Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

The Alarmists try RICO, the “deniers” counter with SLAPP

I’m sure you’ve been following this bizarre story about the left’s attempt, through various blue Attorney’s General, to use the RICO statute to persecute prosecute so-called “climate deniers”.  One of the targets was the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  CEI wasn’t going to take it lying down and punched back:

A libertarian nonprofit group is seeking damages from the U.S. Virgin Islands’ chief law enforcement officer, alleging a politically motivated legal campaign designed to stifle the group’s policy advocacy activities.

Attorneys representing the Competitive Enterprise Institute filed a motion in a Washington, D.C. court on Monday alleging that Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker violated a D.C. law designed to prevent frivolous legal actions targeting policy groups’ rights to free speech and government redress.

The motion is the latest chapter in a developing legal battle between conservative and industry groups that oppose Democratic attorneys general in 17 states who are pursuing racketeering charges against oil giant Exxon Mobil.

Walker subpoenaed CEI last month as part of the anti-Exxon campaign. He demanded a decade’s worth of internal documents and communications about the group’s work on energy and environmental policy.

CEI told Walker to stuff it and shot back:

Andrew Grossman, a BakerHostetler attorney representing CEI, called the subpoena “offensive,” “unlawful,” and “un-American” in an April reply. He vowed to fight the subpoena, which was filed in D.C., where CEI is headquartered.

An attorney representing a group of AGs, including Walker, in their Exxon probe replied on Friday, telling CEI that it is abandoning its subpoena but reserving the right to restart the effort at any point in the future.In response, Grossman and his BakerHostetler colleague David Rivkin filed a motion to vacate the subpoena entirely. They are also asking the court to reimburse CEI for its legal fees and levy additional penalties on Walker’s office as a means of discouraging abuses of the D.C. legal system.

Walker’s “bad faith purpose in wielding this Court’s power to subpoena … warrants sanctions,” the attorneys wrote in a Monday motion. “Sanctions are necessary here ‘to punish abuses of the judicial process and to deter future abuses,’” they wrote, quoting a prior case involving D.C.’s anti-SLAPP statute.

The acronym SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” and refers to efforts to shut down an opposing party’s speech or political advocacy through frivolous lawsuits.

This is what has to be done to stop this foolishness.  All it costs the AG is your tax money.  So, in reality, it cost them nothing.  But the people or organizations they target actually end up having to reach deeply into their own pockets to defend themselves from these frivolous lawsuits.

Here’s hoping CEI is able to whack this nonsense in the head quickly.  As their attorney said, it’s “offensive”, “unlawful” and “un-American.”  It is also an obnoxious and obvious abuse of power.  Time to reel this bunch ideological hitmen back in and do quickly.  And it wouldn’t hurt at all if the lawsuit found some of the AG’s personally responsible and made them pay fines out of their own fund for the abuse of their office (not that it will happen … I understand that, but I guy can wish).  Short of that, running them out of office will suffice.

~McQ

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The left wants so badly for socialism to work

And that’s why they were so enamored of Venezuela.  All the leftist illuminati waxed on and on about how Hugo Chavez was a champion of the people and how he was working an “economic miracle” there, as illustrated by the 2013 Salon article by David Sirota.  In it Sirota gloats about how wrong the right is concerning Venezuela.  Headlined “Hugo Chavez’s economic miracle”, the sub-headline on the piece is classic:”The Venezuelan leader was often marginalized as a radical. But his brand of socialism achieved real economic gains.”

In light of Venezuela’s imminent collapse, I’m sure Sirota is cringing today.  As usual, the “economic miracle” Chavez had wrought under his brand of socialism worked swimmingly until they ran out of other people’s money.  Then, well, same crap, different regime.

I had to laugh, in particular, at this paragraph from “gloaty-boy”:

When a country goes socialist and it craters, it is laughed off as a harmless and forgettable cautionary tale about the perils of command economics. When, by contrast, a country goes socialist and its economy does what Venezuela’s did, it is not perceived to be a laughing matter – and it is not so easy to write off or to ignore. It suddenly looks like a threat to the corporate capitalism, especially when said country has valuable oil resources that global powerhouses like the United States rely on.

Well, laughed at his silliness or is it perhaps willful ignorance in not understanding, even when he was calling Chavez’s Venezuela an “economic miracle” what was really going on there.  No one is laughing at the purely predictable and lamentable problems the citizens of Venezuela are going through now because of Chavez.  He sold them a bill of goods and now they’re suffering the consequences.

What’s frustrating though is the useful idiots like Sirota and gang who won’t take the time to learn why socialism doesn’t work and certainly won’t look too deeply into any regime, such as Chavez’s, that shows the possibility of their long held dream of collectivism and central planning working.

If, in fact, they’d do that, there wouldn’t be guys like me, 3 years after the fact, pointing a finger at them and laughing at something they wrote about an economy that was doomed from the beginning.  As most of us noted at the time of the Chavez takeover, it wasn’t a matter of “if” his plan would fail, but “when”.  “When” is now.

Look at the video and the pictures, Mr. Sirota.  They’re not pretty.  They’re not pretty at all.

How does it feel to have been a cheerleader for the kind of desperation and chaos Chavez’s “miracle” has brought?  How does it feel to have wished a stable and thriving nation (it had its problems, but nothing even close to those now) into the state it now endures?  And tell me again why Chavez’s daughter is worth 4 billion?

You must be so proud.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 13 May 16

Retail sales snapped back in April, with an increase of 1.3%. Sales less autos rose 0.8% and sales less auto and gas rose 0.6%.

Producer prices for final demand rose 0.2% in April. Prices less food and energy rose 0.1%, and prices less food, energy, and trade services, rose 0.3%. On a year-over-year basis:
PPI-FD: 0.0%
Less food & energy: 0.9%
Less food, energy, and trade services: 0.9%

Business inventories rose 0.4% in March, but a 0.3% rise in sales kept the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged at 1.41.

May consumer sentiment is soaring, up 6.8 points to 95.8 for the mid-month flash reading.


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Stray Voltage

Is it Friday already?  Why, yes, yes it is.

So, on with the show.  Our first “Gee, I told you so” of the day comes from the fast food chain, Wendys:

Self-service kiosks will be made available to the more than 6,000 Wendy’s franchises in the United States, the company announced on Thursday. Individual restaurant managers will decide whether to install them as an alternative to having human beings take customers’ orders.

According to Investors Business Daily, which reported the news, Wendy’s executives said the decision was driven by a tight labor market and higher minimum wages in many states.

After all, a computer kiosk doesn’t need to be paid $15 an hour to take orders.

Wendy’s President Todd Penegor told IBD that franchise locations have been raising prices to offset wage hikes and said the company is wary about both wage hikes and a possible recovery in commodity prices and is “working so hard to find efficiencies.”

McDonald’s is also experimenting with self-service kiosks. Wendy’s might also introduce mobile ordering and payment systems next year, according to IBD.

A kiosk also needs no days off, sick leave, paternity leave, benefits or wage hikes.  And note the last line – Mickey D is also in the kiosk business (I’ve seen a few there myself).

Of course to anyone with common sense and a basic understanding of economics (you know, like labor is a “cost” to business) this comes as no surprise.  To the “feel the Bern” crowd, and many on the left who lack both of those qualities, this is an “outrage”!

Meh.  It’s kind of like ObamaCare insurance – you may have it, but if doctors won’t accept it, it’s not much use to you is it?  Same with $15 an hour times zero hours.

Meanwhile in academia, the stronghold of bureaucratic authoritarians, it seems they look for any opportunity to ban an action unilaterally for no other reason than they fear someone’s feelings (other than those effected by the ban, of course) will possibly be hurt:

Face painting at an Illinois college has been banned because it’s “cultural appropriation,” dontchya know? There’s just one problem: Which culture?

Because it’s the latest thing to be offended by, officials at Millikin University in Decatur have told a fraternity that they can’t wear face or body paint, or wigs because they might “depict an ethnicity or culture.”

The fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, traditionally puts on body and face paint during an annual recruitment for new members, CampusReform is reporting.

Yup, my blue-faced, bare assed Scots ancestors would surely be offended.  Oh, wait, they’re white aren’t they?  Never mind:

“Millikin University is committed to fostering a community of inclusiveness that respects difference amongst all students,” Nicki Rowlett, assistant director of the Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement, writes in a letter on the issue. “It is my hope that the men of [Tau Kappa Epsilon] utilize this as an educational opportunity to explore the concept of intent vs. impact with regard to cultural appropriation.”

“Members [of the fraternity] are prohibited from wearing black and red paint, wigs and/or clothing items that mimic or depict an ethnicity or culture,” she writes. “Failure to comply with the expectation will result in immediate removal from the event and additional student conduct sanctions.”

Prohibited by some small-time bureaucrat with the jumped up title of “Assistant Director/Greek Advisor, Office of Student Inclusion and Engagement”.

Her words are quite “inclusive” and just ooze “student engagement” don’t they – in a petty, dictatorial way.  “Off with the face paint. The mighty Nichole has spoken!”

What a farce.

Apparently it is no longer about the “country” in politics, but instead, the party:

In 1960, 5% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats said that they would feel “displeased” if their son or daughter married outside their political party. By 2010, those numbers skyrocketed: to 49% and 33%, respectively. We’re probably not yet at the point where Republicans would be more upset if their child married a Democrat than someone of the same sex — but we are heading in that direction.

I’m sure you’ve all noticed how party politics seems to eclipse what is really important about where we’re headed.  It’s all about winning now and it’s all about the party winning.  I’ve been asking for years, “where did all the statesmen go”.  We’ll we drove them off with the anal exams and the insistence that the party deliver certain things whether or not they were good for the country or not.

That has gotten decidedly worse over the intervening decades to the point that we’re now governed by the worst political class I’ve ever seen in my lifetime and we’re stuck with the inevitable candidates that system was bound to finally produce.

Enjoy!

Speaking of our political class (or lack thereof), there’s a book coming out supposedly written anonymously by a sitting member of Congress (purportedly a Democrat) who uses that anonymity to tell the “truth” about what happens there, like:

  • “Most of my colleagues are dishonest career politicians who revel in the power and special-interest money that’s lavished upon them.”
  • “My main job is to keep my job, to get reelected. It takes precedence over everything.”
  • “Fundraising is so time consuming I seldom read any bills I vote on. Like many of my colleagues, I don’t know how the legislation will be implemented, or what it’ll cost.”

Those three quotes might shock someone but it was simply an affirmation for me.  We’ve seen this for years and years and have done absolutely nothing but re-elect these crooks.  And they know they’ll bet re-elected because they haven’t underestimated their esteemed constituents/voters one bit:

  • “The average man on the street actually thinks he influences how I vote. Unless it’s a hot-button issue, his thoughts are generally meaningless. I’ll politely listen, but I follow the money.”
  • “Voters are incredibly ignorant and know little about our form of government and how it works.”
  • “It’s far easier than you think to manipulate a nation of naive, self-absorbed sheep who crave instant gratification.”

Yes, he (or she) is saying exactly what many of us have known for years – this government and those who run it are a product of the voting public – one which has no use for freedom and no time to monitor and overwatch those they put in positions of power.  Result?  A huge but visibly declining banana republic.

Finally, the transgender nonsense the government seems bound and determined to cram down everyone’s throats.  Is it a real “civil rights” dilemma or is it a mental health issue?

Frankly, I go with the latter.  Here’s why:

There are several reasons for this absence of coherence in our mental health system. Important among them is the fact that both the state and federal governments are actively seeking to block any treatments that can be construed as challenging the assumptions and choices of transgendered youngsters. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama.

In two states, a doctor who would look into the psychological history of a transgendered boy or girl in search of a resolvable conflict could lose his or her license to practice medicine. By contrast, such a physician would not be penalized if he or she started such a patient on hormones that would block puberty and might stunt growth.

What is needed now is public clamor for coherent science—biological and therapeutic science—examining the real effects of these efforts to “support” transgendering. Although much is made of a rare “intersex” individual, no evidence supports the claim that people such as Bruce Jenner have a biological source for their transgender assumptions. Plenty of evidence demonstrates that with him and most others, transgendering is a psychological rather than a biological matter.

In fact, gender dysphoria—the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex—belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it. With youngsters, this is best done in family therapy.

Dr. Paul McHugh wrote that.  He also wrote this:

For forty years as the University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School—twenty-six of which were also spent as Psychiatrist in Chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital—I’ve been studying people who claim to be transgender. Over that time, I’ve watched the phenomenon change and expand in remarkable ways.

And this:

 Transgendered men do not become women, nor do transgendered women become men. All (including Bruce Jenner) become feminized men or masculinized women, counterfeits or impersonators of the sex with which they “identify.” In that lies their problematic future.

That’s the root of the problem.  It has now become politicized and is a political football for a radical agenda and the government is attempting to satisfy this radical minority (and I don’t necessarily mean the “transgendered”) by imposing that agenda by force.

Me?  I’ll go with McHugh and science.

Have a good weekend!

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 12 May 16

April import prices rose 0.3%, and export prices rose 0.5%. On a year-over-year basis prices are down -5.7% for imports and -5.0% for exports.

Initial weekly jobless claims rose 20,000 to 294,000. The 4-week average rose 10,250 to 268,250. Continuing claims rose 31,000 to 2.161 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -0.3 points to 41.7 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $1.1 billion last week, with total assets of $4.478 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $1.1 billion. The Fed’s balance sheet has been stable for months, but I continue to monitor it for signs that the Fed is unwinding the $4 trillion in debt it has absorbed since 2008.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $28.5 billion in the latest week.


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First shot in a successful Constitutional war against ObamaCare?

We can only hope so … but then, one should remember that John Roberts sold his soul and his intellectual reputation to make payment for it into a tax.  So we shall see.  But some heartening news today if you’re someone who believes those in government should be held to the Constitution’s restrictions on government.

In a major ruling, Judge Rosemary Collyer, an appointee of President George W. Bush, said the administration does not have the power to spend money on “cost sharing reduction payments” to insurers without an appropriation from Congress.

Collyer’s decision doesn’t immediately go into effect, however, so that the administration can appeal it.

“This is an historic win for the Constitution and the American people,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement. “The court ruled that the administration overreached by spending taxpayer money without approval from the people’s representatives.”
At issue are billions of dollars paid to insurance companies participating in ObamaCare so they can reduce customers’ out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles for low-income people.

The House GOP argued that the administration was unconstitutionally spending money on these payments without Congress’s approval.

Of course that’s an almost daily occurrence for the past few decades.  The lines have blurred and no one is held accountable. Oversight? What a joke.

How far this will go and whether the decision will be upheld is a mystery at this point, but not much of one … see again the first sentence.

The administration, of course, had an answer:

But the administration said it did not need an appropriation from Congress because the funds were already guaranteed by the healthcare reform law in the same section as its better-known tax credits that help people pay for coverage.

Yup, the executive needs no permission to spend your money anymore, just as he or she no longer needs permission to wage war.  Blurred lines becoming even blurrier.  Separation of powers?  Get real.

Imperial presidency?  For quite a while.  The Judge, though, wasn’t buying the explanation:

Collyer ruled that the section only appropriated funds for tax credits and said the cost sharing reductions require a separate congressional appropriation, which the administration does not currently have.

“Such an appropriation cannot be inferred,” Collyer wrote. “None of Secretaries’ extra-textual arguments — whether based on economics, ‘unintended’ results, or legislative history — is persuasive. The Court will enter judgment in favor of the House of Representatives and enjoin the use of unappropriated monies to fund reimbursements due to insurers under Section 1402.”

Good for her. It won’t dismantle the dreadful system, but it does take another chink out of its funding. It’s a start.  But whether the start will later faulter and fail to be upheld is still to be seen.  In today’s world, unfortunately, the likelihood of that sort of a failure is much more prevalent than had this ruling come down 40 or 50 years ago when most people still believed in a much more limited government constrained by the Constitution.

Brave new world … one that promises to be much like the old and oppressive world if some have their way.

~McQ

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Is Europe moving away from “Social Democracy”?

The “Feel the Bern” gang want to be just like the European social democracies, but as I’ve pointed out before, if any of the European countries were a state in the US, they’d be among the bottom two or so.  And while the benefits are wonderful when you’re living off of other people’s productivity, that can only go on for so long.

France … yes, that’s right, France … seems to be at least figuring it out a little bit.

The French cabinet has given the go-ahead for Prime Minister Manuel Valls to force through highly controversial labour reforms.

An extraordinary cabinet meeting invoked the French constitution’s rarely used Article 49.3, allowing the government to bypass parliament.It came after rebel MPs from the governing Socialist party had vowed to vote down the bill.The reforms will make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers.

[…]

The government says relaxing workers’ protection will encourage businesses to hire more people and help to combat chronic unemployment.

As one is prone to say, “baby steps” are necessary when learning to walk.  And apparently those old nasty laws of economics are finally bitch slapping France enough that they’re at least willing to do something positive to help stimulate business and hopefully then grow their economy.

The American Interest notes:

Valls’ decision is part of a long-running trend: For decades, the decline of the blue social model has been pushing many European countries, including ones we think of as social democracies, to abandon some of the more statist features of their economic agendas. Policies that worked relatively well in closed, stable, national economies of the mid-20th century fail to deliver in the open, dynamic economies of the 21st—and even center-left governments are forced to adapt to this reality once they take power.

Indeed, the “blue social model”, the Bernie Sanders (and to a slightly lesser extent, the Hillary Clinton) model, is, in fact, been running off the rails and not at all delivering what it has promised.  But that seems to be the case with all blue social models and their components (ObamaCare anyone?).

Of course the trending away from that model is being roundly ignored by the left in the US.  Just as the economic wrecks that are Cuba and Venezuela are blamed on “extenuating circumstances.”

The left will never face the reality of their utopian central control’s failure everywhere and in whatever flavor it is tried.  There’s a reason for that.  It goes against everything that actually works.  Without “perfect knowledge” and then the means to implement it in a direct and timely fashion – two things which will never be achieved – it will always fail.  Most importantly, central control simply runs against human nature and therefore authoritarian governance to impose true socialism on the citizens.  And yes, the light form of that is indeed “social democracy” but to become anymore “socialist” requires government to move in a more authoritarian way to enable those sorts of “reforms”.  Instead, what you see in Europe is resistance coupled with a realization that this just isn’t working as advertised.

Thus the “trend” as discussed.  As more of the blue model is scrapped and countries begin to realize gains, other European countries will likely follow suit.

Meanwhile, in the US, we’re apparently considering adopting the model they’re moving away from.  And it certainly will be a rousing success.  They can’t make it work in countries with about one-eighth our population, but with the “competent” politicians and bureaucrats we have here, we’re sure to make it work.

Uh, huh.  Really.

~McQ

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