Free Markets, Free People
Today’s economic statistical releases:
Initial Jobless claims have been declining for several weeks, but last week jumped 24,000 to 399,000. The first week of the year is always bad like that, though. Often, it’s the worst week of the year. I think the seasonal variations really confound the government’s ability to factor in the loss of temporary holiday jobs.
December retail sales were worse than expected. Sales were up 0.1% over last month and, ex-autos, actually declined -0.2%. Ex-autos and Gas, sales were flat. Retail sales for October and November were also revised downwards. On a year-on-year basis, however, sales were up 6.5%, and up 6% ex-autos. So today’s report is a disappointment, but not a disaster.
The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index was -44.7 last week, up from -44.8 the prior week. That’s the highest reading since July.
Business inventories and sales both rose 0.3% in November, keeping the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged for a 5th straight month.
There’s a tempest in a tea pot brewing right now that I’m not sure I understand.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s command center routinely monitors dozens of popular websites, including Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, WikiLeaks and news and gossip sites including the Huffington Post and Drudge Report, according to a government document.
A "privacy compliance review" issued by DHS last November says that since at least June 2010, its national operations center has been operating a "Social Networking/Media Capability" which involves regular monitoring of "publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites and message boards."
The purpose of the monitoring, says the government document, is to "collect information used in providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture."
The document adds, using more plain language, that such monitoring is designed to help DHS and its numerous agencies, which include the U.S. Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency, to manage government responses to such events as the 2010 earthquake and aftermath in Haiti and security and border control related to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Let’s see … a department that has the job of “homeland security” monitoring open source internet venues to collect information in order to maintain situational awareness.
Wow. For some reason I’m underwhelmed. My goodness, haven’t we seen shots of various command centers over the years with split video screens showing Fox, CNN and MSNBC? They’re good sources of immediate information that help those engaged in all sorts of rather benign activity (disaster relief?) keep abreast of breaking news.
Why all the hyperventilating over something that is and has been fairly routine for all sorts of agencies over the years?
Look, everyone here knows I’m not a fan of big intrusive government, but what would you do here, ban the department from gathering information and intelligence from sites that are open to everyone else? Should we also ban them from “monitoring” the NY Times and Washington Post.
Oh, and by the way, this isn’t news. As the Reuters story claims, this has been going on since June of 2010. And guess who broke the story then? The Volokh Conspiracy. As Stewart Baker points out:
The story is that people at DHS are, gasp, browsing the Internet. As I said then, there’s no scandal, other than the electrons wasted by DHS agonizing over the privacy implications of browsing public Internet sources to find out what’s happening in the world.
And if it was a nonstory in February of 2010, what does that make it in January of 2012?
Actually, it’s a lesson — that both the mainstream media and the blogosphere are doggedly overreporting anything that could be deemed a privacy violation by government, especially DHS. If you only followed these things casually, you’d be sure that DHS was constantly violating Americans’ rights, and reports like this would be a key bit of evidence. But when you give the “story” a little scrutiny, all you find is an agency that needs to know what’s happening in an emergency and that is looking at public social media sites for information, just like the rest of us. There’s no privacy issue there at all, despite the heavy breathing and the headlines.
Or perhaps before crying wolf, one ought to take a breath and get into the details of the story. There are plenty of things to concern one’s self with other than this non-story.
U.S. officials told the New York Times that they’re “looking closely” at Shabab’s use of Twitter and their options for legal and other responses. Separately, Sen. Joe Lieberman (@JoeLieberman), Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, called on Twitter to shut down the Taliban’s accounts.
Other Western governments have also turned against Twitter. British Prime Minister David Cameron (@Number10gov), for example, raised the prospect of banning Twitter during social disturbances, following its use by rioters in the U.K., and Mexican prosecutors have accused Twitter users of terrorism for spreading false rumors that have led to real-life violence.
An Israeli legal advocacy group, Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, has separately threatened Twitter with legal action for hosting the Shabab and Hezbollah accounts. Who will win in court is unclear: It’s a First Amendment versus providing services for terrorists toss-up.
US Representatives Darrel Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced a bill into the House of Representatives in mid-December that would roll back the National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy, which mandates that any published research that was funded by the federal science agency be submitted to the publically accessible digital archive PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication in journals. The bill, H.R. 3699, would also make it illegal for other federal agencies to adopt similar open-access policies.
The legislation, referred to as the Research Works Act, is being applauded by the Association of American Publishers, a book publishing industry trade organization that claims the NIH policy and others like it undercut the scientific publishing business, which seldom receives federal funds. “At a time when job retention, US exports, scholarly excellence, scientific integrity, and digital copyright protection are all priorities, the Research Works Act ensures the sustainability of this industry,” said Tom Allen, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers in a statement.
Want to get your britches in a bunch, there are two stories that should help wad them up. Censoring Twitter (and that’s precisely where all of that is headed) and making opaque research which you, the taxpayer has funded to help a crony profit? Now both of those are worthy of condemnation and outrage.
I don’t understand the glee with which the left has greeted this story:
Warren Buffett is ready to call Republicans’ tax bluff. Last fall, Senator Mitch McConnell said that if Buffett were feeling “guilty” about paying too little in taxes, he should “send in a check.” The jab was in response to Buffett’s August 2011 New York Times op-ed, which made hay of the fact that our tax system is so unbalanced, Buffett (worth about $45 billion) pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Senator John Thune promptly introduced the “Buffett Rule Act,” an option on tax forms that would allow the rich to donate more in taxes to help pay down the national debt. It was, as Buffett told me for this week’s TIME cover story, “a tax policy only a Republican could come up with.”
Still, he’s willing to take them up on it. “It restores my faith in human nature to think that there are people who have been around Washington all this time and are not yet so cynical as to think that [the deficit] can’t be solved by voluntary contributions,” he says with a chuckle. So Buffett has pledged to match 1 for 1 all such voluntary contributions made by Republican members of Congress. “And I’ll even go 3 for 1 for McConnell,” he says.
What “bluff”? I don’t recall any of the Republicans in question complaining they paid too little in taxes, do you?
Instead it was about Buffet claiming he paid to little in taxes and his further claim that he was willing to pay more. What Republicans then promptly suggested is that he do so and even provided him an address to where he could send his voluntary contribution. They also insisted that taxes were high enough for all and that Buffett should speak for himself.
Now, at least as I see it, he’s trying to wiggle out of it by citing some sort of non-existent bluff which requires payment by Republicans before he is willing to pay.
Man up Warren Buffet … You made the claim and were provided with a solution. This has nothing to do with others paying as well, this is your baby.
Put up or shut up about paying more in taxes. You’ve become more than tiresome.