Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

How government creates and abets “crime”

I’m always a little taken aback that normally intelligent people just don’t seem to get the fact that for the most part, without government, there can be no “blackmarket”:

Indiana’s cigarette tax is relatively low. Chicago has been complaining for some time that people will go to the Hoosier State, buy a few cartons, then come back to Chicago and sell them at prices undercutting Illinois rates, but still make money. Kentucky, though its tax isn’t too high, also finds its citizens crossing into Indiana to buy their tobacco to sell them cheaper back home. It’s called the black market and high tobacco taxes foster this criminal enterprise.

Now California wants to hike taxes to some of the highest rates in the country.

Democrat State Senator Kevin De Leon has introduced a plan to hike cigarette taxes (SB 768 ) in order to pay for more state spending. But this idea is nothing new and has been defeated several times before. Even law enforcement has been against these tax hikes because such plans embolden dangerous criminals

States with high tobacco taxes like New York have reported higher levels of black-market smuggling, a big source of money for gangs and organized crime. By one 2011 estimate three of every five cigarettes smoked in the Empire State was purchased illegally.

If government doesn’t a) make something “illegal” or b) tax it to the point that other sources of a wanted commodity from states which tax it less become attractive, how would a blackmarket form among voluntary traders?

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 26 Jun 13

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

The Commerce Department’s 3rd GDP revision for the 1st Quarter was slashed to 1.8% annualized from the second revision’s 2.4%. The GDP price index was revised upwards slightly to 1.2%.

1Q corporate profits were revised up to 1.75 trillion from the previous 1.738 trillion. This is still below the 4Q’s $1.774 trillion.

The MBA reports mortgage applications fell -3.0% last week, with purchases up 2.0% but re-fis down -5.0%.

~
Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 25 Jun 13

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

May durable goods orders jumped 3.6% overall, while ex-transportation orders rose 0.7%. This follows a similar 3.6% rise in April. On a year-over-year basis, orders are up 7.6% overall, while ex-transportation orders are up 2.8%.

New home sales were stronger-than-expected in May, with an annual rate of 476,000 homes sold.

The S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index jumped 12% in April, with a year-over-year increase of 12.1%.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rose to 81.4–a recovery high–in June from last month’s 76.2.

Like most of the recent Fed indices, the Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index was strongly positive, rising to 8 in June from -2 in May.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index surged over 100, rising from 94.8 in May to 106.8 in June.

The FHFA House Price Index continues to move upward, rising 0.7% in April, which is a gain of 7.4% on a year-over-year basis.

In weekly retail sales, ICSC-Goldman reports a 1.1% increase for last week, but a weak 1.6% increase over last year. Redbook reports a 2.8% year-over-year same-store retail sales increase, which is right on trend.

~
Dale Franks
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The epic decline of American influence and power

And it has primarily happened under this administration as Bret Stephens outlines in his Wall Street Journal piece.  The Snowden chase has been most instructive in how little influence American now has.  When your naive foreign policy is to have other countries “like” you instead of understanding the respect is currency you should be dealing in (and also understanding how you earn that), then the results are predictable:

At this writing, Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive National Security Agency contractor indicted on espionage charges, is in Moscow, where Vladimir Putin’s spokesman insists his government is powerless to detain him. “We have nothing to do with this story,” says Dmitri Peskov. “I don’t approve or disapprove plane tickets.”

Funny how Mr. Putin always seems to discover his inner civil libertarian when it’s an opportunity to humiliate the United States. When the Russian government wants someone off Russian soil, it either removes him from it or puts him under it. Just ask investor Bill Browder, who was declared persona non grata when he tried to land in Moscow in November 2005. Or think of Mr. Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, murdered by Russian prison officials four years later.

Mr. Snowden arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong, where local officials refused a U.S. arrest request, supposedly on grounds it “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law.” That’s funny, too, since Mr. Snowden had been staying in a Chinese government safe house before Beijing gave the order to ignore the U.S. request and let him go.

“The Hong Kong government didn’t have much of a role,” Albert Ho, a Hong Kong legislator, told Reuters. “Its role was to receive instructions to not stop him at the airport.”

Oh … so those freedom loving countries couldn’t do anything?  Both just ignored us.  That’s right, because they knew what?  There’d be no reprisal nor would they suffer any harm for ignoring us.  In fact, today it was decided that ignoring the US would have no lasting or negative effect on US-Chinese relationships.  In fact, China shot back:

China rebuked the United States on Tuesday for accusing it of facilitating the flight of fugitive U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, and said suggestions that it had done so were “baseless and unacceptable”.

Oh, what the heck.  We all know a toothless tiger when we see one and the US is perceived as such right now.  Don’t believe it?  Look at how well our new SecState “negotiated” our position in Afghanistan:

Merely to get the Taliban to the table for a bogus peace process, the administration agreed at Pakistan’s urging to let Mullah Omar come to the table on his owns terms: no acceptance of the Afghan Constitution, no cease-fire with international forces, not even a formal pledge to never again allow Afghanistan to become a haven for international terrorism. The U.S. also agreed, according to Pakistani sources, to allow the terrorist Haqqani network—whose exploits include the 2011 siege of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul—a seat at the table.

Yet having legitimized Haqqani and given the Taliban everything it wanted in exchange for nothing, the U.S. finds itself being dumped by its own client government in Kabul, which can always turn to Iran as a substitute patron. Incredible: no peace, no peace process, no ally, no leverage and no moral standing, all in a single stroke. John Kerry is off to quite a start.

Stunning.  Not surprising, given the cast of characters, but stunning in its demonstration of the level of incompetence this administration demonstrates daily.

And Russia – they’re so unimpressed with this administration that they’ve redefined “reset” to mean they can pretty openly cheat on the 1987 missile accord and fear no consequences.  That while the Taliban, after getting all they wanted from Kerry, then turned around and attacked the Afghan presidential palace in a brazen attack.  Obviously they fear no meaningful consequences for that either.

Oh, yeah, they’re on top of it all aren’t they?

So sure, after doing such a great job in the areas mentioned, and don’t forget Libya and Egypt, by the way, this disastrous crew want to involve us in Syria?

No thanks.

~McQ

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Prepare for the next government push to scam their way into your wallet

The Wall Street Journal reports:

When President Barack Obama lays out plans to tackle climate change in a speech Tuesday, including the first effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants, he will unleash a years long battle that has little assurance of being resolved during his time in office.

The president has called climate change a “legacy issue,” and his speech may head off a backlash from environmentalists should his administration approve the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. But the address is unlikely to blunt criticism of Mr. Obama’s approach from the left or the right.

He is set to propose a host of measures to help lower emissions of gases that climate scientists say contribute to climate change. These include ways to boost energy efficiency, promote cleaner energy and rein in emissions from the existing fleet of power plants, according to people briefed on the speech.

Of course, as we’ve seen, the science and reality doesn’t support their contentions – and that’s all they are – at all.  It is another scam designed to literally create a tax out of thin air.  And they will try all the emotional arguments too.

We’ll be told that F3+ tornadoes are up because of climate change :

We’ll be told that hurricanes are up  because of climate change:

We’ll be told we’re suffering more drought/wetness because of climate change:

And that temperatures are higher than ever:

Reality is a bitch.

All you have to remember is what they said would happen based on their predictions hasn’t.  In fact, it’s not even close, is it?

HT: Powerline

~McQ

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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

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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

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