Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Gridlock: It’s a feature, not a bug

No one said it would go smoothly or that compromise was a requirement in Congress.  For whatever reason, “progress”, for some, is defined in the number of new laws passed and hours worked in Congress.  NBC News for instance in their daily email newsletter this morning:

By now, we’ve told you how unproductive the 113th Congress has been so far, now passing just 57 bills into law (compared with 67 passed at this same point in time by the previous 112th Congress, which then was the least productive modern Congress on record). But here’s another way to measure how unproductive the Congress has been — in terms of hours worked. “According to data analyzed by The New York Times, the House of Representatives, which ended its business for the year last week, left town with the distinction of having been at work for the fewest hours in a nonelection year since 2005, when detailed information about legislative activity became available. Not counting brief, pro forma sessions, the House was in session for 942 hours, an average of about 28 hours each week it conducted business in Washington. That is far lower than the nearly 1,700 hours it was in session in 2007, the 1,350 hours in 2005 or even the 1,200 in 2011.” We know members of Congress do much of their work with constituents back home. But the TV ads here kind of write themselves. Who wouldn’t want a 28-hour work week? Expect every incumbent to get dinged with that “28 hour work week” hit while “you at home struggle to make ends meet working 40 or 50 hours” yada yada.

Yada, yada indeed.  We ought to give them medals for not intruding any further on our freedoms.  OK, not really.  But apparently it is forgotten that Congress was supposed to be a part-time job (thus the two sessions) and that only laws of necessity (as outlined in the Constitution) were to be passed.   Now, apparently, Congress is only “productive” when it is engaged in stepping on everyone’s freedoms by passing dozens upon dozens of new laws, many of which are unnecessary or are designed to reward one constituency at the cost of another.

And we’ve developed a ruling class via career politicians and their heirs.  I’ve never been so tired of the names Clinton, Bush, Kennedy, Cuomo, etc.  Political power isn’t hereditary … or wasn’t supposed to be anyway.

Why do people feel the way NBC does?  Because they don’t pay attention and they have no sense of history or how this nation was formed.  They’ve totally bought into the mind drugs that purveyors like NBC and the NY Times offer every day. According to them, a “productive” Congress is a Congress engaged in finding new ways to run your life. As Dale said last night we’re finally to the stage that most of the country believes they belong to the state.

American exceptionalism isn’t a figment of anyone’s imagination. It is, or was, a product of our founding. And as long as we stuck to the principles of our founding, we remained an exceptional country. Now it seems we’re headed toward the mediocrity of any number of other countries simply by trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. We’ve fallen for the siren song of “free” stuff, and there are enough Americans benefiting from the state robbing others to give to them that they see no reason to change that slide into the abyss. As long as the free stuff continues to come their way while they live, well, that’s just fine.

And the NBCs of the world are just fine with helping us along to that unexceptional, over-regulated, nanny-state existence that they apparently think is best for us and our country.

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 15 Dec 13

This week, in the last podcast of the year, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about Iran, government, and Obamacare.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.

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Economic Statistics for 13 Dec 13

Initial jobless claims rose 68,000 to 368,000. The 4-week average rose 6,000 to 328,750, while continuing claims rose 40,000 to 2.791 million. It’s the holiday period, though, so a lot of this wild swing probably comes from wonky seasonal adjustments.

Retail sales rose 0.7% in November. Less autos, sales were up 0.4%, and up 0.6% less autos and gas.

Export prices rose 0.1% in November, while import prices fell -0.6%. On a year-over-year basis, export prices are down -1.6% and import prices have fallen -1.5%.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to -30.9 in the latest week, having risen 7 points since November.

Business inventories rose 0.7% in October, while a 0.5% increase in B2B sales left the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged at 1.29.

Information services revenue rose 1.1% in the 3rd quarter, and is up 4.9% on a year-to-year basis.

The Producer Price Index fell -0.1% in November, and rose 0.1% less food and energy. On a year-over-year basis, the PPI is up 0.7%, and up 1.3% less food and energy.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose a sharp $61.3 billion last week, with total assets of $3.994trillion. Reserve Bank credit increased $21.1 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $1.7 billion in the latest week.


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David Brooks: “Let’s Increase The Power Of The President, You Guys!”

It’s hard to describe this blinding stupidity as anything other than … well, blindingly stupid. I think this one sentence encapsulates the #Fail quite nicely:

This is a good moment to advocate greater executive branch power because we’ve just seen a monumental example of executive branch incompetence: the botched Obamacare rollout.

If you think Brooks is trying to get all counter-intuitive on you (a la Thomas Friedman’s wistful longing for Chinese authoritarianism), think again. It’s just full on stupidity.

Brooks’ argument is that Congress is too beholden to the “rentier groups” (i.e. moneyed interest groups and lobbyists) and that the judiciary is too involved in the process:

In the current issue of The American Interest, Francis Fukuyama analyzes this institutional decay. His point is that the original system of checks and balances has morphed into a “vetocracy,” an unworkable machine where many interests can veto reform.

First, there is the profusion of interest groups. In 1971, there were 175 registered lobbying firms. By 2009, there were 13,700 lobbyists spending more than $3.5 billion annually, and this doesn’t even count the much larger cloud of activist groups and ideological enforcers.

Then there is the judicial usurpation of power. Fukuyama writes, “conflicts that in Sweden or Japan would be solved through quiet consultations between interested parties through the bureaucracy are fought out through formal litigation in the American court system.” This leads to uncertainty, complexity and perverse behavior.

After a law is passed, there are always adjustments to be made. These could be done flexibly. But, instead, Congress throws implementation and enforcement into the court system by giving more groups the standing to sue. What could be a flexible process is turned into “adversarial legalism” that makes government more intrusive and more rigid.

In other words, because the power to form laws is relatively disbursed amongst constituents, elected officials and the court system, gridlock happens sometimes and that’s just totally unacceptable. Because, heaven knows that if Congress isn’t cranking out new laws at a fast enough pace, the world will end. (That seems to be the meme going around anyway.)

So what would be the benefits of more powerful Executive branch?

Here are the advantages. First, it is possible to mobilize the executive branch to come to policy conclusion on something like immigration reform. It’s nearly impossible for Congress to lead us to a conclusion about anything. Second, executive branch officials are more sheltered from the interest groups than Congressional officials. Third, executive branch officials usually have more specialized knowledge than staffers on Capitol Hill and longer historical memories. Fourth, Congressional deliberations, to the extent they exist at all, are rooted in rigid political frameworks. Some agencies, especially places like the Office of Management and Budget, are reasonably removed from excessive partisanship. Fifth, executive branch officials, if they were liberated from rigid Congressional strictures, would have more discretion to respond to their screw-ups, like the Obamacare implementation. Finally, the nation can take it out on a president’s party when a president’s laws don’t work. That doesn’t happen in Congressional elections, where most have safe seats.

Note the two “advantages” I’ve bolded. It’s as if things like Solyndra fiasco and the IRS targeting of conservatives never happened.

Lest there be any confusion about Brooks’ prescription, he sums it up as thus:

So how do you energize the executive? It’s a good idea to be tolerant of executive branch power grabs and to give agencies flexibility. We voters also need to change our voting criteria. It’s not enough to vote for somebody who agrees with your policy preferences. Presidential candidates need to answer two questions. How are you going to build a governing 60 percent majority that will enable you to drive the Washington policy process? What is your experience implementing policies through big organizations?

We don’t need bigger government. We need more unified authority. Take power away from the rentier groups who dominate the process. Allow people in those authorities to exercise discretion. Find a president who can both rally a majority, and execute a policy process.

At least he’s being honest about what the political and chattering classes truly want. As an added bonus, Brooks has inspired a better description of his cant than “blindingly stupid”: contemptible.

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Brutal polling tells the story

Barack Obama is a failed president:

Barack Obama is facing poll numbers that are now in the same territory as President George W. Bush’s following Hurricane Katrina.

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute released numbers on Tuesday showing that just 38 per cent of registered voters approve of the job Obama is doing as president, with a whopping 56 per cent saying they disapprove.

The president has lost his landslide electoral edge among young voters, too, with a negative 41–49 per cent rating among 18- to 29-year-old voters. His once formidable support among Hispanics has also evaporated: They now support him by an historically small 50–43 per cent margin.

Worse for Obama’s fast-approaching legacy-building years, the public believes he is not ‘honest and trustworthy,’ by a 52–44 per cent score. A smaller majority, 51 per cent, said he lacks ‘strong leadership qualities.’

Respondents said by a 41–38 per cent gap that they would vote for a Republican over a Democrat for the U.S. House of Representatives, the first time this year Democrats have had a winning posture in the Quinnipiac poll.

And what is he engaged in doing?  Embarrassing the US taking “selfie” photos at a funeral.

The amazing lightness of being clueless.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 10 Dec 13

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rose a point to 92.5 in November.

In weekly retail sales, Redbook reports a weak 2.6% increase from the previous year. ICSC-Goldman shows weakness, as it reports a weekly sales drop of -1.6%, and a 1.5% increase on a year-over-year basis.

Wholesale inventories rose a very sharp 1.4% increase in October, but a 1.0% rise in sales kept the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged for a third month at 1.18.


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Scheming away your money … and privacy

That’s primarily what politicians seem to want to do despite protestations to the contrary by some.  They’re always looking for a new “revenue stream”.  And since tax payers are the only folks who actually pay taxes, they’re constantly dreaming up new ways to “access” your wallet.

Such as:

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) on Tuesday reintroduced legislation that would require the government to study the most practical ways of taxing drivers based on how far they drive, in order to help fund federal highway programs.

Blumenauer’s bill, H.R. 3638, would set up a Road Usage Fee Pilot Program, which he said would study mileage-based fee systems. He cast his bill as a long-term solution for funding highway programs, and proposed it along with a shorter-term plan to nearly double the gas tax, from 18.4 cents to 33.4 cents per gallon.

“As we extend the gas tax, we must also think about how to replace it with something more sustainable,” Blumenauer said Tuesday. “The best candidate would be the vehicle mile traveled fee being explored by pilot projects in Oregon and implemented there on a voluntary basis next year.”

Because, you know, taxpayers paid for the highways, taxpayers have funded the maintenance of the highways and now they should pay for the privilege of driving on them as well. So, many single moms, who can barely afford gas for the car,  will likely be paying by the mile to go to work (as with most of these stupid schemes, the one’s who can afford it the least will get hit the hardest by it).

Brilliant!  Aw, what the heck, they can take public transportation, huh?

And what about privacy? What business is it of government how far you drive. One assumes they’ll be able to verify your mileage somehow, no? Do you really think it will be up to you to voluntarily keep records and report to the government? Of course not. So somehow the system has to be able to track you and tally mileage.

Yup:

In 2011, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a study that explored how a VMT system might work. That report suggested devices could be fitted onto cars that log how far they have traveled, and these devices could be electronically read at gas stations to general tax bills for drivers.

That’s what I want … a government tracking device on my car.

Where’s Orwell when you need him?

~McQ

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More ObamaCare fallout

First let me thank all the great QandO readers who sent their condolences upon my brother’s passing.  They are greatly appreciated.

Now on to the nasty business of government and politics – in particular, the abominable law called ObamaCare:

An estimated seven out of every 10 physicians in deep-blue California are rebelling against the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange and won’t participate, the head of the state’s largest medical association said.

“It doesn’t surprise me that there’s a high rate of nonparticipation,” said Dr. Richard Thorp, president of the California Medical Association.

Why?  Because doctors refuse to work for a pittance.  They provide something of value and believe they should be compensated accordingly.  But with price fixing by the government, they’re just not going to get their just compensation.  So they’re not going to play the game and join in.

California offers one of the lowest government reimbursement rates in the country — 30 percent lower than federalMedicare payments. And reimbursement rates for some procedures are even lower.

In other states, Medicare pays doctors $76 for return-office visits. But in California, Medi-Cal’s reimbursement is $24, according to Dr. Theodore M. Mazer, a San Diego ear, nose and throat doctor.

In other states, doctors receive between $500 to $700 to perform a tonsillectomy. In California, they get $160, Mazer added.

Only in September did insurance companies disclose that their rates would be pegged to California’s Medicaid plan, called Medi-Cal. That’s driven many doctors to just say no.

In fact, as pointed out above, only 30% of the state’s doctors have opted in.

Gee, let’s see the left take the doctor’s side here, okay?  Aren’t they the ones always wanting the raise the “minimum wage”. Well, as is obvious here, the “wage” offered is below the “minimum” doctors believe they should be payed.  The left ought to be out in the street in protest of this travesty.

Higher pay for doctors!  After all, most of them are small business owners and … oh, wait, that makes them the bad guys.  I forgot.  The left isn’t going to protest this because these guys are privileged or something.  Nevermind the fact they provide jobs for others and can’t pay them more than they receive.

I’m sure trying to think this through and come to an equitable solution will shred a few brains on the left.

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 08 Dec 13

This week, Michael and Dale talk about Nelson Mandela and police militarization.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.

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