a strain on insurance corporations for a short time as they are forced to cover sick people, but it will also give a huge intake of healthy people getting insurance right away to make sure that they will always be eligible for coverage.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Court Martial for declaring the president a "Domestic Enemey"

Recently, on Facebook (There's a reason why I don't have an account), a marine sergeant posted several comments on a forum board.  He did similar actions on a marine internal network built for meteorological and oceanographic communication.  They were seen by three people, including a superior officer, and then they were taken down.  They included several comments about Obama being the enemy, including:  (Source)

"As an active-duty Marine, I have sworn to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Obama is the economic enemy, the religious enemy, the domestic enemy."

 and also

"I say screw Obama. I will not follow orders given by him to me."

The second is a paraphrase.  I believe in stead of screw, the original comment included a more vulgar word.

This is not the first time he has gotten into trouble for things he has said on Facebook.   The first time, the American Civil Liberties Union spoke up for him. 

There are several things different about this time.  First of all, the first quote implies a willingness, if not desire, to physically harm/kill the president, as opposed to merely  having a political opinion.  In addition, the second quote, which he later backed off from (claiming he was referring to 'unlawful orders"), is a fairly obvious statement of intent to commit a military crime (assuming he didn't just mean unlawful - or more likely had a radically different idea of what is lawful for a president - which by the very nature of his comments seems to be true.)

The military is using a rule that in the past has been applied to commissioned officers  (Lieutenant and higher) in attempt to discharge this non-commissioned officer.  Note they have NOT completed the Court Martial, a panel simply decided to have one.

In light of the institutional values that the marines work hard to instil - loyalty and respect for authority, I fully expect the mostly conservative military to discharge this radical soldier.  They might make it dishonorable.

This is in my opinion the appropriate response.  Not because he criticized the president, but because of the extent that he has done so.  

I don't blame him entirely.  I blame the GOP.  They have gone out of their way to court the radical right, and encouraged such radical talk.   Rush, Beck, and crew have turned what was once a polite argument into something that verges on treason.

This young, stupid marine, took his clues from them.  He saw everyone else talking like that and thought it was appropriate.  He had no idea how vicious and close to treason those people are.  Nor did he take into account that he was in the military with greater expectations and requirements, and unlike them, does not have people carefully advising him about the limits he must not cross.

As such, he has stepped over the line, and the military will in all probably discharge him.  If he is smart, he can arrange to make it an honorable discharge, as opposed to a dishonorable one.   But he doesn't strike me as smart.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Institional vs Moral values

Recently, a book made some claims about conservative vs. liberal.  I don't think the ideas in the book are well thought out.   Among other things, it simplifies things way too much.   I am not hot here to talk about the book, so I won't name it.

Instead I am going to talk about values.   The book mentions three values that it claims both liberals and conservatives share:
  1. Caring for the weak
  2. Fairness
  3. Liberty
It also mentions three values that it claims only conservatives have, but liberals don't.  I disagree.  I do think liberals values these just as much, but have different understandings of them.

  1. Loyalty
  2. Respect for Authority
  3. Sanctity
But lets ignore the conservative/liberal issue for now.   There a major difference between the first set and the second set is qualitative.  The first set of values are moral values.  The second set of values are institutional values.

What do I mean by that?  Well, a moral value is something that is ALWAYS moral.  They exist to help you define right vs wrong.  You can't truly 'sin' by obeying the moral values.  You might get arrested, but even the people that arrest arrest you will admire you and call you a good man, if misguided.

Say you care for the weak - and the weak are illegal aliens.   People will still admire you for it.  Everyone will.   They won't think you are vile scum going to hell.  They might say you are misguided, but they won't attack your MORAL character. You won't be reviled for demanding prisoners be treated fairly, nor for insisting on liberty for all (note liberty is NOT freedom from everything, just freedom from arbitrary/despotic control - we can demand that even for criminals - their control should be appropriate not arbitrary and despotic.)  As such all three of these support morality.

But the three institutional values are different.  They don't support morality, they support institutions.  Their morality depends on the morality of the institution.  If the institution is evil, then having those values for that institution is evil.  You can have them and still be a vile sinner.   You can be 'loyal' to a mob boss,  respect the authority of a corrupt cop, and respect the 'sanctity' of an aztec cannibalistic human sacrifice ritual.  In all these cases, you are evil BECAUSE you maintained these values, not merely misguided.

Because institutional values are not in and of themselves good, they are dangerous. If you are loyal and respect the authority and sanctity of the Spanish Inquisition, you are a vile sinner going to hell.  If you are loyal and respect the authority and sanctity of Buddha, no one will think any less of you (Buddha is, to my knowledge, hated by no group.  No one has used his name to steal, kill, rape, pillage, etc).

Institutional values are worthwhile, but they are in no way in the same league as moral values.  They can be turned to the 'dark side' and used for evil.   Like a gun, they can be used by the good guy or the bad guy.

We need to recognize this and acknowledge that Caring for the Weak, Ensuring Fairness, and Promoting Liberty are far and away superior to the lesser values of loyalty, respect for authority, and sanctity. The second set are just not in the same league as the first. 

Some worthwhile institutions need to be supported, but we can not blindly support all institutions.   We can not and should not praise them at anywhere near moral values.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Strip search and the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court recently ruled that anyone arrested - arrested, not convicted - for any crime, even speeding or failing to clean up after your dog - could be strip searched.

They claimed was that if you were put in a high security area, then it was reasonable to strip search you so that you could not pass contraband on too more violent criminals.

Of course, this misses the entire point. What are these non-violent, non-dangerous people doing that close to to violent criminals?   IF THE PRISON NEEDS THAT KIND OF SECURITY, THEN YOU CAN NOT PUT PEOPLE THERE BEFORE THEY SEE A JUDGE.

I do not give up my rights because you choose to save money by putting petty criminals in a high security prison.


Instead, you give up the right to put minor criminals in a high security prison the second  you decided that everyone in that facility needs to be strip searched.

The Supreme court majorly blew this call.  They totally missed the real point - my rights triumph over your convenience.  That is why they are called RIGHTS.

Note that this ruling was 5:4, with all the conservatives voting in favor of letting teenage girls caught speeding be strip searched then sent to a dangerous prison, before they so much as see a judge.

Conservatives are NOT libertarians.  They do NOT care about liberty.  They do NOT care about the rights of individuals.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Government, Not Business, Creates New Science

One of the major false conservative beliefs is that private business is better at all things than governments.   There are certain things business is better at than government.  It is more nimble and quicker to respond to changes in the business environment.  But somethings require muscle, not nimbleness.

Today I am going to talk about one field where government clearly does MUCH MUCH better than business.   That is major new science.   The Microsoft's, Apples and Google (and Ford, Boeing, Exxon's etc.) of the world are much better at the small refinements that turn existing products into major best sellers.    But when it comes to major new science, look to the government.

The government created rockets, satellites, and digital cameras - all to spy on the world.  Not to mention GPS.   The government created computers (code breaking machines), the internet, radar (British government), nuclear power (and bombs), jet airplanes (Germany), highways (Germany again).  Government is the source for most of the major, ground breaking inventions.

Think of a world without World War II.  What if we had magically become peaceful lambs after World War One.  No war with Germany, no Cold War with Russia afterwards.  That also means no rockets, no satellites, no digital cameras, no GPS, no computers, no internet, no radar, no nuclear power, no jet airplanes, no highways.  Oh maybe, we would have eventually invented them on our own.  Maybe the government just saved 50 years.  That means, today we would just now be getting to the moon.  With computers the size of buildings doing what my phone can do today.  

Government is better at big science than business is.

The reason is simple - business has a short term horizon.   This year preferably, maybe 5 or 10 at the most.  But big science takes a huge commitment of money and time that business just can't put out.  Governments on the other hand can and do.  They can invest 10 or 20 years and hope everything works out right.   They can accept a big bet that may fail, without worrying about being fired.

Which is why we need to fund NASA.  A full 1% of the budget is not unreasonable.  Not for the same people that gave us rockets and satellites and GPS.   Job creators?  NASA is a proven BUSINESS CREATOR.

NASA currently gets about one half of one percent of the federal budget.  At that level, many very important scientific ideas get ignored.   Yes, we give money to other agencies, such as DARPA (the creators of the internet), but the honest truth is there are ton of NASA projects that should be investigated and we are turning people away. 

Space is full of wealth, waiting for us to find a way to get at it.   All those rare earth metals needed for advanced technology?   China has most of the known deposits and keeps throwing up walls to keep it to themselves.  (Source)  But asteroids are a good source of theses same minerals. (Source = Ben Bova)

But you know, when it comes to big science, it's not the obvious stuff that works out well.  It's the strange ideas that no one saw coming.   No one was planning on the internet, it just happened.  Same thing with most of the big ideas government created.

So lets let government do what it does best - create ground breaking new inventions.