The World According to Nick
Politics, News, Photography, and Triathlons... What don't I talk about?
Monday, October 17, 2011
Can Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Find Common Ground?

Saturday, after a long bike ride in the wind up to Holy Hill and back, I decided to take my camera downtown to witness "Occupy Milwaukee". What I saw was a group of people who were outraged... about many things:

There were also Ron Paul supporters, Che Guevara fans, Recall Walker supporters, and many others. From everything I saw, it was a very peaceful protest where the police mostly stood on the outskirts and watched what was happening. Mostly what I saw was a group of people who were angry at what happened to our economy. There were some with proposed solutions, like Taxing the Rich, but many were just pissed.

What's interesting here is the reaction by many of those who supported Tea Parties. Sometimes I think it can be hard to tell the difference between the two. It shouldn't be surprising either... for as much as neither side wants to admit it (and it seems like they really don't), the two were angry about many of the same things. TARP and bailouts of the banks by government? Check. Coercion of an entire industry to force people to use their product? Check... sort of. Lack of accountability by anyone for their actions? Double check.

The real difference between the two is where the two groups directed their anger, and who they blamed. The Tea Parties are angry at the government for bailing out industries that are failing, and running up huge taxpayer bills. The Occupy Wall Street folks are angry at failing industries for taking government money, and using their influence to continually ask for more. But those are really two sides of the same coin. Crony Capitalism using Government Power for personal profit. Everyone should be against that.

Now, there are some people who want to take punitive measures... and some people who instead of simply demanding that this corruption stop, want their bailout too. Now, I don't agree with them, but I can't necessarily blame them too. They're unemployed, or their house got foreclosed on... why can't they get bailed out too? Two wrongs don't make a right... but that doesn't mean that people don't think it feels good.

What I have a difficult time understanding is the lack of willingness on both sides to find that common cause. Members of the Tea Party are angrier at the government for Crony Capitalism than they are at companies that collude with the government. When ObamaCare was being debated, how many Tea Party groups did anything to show anger at the insurance companies that were lobbying the government for the individual mandate? I often times hear people talking about how corporations are just responding to the market distortions that government creates... but I hear very little about how many companies actually lobby to create those distortions!

And likewise, the folks involved with the Occupy *blank* movement are angrier at various corporations for taking the money, than they are at the government for giving it out. In fact, they want the government to get more involved in the economy, and somehow through magic, or unicorns with special powers, they think that the cronyism will stop this time. The Occupy *blank* crowd seem to be keen on getting corporate money out of politics, but have been pretty quiet on the fact that Obama has taken more of it than any President in history.

Can Tea Partiers look at ways to hold companies responsible for cronyism? Can Occupy Wall Street look at ways to hold government accountable for misspent funds? I feel like there is a common ground to be found, if we can look at the common problem... crony capitalism... before looking for solutions.

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Thursday, October 06, 2011
Steve Jobs - The Man, The Myth, The Legend

As everyone in the world knows right now, Steve Jobs passed away yesterday. I'm writing this blog post while I watch Pirates of Silicon Valley, and remembering the history of one of the greatest battles in modern times... Microsoft vs. Apple. Of course that war is far from over... and that is not what is important to talk about now. But what did Steve Jobs do, and what does he represent? In many ways, Steve Jobs represents the best that America is and can be. Strangely enough, though many, if not most people would agree with that statement... if you described Steve Jobs and what he did without mentioning his name, those same people would likely think that unnamed man was a failure, and an unpatriotic businessman.

Steve Jobs never graduated college. The man he cofounded Apple with, Steve Wozniak, didn't graduate college until after Apple was well on its way to being a success. Oh by the way, Steve Jobs smoked pot too.

We remember Steve Jobs for his remarkable successes towards what ended up being the end of his life. The iPod, iPhone and iPad are what every other company aspires to create, and what people wait in lines to buy. Of course, Steve Jobs was also at the helm of some remarkable failures early in his career. There was the predecessor to the Macintosh, the Lisa. And of course, after Jobs was fired from Apple, he started a new computer company called NeXT Computer which went nowhere. What made Steve Jobs a great businessman was not to throw away that which failed, or deny the failure, but to accept the failure, learn what went wrong and fix it, while keeping those new ideas that made something great.

At his core, Steve Jobs was a businessman, but he never really invented anything. What he did was perfect things. He also knew the true value of things. And that latter skill is the one that made Steve Jobs truly successful. He took concepts that other companies never thought would be successful, or never could be sold to regular people, and saw what they did not. Because they never valued what they created, they sold it to him cheaply, and he turned around and did something great with it.

Steve Jobs did not invent the MP3 player, though he certainly did what no other company was able to do... make it truly useable. And then he did what he'd never been able to successfully do before with it... sell computers. Steve Jobs did not invent the telephone, but he found a way to merge it with other technologies to create a new something that nobody can think of living without. In an age where people seem convinced that a company should succeed and people don't understand why consumers won't buy a product even though a few people think its great... Steve Jobs figured out what people actually wanted and sold it to them. No pressure... no demands. He made great products, and so people naturally wanted them.

Of course, there was a time when Apple was in trouble. Perhaps some people remember what happened almost 15 years ago... when the enemy himself, Bill Gates, literally looked over Steve Jobs on the screen and took part ownership of his company and helped save it:

Of course, looking back on it today, its surprising that ever needed to happen. And if you look at that time as the lowest point in the war... you can say that Apple has certainly fought back and in many ways is winning. Once again, Steve Jobs did what every great businessman does. He learned from his failures, kept what worked, and changed what didn't.

For a more personal view of Steve Jobs, I suggest you read this piece from All Things D, and Engadget looks back on Steve Jobs in his own words.

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Monday, May 09, 2011
Putting Amateurs In Charge of Security

Last week, partially in response to the death of Osama Bin Laden, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn asked that everyone become hyper vigilant, and if you "See Something, Say Something". While on the surface, the Chief's advice makes sense, it is actually the wrong approach, and will make us worse off in the long run. Security expert Bruce Schneier has written extensively on this type of thinking, and this entire article is well worth a read, but I'll clip out some of the better parts as they pertain to what the Milwaukee Police Chief is asking of us:

The problem is that ordinary citizens don't know what a real terrorist threat looks like. They can't tell the difference between a bomb and a tape dispenser, electronic name badge, CD player, bat detector or trash sculpture. Nor can they tell the difference between terrorist plotters and imams, musicians or architects. All they know is that something makes them uneasy -- usually based on fear, media hype or just something being different.

Even worse: After someone reports a "terrorist threat," the whole system is biased towards escalation and CYA instead of a more-realistic threat assessment.

Watch how it happens. Someone sees something, so he says something. The person he says it to -- a policeman, a security guard, a flight attendant -- now faces a choice: ignore or escalate. Even though he may believe that it's a false alarm, it's not in his best interests to dismiss the threat. If he's wrong, it'll cost him his career. But if he escalates, he'll be praised for "doing his job" and the cost will be borne by others. So he escalates. And the person he escalates to also escalates, in a series of CYA decisions. And before we're done, innocent people have been arrested, airports have been evacuated, and hundreds of police hours have been wasted.

We're already seeing this in statistics from New York, where after Bin Laden was killed, there was a spike in reporting of "suspicious" packages:

There were 10,566 reports of suspicious objects across the five boroughs in 2010. So far this year, the total was 2,775 as of Tuesday compared with 2,477 through the same period last year.
...
The daily totals typically spike when terrorist plot makes headlines here or overseas, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said Tuesday. The false alarms themselves sometimes get break-in cable news coverage or feed chatter online, fueling further fright.

On Monday, with news of the dramatic military raid of bin Laden's Pakistani lair at full throttle, there were 62 reports of suspicious packages. The previous Monday, the 24-hour total was 18. All were deemed non-threats.

Why the spike? There was no increased terrorist activity in New York. What increased was people's fear. And so things that they normally would not have thought twice about (and rightfully so) became suspicious in their minds. And because most citizens aren't security experts, they had no way of truly telling the difference.

This does not help the police, as Ed Flynn suggests. Instead, it floods the police with more bad information they have to sift through. It increased the amount of chaff that has to be cleared before the wheat is found. Moreover, when you have that much extra noise, it makes it more likely that valid information will be missed. As Schneir concludes:

If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn't be surprised when you get amateur security.
...
People have always come forward to tell the police when they see something genuinely suspicious, and should continue to do so. But encouraging people to raise an alarm every time they're spooked only squanders our security resources and makes no one safer.

Bin Laden was found through good data analysis over a long period of time. But that data did not come through the average man on the street in Milwaukee saying something. Asking amateurs to flood data centers with bad information will not help us.

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Monday, May 02, 2011
Bin Laden Is Dead - The "War on Terror" Is Not

Osama Bin Laden is dead. This is certainly a good thing for the world. And yet, as I sit back and think about this event in our history, I'm struck by how anti-climactic the entire thing is. The reality is that Bin Laden has been a non-issue for some time now. I'm having a hard time even remembering the last time I heard of one of his audio tapes being released to Al Jazeera. And so while I find relief in his death, and I feel gratitude towards those who made it happen, especially those Navy Seals who risked their lives to do the deed, I have a hard time seeing what change it will bring about in the long run.

That's not to say he didn't deserve what he got, or that there isn't a symbolic victory here. However, the War on Terror was cast long ago as something bigger than one man. Bin Laden was minimized in the war. Partly this is because you can't fight an entire War against one person. Partly I think it was a CYA exercise to deflect criticism for why he wasn't found and killed sooner. Either way, I find it hard to reconcile the minimization of his importance during the War on Terror, and the maximization of the impact of his death now.

But his death certainly does mark a milestone in the War on Terror, and has caused me to go back through my blog postings and examine how my views on that War have changed, from 2001 until today. It's been an interesting experience. For one, it has been strange to recall how "gung-ho" I was in the early days of the war, and then to see how my attitudes have slowly shifted. What I've come to realize is that my views on the War on Terrorism shifted as I realized more and more what the War on Terror really meant.

In the beginning of course, the War on Terror meant hunting down Osama Bin Laden. Everyone remembers Bush's declaration that he wanted him Dead or Alive, and I agreed... especially with the Dead part. I think most Americans did. Then, as more information was gathered, Afghanistan became the War on Terror for most people, as it was for me. I viewed them as synonymous. That's were the terrorists were, and they were being protected by the Taliban. No problem.

Then Iraq happened. When the Iraq War first started, I was actually pretty hawkish. Saddam Husein acted like a man with a loaded gun pointing it at whoever he wanted to. As we now know, it was a toy gun he was pointing. Honestly though, in 2003, I was still angry, as were most Americans. But with Iraq, the War on Terror shifted. It stopped being about 9/11. We were pulling troops out of Afghanistan. The hunt for Bin Laden took a back seat. Bin Laden's head on a platter went from being Priority #1 to a "Nice to Have" feature. Even as Bush came up for re-election, it became an exercise of trying to make the best of a bad situation. Invading Iraq couldn't be undone, and so we were left with attempting to make the best of a bad situation.

The War on Terror began to have a different effect at home as well. Prior to Iraq, most people thought of "The War on Terror" and "The Afghanistan War" to be the same thing with different names. But as Iraq rolled on, we began to pay more attention to the civil liberties we were asked to sacrifice here at home. We've been asked to allow unprecedented searches of our bank accounts, our bodies, and our communications all without warrant. New laws have cropped up if you used "terrorist threatening"... even charging teenagers... and that's just the beginning. Not only has the word terrorism lost some of its meaning, but the word was used as leverage to get laws passed that normally would have been scoffed. This doesn't even include what we've done at Gitmo.

The War on Terror changed from a War in Afghanistan, with specific measurable goals, with a potential defined ending, to a War of Hyperbole, not unlike the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty or a War on Obesity. We have a war with no defined goals, and no defined ending. That is not a war, but rather a policy position. Some may read that, and not understand the difference. The importance is in the word... War. If someone asked you to give up your right to keep the police from randomly searching your home whenever they pleased, simply because that was a policy, you'd be rightly outraged. And yet, when we say we're doing that to fight a War, people are suddenly more willing to accommodate.

The assumption of course, is that these measures will be sort lived. Eventually the War will be over, and we will return to our normal life. Osama Bin Laden is now thankfully dead. But would any of you say we're any closer to an end of the War on Terror? Can any of you articulate what conditions must be met for the War on Terror to be declared won? Nearly 10 years ago, most people would probably have viewed the death of Osama Bin Laden as the beginning of the end to the War on Terror. Would anyone say that today?

For another slightly different view on the theme, check out The Agitator's post on the subject.

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Friday, March 11, 2011
After The Quakes

Devastation. It's hard to say anything else, other than just watch the videos and be thankful you weren't there.

On a side note... I was watching the coverage this morning before work on CNN, when one of the morning anchors commented that because of the impact to the Japanese economy and destruction of road and rail in the area, oil demand would drop there, which would likely mean a drop in gasoline prices here in the United States. You know, just so you were aware of the important things and all... not the lives of the people in Japan... but gas prices.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

If you've watched video of, or been to the Madison protests as I have (three weekends in a row now), you've certainly heard the phrase yelled "This Is What Democracy Looks Like!" Democracy, it seems, has a definition as loose as the term "activist judge". It means whatever we want it to mean at the moment to help our particular political cause along. Of course, the right to protest, or as the Framers called it "peaceably assemble" and the right to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances" are both guaranteed in the Constitution. And as I've mentioned before, both sides have taken freedoms with how far they are willing to stretch the definition of "peaceably".

But do protest and Democracy go hand in hand? There are arguments to be made on both sides of this issue, but it's important to remember how Democracy actually works. Democracy can be defined in many ways, with concepts such as "government by the people" and "one person, one vote"... it also has the notion of "majority rule". But as with any system where the majority has ultimate power, the rights and freedoms of a minority group can be trampled. And so ultimately, it is important to define what the majority can rule.

In the last several decades especially, both Republicans and Democrats have gone to great lengths to increase the scope of what the majority can rule at all levels of government. From attempting to control the types of foods that we eat, to the health insurance we can buy, to how we save for our retirement. Our government has turned away from a Democratic government, to one of Rule by Committee. In a truly Democratic government, the scope of the government is constrained to those issues that truly affect all people. Government should not control what I eat, because my food choices do not affect yours. Where I choose to invest my money does not change how you can or should invest your money. Government's job is not to create a cookie cutter society where all people are made to choose the same things, because we are all different people, with different goals, values and needs. Attempting to create "one size fits all" laws simply does not work, because nobody likes clothes that don't fit.

And so, it shouldn't surprise us that these protests have come about. The Tea Party protests over ObamaCare were simply a response to the overreach of the Democratic (party) majority trying to create a cookie cutter law that the minority didn't want. They saw their rights being infringed, and they protested that. And now we have another minority group (public sector unions) protesting what they see as the revocation of a basic right... the right to collectively bargain.

Of course, collective bargaining as a right is a tricky one. As a general principle, I believe that people have the right to form a union and attempt to bargain collectively. This is tied to Freedom of Association. And just like people can form corporations, or other groups where there are shared values and goals, people ought to have the right to form unions. But bargaining and contracts are a two way street. And the reality is that unions only have the large amount of power that they do now because laws exist which force employers to bargain with them. And while I think its fine for unions to form... it is not a right to force other people to bargain with you. And that is essentially what we have now.

Public sector unions are even worse, because the consequences to bad contracts are essentially non-existent to both sides, as Shikha Dalmia explains:

The reason, explained Orin Kramer, the chairman of the New Jersey Investment Council, in The New York Times, is that the government can use accounting methods and make assumptions about investment returns that private companies are simply not permitted. This diminishes its reserve requirements, freeing it to make lavish promises now and postpone the budgetary consequences into the future. Public unions go along with this subterfuge—something that private unions wouldn't do - because they count on the government’s taxation powers to keep refilling the trough.
...
But the problem is that the government eventually either runs out of other people's money or it becomes politically untenable to keep raiding their pockets or both. And, at that point, the massive powers it had deployed against taxpayers get redirected towards thwarting those with claims against the government.

In the case of private sector unions, everyone benefits from transparency... especially the unions. If a company promises all sorts of thing that ultimately can't be paid for, the company goes into bankruptcy, and the union risks the benefits they bargained for (unless you're talking about GM). In the case of public sector unions, transparency is actually penalized, because the people doing the bargaining aren't ultimately paying the bills... the taxpayers are.  And when money is tight, lawmakers often times redirect money away from pension contributions to other things so they can keep taxes down, and services constant, even though they are running a structural deficit. This creates a system where the two parties at the table benefit from gaming the system, because they ultimately don't pay the bills, and are able to increase the benefit structure. When that bill ultimately comes due however, as we're seeing in many states, including Wisconsin, the choices become very stark. Hike taxes, cut benefits, or bankruptcy.

Now, at the point in time when that choice must be made, the taxpayers are suddenly brought into the loop. Having been kept in the dark regarding how we got into that situation in the first place, it's no wonder that there is some shock, confusion, and anger. You have one side demanding that they keep the benefits they've become accustomed to, and you have the other side wondering why their bill is suddenly so large. In the case of private sector unions, if the cost becomes too great, than the company suffers, and people stop buying products and services from that company. In this way, there are external forces which keep both sides in check.

In the case of public sector unions however, there is no choice regarding whether or not to pay taxes. In this way, there is no opportunity for people who disagree with the cost of services to stop using and paying for those services. And so what starts out looking like an attempt by a minority group to simply protect their rights is really an attempt to force people to pay for something they may or may not want. Thus you have people saying that Wisconsin is in fact not broke, because we can simply increase taxes to cover the increased cost of benefits. That's like saying that a college student can never go broke because they can always go to mom and dad for more money to help out. At a certain point in time, mom and dad say no.

It's ironic too. Public sector union members often times say that they "sacrifice pay for increased benefits and job security". But they do so in a deal with the government, where everyone is supposed to have a say in how that government is run. When suddenly that government (of the people) decides they don't want that deal any more, Democracy is suddenly about their own protectionism, and not about what the elected majority want any more. But that is the chance you take when you work for a government that is ultimately controlled by the people. As they say, live by the sword, die by the sword.

The reason why we have these protests is that we've forgotten what Democracy is in fact supposed to look like. A small government which only attempts to legislate the small number of things where there is true common cause. When we attempt to make Democracy look like something else, a government made to benefit one group at the expense of another, nobody benefits, and you are left with our current chaos.

This isn't what Democracy is supposed to look like.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Are You There to Document or to Participate?

I've now been to the protests in Madison on two successive Saturdays, to take pictures, as I've posted about before here and here. Before I've gone, I've made mention of it to friends and family, and even posted on Twitter and Facebook about my intentions of going. The reaction has been interesting, to say the least. They've ranged from the mild "be careful out there" to "they're hyenas... bring a long lens and be scared". My actual experience has not matched the warnings. As I've said before, while the crowds were loud and animated, I never found them to be dangerous, and I've never once felt scared or intimidated.

Of course, others have had very different experiences, as have been documented in videos like this from Freedom Works:

Instapundit also recently linked to this blog post with suggested rules for taking a camera to a demonstration, which were adopted from Marine rules for a gun fight!

3. If your shooting stance is good, you're probably not moving fast enough nor using cover correctly.

4. Move away from your subject. Distance is your friend. (Lateral and diagonal movement are preferred.)

5. If you can choose what to bring to a demonstration, bring a long lens and a friend with a long lens.

So why the difference? Why are some people encountering very harsh reactions, with different levels of assault, while I can go to these protests and photograph people with impunity and without fear? The answer is simple. I have gone to document the protests, while others have been participating.

The Freedom Works video above is a wonderful example of this. First, allow me to give the required disclaimer that I do not endorse the behavior of the protester who assaults the camera operator. It was wrong, and he should not have assaulted anyone. But what is interesting in that case, is that the camera person was there with an interviewer and confronted that protester... and the protester was not exactly happy about it. There was no interview going on, and the protester made it pretty clear that he wasn't interested in talking with them. Yet the camera crew kept invading his space... pushing for a response... and boy did they get one.

The camera crew was participating and confronting... not simply documenting. They poked a bear, and they got bit. In fact, it seems to me that they did this with the sole purpose of getting a "response". Not an assault mind you, but some kind of tirade that they could put up on YouTube. I'd actually be pretty curious what that entire video looks like, as it's clear that there was a certain amount of conversation going on before the video takes place that was edited out. What questions were asked? How did he respond?

After I've posted my pictures from the protests, I've had various friends comment on my pictures as if they reflect my own view points, even though they don't. What was interesting was talking with some fellow area photographers at a Cream City photography event, who also have gone to the protests. The phrase that I had used, and they also most commonly used was "I put my photojournalist hat on when I went". In other words, we went not to engage or protest, but simply to observe and document... no matter how it actually correlated to their own political views. Of course, nobody in that group felt any fear either.

But why would I, of all people, do that? After all, I have strong political opinions. The problem is that when you go to something like this with a camera, you have to go with that intent, or you end up missing a lot. Photography is an art where time is critical. Certain opportunities only exist for a small period of time, whether that be a group of protesters in a certain area, or specific lighting in a forest. If you get caught up in the politics and your own views, then you close your eyes to the pictures all around you. You miss shots you never even imagined because you went with preconceived notions of the pictures you thought you'd get.

And the reality is... the people there want to be documented. That's the entire reason they are there! Of course, as anyone who watches Reality TV knows, the camera changes everything around it. People act differently when a camera is pointed at them. But people act even more differently when they are confronted with an interviewer. At that point, you are not merely documenting the protest. You are attempting to change the protest with your own views. Of course, you have every right to do that. But at that point, you have become a protester yourself, and you shouldn't be surprised at the emotions that this will create among passionate people.

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Monday, February 28, 2011
More from the Madison Union Protests

So this past weekend I went back out to Madison to take some more pictures of the protests. Those of you who follow me on Twitter of are friends on Facebook have seen some of these pictues already. The reactions to these pictures have been interesting. It would seem that some think that I agree with the sentiments expressed in some of the signs, like those comparing Walker to Hitler or Mubarak. Of course, this couldn't be farther from the truth, but as I'm learning about photography, that is the price you pay.

My goal was simply to capture the moment, and the range of opinions expressed, and hopefully do it in an interesting way. You can see the latest group of pictures on Flickr, or look at this slideshow.

My shots from last weekend can be found here.

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Friday, February 25, 2011
So What Were The Tea Party Rallies?

I know I've been fairly quiet on the protests in Madison. To be honest, I'm sick of both sides. I think Unions ought to have the freedom to exist (what we Libertarians call freedom of Association), but I also think there should be no law requiring a business (and certainly not a government) to have to bargain with them (what we Libertarians call freedom of Contract). But that's beside the point.

For reasons known only to God, Badger Blogger is still on my feed list, which means I occasionally scroll through to see what the crazier side of the right is saying. This morning, I happened upon this little post, and frankly... it deserves attention:

Notice how differently Republicans act when something we don’t want, happens, than how Democrats act. When Obamacare was passed on Christmas Eve, we were angry, but there were no angry mobs taking to the streets and protesting for days, besieging the Capitol, making threats… None of that. We were told that "elections have consequences," and they were right. So we came together, and through the electoral process, we made historic gains across America, and even more so here in Wisconsin. This is the way Republicans are fighting back against the Obamacare legislation and what we believe to be a harmful shift towards Socialism in America.

The ease with which he embarks upon his own revisionist history is... well... kind of funny actually. Of course, Patrick is right when he says that there were no angry mobs when ObamaCare passed on Christmas Eve, just like there have been no angry mobs when the Budget Repair Bill passed... because it hasn't passed yet. No.  The angry mobs for ObamaCare happened, just like the current protests are happening, before the bill passed. Or does Patrick not remember the Tea Party rallies that happened throughout the country protesting the ObamaCare bill? Does he not remember the march on Washington DC in September 2009?

As many as one million people flooded into Washington for a massive rally organised by conservatives claiming that President Obama is driving America towards socialism.

The size of the crowd - by far the biggest protest since the president took office in January - shocked the White House.

Demonstrators massed outside Capitol Hill after marching down Pennsylvania Avenue waving placards and chanting 'Enough, enough'.

Don't forget to click the link for pictures of the rally, showing the large crowds gathered around the Capital, complete with pictures of protesters waving signs of Obama made to look like Hitler. We came together through the electoral process indeed. My point here is not to condemn the Tea Party rallies, just as I don't condemn the protests happening in Madison now. The right to peaceably assemble is a right guaranteed in our Constitution... and both sides have taken liberties with how far they want to stretch the definition of "peaceably". Any time you gather enough people together who are over passionate on an issue, there are also going to be problems.

But let's not pretend that a couple of years ago Republicans weren't just as pissed off as Democrats are now... and that Republicans didn't rally and protest. Republicans made their historic gains partially because of those rallies.  Sometimes the only way for the minority to make itself heard is through protest... and you should know that... because Republicans have been in the minority before. That's why the right exists in the Constitution in the first place. Those Framers were pretty smart guys.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011
Witnessing the Protests

This morning I decided to head on out to Madison and witness the Teacher's Union Protests first hand. I wasn't able to spend the entire day, but did spend several hours there, both inside and outside the Capital Building. I decided to go not as a protester, nor as a political pundit, but instead as a neutral photographer.

But before I show the pictures... some observations:

  • Given the sheer numbers of people, I was amazed and heartened by how civil everyone one. Yes, everyone was loud. There was lots of chanting and yelling, but nothing coming close to violence that I saw.
  • For people interested in numbers... I can only estimate that the Union protestors outnumbers the Walker supporters by 4 or 5 to 1.
  • The Union protesters used their numbers to their advantage, and counter protested around where the Walker protesters were and tried to disrupt. The Walker folks either couldn't, or didn't attempt to do the same that I saw.
  • The Capital Police and other Law Enforcement were extremely professional and did a great job (and you don't hear me say things like that very often).

And with that, you can see all the photographs I took in this set on Flickr:

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Thursday, January 27, 2011
State of the Union Address - Summary

So now that the alcohol has metabolized, and I've had a chance to really digest what was said (and I'm not as busy), I figured it would be worth providing some final thoughts to the State of the Union which I live blogged two nights ago. What struck me early on was how little substance there was. I know it seems like most State of the Union addresses always contain more flowery language than substance, but this one seemed to be even more devoid of specifics.

Obama did a nice job recognizing the Republican achievement of the election, as well as highlighting the fact that tax cuts actually were passed as part of the stimulus. In effect, he tried to make himself look Conservative. In fact, one of the surprises from the speech (in my opinion) wasn't what he talked about, but rather what he didn't talk about... gun control. After what happened to Rep. Giffords, it would have been easy to make that a central point in the speech, but he never even mentioned it. Later on in the speech, Obama also surprised me by barely mentioning immigration reform. No proposal, no grand ideas... merely a promise that we must do something and that it will be difficult. Well... duh.

One of the things that is very typical of State of the Unions is the propensity of Presidents to very quickly state one thing, and then propose a program or solution that will do the exact opposite. State of the Unions tend to beg for opposites. In this case, it was Obama talking about the need to "win the future", when all he could do was talk about the past. He did this not only by invoking the memory of Sputnik, but with his stories of times long one by when people might start working at a company out of high school and continue on at that same company until retirement. And while that is rarely the case any more, he actually showed no reason why this change was bad. In fact, from my own personal experience, I think we're better off as a society when this happens as infrequently as it now does. Companies are more free to shed dead weight without guilt, and people are required to keep their skills honed. Of course, he immediately transitioned to the bogeyman of China and India, because after all, those countries run manufacturing like we used to and look how much they export! We must catch up! But Obama's view on trade is incredibly short sited. A "trade deficit" is not a bad thing, if it allows you to buy certain things cheaper than you can build then so that you can allocate those savings in other things. And that's precisely what we do.

Another place where he swung wildly from ideal to the opposite reality was in his view of innovation. He said "None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from." And yet, almost immediately he lists the industries that he wants to not only stop giving subsidies too (which is fine by me), but also all the new industries that he wants to subsidize. And yet it begs the simple question... If we can't know what next big industry will be successful, how can the government choose to subsidize and choose one? Of course, Obama touted the government's minor involvement in the start of the internet, and with GPS, but I believe incorrectly tries to take credit for the micro chip, which was developed by Texas Instruments and Bell Labs... no government help needed. The light bulb? Television? Telephones? Even his beloved railroad. Entire industries cropped up without the government so much as planting a seed.

His commitments to higher education also show a basic misunderstanding of the cost and benefits of a college degree. The more money which the government has pumped into colleges and universities, the more expensive it has become. Government money doesn't reduce the cost of the education... its merely treated as icing on the cake for Universities. Government wants to give everyone an extra few grand for college? The colleges will simply bump up the prices by a few extra grand. How handy. And where does it lead us? More graduates with Journalism degrees, Women's Studies degrees and the ever valuable degree in Art History. The Chinese won't stand a chance.

Most troubling was Obama's continuation of the tradition of Presidential ignorance in the responsibilities of the Federal government in primary and secondary education. Presidents, with greater frequency and power, have made it seem as if they controlled the curriculum of our students, and paid our teachers, instead of our States and local School Districts. The only thing the Federal government can do is tax us locally, launder the money through the Dept. of Education, and then blackmail states into changing requirements to get their own damn money back. Why? Because nowhere in the Constitution does it actually say that the Federal government can control education.

As if all these false promises weren't enough so far, he then adds to the pile by promising reforms to regulations that hurt businesses. He then goes on to list all the supposedly good regulations that shouldn't be touched, that hurt businesses greatly, from the newest banking regulations (which have caused massive increases to fees for consumers) and ObamaCare which will increase health care costs, and creates great uncertainty for business which makes them afraid to invest. And of course, let's not forget his meaningless promise to cut spending, much of which is actually just a promise to reduce the size of an increase, not actually decrease spending. And let's not forget, we have to reform Social Security, but do it in such a way that nobody will lose anything. Yeah... good luck with that. I'd like a pony while you're at it.

At the end of the night, we were left with a lot of platitudes, and no real ideas... and certainly nothing controversial. Maybe that was the goal the entire time, but it just seemed flat. Megan McArdle says that it reminded her of a speech given by the CEO of a dying company. And if you're looking for more specific rebuttals of the ideas that Obama put forth, CATO put together this fantastic video:

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011
State of the Union Address - Live Blogged!

I normally haven't done this, but for some reason I feel the need to blog the State of the Union address... so I'll be doing that live, with a beer in my hand. As I said on Twitter earlier, I would prefer it if the President delivered the State of the Union in the form of a letter (a proud tradition started by Thomas Jefferson and continued for about 100 years). Jefferson believed that giving the State of the Union in a speech to Congress resembled the British practice of the Monarch's Speech from the Throne. So, with all that said, please stop back at this post around 8PM Central, and watch my commentary fly by! You won't be sorry... well... maybe you will be.

Update: I'll also be live blogging the responses by Paul Ryan and Michele Bachmann. For some background on my views regarding Paul Ryan, check out my previous posts about him (Hint - I don't really like him).

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Thursday, January 20, 2011
A Question for Those Who Support Late Term Abortions

A "doctor" in Philadelphia has been arrested for running a pretty atrocious abortion clinic. You can read all the grisly details in this news article. However, I want to concentrate on one particular aspect:

Gosnell "induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord," Williams said.

Ignoring the other clearly illegal activities going on in that clinic (like unlicensed high school students performing "medical operations"), I have a question for those out there who support late term abortions. Do you think what this doctor did was illegal? Is there a difference between aborting a "fetus" a couple days before it would have been born, and aborting a baby after it has been born? If you don't think what he did was any different than a late term abortion, how long must pass after birth before that baby is human enough for what he did to be considered illegal, and why?

And not that it will stop some people, but I'd rather not have people who are clearly against abortion in general chime in on how it should all be illegal. If that's all you want to say, then comment on another blog where they are talking about this story (here or here for instance). Thank you.

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Monday, January 10, 2011
Who Is to Blame for the Arizona Shooting?

As all of you are aware by now, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head at an event outside a grocery store over the weekend in Tucson and is in critical condition. Six others, including a Federal Judge and a 9 year old girl were not so lucky, and died that day. Surprisingly, many have been searching the last few days for someone to pin the blame on. The answer should be short and simple... the man holding the gun... Jared Lee Loughner. The fact that for many, the answer is not so short and simple, says more about the people looking for others to blame, than it does about the shooter.

The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner was, by all accounts bat-shit-crazy. This interview with one of his friends describes a man who was more than simply deeply troubled, but was possibly schizophrenic, or suffered from some other type of severe mental disorder. He believed among other things, that the government was trying to control people using grammar. He had no particular ideological bent by these accounts, and had focused on Rep. Giffords for several years. In fact, contrary to the current narrative, he's been described as a "left wing pothead".

Unfortunately, as is the nature of the news, especially in the age of social media, people didn't want to wait to find out who this man was before they jumped to conclusions. Practically within minutes of the shooting, people were blaming Tea Party rhetoric, Sarah Palin, targets placed on maps... all without knowing a thing about who the man was, or what he actually believed, or what truly motivated him. Even now that more information about him has come out, and the fact that he was not allied with any particular advocacy group, people are still drawing these connections, even though there is no connection to be made. We're hearing things in the media such as:

We do not yet know what prompted 22-year-old accused gunman Jared Loughner to allegedly shoot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and others, including a child and federal judge who died from their wounds.

But critics of Sarah Palin have already drawn a link between the shooting and the fact that the former Alaska governor put Giffords on a "target list" of lawmakers Palin wanted to see unseated in the midterm elections.

In other words, there is no connection to be drawn, but we're going to make one for you anyway. The narrative was set early, and so it is too late to back pedal now that the facts have came out.

This shouldn't surprise anyone. When something this horrible happens, people want (almost need) for there to be a reason for it. Conspiracy theories erupt because it's hard for people to accept that something like this might happen almost randomly, or because of a deranged psychopath. No, there has to be a good reason for this.  For the media, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party groups were already in the front of their mind. The connection for them was obvious. Many in the media, and on the left talk about their influence so much, that when they see a psychopath do something like this, they naturally assume that if they're looking at Sarah Palin, so must he. Connection made.

The reality is the fiery rhetoric has been part of American political discourse since the founding of this nation.  Moreover, violent rhetoric has been used by both the right and left... depending on who had greater power in Washington.  Where was the media concern when a movie was created depicting the assassination of President Bush?  That was certainly more than metaphoric cross-hairs, and yet the reactions then are almost exactly reverse as they are today. Republicans called it assassination porn, while Democrats called it free speech.  Sarah Palin herself has been hanged in effigy. And yet today, there have been proposed bills to ban targets and crosshairs, and let members of Congress skip past the TSA line at the Airport. Such bills are nonsense. Banning certain types of speech as being too inflammatory only leads to a system where certain people will get to pick and choose who and how we speak, which is precisely what the 1st Amendment was designed to prevent. Who decides? How inflammatory is too inflammatory? It is so arbitrarily vague that it will cause far more problems than even need to be solved.

But for many, this is about scoring cheap political points. It is sick, and it is wrong. There are no points to be scored here. Blaming Sarah Palin, or Republicans in general for one man's horrific act would be like blaming Jodie Foster for the attempt on President Reagan by John Hinckley. Only one man is to blame for the murders in Arizona, and that is the man who pulled the trigger. Don't try to make personal or political gains from something so terrible.

For more, similar reaction, take a look at this post by Nick Gillespie and Glenn Reynolds.

On a separate note, the Westboro Baptist Church is planning on picketing the funerals of those killed over the weekend saying that they "Thank God for the marvelous work in Tucson." For the life of me, I do not understand how a group that claims to follow the teachings of Christ can do something awful, or be proud of the arbitrary murder of innocent people. There is a special place in hell for the members of that church.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010
Show Me The Smokey Money!

On the day after Independence Day, people in the state of Wisconsin lost one more freedom... the right to decide whether or not people are allowed to smoke in an establishment that they own. But now the bigger problem arises... where will all the money go from the tickets the police are going to write?

The Milwaukee Common Council delayed action Wednesday on a measure to enforce the new state smoking ban, after a lengthy debate over who would write tickets and how the city would define the enclosed areas where smoking is prohibited.

Without city action, only Milwaukee police are empowered to enforce the ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and other buildings, and any tickets they write would be referred to the Milwaukee County district attorney's office for prosecution in Circuit Court, Deputy City Attorney Linda Burke told the council. The state law took effect Monday.

Wednesday's debate focused on a measure to write the state smoking ban into city ordinances, which would allow violations to be prosecuted by the city attorney's office in Municipal Court, where the fines levied would flow into the city treasury.

But the ordinance also would define enclosed areas differently than the state law. Tavern owners believe the state law would allow smoking in a bar that has large open windows on two sides, Assistant City Attorney Robin Pederson said. The city ordinance would allow smoking only in areas that have no more than two walls and a roof, Burke said.

Now if I recall correctly, one of the major arguments made by the proponents of the state ban was that there was too much variance between all the different municipal laws that had been enacted. Not only did some communities not have a ban (the horror!), but the bans were written differently in each community. A state law, they claimed, would solve that problem, and bring a uniform ban to the state.

The problem is... apparently... the money from the tickets will go to the county instead of the city. So now, the City of Milwaukee wants to write their own new, stricter law, anyway, so that they can write their own municipal tickets which will go into city coffers instead of state ones. Also of concern to me is the following from an article when the state ban was signed:

Under the law, the local bans remain in effect until the state one starts, but local governments would not be allowed to pass stricter regulations.

But that's exactly what the Milwaukee Common Council wants to do... which at least according to Fox 6, would be illegal under the current ban. So if Milwaukee still has to pass it's own ordinance, despite the existence of the "uniform ban", then what was the point in the statewide ban to begin with?

This entire debate of course shows the real reason why cigarette taxes and smoking bans are popular. They allow the government to rake in more money. It's not about keeping people healthy, because the government becomes addicted to the revenue that cigarettes bring in. California has created programs specifically with the funds brought in by its cigarette taxes. But now that the funds are drying up, because people are quitting due to the high cost, "the children are suffering".

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