Archive for the ‘US government’ Category

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Here’s a good question

July 11, 2016

…in case you’ve been thinking "police state" is just a figure of speech.

Jeff sends a link to this op-ed from the Wall Street Journal. (My emphasis.)

Why Does the IRS Need Guns?

Special agents at the IRS equipped with AR-15 military-style rifles? Health and Human Services “Special Office of Inspector General Agents” being trained by the Army’s Special Forces contractors? The Department of Veterans Affairs arming 3,700 employees?

The number of non-Defense Department federal officers authorized to make arrests and carry firearms (200,000) now exceeds the number of U.S. Marines (182,000). In its escalating arms and ammo stockpiling, this federal arms race is unlike anything in history. Over the last 20 years, the number of these federal officers with arrest-and-firearm authority has nearly tripled to over 200,000 today, from 74,500 in 1996.

What exactly is the Obama administration up to?

On Friday, June 17, our organization, American Transparency, is releasing its OpenTheBooks.com oversight report on the militarization of America. The report catalogs federal purchases of guns, ammunition and military-style equipment by seemingly bureaucratic federal agencies. During a nine-year period through 2014, we found, 67 agencies unaffiliated with the Department of Defense spent $1.48 billion on guns and ammo. Of that total, $335.1 million was spent by agencies traditionally viewed as regulatory or administrative, such as the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Mint.

Some examples of spending from 2005 through 2014 raise the question: Who are they preparing to battle? […]

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Cognitive dissonance strikes again

April 9, 2016

I’ve had my share of minimum-wage or low wage jobs; I’ve even held more than one at a time, years ago. I’ve been nickle & dimed, as Barbara Ehrenreich would call it.

So I’m all for people who work low-skill jobs getting all the pay they can. (For that matter, I’m all for people working any type of job to get all the pay they can.)

But letting the government set minimum wages is effectively saying that those people have no flexibility – they can’t bargain about wages because it becomes unlawful. That’s a nasty handicap if you’re new to the job market, or you’re new to a line of business, or you’re new to a particular area (see below).

I’ve mentioned before that Mark Twain claimed the best way to get the job you want is to go to work for free. When your value becomes apparent, the pay will follow. If it doesn’t become apparent, you’ve learned a lesson. That’s not possible when the law makes such a bargain illegal.

When did the U.S. repeal the law of supply and demand?

Back in October, The New York Times reported that the law of supply and demand still works. “Yes, Soda Taxes Seem to Cut Soda Drinking,” the newspaper told its readers, relating the results of Mexico’s new tax on sugary beverages. Mexico’s measure imposed a 10 percent tax on soft drinks, and so far has cut consumption from 6 percent to as much as 17 percent among the poorest Mexicans.

The efficacy of the soda tax comes as no great surprise. After all, as the news story noted, “the idea for the soda tax is in some ways modeled on . . . tobacco taxes. . . . A robust literature now exists showing that the resulting higher prices really did push down cigarette sales, particularly among young people.”

The paper’s editorial page soon came out in full cry demanding higher soda taxes for Americans, too. Noting that “a big tax on sugary drinks in Mexico appears to be driving down sales of soda,” the editors urged “lawmakers in the United States to consider comparably stiff taxes.”

Some already have. Soda taxes have become a chic cause in progressive enclaves, from Berkeley and San Francisco to Philadelphia and New York.

But if you want to make liberal heads in those same enclaves explode, dare to suggest that raising the minimum wage might reduce employment.

Thanks to legislation their governors signed Monday, California and New York are hiking their minimums to $15, the target hourly rate of a national campaign by labor activists. Earlier this year The Times encouraged Hillary Clinton to join Bernie Sanders in demanding a $15 minimum for the entire country. “Mrs. Clinton has argued that $15 might be too high for employers in low-wage states, causing them to lay off workers or make fewer hires,” the paper noted, but then argued: “There is no proof for or against that position.”

Sure there isn’t — not if you don’t remember the argument for soda taxes, anyway. […]

In San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., employment growth has been cut in half. In Seattle, job growth has plunged from 4.6 percent to 1.8 percent — even while restaurant hiring rose more than 6 percent for the rest of Washington State.
Sure, you can find studies that purport to show small hikes in the minimum wage don’t hurt jobs. You can find a lot more that say they do. But the more honest advocates for a higher minimum wage acknowledge that it will cost some people their jobs. But some argue that’s no big deal and might even be a feature, not a bug: “What’s so bad about getting rid of crappy jobs?” asks public-policy professor David Howell.

Which is easy to say if the job being gotten rid of isn’t yours.


Now here’s the interesting part. Gov. Jerry Brown says (my emphasis):

Brown, traveling to the state’s largest media market to sign the landmark bill, remained hesitant about the economic effect of raising the minimum wage, saying, “Economically, minimum wages may not make sense.”

But he said work is “not just an economic equation,” calling labor “part of living in a moral community.”

“Morally and socially and politically, they (minimum wages) make every sense because it binds the community together and makes sure that parents can take care of their kids in a much more satisfactory way,” Brown said.


In this same vein, here’s an account by Mitch Hall about his job search in Seattle (which I assume happened late last year).

70 Tries After Seattle Raised Its Minimum Wage, I Still Can’t Find A Job
States nationwide are beginning to join the ‘Fight for $15.’ My job experience in Seattle, Washington helps illustrate why that’s a bad idea.

Over the weekend, lawmakers and labor unions in California, the nation’s most populous state, reached a tentative agreement to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the course of the next several years. […]

Twenty-nine states have minimum wages that exceed the federally mandated $7.25 per hour. Heading into the 2016 election, the issue remains hotly contested and politically potent, with Republican presidential candidates in fierce opposition to, and Democratic candidates in strong support of, a dramatic increase in the federal minimum wage. […]

My opposition to minimum wage increases comes as a direct result of my own experience searching for jobs as a new resident of Seattle, Washington, a city that currently has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation. In June 2014, the Seattle City Council, composed of just nine members, unanimously voted to increase the city’s base pay to a whopping $15 an hour, to be gradually implemented over the course of several years.

I’ve spent the majority of the last two months stalking online job sites and entire days traversing the various neighborhoods of Seattle.

On January 1, 2016, the newly mandated minimum wage rose to $13 for larger companies (those that have more than 500 employees in the United States), and $10.50 for smaller employers (those with fewer than 500 employees in the United States). On top of this, Washington state law now requires businesses to adhere to this minimum even for tipped workers, a rule that only six other states have on the books.

In December, I found myself needing a break from college, for a variety of reasons. So at the close of last semester, I decided (rather impulsively, as young people are wont to do) to take my spring semester off from the College of William and Mary and move out west to try my luck in Seattle, a place I had only visited once before. […]

Having a combined two years of serving experience and close to five years of total experience in the customer and food services industries (which is literally as much as you can ask for from a 20-year-old college student), I assumed I’d be able to find a restaurant gig in no time. So, after reassuring my parents all would be well in the financial department, I boarded a plane in Philly a few weeks later and made the move.

Yet seven weeks and more than 70 job applications later, I still have yet to land a part-time, minimum wage job. I’ve spent the majority of the last two months stalking online job sites and entire days traversing the various neighborhoods of Seattle, filling out applications and inquiring about job opportunities at any restaurant, coffee shop, retail store, or other service-oriented establishment I can find. […]

At first, I was utterly dumbfounded by my lack of success, and figured only bad luck was to blame. After all, I had been hired at every single one of my past serving jobs within only a day or two of searching and applying. I’d have to find something in Seattle eventually, I thought; I’m young, competent, and college-educated, and serving is by no means a highly skilled occupation that requires degrees or extensive training. I know how to make a good impression with prospective employers, and I already have years of experience in the food services industry. What more could these people want?

Employers, especially in the restaurant and food services industries, are far less willing to take chances on who they hire with so much money on the line.

But soon enough it became clear, through talking with potential employers and local college students also trying to find work, that my failure to land a job was likely due, at least in large part, to Seattle’s absurdly high minimum wage. […]


I think the real problem here is what to do about those who are seemingly stuck in low-skill jobs. I don’t think they’re the majority of people in those jobs, but they’re the chronic cases that seem to motivate the urge to raise minimum wages.

Here’s a graph from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Dept. of Labor). It’s titled: Minimum wage workers account for 4.7 percent of hourly paid workers in 2012.

bls-minimum-wage-by-age

This report (at the Heritage Foundation) says the same thing: Who Earns the Minimum Wage? Suburban Teenagers, Not Single Parents.

Just eyeballing that graph above, my guess is that maybe a third of the people making minimum wage are heads of households. If I’m right, that’s 33% of 4.7% or 1.6% of the total labor force.

A better approach would be to address directly the needs of the adults stuck in those jobs rather than raising the bar for everyone, children included. Don Boudreaux and Nick Gillespie touch on these points in this interview.

Taking a cue from Governor Brown, is it "moral" to inflict hardships on a large class in order to relieve a small number of those people from other hardships? I’d disagree. I’d say that’s an immoral action by a government based on purely utilitarian grounds (greatest good for the greatest number).

Bear in mind that it’s a different case if particular individuals step up and volunteer for hardships in order to spare their peers or fellow citizens – in that case, the action may be admirable and moral. But when it’s legally compulsory, it’s just so much bullying by legislators.


Update: Now this I can believe. Based on what I read, I think that unions are trying to regain the political power they once exercised; so this explanation seems possible. But dang… it’s gotta sting to be a union member who’s making less than the minimum wage championed by your union. Where’s the brotherhood?

The Minimum Wage Con

If you thought that the union-backed #FightFor15 movement was really about making sure that all workers earned a living wage—rather than about using the government to enrich progressive interest groups—think again. The Guardian:

Los Angeles city council will hear a proposal on Tuesday to exempt union members from a $15 an hour minimum wage that the unions themselves have spent years fighting for.

The proposal for the exemption was first introduced last year, after the Los Angeles city council passed a bill that would see the city’s minimum wage increase to $15 by 2020. After drawing criticism last year, the proposed amendment was put on hold but is now up for consideration once again.

As it turns out, this practice is not uncommon. The WSJ reported last year that at least six municipalities have created special minimum wage carveouts for unions. The logic is straightforward: Kill non-unionized jobs, add more workers to the union rolls, and extract higher fees for union bosses. It’s not a minimum wage hike the labor movement is after, exactly: It’s a penalty on non-union employers, and a payout for modern-day Jimmy Hoffas. Expect unions in California and New York, which recently enacted statewide $15 minimums, to start lobbying legislators for their own sweetheart deals in the near future. […]


Update 2:
Here’s an interesting graph from Business Insider. It explains to some extent how California can get away with its hike in the minimum wage: it’s easy when you have one of the lowest minimum-wage work forces in the country.

heres-how-many-people-in-each-state-make-the-federal-minimum-wage-or-less

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Let me tell you how it will be

April 9, 2016

Here’s a prediction from the Tax Foundation.

Tax Freedom Day 2016 is April 24

Key Findings

  • This year, Tax Freedom Day falls on April 24, or 114 days into the year (excluding Leap Day).
  • Americans will pay $3.3 trillion in federal taxes and $1.6 trillion in state and local taxes, for a total bill of almost $5.0 trillion, or 31 percent of the nation’s income.
  • Tax Freedom Day is one day earlier than last year, due to slightly lower federal tax collections as a proportion of the economy.
  • Americans will collectively spend more on taxes in 2016 than they will on food, clothing, and housing combined.
  • If you include annual federal borrowing, which represents future taxes owed, Tax Freedom Day would occur 16 days later, on May 10.
  • Tax Freedom Day is a significant date for taxpayers and lawmakers because it represents how long Americans as a whole have to work in order to pay the nation’s tax burden.

What Is Tax Freedom Day?

Tax Freedom Day® is the day when the nation as a whole has earned enough money to pay its total tax bill for the year. Tax Freedom Day takes all federal, state, and local taxes and divides them by the nation’s income. In 2016, Americans will pay $3.34 trillion in federal taxes and $1.64 trillion in state and local taxes, for a total tax bill of $4.99 trillion, or 31 percent of national income. This year, Tax Freedom Day falls on April 24th, or 114 days into the year (excluding Leap Day). […]

This interesting graph accompanies the article.
TFD_charts_2016


And don’t get me started on how all this money flowing into the capital still won’t reduce the national debt. They’re spending it as fast as they can print it, I think.

Here’s another graph that comes from a Mercatus Center post about the Congressional Budget Office’s projections for national debt as a percentage of GDP.

US-Public-Debt-Projections-Continue-to-Accelerate

It’ll get worse before it gets better… assuming it ever gets better.

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It’s no surprise at all

March 11, 2016

Last week I read Barr Eisler’s novel The God’s Eye View. It was a pretty good novel but I thought one of the best parts was Eisler’s closing notes where he talks about how there is, effectively, no longer much Congressional oversight over security agencies like the NSA.

The representatives and senators who oversee those agencies are often bound by secrecy agreements with those agencies to not discuss what they hear or learn even with other congressmen. In other words, the agencies demand secrecy in the name of national security even from those who should be controlling the agencies’ policies and procedures.

So when Paul sent a link to this column by Radley Balko, it really wasn’t much of a surprise. But, surprised or not, we should all be shocked at what’s happening.

Surprise! NSA data will soon routinely be used for domestic policing that has nothing to do with terrorism

A while back, we noted a report showing that the “sneak-and-peek” provision of the Patriot Act that was alleged to be used only in national security and terrorism investigations has overwhelmingly been used in narcotics cases. Now the New York Times reports that National Security Agency data will be shared with other intelligence agencies like the FBI without first applying any screens for privacy. The ACLU of Massachusetts blog Privacy SOS explains why this is important:

What does this rule change mean for you? In short, domestic law enforcement officials now have access to huge troves of American communications, obtained without warrants, that they can use to put people in cages. FBI agents don’t need to have any “national security” related reason to plug your name, email address, phone number, or other “selector” into the NSA’s gargantuan data trove. They can simply poke around in your private information in the course of totally routine investigations. And if they find something that suggests, say, involvement in illegal drug activity, they can send that information to local or state police. That means information the NSA collects for purposes of so-called “national security” will be used by police to lock up ordinary Americans for routine crimes. And we don’t have to guess who’s going to suffer this unconstitutional indignity the most brutally. It’ll be Black, Brown, poor, immigrant, Muslim, and dissident Americans: the same people who are always targeted by law enforcement for extra “special” attention.

This basically formalizes what was already happening under the radar. We’ve known for a couple of years now that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the IRS were getting information from the NSA. Because that information was obtained without a warrant, the agencies were instructed to engage in “parallel construction” when explaining to courts and defense attorneys how the information had been obtained. If you think parallel construction just sounds like a bureaucratically sterilized way of saying big stinking lie, well, you wouldn’t be alone. And it certainly isn’t the only time that that national security apparatus has let law enforcement agencies benefit from policies that are supposed to be reserved for terrorism investigations in order to get around the Fourth Amendment, then instructed those law enforcement agencies to misdirect, fudge and outright lie about how they obtained incriminating information — see the Stingray debacle. This isn’t just a few rogue agents. The lying has been a matter of policy. We’re now learning that the feds had these agreements with police agencies all over the country, affecting thousands of cases.

Somewhere I have a picture that I took in Amsterdam a long while back (late 80s or early 90s). It was a pic of a large sign on a canal bridge, reading: Abuse of power comes as no surprise.

So don’t be surprised. Be vigilant in defense of your rights instead.


Update
Here’s Edward Snowden talking about the secrecy surrounding surveillance programs during a recent interview. Give it a listen from the 16:30 mark until the 19:05 mark.

How can the people have any voice in a process with the deck stacked like that? I have to conclude that we no longer have a voice in those decisions. It’s the Omniscient State, citizen: love it or leave it.

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More of that cult of the Presidency

January 16, 2016

David Harsanyi write a good column about executive overreach.

Obama’s Legacy is Executive Abuse

Over the winter break, I finally got around to binge-watching Parks and Recreation. In case you missed the show’s seven-year run, it’s about a fascistic small-town councilwoman who believes it’s a politician’s job to impose her notions of morality, safety and decency on everyone, no matter what voters want or what the system dictates. She is justifiably recalled by the people of her town after attempting to regulate portion sizes at fast-food restaurants but ends up running a federal office where she can do big things without the consent of the people.

Now, I realize that most of the show’s fans see the narrative in a vastly different light and the protagonist, Leslie Knope, as the sort of idealistic, compassionate and principled politician Americans should love. […]

When I got back from my winter vacation, America was still being run by a two-term president who believes it’s his job to impose his notions of morality, safety and decency on everyone, often trying to work around the limits the system places on him. This week, Barack Obama is going to institute new restrictions on Americans unilaterally—expanding background checks, closing supposed “loopholes” and tightening the process for law-abiding gun owners—because Congress “won’t act” and also because he believes it’s the right thing to do. Neither of those is a compelling reason to legislate from the White House.

Perhaps no post-World War II president (and maybe none before) has justified his executive overreach by openly contending he was working around the lawmaking branch of government because it had refused to do what he desired. Whether a court finds his actions constitutional or not, it’s an argument that stands, at the very least, against the spirit of American governance. Today many liberals call this “leadership.” […]

But more consequential—and this may be the most destructive legacy of the Obama presidency—is the mainstreaming of the idea that if Congress “fails to act,” it’s OK for the president to figure out a way to make law himself. Hillary Clinton’s already applauded Obama’s actions because, as she put it, “Congress won’t act; we have to do something.” This idea is repeated perpetually by the left, in effect arguing that we live in a direct democracy run by the president (until a Republican is in office, of course). On immigration, on global warming, on Iran, on whatever crusade liberals are on, the president has a moral obligation to act if Congress doesn’t do what he wants.

To believe this, you’d have to accept two things: that Congress has a responsibility to pass bills on issues important to the president and that Congress has not already acted.

In 2013, the Senate rejected legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases and to ban certain weapons and ammunition, and it would almost certainly oppose nearly every idea Obama has to curb gun ownership today. Congress has acted, just not in the manner Obama desires.

If President George W. Bush had instituted a series of restrictions on the abortion industry—seeing as it has a loud, well-organized and well-funded lobby that wants to make abortions “effortlessly” available—without congressional input, would that have been procedurally OK with liberals? You know, for the children? I don’t imagine so.

G.W. Bush was guilty of this too but Mr. Obama seems to be more brazen about it. And I don’t know which is worse, someone who does it on the sly or someone who rubs your nose in it.

Executive fiat isn’t a “party thing”: many politicians will try to work the angles regardless of their party affiliations. IMO, it’s an “uphold your oath of office thing.”

Congress should take it to the courts or, in flagrant cases, consider impeachment.

The scariest notion, as Harsanyi hints at, is that this type of thing is popular with the people who support the sitting president. It’s as though many people don’t get (or don’t care about) the way the U.S. Constitutional system was intended to work.

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Busted for Intent to Garden

December 29, 2015

Radley Balko writes about the surveillance state again.

Paul sends the link along with the comment, "This has to stop."

Federal judge: Drinking tea, shopping at a gardening store is probable cause for a SWAT raid on your home

In April 2012, a Kansas SWAT team raided the home of Robert and Addie Harte, their 7-year-old daughter and their 13-year-old son. The couple, both former CIA analysts, awoke to pounding at the door. When Robert Harte answered, SWAT agents flooded the home. He was told to lie on the floor. When Addie Harte came out to see what was going on, she saw her husband on his stomach as SWAT cop stood over him with a gun. The family was then held at gunpoint for more than two hours while the police searched their home. Though they claimed to be looking for evidence of a major marijuana growing operation, they later stated that they knew within about 20 minutes that they wouldn’t find any such operation. So they switched to search for evidence of “personal use.” They found no evidence of any criminal activity.

The investigation leading to the raid began at least seven months earlier, when Robert Harte and his son went to a gardening store to purchase supplies to grow hydroponic tomatoes for a school project. A state trooper had been positioned in the store parking lot to collect the license plate numbers of customers, compile them into a spreadsheet, then send the spreadsheets to local sheriff’s departments for further investigation. Yes, merely shopping at a gardening store could make you the target of a criminal drug investigation.

More than half a year later, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department began investigating the Hartes as part of “Operation Constant Gardener,” basically a PR stunt in which the agency conducts multiple pot raids on April 20, or “4/20.” On several occasions, the Sheriff’s Department sent deputies out to sort through the family’s garbage. (The police don’t need a warrant to sift through your trash.) The deputies repeatedly found “saturated plant material” that they thought could possibly be marijuana. On two occasions, a drug testing field kit inexplicably indicated the presence of THC, the active drug in marijuana. It was on the basis of those tests and Harte’s patronage of a gardening store that the police obtained the warrant for the SWAT raid.

But, of course, they found nothing. Lab tests would later reveal that the “saturated plant material” was actually loose-leaf tea, which Addie Harte drinks on a regular basis. […]

DEA delenda est.


Update:

Orin Kerr (at the Volokh Conspiracy blog) writes a follow-up to Balko’s column. No, a federal judge did not rule that drinking tea and shopping at a gardening store amounts to probable cause.

Since I took Balko’s headline as hyperbole and since his column never mentioned such a ruling explicitly, so this isn’t too much of a surprise. But Mr. Kerr is keeping the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed for us.

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What he said (7)

December 24, 2015

Here’s a good article by John Stossel. RTWT.

Politicians Without Borders
Today’s politicians seem to have few limits.

When driving on treacherous roads, guardrails are useful. If you fall asleep or maybe you’re just a bad driver, guardrails may prevent you from going off a cliff.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel used the phrase “no political guardrails” to point out how many of today’s politicians seem to lack any constraints, any safeguards against their use of power. She’s onto something.

“Mr. Obama wants what he wants. If ObamaCare is problematic, he unilaterally alters the law,” Strassel writes. “If the nation won’t support laws to fight climate change, he creates one with regulation. If the Senate won’t confirm his nominees, he declares it in recess and installs them anyway.”

Hillary Clinton does it too. In fact, she promises that once she becomes president, that is how she will govern. If Congress won’t give her gun control laws she wants, she says she’ll unilaterally impose them. Likewise, if Congress rejects her proposed new tax on corporations , “then I will ask the Treasury Department, when I’m there, to use its regulatory authority, if that’s what it takes.”

Whatever it takes. So far, the public doesn’t seem to mind.

Donald Trump’s poll numbers go up after he promises “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” says that “there’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am,” says that he’ll make Mexico “pay for that wall” and so on.

Apparently lots of people like the idea of a big, strong mommy or daddy who will take control of life and make everything better. Constitutional restraints? They’re for sissies. We want “leadership”—someone “strong” to run America.

I don’t. I’m an adult. I don’t want to be “led.” I will run my own life. Also, a president doesn’t “run America.” The president presides over just one of three branches of government, and there are strict limits on what he can and should do.

The Constitution was written to limit political authority. Those limits left individual Americans mostly to our own devices, which helped create the freest and most prosperous country in the history of the world.

Now, advocates for both parties are off the rails. Some Republicans demand that the IRS audit the Clinton Foundation. Part of me wishes that it would. I suspect their foundation is largely a scam, a pretend charity that props up the Clintons’ egos and pays Hillary’s political flunkies. Heck, in 2013, it raised $144 million but spent only $8.8 million on charity!

Shut it down! But where are the guardrails here? As Strassel put it, “When did conservatives go from wanting to abolish the IRS to wanting to use it against rivals?”

Today, politicians act as if guardrails are just an annoyance. And they get rewarded for that. […]

I think Mr. Stossel nails it with the last two sentences above. Constitutional limits? Who needs ’em?

This article reminds me of Gene Healy’s Cult of the Presidency.


Update:
Here’s something John tweeted today. “What he said” for Mr. Read too.
stossel-quotes-read

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