Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Give it power and government will abuse it

Seems odd, to me, that we have to point this out every now and then.  The naive trust some people have in government always perplexes me.  It speaks to an ignorance of both human nature and history that is simply profound.

Our latest example? Well, right here from the good old US of A, land of the free, home of the brave … and the DEA:

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.

“Some experts say?”  Really?  Frankly, if all of them aren’t saying it, they’re wrong.  Again, we have laws … you know, rules? … that require federal law enforcement to go through a process to obtain warrants in order to get this sort of information.  And if they don’t, if they get it without a warrant and through other means, it is considered to be unusable in a trial.

So to avoid that, they “recreate”.  In other words, federal agents, at least those in the DEA, are trained to do what?

Lie.

I have never heard of anything like this at all,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.

“It is one thing to create special rules for national security,” Gertner said. “Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”

Ya think?!  Of course they’re phonying up investigations if they’re obtaining “evidence” via illegal means and the “recreating” the investigative trail to “cover up” where the info originally came from.

Question: how many people have ended up in jail due to the lies of DEA agents?

My guess is hundreds if not thousands.

Of course, any abuse has defenders:

But two senior DEA officials defended the program, and said trying to “recreate” an investigative trail is not only legal but a technique that is used almost daily.

A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD described the process. “You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it,” the agent said.

Can’t imagine why “two senior DEA officials” would defend it, can you?  Oh, yeah, their rear-ends are on the line – so move along citizen, don’t peek behind the curtain, nothing to see here.

You see, there’s a difference between acting on a tip and using information that was illegally obtained.

But apparently that nuance is beyond our two senior DEA officials.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 2 Aug 13

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

A disappointing 162,000 net new jobs were created in July, but the Unemployment rate declined to 7.4%. The working age population increased by 204,000 last month, yet the labor force declined by 37,000. So, "unemployment" fell. Yay! In the real world, the labor force participation rate fell to the historic low of 63.4% again. Also, the average work week decreased by 0.1 hour in July to 34.4 hours, while average hourly compensation dropped by 2 cents to $23.98. Of the new jobs created last month, a quarter were in restaurant or food services. Using the historical average level of labor force participation, the real unemployment rate is 11.58%.

Personal income rose 0.3% in June while consumer spending jumped 0.5%. The overall PCE price index rose a sharp 0.4%, while the core rate rose 0.2%. On a year-over-year basis income rose 3.1% but spending rose 3.3%, while the PCE price index is up 1.3% and the core PCE is up 1.2%.

Factory orders rose 1.5% in June, entirely on transportation orders. Ex transportation orders fell -0.4%.

~
Dale Franks
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I thought our President told us al Qaeda was all but defeated?!

Well this has to be embarrassing:

A State Department travel alert Friday said al Qaeda may launch attacks in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond, as the United States is closing 21 embassies and consulates Sunday as a precaution.

“Current information suggests that al Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” said the alert, which covers the entire month.

It warned that “terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests.”

A separate State Department list showed the 21 embassies and consulates that will close on Sunday, normally the start of the work week in the countries affected.

Recall, in 2012, our fearless “leader” told us this, numerous times (in fact, about 32 times):

On Sept. 13 in Golden, Colo., Obama said, “Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq — and we did. I said we’d wind down the war in Afghanistan — and we are. And while a new tower rises above the New York skyline, al Qaeda is on the path to defeat, and Osama bin Laden is dead.” He repeated that line again on Sept. 17 in Cincinnati and again that day in Columbus, Ohio.

It is one of the reasons Benghazi is so “inconvenient” and they chose to invest in a lie.  Now this.

Party on.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 1 Aug 13

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

Overall motor vehicle sales fell 0.2% in July, to a still strong 15.7 million annual rate. Despite that slight drop, most automakers saw strong sales gains on a year-over-year basis, with GM, Ford and Chrysler all seeing double digit gains.

The Challenger Job-Cut Report shows July layoffs fell to 37,701 from June’s 39,372.

Initial jobless claims fell 19,000 to 236,000. The 4-week average fell 4,000 to 341,250, while continuing claims fell 52,000 to 2.951 million.

The Markit PMI manufacturing index rose 2 points to 53.7 in July.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 0.3 points to -27.0 in the latest week.

The ISM manufacturing index rose a sharp 5 points in July to 55.4, the strongest reading in more than 2 years.

Construction spending fell by -0.6 in June, well below expectations of a 0.4% increase.

For the July 31 week, the Fed balance sheet dropped $2.8 billion, with total assets of $3.572 trillion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $16.8 billion in the latest week.

~
Dale Franks
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What if Obama can’t lead?

That’s the question headlining a Ron Fournier article in National Journal.  My first reaction was to laugh out loud.  My second reaction was to wonder why it has taken all this time for someone in the press to actually ask that question.

The evidence of his lack of leadership has been on the table for 4 plus years.  And for me that’s a double edged sword.  On the one side, I’m happy he’s such a dismal leader because it limits what he can destroy.  On the other side, especially the policy side both foreign and domestic, it has led to a decline in almost all areas.  A decline a real leader will have to address when Obama is finally relegated to history. 

Anyway, here’s Fournier’s take:

In March, a reporter asked Obama why he didn’t lock congressional leaders in a room until they agreed on a budget deal. Obama’s answer was based on two assumptions. First, that his opinion is supreme. Second, he can’t break the logjam. What a remarkable combination of arrogance and impotence.

"I am not a dictator. I’m the president," he said. "I know that this has been some of the conventional wisdom that’s been floating around Washington; that somehow, even though most people agree that I’m being reasonable, that most people agree I’m presenting a fair deal, the fact that they don’t take it means that I should somehow do a Jedi mind meld with these folks and convince them to do what’s right."

Obama could still do great things. But not if he and his advisers underestimate a president’s powers, and don’t know how to exploit them. Not if his sympathizers give Obama cover by minimizing his influence. Cover to fail. Not if the president himself is outwardly and boundlessly dismissive of his critics, telling The New York Times, "I’m not concerned about their opinions."

To say the situation is intractable seems akin to waving a white flag over a polarized capital: Republicans suck. We can’t deal with them. Let’s quit.

I’m afraid they have quit—all of them, on both sides. At the White House and in Congress, most Democrats and Republicans have abandoned hope of fixing the nation’s problems. If leadership was merely about speaking to the converted, winning fights and positioning for blame, America would be in great hands. But it’s not.

Well I’m not so sure they’ve quit … or at least Obama hasn’t quit. He has no desire to persuade or do the hard work of  a leader and work with Congress.   Instead, where he’s headed does give lie to his claim of not being dictator.  That’s precisely what he’d prefer to be.  And Daniel Henninger brings you that bit of insight:

Please don’t complain later that you didn’t see it coming. As always, Mr. Obama states publicly what his intentions are. He is doing that now. Toward the end of his speech last week in Jacksonville, Fla., he said: "So where I can act on my own, I’m going to act on my own. I won’t wait for Congress." (Applause.)

The July 24 speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., has at least four references to his intent to act on his own authority, as he interprets it: "That means whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it." (Applause.) And: "We’re going to do everything we can, wherever we can, with or without Congress."

Every president since George Washington has felt frustration with the American system’s impediments to change. This president is done with Congress.

The political left, historically inclined by ideological belief to public policy that is imposed rather than legislated, will support Mr. Obama’s expansion of authority. The rest of us should not.

And Obama is engaged in the systematic demonization of the other two coequal branches of government in order to sway the public toward his dictatorial inclinations:

To create public support for so much unilateral authority, Mr. Obama needs to lessen support for the other two branches of government—Congress and the judiciary. He is doing that.

Mr. Obama and his supporters in the punditocracy are defending this escalation by arguing that Congress is "gridlocked." But don’t overstate that low congressional approval rating. This is the one branch that represents the views of all Americans. It’s gridlocked because voters are.

Take a closer look at the Galesburg and Jacksonville speeches. Mr. Obama doesn’t merely criticize Congress. He mocks it repeatedly. Washington "ignored" problems. It "made things worse." It "manufactures" crises and "phony scandals." He is persuading his audiences to set Congress aside and let him act.

So too the judiciary. During his 2010 State of the Union speech, Mr. Obama denounced the Supreme Court Justices in front of him. The National Labor Relations Board has continued to issue orders despite two federal court rulings forbidding it to do so. Attorney General Eric Holder says he will use a different section of the Voting Rights Act to impose requirements on Southern states that the Supreme Court ruled illegal. Mr. Obama’s repeated flouting of the judiciary and its decisions are undermining its institutional authority, as intended.

Clearly, Obama’s arrogance leads him to believe that a ruler is what we need, not a president.  And he’s up for that job, because it doesn’t brook interference and it doesn’t require leadership.  Tyranny is the the usual place people who couldn’t lead an alcoholic to a bar end up.  And we’re watching that happen now. 

Henninger ends his piece with a final, ironic quote:

"To ensure that no person or group would amass too much power, the founders established a government in which the powers to create, implement, and adjudicate laws were separated. Each branch of government is balanced by powers in the other two coequal branches." Source: The White House website of President Barack Obama.

Our Constitutional scholar is now involved in a process to wreck that balance and enhance executive powers to the point that he really doesn’t need Congress or the courts.  And a compliant media along will the left will do everything in their power to enable the transition.  Because their ideas and ideology would never pass the test of a real democracy and they have little chance of persuading the population to go along with them.  So imposition is truly the only route open.  That’s precisely what you’re going to see in Obama’s remaining years as president.  Executive imposition of his version of laws or, if you prefer, a brand of executive lawlessness unprecedented in our history.

But then, that’s what dictators do, isn’t it?

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 31 Jul 13

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

The MBA reports mortgage applications fell -3.7% last week, with purchases down -3.0% and re-fis down -4.0%.

The ADP Employment Report indicates that 200,000 new private payroll jobs were created in July.

The Commerce Department’s initial estimate of 2nd Quarter GDP growth is an anemic 1.7% annualized, though that’s up from the 1.1% of the previous quarter. Inflation slowed, as the GDP price index rose 0.7%, compared to 1.2% in the 1st Quarter.

The Employment Cost Index rose a steep 0.5% in the 2nd Quarter, and is up 1.9% over a year ago.

The Chicago Purchasing Managers Index rose 0.7 points to 52.3 in July, but the new orders, production, and inventories components all declined.

~
Dale Franks
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How inept is big government?

I think the signs are clear that most of big government displays varying degrees of ineptness, from slightly to completely.  And over the years, the entire scale of government has moved relentlessly to the “completely” side of things.

Here’s a simple example of why few have any trust in government and even fewer believe what it says anymore.  In this case it has to do with security and immigration.  It has to do with basic competence.  It has to do with following and enforcing the law.  And it also has to do with a department of government which has done none of those things:

The Homeland Security Department has lost track of more than 1 million people who it knows arrived in the U.S. but who it cannot prove left the country, according to an audit Tuesday that also found the department probably won’t meet its own goals for deploying an entry-exit system.

The findings were revealed as Congress debates an immigration bill, and the Government Accountability Office’s report could throw up another hurdle because lawmakers in the House and Senate have said that any final deal must include a workable system to track entries and exits and cut down on so-called visa overstays.

The government does track arrivals, but is years overdue in setting up a system to track departures — a goal set in a 1996 immigration law and reaffirmed in 2004, but which has eluded Republican and Democratic administrations.

“DHS has not yet fulfilled the 2004 statutory requirement to implement a biometric exit capability, but has planning efforts under way to report to Congress in time for the fiscal year 2016 budget cycle on the costs and benefits of such a capability at airports and seaports,” GAO investigators wrote.

Why has it eluded both Republic and Democratic administrations? Basic incompetence coupled with bureaucratic resistance. A combination which leads to ossification – something we see more and more of as government grows more vast and inept. Also note that many of the problems we suffer today are of government’s making. Certainly if we have a means of logging arrivals into the country, having a system that tracks their exit just couldn’t be that tough to do. And DHS has had the mandate to do that since … 1996. 17 years. 17 years and nada.  Result?  We have no idea how many foreigners we have illegally in this country right now.  But they can track a Pakistani Taliban for days on end via drones.

Of course none of this should surprise anyone, because the federal government isn’t now nor has it ever really been that interested in enforcing immigration laws. When it does do so it is almost by whim.

Like I said, this is just one example of the legion of examples where big government exacerbates problems by being inept or just intransigent (or both) in the execution and enforcement of laws.  Executive departments really don’t pay that much attention to either the law or Congress.  And, as usual, there are no consequences for doing so.  The department charged with homeland security during a war on terror has lost track of a million foreigners that have traveled to this country.

And no one seems to care.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 30 Jul 13

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

In weekly retail sales, ICSC Goldman reports weakness, with a -01.6% weekly sales drop, and a 2.2%% year-on-year increase. Meanwhile, Redbook says sales rose a moderate 2.9% on a year-ago basis.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index rose 1.0% in May, still strong, but down from the 1.7% and 1.9% of the previous months.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence fell a point to 80.3 in July, but that disguises a 5-point gain in the "present situation" component.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index for July rose to 107.6, as institutional investors increased their appetite for risk.

~
Dale Franks
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What happened in Detroit? Well, frankly, “Atlas Shrugged”

You have to read this article by Bill Nojay in the Wall Street Journal.  Nojay was hired as the COO of the Detroit Department of Transportation, on contract, for 8 months.  His litany of woes is, as Insty notes, almost straight out of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”. 

It is all but an article of faith on the left and certain pseud-intellectuals that Rand was a crackpot.  Yet here we are watching what she wrote become reality:

Micromanagement by the council was endemic; I once sat for five hours waiting to discuss a minor transportation matter while City Council members debated whether to authorize the demolition of individual vacant and vandalized houses, one by one. There are over 40,000 vacant houses in Detroit.

Union and civil-service rules made it virtually impossible to fire anyone. A six-step disciplinary process provided job protection to anyone with a pulse, regardless of poor performance or bad behavior. Even the time-honored management technique of moving someone up or sideways where he would do less harm didn’t work in Detroit: Job descriptions and qualification requirements were so strict it was impossible for management to rearrange the organization chart. I was a manager with virtually no authority over personnel.

When the federal government got involved, it only made things worse. A federal lawsuit charging that the DDOT did not fully comply with the law in accommodating disabled riders had dragged on for years because of idealistic but painfully naïve Justice Department attorneys seeking regulatory perfection. I felt like a guy in the boiler room of the Titanic, desperately bailing to keep the ship afloat for a few more hours while the DOJ attorneys complained from their first-class cabin that their champagne wasn’t properly chilled.

Detroit’s other municipal departments had similar challenges. I would often compare notes with managers trying to run the city’s street lights, recreation programs, police departments and smaller offices. All of us faced similar gridlock.

The “government is the answer” crowd have a lot to answer for when considering Detroit.  In that city, government was as much of the problem, in fact, likely the biggest problem the city faced.  It couldn’t get out of its own way.  And as the city deteriorated and taxes skyrocketed in an attempt to offset the deterioration, the producers finally fled.  They shrugged.  They said, “no more.”  This country is headed in the same direction.

It just may take a little bit more time to reach the depths of Detroit and suffer the same result – but there’s little if any question it’s on the same road as Detroit.  It has passed through the stop sign, busted through the road closed sign and is headed toward the cliff.  The only control anyone may have now is how fast the whole contraption reaches the edge.

~McQ

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