Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: June 2013


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 23 Jun 13

This week, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss immigration reform.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

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How convenient is FISA for Big Brother?

I’d say quite convenient:

Congress authorized the collection program amid a great debate about the degree to which the government was expanding its surveillance authority without sufficient protection for Americans’ privacy.

Authorized by Section 702 of the amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the program did away with the traditional individual warrant for each foreign suspect whose communications would be collected in the United States. In its place, the FISA court, which oversees domestic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes and whose proceedings are secret, would certify the government’s procedures to target people overseas and ensure citizens’ privacy.

Of course those procedures are, to put it bluntly, open to interpretation, but we’re supposed to rely on the good intentions of those who do this to ensure via constant monitoring and checking, that they’re not intruding on the privacy of an individual citizen.

But who would know if they were?  And, more importantly, what accountability would there be for it?

Now there are those who will point out, and rightfully so, that the 4th Amendment only applies to American citizens.  And I don’t disagree.  But who is watching the watchers?  Or in this case, listeners.  Who is exercising reasonable and competent oversight?  Oh … the agency itself?  Well, who else is authorized, given the secrecy?  Congress?  Wow, as easy as that bunch is snowed by just about everything, that’ got to give you a warm fuzzy, huh?  They think passing a law takes care of any problems, right?

“What’s most striking about the targeting procedures is the discretion they confer on the NSA,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security program.

If you have any experience with government, you know then that when the word “discretion” is used in relation to describing how they can do their job, it means it is up to interpretation.  Their interpretation.  You know, the old “wink, wink, nudge, nudge”

I’m sorry, but given what I’ve seen around the world and studied about other governments in my lifetime, I’m not happy with any part of government exercising “discretion” in that sense, especially when they could easily use their discretion to violate my rights.  And in the case of the NSA and many other government agencies, I believe that’s more than a possibility, I put it in the probability category (human nature 101).

In figuring out whether a target is “reasonably believed” to be located overseas, for example, the agency looks at the “totality of the circumstances” relating to a person’s location. In the absence of that specific information, “a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States or whose location is not known will be presumed to be a non-United States person,” according to rules on the targeting of suspects.

“Yeah, you know, I’m not sure about that location so we’ll assume it’s a “non-United States” person.”   How hard would that be?

Not very.

But hey, don’t you feel secure?

~McQ


Economic Statistics for 20 Jun 13

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

Initial jobless claims jumped 18,000 to 354,000. The 4-week average rose 3,000 to 348,250. Continuing claims fell 40,000 to 2.951 million.

The PMI Manufacturing Index Flash rose 0.3 to 52.2 in June.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index was -29.4 last week, the least negative in 13 months.

May Existing Home Sales rose 4.2% to an annual 5.18 million, a rate that is 12.9% higher than a year ago.

The Philadelphia Fed Survey shows a huge jump in June from -5.2 to 12.5.

The Conference Board’s index of leading indicators rose by only 0.1% in May, suggesting flat economic conditions six months from now.

~
Dale Franks
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Remembering the promises, looking at reality

You remember the grand promises a certain candidate made in 2008.  And in the area of foreign policy he told us how huge a mess it was and how he was going to clean it up and how the world would love us again.  He was going to “reset” relations with Russia and get us out of all these wars.  Oh, and of course, solve the problems in the Middle East.

Yeah, that was then and this is reality:

The [Middle East] is unraveling and American policy is in deep disarray. Our strategic options are getting worse, and the stakes are getting higher. When former President Bill Clinton is warning that his successor risks looking “lame” or like a “wuss” or a “total fool,” it’s a safe bet that the Kremlin and Tehran aren’t impressed by White House statements. Meanwhile the Obama administration seems to be locked into a sterile, short-term policy approach driven by domestic considerations; it is following the path of least resistance to a place that in the end will please no one and is increasingly likely to lead to strategic disaster.

An insightful article by the Democratic-leaning Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg offers a deeply unsettling view of a Syria foreign policy process gone off the rails. If Goldberg has the story right—and he usually does—Secretary Kerry and the bulk of the White House security team want the President to authorize a no-fly zone and other strong measures in Syria, in part because they fear that American dithering in Syria is empowering the hardliners in Tehran and that by avoiding a small war in Syria now the White House risks a much uglier confrontation with Iran not all that far in the future. But the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs wants nothing to do with it, pointing to the difficulties and costs of the military mission.

And rightfully so.  It has also really “reset” relations with Russia … to the Cold War era.  Well done, Mr. President.   But that’s not the real problem is it?  It is how we got in this mess in the first place: Amateur Hour at the White House:

As Goldberg tells it, the biggest problem for the administration is that its early aggressive, poorly judged rhetoric that Assad “must” go now makes it impossible to avoid Obama’s looking like an irresolute bluffer if the Butcher stays put. This is the conclusion, anyway, that both Russia and Iran will draw, and they will respond by pushing the US along other fronts as well.

This is an entirely self-created problem; there was absolutely no objective reason for the administration to lay those markers on the table. There was no requirement in America’s foreign policy that the administration bounce in with the categorical demand that Assad step down.

That is absolutely correct.  But as is mentioned further on it was fighting for re-election and didn’t what there to be a wimp factor.  As usual, politics trumped what was best for the nation.

So in every real way, this administration has lived up to few if any of it’s grand promises of 2008.  In fact, if truth be told, the honeymoon is over with Europe.  The proof, as they say, is in the turnout:

When John F. Kennedy delivered his “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate on June 26, 1963, 450,000 people flocked to hear him. Fifty years later a far more subdued invitation-only crowd of 4,500 showed up to hear Barack Obama speak at the same location in Berlin. As The National Journal noted, “he didn’t come away with much, winning just a smattering of applause from a crowd that was one-hundredth the size of JFK’s,” and far smaller than the 200,000 boisterous Germans who had listened to his 2008 address as a presidential candidate.

As for the Middle East … well there’s no love lost there either.  This administration has fumbled everything to do with the region during it’s tenure and has no one to blame but themselves. They’ve totally and without any help, managed to bottom out our image in the area in the same way they’ve bottomed out the economy.  If this guy isn’t the worst president with the worst team we’ve ever had inflicted on us … twice … then I don’t know who might be.   And don’t even get me started on the “leadership” in Congress – from both parties.  They’re absolutely the worst yet.  That may come as small consolation to the administration, but the combination of the two is killing us.

~McQ


Economic Statistics for 19 Jun 13

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -3.3% last week, with purchases down 3.0% and re-fis down 3.0%.

The FOMC says that interest rates will remain unchanged for the present, but warns that the current easy money regime is coming to and end, or at least slowing. The Committee envisions a slowdown in the current round of Quantitative easing by the end of the year.

~
Dale Franks
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Regulation nation a symptom of an incurable disease?

Niall Ferguson has a piece in the Wall Street Journal which talks about the growth of regulation within the nation.  He starts with a quote from de Tocqueville in which de Tocqueville marvels at how Americans manage to self-regulate through associations.  He then notes that de Tocqueville wouldn’t recognize the US if he were to suddenly come back.  It looks too much like Europe.

Why?

Regulation has crept in to help smother us all the while the culture has changed to where Americans seem to no longer look to each other to solve problems, but instead look to government.

Regulations are simply a symptom of this business and autonomy killing movement.  And their growth track pretty well with our demise:

As the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Clyde Wayne Crews shows in his invaluable annual survey of the federal regulatory state, we have become the regulation nation almost imperceptibly. Excluding blank pages, the 2012 Federal Register—the official directory of regulation—today runs to 78,961 pages. Back in 1986 it was 44,812 pages. In 1936 it was just 2,620.

True, our economy today is much larger than it was in 1936—around 12 times larger, allowing for inflation. But the Federal Register has grown by a factor of 30 in the same period.

The last time regulation was cut was under Ronald Reagan, when the number of pages in the Federal Register fell by 31%. Surprise: Real GDP grew by 30% in that same period. But Leviathan’s diet lasted just eight years. Since 1993, 81,883 new rules have been issued. In the past 10 years, the “final rules” issued by our 63 federal departments, agencies and commissions have outnumbered laws passed by Congress 223 to 1.

Right now there are 4,062 new regulations at various stages of implementation, of which 224 are deemed “economically significant,” i.e., their economic impact will exceed $100 million.

The cost of all this, Mr. Crews estimates, is $1.8 trillion annually—that’s on top of the federal government’s $3.5 trillion in outlays, so it is equivalent to an invisible 65% surcharge on your federal taxes, or nearly 12% of GDP. Especially invidious is the fact that the costs of regulation for small businesses (those with fewer than 20 employees) are 36% higher per employee than they are for bigger firms.

Got that?  224 new regulations which will have an economic impact that will “exceed $100 million” dollars.  Negatively of course.  That was the purpose of having regulations rated like that – to understand the probable negative economic impact.  And we have 224 in the hopper, in a very down economy, which will exceed the negative $100 million dollar mark.  What are those people thinking?  Or are they?  Indications are they give it no thought when these new regulations are proffered. They just note the cost and move on. No skin of their rear ends.

And if you think that’s bad, just wait:

Next year’s big treat will be the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, something every small business in the country must be looking forward to with eager anticipation. Then, as Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) warned readers on this page 10 months ago, there’s also the Labor Department’s new fiduciary rule, which will increase the cost of retirement planning for middle-class workers; the EPA’s new Ozone Rule, which will impose up to $90 billion in yearly costs on American manufacturers; and the Department of Transportation’s Rear-View Camera Rule. That’s so you never have to turn your head around when backing up.

Yes, that’s right, they’re hardly done. In fact, they’re not even slowing down. The accumulation of power within the central government – the ability to intrude in almost every aspect of your life – is attempting to reach warp speed.

Finally, as if what I’ve noted isn’t enough, we have another costly travesty in the gestation stage, i.e. the “Gang of 8′s” immigration bill.  From PowerLine:

The CBO confirms that the bill provides for a vast influx of new, legal immigration. The Senate Budget Committee says:

CBO projects 16 million new immigrants will be added by 2033 on top of the current law projected flow of 22 million and that 8 million illegal immigrants will be granted permanent status – for a total of 46 million legal immigrants, including a doubling of guest workers to 1.6 million in a single year.

Contrary to the claims of the bill’s sponsors, this influx will be overwhelmingly low-skilled. The CBO says:

[T]he new workers would be less skilled and have lower wages, on average, than the labor force under current law.

The result is that unemployment will increase, and wages will be driven down, for America’s existing blue collar work force:

Taking into account all of those flows of new immigrants, CBO and JCT expect that a greater number of immigrants with lower skills than with higher skills would be added to the workforce, slightly pushing down the average wage for the labor force as a whole… However, CBO and JCT expect that currently unauthorized workers who would obtain legal status under S. 744 would see an increase in their average wages.

Terrific: the only ones who would gain would be those who came here illegally, while native born workers would suffer. The CBO report continues:

[T]he average wage would be lower than under current law over the first dozen years. … CBO estimates that S. 744 would cause the unemployment rate to increase slightly between 2014 and 2020.

Ruinous? Along with everything else, pretty much.

To say America has lost it’s way is, well, an understatement. We aren’t close to being what was envisioned at our founding and we’re almost kissing cousins of that which our Founders attempted to keep us from becoming – today’s Europe.

Unfortunately, that ruinous drift and over reliance on government seems to be fine for all too many of those who call themselves Americans today.

~McQ


Economics statistics for 18 Jun 13

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

In weekly retail sales, ICSC-Goldman reports a 0.3% weekly sales increase, and a 2.5% year-over-year gain. Redbook reports a 2.9% annual increase.

May Housing Starts rose 6.8% to a 0.914 million annual rate, climbing back from a steep drop the previous month.

The Consumer Price Index rose 0.1% in May, with core rate, ex-food and -energy, rose 0.2%. On a year over year basis, the CPI is up 1.4% while the core CPI rose 1.7%.

~
Dale Franks
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And you wonder why we’re getting involved in Syria?

Really?

A growing number of Americans believe that senior White House officials ordered the Internal Revenue Service to target conservative political groups, according to a new national poll.

And a CNN/ORC International survey released Tuesday morning also indicates that a majority of the public says the controversy, which involves increased IRS scrutiny of tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, is very important to the nation.

Look, Obama’s legacy is important to Democrats because it may mean victory or defeat for the next Democratic presidential candidate.   And like it or not, a scandal plagued 2nd term isn’t going to help his legacy or the Democrat’s next chosen presidential candidate.  In fact, one of the reasons Obama is in the White House now is the successful negative portrayal of the Bush years by the left and the press.

In the case of Obama, the press and done it’s best to dampen the reach of the scandals, but it is, for once, failing in it’s endeavor.  The scandals are too wide ranging and hit too close to home to fears the citizenry has held concerning government’s abuse of power.  And make no mistake, these scandals are all about abusing power.

Last month only 37% of the public thought that the IRS controversy led to the White House, with 55% saying that agency officials acted on their own without direct orders from Washington. Now the number who say the White House directed that IRS program has increased 10 points, to 47%, virtually the same as the 49% who believe the IRS agents acted on their own.

“Younger Americans are much less likely than older Americans to believe in White House involvement, and there is, not surprisingly, a partisan divide as well,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “But the Obama administration may be losing independents on this matter. In May, only 36% felt the White House ordered the IRS to target conservative groups; now that number has crossed the 50% threshold.”

Of course naive youngsters who really haven’t been around for or paid attention to scandals of the past, certainly might want to believe their idol, Barack Obama, is involved in this.  But you can see as well as I can, as more and more info comes out, that minds are changing.  This is a serious shot at the Obama legacy.  Or at least that’s what 51% of Americans are saying:

Fifty-one percent of those questioned said the IRS controversy is a very important issue to the nation, compared to 55% who felt that way in May. In the past week and a half, the IRS story has been put a bit on the backburner, as the controversy over the federal government’s massive surveillance program has dominated the spotlight.

Ironic, no?  The 4% drop I mean.  It has dropped as a “very important issue to the nation” because another scandal has popped up.

So what’s the Obama playbook say you do when it goes from bad to worse?

Distract.

Hello Syria ….

~McQ


Syria – so now what?

Our local Noble Peace Prize winner has put himself in quite a quandary, hasn’t he? He’s decided that since he thinks Syria has used chemical weapons, it is our business to intrude on what is essentially a civil war, and give arms to an opposition whose makeup includes Islamic terrorist groups. Because, you know, some “bright line” has been crossed … or we think has been crossed, and according to R2P (apparently) we have to “P” or something (I guess the horrific numbers of death just weren’t enough to invoke that until chemical weapons, huh?).

Of course an obvious possibility in this case, since the Syrian government thinks that it is being punished for the use of chemical weapons, is they’ll now say “screw it” and use them liberally. I mean, why wouldn’t they? Even if they haven’t used them, there’s no “up” side anymore for them not using them now is there? World condemnation? We’ll we’re in the middle of manufacturing that right now, aren’t we?

Meanwhile you might remember that we “reset” relations with Russia because that darn Bush administration had screwed them up so royally.

Russia, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, will not permit no-fly zones to be imposed over Syria, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Monday.

“I think we fundamentally will not allow this scenario,” Lukashevich told a news briefing, adding that calls for a no-fly zone showed disrespect for international law.

Oh. Wait. Didn’t they tell us if a Republican was elected we’d see relations with Russia head back toward the Cold War era (btw, what Russia is alluding to is hurrying the deployment of the advanced S-300 missile system if we persist in this nonsense)?

Syria is a “no-win” situation for us if we intervene. Most of the intel I read says the opposition is riddled with Islamic extremists and Islamic extremist groups. Is it wise to arm such people? Well, a sane person would say “no”. A sane person would also stay the heck out of interfering in Syria.

But there are scandals to be dampened and distractions to be made. Because, you know, the Chosen One’s rep is much more important that a sane foreign policy or the lives of our military members.

~McQ