Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

The need for more direct action against the GOP establishment

I was reading Da Tech Guy’s musings on why limited government types need to work within the GOP rather than try a third party approach to rid themselves of the GOP establishment. He quotes Rush Limbaugh on what Ronald Reagan managed to do the last time the GOP establishment found themselves threatened:

The real question, in my humble opinion, is that this effort and energy needs to be used, as Ronald Reagan did, to take over the Republican Party, to repopulate it and that’s exactly what Reagan did, he took it away from the Rockefeller blue-blood country club types starting in 1976, took him ’til 1980 to do it.

Worked before, so it should work again, right? I’m skeptical.

First, what did Reagan really accomplish? A few things, sure. Don’t get me wrong – he was the best we’ve seen in my lifetime, but given the competition, that doesn’t mean much.

He got income taxes down from their preposterous progressive wet dream rates of 70%. He stood up to the Soviet Union, and possibly hastened the crumbling of that creaking empire by a few years. He made it respectable, after the raging waves of liberalism in the sixties and seventies, to say that government was more likely to be a problem than a solution for social problems.

And that’s about it.

There was no “taking over the Republican Party” under Reagan. He got a few things done, but as soon as he was out the door, it was back to business as usual for the GOP. 

Reagan was forced or induced by the GOP establishment to take on one of their blue bloods as his VP. Then, after Bush the Elder won what was supposedly a third helping of Reagan, he immediately broke his solemn promise on taxes, passed more social nonsense such as the ADA, and managed to fumble away the popularity and credibility built by Reagan to the point that he was defeated by a smarmy hick used car salesman from Arkansas.

The GOP then proceeded to nominate Bob Dole, Bush the Younger, John McCain, and Mitt Romney as their presidential candidates. GOP establishment stalwarts, every one of them. In some of those cases, the GOP establishment pulled out every trick in the book to drag their preferred choice over the finish line.

Yes, the GOP establishment learned something from the ascent of Reagan. They learned techniques to keep it from ever happening again.

The GOP establishment has made something perfectly clear: they would prefer to lose rather than let people like Reagan threaten their dominance of the party. Even when they get control, as Newt Gingrich managed in 1994, they revert to their ruling class habits and fumble the opportunity away without making any progress in limiting government. In fact, after a few years, and given a cooperative president, they proved they prefer bigger government to smaller. Under Bush, a classic GOP establishment blue blood, the establishment players in the Congress enthusiastically federalized education, passed a whole new social welfare program for seniors, and passed the biggest infringement of free speech seen in my lifetime (thankfully eventually overturned by the Supreme Court).

What motivation do limited government types have to vote for such weasels or give them support of any kind? Not much, and the elections of 2006 and 2008 proved it.

Even after seeing their limited government base re-energize the party and give them back control of the House in 2010, the GOP establishment still didn’t get the message. They worked their butts off to get the “electable” Mitt Romney as their presidential nominee. Having again shown contempt for limited government types, the establishment GOP thus managed to lose against one of the weakest presidential candidates for re-election in history. No one besides Obama has *ever* won re-election with fewer votes than he got the first time, which ought to tell you just how weak he was. But the GOP managed to be even weaker, with a candidate who looked like an android programmed to only say nice things, and never ever raise any of those unpleasant ideas about limiting government. Oh, no, government was just going to be managed better. Just like it was under those managerial types named Bush.

So how do these establishment GOP types keep getting what they want? One big reason is that limited government advocates such as Limbaugh, Da Tech Guy, Charles Krauthammer, Allahpundit over at Hot Air, and about half the denizens of sites such as Free Republic pound the same drum every election. Their basic message is “Yep, we’ve been screwed by these guys more times than we can count, but we still have to support them because the Democrats are worse!TM

OK, message taken – the Democrats are worse. But, as limited government types demonstrated in three of the last four elections, that’s not enough reason to support the GOP establishment. Indeed, in the only exception that the GOP did well (2010), many of the limited government types only turned out because they were supporting someone other than an establishment candidate.

So we’re really four for four in proving that limited government types are fed up on supporting the establishment GOP.

Why on Earth would they not be? What’s the point of investing time, energy, and emotion in an effort to elect someone who will most likely end up being just as subverted by the GOP establishment as Bill Frist, Tom Coburn, Jeff Flake, and Mario Rubio have been?

And even on those occasions where a Ted Cruz or Rand Paul ends up winning and sticks to their guns, they can’t get anything done. After obediently voting for establishment GOP types for leadership positions, they then spend more time fighting the very people they supported instead of fighting Democrats.

The limited government advocates I mentioned above all desperately want to believe that the answer is simply running better primary candidates to beat establishment Republicans, but then supporting the establishment guys who win the rigged game at least nine times out of ten. That’s playing by their rules.  I simply don’t see how that can ever work.

Therefore I’m confident that simply “working within the GOP” isn’t the answer. It’s a fantasy to think that will get us a party in which the leaders will work for limited government. The establishment GOP has decades of experience defeating every such attempt, and they’ve got the entire nomination and campaign financing game rigged in their favor.

Plus, the establishment GOP is willfully blind to the biggest successes the Republicans have had in my lifetime: Reagan, and the turnovers of Congress in 1994 and 2010. All three were fueled by enthusiasm for limited government. If the establishment GOP were simply practical politicians, they would embrace the limited government strategies and philosophies that won those elections.

But by subverting every one of those successes, they proved that they’re not just apathetic to limited government – they’re actively opposed to it. As members of the political class, the only thing they like about their limited government base is the votes provided. They are willing to pretend to embrace limited government principles to get those votes, but that just makes them more dishonest than Democrats, who are at least honest about growing government without end.

I see no reason to give the establishment GOP any quarter whatsoever.

The reluctant backers of the GOP establishment then say, “A third party would be disastrous! The Democrats would dominate for a generation!” I think things are a lot more complex than that.

First, waves of political change tend to happen in unpredictable, non-linear ways. We’re headed for some radical change in the next couple of decades, as we face multiple “what cannot go forever will stop” problems. Plus, a majority of people consider politicians more untrustworthy than the guys offering Three Card Monte on the streets of New York. I think there are plenty of possibilities in that mix to trigger the downfall of a major party.

Second, a third party opens up possibilities that make it more likely to genuinely take back the GOP by kicking out enough establishment Republicans.

The GOP stalwarts would have you think that the only way a third party would work is trying to challenge both the Democrat and the Republican in a large number of races. That would indeed give Democrats a better chance in marginal districts, and help them achieve majorities in Congress. But that’s not the only way to do it.

Many states allow candidates to run under the banner of more than one party. In such places, a candidate backed by a Tea Partyish third party could also run for the GOP nomination.

The message to Republicans would be “Look, I’ve already secured this limited government party’s nomination, and so I’m running. I’d also like to be the Republican nominee, which would mean I have a really good chance to win. But if I’m not the GOP nominee, the conservative/libertarian vote will be split and the Democrat would probably win.”

The GOP establishment would be furious, and as I noted above, they would probably prefer to lose to a Democrat rather than cave to such pressure. I’m not so sure, though, about the typical Republican primary voter. A lot of them are fed up with business-as-usual Republicans, and might be open to someone who shows serious limited government credentials by also running under a party specifically created to advance those principles.

A variation in other states would be to run for the GOP nomination, and make it clear from the beginning that losing that nomination to an establishment Republican will then result in a third party run. Sure, the establishment GOP and media would be shouting “sore loser!” till election day. But they had no problem with an establishment Republican (gentry GOP member Lisa Murkowski) who did exactly that, so why not ignore their hypocritical braying and do it anyway?

Would these kinds of strategies work? Probably in some cases, and not in others. But we can’t solve the current dominance of establishment Republicans by playing by their rules. It’s time to try more hardball strategies.

There is risk in that approach. There’s also risk in the “stick by the GOP because Democrats are worse” route. The limited government energy generated in 2010 has already been reduced to cynicism in many Tea Party supporters, and much of that reduction is due to seeing their goals subverted by candidates they trusted who defected to the establishment GOP side. We’ve seen what happens when the base just gets sick of supporting the establishment Republicans and drops out of the process. We get demagogue Democrats.

I think it’s time for direct confrontation with the GOP establishment. They’ve screwed us long enough. Any game theory expert would tell us it’s time to return the favor.

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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?


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.


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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.


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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.

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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?


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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.

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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.


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