Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Is “ignorance of the law” a valid excuse now days?

If you’re talking “regulatory law” it may very well be … or so Insty argues in his USA Today column:

Ignorance of the law, we are often told, is no excuse. “Every man is presumed to know the law,” says a long-established legal aphorism. And if you are charged with a crime, you would be well advised to rely on some other defense than “I had no idea that was illegal.”

But not everybody favors this state of affairs. While a century or two ago nearly all crime was traditional common-law crime — rape, murder, theft and other things that pretty much everyone should know are bad — nowadays we face all sorts of “regulatory crimes” in which intuitions of right and wrong play no role, but for which the penalties are high.

If you walk down the sidewalk, pick up a pretty feather, and take it home, you could be a felon — if it happens to be a bald eagle feather. Bald eagles are plentiful now, and were taken off the endangered species list years ago, but the federal law making possession of them a crime for most people is still on the books, and federal agents are even infiltrating some Native-American powwows in order to find and arrest people. (And feathers from lesser-known birds, like the red-tailed hawk are also covered). Other examples abound, from getting lost in a storm and snowmobiling on the wrong bit of federal land, to diverting storm sewer water around a building.

Laws are proliferating like fleas and those are the ones that are actually passed by legislatures.  Regulatory law, on the other hand, is law created

“Regulatory crimes” of this sort are incredibly numerous and a category that is growing quickly. They are the ones likely to trap unwary individuals into being felons without knowing it. That is why Michael Cottone, in a just-published Tennessee Law Review article, suggests that maybe the old presumption that individuals know the law is outdated, unfair and maybe even unconstitutional. “Tellingly,” he writes, “no exact count of the number of federal statutes that impose criminal sanctions has ever been given, but estimates from the last 15 years range from 3,600 to approximately 4,500.” Meanwhile, according to recent congressional testimony, the number of federal regulations (enacted by administrative agencies under loose authority from Congress) carrying criminal penalties may be as many as 300,000.

And it gets worse. While the old-fashioned common law crimes typically required a culpable mental state — you had to realize you were doing something wrong — the regulatory crimes generally don’t require any knowledge that you’re breaking the law. This seems quite unfair. As Cottone asks, “How can people be expected to know all the laws governing their conduct when no one even knows exactly how many criminal laws exist?”

Or bothers to acquaint the public with these laws and their penalties?

Most of these laws, as Reynolds points out, are “(enacted by administrative agencies under loose authority from Congress) carrying criminal penalties” that even Congress dosen’t know about.  Imagine a body of law and penalties that are simply made up by regulatory agencies numbering 300,000.  That’s absurd!

Don’t expect to be saved by “prosecutorial discretion” if someone in government is out to get you either.

Of course, we may hope that prosecutorial discretion will save us: Just explain to the nice prosecutor that we meant no harm, and violated the law by accident, and he or she will drop the charges and tell us to be more careful next time. And sometimes things work that way. But other times, the prosecutors are out to get you for your politics, your ethnicity, or just in order to fulfill a quota, in which case you will hear that the law is the law, and that ignorance is no excuse. (Amusingly, government officials who break the law do get to plead ignorance and good intentions, under the doctrine of good faith “qualified immunity.” Just not us proles.)

It’s “us proles” who need to be worried about this.  We’re the ones who will feel the full weight of these laws when they’re enforced.  We aren’t politically important enough for prosecutorial discretion to be exercised.  And that’s the way it always is.

This is the absurdity of our government (or any government) fundamentally ignoring the fairly strict guidelines of the Constitution and changing its mission from one of the protection of rights (and the few laws that requires) to that of governing our every move for the “common good” (as defined by  … itself).

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 30 Mar 15

Personal income rose 0.4% in March, while personal spending rose 0.1%. The PCE Price index rose 0.2% overall, and 0.1% at the core. On a year-over-year basis, personal spending is up 4.5%, personal spending is up 3.3%, and the PCE Price Index is up 0.3% overall, but up 1.4% at the core rate.

The Pending Home Sales index rose 3.1% to 106.9 in February.

The Dallas Fed Manufacturing Index continued to decline in March, to -17.4 from -11.2. The production index fell to -5.2 from 0.7.


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Economic Statistics for 27 Mar 15

The final revision of 4th Quarter GDP for 2014 was unchanged at 2.2% annualized growth. The GDP price index was unrevised at 0.1.

Corporate profits in the 4th quarter of 2014 came in at $1.838 trillion, up 2.9%, compared to the 3rd quarter’s 5.9% increase.

The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index rose 1.8 points to 93.0 in March.


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Economic Statistics for 26 Mar 15

The Markit PMI services index flash for March rose 1.8 points to 58.6.

The Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Index fell -5 points to -4 in March.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 1.3 points to 45.5 in the latest week, the highest level since July, 2007.

Initial weekly jobless claims  fell 9,000 to 282,000. The 4-week average fell 7,750 to 297,000. Continuing claims fell 6,000 to 2.416 million.

The Fed’s balance sheet fell $-15.3 billion last week, with total assets of $4.481 trillion. Reserve bank credit fell $-7.9 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $9.3 billion in the latest week.


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Meanwhile in Yemen

We see the end-state of what this administration deems a “success”:

Secret files held by Yemeni security forces that contain details of American intelligence operations in the country have been looted by Iran-backed militia leaders, exposing names of confidential informants and plans for U.S.-backed counter-terrorism strikes, U.S. officials say.

U.S. intelligence officials believe additional files were handed directly to Iranian advisors by Yemeni officials who have sided with the Houthi militias that seized control of Sana, the capital, in September, which led the U.S.-backed president to flee to Aden.

For American intelligence networks in Yemen, the damage has been severe. Until recently, U.S. forces deployed in Yemen had worked closely with President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi’s government to track and kill Al Qaeda operatives, and President Obama had hailed Yemen last fall as a model for counter-terrorism operations elsewhere.

Let’s see … SOF forced out of the country, President of Yemen on the run and both sides (Houti and AQ) romping all over the place.  Oh, and the security breech which is likely to cost a lot of lives.

But the identities of local agents were considered compromised after Houthi leaders in Sana took over the offices of Yemen’s National Security Bureau, which had worked closely with the CIA and other intelligence agencies, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations.

Yemeni intelligence officers still loyal to Hadi’s besieged government burned some secret files, one official said. But they couldn’t destroy all of them before the Houthi fighters, whose leaders have received some weapons and training from Iran, moved in.

The loss of the intelligence networks, in addition to the escalating conflict, contributed to the Obama administration’s decision to halt drone strikes in Yemen for two months, to vacate the U.S. Embassy in Sana last month and to evacuate U.S. special operations and intelligence teams from a Yemeni air base over the weekend.

“Success”.  Just breath it in.

Reminds you of the “success” in Libya, doesn’t it?

~McQ

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A simple question

Dr. Thomas Sowell says in reality it is a very simple question and it is questions like this one that completely undo Hillary Clinton supporters.

Question: What has Ms. Clinton ever accomplished?

<crickets> <subject change>

It is indeed a simple question.  And the answer:

For someone who has spent her entire adult life in politics, including being a Senator and then a Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has nothing to show for all those years — no significant legislation of hers that she got passed in the Senate, and only an unbroken series of international setbacks for the United States during her time as Secretary of State.

Or said another way, nothing.  Nothing of note, nothing of substance.  The fact that she’s been in the public eye longer than Barack Obama doesn’t change the fact that she’s essentially the female version of him.

Remember too:

Before Barack Obama entered the White House and appointed Mrs. Clinton Secretary of State, Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq had notified their higher ups, stationed in Pakistan, that their cause was lost in Iraq and that there was no point sending more men there.

Hosni Mubarak was in charge in Egypt. He posed no threat to American or Western interests in the Middle East or to Christians within Egypt or to Israel. But the Obama administration threw its weight behind the Muslim Brotherhood, which took over and began terrorizing Christians in Egypt and promoting hostility to Israel.

In Libya next door, the Qaddafi regime had already given up its weapons of mass destruction, after they saw what happened to Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But President Obama’s foreign policy, carried out by Secretary of State Clinton, got Qaddafi removed, after which Libya became a terrorist haven where an American ambassador was killed, for the first time in decades.

The rationale for getting rid of Middle East leaders who posed no threat to American interests was that they were undemocratic and their people were restless. But there are no democracies in the Middle East, except for Israel. Moreover, the people were restless in Iran and Syria, and the Obama-Clinton foreign policy did nothing to support those who were trying to overthrow these regimes.

I guess, in a way, these are “accomplishments”, but certainly not the type any presidential candidate would want to highlight.  Between she and that bumbling fool in the White House, they’ve managed to wipe out anything that remotely resembled stability in the region.  Each and every time the dynamic duo made the wrong call.  Every. Single. Time.

It would be only fair to balance this picture with foreign policy triumphs of the Obama-Clinton team. But there are none. Not in the Middle East, not in Europe, where the Russians have invaded the Crimea, and not in Asia, where both China and North Korea are building up threatening military forces, while the Obama administration has been cutting back on American military forces.

And then there is Iran … and Israel.  Yemen, the crown-jewel of validation for our “counter-terrorism” plan has imploded.  And the last great hope in the region for any progress rests with … France?

This is what Ms. Clinton, et. al. have left the American people.  And sane and reasoning people know that.

However it isn’t inclusive of all of who will be picking President 45, is it?

Hillary Clinton became an iconic figure by feeding the media and the left the kind of rhetoric they love. Barack Obama did the same and became president. Neither had any concrete accomplishments besides rhetoric beforehand, and both have had the opposite of accomplishments after taking office.

They have something else in common. They attract the votes of those people who vote for demographic symbolism — “the first black president” to be followed by “the first woman president” — and neither to be criticized, lest you be denounced for racism or sexism.

It is staggering that there are sane adults who can vote for someone to be President of the United States as if they are in school, just voting for “most popular boy” or “most popular girl” — or, worse yet, voting for someone who will give them free stuff.

Suck it up you racist and sexist neanderthals.  It is no longer about competence and accomplishment.  It is about gender, race and free stuff.  Your “free” stuff.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 25 Mar 15

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 9.5% last week, with purchases up 5.0% and refis up 12.0%, on lower interest rates.

Durable goods orders fell -1.4% in February, while orders less transportation fell -0.4%. On a year-over-year basis, orders are up only 0.6%, while ex-transportation orders are up just 2.3%.


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What are we enabling in our colleges? Part II

This is actually quite amusing to me because it is the left getting caught up in a trap of their own making.  Via Powerline we learn of Laura Kipnes, a Northwestern University feminist film professor (no, really, that’s what she is) who penned a piece entitled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” for the Chronical of Higher Education in which she had the temerity to say:

If this is feminism, it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama . . .

But what do we expect will become of students, successfully cocooned from uncomfortable feelings, once they leave the sanctuary of academe for the boorish badlands of real life? What becomes of students so committed to their own vulnerability, conditioned to imagine they have no agency, and protected from unequal power arrangements in romantic life? I can’t help asking, because there’s a distressing little fact about the discomfort of vulnerability, which is that it’s pretty much a daily experience in the world, and every sentient being has to learn how to somehow negotiate the consequences and fallout, or go through life flummoxed at every turn. . .

The question, then, is what kind of education prepares people to deal with the inevitably messy gray areas of life? Personally I’d start by promoting a less vulnerable sense of self than the one our new campus codes are peddling. Maybe I see it this way because I wasn’t educated to think that holders of institutional power were quite so fearsome, nor did the institutions themselves seem so mighty. Of course, they didn’t aspire to reach quite as deeply into our lives back then. What no one’s much saying about the efflorescence of these new policies is the degree to which they expand the power of the institutions themselves. . .

The feminism I identified with as a student stressed independence and resilience. In the intervening years, the climate of sanctimony about student vulnerability has grown too thick to penetrate; no one dares question it lest you’re labeled antifeminist. . . The new codes sweeping American campuses aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing. Sexual paranoia reigns; students are trauma cases waiting to happen. If you wanted to produce a pacified, cowering citizenry, this would be the method. And in that sense, we’re all the victims.

Seems pretty tame to me, even though it also seems a pretty accurate description of the problem that now exists on any number of college and university campuses.

As you might imagine, to the feminist left at the college, that’s heresy.  And, as if she were an Islamic apostate, she was immediately attacked. Protests erupted on the Northwestern campus, “complete with feminists aping the mattress-carrying stunt of Emma Sulkowicz at Columbia University.” How dare she say what she said?!

Interestingly enough, the publication which came to Kipnes defense was none other than the bedrock of the far left – “The Nation”.  It too seems to realize that enough is enough when it comes to stifling free thought:

As the protesters wrote on a Facebook page for their event, they wanted the administration to do something about “the violence expressed by Kipnis’ message.” Their petition called for “swift, official condemnation of the sentiments expressed by Professor Kipnis in her inflammatory article,” and demanded “that in the future, this sort of response comes automatically.” (University President Morton Schapiro told The Daily Northwestern, a student newspaper, that he would consider it, and the students will soon be meeting with the school’s Vice President for Student Affairs to further press their case.) Jazz Stephens, one of the march’s organizers, described Kipnis’s ideas as “terrifying.” Another student told The Daily Northwestern that she was considering bringing a formal complaint because she believes that Kipnis was mocking her concerns about being triggered in a film class, concerns she’d confided privately. “I would like to see some sort of repercussions just so she understands the effect something like this has on her students and her class,” said the student, who Kipnis hadn’t named.

Kipnis could hardly have invented a response that so neatly proved her argument. . .

This atmosphere is intellectually stifling. “Every professor’s affected by the current climate, unless they’re oblivious,” Kipnis told me via e-mail. “I got many dozens of emails from professors (and administrators and deans and one ex college president) describing how fearful they are of speaking honestly or dissenting on any of these issues. Someone on my campus—tenured—wrote me about literally lying awake at night worrying about causing trauma to a student, becoming a national story, losing her job, and not being able to support her kid. It seemed completely probable to her that a triggered student could take down a tenured professor with a snowball of social media.” . . .

“It’s the infantilization of women fused with identity politics, so that being vulnerable, a potential victim—or survivor, in the new parlance—becomes a form of identity,” Kipnis told me. “I wrote a chapter on the politics of vulnerability in The Female Thing from 2006, and since then it strikes me that vulnerability has an ever more aggressive edge to it, which is part of what makes the sexual culture of the moment so incoherent.”

As a quick aside, this statement had me laughing out loud – “Every professor’s affected by the current climate, unless they’re oblivious.” Yes, Ms. Kipnis, we agree – we dealt with Professor Oblivious yesterday.

Moving on though, it appears that the left is eating its own.  The Nation realizes that what has happened has become “intellectually stifling”.  It was a natural end state to the creeping oppression of speech codes, the “right” not to be offended and the idea that colleges should be “safe spaces” removed from the reality of the world where nasty things (and ideas apparently) can hurt you.  If you don’t agree or if you wander outside the bright lines of approved speech and thought, they think nothing of subjecting the violator to everything they’re trying to avoid. Heresy is, after all, a serious matter when speaking of “religion”, and that certainly is how the devotees treat their ideology.

Steve Hayward wonders that if these attacks will actually cause the administrators at Northwestern to grow a spine and “tell the mob to sod off”.  My guess?  No, not yet.  Don’t forget it was these university administrations that put this structure in place as well as aiding and abetting its growth.  They’re hardly about to now say they were wrong to let this intellectual fascism bloom.

Another interesting perspective was found on Tumblr by Hayward.  Another professor confessing his or her fears:

Personally, liberal students scare the sh*t out of me. I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs and confront awful truths, and I know that, should one of these conservative students make a facebook page calling me a communist or else seek to formally protest my liberal lies, the university would have my back. I would not get fired for pissing off a Republican, so long as I did so respectfully, and so long as it happened in the course of legitimate classroom instruction.

The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip—not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery—and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.

Paranoid? Yes, of course. But paranoia isn’t uncalled for within the current academic job climate. Jobs are really, really, really, really hard to get. And since no reasonable person wants to put their livelihood in danger, we reasonably do not take any risks vis-a-vis momentarily upsetting liberal students. And so we leave upsetting truths unspoken, uncomfortable texts unread.

The fact that this problem is now a monster that devours its own is probably considered an “unintended consequence”.  The fact that they didn’t take into consideration that limiting speech they found “unacceptable” would come back to bite them seems to be a result of some very sloppy thinking, doesn’t it?  Or was there any real thinking going on at all when they began to impose their will?  And then, of course, there’s the problem of the inmates essentially running the asylum.  Hayward’s hope that a spine will somehow grow among the administrators of that school is a fairly farfetched hope.  There is no prior history of that so why would we expect this instance to be any different?  Until the administration does act in such a manner that tells the students to “sod off”, we shouldn’t expect it at all.

In the meantime, pop some popcorn, pull up a chair and enjoy the show.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 24 Mar 15

Consumer prices rose 0.2% in February at both the headline and core levels, as energy prices made a bit of a comeback. On a year-over-year basis, the CPI is still down -0.1% overall, but is up 1.7% less food and energy.

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales rose to a moderate 2.8% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 2.7%.

The FHFA House Price Index rose a lower-than-expected 0.3% in January. On a year-over-year basis, the index is up 5.1%.

The Markit PMI manufacturing index flash for March rose 0.9 points from the February final to 55.3.

New home sales picked up sharply in February to a 539,000 annual rate from January’s 481,000. The median price still fell a sharp 4.8% to $275,500, despite a tightening of supply from 5.1 months to 4.7 months.

The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index fell sharply from 0 to -8 in March, as both new orders and backlogs declined.


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