Friday, December 16, 2016

A Beloved Franchise Goes Rogue

Twelve months ago, I entered a movie theater with anxious, but cautious, anticipation for the first installment in a new era of Star Wars films. JJ Abrams rewarded this anticipation with an exceptional piece of entertainment that also just so happens to be an excellent Star Wars flick.

Fast forward to this week, when I sat down for the first foray into a new realm of Star Wars entertainment, one the diverges from the episodic format of all the prior films, though still telling a story familiar to anyone who knows the universe even remotely. Reports of reshoots heightened the similarly cautious optimism that I felt and made me worry this may not live up to the example set the year before.

Was I wrong to worry?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Forum on Cognitive Dissonance

As a libertarian, I have a responsibility to court both sides of the political spectrum to look for allies and help people see a different perspective, while also broadening and better informing my own. A while back, I attended a local Republican committee meeting on the Common Core with that in mind, and last night I attended a forum hosted by The Center for Western Priorities on public lands management. While the topics were markedly different, the sentiment was mostly the same at both: the other side is wrong - dead wrong - and we must not allow them any medium for their message.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Situational Leadership and our Presidential Candidates

After the horrific events in Orlando over the weekend, there was the usual rush to judgment as to the causes of such a heinous crime, well before any kind of thorough investigation had been conducted. And while we expect such things from the media, what we found this time was that the two major party presidential candidates were all too happy to join the bandwagon. Their chosen narratives were well suited to the early details that trickled out, and with great pomp and conviction, they told America just what was wrong and how they would fix it.

The trouble is, both of them are now proving to be quite wrong.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Sanders Revolution Fails Itself

Bernie Sanders’s ride has come to its end. Finally. Or has it?

When Senator Sanders launched his nascent bid for the presidency last year, my initial thoughts were not complimentary. Here was a perennial outsider and nonconformist (qualities I actually could respect), who had charmed my home state of Vermont into thinking he could accomplish something in the Senate, casting aside any notions of political independence in signing on to the Democratic party machine. Why? “It is the only way to get elected,” he claimed at the time. If that were true, then Jill Stein and Gov. Gary Johnson would have to be at the party doorstep, would they not? The truth is, that was never the reason.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Movin' On Up: The 'shrinking middle class' fallacy

Twenty years ago, as most of my friends prepared for graduation and the next steps in their lives, I was a college drop-out - flunk-out really. I was making barely over minimum wage and working two jobs, sometimes three, to pay bills. There were a good many reasons that I found myself in the predicament that I was in at the time, rather than fitting myself for a cap and gown, but none of them were external. In the intervening time period, a lot of things have changed. Which is why when I hear Bernie Sanders talk about the disappearing middle class, I just have to shake my head.

Bernie is looking at a number in isolation and saying ‘there are less people in this group than there were 30 years ago’. And his followers eat it up, because they want someone to blame for the malaise that affects them: college debt, poor job prospects, flat-lining wages. All of these things are because of the 1% on Wall Street, Bernie will tell you. They hold all that wealth! But wait just a second… If those people aren’t middle class anymore, exactly where did they go?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How the New Overtime Rules Will Hurt Everyone

Today, the Obama administration took the long-expected step of amending the overtime regulations as they apply to all labor.  In a quaint video uploaded to Facebook, they outline just how this will work: that by doubling the threshold over which individuals are exempt from overtime, they will magically relieve all of those over-worked and underpaid Americans of their burdens, using Sam and Mattie as avatars of Americans facing such challenges.  But the video also goes to great lengths to ignore practical reality and the fundamentals of economics, which tell us simply that in the face of increased costs, employers will simply employ fewer people.

The video seems to think that now, because it will be more expensive to pay Sam or Mattie overtime, the number being fixed nationwide regardless of regional cost of labor variations, employers will just either a) raise their pay so they aren’t overtime eligible, or b) shift the extra workload to other employees to keep their workload down.  Let me tell you what will really happen, because you see: I’ve done both Mattie and Sam’s jobs before.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Legislating from the executive branch

A recent judge’s ruling confirmed what should have already been obvious: Montana’s tax credit scholarship is neither a state appropriation of funds, nor is it up to the executive branch to determine who should receive it. Unfortunately, money that could be going to parents who want more choice is still at risk. Why? Because the special interests want an appeal.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bullock, Tester send PayPal a disingenuous invitation

As my wife and I drove back from Billings last night, stopping off for some beers and boudin at High Plains Brewing and Cajun Phatty’s, I told her how my Facebook feed had shared the news of my home state’s governor inviting PayPal to set up shop there after rebuking Charlotte, citing all the amenities the Green Mountain state has to offer. I lamented the fact that even if our state leaders here in Montana wanted to send such an invitation, they couldn’t honestly do so.

Little did I know, they already had.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A taxing proposition

If you’re like nearly every other adult American, you just paid someone money to get a portion of your own earnings back. Every year, the multi-billion dollar tax return industry cashes in on people’s fundamental desire to recoup every penny of what they earned that the government should have taken. This is an industry that capitalizes on the ever-increasing complexity of tax laws, and fleeces Americans for getting back what never should have been taken to begin with. Whether it is paying $15 for an online service as I did, or a couple hundred dollars as I know some people have done this year already, it is preposterous to think that the average American has to engage the services of a highly trained professional, or utilize highly specialized and time-consuming software, just to get back the money they earned.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why I shop at Costco, and why it matters...

...well, it matters to me, at least.

In 2014, retail giant Target announced that they would no longer offer healthcare benefits to part time employees, instead directing them to the newly formed ACA exchanges. Their rationale at the time was that “by offering them insurance, we could actually disqualify many of them from being eligible for newly available subsidies that could reduce their overall health insurance expense."

At the time this decision was made, Target was still doing quite well and was profitable, though their earnings year over year had declined slightly. They hadn’t yet felt the full effect of their credit card breach, so this was not a reaction to adverse market conditions: this was purely a calculated business decision. When you look at it at face value, it makes sense for Target to do what it can to lower costs to compete in an already tight retail sector. But in reality what happened was that Target took its internal cost of providing benefits, previously paid for by consumers through retail pricing, and passed it along to everyone, not just their customers.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Playing the Trump Card

Though it was nearly twelve years ago now, I can remember it like it was yesterday. I sat around a lunch table with a bunch of coworkers in my new job and one of them picked up the newspaper to look at the election results. “I just don’t understand how anyone can vote for them?!” Them, in this instance, being Republicans. John Kerry has just been beaten handily by incumbent George W. Bush, despite all attempts to make the latter out to be the cronyist incompetent that he had become. The sentiment was widespread, and not just limited to our lunch table. But if you look at the map from that election, the widespread nature of this sentiment was limited to geographically small, but very densely populated sections of the country.

Fast forward to 2016, and those same areas of the country are bewildered at how anyone could vote for Trump in their own backyard. Let me say this at the outset – I would never, ever vote for Trump. I don’t think he’s a good human being, never mind a good presidential candidate. But deep down, I have to admit something: I understand why people are voting for him. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Age of Entitlement

On Facebook the other day, my cousin posted a very well-written blog entry that was a meant to be a wake-up call for an angst-ridden twenty-something who had publicly slammed and slandered her start-up’s management, all under the guise of not receiving a living wage. Not liking to take things as second-hand source material (thanks, Ms. Brewer!), I dug further to find the original blog posting. Both are must-reads. But quite frankly, reading the latter made me mad.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Unequal Arguments on Income Inequality

There has been, for a few years now, a lot of hue and cry about income inequality. The obvious solution of those who think this is a drastic problem is to reallocate the funds of those with the most money to those who have the least. After all, they say, in the richest country in the world, why should anyone go without?

But wait – why stop there? Why can those in the richest country in the world not afford to provide for all? And by all, let us be truly inclusive. The ‘income inequality’ crowd like to crow about the 1%, but fail to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of Americans fall within the 1% themselves. An American with a household income of $37,000 is better off than 99% of people in the world. In fact, according to a World Bank economist, the bottom 5% of Americans are still better off than 68% of the world. Yet we don’t see that same hue and cry to address this global issue from the folks on the streets wanting $15 per hour as a minimum wage. Why is that?